|B'lu - then, now|
Shook by the news of the untimely bereavement of one of my favourite English professors from college, am left to wonder why some news that has no particular relevance in my current life comes by and changes the course the day unannounced.
I was meant to rest my aching arm… and even as I started writing I was supposed to do something totally different but Noel sir’s passing away news reached me this afternoon. It was a stroke - my junior from college pinged to inform. Noel sir used to joke about the lack of interest among non-vegetarians to learn how to make tasty vegetarian dishes. He said, his own family was practically unaware of the existence of vegetables other than cabbage or potato… and that they all worried a lot about good health despite the odds. The irony, he reminded, was that people are intelligent but their habits make all the decisions whatsoever.
Leaving the mourning/campus nostalgia for later when I may be catching up with any of my college friends online, I am going to write what I initially thought for in this post. I opened this document to blog about changes whether or not they are good and who/what decides all that you want to become.
Is change a constant?
They say change is constant but some things don't change! Haven't you noticed? Ironically your definition to success keeps changing as you grow… I mean you chase different things… and then sometimes settle for no chasing at all… It is that change we are addressing here. No?
Never dreamt I would curate art. Couple of years back, I did not know what exactly a curator did. Someone who told me about it made it sound as easy as… librarian to library, curator to gallery… and that was so terribly wrong. I only vaguely knew that they knew a lot about art and thought for myself that it must be exciting to really know ‘a lot’ about art… and that how interesting that profile will be.
I was barely six when I first confronted this question – What do you want to become when you grow up? My class teacher, Neetu miss, from Sadhu Vaswani International School in Shanti Niketan situated in south Delhi… was the person who asked.
I wish to fly… was the answer.
My teacher corrected me… "not verb, noun please". Then she turned to the class and asked - "What will you call a person who flies as a part of his job?"
Many put their hands up and many spoke out of turn. [By the way in Delhi, it is normal, not just among children but also elders to speak out of turn… even outsiders adapt to all that Delhi-style of yelling and screaming to get the point across… did you see the Parliament in action today on TV?]
The class speculated. Aeroplane? Kite? Parrot? Armstrong? Arrow? Hanuman?
It was my neighbour Ankita who got it right - "A pilot".
Miss clapped to acknowledge the right answer and along we all clapped… to see Ankita's face turn more pink [Is red a better word to describe a denser pink?] than it was already.
I went home and told mother I wish to be a pilot. She quickly reminded that I need to eat well and become really tall… rolling her eyes up… [as tall as the ceiling?]
She spoke of my pilot-ambition every time the need to remind that came about. Like, when the eye doctor said the reason behind my new annoying frown was because I was ‘squinting and adjusting focus to read the blackboard clearly… eye sight is weak... balance the diet blah! blah!.’ Or when the physical education teacher mentioned ‘she is very athletic but to put her in her favorite game of basket ball is risky, she may get trampled over by bigger built Punjabi kids. She is tiny. Make her eat please she is always feeding her tiffin to the pigeons… blah! blah!'.
I studied in that school only for a year because of various concerns. The top most ones being that I wouldn't eat if left by myself… and as rumour has it - it was dangerous to leave me alone to my devices after school.
My explorations were potentially harmful for a six-year-old as well as other confused adults at home.
An experiment of mixing the water-like kerosene oil with sticky cough syrup forgotten on the kitchen counter left mother wondering… sniffing… almost tasting… and then almost fainting when she found out what it was. Kerosene used to be kept hidden along with potentially dangerous other items like the hammer and the knives… They were secretly kept in the loft far above even her own reach. She asked, flapping her arms, “Did you fly to reach there?” [How I wish that was possible.]
It was only much later she realised she had given birth to a spider girl [I overheard her mention that worriedly to her friend on phone]. Apparently she sneaked in one day and found me using window frames and cracks in the wall tiles to climb and reach all over the place hunting for ‘god-knows-what’ in her words. Seriously, I have no memory of this… climbing business.
Another time was when the radio was turned to maximum volume… loud enough to match my jumping on the mattress… and all the jumping had me so tired… it was summers and I slept off on the cool floor under the bed… to such sound sleep that when I woke up and crawled out… saw the whole neighbourhood in my room... after they failed ringing bells/banging the front door… they had to break in along with my smile-less mother.
Everyone had a tough time saving my life and grandparents were constantly worried for their first-born grandchild. They had no idea what to do with me than make stern faces or make me join my palms and pray for better brains to the flickering flame of the oil lamp lit in front of various gods in the pooja room.
It was decided to pack me off to Kerala for a few months, as there were more hands and eyes to keep a closer watch… hoping perhaps that time would allow them find an agreeable solution.
I got to fly alone. I usually never troubled strangers… am the sweetest child they ever knew. The pilot [my dream job holder] found me to be a brave/peaceful passenger. I was called inside the cockpit. I got many brilliant views of the skies. I also did not meddle with those millions of switches the captain had in front of him to play with. [Why? Everyone on that flight had longer lives may be.]
I came down to Kerala and joined a local school, right in the middle of the school term. Mary Giri Vidya Mandir was run by nuns in my mother's hometown Punalur.
God's own specimens
In Kerala, everyone knows everyone’s everyone too. Have you not noticed, especially in Dubai, if a person from Kerala identifies another one… they ask each other… where they are from 'in' Kerala? They feel at home once this particular dialogue is exchanged and then a cord of connectivity is established… through which they build the rest of their conversation/lives. If you don't know where exactly on the map of Kerala you are from, you will be lucky enough to see some Kathakali mudras flicker on the face of the enquirer… who will then keenly educate you all about your vague guesses… because his maternal uncle’s wife’s cousin’s daughter was married off from where your ancestors hail.
Just today in a facebook chat someone just exclaimed "Hey so you go to Delhi despite being from Kerala… are you completely rootless?” What is rootless? I am not a tree!
Shanti miss, my class teacher at Mary Giri, knew my family better than me. She knew my grandfather, my uncles… as well as my 16-year-old nanny Sally chechi (chechi is a suffix locals give to someone elder and of the female gender in Kerala) who came to school to feed me out of her hand during each lunch break. It was humiliating for me to sit in the corridor and eat my food.
By the way my neighbor in Mary Giri class became somebody. It is a big coincidence he grew up and become famous. A film actor - Nishanth. But let me tell you he was not so popular in the class. I was the popular one. Not only because I was smaller than my younger sister but despite being a tiny 'girl' I used to bash up boys if they yelled [at anyone… not necessarily me]. I found them (boys) extremely irritating if they yelled into your ears or pulled your pony tails or broke pencils… some even captured dragon flies from the school’s garden and made them pick stones for fun!!! I am glad I spared none.
Shanti miss decided to put Nishanth and me together sharing one table. May be because we both joined school mid-term. He never made a noise but pronounced my name wrong every time! “What is Ara-jana… am Archana,” is the only taming I subjected him to. We used to divide the table with a ruler and pencil so we wouldn't let each other encroach over each other’s kingdoms!
Eating was the worst thing that could happen to me those years… I was ignorant of the world's food crisis or malnutrition etc... I found eating a waste of time. I was plainly bored. Until somebody said a story – mind you an interesting story or ran after me to force it down my throat – no meal finished.
Today unbelievably food is another one of my passions. I love cooking and am invited to review fine dining joints in world's largest cities. Can you believe that!? I cannot! My grand mother definitely would not. She would think it is one of my lies to please her.
If you missed my previous posts – grandma is called Pullu - short form of Punalur mom.
Sally was recruited to execute Pullu's personal project to make sure I finished my lunch. Lunch hour at school was easier for Sally because we had a little secret. We stole burning candles from the altar at the school’s entrance… that I could play with while she fed me. If anyone knew about the candles it would have been a disaster. The school would have thrown me out and Sally would have got sacked from home too. Back in the class, my confused neighbor asked, “Arajana do you eat candles?” To which I would ask him to call my name correctly or I am ‘chanda’ [meaning cross officially for sometime]. Will it interest you to know there were some kids in that class who ate chalk?
Everyone at home thought I was restless because I was fat-less. So the solution revolved around food! They could not understand despite feeding me so closely why I remained thin. That was found out in no time. I used to fake eating and was distributing food to little sister who needed no extra feeding whatsoever… or was throwing it into the kennel for the dogs to snack… or spitting it out into flowerpots … all while I took quick strolls between each bite.
Somebody very cruel, donno who… had a new solution to make me put on weight quickly as it was almost time to go back… That somebody told Pullu to whisk in two fresh eggs (from local ducks) into half cup of cows milk and torture me to gulp it down using acrobatic precision… hands held like this…. neck held like that… posture. And she did it. I would puke each time. She won eventually after 3 batches of the concoction wasted. It was another story altogether that my little sister always wondered why anyone would hate to eat! That too eggs, her favourite!
Many relatives and old school friends who found me on social media say it was easy to find me because I haven't changed. They mean my picture. Face, I think! Ya only my face am sure… am no longer under weight and am always on the look out to keep the weight off – such is the change – if I must mention.
What is change?
Why do so many people continue to say I haven't changed, including Sofia miss, my mom's friend, one of the first persons to hold me soon after our family gynac Dr Aminammal brought me into the world.
Laxmi aunty, my grand aunt who lives in Bangalore saw me first when I was barely days old. When I met her last year she insisted I haven't changed. "Same eyes ma." [ma is her suffix for people she love].
My mother's only sister [my only real aunt], who doesn’t speak to us anymore over a property dispute, took care of me when I was a toddler. Last I spoke to her was few years back and that time she remembered how nothing changed… “not-bothered of weather or wind, look at your hair,” she said while we walked her pet dog for the last time [Rakhi, her pet GSD passed away the same year, leaving her more depressed than she already was].
I remember my late granddad's estate watchman's face that lit up when he saw us children during vacation. His family would visit our home whenever we flew down. They feel happy to call me by my pet name + suffix = bablookutty. And I automatically light up from ‘god-alone-knows’ inside somewhere.
They shouldn't have named a drug by the name Ecstasy… or may be it is the right name. I have friends who try all sorts of these substances and recommend them just like they do every other thing they get used to - 'as an artist it will be easier for you to fly… you must try at least pot'. Well they have no idea… Why pot when I am not even looking for a port to land… ever since Dr Aminaammal ushered me out.
All these people make me think I must be somebody precious already… why would they all take so much trouble for me… and continue to remember me in such a fond manner.
They keep acknowledging me despite my stupidities, irrevocable mistakes… on a ‘god-alone-knows’ life path.
If you ask me once again what I want to become I may just escape your curiosity by reverting the question or take philosophical refuge… because honestly I don’t know the answer yet or if it is required to know that at all. Or perhaps I always knew! Ha!
I studied in 8 different schools… and 3 different colleges… and now after 7 different jobs… I am quiet comfortable in my skill/skin... though still studying the truth behind what Neetu miss asked… and if there is really one such thing as becoming something/somebody?
Perhaps nothing changes and I should rejoice just that. Or everything changes, so I rather celebrate that?
It is in the journey… as they say. That I agree! I do! How can I not?