Saturday, July 28, 2012

Old age is no place for sissies. [Bette Davis]

We live in a senior citizen's village. Don't confuse it with the homes for  old and unwanted people. These are affluent people who, after living a full active life wish to live an independent old age.

This is a gated community where outsiders are not allowed. Neat streets and lanes, most negotiable in a wheelchair if needed. Parking lots, and facilities. There are golf greens but I have yet to visit that. Three large club houses equipped with gym, swimming pool etc. And to my delight- a fabulous library and all this free of charge.

We see all kinds of vehicles on the roads, cars of different descriptions, mostly sedans, to golf carts which many use as vehicles inside the gates. People are seen going around on foot, walkers are seen any time of the day. But all these people have cheerful faces, neatly made up. Club houses regularly have entertainment programs and citizens attend these in great numbers. I attended one such program recently. I could see them all women decked up, smily faces, some with their significant others , and most with friends. Men were quite dandies, in sporty or formal clothes, I saw a few fedoras here and there and those who still had hair took great care to style them with a panache. Women were accessorized with multitude of scarves-jewellery-belts-bracelets,  here and there a few were with flowers in their hair. Nowhere did one see the sorrow and defeat that one frequently sees on the old faces. In India ( and frequently even from my mother ) one hears the tone that everything is now over- so whats the point of dressing up. Here these golden oldies dressed up with the enthusiasm of a teenager out on a date.

It has been my observation for some time now, the older a man gets the more his eyes develop a twinkle. I don't know how that works. Young men don't have that twinkle. Sad really. Maybe life needs to ripen them for that twinkle to develop.

These people lead an active life, pursuing hobbies, creating wonderful artwork. I visited their art classes and was amazed at the quality of the stained glass panels, pottery and ceramic work, paintings and jewelry created by arthritic hands. It curiously humbles you.I am sure there is a down side to this picture. Feeling of neglect, sense of sorrow about lost opportunities, or worry over future and ultimately death. But in the meantime- let's  party !!!

This write didn't have much scope for humor but as the title says- Old age is no place sissies :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let's start at the very beginning...

My impressions of Dubai airport are blurred thanks to a fast moving airport cart with me sitting backwards. I am uncomfortable sitting facing backwards in any vehicle. One always likes to see where one is going. Sitting with our back to the driver is kind of heading into the unknown and we see things only in retrospect - if you get the meaning. I saw high ceiling, lights all over, arches galore ( I think ) people everywhere and a vastness of proportion which was not unpleasant. It was the " Topi Ud Gayi " kind of place that interests and overwhelms you at the same time.  If airports can be thought to be masculine or feminine, then Dubai airport struck me as a feminine airport, in soft colors, decked up and scintillating. What ever my other impressions, my most fixed memory will be the driver singing ' dani dani dani daaaani '! He was a handsome guy with a high energy even at 2.30. I wish he had sung the next line. Maybe the next time I visit Dubai...

The 17 hr flight from Dubai to LA I won't wish even on my worst foes. No cribs against Emirates though. They were wonderful. The plane actually had leg space in keeping with average human scale, the food was plentiful and delicious, and the choice of the movies was awesome. But sitting for 17 hours strapped to a seat ( which has started to get a wee bit smaller and snugger every time I fly abroad ) I gave myself up to stoically observing pain and discomfort ( like they taught me at Vipassana ) in various areas for the remainder of my journey, telling myself- it builds character.

At every port our pattern was same. The moment we landed there would be a friendly attendant waiting right at the entrance of the aircraft with a wheelchair. He would plonk amma in the chair and take off, yelling at me over his shoulders- follow me ! I followed him of course. After all, he was zooming away with my one and only mom ! Same thing happened at LA's Tom Bradley Airport. ( Yes, in the US they name places after many many different people, unlike our country.) The friendly chap put mom in the chair and took off. He rushed us through the immigration, customs and other formalities, got our baggage, and with the speed of light brought us out to where Satish was waiting. I strongly recommend the authorities to fit these attendants with a bright red cape. They have earned it.

Finally completely jet lagged, with eyes wide open as an owl, we were on the American soil, 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

California Summer

I always knew that this visit was going to be different from my earlier visits to this country. Older I get (sigh!), more I find myself shifting from iWANT to iHAVE. This doesn't apply to iPAD of course, but that is indulgence with a capital I.

 When asked what I wanted to do during my visit, images rushed to my mind. It surprised me to find out that most were about food. Anderson's Pea soup, the corn bread and honey which I had for breakfast in Arizona, the square slices from the Round Table pizza, the baked garlic with bread and olive oil in Nepenthe...enchiladas stuffed which cheese with a side order of refried beans and fried rice...not to mention margaritas... boiled corn on cob with melting butter eaten at a camping trip..sourdough bread which is a part of american history...the list was unending. " You need to go on a strict diet" was my brother's detached summing up. Maybe so..maybe so.

Leaving the food aside I would love to visit gardens. I still dream of the Japanese garden I visited in Saratoga in 2010. Visit beaches, take road trips, see as many museums and galleries as I can ( top of the list are LA County Museum and J.Paul Getty Museum ), visit flee markets, small food place ( there we go again ) attend jazz concerts -hopefully at the Hollywood Bowl... see plays if possible. See good serials on the Masterpiece theater on the TV... take photos and photos and more photos.......................
.............and write regularly in my blog. This last resolve is an  important one. I am coming to this blog after a long time... three years. Lets see if California summer melts that block of ice in my brain.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A credit card for free.

“ This is for you ma’am, compliments of the store”. The attendant at the cash counter handed me a credit card. I pushed it away as if it was on fire.
“ No thanks. I don’t use them much. And I have one already.”
The attendant looked at me pityingly. I always have this horrid suspicion that attendant kids always pity me.
Next twenty minutes were spent explaining to me, how , with the shop’s own ‘Privileged customer’ card and the additional credit card I was going to save thousands of rupees, not to mention earn brownie points and win free gifts like diamond earrings, DVD players, and a free trip to Goa.
“ And ma’am, it’s free!” That clinched the matter. A free card can’t hurt me much, can it?

After reaching home I pushed the unwanted card at the back of my desk drawer, and forgot about it. One year was over. And I started receiving bills for the never used card. I questioned the shop, and reminded them that they had said – Free card, no service charges.
“ Only for one year ma’am! Now you will have to pay the basic service charges even when you are not using it.”
“Alright! In that case I will cancel the card. I didn’t need it anyway.” Easier said than done as I soon found out. The question was, how does one cancel a credit card. I visited the bank to which the card belonged. I was told, as it was the shop’s promotional scheme, I must get the shop to cancel it. That made sense. The next stop was the shop which had gifted it to me.
“I would like to cancel this card please. I was told I must approach you”.
The attendant looked pained at my ingratitude.
“Ma’am, we can’t cancel it! You will have to send it to the bank which issued it.”
I marched back to the bank. I explained to the lady whose job it was to listen to people like me, that all I wanted was to have the card cancelled and no, it’s nothing personal.
The lady after consulting with a few others gave me a number in Chennai and asked me to talk to one Mr. Muthuswami.
“You see, the card was issued from there, therefore it has to cancelled from there.”
Fair enough, I thought as I dialed the Chennai number. It took me some time to locate Mr. Muthuswami, who when I expressed a desire to cancel my card, took it hard.
“If you have any complaints Ma’am, I will guide you to our complaints department. But please don’t cancel the card!”
After I talked to him for five minutes in a soothing voice, he was mollified.
“Cancellation is a very simple process. Just cut your card in two and mail both the pieces to us in Chennai.”

Finally! I was going to rid myself of the bothersome card.
I cut the card neatly in two pieces, and couriered both the pieces on the address provided by Mr. Muthuswami. Exactly a month later I received a replacement card. Reason? My old one got damaged when I cut it in two pieces!
One more call to Chennai and Mr. Muthuswami. This time I was rather sharp and Mr. Muthuswami was forced to accept the reality of the situation.
“ Ok ma’am, I will file the cancellation papers and do the needful. But are you sure you want to cancel the card?” I banged the receiver down.

In due course I got the intimation that the card was now null and void and I felt like I had stepped out of a long and traumatic relationship. A couple of weeks later I once again got a call, from the same bank, asking me-
“ Ma’am, you are being given a complimentary gold card as an Add on to your old credit card.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Goa .

I was in Goa two weeks ago. I had promised myself all sort of things. In reality, I just lazed.
I had carried four books with me for a five day vacation.

When actually there, I lazed in the room, by the pool, in the lobby, in my balcony. My friend was there on business and was on call most of the time, and I would lie on the beach on the deck chair all day long, and couldn't be roused to take any photographs, except this one. Getting the camera out of the case. sitting up on my deck chair, and shooting was just too much trouble. I allowed the sound of sea to fill my ears, the blue of sea in my eyes. No phone calls, except from my friend asking me where I was, and if I would be back for breakfast/ lunch/ tea/ dinner.

This idyllic state was short lived though. On day three the chair boy asked me, in what I considered a rather familiar fashion, if I needed sun lotion rubbed on me. I packed my book, hat, big bag and returned to the resort, and didn't go that way again. So I am a coward. Shoot me!

There was an assortment of guests as always. On day one, as I was celebrating my return to Goa after 4 years, I noticed two very young couples, newly weds of course, from Surat.The boys were posing in front of the bar, trying to look ubercool. I offered the boy my glass of wine. He was shocked and assured me that he didn't drink. But when I suggested, he can just pose with it, whats the point of posing in front of the bar otherwise? He was much struck by the logic of it and borrowed my glass, and later even the bottle. I sort of managed the photo session with all four of them ( yes even the girls)  posing with my wine.

There was a group of mallu men in the hotel. Their interest in all the unattached females as very obvious. My friend, a somewhat conservative mallu babe, observed that, feeling that no one here would understand them, these guys were rather free with their observations and opinions.
With a Mona Lisa like smile on her face she continued to listen in to their conversation. Every now and then she would tell me what they were arguing about.
" They are wondering who we are....
They want to ask us to join them for coffee".
" NO WAY !!!"
At one point she giggled, but suddenly sat up as her eyes popped open.
" What ???" I had to know.
" Lets go." she rushed me out of there, and after we reached our room, and she burst out laughing.
" What!" There was a limit to my patience. I was being left out of all the fun.
" These guys are really randy!" my friend announced,
" so ?" I mean guys on a vacation..... one understands.
" They were talking about taking a full body massage. One of the guys had one last night, he was telling the others how good it was. Please don't ask me to translate it."
Later when I came across the group again in the dining hall, I was tempted to ask them if it had been good for them......

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tito and the spirit of Satsang

Tito and the spirit of satsang.

“You want me to do WHAT?” I asked in a calm voice. Those familiar with that voice, recognize is as the Early Tsunami warning signal. Tito ignored the warning and blithely carried on.
“Why not! After all you claim to be a poet, so I thought, maybe it is more Your cup of tea than mine. I want it by this evening by the way, if you can manage it please.” That ‘Please’ was an after thought I could see.
“There is a difference between writing poetry and writing a Hindi bhajan to the tune of a film song you know! H-how could you even ASK me to do such a thing!” I sputtered. “And anyway, what do you need a bhajan for? If your mom having a satsang, My dad has loads of bhajan cds. Take any one of them. “
Tito looked mulish. His heart was set on a filmy bhajan.
“Ok, so take any bhajan from movies. Like Alla tero naam. That is a good one.
I have the CD right here.” I started to rummage thru my collection.
“ Nooo. That is a boring old bhajan. Everyone has heard it for hundreds of years.
I will look like a beggar singing that. Next, you will ask me to sing that beggar song from Dus Lakh. No way!”
I was a little mortified because that was the next song on my list. I decided to investigate a little. I had not noticed any spiritual leanings in Tito before.

“Tell me a little about it. I am not saying I will help, but call me curious.”

As I had suspected, it involved a girl. Her mom was known to hold a satsang every Friday night. Tito had attended last week and was planning to be there again this week. Realizing it will not be an easy task to dissuade Tito I asked him, what kind of bhajan he was looking for.
“It’s very simple! Do you remember the song from Jab We Met? Yeh ishk Hai, baithe bithaye.” All that might be simple enough, but a bhajan to the tune of Yeh ishk? Mind boggled.
“See, it goes this way, you hum the tune and start adding appropriate words to it. Like- maiyya hamari, sabse nirali, darshan dikha de maa! O rama !!!” Tito crooned the line repeatedly for my benefit.
“See how simple it is? I would have written the whole thing myself but got stuck after the first line, so thought that you, a poet can do it better. Will you? Please?”
“NO I won’t! This is no poetry! I do not know what to call this! Bastardization of poetry perhaps. But not something I would like to do!” I tried to slide out of the whole predicament.
“So what! What is a good song ? Good music and good words. When the good words are devotional, we call it bhajan. It is Your job as a poetess, to give good words. That is how most music Directors work anyway! So... write!. Please write this for me !”
“Oh Well! I will do it just this once. I do not want to see your face next Friday and you better find a girl friend with better taste than this, like Lit circle chicks or someone like them. I will be most happy to write a love sonnet for you.”
I had finally caved in. Tito had won and I was rewarded by a loud WHOOOOPIE! and a bear hug.
Completely ignoring my woebegone expressions, he took his leave,
“ Will come by around 8-ish. Keep it ready. I will need a little time to practice.”
“ Remember- you owe me one!” I shouted to his back.

I sat at my desk feeling mighty sorry for myself. I rued the day I wrote my first poem. Nay- I rued the day I learnt my alphabets! Why did I have to boast about my poems, and all that talk about my writer’s circle! In addition, just see where it had landed me! I strove to forget every word of every poem I had ever read as I kept humming “ Maiyya hamari” to myself, waiting for the spirit to come to me.
It was mortifying to see that this was not a difficult task at all! Within half an hour, my bhajan was ready. I tried humming it and found the words, which fitted perfectly in the tune. With grim satisfaction I messaged Tito” The Deed is done”. He messaged back- “Thankee thankee O bardess.”

Tito turned up around 8-ish as promised. Never before having seen him in a spiritual mode, it took me a few moments to recognize him. I do not remember if I have mentioned it before, but Tito is a good-looking dude and a natty dresser. Today he was his spiritual best. In long kurta and chudidar, he could be modeling for Fabindia.
He walked in, giving me a slow benevolent otherworldly smile. For a second thought I saw a halo around his head. It turned out to be the lamp behind him.
He sat on the sofa and asked me gently, ” Where is it?” In a trance, I walked to my room and got the paper with the lyrics. His mood was rubbing on me. I wondered if he was on some substance. His smile has stared to look eerie by now. He was by this time sitting with his eyes closed, his face serene.

With a slight nod of his head, he took the paper, scanning it started humming the words. The old Tito had emerged again. Sitting up straight, he said-
“WOW! This is GOOD! I never realized just how good a poetess you are! This will knock their socks off!”

Maiyya maine saare jamaane ko thukra diya,
dekho mai chala aayaa!
Chhode maine moh- maya ke bandhan sabhi,
Hai tuney jo bulaayaa

Dekho na dekho mujhe kya mila hai teri chhayaa mein aakar.
Poochho na poocho mujhe kya hua hai tere charnon ko chhookar

Maiyya hamari, sabse nirali darshan dikha de Maa.
O Ramaa

He continued to hum as he put the paper safely in his pocket.

“My advice to you is, that you must start doing this professionally. Forget about the sonnets and stuff. There is a big market for this thing. Every auto and cab will be playing your songs. You will mint money!”
And before I could throw a book at him, he walked off.

Next week I wrote one more bhajan. Tito had become a star of his satsang. The girl and her mom are now his adoring fans. Like a tiger who had tasted blood, Tito kept coming back for more and I kept delivering a new bhajan every Friday evening.

Currently I am working on a little song, which I am sure will become a chartbuster.

Maa tere charan, hum nahin chhodenge...
Chhodenge dum magar teri bhakti naa chhodenge!!