Wednesday, March 26, 2014


( Methylation, it’s a big word that you probably don’t think applies to you, however, read on because knowing about methylation could improve or save your life.  Methylation is the process of taking a single carbon and three hydrogens, known as a methyl group, and applying it to countless critical functions in your body such as: thinking, repairing DNA, turning on and off genes, fighting infections and getting rid of environmental toxins to name a few.)

This post was inspired by this one .

We Indians, it turns out, actually have a particular gene. Or marker. Or whatever you might scientifically choose to call it.  It is always a dominant gene, and there are very few people  in whom this might actually be a recessive, if not a missing gene.

The gene goes by the acronym IIMB.

Stands for "It Is My Business "....

Sometime back in the last century,  the particular gene was observed to be behaving.

I mean, yes, the natural curiosity to know what was clearly NOT your business existed. But there was a decent amount of self regulation. 

You might have belonged to that strata of society that thought sleeveless blouses were the height of "forwardness", or wearing short divided skirts during tennis was an unparalleled act of bravery. But we let them be. There was a lady with red hair who was part of my parents group that played tennis (of sorts) in a neighboring house plot. Influenced by certain difficult to get comics that we poured over, we used to think admiringly that she was kind of half way blonde and getting there, and admire her bravado, till a maternal glare silenced us during a conversation to find out the real thing.

 It was Mehndi.       It was also none of our business. 

Years passed. Fashions changed. Tolerances changed. The IIMB gene too, began methylating.   Those who observed their own folks exhibiting the dominance of this gene, often took it upon themselves to practice its dominance. 

Sports was a big thing in our college,  I stayed at the hostel, which was considered a questionable and/or brave thing to do.  One was into badminton at a decent level of proficiency. There were tournaments, I was entered for singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles, and a Sardar classmate came to ask if my doubles partner would partner him in the mixed doubles.  There were no problems, she was a great player, and she agreed . The practices would be held daily, and certain people got unduly interested . These were daughters of families I had known since school, and erstwhile community folks. These folks would pass me by with what can only be called controlled smiles, accompanied by knowing looks.  These folks were also blessed (or cursed) with a highly dominant IIMB gene. 

Very soon, a signed letter reached my folks who were then living in another town about 150 miles away.  My "forward" behaviour was documented,  it mentioned my "moving around " with a Sardar friend, and the tone was entirely about a well wisher desperately alerting the family so I could be saved  before I went completely haywire or to the dogs.  The height of IIMB-ness.  The gene must have been shining out of their eyes and ears. 

That, my folks knew about the tournaments from my frequent letters,  that they knew about the fellows who were part of the teams, and were completely updated on the wins and losses  by me and my partners,  was unknown to these IIMB-well wishers.  The IIMB exponents received a stinging but polite letter  response, informing them that they, my folks, were completely informed and thrilled with my sports progress, my friends and my partners,  and did not need any extracurricular inaccurate and false information.

The practice of IIMB methylation continues.

 You get accosted in elevators where people tell you alternative solutions to Fair and Lovely, and rue the fact that you encourage your daughter to swim, which in turn "makes her dark".  You get asked if you don't feel ashamed about wearing a swimming costume at the pool, and you mentally crack up with visions of yourself floating in six yards of billowing fabric, trying to do the freestyle, coming out and challenging the typical Bollywood rain-and-wet-saree-outfit scene, as you emerge out of the pool. 33 years ago, I resigned from my job, which was considered a fairly stupid thing to do and quite unheard of, since I stayed withing walking distance.   The next day, as I emerged  with my son in his stroller , from our hospital where I had gone for some clearance certificates, some amazing exponents of IIMB stopped me to ask if I was leaving for the USA .  (That I started working again later, and subsequently retired honorably probably confuses them.  So be it. Exercises for the IIMB mind)

What analysis, what concentration, what interest, and what nonsense ....

Way then, into her late sixties, my late mother discovered hair dye. She tried it for a few years, then decided the chemicals were too dangerous, and I would occasionally observe her using plain kajal to touch up what she thought were excessively prominent white streaks.  Such was my  recessive IIMB status , that I never dared ask , forget question her about this.   I know folks who use mehndi, and get certain tinges in their hair.  But it's always clear that this is not and never likely to be a subject for advice and debate.  

On a personal level, one has tried these things. While suddenly showing up with jet black hair is not likely  to change people's opinion of you, it is too much trouble , trying to be what you are not.  Once in a while , in the manner of enjoying an exotic fruit, one treats oneself to such things. And like exotic fruit, these things are not mandatory.

So before a family wedding, while IIMB types plead with you to visit a hairdye place ("you need to get a facial too") , you indulge your daughter, who suddenly takes things in hand , literally, wraps a thing around your shoulders, and  proceeds to slather stuff on your hair. You enjoy the surprised looks on people's faces.  You also don't notice, how one month down the line, the white has started inching up.  You don't care either, as you revel in what your daughter did. :-)

But I am sure some IIMB lurker has.  

In the meanwhile, someone recently got married, and spent hours getting her mehndi done for the big day. Amidst the artful swirls and intricate mehndi designs,  there are two prominent tattoos that show up on the forearms.  One is of a butterfly, and one is of a Canon Camera.  These were done ages ago.

Tattoos , did you say ?

And I am waiting. 

For the IIMB types .

 To rush and advise with their interpretations.  Solutions. Emails. Letters.

Or does it mean that the dominance of IIMB is  receding?    


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Different minds, different smells

Inhaling, is serious business. Sometimes, it is also an unpleasant business.


The sheer topography, weather, and density of Mumbai, has widened  the mind, so much so, that the numerical variety of smells you have to deal with in daily life, seriously challenges the number of olfactory neurons sitting, aram se, amidst the cilia at the back of your nose.

It means , beginning your day with the smell of boiling , sometimes overflowing milk, mixing seamlessly with the smell of puja lamps, flowers and garlic tadkas from the neighbors kitchen, amidst whiffs of powder and deo's as assorted folks secure  their temporary body fragrances, exit through the door and permeate the elevators, in a clash of sandalwood,lavender and sometimes even pinewood, in city that is losing its green at an alarming rate..

Then there are various combinations, hitherto not thought off by fragrance folks in Paris.  The leading smell would be  a fine combination cow dung and diesel, often  imbibed by our pores, as we wait for Mumbai's lifeline, the BEST buses, which again open the doors to a world of different smells. Unwashed shirt smells  mixing with gleaming coconut oil smells as you fit yourself into a space  designed for someone half your size. Sudden whiffs of jasmines as a lady in a morning silk just out of mothballs, struggles to reach the exit door. Many times, a fellow will push past, reeking of alcohol, designed to make you throw up early in the morning.  We need to be grateful that phones don't smell; the bus would be a confused haven for fragrances, given the number of passengers busy staring at their phones and moving fingers.

The trains are a different world altogether. They ride roughshod over landscapes that reek.  Of an unsanitary city, that doesn't care for its women and children, of creeks that are treated like dirt , stuffed with trash,  the mangroves starved, so  that  shameless mercenary types can build .  So the smell of rotten fish mixes avidly with the smell of the fresh fish baskets carried in the trains by the fisher women ;  sometimes rotten fruit under some seats making their presence felt, all mixed with deos and  perfumes across the spectrum of price, mingling in Brownian motion in the ladies compartment.  Station smells, particularly when empty, a combination of rexin, metal, steam , fire and smoke, interspersed with bathroom smells.

There are some smells , a good decent hot water bath and scrub will get rid off. When the water is available, that is.  Since we realized the value of the Sun only after the West pointed it out,  the quickest way today, to get hot water is the instant geyser, which most of us use, in preference to the old style boilers and heaters that enhanced our electric bills wildly. 

And so a daily return home, followed by a quick hot shower gets the smells out and the squished muscles freed.


There are however, some smells that have no easy solution, instantly Racoldian, or not. 

These are smells of money that came from cheating, corruption, lying and crime. Hot water of all the instantly angry geysers in the world, will not be enough to wipe out these smells.  You get these smells sometimes in temples as well, when you see certain worshippers performing complicated vidhis , beseeching God to turn a blind eye to their dubious activities .

But. Not all smells are smelly,  although they sometimes do have a Racoldian solution.

He was in his late eighties, a hitherto very active and fit person, coming to terms with the sudden effects of old age, which confined him to a bed. Most of his family was overseas, except one member who stayed with him off and on to take care of him, and work along with the nursing and home care.

It was a life where you triumphed if you were able to turn on your side on your own, or mouthed a silent victory whoop, if could lead a spoonful of soup into your mouth.  It went without saying that baths didn't happen, and sponging was the order of the day. The mind however was alert, and he looked forward to friends and relatives who dropped by.

There was attendant lady, Mangala,  who would manage his meals and cleaning when the family member was not there, or late.  And then one day, there was excitement. Some of the overseas family was about to arrive in a few days.  Mangalabai looked forward to these things in a world where people were so few and problems so many.

One morning she woke up his daughter , the local member, at 4 am. No, there was no problem. Just that after weeks of sponging and horizontal baths, she wanted to organize a proper bath/shower for the patient, and wanted to know if one could go ahead.  "So many visitors coming to see him and stay with us, and ma'am,  we cant have him smelling of ointments, food and stuff; help me ...... "

And so they both helped get him seated on a computer chair with wheels, and trundled over to the bath, where a bucket was filling with hot water from the  old Racold  geyser, mixing nicely with drops of Dettol. The daughter helped lift him up by holding him around his chest from behind him, and held him vertical , bent over backward herself, but supported by the wall, while fresh , hot and clean water streamed all across him, and he got lightly but carefully scrubbed, keeping in mind the instructions of the doctor. An early morning freshness rivalling that of the just emerging flowers in the garden.  A careful dry rub , a good dusting of medical powder, and  he was ready, smelling of health and old days, in some simple clean clothes, to meet another day.

No one bothered about the status of the computer chair. It probably dried somewhere on its own.  It too, had got a hot and fresh cleaning thanks to the hotwater treatment . Someone threw a fresh dry towel across it, he sat down on it, and they slowly trundled back to his bed, where he laboriously stretched out, helped by the two women.

Fresh, clean, and generating a fragrance which was a  strange mix of  antiseptics, care, comfort, lightness, cleanliness and concern. He felt tired, but hungry, thanks to the exertion amidst smells and hot geyser water           
And so , it seems, that smells are not always in the nose of the inhaler. Sometimes, they are in the eyes, sometimes  in the ears when you listen to unsaid wishes, and mostly in the mind. 

Possibly aided  by the instant hot water geyser. The old man approved. He always frowned on wasting of electricity by keeping on boilers carelessly the whole morning.

The circumstances of the bath were a bit odd,  but he felt good ; about the bath, the geyser, his family and staff.

Did you say "smells" ?

What smells ?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Through the same eyes.....

(Very clearly, one is a child's observation and one, a mother's, both being the same individual.......)  

Fifty years ago.

The emphasis was on sides.  The bride's side or the groom's side. 

The former always had several ladies bustling around in a permanent crisis-handling mode.  The bride was the least important.  There were standard sarees, standard jewellery , the muhurtam or auspicious moment was always what I called a Prime muhurtam (indivisible by any number)  like 8:47 am etc. There was never a hint of any fancy makeup on the bride's face. Jewellery was not so much about what suited her, but more about what needed to be seen.

The groom's side had an intrinsic victorious look, that manifested itself in the form of relaxed folks,  accompanied by what one might call expert commentators, in the form of older grand folks.  They sat in the first row in the wedding hall, keenly watching the proceedings, with an eye on who was presenting what to whom, occasionally nodding in a fashion that implied "I told you so ...". The groom's sister usually enjoyed her day in the sun (if not yet married) , and an opportunity to flaunt her enhanced status (if already married), all the while thinking about how she went through it all herself.

There were no quick and fast religious rituals based on conveniences of guest folks going to work or the priests having to go preside at another place.  There was a time for each ritual and was strictly adhered to. 

Someone from the groom's side sulking about something was always de rigeur. The reason could range from the absence of a certain delicacy in the food, to what would be hitherto unseen level of ordinariness in a particular gift. At some point the mother-in-law/son-in-law's feet were washed in some ritual, and folks from the groom's side who refused to have this done, were considered akin to saints.

Soon after they were pronounced man and wife, the bride was led to the enclosure meant for the groom's side,  and gifted sarees along with someone vicariously insisting that  she change forthwith into sarees "from our side" . 

The bride was usually asked to "say" her husband's name in a rhyming couplet having to do with  God, stars, gardens, flowers, kind in-laws, honor, respect and so on.  This was usually done after displaying a suitable and approved level of  shyness.      

The food was always traditional, there were jilebi and laddoo gluttons who devoured stuff by the plateful and were applauded, with a wild disregard for their metabolic state.  Some predecided lady with latent musical talent was urged to sing , and with a suitable humble delay, she would start, her right hand on a piece of chapati/puri , eyes looking down into the sabji, or even a shrikhand, while some kids 3 lines away had a ha ha moment.

There really were no receptions.  Brides were not supposed to go beautify themselves in parlours.  If at all there was a reception, someone purporting to be a beauty expert came to do the bride's hair etc.  Very clearly, the only place the bride went to, from the wedding venue, was the house of the in laws.  There were no buffets, and multi cuisine deals. There was a "plate" consisting of items arrived at from a judicious mix of  sweet, spicy, hot, fluid,  sometimes accompanied, inexplicably , by Coca Cola. 

Which brings me to the  preferred activity of kids at the wedding. Most families didn't allow their kids to drink Coca Cola. No one kept crates at home.  And so weddings were a wild free-for-all. (Many who grew up during the time Coca Cola was banned , and Thums Up appeared on the scene, may not realize that we did have Coca Cola in my childhood , 50 years ago. It's just that we kept our distance from it, at home ).  This always resulted in bunches of kids having competitions to see who could drink the most, with disastrous consequences later. There was no bride-groom divide amidst kids, hitherto united by the objective of glugging down unlimited bottles of cola . 

There really were no professional photographers.  There were, if at all, candid photos, clicked by guests and family chroniclers.  Small children, attracted by the fancy chairs meant for the bride and groom, usually landed up magically and sat on them , while the bride and groom went to touch some one's feet somewhere. (This has possibly remained unchanged even today)

An amazing feature of these weddings was what is called "Waraat" in Marathi and possibly "Baraat" in Hindi. Unlike the north Indian custom of baraat being a collection of the groom's side folks dancing in wild abandon around a baffled horse carrying a decorated groom to his wedding, the "waraat" , a post wedding event in Marathi weddings, was almost always a decorated open vintage car (the likes of which are collected by  rich folks today), with a flower bedecked umbrella canopy on top.

It was led in front by a uniformed band playing  suitable tunes which were then popular, along with a set of folks  walking along with big petromax lamps on their heads.  This flower bedecked car,  being possibly being driven at 5 kmph, was followed on foot, by all kinds of folks , walking sedately behind, in suitable finery,  in a great show of unity , as the bride and groom proceeded to  visit the family deity at a popular temple, before reaching the in law's house. A prosperous groom's side would often have a fireworks display  preceeding the band.  Some troublesome kids were often plonked in the front seat of the vintage car from where they often instructed the band to play certain tunes at times.  The bands would often play what are now considered old classics, the lyrics all having to do with a bride leaving her parental home, having to find happiness in the house to which she was being "beqeathed" .  Towards the end , it was not unusual to see young parents in the waraat , carrying sleeping kids,  walking  slowly, patting the child's back.

They had probably, as they say , " been there, done that "....... 

And I think about all this, today, when weddings are more about how the bride and groom want them to be.  When mandatory rituals are now explained before being performed.  There is an indulgent attitude towards the bride's and groom's wedding clothes, more so when it harks back to old traditional  wear, with the groom wearing a dhoti and puneri pagdi, and the bride in a radiant traditional yellow nine yards. Digital photography has meant unlimited clicks, and a detailed chronicling of the events of the day. Beauticians think nothing of visiting the bridal house at 5 am to "do up" the bride, hairstyles, makeup, and a beautiful draping of the wedding nine yards.  The bride and groom chit chat before and after the event, much at ease.  There are fun  "mangalaashtakas" sung  before the final Sanskrit verses by a young person from the groom's side, bringing a smile to the faces of so many from the bride's side.  The "sides"  per se, are mostly virtual, as the guests mingle around and mix around the vidhi mandap, waiting for the final verses to start.  Poses are held , aided by the officiating gurujis, so that various stages of the ceremony can be documented electronically, closed eyes are instantaneously detected and the click redone.  The bride still says the groom's name in a rhyming couplet, and it still mentions  flowers, God, trees, honor, in-laws etc,  and similar  elderly folks nod in approval, all the while knowing that the bride simply normally refers and calls  her groom by his name in  second person singular. Almost no one sings at the sit-down lunch, which is in itself rare these days, what with the multi cuisine buffets happening. Receptions are dress-up occasions, with grand decorations and entire meals . There are videos made, and thousands of photos clicked. You sift through these and the photographer presents you with a fancy album at the end of it all. All this for prices which would be considered outrageous , but we don't talk about that. 

The only thing that remains unchanged across  almost half a century, is that heartfelt tug in the mind of the mother,  as she sees her daughter depart to step into a new life .......

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Special days of special people

It was Bhaidooj day,  a quarter of a century ago,  when the three of them brought her home.

He, and his Mom and Dad.  Traditionally , he was supposed to give her a Bhaidooj gift, which he did.  He gave her a brother. And a father and a mother. 

For all of them, it was a voyage of discovery.  About how a non regimented very young mind worked.  There was implicit trust in family.  There was an urge to do everything her brother did.  Including carrying big school bags, cycling (never mind if you needed to dash into a bush in lieu of brakes),  playing tennis (waving a bat as tall as herself  and strewing leaves instead of tennis balls), carrying water bottles (famously on a trip to Germany , in case the plane 'stopped' in the sky en route, and there was nothing to eat and drink). Sometimes, she even tried to emulate studying. 

And then it was a whirlwind  , which would occasionally calm down to an orderly breeze.  New places, new friends, new opinions, and new discoveries. New crazes, new fetishes,  new secrets, new words, new talents.

At one point she was, besides school, learning kathak, karate, tabletennis, attending an early morning physical fitness camp, cycling, and swimming.  Somewhere by the end of primary school , only swimming remained. Till she left college. Almost.

There was a childhood, and then a teenage, replete with rebellions and questions. Some questions had answers, some did not.  Some answers were questioned. rethought, and at some point accepted on trust.

It took some time to decide who to trust outside the home. There were friends a plenty. College, classes, fun activities, field trips, and she discovered photography, thanks to a point and shoot first gifted to her by an uncle. Introduction to social media happened side by side with a firming up of opinions, however opposite they might have been to older folks in the family. There was an avid following of trends followed by a suspicious stop. The trauma of not being pencil thin with ruler straight hair.  The former was built into her physique, but the latter was made possible at one point, and she went a few clouds higher on seeing the response from friends.

Divali has always been significant for her.  Much before she even knew what Divali was.   For years together now, she has been visiting the place where she came to us from, during Divali, specifically Bhaidooj , to share sweets and games with the little kids there.

Sometime around last Divali, she met someone who turned out to be someone special.   And decided to go to the next step.

She didn't know how many well wishers she had.

They came is droves from across the Ghats  and the Oceans, beating the Expressway toll naka agitations, and delayed flights across the Pacific and Atlantic. A day full of friends and relatives under an open air mandap, in a flower bedecked  mini mandap, where the ceremonies happened. She in a traditional yellow nine yards saree, and he in a dhoti and coat with a traditional Puneri Pagdi . Transformed into a Paithani laden evening reception  amidst lake breezes, pale golden lights, delicious food, and a waterfall entrance; she was always fascinated by magic,  and this was magical.

Way into the evening, the guests had departed; some to catch flights to meet leave deadlines, some , in anticipation of a work Monday, and some, who suddenly realized that the event for which they had come was over.

Dinner done, the set of parents and the couple walked over to the car.  Her brother was very much there, on a special leave from his University.

This was an unseasonal Divali for her, what with the lights, and the food, and the glitter, and the pujas. 

Once again they stood together with her, in the quiet of the tree laden driveway.

Everyone had left.

Once again, it was just her brother, her Mom and her  Dad.   Dreading the moment, but trying to hide it all.

Her new family came down the steps. And she went off, stoic in her farewells,  excited, and smiling , looking ahead into her new life, with her new family.  

 Like she did , twenty five years ago.  Another Divali.  

When there was a brother, a Mom and  a  Dad.  Waiting for her.

 They still do. So they can hear all her fun stories, exchange glances with her special person, and have a good laugh together......