Summer Solsticethinking: when I was a toddler my grandmother would always call Christmas a ‘Badaa Din.’ I thought then that she meant Long Day or ‘Big Day.’ I always thought it described the length of the day but today it dawned upon me she meant a big day for the former white rulers of India. She as a young girl had seen the days of Empire under Queen Victoria, or the Mallka (Empress). She had lived through an era ruled by King George V and King George VI. She was definitely aware of Queen Elizabeth.
I also used to wonder ‘how this day can be long when it gets dark so early on the 25th of December?’ Thus on June 21 of 2013 I have figured out what a simple phrase meant ‘Bade din kee chhootian’ was nothing more than Christmas Holidays and…
Ghana is famous for peace, prosperity, cocoa, gold, Kofi Annan, Lake Volta and its mime based dance called Azonto. It is one of the few nations which have avoided the pitfalls of internecine tribal conflicts. It is indeed called the Switzerland of the African continent. Today Azonto has put this tiny country on the world map.
Imagine you did not have the power of speech and you were compelled to keep dancing by music with an irresistible beat. You could only communicate by miming about your life, your job and hobbies by a personal sign language. This is Azonto. Everybody does the Azonto in Ghana.
The music is everywhere and people do a jig automatically when they come within range of a song being played on any music system in the streets. It has originated from a native dance form called Kpanlogo and has slowly drifted to other cities from the streets of Tema, Teshie, James Town and Chorkor. Azonto involves a lot of hip, hand and knee twisting and the messages mimed are generally very funny. Thus you can dance the Azonto miming yourself being on the phone or in the gym. The message is whatever comes to your mind at the moment of the dance.
Sarkodie is the king of Azonto and rules the dance genre of Azonto.
Snow covered everything. This was a strange land for everyone after the heat of Lahore. We were in the hill station of Mussoorie. The children had the entire Malakoff Estate to explore. The fireplace was a quaint focus of family gatherings in the evening. Tea was being made and served all day long by our newly acquired servant, Kaalu. It was like a big picnic. Strolls during the day on the Mall which only a few days back had not allowed ‘dogs and Indians’ to walk on it.
Some of the men were still in Lahore trying to sell off everything and come back with as much precious stuff as they could from our old home. Malakoff Estate was a huge place but my parents were part of a large entourage of members of a gigantic extended family. My grandfather was there with his two brothers and all of them had their wives, children and grandchildren along with them. This joint family had not yet got used to the large rooms for everyone. They preferred to stick together in the giant living room and eat dinner together before going off to sleep in their various allotted rooms.
Of course, I was yet unborn, this is all hearsay evidence. The ghost story though is true. I heard it from my mother. Although the days were spent by my aunts, uncles and parents taking pleasant trips to the Mall shops a pall of tension hung over the fate of the men who were still not back from their mission in the new state of Pakistan. Everyone huddled together near the fireplace, sang songs, played cards and munched on the delicious pakodas that Kaalu made.
Everyone had to walk down a steep path about a half a kilometer long before reaching the Estate. This was a very dark passage and everyone heaved a sigh of relief in the evenings when safely inside. Things were thus going well in their repetitive calmness when suddenly a strange incident scared everyone. Dinner was finished and the family members were chatting and joking around the fire when they heard a loud banging on the front door. It was very dark outside but the young men got up to check who it was. They found nothing. Fresh snow had fallen but there were no footprints. A cloak of chilly fright touched everyone. That night everyone stuck together in the living room and waited out the night. The incident was reported to the distant police station. A tall and thin policeman came and checked the house. He talked to everyone present and then left to make his report.
Sadly the knocking on the door after dinner continued for many nights. Everyone became convinced that this was a haunted house. Sunday night was fraught
with fear and the children sat huddled with the elders in front of the fireplace. There was a bang on the door and then shouting. The young men’s league got up again to check and to their surprise found their uncles back from Lahore and in their grip was Kaalu.
They thrashed him till he admitted to banging on our front door at night. Motive- to get a raise of ten rupees. He was handed over to the police and life returned to normalcy at Malakoff Estate.
Days and nights passed while the men discussed their next move in Independent India. It was a Sunday and the family was having a hot debate over this incident when suddenly the front door was being banged again by a new ghost. The men again jumped to the rescue. No one noticed my mother and my aunt slip onto the carpet in front of the fireplace. They had a guilty look on their faces but also one of having accomplished something very naughty. They giggled and muffled their conversation in order not to invite undue attention. Strangely the ghost did not appear again after that night.
Many years later my mother and aunt admitted to having kicked the door just to get a feel of the ghostly sound. They ran for their scared lives after that into the outhouse. Then they slipped in sniggering near the fireplace through an open backdoor. They never tried that stunt again because they had scared themselves more than the other occupants of the house.
English: CLRV #4059 travels along the Main Street bridge, just south of Danforth Avenue, on the 506 Carlton route and bound for Main Street station in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Having fallen in this nostalgia crevice I cannot but think of the humble postcard that arrived at our home in Chandigarh once in every fortnight. It was usually addressed to my grandmother from one of her daughters—my affectionate aunts.
Today when I have daughters of my own I can understand the value of a message from your child living in a distant city. Then I used to watch my grandma’s glowing face as she held the postcard. It was pure love that I saw in her eyes. She could not read. She would ask my mother to read the scrawled Hindi lines. The message had a standard format. ‘I hope this letter finds you in the best of health as I am here. Please write back as quickly as you can. With respectful prayers and well wishes, your daughter.’
Those postcards were like messages from Mars confirming that life still existed. These distant aunts would appear for a few days after a couple of years and then disappear again for the next seven hundred days. Meanwhile they sent their smoke signal postcards reminding my grandmother of their existence in some lonely marriage at the frontiers of a rigid society.
My grandmother also had two brothers. The senior brother sent such a post card every six months. This meant he was coming for a day or two. Grandmom would go crazy preparing things in the kitchen for her brother. It was a great time for the kids because this Mamaan made us laugh with his practical jokes on his sister. The other Mamaan also came but he never stayed overnight. He was the father-in-law of a famous bureaucrat and later Union Minister. The senior Mamoon scared us at night with his stories especially the one in which he made his dentures eject and dance between his lips when he played the role of a monster. That really sent us to sleep.
Later my wife began to get postcards from her saintly uncle (mother’s brother.) These came in duos. Two postcards like Siamese twins still joined in the middle. In one there would be the usual scribble in Punjabi, ‘How are you my daughter? I hope this finds you well as it does me. Please consider this postcard a telegram and reply by return post. I have sent an addressed envelope for your convenience. Write a few lines or just send the blank card back. I will know then that you are fine and doing well. Your mamaan (maternal uncle)—-‘
It is a curious fact that all the women received these strange Siamese twins. These cards assumed that the receiver did not live near a post office and would have a difficult time replying back. Thus even a blank card posted back was an indication of ‘all is well in my domestic married life.’ The major reason for this being that most women were still uneducated and would not or could not find someone to write a sympathetic note back home. It was and still is a man’s world.
The men did send and receive postcards but the writing was cleverly camouflaged in Urdu which all the males had learned in school at Lahore before partition. Now I remember that my dad even got a Sunday edition of a famous Urdu daily from Jullundur or was it Ludhiana? I envied there ability to read this strange language. I have many such postcards as heirlooms. They rest somewhere still undeciphered. Someday I will learn Urdu and read them.
Today my daughters have fancy smart phones but still they do not send a simple message confirming their well being. Perhaps I too should start sending them those conjoined twins in postcards.
Monsoons are evidence of God’s benevolent self operating franchise on world weather. Asian Monsoon clouds from June to September exhibit the power of the Creator.
Even an Atheist would accept the presence of a Super Intelligence on watching the transition of millions of tons of water to vapour, to cloud and then to rain. Man has been seeking telekinesis or psycho kinesis, the transportation of matter through thought. Here is a big example of psycho kinesis- Monsoon rains.
Monsoon clouds arise like angels of God. God has set up a gigantic system which works like a Celestial viaduct. The sheer volume of this manoeuvre boggles the mind. It is brilliant in its simplicity. The hot sun heats up the lands of the Indian sub continent. The hot air from the land surface begins to rise creating a low pressure zone. Meanwhile the difference in land and sea temperatures…
As a writer, reading the following lines from The Moon and Sixpence gave me some solace:
“The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thoughts; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.”—W Somerset Maugham
I used to be an obedient stand –behind- my -wife kind of sender of prayers to our Hindu pantheon of Gods. I admit in the beginning it was my entire fault. Everything that went wrong with my life was my fault. Still my Gods did fail me. They made other people millionaires and not me, why? They say Mongol genes are running rampant in ninety percent of Asia’s population. So maybe Ganesha does not approve of my Genghis Khan chromosomes. Anyway things are not working.
I came to this northern city chasing an IT dream. I must admit I have a good job and a good wife. Things froze at that. I am caught in a strange vortex of infrastructure failure. It’s my fault. Why did I live in cities where things worked? Getting bad habits is so easy.
Now people hate me for complaining about the lack of electricity in Gurgaon. “Grow up man, this is part of life.” My work is all deadline based. My life depends on the internet. Some senior manager got netted in by the beautiful legs and smile of a senior executive of a new Internet provider company. I have to work now at a snail’s pace as a consequence because the net (pun intended) result has been bad. My lap top gets all heated up because of the hot cabin I sit in. It just shuts up.
I decided to change my Gods. The old ones were not working.
“What are these things in the prayer tray?” asked my wife. Let me explain the prayer system. Incense is burnt in the tray and an oil lamp is lit. Then the tray is swung in a circular motion in front of the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. There is a deity for each of our demands in life. These deities are as human as real people to Hindus having heard very interesting stories about Krishna, Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, Rama, Sita, Laxman and Hanuman. The mythology exists in two books read by every devout Hindu-The Ramayana and The Mahabaratha. Today there are numerous television plays enlightening viewers about stories of these great Gods.
My wife’s question reverberated in the prayer room. ‘What are these things in the prayer tray?’
“The God of Electricity represented by my old voltmeter and the Internet God represented by photographs of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, the Fathers of the Internet.”
Immediately there was a Schism in our home. She immediately pulled out her Gods from the tray. Now I understood how religions split into rival factions.
“At least give me that one tiny Ganesha’ I begged her
‘You are a heretic. I will make a report to our Punditjee (priest)’ my wife said.
I put my Gods on a separate tray and burned some incense. That day the internet ran with the speed of lightning and there was no electricity failure.
This is it. I am forming a new religion. People will flock to me. I surveyed other pitfalls in my life. My bank account! Lakshmi was unhappy with me. I clipped out an old photograph of Warren Buffet and put it in a tiny frame. This I placed on my tray of new gods. As an after thought I added Mukesh Ambani and Azim Premji. Next day I got bonus shares from all the companies I had invested in. This was working.
I was the new Messiah. I had seen the light.
I could fix any thing with my prayers. The population! I should fix the population. I stuck a family planning red triangle on a cardboard and placed that too on the tray. My wife looked at me. She thought I was going mad. I remembered Joan of Arc. She too was scoffed at but made a saint after her death. I went to sleep happy. I liked the idea of my beatification.
Alas my world came crashing down next morning. ‘I’m pregnant’ said my wife. I looked at the red triangle in disappointment. The Sensex lost a thousand points the same morning. The color red flowed entirely through my holdings. The office generator packed up just after the net stopped working. I took out my old booklet of Hanuman Chaleesa and my string of 108 beads.
“Jai Hanuman Gyan Goon Sagar—-.” Just then my boss walked in. He admired my stoic nature in the office. I was praying in the disastrous situation while others were wailing and crying at the lack of electricity and the internet.
I got that long pending promotion. I threw away the volt meter and respectfully stowed away the photographs and the red triangle. My place has been restored behind my wife in the prayer room and the infidel tray thrown on to the scrap heap.