Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Ananya the six-year-old smiles with her eyes before the corners of her mouth begin to dance.

One of the first times I met her was when she came to the office with her backpack stuffed with entertainment for the day. Her parents were both at the office and she didn’t have school, so she was instructed to busy herself and not disturb anyone else.
I was almost done with the newsletter and had some free time so we went for a short walk and picked up some leaves. I showed her how to colour over the veins and make patterns through paper and she showed me how to wrap a dupatta around my head and transform myself into a queen.

Another time she was visiting, I heard singing. I grabbed my tea and peeked into the conference room and Ananya was dancing around the table with flowers tucked behind each ear and scarves draped over her hands.
‘Whatchu doing?’ I asked.
‘Ohfo,’ she turned around impatiently, ‘Can’t you see? My husband and I have been married for seven years and I’m doing a puja to see if we still love each other.’
‘Oh, okay,’ I said casually, ‘Can I watch?’
And when she nodded I quietly sat down in the nearest chair.
‘Can’t you see?’ she said, her eyes as big as saucers, ‘That’s where my son is sitting.’
I quickly switched chairs and asked how old her son was.
‘He’s six.’
And then she danced and sang and swished her scarves around and chanted Om most soberly, indicating the ceremony was done and that I must conclude by saying ‘shanti shanti heee.’

I told my Project Coordinator - her mom - about the love-test puja later and she rolled her eyes. I think it has to do with being an only child, she said. And then she looked at me and asked if I was happy as a kid.
I was, I replied. And I’ve never really missed having a sibling because you find that you’re an interesting enough person to spend time with, I smiled, signalling to Ananya reading softly to herself.

Ananya’s in school now, learning arithmetic and pottery and the life cycle of butterflies.
Soon she’ll learn too much. Her smiles will be reserved for those she knows, never for strangers. Her treks down the road in search of the perfect flower will be bartered for tuitions.
Her wide-eyed belief in the tooth fairy, who sneaks into her room and slips a five rupee coin under her pillow, will be traded for gift coupons at the mall. Her screeches of delight at having her father announce it’s time for swimming class will be swapped for crossed legs and polite thank yous.
Soon she’ll grow up and she’ll remember what was. Maybe she’ll have a blog and write about first crushes and head rushes. She’ll meet friends of her parents who’ll tell stories that embarrass her in front of her friends.

Now Ananya sings songs out loud whether the people in the room are real or imaginary. She instructs me not to pick up completely dried leaves from the ground because the ritual of dying is complete and mustn’t be interfered with.
She runs into the room and removes my headphones that cocoon me from the rest of the world so that I can pay attention to her latest masterpiece in crayon and photocopier paper. She tosses her hair authoritatively over her shoulder and grabs the latest Down to Earth, tucking it under her arm like it’s a purse. She announces that her children have to be dropped to school (the balcony). She slurps iced tea with her legs dangling from the chair.

But I love best that she smiles with her eyes before the corners of her mouth begin to dance.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Five things

Another tag.

This one requires one to post five things to do in one’s city - not touristy stuff, but what one loves to do.

I know, I know. Five things in one city.
I suppose this is fraudulent, but I couldn’t make up my mind. Noting down all my favourite things made me realise how much I love each of my cities. So I’m posting the entire ordeal that I went through in choosing just one place. And that’s why I could leave out none.
So here’s a list of my five favourite things to do in the cities that have been home to me so far.

I keep coming home to:

  • Full meals at RR
  • Bus-ing my way around the city and looking at the traffic without an ounce of road rage
  • Fish curry-dosa at Pecos
  • Disappearing for hours at the invisible Select Bookshop
  • Walking the streets of Indiranagar/Jayanagar/CV Raman nagar when it drizzles

Home base and respite during my work in Orissa:

  • Diesel fry
  • Sitting on the wall of the Dhauli looking over the expanse of paddy fields between the stupa and the city (must be done again before Bbsr starts eating up the empty space and engulfs Dhauli altogether)
  • Multiple share autos
  • Badam kulfi at Unit I market
  • Sleeping on the terrace during sweltering summer nights

ACJ and an insane schedule permitted the following:

  • Iddiappams at Vasantha Bhavan
  • Frozen yoghurt at Amethyst
  • Turtle walks
  • Watching local and amateur rock bands perform at the Unwind Centre
  • Lingerie shopping at Mermaid with the girls

The following make me feel at home:

  • A corner table and conversation at Dolly's Tea Shop in the Dakshinapan shopping complex
  • Phuchka
  • Elaborate breakfasts at Flury’s
  • Stopping for maati bhaarer cha at a corner tea stall, asking for refills in the same earthen cup until you’re entirely satisfied
  • Tram rides (because nobody’s ever in a hurry)

And now, Arka, Gee Baby and Aristera may consider themselves tagged.

Fifty five in parts

A steady buzzing vibration woke him as he lay down, his feet sticking out of the taxi window. Reaching behind him, he found the phone wedged between the seat.
The glowing screen registered eleven missed calls.
Stupid drunk girl had left it behind.
I’ll get a good price for this, he thought, switching it off.

In response to this by BB.
As part of a 55 fiction-chain initiative by Gaurav.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Strange Google searches

Being tagged provides one the opportunity to post without actually having to think. Good fun, this.
So, as BB from Dilettante has requested, here are the ten strangest Google search terms that have led the unsuspecting to my 'blog.
  1. What means "craned my neck"
  2. India lightning goddess
  3. Sridevi before plastic surgery
  4. gym lady; India
  5. dying for a smoke
  6. Krishna tattoo, nose piercing India
  7. potato ganesha pakora
  8. hot coorg women
  9. gurgaon city salsa classes
  10. One forgotten phone call and I'm deflated

And in true spirit of such memes, I will now tag Teleute, Gamesmaster and eM.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Flash 55

The sun somehow dipped below the turquoise sky. It sat laughing above the girls standing side by side, the same smile stretching across their identical faces. The same spindly legs, the same big ears. The same triangle frocks.

Then there was a pause. Tiny hands reached for the box and the search for lavender began.

And BB continues here.

Silly me(me)

It appears I’ve been tagged by Mia.
The silly picture tag dictates that one must post atleast one silly picture of oneself. The picture has to be taken within the last 5 years, and one has to look silly in it.
The silly picture could be balanced out by a normal picture, but silly stays.

Ah, the problem of plenty. In my case, I had much to choose from.
So for those of you who take this blog (or me) too seriously, here is a selection of Chamique’s (most recent) silliness.

Exhibit A: July, 2005

Exhibit B: Bonus silliness from last night.

And now I tag both Dilettante and Blr Bytes from doesthisthat, Dr. Legalese, Chemical brother, and Scribbleamus.
Show me some silly, you people!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Kolkata is kind to me

It’s a strange kind of sadness that sweeps over you when you hear a young man singing Rabindrasangeeth for small change on a train. We were on our way to Bolpur and he climbed into our compartment. The maudlin of his songs and the unrealistic green of the paddy fields made me feel like I was in art film. (Yes, I can get most dreamy sometimes, but it might well have been the thought of Santiniketan and all that’s associated with it that did this to me.)

I’ve often travelled by train to Kolkata from South India. Sitting by the window, I’d watch the countryside through the shaded blue tint of the glass. (Ma insisted we travel by AC and I only discovered the joys of the general compartment when I started travelling on my own.) As soon as the first chaiwallah announced himself to the sleepy compartment, I’d jump down from my Side Upper berth (still a constant) and push my mother’s feet impatiently aside to press my forehead to the window.

Since then I’ve looked out at the countryside bathed in the light of the winter mornings, summer evenings, spring twilights and monsoon afternoons. And I’ve noticed that the countryside there has only one colour in all those seasonal mornings. Green. A hundred million shades of green. And small clumps of trees in the middle of the artificial-looking bright green paddy. Trees that give way to houses and villages, and as the train passes by, you see tiny dots of people in the distance, coming to the field from the warmth of their morning chulha or readying to light the night’s fire. And then it blends into another village miles away. A whole new shade of green, a new clump of trees, a differently coloured pond - a whole different world in the space of a train-minute.

So when the harmonium strains faded and the singing ended, the wandering musician stood silently in the middle of the aisle with his palm outstretched. As I handed him my appreciation, I wondered if he actually supported a family with his singing. As I wonder with rickshaw pullers and cobblers and people who sit on the footpath with just a few fruits placed neatly on newspaper for sale.

Kolkata was the same and not quite. I’ve discovered that the monsoon was born in Kolkata. I’ve come to believe that Calcuttans consider waiting at a traffic light for a little over two minutes as the equivalent of being stuck in a ‘traffic jam’. (And is it just me, or is every city now greener than what used to be the garden city?)

I love Kolkata’s weathered buildings and the ubiquitous black umbrella that everyone carries with them as soon as they step out (Chaata nite bhulo naa kintu!). I love that everyone has time for a chat. I love the jade ponds that dot the landscape, the people bathing at water fountains on the sidewalk, the children splashing soap water in delight at having beaten the sultry heat for a while. I love maati bhaarer cha – sipping steaming tea from the cool dry clay, smelling the earthy bottom of the cup once the last drop has been drained. I love the shocking red of hibiscus that garlands the Ma Kali idols and photographs. The shocking red of shindoor in the parting of black hair.

I love the bazaar that dadu visits to get three different kinds of fish for a single meal. Even though he’s past eighty and has to take a rickshaw back home when the groceries are heavy, he hasn’t given up his authoritarian task of fish-buying. I’d go to the bazaar with dadu and carry the groceries back, forcing him to walk the return trip, insisting he needed the excercise.
He’d wave out to the people in shops on the way and call out, This is my naatni. My older daughter’s girl. From Bangalore!
And they all nodded and said they could see the resemblance. The tea blender and the mishti shop owner. The chemist and the tailor. Everyone down the entire street.
Surprise visit! We didn’t even know! And my ear would be twisted playfully.

I asked the man who was descaling our ilish where his fish came from.
Madras, he said, matter-of-factly.
Really? Where in Madras? But there’s no ilish in Madras.
Andhra, dadu clarified quietly.
Oh, Andhra, I said loudly.
Madras, he repeated.
I seemed to have forgotten that anywhere south of Orissa is Madras for some people.

And then I got back on a train and watched the landscape change from audacious green to red mud. And I didn’t know which way was home for a while.