Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

House Of Cards

My father has always been a rather distant entity in my life. Always there, but never really. I’ve never exactly been petted by him, as is the case with most fathers in the Indian scenario. But two things that I hold fast to my heart till date are cards and carroms – games I shared with him, and those he excelled at.

It was pure joy to watch him deal a hand, shuffling them this way and that, and even more so for a child. He is a leftie which was unique itself then – the way he held his deck and flung them out in triumph. We’d sit in a circle, Father, his friends, their kids and I, and we’d play for hours even as our mothers chided us in the background. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose; he was great at cheating even. And carrom! He would always make the first strike, hitting the coins exactly at that sweet spot that never revealed itself to me even after years of persistent practice; I can still recall the awe I’d feel when he sent coins flying in four directions with that single strike, bagging four coins at once. Two blacks and two whites. And of course, the red queen would land in his lap in no time.

He had a drinking problem, and managed to gamble away a lot of money. As time went on, responsibilities and liabilities grew and Father quietened down. I cannot ascertain if the change was abrupt or gradual.. He refused to play with us anymore even when we pleaded. Maybe one round of rummy once in a while, but then those too stopped. Even as the drinking came down and he started getting a hold on his life, he was not the same fun person he used to be, and I do remember that I often wished he’d just drink, just so he’d look happy. The cards lay unused and gradually disappeared in the way things do, and the carrom board came to life infrequently when I had a random cousin or friend come over. Cracks developed on the board and the wood pealed at places and it was quietly put away. I too grew up.

A few days ago, some friends came together and organised a little party for Christmas on the roof of their house. Someone brought along a few decks of cards, and as I spread my share in my hand after more than a decade, I was reminded of the rare laughter and fun and frolic that I shared with Father. Fragile times. A huff and a puff and it all fell down. My childhood really was a house of cards.

When I left the party, I held on to a deck and took it back with me. For home.

Posted in Musings

Not Child’s Play

The Open Page of The Hindu today featured a short article titled ‘The World of Chhota Bheem’ which highlighted the dark sides of the highly popular animated TV show for children, stereotypical characters and racist biases being some of them. The writer lamented over how these may subtly influence the multitude of children who watch the show regularly. I, for one, being one of the 90s children brought up on a lavish dosage of Cartoon Network, couldn’t help pondering on my own upbringing. Looking back, I realize I can trace almost every aspect of my personality to one childhood experience or the other.

Yours truly is an environmentalist who faces constant death threats from friends secondary to irritating and long drawn lectures about saving Mother Earth, and today it struck me how my favorite toon as a kid, Captain Planet, might have something to do with it.

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The power is yours!!

For the uninitiated, it was an animated edutainment program which featured five youngsters from five continents, each in possession of a powerful ring that could be used to control the elements (Fire, Water, Wind, Earth and Heart). Working together, they could seek the help of Captain Planet who would fight the enemies (criminal masterminds with no concern for ecosystems) and save the day. Their portrayal  of the perfect Earth with a focus on sustainability, afforestation, animal conservation and responsible waste management had a significant impact on the kind of person I turned out to be.  Today, twenty years down the line, the mantra of Reuse, Reduce and Recycle still stays fresh in my mind and I try to comply with it wherever possible.

On a similar note, I am pretty sure Denver, The Last Dinosaur is to blame for my one devilish craving – potato chips.

The issue does not pertain to TV shows alone. One of my favorite toys as a child was a set of tiny colored wooden cookware I acquired on a visit to Madurai. The minuscule look-alikes of pans, rollers and traditional utensils won my heart like nothing else did. Over the years, the pieces were broken, misplaced, lost.. As I grew up, they became but a fond memory. Fast forward to January 2017 when I come across brightly colored wooden items at a handicraft exhibition in Pondicherry and go gaga over them. I come to know that these are the famous Channapatna Toys from Karnataka – these even have a GI tag! Since then, I have gone back multiple times and acquired more and more of these adorable collectibles. I’m afraid I can’t help it. They are a part of my childhood and that alone deems them a precious and priceless status.

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When I was a little girl, I imagined I would remember not to grow up to be the kind of adults I hated, the ones that forgot all the simple games, the tricks, the ones that did not know how to turn a piece of old newspaper into a little boat, or a ripe coconut leaf into a watch. But as J. M. Barrie ruefully documents in Peter Pan, we forget. All of us grow up and forget what it is to be a child. That in itself is not so dangerous – we only turn potentially boring. What is indeed dangerous is how, as parents, elder siblings, uncles and aunts, we forget how impressionable children are, how every little thing can make or break them and have lasting effects on their lives.

Especially in today’s world where mass media, social media and cyberspace come together to play a major role in our daily lives, we need to be responsible enough to decide and control what the posterity is exposed to. Toddlers do not need iPads, they need attention and care that they can in turn learn to disseminate. Let technology take a backseat; lead them to books, stories and imaginative play.

Let us create the perfect future, the perfect Earth, one child at a time.

Posted in Anecdotes

Pink And Proud

It has been so long since I last posted something that I have actually been framing and editing the opening sentence for a full ten minutes now, till it finally transformed into this. Nothing spectacular, I know. These fingertips are badly in need of inspiration.

It has been exactly a month since I wrote something other than research proposals or official letters. Being back at college is proving to rain on my literary parade. But I can’t quite blame the curriculum for it; it’s me of course. Old habits die hard and laziness is immortal. It’s just so easy and convenient to sit back against a cushion, whip out one’s phone and text the people you -wait for it! – spent the entire day with. So unnecessary, but such an integral part of one’s life these days..

Today.. umm wait. I realise I effectively procrastinated the post so well that it’s actually yesterday. So yesterday, the 19th of April, I came to know through a WhatsApp forward, is the World Cycling Day. Yoo-hoo!! Here is to eco friendly and healthy transportation! Bikers unite!!! 

I was a late bloomer in the cycling scenario and learned to bike quite late. I am reminded of the first time I attempted the antic of riding without side wheels. I was in my 5th grade and it was my friend’s cycle and the road leading up to her house used to be a precarious fall. It either levelled out as I grew or my visual capabilities recovered from imaginative hyperbolic perceptions. Either way, it doesn’t seem as notorious now as it did then. Anyway, I clearly remember screaming in horror as a coconut tree came rushing toward me. Thanks to the impact, the bike was broken and I stayed away from the similar adventures till I got a cycle of my own for the first time in 8th grade. 

My dreams of riding with abandon were soon put to rest as a local toddy shop opened right across my designated cycling route. Mother felt it inappropriate and unsafe for a young girl to bike in the area where drunken hooligans aka potential molesters loitered. The other route was all uphill – not exactly the average weakling’s cuppa tea. So that too came to a premature end.

Childhood whims are like one’s first love, you never quite get over them. Which is probably why, the moment I stepped inside the sprawling campus with its wide shady lanes, I knew I had my opportunity at long last!

Now, 12 years down the line, I am the proud owner of another bike. It did take a couple of weeks for my atrophied thigh muscles to get used to the climb, but they don’t complain as much now. 

The colour does make me cringe, but apparently ladies’ cycles only come in pink and lavendar in this town. Oh well. At least it stands out among the fleet of sober scooters and motorcycles!

Posted in Verses

Calicut

The land of my dreams.

The fantasy that was my childhood.

I look out eagerly from the passenger seat 

At buildings and banners flying by

And search among them

The remembered past.

The fabled streets and the taste of sherbet

The many hued halwas

And sweet faloodas

Flash before me and yet I

See them not;

I try to knead through abstruse reality

And am faced with surrealism,

Illusions of my own making.

I step into my dear aunt’s house

House, not home, mind you

For this is not home

Not this majestic monstrosity in white

With the perfect wooden floors

And the crystal chandelier

Surrounded by limp manicured shrubs

Ordered to stand to attention;

Home was where the flaky paint

Showed off marks of dirt and crayons

Where broken tiles and low parapets

With ageing wisdom

Nestled my young limbs 

While mighty trees swung their shade

Along walls where wild bougainville

Climbed and bloomed

In a frenzy of colours

In the direction of my fancy 

Where cats, no less than nine

Joined in to play with abandon..

I roam from room to room 

Struggling against my senses

And clutching at the scattered pieces

Of a child’s memories 

Afraid to let go

Lest I should lose myself.

A lonely tear strays out of my right eye

And wanders, a vagabond on a misled trail

Like me.

Posted in Verses

Green Temptation 

‘Go on, go on, a little bite’ 

The wily uncle tempted

As she sat in respite

The crafty task unattempted 

She stared at the little mango green

Placed in her tiny hand 

Eyes curious and keen,

An unsuspecting infant.

Two tiny teeth on her upper jaw

And two tiny ones on the lower

She smiled with them at all she saw

And o’er the fruit now did they hover

She bit down hard and as her face

Wrinkled in betrayal’s taste

Her uncle caught her sour gaze

In a click of notorious haste

For years to come, the photograph

Remained in the Favourites pile

For his sly capture made everyone laugh

And her innocence made them smile.

Note: My uncle was in college and experimenting with photography at the time I was born, and I was soon his favourite subject. All my childhood photos were taken by him, the first time I stood up, sat up, me creeping up the stairs.. I was around 7 months when the mango pic was taken, the first teeth just out and eager to bite into anything I got offered. I could almost taste the sourness every time I looked at it – me in a yellow dress with the very green mango in my hand and face scrunched comically. Sadly I lost it when I moved.