Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai under attack

I have been watching the coverage on television of the horrific attacks on Mumbai in last few days. Shocking is an inadequate word to use. In fact, there are not enough words in my vocabulary or any dictionary that could articulate what I have been feeling. Emotions have moved from anger, horror, fear, sadness and a sense of emptiness at the futility of such violence. While I think of so many things that need to be done to prevent such attacks in future, a question that creeps up again and again is - will anything be ever enough?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Roof over my head - II

Nearly a week is over since my last post on this topic. Those people who sent warnings about breaking down the homes in slums did not come. Probably, the corporator had done the job of keeping them at bay. So said the maid. But yesterday I saw lines of worry on her face. Since it did not happen at the appointed time, it may now happen any time. I guess that is the thought that might be worrying her. I did not ask her. How does one live with this kind of uncertainty?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Roof over my head

Essential to normal living is a roof over our heads. Like most people I know, this is something I have taken for granted. This morning I was looking at an advert about a real estate exhibition and mulled over the idea, expense and exertion of buying and maintaining a second home. It would be nice to have a second home I have often thought but the idea of keeping it in good order when my current is not in perfect order has deterred me from doing anything constructive about this half-expressed desire.

An hour later, my maid rang the doorbell and gave a detailed explanation on why she was delayed to come to work today. She and her family members along with several neighbours had gone to meet their corporater. Two days from today, their homes in a nearby slum area would be broken down. A notice had been put up yesterday to this effect. While I listened to her open mouthed, she had already picked up the broom and went about the daily task with her usual deftness. I asked her where her father lives as I knew he takes care of her two-year old daughter when she comes to work. She said he lived some distance away, not in the same slum area.

After some time I asked her what they would do if and when their homes were broken down. She smiled. Nothing, she said. After they finish breaking, we will make it again and with a flick of her right hand she returned the broom to its place in the corner and took up the swabbing of the floor.

I am still a little dazed thinking about what would happen to her life after two days. But there is no clarity or purpose to my thinking. Except that the idea of buying a second home seems a little redundant and an unnecessary extravagance. Let appreciate the value of what I already have and try to keep it in perfect order is a recurring thought.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Oh Calcutta!

A two day trip, my first visit to Calcutta. Ok, alright, Kolkata for those who insist on using current names of streets, squares, cities, countries and people.


To take back my footwear from the stall, I handed over the much soiled token and gave a ten rupee note to the boy handling the exchange. He cribbed about not getting the three rupee charge in exact amount before returning my seven rupees. A girl in dirty clothes and dishevelled hair tugged my kurta sleeve and asked for money. She had a bunch of others behind her. Pressing her case, she said they would all share whatever I gave and have a meal. Then I did what I knew I shouldn't have done. I handed over a five rupee coin to her and walked out of there briskly. But not before some other begger kids in the vicinity had spotted the Rs 5 transaction. To my dismay, I had a whole troop of kids following me all the way to the parking lot. When I got into the hired taxi, the kids had gheraod the car and continued begging for money. A few kids were talking among themselves about the chances of me actually giving them some more money. Just before the driver got into the car, one of the kids, a girl, said very smartly to the others, "she's not going to give us anything." Maybe she saw my expression, the relief on my face when I saw the driver about to get in. Smart kid.

This was at the Dakshineshwar Mandir that is over an hour's drive away from Kolkata. I reached there at around 5 o'clock in the evening. I queued up at the side door for a view of Kali as the main entrance was crowded with devotees holding on to their flower and other offerings. The idol could not be viewed as the priests were busy with the evening rituals before the public viewing could begin. The inner portion of the temple was covered in a red and gold cloth while the rituals went on inside. People were craning their necks all the time to keep watch on when the cloth would be taken off.

While I waited there, an old woman in a white sari struck up a conversation with one of the temple priests standing on the other side of the iron grill that kept us out of the inner premises of the temple. I couldn't follow the details as they spoke in Bengali, but the names of the villages they hailed from were exchanged and then they spoke a little more about the conditions in his village. Then, the lady went into a monologue during which, the priest slipped away inside. Unfazed, the lady continued talking, shifting her gaze to me. I listened and pretended to understand. But she caught-on I think, and shifted her attention to another onlooker. A younger lady who wanted to know what was going on inside. My old friend continued - that the idol was being washed with milk and honey and etc. etc.

Suddenly, there was movement inside & the red and gold cloth was taken off, revealing Kali in all her finery. My eyes were riveted by the long red tongue that flowed out of the open mouth of the goddess,the alert large eyes and the fallen demon, crushed at her feet. The place soon got more crowded as devotees rushed to get in. I backed off and left after making a silent mental offering to the goddess for I carried no garland of flowers, nor any sweets for the diety.

Belur Math

This part is still in progress....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why do women sell papayas

Ever wondered this - why do women sell papayas and men sell water melons? When I asked this question aloud to no one in particular, a teenaged girl sitting next to me rolled her eyes up and said - its because water melons are heavier. But that answered only the second part of the question.

I don't know how it is in the town or city or village that you live. I live in Pune and suddenly today realised this. It was always women that sold papayas and they were almost always middle-aged or old. Sitting on the side of roads, they placed the papayas gently one by one on a gunnysack spread out on the floor. Useful things gunnysacks. They are used for the first time to transport grain, cement or miscellaneous goods and once those items are emptied from it, the gunnysack has millions of other uses. My grandmother used to use them for wiping feet and had placed one folded gunnysack at the entrance of every room in our house. She would duly wipe her feet on them before entering each room, recycling and redistributing the dust from one room to another with her feet. A lady visitor once asked me why we had so many gunnysacks in our house and only then did I realise that it was not a common custom. But until then, I had got so used to them that I thought this is what most people do in their houses as well. Its funny how when you are young, your view of the world is influenced by what goes on in your own house. But that was in the days when television was not so much a part of our lives. Atleast not a 24x7 feature as it is now.
But I have digressed and if you forgive me, I promise to find an answer to the question asked in the beginning, before I end this musing.

Papayas have a slight peculiar smell. For that reason my mother never bought them and I had not eaten one until after I got married. As you may have guessed, the favourite fruit of everyone in my new household was - yes, the now world-famous papaya that we are talking about. But with that tiny diversion squashed, I promise to strictly stick to the subject. (can you say that three times without going wrong: strictly-stick, strictly-stick, strictly-stick..)

Papaya - known as mamao in Brazil, papao in Sri Lanka, Tree Melon in Chinese and du du in Vietnamese - has medicinal properties in both its green/unripe and ripe form. The enzyme papain found in green papaya can tenderize meat and has long been used for this purpose in South America where the fruit is first said to have originated.It is cultivated in most tropical countries and women in South Asia have long used the fruit for its contraceptive properties. Hmm... that must be making it easier for a papaya-seeking woman to quickly buy a papaya from another one of her sisters.

If you look carefully, you'll notice that the papaya-selling-women have about a dozen and never more than two dozen papayas to sell. A nice small number to finish selling by afternoon and go back home in time for other jobs and chores at home. Look around Pune in the evening and you will not find a single woman selling papayas. One evening, I wanted to pick up a papaya on the way home from work and found all those nice women gone. They were busy I'm sure with other kinds of work so they can return next morning to their appointed places on the side of roads and display the juicy yellow-orange colored papayas, arranging them neatly on a gunnysack. I'm glad that women sell papayas. Such a nice, simple, useful, sensible, straight-forward thing to do.
Why do women sell papayas?? Now, who has been asking that silly question again and again? Who?

Appeared first on

Stampede City

Twice did I go there
Riding on a bus
Alighting each time near a temple, crowded
Inside the temple, a big courtyard
With muck everywhere that
Some women were trying to clean
It only moved from here to there
Not getting cleared

Outside a narrow lane
Always covered with a stampede

First it was the pigs
Then came the dogs
Then cows and
Buffaloes followed
And then finally came school children
In blue and white uniforms
They did not pass the temple by
Entered into the Clean Courtyard

Something without stirred
And woke me up

The stampede city
Was my mind
In dream state.

© 2002 Namita Waikar

This poem was first published in Mocha Memoirs, an online literary magazine that is no longer published.