The Brinjal Lady

My dad comes from an illustrious family, in that a few of his relatives were truly erudite. Several had PhDs and most had a master’s degree at the very least. My father wasn’t too much for the book learning, and didn’t even finish school. But he gained a wealth of experience, which carved a path for him to the top.

He regaled mum and me with lots of stories about his family, although he was always sketchy with details. This was more to do with the fact that my father had no patience though.

One great aunt kept coming up, as, according to him, she had discovered a type of aubergine. It was apparently named after her too. She was a botanist, and was renown in the family. My mum and I knew about this lady, but didn’t know her name.

Till she appeared on my Facebook timeline.

I only realised this was the lady my father talked about because she shares the same initials as my grandfather. Also, it wasn’t an aubergine that was named after her, it was a magnolia.

Awesomeness.

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The Princess and the Uncomfortable Bed

Growing up, my mum used to read out stories to me. My father? Not so much. So he should be forgiven for not knowing the reference in this story.

I live in a one bedroom apartment with my parents, well mother now that dad passed away. They slept in the bedroom, and I slept on a mattress in the living room. The two single beds in the bedroom are each made of a sturdy wooden base, and a stack of thin mattresses. They are pushed together, and give off the appearance of a bigger bed. My grandparents had so arranged it because in their time there was a steady flow of visitors, and that’s how they accommodated them. Also, in their time, the beds lined either walls. [I think it is a miracle they ever got any with that arrangement.]

So, every night, I peeled off a mattress, and lugged it to the living room for myself. Since my father’s bed was closest, his side of the bed usually yielded my mattress. Not that he minded.

During one winter, we had bought cotton quilts from Jaipur, and were using them regularly. For ease of storage, my mom put the quilts on top of the mattresses, and then covered everything with a coverlet.

One afternoon, I think it was a Sunday, my father went into the bedroom for a nap. He lay on my mum’s side of the bed because, “This is my day bed. That’s my night bed.” Basically he was an infant trapped in a 60-year old body.

While he was lying down, my mom walked past him, and saw him poking her bed with a frown on his face. “What happened?” she asked, coming to a standstill next to him. “Why is your bed so soft, while,” he stopped poking her bed, and started poking his own, “mine isn’t? I want my bed to be this soft too!”

At the sound of her exclamation, I rushed into the room to see my mother had doubled up laughing, and my disgruntled father looking at her in complete disgust.

I waited for her paroxysms to subside, and she wheezed out the story. But the cream of the jest was that she called him a ‘real princess’, referencing the Princess and the Pea.

My father, who didn’t know the story, was not amused. I cried with laughter, and he was called The Real Princess thereafter.

Monkey Business

So yesterday, I went out in the morning to run a few errands this morning with mum in tow. We got a spot of lunch at a South Indian cafe at King’s Circle, which is close to where we stay. On coming out, I thought I saw a rather oddly shaped dog on the pavement.

Only. It wasn’t a dog. It was a monkey.

India is known for a proliferation of monkeys and cows, the former in places near forested areas and the latter just everywhere. In spite of seeing monkeys often in the ghats, on the way to Pune, one in Mumbai, in the middle of the city, in a populated area, with loads of foot traffic and vehicular traffic, is an uncommon sight.

My mother darkly muttered about rabies and menace, and we walked away after I snapped a quick picture. However, other people reacted differently.

Did they shout or yell? Nope. Did they call animal control (or whatever India’s equivalent is)? Nope. Did they run away? Nope.

They fed the monkey bananas. A fruit seller tried to give the monkey a coconut too.

It is official. My country is bananas.

Maybe?

Just after I pressed publish on the last post, I remember an incident during my Europe trip.

This was during the time I spent in Paris, staying in the room adjacent to my crush. We were in the same year, and so were the two boys he was staying with. And they pranked me.

It was an innocent enough joke: they rang the doorbell, and pelted back into their room. We opened the door, only to hear their door shutting in a hurry. Of course it was them. So of course, we did it back.

The second time they did it, we were waiting for them. We yanked open the door to see them hooting in the corridor, and we all had a good laugh.

The next morning, we were coming up in the elevator. Our floor was pretty high up, and as my friends were getting off, I saw the boys waiting to step in. I grinned like a maniac, and pressed all the buttons. I quickly ran off, but I heard their cries of outrage as the elevator doors closed.

Come to think of it, I knew he knew about my crush on him, thanks to the teacher letting the cat out of the bag. Did he like me too? Were all these pranks meant to convey that message?

I have no idea, but it is an amazing thought to have so many years later.

Valentine’s + DDLJ

After a long day of work yesterday, today was meant to be quiet. But of course, it wasn’t. A friend came over, and once he left, I settled in to a night of movie-watching.

Thanks to Valentine’s Day, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge came up as a suggestion on Amazon Prime. Of course, I am now past the point where thoughts of love bring up heartache, so I pressed play.

The strains of music started up almost immediately, and I was transported back in time.

When the movie came out, I was all of 11. I was caught on a tidal wave of romance created by the songs, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and luscious shots of Europe. I had a massive crush on a boy at the time, and I kept imagining him and I in the protagonists places.

A few months later, my school organised a trip to Europe, and my parents thought it would be good for me to go. I was the only one from my class to sign up, but the boy who I had a crush on did too. We were not on speaking terms, him being blissfully unaware of my existence, so I didn’t find out this little titbit till we were at Dubai airport.

When I clapped eyes on him, and he was a gorgeous chap, I think birds and hearts must have flown around my head in a celestial dance. My crush and I were going to Europe for a trip together. Without our parents. JUST LIKE THE MOVIE! OMG OMG OMG.

I nearly fainted with the thrill of it all. I don’t remember much about the travelling part, but I do remember each time we checked into a hotel. After a lot of misses, it was in Paris that we were assigned adjacent rooms.

Paris. The city of love. On New Year’s Eve. My head exploded.

Of course, there was sightseeing. I spent a lot of time fantasising about him and me, even though I hadn’t the faintest idea how to get past the crucial step of actually speaking to him. I had no idea about his personality. I didn’t even know what his voice sounded like.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, one of our chaperones cottoned onto my crush. And proceeded to tease me, publicly, throughout the rest of the trip. It was all in good fun, and although I was horribly embarrassed, I did sort of enjoy the attention. At least he was now aware of my existence.

We had a party that night, and we were paired off to dance in the new year. I sadly didn’t get partnered up with him, but I must admit that it was the most movie-like experience of my life.

Every time I watch DDLJ or hear strains of its music, I feel like that ecstatic 11 year old, starry-eyed, and with an unshakeable belief in romance and love.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my love. Even though we aren’t together, and things have changed so dramatically, I still cherish the feelings we shared for the short time we spent together. I love you.

Small-Minded, Small Bottle

In India, there are excruciating double standards with respect to gender: girls aren’t meant to do such and such thing, and boys are supposed to be strong, etc. The double standards are painful to both, but it would be fallacious to think that girls don’t have it much worse.

Anyway, I was raised to be an equal, and I am also fortunate to live in Mumbai. A lot of my confidence stems from the fact that I have my parents’ unstinting love and support. Sure, they will screw my happiness if I am at fault and I hurt someone, but I can count on them to have my back for anything else.

Which is why, I derive so much pleasure from my tiny acts of rebellion, where I feel like I am giving the patriarchy the middle finger.

Yesterday, while in the market, I happened to be on my own, as my family was already in another shop. I was meeting them there, after running a few errands. The day before, mum had asked me to add rum and port wine to our grocery list. I had no concrete plans to but alcohol, but I passed by a shop, so I figured I would cross that off my list.

I saw a bunch of men, some drunk and on the verge of disorderly, and others, judgemental uncle-types, in the immediate vicinity. Not a chick in sight. Of course not, good girls from good families are unaware of the existence of alcohol.

I went up to the counter with the most angelic look plastered on my face. One of the uncle-types was scandalised to see me there, but he clearly knew better than try and bully a 32-year old woman. I asked for the port wine, because we buy a particular brand, and then asked about the different kinds of rum available. The counter guy was flustered and stuttering, but he managed to calm down in the face of my sheer unflappability.

He brought out different varieties and I made a choice of brand. He then proceeded to wrap up a tiny bottle for me. I stopped him with a shake of my head, and for the benefit of the uncle-type, I said loudly, “Bhaiyya. Isse kya hoga? Sabse bada bottle dena.” [Bro. What will this achieve? Give me the biggest bottle you have.]

The uncle-type was so horrified, he tried to elbow me out of the way. I swung my purse hard into his side, and stalked off triumphantly.

Worth. It.

Book Review: A Spot of Bother

There is this exhibition that comes to Mumbai every so often, where books are sold by weight. That means, I can get a bunch of novels at throwaway prices. Of course, the editions are older and the books second-hand, but for the love of books, I honestly couldn’t care less.

I picked up this book because one of my friends recommended The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to me, which is by the same author. I still hadn’t gotten my paws on that book, so I thought I would feel out the author with this book.

Author: Mark Haddon

Story: George and Jean Hall live are an older couple that live in Peterborough. Their grown up kids, Jamie and Katie, live in London and occasionally visit. Jamie is a real estate broker, in a relationship with Tony, whereas Katie does unspecified work in an office, and is in a live-in with Ray. She has one son, Jacob, from a previous marriage, which didn’t work out. George is busy with retirement, building a studio in his backyard. Jean works at a florists and is having an affair with one of George’s ex-colleagues, David.

This rather dysfunctional family is thrown into a flurry because Katie and Ray decide to get married. The family is not to keen on Ray, because it is heavily implied that he is from working class stock. To make matters worse, George discovers a lesion on his hip, immediately assumes it is cancer, and proceeds to completely lose his mind.

Writing: The chapters are incredibly short, the longest around four pages at the most. Each chapter shifts the perspective from one character to the next, and sometimes the same events are described multiple times over, but by different characters. As a storytelling device, I have a sense that this is more suited to video production, rather than a book. I found it slightly disconcerting, but I can see why the author did it.

Secondly, the author writes in exclusively British. I don’t mean English, but British. The expressions, turns of phrase, and some of the cultural references would only be understandable to the people living there. I lived in the UK for two years, and I still found it hard to follow some of the flavour.

A slightly related point needs to be made about the visual storytelling that the author employs. The descriptions are slightly strange. I can’t remember any examples right this minute, but I thought they were trying to hard to be evocative and actually left a sense of puzzlement instead.

Finally, the part that irked me the most was the introduction of new characters fleetingly into the narrative. There was no backstory given, nor were the characters later mentioned at all. The reader was meant to derive their entire tangent to the main narrative, merely by the single sentence context afforded to them. It was perplexing, and I spent many minutes flicking through previous pages, wondering if the characters had been introduced, and memory was failing me. What is worse is that this was done throughout the book. After a point, I gave up trying to construct a relationship chart in my head and just resigned myself to having names without reference in the story.

Overall, I would say the writing was not too bad for reading, but the solecisms above made it difficult reading for me.

Characters: Extremely unlikeable characters. I personally do not like saccharine sweet angels either, but I do like the blend of good and bad qualities in the protagonists. Every character in this book was self-centred and selfish, prone to extreme self-absorption, failed at the basic living of their lives, and generally left behind a sour taste.

Pace: This is one attribute I enjoyed about this book. It is happening. There is a definite forward momentum of the story, and it finally does culminate in resolutions. I will ignore the fact that there were happy endings all around, however implausible, in deference to the pace.

Conclusion: In spite of the flaws in this book, which made it difficult to read, I found it hard to stop reading. The book is definite page turner, and I think the pace is largely responsible for making it seem so irresistible. I haven’t written off the author as yet, and will definitely give one of his other works a shot.

Rating: ✩✩

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