Serial Killer part 3 – day 16 : Lost and found

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A big festivals just around the corner. So it was that time again for a quick clutter clearing & maybe some cleaning too. The attic was about to burst at its seams and I probably needed to rearrange the furniture, change the light bulbs in the hallway, fix the staircase railing, start living my life the way I want to, etc. So I decided the attic was the best place to start.

The ladder was set up & I gingerly approached each step as I’ve had some interesting slips in the past. The attic had taken on some deep ennui with boxes & an old computer and some random pieces of furniture. Post lunch sluggishness was creeping into me but I just had to find this old single bed cover that had been gifted to me by my mother in law. It was a textile legacy no doubt – a Phulkari Chaddar embroidered brazenly in gold, orange & red silk threads. Definitely going to be the showstopper in the living room I thought.

After rummaging through a couple of boxes, I spotted the wooden, slightly broken chest. Aha that’s where it was! I was thankful that it had taken me less than an hour to locate it. Inside the chest amongst random letters, cards, some pebbles in a jar, a journal, lay the beautiful Chaddar slightly dishevelled but nothing a good dry in the sun couldn’t fix. Its part of the family legacy now as its probably about a 100 years old now.

Phulkari chaddar

Phulkari chaddar – a traditional hand embroidered fabric from Punjab (both India & Pakistan)

 

I had some time so I opened up the old journal as well. I felt a tug in my heart as I hadn’t read or written in that journal since May 2009! 5 years was a long time so I mustered up the courage to read the journal.

January 2009 was the first entry and it was my documentation of my pregnancy! I could feel the elation in my writing surge carelessly through me. Each month had something funny or sweet to share. I remember all of it vividly. It was all okay till I reached my last entry dated 8th May.
I wept as the devastating memory of the lost little one came crashing through. We lost her on 5th May due to a massive fibroid that had developed in my uterus alongside the foetus and it had pushed her out. Back then I had felt terribly sad that she had to go for no fault of hers. Shucks…why did I have to find the journal today but maybe it was necessary. I had to find it so that things could come a full circle. Today I feel like I need to honour her memory by not having any more weeping sessions. I feel blessed for the 5 beautiful months for they were undoubtedly beautiful and I’m blessed that today we have a 2 year old daughter who occupies my every waking thought.

I held the journal close to my heart for a while & then wrapped the chaddar around it and brought both back downstairs to the living room with me. They both had pride of place and it felt complete.

 

Day 13 challenge – Serial killer..part 2: BFF!

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I think I’ve been writing a lot about a particular time from the past where we were living in this fab flat in Kolkata. This is definitely a continuation of sorts. Perhaps some part of me is still there! The writing 101 challenge has definitely brought up a lot of the memories and its also served up ready inspiration. Today as part of Writing 101, I’d like to tell you about finding something.

It was encased in a lovely cream envelope. I found it at my parents’ place the last time I was there. A fat wad of papers filled with colour literally and in words too…a letter from my childhood friend Ritz! It was 9 pages long and written on both sides. I do wish I had taken a photo of it or brought it back with me. This one was dated some time in 1998 and she described her week in great detail. We loved writing to each other and that was the best way we could stay in touch before emails were common and phone calls expensive. Oh yes..no mobile phones either. She’s incredibly talented currently teaching in a renowned architecture school in India and her creativity knew no bounds.

I first met her on her way back from school and it was then that I realised we lived in the same building. It was a short conversation but after that we met almost everyday… we became inseparable..best friends! Our mothers became used to us having our meals at each others place and my place was the hotspot where both of us along with our largish gang would get up to lots of mischief. Once we startled a young man wooing the local beauty so badly that he almost fell off the scooter! We thought it was funny and didn’t really care about the possible consequence. We comforted each other through all our heartaches, heart breaks and cheered on every achievement and she was a high achiever no doubt. Before we knew it though it was time to part ways for her father had been transferred to another town. All of 15 and overwhelmed by the sudden parting of ways, we stayed in touch through letters. She wrote the most beautiful letters both in words and in pictures. She also regularly sent cards hand painted by her! I used to really look forward to those letters.

I found myself a friend who’s probably the one person who knows me better than any other friend and that too without being judgmental, back in that 1st storey flat where god only knows how many more memories are awaiting to be unlocked. I’m so getting them back with me the next time I go to India.

Day 14: To Nani-Ma

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Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there.

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

 I think this post was meant to be! Some cosmic connection or message has come through for I found an old letter written by my husband’s maternal grandmother or Nani-Ma on page 29 of the book… I just stared at it in disbelief for a while and then quickly took a picture of it.

Here’s a translation though I couldn’t decipher the last line much :

“My (grand) sons G… & G…,

Lots of blessings and love.

I wish for you many happy blessings and festivities and always remember to celebrate every festival with everyone.

My deepest wish is that you have a healthy and happy life by the grace of God. Always fulfil your duties and remember to only take for yourself after you’ve given unto others.

S… has been transferred to Nasik.

Your Nani-Ma

Pushpa.”

This one’s dedicated to the amazing lady who accepted me before any other elder in the family could have and taught me Punjabi songs. In loving memory of my sweet Nanima.

I found this on page 29!

                                   I found this on page 29!

The serial killer… part 1

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I’ve always debated about the middle child syndrome! I was constantly vying for my older siblings’ approval & my younger sibling’s respect and most of all my parents’ attention. So it was no surprise that every time any of my siblings wanted something from me, they could blackmail their way into getting it. What can i say… I was a vulnerable, gullible & weird teenager!

Back in the day the purse strings were always tight so when a gilded gift arrived from my grandfather for me, I was elated! Finally I had my own pair of gold earrings!! No more begging the older sis or mom to lend me their pretty earrings. But then as fate would have it, my older sis reaaaalllly liked the earrings too so it was her turn to do the begging for stuff from me. I felt powerful and important for the first time in the hierarchy of siblings! I told her she can’t have it, at least not today for it was still so new for me. She got so furious with me that she called me selfish and swore she’d never speak to me again and that I was ungrateful etc. Of course my plan had backfired for I didn’t want to be in her bad books so whilst she was getting ready to go to school, I quietly placed the earrings in a small paper packet into her school shoes. She’d definitely see them there and then she’d be delighted surely or so I thought. What happened next was something I never expected.

The house was being mopped at that time by the cleaner & after she left, my sister wore her shoes and marched out. I followed her to ask her why she hadn’t worn the earrings. She looked at me and yelled at me not to speak to her as I hadn’t given her the earrings.

‘But..but i put it into your shoe..the one you’re wearing’, I said.

‘What!!!’ she snapped.

Hurriedly she removed her shoe but there was no sign of the earrings of course. We ran back to her room to look for the earrings. Perhaps it fell into another shoe. We turned the entire shoe rack upside down and still there was no sign of it. My mother who sensed a commotion came to investigate. I broke down in tears and panic and explained what happened. She was so furious with me and then both of us. She called the cleaner & we all rummaged through trash but still didnt find anything. She even asked the cleaner if she had taken it and that if she had, to please return it as it was special and we wouldn’t press charges or hold it against her. The cleaner denied everything and behaved like she was being strangled by nettles.

Never found the earrings. My mom stayed cross with me for almost a month for losing it. My elder sister just went about her life as usual. Later on we did find other random things missing from our house till we finally let go of the cleaner. I moped about feeling horrible for a really long time after… it gets to me till this day that no one really saw my intent.

Day 12 : The tomboy!

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This is the first time I’m writing or talking about this little big incident that happened when I was 18. At this junction in my life, I think I’m really comfortable where I am with regards to how I feel about myself. Of course it wasn’t always like this. It took that one sentence in my life to turn my self perception around.

At that point in my life, it was all about being popular… about being a pageant queen or a supermodel or actress or some sort of celebrity! Mind you most of the friends & acquaintances I had back then are today really successful and some actually celebrities too much to my delight. I had been a tomboy for most of my teenage years & suddenly towards the end of it there was an overbearing need to change that..to ‘fit’ in or be left out. I got entangled in it so quickly I didn’t even realise it. Boys called me dude and girls didn’t get why I still wanted to go playing badminton or actually swim in the swimming pool and not look at the boys. How do you change a jeans, tshirt & trainers wearing girl to someone who’s at least remotely feminine…well… you enroll yourself for one of these random local fashion shows. It felt like such a mistake but it was too late before I realised that. I knew all the 16 other participants and they were either drop dead gorgeous or super feminine. We had to also audition to get into the show which didn’t sound too good. There was a lot of giggling and whispering as I walked into the big hall gingerly where the auditions were being held. I heard someone mutter ‘what’s she doing here’ and ‘oh god…really!’! I had borrowed a friend’s snug fitting clothes so that I ‘looked’ the part. We had to catwalk down a ramp and then the designer & choreographer of the show would decide who gets on. I actually enjoyed sashaying down despite the precarious heels. At the end of the auditions as we all sat down in the hall, I felt a little different.

‘Everyone except Tampha please sit on the seats left to the ramp!”, said the choreographer calmly.

What! Shit! I thought it wasn’t that bad. This couldn’t be happening to me. I’ll never be able to walk down the colony without a jeer or two I thought. What’ll everyone say! I’ll never get a boyfriend! I was singled out for my weird looks & being a tomboy I told myself.

The rest of the girls walked on to where they were supposed to. I could see their looks burn me down!

“Tampha come on the ramp and walk with Indranil & Celina. I’d like everyone to see how to walk down the ramp properly!”

GASP!!!! And lots more gasps apart from my own was heard across the hall & lots of rolling eyes too. My beauty queen friend who was also participating was also surprised. Did he just call me to show how to ‘walk’ on the ramp with the hottest models in town!!!?? Yes he did. And so the tomboy sashayed down the ramp and returned a catwalk model for that show! Of course I didn’t win any pageants or make it to any celebrity status or become a model anyway but that day I knew I was no longer just a tomboy.

Day 11: An old memory of a beautiful flat

I sometimes see it in my dreams! The spacious rooms, the massive balconies & the enormous terrace garden that we had on the first floor of a 10 storey building in Kolkata. I’d buy that flat in a heartbeat but the irony is it’ll never be on sale as it’s the property of the defence ministry at the end of the day. Moving from a 2 bed to a 4 bedroom apartment is probably the most fun thing that can happen to a large family, three-legged dog included! It was also a good change to be living on the first floor as it meant that I could get to the playgrounds and the school bus stop more quickly. I had even planned ‘escape’ routes. I was 12. My imagination overactive!

I got to have the smallest room in the house which barely fit a bed. It was my study room & my getaway from my older siblings. It was all mine! Over the couple of years we lived there, I managed to fill the walls of my tiny room with hand painted posters of cartoon characters, slogan banners & random craft pieces. My study table was actually 2 tin trunks stacked atop each other & I used an old tablecloth to cover the cold surface. The tiny window overlooking a pump house & the terrible smelling Tolly Nullah(a rivulet of the mighty Hooghly river) provided many an inspirational moment specially during the monsoons when the nasty smells were drowned by the flood waters. Blissful! Occasionally one could spot boats sailing down to the Hooghly. Narrow boats carrying bamboo to some yet unknown destination. And the boatmen sang. They sang lilting tunes of the river and worshipped the mighty goddess Durga through their songs.

The terrace was the family favourite. Never mind it was overlooked by all the residents in the opposite building. My father really toiled over the little garden he created there. It was the talking point of all the neighbours which made my dad rather proud. He grew some humble vegetables & many ornamental flowering plants too and it was a haven for the local birdlife and bug life too. I’m convinced he’s blessed with the greenest hands. The terrace and the balconies were verdant and always overflowing.

The living room was a sanctuary for all our friends and it served as a diner, a cafe, a dancefloor, a plotting room, a doll house, a theatre et al. Many hearts were broken there & many hearts came together too for it was in this house that my older sister first met her then sweetheart and now husband of 18 years! I remember the huge Naga spears displayed on the wall. They were fierce looking guardians with their red, black & white central holding fabric covering. I used to think that they were meant to protect us from everything. Perhaps they did.

I miss that lovely flat that was our home for 3 years. Someday I hope to go back to Kolkata to see the flat again… I wonder what its current residents think of it.

Day 10: Birthday treat!

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Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

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I love food and thats pretty much that. I could write about the fish curries and the little known Manipuri cuisine or the amazing feasts in Imphal or the chicken curry my mother cooks..etc etc I could go on and on but there’s one particular dish or rather a snack that has special significance. I’ve not had it for the longest time now. Maybe next time I’m with my mother.

I used to dislike cheese with a vengeance till this particular point in my life. It was my 15th birthday! It was the end of the year and nothing much had been planned for the upcoming christmas break. Couple of weeks before that I knew my mother would simply invite my friends over for some delicious dinner – noodles, chicken, paneer, some type of sandwiches, maybe even idli(south indian rice dumplings) and sambhar(south indian spicy lentils). It was a delicious thought to play with. Unfortunately around the time of my birthday a rather nasty communal incident brought the whole nation to a grinding halt. It was curfew time and that meant no birthday party happening much to my dismay. But moms have a tendency to make things work I guess.

My friends who were quite bored of sitting at home for a few days now decided that they’d just drop in for a cuppa chai. We all lived in a gated colony so it wasn’t too much of a task to get to each others place. Turns out that all my friends were thinking the same thing! My parents were a bit surprised at the random turn up that evening and my mother had to quickly whip up some snacks to feed the junta! Thats when all the 6-7 tins of cheese…yes I did write tins of cheese for you didn’t get cheese in any other form in India back then in the Army ration… so thats when all those tins finally came of good use! Prior to this cheese tins found their way as gifts to cousins and family friends who would stop over in Kolkata before heading to other parts of the country. Before we knew it, my mom had whipped up a cheese & chai storm in the kitchen. She made cheese pakodas/fritters and with such flair! I just had to put my dislike to rest as they were really scrumptious!!! And that was the beginning of my love for cheese. Maybe it was just the situation under which we celebrated for there wasn’t much to celebrate at that point in time owing to all the communal violence. And so this little deep fried snack for a couple of hours made us all forget the world and just enjoy the moment together.

Cheese pakodas made by Mama were and still are the bestest way to beat the blues. It was the best birthday party I’ve ever had and I have also managed to find an old rescued photo from that day to show you guys!

Curfew birthday

Curfew birthday…I’m 4th from the left at the back! 

 

Day 9: 3 sides of a coin?

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A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry.

Man: Why isn’t it sunny today? I wish I had taken the time to buy a proper suit. This jacket is a bit too casual for the occasion. Nobody is going to notice who’s wearing what. Maybe Anila will…she’s weirdly observant. That one time she pointed out that one of Sumi’s living room sofas had some yarn hanging off the bottom left leg. Who sees this stuff… yup… Anila! I wonder if Rakesh will be there too? Next time he leaves for Delhi, he should take Anila along. It’ll do her some good. These Army wives I tell you… So grateful Sush is with me today. 35 years on, she still looks glamorous! I love the way her hands feel but if I tell her that she’d think me a wuss. They feel just like how Adi’s hands used to feel when he was a little boy. He had a red sweater just like the one that old lady is knitting… I wonder if she’s noticed the rains about to pour down! Oh Adi… Why did you leave us? If only you had joined the Army instead of the Air Force… Those bloody MIG-21s…

Woman: Darn this weather! Bitch of a wind this is! Who holds a memorial in a park for a fighter pilot?! Why do I have to attend? There should be a rule stating mothers not allowed! Sunny’s hands feel weird today. He should’ve worn a suit but I don’t blame him. Who cares… Adi won’t be here to adjust his tie anyway. Why didn’t he just pursue medicine?!! Darn! And why is that old lady knitting in the park… thats such a sweet little sweater though. Adi used to have one just like that. He’d have probably sat down with the old lady & started a conversation. Darn… darn this day… darn the freaking weather…darn.. darn everything!!!

Old lady: Finally out in the fresh air and I’ll get this sweater done by the evening. I made one for your mother O little one when she was still in my belly! How time flies… Maybe I should use some white wool too. Look at that couple… Oh my..tears in a grown man’s eyes… I’d cry too if I was married to that snarly looking woman!

No adverbs please…only strong verbs allowed here

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Today’s assignment: Go to a local café, park, or public place and report on what you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.

My experience in the tube today!

I’m suffering from hayfever at the moment so I carry few packs of tissue, a relief balm and eye drops. I like the tube journey to and from work.

I walked into the last train compartment and I saw a few people reading books and some staring into space. It had been a hot afternoon and the lull of the heat had somehow permeated the passengers on the train. The lemon juice I was drinking was beginning to sour and the condensation was dripping off the plastic glass. As the train was chugging along, I noticed the lady sitting in front of me was wearing a dress with the most striking blue, red and green print. I couldn’t look away for a while. The elderly lady sat clutching her purse and her shopping bags close to her chest. A teenager was listening to a song over his headphones who’s beats could be heard very clearly as he leaned on the pole next to my seat.  After two stations passed, a young man came rushing into the compartment. He was dressed in a purple suit that had a brown breast pocket with a pink kerchief sticking out of it. He had a brown moustache which covered most of his face. He plonked himself next to me and started to read the sports section of the free newspaper thats available at all tube stations. He was smiling and looked very happy with himself which is the most emotion I had seen on that compartment today! And then it happened… My eyes twitched and I thundered a sneeze! This man sitting next to me jumped right out of his seat and slipped himself on the seat on the other end of the row. I wanted to say something to him but I just mumbled and looked away not knowing whether I should be embarrassed or put off by this reaction.

He jumped off at the next stop but it left an emotion behind that I’ve still not comprehended.