Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Past

To my mind, my memory of Christmas is always associated with my mother. She was the one who made Christmas special. It wasn't that she cooked mountains--or even cooked much, but it was the excitement she managed to give us, wherever we happened to be, whether at home, or at my grandfather's place or even in the train! In fact that was one of my memorable Christmases, when my mother carefully put out presents for us on our train berths as we sped through the night to visit her father. I'd posted about that Christmas earlier here at the end of that post. She obviously enjoyed our excitement.
I hope my children and grandkids have good memories of Christmas with me too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pajama party

I saw a school version of the musical 'Grease' recently. Incidentally that was my very first introduction to the musical. I had heard about it naturally, but never got a chance to see or hear it before this.
Watching the pyjama party scene that the girls have in the play (complete with baby doll pyjamas, though very modestly made, in deference to parents and family watching!), brought back the memory of the one pyjama party I had--a proper one.
This party took place probably in '64 or '65, when I was around 13 or 14 (a very vulnerable age). I had spent the night at various aunts' and uncles' place before but never with a bunch of girls almost my own age, till then. There was this couple from the US, who were working with my father for a short time, while we were in Calcutta. They had a daughter who was around my age. So that is how I got invited to an American style pyjama party.
Well anyway, there were quite a few girls there, all of whom were children of other US expats (as I remember) and I was the only Indian kid there. The early part of the evening was interesting because they had an American style barbecue, with steaks, et al and a cake dessert I think, all of which was unfamiliar to me, but which I enjoyed thoroughly. Besides the parents of my young hostess were there and they did what they could to help me fit in. It was only later at night, when the pyjama part of the party began that I began to feel the complete outsider.
Here I was, a teenage girl, who didn't shave my legs, nor remove facial hair or wear make-up. Young girls of my age in the India of that time very definitely did not do things like that. Besides I was plump and I had long hair tied in 2 tight pigtails (or else my thick frizzy hair got impossibly tangled) unlike the other girls, all of whom either had their hair worn short or in a high ponytail. Suffice it to say that I was as alien to the girls there, as they seemed to me.
I can see the picture of that room so clearly now and I can see me sitting on a bed in a corner being the observer. I remember hearing them talk derogatorily about other girls who didn't shave their legs, watching as some of them stuffed rolled up toilet paper into the front of their clothes to look busty, while I loathed that I had breasts which attracted attention from sick older men (yes horrible) and watching in fascination as they tried on make-up. I really felt like the ultimate outsider and I so wished that my mother--as was normally her wont--had vetoed the idea.
Anyway, the upshot of all this was that I came out in hives--big huge itchy ones--on my face and and limbs and and the worried parents of the girl called my parents and sent me home, wondering whether it was their cat, or some food I had eaten earlier, that I was allergic to.
Much later, after reading much more American fiction (till then I had read mainly British fiction), I realised that those girls had indulged in behaviour very normal for them. Besides, they were too young to appreciate a person from another culture, never having been exposed to that before. I really was such a drag for them I guess and I'm sure my young hostess must have been very relieved when I left.
The whole experience was such a culture shock to me that I had just shoved the memory deep into the back of my mind. So I was really surprised to find the memories flooding back, when I watched the play.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My teen clothes

A blog post by Ageless Bonding on the wearing of the half-sari brought back memories of my teenage years. I was decidedly plump and the fashion at that point was for tight salwar kameezes, where the salwar was loose, almost like today's but the kameez/kurta was cut like the vintage sheath dresses of the early 60s--like this.

I remember one of the girls I knew, come to church in a kurta cut even tighter than this dress (if possible) and her having to waddle up the stairs into church cos it was too tight to allow her to stride! Of course, not that many of my classmates were allowed to wear skirts that were that narrow. But,being a good deal thinner than me, they were able to wear other kinds of Western clothes.

We had a school uniform with a pleated skirt and a blouse, which were both white--in the Cal summer, while in winter we had a darker colour serge skirt and we got to wear cardigans. Now I was quite buxom in comparison to many of my classmates and I hated it--being stared at by sick men who must have thought I was older than my 13 years. I used to be so grateful for the winter uniform, when the cardi kind of hid my boobs. It was around that time that my mother decided that I really was way too busty to be wearing any kind of Western clothes and certainly not the narrowly cut kurtas. And so sari it was that I wore for all formal occasions. I was only allowed to wear Western clothes to the homes of family or to school--an all girls' one.
So, all the clothes that I would have loved to wear, I designed and made for my paper dolls ( I had been lucky to get a sort of Barbie & Ken type pair of paper dolls!) and for my skinny younger sister.
And later, when I left home to join university and I lost around 15 pounds in the first term, I almost completely gave up wearing saris, switching to the then fashion of loose kurtas and churidhars. Bliss!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

While at my daughter's home I happened to read a Western and that brought back a flood of memories of the books I read while at school. I took books from our school library, occasionally from the library of the club my father was a member of, but most of all from Oxford Book House on Park Street, which had a lending library in those days--apart form the book store. I think I haunted that place.
My reading tastes were totally eclectic. They ranged from Westerns--mostly Zane Grey, to World War II stories, mainly the Western theatre of war and particularly books about the RAF, books by Gerald Durrell ( Iread all his books that I could lay my hands on then), some of the classics for girls--Jane Eyre and Lousia Alcott's books, to books by Barbara Cartland. It was also important for me to research the background of stories I read, for which there was the Encyclpedia Brittanica in school.
But it was my intense interest in the Air Force stories that even got to me after a bit. So much so at one point I was sure that I must be a re-incarnation of an RAF fighter pilot!!!! I even wrote a couple of chapters of a story based on an RAF pilot in the first person.
I hadn't thought of all that in a long while, till I read this Western. Now, when I look back, I can't imagine how I read all those books. I suppose they were unusual books for a 14 year old girl to read!
But I must say that whatever series I was going through, I got most of what I wanted from Oxford Library. It really was an amazing place.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I remember...

It is my mother's death anniversary tomorrow and I was remembering the fun things about my mother.
I remember, after my younger sister was born, there was this old rocking cradle, in which she slept and I wanted to have a turn in lying in it too. I was a little over 4 then and my mother allowed me a turn in it.
I remember that when my younger brother and I played pretend games, she played along with us--if we turned a flat table over and said it was a boat, she'd tie a cloth to the legs for a sail; if we made a long line of chairs and said it was a train, she'd bring food--as in trains in India normally have and once she even brought us lunch in a tiffin carrier.
I remember too her going for a movie--'Escapade in Japan' and realised it was the story of two children and then telling us the story in detail. That whole scene is so vivid in my mind.
She sang well and so we learnt a wealth of songs.
I remember, but now I can no longer verify.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Train travel

Whenever I hear a train whistle or the drone of a plane far overhead, it touches something inside of me.
When I was growing up, my family did a lot of travelling. My father changed his place of work quite a few times before I finished my education (school and college). Then we were away from my parents’ native state, which was Kerala. So, all that meant a great deal of travelling. Every holiday we got, while I was in school, we went somewhere. When we lived in Bombay, there were weekend trips to where one of my uncles lived--in Ambaranath--which was far out then, and later to Kirkee, when he moved there. Often it was to visit my mother’s unmarried sister who lived and worked in Pune for many years. An occasional outing would be to Bhandup where a cousin lived in the quarters of an MNC company's factory. The factory and surrounding quarters covered a vast area, which had a clubhouse with swimming pool and even a small golf course of it's own.
While my father worked in Bombay, every two years he got a free trip home for the family—home being Kerala naturally for my parents. Then we used to go by car. We had a blue Dodge and our driver was a Rajput with an appropriate moustache. Devi Singh was his name and he came with us to Kerala on all those trips.
The trip took around 3 days.
What excitement it was! The car would be packed the previous day. My mother would have packed food for the journey. It was usually vattayappam and erachi ularthiathu (rice cake and beef spicy fried). These kept well. There would also be many hard-boiled eggs, bread, a cake maybe and lots of water--in big containers. Even now, when I think of that sort of food, it fills me with excitement more than anything else.
We would be woken up at 4 am, while it was still dark, which only added to the excitement. We would leave while it was still dark, so that we could travel longer distances before it was too hot (after all that was before the advent of car ACs). We usually stopped for an early lunch at one of the Travellers' Bungalows of that time and rest there for a bit. Then we would travel on till our night stop, which was usually not later than around 8 p.m.
As we had had to have the car windows open, it was dusty. But I can't remember any of the discomfort now. Many of the highways then were lined with shady trees on either side. Sometimes, when it got too hot, we would wet towels and hang them at the the windows, tied to the carrier on the top. I'm sure it was quite tough for my mother. But she was an avid traveller herself. So I remember only fun and excitement. So even today, I love driving long distances.
As my mother loved travelling, even train travel with her was fun. If my father was not coming home, we went by train and those were the days of coal-powered trains (at least till around the mid '60s)But my mother made even those enjoyable. Those were the days of single first-class compartments, with a door to each side and no corridors. Those were the days of travelling with big tin trunks and a huge holdalls which held sheets and pillows. And the food service at the major stations were often served by liveried bearers and served on beautifully laid trays with real china.
I remember one time, we couldn't get tickets on time and we ended up travelling on Christmas Eve, reaching our destination--my mother's home--only late Christmas Day. My younger siblings & I (who were travelling with my mother) were quite upset about that. But my mother put our Christmas gifts on our train bunks late at night and told my younger siblings that Santa had visited the train too!
Lovely memories that have given me a joy in travelling, which I hope I have shared with my children.