Sunday, May 31, 2009

I have a dream

Even at the age of 3, she knew that she was not like them. A dark ,thin girl with bright eyes and an inquisitive mind. So different from the rosy cheeked, fair skinned children of her pre-school in Delhi. Children who appeared to be their teacher's pets. Any excuse, the lady would pick them up and give them big hugs. The little girl only got smiles and encouraging pats on her back.

Her child's mind told her to search for solutions. And she did it every single day. Washing herself with soap. Smearing her face with powder. Dabbing some white paint on her skin. But nothing seemed to work.

One day, her mother found her sitting in a tub full of white water. She was rubbing her body rigorously with it. The little imp had poured in half a bottle of Dettol in her bath water. The logic was, if the magical liquid made the ordinary, transparent water white, surely it also had the ability to change her from a dark skinned girl to a fair skinned beauty. The mother told the little girl that she was pretty just as she was, but the girl was not really convinced.

She heard stories of how her elder sister was admired when she was born. A beautiful bundle of pink skin and black hair. How all the doting doctors and expecting mothers came to see the new born any time of the day and night. "Why am I not like her?" In her innocent mind, being fair was directly proportionate to being thoroughly loved.

She often ran to her wise grandmother for answers. "Nani, why do you think I am so dark? Didi isn't." The wise grandmother who was a devotee of Krishna, said, "That's because Krishna loves you so much. When you were born, He decided to give you a part of Himself. And He gave you his complexion."

The little girl was momentarily pleased but not completely happy. The next day the mother found her standing in front of nani's Krishna. " I wish you had given me your wisdom or your talent for playing the flute. Why did you have to give me the complexion?"

Listening from behind the door, the mother was amused. Her little girl was such a darling. But she was also a little sad. What made a girl of three learn that our society placed a high value on fair skin? Why did her dark little girl think she was loved less than her fair sister? Did love, respect ,kindness and all the other human emotions get swayed by the skin tone?

The mother knew then she had a difficult job ahead. She would have to instill in her daughter that the colour of her skin was never going to stand in her way to success. The path would be determined by her hard work and her perseverance. The love that she received in life would not be determined by how she looked but by her ability to love back. It would be her indomitable spirit that would make her touch the sky. The mother knew it would be a difficult job. After all, they lived in a country where every young woman aspired to be fair. Where a light skin was considered to be a step up for success. Stepping forward, with a determined smile, the mother hugged her daughter tight....

This post is dedicated to all the Indian students studying abroad who have faced hate crimes.

It is also dedicated to my younger daughter Ayushi who was born premature, tiny and dark. Not many people celebrated her birth. Her parents were too worried about her health to be happy. Her grandparents had wished for a baby boy. They were also unhappy about the colour of her skin. Only her older sister welcomed her into the family with unbridled joy. After all she had prayed hard for a baby sister.

Ayushi has grown into a beautiful girl. She is an excellent student and wins medals every year for her academic performance. She draws, dances, skates and is one of the friendliest girl in her class. She still wants to be fair but knows her parents love her just the way she is.

Her mother dreams that one day Ayushi will cast her magic over the whole world . She dreams that her daughter will show that love, compassion and joy are all you need to be beautiful.

She also dreams that one day, her daughters will inherit a world free from racism and hate. She dreams...

Monday, May 25, 2009


I am losing it. Slowly I am losing that ability to remember a particular name, a place or a word at the right time.

Yesterday we were having a a heated discussion with the society secretary about BMC's proposal to introduce a hawkers' zone in our area. Right at the most opportune moment , exactly when it was my turn to address the issue, I forgot the term 'hawker'. So here I was nudging my husband...

Me _"What do you call those people who sell their wares ?''

My husband - Shop keepers?

Me - No, no. You know those who line up on the streets and display their stuff ? And then sell them?

Husband - "Hookers?"

How did you think I reacted?

I was enraged.

All this while the secretary was watching us like a hawk. And then it struck me.

That's right...hawkers. And thank god the heated discussion continued on the right line after that.

It keeps happening all the time. I address my elder daughter by my younger one's name. She gets mad ." Mom, I am not Ayushi."

I feel guilty. "Sorry baby, It was just a slip of the tongue."

To avoid such situations from happening again, I now call her 'baby'. Whew. Motherhood is tough on a forgetful mind.

It is not just the names. I also forget incidents. Like once my sister in law, who is a very keen observer of women's dresses, asked me " Do you remember the diamond set the bride was wearing ?" Squirming I said "Yeahhhh! Was n't that gorgeous?" All the while trying desperately to remember did we actually attend a wedding together???

Then there are those incidences with the purse. I keep losing it. Just when the milk man or the presswallah comes for payment, I have trouble recalling where I kept it last. So then begin my efforts to involve the children in hunting for my elusive purse. It starts with a request, "Will you please look for my purse"? Then it becomes a threat. "Look for it or else no T.V." and ultimately turns into a bribe. "The one who finds it first gets Rs 50 from it." I am so bad at this motherhood thing.

And then there are those annoying dates. The birthdays and the anniversaries. Dates of the parent teacher meetings. Arrival or departure dates of those numerous people who come to my house. The date of the distribution of school uniform. I started making notes in my cell phone, but could not find the blasted thing when it rang. I forgot where I kept it.

I confess, initially I used to be rather worried about the state of my mind, but now I have sort of calmed myself down. If ever my mind becomes totally empty, devoid of anything substantial, my husband and my children would have to deal with it, not I. I will be in a blissful state. Imagine what a relief it will be not to remember who is coming to my house that day and what is his favourite food.

So now that I have established that losing my, er, you know, that thing...the faculty by which the human mind stores information , is not really my problem but my family's, I would like to ask you something... do you guys ever go through the same thing once in a while? This sudden loss of, you know...that word, that I vaguely remember starts with an 'm'? Let me know. I will be glad if I am not the only one with this whatchamacallit....

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Or Florence, as the world knows it, seriously overwhelms you the first time. You start thinking how could this small city turn out to be the cradle of Renaissance?

Slowly as you breathe in the city a little more, you understand it's magnetism and natural beauty a little more, you begin to comprehend what inspired Michelangelo or Dante or Leonardo or Botticelli or any other dreamer who resided here at that time to produce such magical work.

Our apartment,

aptly called "the yellow apartment" was truly beautiful. No scope for hubby to complain this time.The view outside was very pretty and the interiors were tastefully done. The landlady had in fact also stocked the kitchen with everything that was needed to make some sumptuous pasta, so thankfully we did not have to do any grocery shopping the evening we reached Florence. Close to the railway station, the apartment was conveniently located to all the landmarks of the city.

The most majestic landmark of the city was the Duomo.This cathedral took almost 150 years to complete. The Duomo,

that dominated the Florence skyline was actually two domes built from red bricks. It was an engineering feat of that time. Coming from Rome, fresh after seeing the Vatican,the structure was not as impressive to me as I had hoped, but still it was spectacular.

Florence was all about art. Considering some great artists were born there, it was hardly surprising. The best known piece of the city was perhaps the statue of David which was kept in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Carved from a single block of marble, David impressed us with its sheer size and detailed work. The bulging veins, the slight twist of the body, the innocence of the face... you could see the dedication and the skill of the artist from the work. To think he was below thirty when he crafted it. Made me feel I had just one youth and how I wasted it!

(This one is a fake, kept where David originally stood)

Seemed the world could not get enough of the Florentine artists. The museums had serpentine queues outside and it took us almost 2 hours to get into Uffizi, where most of the world-famous masterpieces were kept. After we did the obligatory museum trips which I must say my kids hated, we just sat on one of the numerous sidewalk cafes of Florence . It was my children's idea of paradise, huge slices of pizza with some unusual toppings (brinjal for instance) and scoops and scoops of gelatto. Against the setting sun, the city was a visual feast.

On our last day, we crossed the oldest bridge in Florence called Ponte Vecchio. This 14th century bridge used to house the town butchers. They would throw the unwanted leftovers into the river Arno. The ruler of Florence then closed down their shops and ordered the jewellers to showcase their wares. Since then, world famous Italian jewellers have had their shops on the bridge. The quaint little bridge was the only bridge in Florence spared by the Germans during the Second World War. All the other bridges including some medieval quarters were destroyed in the bombing.

Italians take art pretty seriously and you can see that not just from their architecture and paintings, but also from the attention they pay to their own physical beauty. You will not find shabbily dressed Italians on the streets. The men in their dapper suits and gorgeous women in their killer heels with matching bags almost glide on the streets.How they manage that with those heels, that too on cobbled stone roads still remain a mystery to me. As I am a bags and shoes person myself, the city was just my kind of place. I generally surveyed all the shops selling bags (there were plenty, Florence is famous for its hand crafted leather bags and shoes) while my kids and husband happily dug into their gelattos. The beautifully decorated shop fronts did give some serious competition to all the Botticellis and Michelangelos.

Of all the places we saw in Italy, Florence was my husband's favourite. A place where you can sit under the sun and drink some classic Chianti and see the world pass by. A place where you get the most delicious cuisine cooked in rich Tuscan olive oil, with fruits, vegetables and meat. A place where bankers, traders, religious leaders, thinkers and artists came together as if solely to create the most beautiful city on earth.

A city where even if you never enter into a museum, can still come across works of art in every street corner. A city with a beautiful name and with even more beautiful people where all of us lost a part of our hearts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lock less in Europe

If you were a Roman, Born 2000 years ago, you would have, after a hard day's work, gone to a public bath complex. You would have had a dip in a hot or cold pool. Sat in a steam or sauna room and perhaps enjoyed a gossip session with your friends. The Roman baths were after all a gathering point and a developer of a community.

Considering the spectacular art, architecture and the history of the Romans, I completely understand an European's obsession with anything Roman, be it roads, edifices or aqua ducts but to be enamored with the ideology of a public baths still, in my opinion, is a bit too much.

Bathrooms in European apartments generally do not have locks. Anyone can walk in while you are in there. The first time I went to a lock less bathroom, I was in Cambridge, U.K. I was in my cousin's apartment. There was no lock visible on the door. That was nothing new. In Europe most of the bathroom fixtures are not visible. You wave a hand and water miraculously appears from the taps. Another wave and the W.C. flushes. Expecting the technology had made the lock disappear, I stood there for ten minutes doing various waving acts from different angles. Nothing happened. No click, no shut. Finally admitting defeat, I came out and and asked my cousin about the door lock playing hooky. "It's not there", she said rather apologetically. "What? Not there? Any body can walk in while you know...?" Well, hell. it was a lesson in culture, but what do you do?

So there began my quest for a solution to this unique European issue. In U.K., I tried singing aloud every time I was in the bathroom. So now you know why 'bathroom singer' is an English expression. Has any body heard a 'Shauchalay Gayak'? No translation possible in any Indian language.

In another places I tried to keep the possible intruders away by keeping a heavy object against the bathroom door. Chairs. Stool. Microwave. Anything man, I was desperate. I also found a heavy object and a loud singing combination worked better. Sort of like a double lock. Just when I thought I had installed a perfect security system, I was foxed in Amsterdam. The door to the bathroom was sheer glass. Can you imagine that? My song and chair combo could keep away intruders but what about prying eyes? When I expressed my concern to my husband, he appeared hurt. "After so many years of marriage you do not trust me to be ethical? You think I will barge in when you are most vulnerable?"

"Well sorry honey, I don't. And I trust my two little devils even less. They are yet to grasp this concept of privacy." So this time it was a chair, my loud voice and a bed sheet hung over the sheer door.

Completely disgusted with the flawed sense of design,(Roman or not), I vented my anger. How completely vulgur and what an utter lack of courtesy. My husband looked up from his breakfast cereal and said calmly, "Every day, on way to work, Mumbaiites in trains are greeted by the sight of hundreds of people squatting beside railway tracks doing their dirty jobs. It is better to have a lock less bathroom than to have none at all".

Well guys, I was completely stumped. What do you think? Lock less in Europe or shameless in India?

Friday, May 15, 2009

When In Rome ...

We did like the Romans

We turned into temporary locals.Rented out a charming apartment, (my husband called it old and run down...our concept of charming differs) and stayed there for four days.We cooked pasta and spaghetti for dinner, did our laundry at home and went to the local markets and stores to buy vegetables and groceries. Our apartment was close to Piazza Navona and most of the tourist attractions, including the Vatican were within walking distance.

I have been to Europe before but in no other cities of the continent have I witnessed such a spectacular past. Roman ruins carelessly lay scattered throughout. Cobbled roads, made by the Romans were still in use.Walked through an alley and turned around the corner, and suddenly came across an ancient wonder. It was simply astounding.

The first day of our trip, we aimlessly walked and reached the Vatican. What we had not realised was that day being a Sunday the Pope was about to address the people.

It was a surreal feeling standing on the St. Peter's square and listening to the Pope along with thousands.The sheer grandeur of the Vatican and the atmosphere around simply stunned me.

The dome above the alter inside the St Peter's basilica epitomised pure elegance. It was designed by Michelangelo when he was 72. All of the basilica was a virtual treasure chest,but sheer wonder was a sculpture done by Michelangelo called the Pieta. A superb piece of Jesus after his Crucifixion in Mary's arms, this is apparently the only statue which bears the signature of the artist. The flawless marble had a sheen that really can not be described...almost looked like Jesus was sweating after his ordeal. Apparently in 1972, a man entered the basilica with a hammer and started striking Mary saying "I am Jesus Christ and this is not my mother". Before the security team could stop the man, he had struck almost 15 times and damaged part of her face. Since then, the statue has stood behind bullet proof glass door.

The dome of the basilica was open to public. An elevator took us halfway up. But it was still a long climb. More than the number of the steps, it was the narrow spiral way which almost did me in. My 2 daughters ran up but I was almost doddering. The steps were narrow and there was a recurring thought that if I missed a step there was nothing to hold.The climb was not for the faint hearted and people with vertigo. Towards the end I had started feeling dizzy but the view from the top was a real reward though.
The Vatican museums were enormous and we had to select the sections we wanted to see. Even then our tour took us more than 2 hours. It took me a while to believe that the prints of the famous paintings that I had seen, were actually in front of me in their original forms. The famous Sistine Chapel, with its frescoes from the Genesis was breathtaking. No matter how much I try, I will never be able to describe the beauty. I could have sat there for hours and still not been able to wholly take in their magnificence.

The next day was reserved for the ancient Roman ruins. The Pantheon. The Colosseum. The Roman palaces. The Pantheon is the best preserved ancient monument in the city.It was designed in AD 120 and is still almost intact.What was amazing was the sense of symmetry and proportion. The opening of the dome illuminates the building and lights the stone ceiling. Almost like a spot light. To imagine all this was built when the Romans lacked the modern building techniques.The original bronze door to the Pantheon, 1800 years old, still survives.

Legend has it that as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand and when Rome falls, so will the world. Of all the monuments in the city, this was the structure that thrilled my children the most. Inaugurated in AD 80, the stadium could hold almost 50,000 people.The arena had a wooden floor cover. Trap doors and passageways led to the underground chambers where the animals were kept. Wild animals in cages were hoisted onto the arena by pulleys. The floor of the arena was covered with sand to prevent the gladiators from slipping and to soak up the spilled blood. The cavea and the podium held the public and the VIPs.
Then there were those sights that we have seen so many times on T.V or pictures. Trevi fountain. Spanish steps. The Castel Sant'Angelo. The whole of the city was like an open museum.
No where in the rest of Europe have I encountered such art on the streets.

Also, nowhere else in Europe have I seen such noisy and colourful people as in Rome. We felt we were in the middle of a carnival through out our stay.There were fun, laughter and tourists everywhere. Generally, the Europeans place a high value on low decibel level. You can walk into a crowded public place and hear very little noise, but not so in Italy. There ,people love to talk rapidly and loudly, using their hands and eyes as much to emphasise their points.

There were still so many things we missed out on seeing.We only had 4 days after all. I also know no matter how many times I may go back, there would still be something left unseen. As the popular saying goes in Italy, 'Roma, non basta una vita'.
A lifetime is not enough for Rome.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You know you have landed in Mumbai when...

The plane after circling over the city finally lands but then stands on the runway for one more hour. There is no parking bay available for it.

The aerobridge is dirty and hasn't been cleaned for some days. The passengers don't really care. They are too relieved to finally get out of the plane after sitting there for more than nine hours.

The heat engulfs you the moment you step out. So does the stink from the sea, unwashed bodies and a/c ducts.

The pot bellied airport officials glare at you when you present your papers. They think it was a crime you went abroad while they were working.

The women attending to the washrooms zealously guard the toilet door. They refuse to budge or hand over the toilet tissues to you unless you give them Rs 100. Try explaining you left your purse with your husband. You will come back learning some new Marathi words.

After the harrowing wait at the custom clearance, where you explained for the hundredth time you really did not shop for anything abroad as everything was available in amchi Mumbai they finally let you go. By that time you are so tired you could have easily left your luggage with the oafs.

The mass of people waiting outside the airport is more than the mass inside. Grand parents, uncles, aunts, parents, siblings, friends and the entire neighbourhood have come to receive you. For some reason all of them look happy to see you. The same people were also happy when you left.

After negotiating your luggage trolley through some rough terrain, broken pavement, some one's shoe and I swear I am not joking, an entire family sleeping on the sidewalk, you heave a sigh of relief when you finally reach your car... only to realise the driver got bored waiting and went for a cup of chai.

Endless traffic jams later even at one in the morning (the city never sleeps after all) you are so relieved to see your home you actually start weeping. The beaming grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents, siblings, friends and your neighbours think you are homesick and can't stop smiling.

After some tea and a detailed discussion on your trip, with some extra in depth analysis on the food that you ate, you are finally allowed to go to bed. You simply crash and have the best sleep in days.

Coming back home...the bliss is beyond compare.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Roman Holiday

I am off to the bel paese for my summer break tonight.
It was a country I always wanted to see since my childhood. A country where personalities like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, and Galileo changed the meaning art, literature and science forever. A country that was once the centre of European culture.
My first stop is going to be Rome. A city that, legend has it, was founded by two brothers who claimed to be the sons of war god Mars and were raised by a she-wolf. It is a city whose influence on language, religion, law, philosophy.... last around the world even today. And most importantly for me, a city where an incognito princess, bored with her sheltered life found romance.
My husband's busy schedule means we can only spend a measly twelve days in Italy. It will not be possible to exhaust all that the country has to offer in so little time. After all how can you cram a treasure cove of are, history, cuisine and natural beauty in just twelve days? But we are definitely going to try.
As dear hubby has banned me from carrying the laptop, I will not be able to share my journey with you. So readers, there will not be any blogging for me for some time.
I hope each one of you also take a journey this summer that will change your perspective of the world for ever. So cheers every body and arrivederci.
BTW do you think if I stare at that hunk David for long enough, he will come to life? I guess there's no harm in trying!