Why My Sister is Darwin’s Re-incarnation?
It was a harsh winter in the mountains of Tawang and I entertained the poetic tragedy of being frozen to death and be discovered in spring thaw. But my sister had strong survival instincts as evident in her statement below.
Me: It’s so cold, I’ll turn into ice.
My Sister: It’s so cold, I’ll turn into a polar bear.
The Curse of The Snowy Mountain
My newly-wed friend returns after a honeymoon in the snow clad mountains.
Me: How was the honeymoon?
Friend: (loud, excited voice that reached husband in the next room) It was so much fun. (in conspiratorial whisper) But you know he is still irritated.
Friend: It was so cold, he couldn’t get it up…(just then friend’s husband plops on the sofa next to her)..couldn’t get up the mountain, you know, it was freezing weather on the trek. (Straight face. Not a flicker of emotion.)
A Family of Helens
On a day when the humidity made me want to jump into the nearest river, a friend called up and told me about their family’s collective summer tribute to an iconic “dancer/item girl“ in the Hindi film industry.
Friend: It’s so hot, na? We are down to wearing the barest minimum. There are four ‘Helen‘s in our home now. Ma is ‘Big Helen‘, Ba (elder sister) is ‘Helen‘, and I am ‘Mini Helen’. Deuta (father) is ‘Topless Helen‘.
When I Insulted A Pig
After twelve hours of being trapped in the poorly ventilated ‘labour room‘ wearing plastic protective gear and breathing in the nauseating smell of afterbirths, my friend resented when I compared us to ‘sweating pigs‘.
Friend: Don’t insult them. Pigs glow, only we sweat.
The Death of Maternal Affection
An aunt known for her scrupulous attention to hygiene was aghast that her own son didn’t inherit it. On a humid summer evening she made the grave mistake of rebuking him in front of a host of relatives.
Aunt: It’s four in the evening. Why are you so lazy? How can you go through such a hot day without taking a bath?
Cousin: Arrey Mummy, I may not take bath once in a while, but even you take bath just once a week in December.
Debut of The Dazzling Scalp
It was a hot hot day and I was waiting under the embarrassing small shade of a coconut tree. I could feel the sweat patches growing on the outfit that took me five hours to decide on and worse, the hairspray-induced bounce in my hair deflated and drowned in a pool of sweat. Humidity dealt me a cruel blow.
(Ex-)Boyfriend: Sorry, I’m a bit late. Why are you standing in the sun? Come on, let’s go. By the way I never noticed it earlier, but your scalp is so white!
The Highest Testimony Of Love
Monsoons in India bring out the “Fear Factor” contestants in us when we take leaps of faith over the submerged gutters and manholes in our daily commutes. Cars float and not all of us have boats in our garages. Every morning we bid emotional farewells and wonder if we will be back home for dinner or float down the underground sewer. Add to that the deluge from overflowing drains that makes us want to amputate our legs or soak them in Dettol for a year. A friend waddled through this disgusting flood to her fiancee’s home on his birthday.
Friend: Happy Birthday! I couldn’t go anywhere to buy a gift. But this is your gift. Just look out of the window and see what I walked through. Just see for yourself how much I love you.
When The Wind Blows
While watching Marilyn Monroe’s vain attempts to keep her dress down as she stood provocatively over the air vent:
Friend: If I had those legs and if I had that dress, I’d wear it only on windy days.
Photo Courtesy: Isabella Bannerman
In retrospective the incident is hilarious but in that moment I wished I was anywhere on earth but there. To my dismay and the pharmacist’s delight, the word spread among the circle of old men in the village and Dr.X’s sales sky-rocketed.
I ate wild plums today.
Bon Bogori, for my Assamese readers. Red, juicy, salted ones.
Food can be a source of comfort and often trigger nostalgia. I think ‘wild plums’ and I am transported back to my school days. The ride back home from school, shirt sleeves finally rolled back, tie knot loosened, slouching on the backseat of the car (a white Fiat), listening to the same cassette of Kishore Kumar songs and eating wild plums I had bought during lunch break from the vendor outside school. This routine rarely varied during the half an hour ride. Except on Thursdays when my sister and I got pocket money to buy an ice-cream. I would keep reminding her from the previous evening onwards that we had to collect the ice-cream money before leaving for school the next day. Because there was a high probability of forgetting it in the early morning rush of bathroom queues, last minute homework, reading my favorite Archie comics while having breakfast, jostling for space in front of the mirror while combing our hair, tying shoelaces (a pain even now), packing my school bag and lunch box; and I used to wake up just an hour before school started!
I remember a very comical situation I got into (and I have an innate talent for such kinds) during that 7am ride to school once. There was this girl in my class, PKY, whom we used to call tubelight owing to her much delayed understanding of what was being said. Once on the way to school, I saw PKY waiting for the school bus. I told her that I’d give her a lift but she smiled and replied that she doesn’t want to bother me. But I was insistent and she agreed to travel the remaining three kilometers to school in my car. I had to buy a notebook on the way and stopped at a stationery shop. While waiting for the shopkeeper to find the two-lined notebook, we saw PKY’s bus go by and we smiled and waved to our friends in the school bus. But when it was time to pay for the notebook, I realized I had forgotten to bring my purse. And my purse was in my school bag! I panicked. I had no option but to send our driver back home to get my school bag while PKY and I walked two kilometers to school and reached quite late. She never took a ride with me to school again! I still remember the look on her face that day, trying hard to suppress her anger and mumbling curses against me while I was trying very hard not to giggle. I’m still not able to suppress my giggles every time I’m reminded of PKY.
The social network Orkut had a question in the personal profile section, ‘What is the first thing people notice about you?’
I so wanted to write liquid eyes, tall stature or dimpled cheeks. But who was I kidding? Even a one-eyed drunk can notice from a mile away the disaster that is my hair. My unfortunate hair. Forget a silky, glossy mane; I don’t even have common, dull, thick hair. How do I count the ways to emphasize my point!
First is the sparsely populated scalp! Sometimes I feel I have like what a hundred hairs, which is reducing at an alarming rate! At the age of 23, I google for “female pattern baldness” and “hair transplantation”!
Second is the limpness. The world might change overnight and the sun may rise in the west but my hair would refuse to fluff up. And then I discovered mousse. God bless the makers of this miracle product!
Thirdly, the humidity factor. Humidity and extreme dry weather, both have disastrous effects on my hair. It doesn’t add volume as such, but turns me into a live demonstration of static electricity. Strands of hair flying in all direction; and untamed at any cost except for maybe shaving it off completely.
And the last, but not the least, the consistency of ‘bad hair days’ that it maintains. The rest of the world at least has a rare bad hair day, while good hair day continues to elude me. I was born with the unmanageable and unstructured curliest curls ever in our family.
And now I’ve no option but to wear my hair short to conceal the alarming hair loss. I’ve tried every remedy in the book, but in vain. I never thought hair could cause so much distress. Nearly every romantic Hindi song has at least one couplet praising the heroine’s lovely long tresses. I’ve been searching in vain for a song without the mention of those damn tresses that my beloved might someday be able to sing for me! It wrenches my heart when I see those shampoo ads and long, jet black hair blowing in the wind. I guess I’ll never have that. Or maybe I would. Let me google for wigs now.
1. “I am absent”
(In response to the query why I’d not submitted my homework the day before)
2. “Miss, she took my copy and (longest pause of my life as I’d the sudden realization that I didn’t knew about the existence of the word ‘tore’) fali dile.”
(‘Fali dile’ is the Assamese translation of ‘tore it’)
3. “My mother is blind”.
(Because I couldn’t explain to the teacher that my mother is myopic and had difficulty helping me with the school project at night)
4.“Pride has a fall.”
(Because the two guys sitting immediately in front of me were making a huge racket and I wanted to say something to quieten them!)
5. “Sir, I can’t attend the sports drill today.”
“Personal problem of a girl, Sir.”
(And worse…I used the ‘personal problem’ excuse nearly three times a month and felt smug about conning the PT teacher!)
6. Teacher: “How come you failed on the spelling test?”
Me: “Because I was trying to fail the guy who sat next to me!”
(Once there was a spelling test, and the guy sitting next to me didn’t know anything and was trying to copy from me. I thought I would mislead him, and deliberately wrote the wrong spellings which he copied while I was sniggering all the time. Then the teacher announced we have only two minutes left to submit our papers. I panicked. I erased all the wrong answers and she took the copy from me before I could write down even a single spelling. The guy who sat next to me and I, both of us scored ‘zero’ on the spelling test. But the teacher said at least he attempted to write the spellings, while I submitted a blank sheet! My parents were called to school the next day!)
7. “I couldn’t wear the sports shoes today because my mother gave them to the barber.”
8. Teacher to me: “Nice Haircut. Who cut it?”
(I was seven, and my father used to take me along with him to the local saloon, where the barber was called ‘Mistry’ by everyone as is the habit in India to call the common workmen so. I hadn’t learned the word ‘barber’ yet!)
9. My friend: “He called me names. He called me a cow.”
Me: (in all seriousness) “Don’t feel bad. At least he didn’t call you a lizard or crow. Cow is a useful animal. You can give milk and dung to everyone!”
(Our friendship wasn’t as strong as earlier after that pep up talk I gave my friend)
10. “Avoidable reasons” on my absent note.
(I missed school one day because I overslept. I vaguely recalled a friend once writing “avoidable” or something on her absent note. She had written‘Unavoidable reasons’. It was a big word for me and I could only recall it entirely. Thankfully, the teacher had a sense of humor and didn’t scold me)
I went after lunch to two of the few book stores in Guwahati which can boast of a good collection of books, from the latest bestsellers to the classics, covering a varied and interesting range of books. “Western Book Depot” and “Papyrus”, situated at Panbazar. If you happen to spot a fat female browsing through books at these two bookstores often, oblivious to the world around her…well, that most probably is me. I had spent many happy hours browsing at these bookstores every month, and save money all year round to splurge on visits to these shops. By the way, I bought three books today…Milan Kundera’s “Slowness” and “Ignorance”, and “Recess: A Penguin Book of Schooldays”. Reviews are due next month after I complete reading them.
Anyways, this post is not about the pleasures of endless hours of browsing at bookstores. I had already written about my fascination for book stores. Today I want to share a very memorable incident in my life that occurred at the “Western Book Depot”. My first date. Or my first date turned disaster. You must be thinking what’s wrong with me to have chosen a bookstore as the location for my first date. Read on to know why.
I fell in love for the first time four years back when I was 19. I was never interested in the guys I had grown up with, or studied together. And the whole concept of casual dating and testing the waters for a few months is something I can’t identify with at all. Add to that my introvert nature …and I would’ve remained single till I was 50 if I hadn’t met him! He was 5 years elder to me. Completely different backgrounds…he was an MBA student at IIT, Kharagpur, while I was a second year medical student in Assam. We met online. And I liked him instantly. He was witty, intelligent, caring and I absolutely loved talking to him. Friends first…and then in a year became a little more than friends. But we had never talked about meeting; and were quite happy with our conversations online. I admit I was scared that the comfort level in our relationship might change when we meet in person…scared of awkward silences in conversations, or that we might not have anything to talk about. When he got his MBA degree, and was about to leave for his new job…one night I received a phone call from him, saying that he’s on his way to meet me and arriving in Guwahati the next day.
May 14, 2005: To say I was petrified would be a huge understatement. My father is way too protective of me and my sister, and we weren’t allowed to go anywhere alone. I had no other way but to seek permission and go. That day I told my mother about him…the most awkward conversation of my life! She was OK with it but forbid me to meet him alone. Back to square one! He called up on reaching Guwahati, and I told him of the dilemma I faced. He was quite supportive and didn’t sulk. But I so wanted to meet him, I was ready to do anything just to see him once. I told my mother I had to buy a new book and have to urgently go to “Western Book Depot”. My mother, who was already suspicious after I mentioned him to her, was adamant on accompanying me to the bookstore and worse insisted on taking my sister and aunt along too! I was on the verge of tears. But this was my only chance to see him. I frantically texted him to meet me at the bookstore and warned him that my mother would be with me. He said he didn’t know the way around Guwahati and would accompany a friend to find the store. I was in such a hurry…I forgot to even comb my hair on the way out! That too the first time he saw me! The last thing I cared was how I looked; all I wanted was to see him once. We reached the store at 6pm. My mother got down along with me, while my aunt and sister waited in the car. I pretended to search for medical books. After about fifteen minutes, my mother said she would wait for me in the car. I was so relieved. As I waited for him, I decided to gift him a book. He had mentioned a few days earlier that he wanted to read “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. I got the last copy of the book available in the shop for him. At around 6:25pm, I heard two loud, excited voices in the shop. My back was turned towards the entrance and when I turned around; I saw him and his friend. I smiled at him. But he didn’t reciprocate. I was taken aback. Didn’t he recognize me? After a moment’s confusion, I realized he was deliberately trying to feign that he didn’t know me. The reason: there was a lady in the book store who he thought was my mother!! He came and stood beside me but carried on the little act of being strangers, and instead turned to a man behind the bookstore counter, and asked whether “Life of pi” was available. The man answered, “Life of ‘Pee’ toh nahin hain. Last copy inhone (pointing at me) purchase kar liya.” (“Life of ‘Pee’ is not available, she purchased the last copy”).We were all trying hard not to laugh at the man’s pronunciation of the book title. I then turned and gave him my gift, the same book. He smiled at me, and by now had realized that my mother wasn’t in the shop as he had earlier thought. As he took the book from me, the bookstore owner went, “How kind of you, ma’am! Giving him your book. And that too free of cost!” They hadn’t yet realized that we knew each other and I turned the kind, helpful girl in their eyes. I had already spent a lot of time in the bookstore, and was worried that my Ma would come in and find him near me. I asked him to leave, quite reluctantly though. It was hardly for ten minutes that we saw each other that day…the first time…and he had to leave. As I walked out of the shop five minutes after him, I saw that his bike was parked right next to my car!!! Of all the places available, he had to park near my car, with my mother sitting in the car! I hoped that she hadn’t realized who he was. And I drove off, without daring to even look at him a second time in my mother’s presence. After few minutes, my mother remarked, “So you met him? He seemed nice.” I nearly had a cardiac arrest, when I realized that my mother had recognized him. How on earth did she know? Turned out that when my guy had parked his bike right next to our car, she overheard him tell his friend that I had asked him to meet me in the bookstore. And after all the trouble we both went through to keep the meeting discreet!!
That relationship ended long back, and he is happily married now. But I still can’t stop smiling thinking about my funny first date-turned-disaster, the nervous look on his face that day, my hawk-eyed Ma on the lookout for a tricky Romeo out to trap her daughter and instead finding a bumbling fool, and me savoring each second of those ten minutes of my first meeting with my first love. Short and sweet, a memory so special that it would last a lifetime. And, the bookstore will always remain special too.