Time – turned

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Looking through some old files on the hard disc, I came across this image from 11 years ago. Time is such a magical thing – it keeps slipping away like sand through your fingers. You try your best to hold on to the grains, but they escape – sometimes surreptitiously, one grain at a times, sometimes in a slow but steady trickle, sometimes gushing forth like a mountain stream. Like the Red Queen said, we have to keep running, just to stay at the same place, and yet, time leaves us behind most of the time. We have run twice as fast to get anywhere. And yet, time keeps coming back to us, all the time. Time comes to us, wrapped up in our memories, in artefacts, in records and documents, in our tales and anecdotes, in photographs and letters. This image was a tribute to this ever elusive, esoteric, yet so familiar abstraction that is such an integral part of our lives. We picked up the clock in an antics shop at Kodaikanal, on our first trip with Ujaan, when he was just 4.5 months old. This clock remains with us, as one of the many trinkets of our household. Decades ago, in another century, it must have ticked in some other home. Does the clock remember?

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Flying high

On the flight from Dubai to Budapest, I had dozed off after a nice breakfast. Suddenly the sunlight on my eyes woke me up, and I was completely awestruck by the scene outside. We were flying over a beautiful terrain, which looked like undulations made in the sand by the little hands of a child. Only the colour of the soil was dark brown, and the undulations were not tiny mounds but mighty mountains, many with a large helping of snow capping them. We were flying over Turkey, and I was, in all probabilities, looking down on the Armenian highlands, which are a range of mountains near the Turkey-Iran border. This range includes Mount Ararat, which is a peak of great historical and mythical value. At 5137 metres, this dormant volcano is no minor hill, and yet, from a height of nearly 15000 feet, they looked like undulations made by a child’s hand in sand! After a while I could make out roads along the mountains, coiling around them like thin ropes. Settlements that looked like clumps of tiny dots could be discerned here and there. As I watched the landscape move and give way to the Mediterranean, which looked like a sea of cotton balls, I pondered about perspectives. The mighty mountains appear insignificant when seen from an airplane, and yet, to the man who has to toil in a village at the foot of such a mountain, walk up and down its slopes tending sheep to earn his daily bread, these mountains are an immense reality.

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Looking from above, nature appears so fragile, so puny, and yet, we are but puppets in the hands of nature, in spite of the great advances in technology that we have mastered. In spite of technology and science, tsunamis kill, famines happen, viruses create havoc. In spite of all our brilliance, we are but specks in the immense landscape of nature, and yet, we mock this immensity every day, flying our machines high up in the sky, and looking down upon the world from our glass domes.

Looking back 11 years

mukhOsh, our theatre group, is gearing up to celebrate its birthday for the first time on 25th June this year. The countdown has begun, and we are spending our days in a frenzy, busy with the rehearsals and last minute preparations at various levels. Sets, costumes, lights, music, publicity, PR, everything needs to be taken care of by a handful of us, as usual. Ayan and I are leading our dual lives of scientists and thespians while managing the holiday homework of the children and keeping track of everything else. All this seems so familiar yet so unfamiliar. I can’t but help thinking of the past, of the “good old days”, when mukhOsh was just an infant, and we were novices in the field of both theatre and science.

25th June 2006, ADA Rangamandira. A bunch of young people, all budding scientists, were preparing for their first ever “public”performance as a newly formed theatre group. We were staging Parabaash, a well known play by Manoj Mitra.

parabaash1This team had been doing theatre together for quite some time by then, as amateurs, in IISc (Indian Institute of Science), Bangalore. We had tired of seeing the same set of faces in the audience and had decided to explore wider pastures. We had officially become mukhOsh (the mask), then the only Bangla theatre group in the city of Bangalore, and had decided to be professionals in theatre. By then we had quite a steady audience among the Bengali community in IISc, and through networking via emails and Orkut (Facebook was yet to be born, and of course, there was no question of smartphones), we had reached out to quite a large number of Bengalis in Bangalore. We had even found a couple of sponsors to cover the costs of the show. The preparations had been on for over a month. We had been rehearsing post-dinner, late into the night for two weeks, and during the day, my battalion of mukhoshdhaaris (mask wearers is what we called ourselves) spent hours putting up posters in various eateries and cafes in the city, distributing tickets to some outlets, running around first to find sponsors and then to get them to hand over their material to be printed, chasing the printers, procuring the props and last but not the least, selling tickets to friends. I was the taskmaster, pushing and prodding them, allocating duties and keeping everybody busy. Everyone in the group had specific workloads, and none of us got much sleep for the two weeks gearing up to the show. In the middle of all this, we had our twists and turns – quarrels, fights, patching up, it was all part of the game. After all, we were all young, and we were all passionate about mukhOsh, and we were all a family.

Everyone in mukhOsh knew that I had a short temper, which I tended to lose when things got terribly busy. They were used to Ayan getting more and more nervous and me shouting at him, telling him to let me handle things my way. This had happened every time we had done a show in the past, and that day, people were getting nervous because I appeared extremely calm and Ayan did not keep bothering me with questions of how much longer the make-up would take and if the props were all in order. Debu and Mama had been telling me to stay calm and not to lose my temper since the morning. Finally Debu came and asked me to shout at him “a bit”. Apparently, nobody was finding the energy to gear up fully because it was all so quiet backstage. “Please give us a bit of a bashing, but carefully, don’t shout much!”he said. Everybody was being extra careful because I had to go up on stage in a while, and I was 4.5 months pregnant.

……. to be continued

Bringing up my girl

I have always wanted a daughter whom I could dress in different colours and designs from head to toe, and I was only too happy to indulge myself when my daughter was born. Even before she was born, I started making little dresses for her, and I continued to do so these last five years, though the frequency reduced as the time needed to make a dress increased. I happily dressed her in all sorts of clothes, including her brother’s old jeans and shorts. Wearing her brother’s old clothes actually made her happy, and she used to ask if she was looking like him when he was her age.

Just before her fifth birthday, I was quite taken aback one day when she refused to wear a beautiful kurta that used to belong to her brother. When I asked why, she said that she doesn’t want to look like a boy, so she doesn’t want any “boy” clothes. She said this every time I wanted her to wear anything that she considered to be boy clothes, including her own jeans, shorts and capris. She only wanted frocks and skirts, and that too, only the frilly ones. Even straight cut dresses were not “girl” enough for her. I was frustrated and angry, but she has quite a personality, and nobody can make her do something that she doesn’t want to do. When I argued that I wear jeans, she simply told me that nevertheless, she didn’t want them. She is very fond of retro Hindi songs, and showed her Zeenat Aman in bell bottoms, which have returned as palazzos. She told me that yes, those were palazzos indeed, much like the ones I wear. “So, you can wear yours too, right?” She shook her head and said that she didn’t like them much, she preferred skirts and dresses like Elsa and Anna. I gave up.

She hates to comb her hair, and I often return home to find her considerably long hair in a mess. But she insists on growing her hair long, just like Anna and Elsa. She loves make up, and begs me to allow her to use coloured lip balm, if not lipstick. She adores her brother and tries to emulate him when they are playing together, but left to herself, she spends hours with her dolls. She loves to play teacher, and every afternoon she lines up all the dolls – whether human or animal, on the balcony as her students. She teaches them, feeds them, takes them to the toilet, and talks to them constantly. If you ask her, she says, that she wants to be a teacher for little children when she grows up. One day she was happily telling me how she had played cricket with her brother and his friend, and had bowled them both out. I asked her whether she has considered being a cricketer when she grows up, just to see how she would react. She promptly told me that only boys play cricket when they grow up. I tried telling her that women play cricket too, but she refused to believe me, as on TV, she has only seen men playing cricket. I showed her women’s cricket videos, and she said, “But see, they are also looking like men! I don’t want to be like them, I want to be a princess.”

The tragedy lies in the fact that I have not made her grow up on the Disney Princesses. When she watches TV, it’s with her brother, who avoids the princesses any way. They love Harry Potter, but while he wants to be Harry, she is happy to be Hermione. He likes Chhota Bheem, and she likes Chhutki. Sometimes I look at her and wonder, whether she is imbibing the social biases and I should be more proactive in inculcating a sense of equality of the sexes in her. After some thought, I have decided to let her be. After all, I played with dolls and wore frocks and was brought up like a typical girl, and I even went to an all-girls school. But that didn’t stop me from forming my own ideas about the world and fighting for the equality of men and women. Let her enjoy her dolls now, there will be ample time to ensure that she doesn’t grow up into one herself.