Friday, 30 August 2013


Didi visited us and stayed with us for a few days last week.

She is the elder sister of one of my best friends; if i can rank my friends, her brother would occupy the Top Position. To be exactly correct, i should say ‘occupied’ because he is no more. He succumbed to cancer 9 years ago, when he was in his early fifties. Like him, i used to address her as ‘Didi’ and still do that.

I cannot describe how close we were; I can only say that we were very close. Our friendship lasted for exactly 40 years, that is, till he was called back. We became friends the day we began our College-life. We had the same subjects; we were in the same Tutorial Group. We were together till our Post-Graduate Course. However, our choice of careers made us take two different paths but we were always in touch. First there were letters written in long hand; this gave way to e-mails. Whenever we happened to visit our city at the same time, we were definitely meeting. Whenever one of us happened to visit the other’s place of work, we made it a point to meet each other. And each such meeting would start with a bear hug.

I have preserved most of his letters and print-outs of his e-mails. His last e-mail to me was on the 18th May, 2003.

Both brother and sister remained unmarried. After the death of their mother and father within a span of one and a half months, she took charge of his household while he remained engrossed in the demands of his job. On the 10th May, 2003, he mailed me saying that he had undergone an operation to remove a tumour which was found to be benign. So I felt relieved. Four months later he informed me that another tumour, this time malignant, had developed below his knee and doctors were considering the option of amputation of a leg. He was worried more about Didi regarding how she would manage when he won’t be around. Shortly thereafter, the cancerous growth overpowered him.

That was the beginning of Didi’s ordeal. She did not find any encouragement from her uncles and cousins.

This was a trial by fire for her. She emerged as a strong person, steeled her mind and took courage in both her hands. She decided to live her own life and took charge of her life.

He was in Central Govt. Service and was posted in Delhi when the end came. In spite of all the efforts of her well-wishers and his admirers in the Govt. she did not get family-pension or other benefits from Govt., as a sister is not entitled for these as per Govt. Regulations. Meanwhile, compounding her problems, some unsocial elements tried to take advantage of her helpless position and grab her parental home and the land on which it stood.

She was undaunted. She took a momentous decision. She decided to sell it off the sprawling parental house and live in my city which is nearby. God helped her. She found a person who was a good friend of her father and who agreed to let a portion of his building. With the help of some kindly persons, she quickly disposed off her parental house and occupied the rented accommodation. She has been living there since 2004. Another close friend of ours, who was a high ranking Govt. Officer and a couple of erstwhile subordinates of my deceased friend, provided her with moral and logistical help.

The courageous lady lives all alone there and manages everything herself.

My job had taken me all over India. So i had no means for helping her settle down. I retired in 2009 and settled in this city. Sine then, i have been giving her a little moral support to live a reasonably trouble-free life. The interest on funds left by her brother and the sale-proceeds of her parental house takes care of her financial needs.

I shall cite only one example of the grit and determination of this courageous lady, who never admits defeat. She lives all alone and occasionally, memories of her loving brother overwhelm her. On one such time, she felt very depressed and was choked with emotion. She could not swallow the food she was taking. She felt like giving up the effort and just lying in her bed. The next moment, she gathered back her courage and decided to fight the depression head on. She told herself that if she would not take food, she would die and that would be letting down her brother. So after pushing each morsel to the food channel in her mouth, she drank some water to force the food to go inside!
I salute the indomitable spirit of this brave lady.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Happy Independence Day

Let us celebrate India's Independence Day this year with Vande Mataram in Odissi Dance choreographed by Sharmila Mukherjee!

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time. - E B White

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Food for Thought

I don’t know when the buffet-system came to India but it has spread like wildfire. A buffet is a meal set on tables from where people help themselves.

Earlier, on events like marriages and other social occasions, the guests were requested to sit on mats spread out on floors to be served the common meal. Plantain-leaves cut to size and thoroughly washed, were laid in front of each person. The different items of the meal were served on this for consumption of each guest. There were servers, each carrying a container filled with an item of the meal, going around and serving it to the guests. They would entreat and beseech each guest to have a little more of the item. The host would go round to ensure that each guest was served well and would tell the server to give a little more of the dish to this guest or that one. He would often press the guests to have a little more. This practice is still prevalent in some rare cases.

Then came benches and long tables so that the guests would not have to squat to have the meal. Servers going around and the host going to each guest, pressing her/him to have a little more continued. Guests did not have to ask to get the meal.

There were occasions when a particular guest would like to have a little more of a particular item. Hesitating to ask openly for an item, she/he would ask the server to give that particular item to the person sitting next to her/him. The server would get the hint; he would give the item to the person for whom it would be asked as well as to the first person. This way, the person would be seen as one taking care of another and he himself would get what he wanted. The joke was that kheer got the synonym of tasmai as a result of this practice. ‘Tasmai’ in Sanskrit means ‘to him/her’. The first person would ask the server to give kheer to ‘tasmai’ (to the other person). This way, kheer got the alternative name ‘tasmai’!

Pangti Bhojan’  (sitting in a line and being served) has given way to the buffet system. In this, various items of food are laid in a row on tables. Guests have to move along these tables from dish to dish and pick up the items of their choice.  The sympathetic Hindi equivalent of ‘buffet’ is ‘swaruchi bhojan’ - having food-items of one’s choice. This term refers to the fact that out of the fare laid out on the tables, one can choose the items of one’s choice. The adversarial translation of the term is ‘khade khade khana’ (eating while standing).  

The advantages of the buffet system are that it needs less effort and a little lower expense by the host. It requires less sitting arrangement and less management. Only a few chairs are provided; most of the guests take food, standing.

However, with the buffet system, all the personal touches are gone or are heavily diluted. Guests have to first queue up to get the plates and again queue up before the tables on which the food items are placed. Most of the time, there would be a big rush before the tables and one has to struggle to get food. A guest has to stretch out his/her hands (like a beggar?) to be served by attendants. (Of course in some cases there won’t be any attendant; one has to follow self-service system.) Instead of the food coming to you, you have go to the food! The guest’s woes do not end there; after moving in the queue to be served the different items, he/she has to balance the food-laden plate on the fully-stretched palm of one hand and eat with the other, standing unsteadily all the while! If the attention is slightly diverted or the guest is not very careful, the plate would tilt and the contents would drop either on her/his clothes, or on those of the persons standing nearby. Sometimes, while moving a little to have some space, the guest would trip, causing embarrassment. Of course, a few chairs are provided to enable one to sit and have food comfortably but the number of chairs provided is grossly insufficient to accommodate even a fraction of the number of guests invited. Sometimes, this leads to musical chairs. If after having secured a chair, one leaves to get a second helping, one would come back to find that the chair has been occupied by another struggling guest. :((((

Caterers play a trick to reduce consumption of costly items. They place the less costly items at the beginning of the row and the costly items (including non-vegetarian items) at the end, so that by the time a guest reaches there, his/her plate would be more or less full and he/she would feel embarrassed to take too much of these items.

Many times the rush dissuades a guest to go for a second helping. Often there is an array of less costly but more luring and inviting pre-meal items like pani puri (golgoppa), chat, papdi chat, etc. So by the time one goes for the main dishes, one’s stomach is already full!  However, there are exceptions where more costly and tasty pre-food starters are provided.

Of course, many of these problems are taken care of in buffets organized by people in the higher income group as also in star hotels.

Have I given you some food? Some food for thought?

Bon appetit!       

Friday, 2 August 2013

A Rainbow of Dances

At the start of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Indian classical dance forms Odissi, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, Mohiniyattam and Kuchipudi were presented in the Opening Ceremony. These presented a colourful rainbow. Here it is.