Tag Archives: relationships

Bonds Over Books

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A friend reminded me, after my last post how she had been a part of my reading escapades in school. I took a long trip back into childhood and had an epiphany – that my closest friendships have always been with readers.

As I let nostalgia take me on a ride down to my early years of pre-primary and primary in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I gazed with wonder at Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, Huckleberry Finn, Dicken’s and a dozen others scattered over my bed. With it came the memory of my first ‘bosom’ friend, Nanda D Gurbani she was to me what Diana was to Anne of Green Gables. Petit and pretty and oh so perfect. Malory Towers and St Claire’s made us Sigh for boarding school and our exasperated parents complied. She was packed off to MGD in Jaipur and I equally unceremoniously waved off to Welhams, Dehradun. With impressive promises and fervent oaths we hoped to keep in touch and then faced with the vagaries of the postal system lost touch forever. I name her here since I do hope there is someone reading it here who will put me in touch with her again.

My first night at boarding school is when I met a minx with a ropes of curls, who I will forever address with her surname and never with her given one. She and I bonded over thousands of pages of adventure and misadventure, classics and non-classics. Both of us would be placed together in dorm after dorm till we parted after the 10th grade. We would exchange books and read them by torchlight, sweating under the covers of our uninspiring counterpanes. After a hiatus of college, marriage and kids we were united by Facebook many years later to my delight.

During the Welham years, there were two more with whom I forged bonds over books that last till today. With one I was her partner in crime. We hid the books we wanted to read from others behind obscure titles in the school library. We borrowed for ourselves and shared with each other, breaking rules of asking the owners before further sharing their books. But, then loyalty was always towards each other and no one else. We coerced relatives and friends with well-worded letters about the horrible loneliness of boarding school, and how the mentioned title would relieve us of it somewhat. Some of our letters were heeded and some sadly went to unsympathetic postees. The one or two books that did trickle in managed to find their senders places of fondness in our hearts till they too turned unsympathetic and were relegated to the dark recesses of a hurt child’s psyche, never to trust such adults again. We read and read, then discussed each book to shreds – dismayed at a character’s sorrows and jubliant at their fortunes.

Then there was the other friend, a delightful cuddle on whose lap I put my head and we read the great romances – Gone With The Wind, Far Pavilions, Thorn Birds; the sagas of Sheldon, Archer, Segal, Steele. A quirk she had which I never understood – reading the end of the book first!! Sacrilege, if there was any term for it! The anticipation of the end is always the most exciting part of the read, I debated. With the coolness that to her was second nature she bothered not to respond. I still have never ever tried to read an end before the rest of a story. The magic would be lost and I still wonder at her. The eternal romantic she found treasures we read, my head on her lap – one book in her hand and another in mine.

School ended and college began. Another girl became my concomitant to the bookstores in the neighbourhood. We shared the same name in addition to a quirkiness of the mind. We bonded over the stories we read and defied the seriousness of the world, laughter rang out and continues to over the love for books and the ridiculousness of the world. She is the one who brings out the ‘stupid’ in me and makes me realise that solemnity is actually a vice. To her I owe in friendship more, in madness even more.

There came a long period of lull, in which I read rather alone. Then came along a group so Drunk-on-books, sobriety suits them not. We read the woes of the world, dissect each aspect of writing and debate loudly on the author’s voice. We eat and drink with the passion we reserve only for the venerated written word. We each bring into the discussion a viewpoint that another has not thought of, a perspective brought on from another way of life. Each book we read and discuss enriches the experience of looking at it through multifarious lenses. The women in this group are erudite warriors whose reading choices make me break out of my comfort zone to read books I would never have picked up otherwise. They are also my biggest support system and champions.

Another group that enriches my reading experiences is one of women who live around me. Rocking grandmothers who redefine the maxims of age and women of my age who rewrite the expectations of stereotypes make up this sapient group. Again the discussions are designed well and structured to be deep and meaningful. A different experience which releases wisdom from the written words of so many authors stimulates my intellect. With laughter and encouragement the group grows, with love and companionship we support.

Quoting PG Wodehouse to end this post, “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” And I have beautiful friends to share not only literature with, but my life with, too.

The Noteworthy Bridegroom

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Photo Credits : Namish Gulati

I must clarify before you read on, this is not a post on demonetisation even though the title  may be a trifle misleading in the present times where the note is more worthy.

At a much younger cousin’s wedding recently a thought struck that has stayed in my mind, growing bigger by the day. This thought has nagged and niggled away at my peace. I must enunciate this now or I shall lose more sleep over as thoughts the fiends that they are, only strike me when I’m comfortably ensconced in my warm blanket half way here and the other half in la-la-land.

It struck at the ‘sehra bandi’ ceremony, the cousin as you would have guessed by now was the bridegroom. Dressed in a golden shervani and safa, the dear fellow was radiant (now that’s generally a commendation reserved for the bride from whom I’m borrowing it for just this occasion, and as I know her to be a rather sporting sort I’m confident she will not mind.) So while participating with all seriousness in the ceremony where the sisters of the bridegroom tie the sehra on his safa (now it’s a known fact that the sisters of the bridegroom don’t really get too much footage at a wedding, so we take our relatively small roles quite seriously.) In our community, the sehra is composed of two parts a silver mukut and a veil made of flowers that is tied over the mukut. This particular mukut that was tied by the sisters has a unique history which will need another post to do it proper justice.

So now back to the thought that crept into my mind as I helped tie his  sehra was how much we hear, read, talk about the bride’s shringaar. We go into raptures describing to the bride her stunning clothes and accessories. From the bindi gracing her forehead to the ring sparkling on her toe, from the gajras perfuming her hair to the chunnari framing her beauty. From the lehngas twinkle to her payals tinkle, poetry has been written, songs have been sung, paintings have replicated the gorgeousness of the bride and the loveliness of her emotions. We cannot stop complimenting her on her happy glow. And we continue to congratulate her as she embarks on her journey towards love, towards a new life.

But, as for the poor bridegroom, he is rarely given the same consideration. Ribald jokes, loss of freedom, being tied to the yoke, a noose scarfing his neck are the only things the poor fellow is thrown in the way of attention. As he laughs letting slide the jokes and expendable dissuasion, the chappie camouflages his gladness effectively. Why does this happen, I question? The two are beginning a journey together, are they not? I wonder at this discrimination!

Discrimination! One would question that word. Women are discriminated against, not men some would say. Yet, I stand by discrimination. I really do feel sorry for the poor sod, who’s the bridegroom for he must hide behind his manliness and is not allowed to emote. Is he fearful of ridicule? Or is it because it’s the done thing? Whatever the reason that’s a quandary for me, that goes unanswered. The woman on the threshold of her wedding day is encouraged to be starry eyed, to express her hopes for a happy days full of love, whereas the man is made anxious with thoughts heavy pressing down on him. We allow the woman soft feelings to nurture on the other hand we don’t permit the man any display of  his.

They do, you know, have those soft feelings but hide them under brashness and bravado. You can see through the screens that they shadow behind, you just need to watch out for the signs. So, the next time you see the young boy who to the despair of his mother has never woken before the evening after a night of reveling with his friends, is up and ready for an early morning wedding puja. Or you witness the eagerness of the young man, who has never been on time for anything in his life, the first to turn up for his sehra bandi don’t be slack-jawed in surprise.

And while we are doing that let us also when telling the bride that she looks beautiful and ethereal praise the bridegroom letting him know that he looks handsome and regal.  We women will continue to hog the limelight with our embellished lehngas or sarees or suits and gorgeous jewelry, let’s pause to consider that the man does so only once, on this day, his wedding day. So, just let us take our eyes off the young lady for one brief moment and look upon this dazzling young man, donned in his magnificent brocade sherwani, hosting a symbolic pearl mala around his neck. Let’s gaze in admiration at the elegant kamarbandh encircling his waist where a sword within a bejeweled scabbard is jauntily fixed. Stop for a bit to appreciate his elegant dupatta and his stately jutis. Stare a little while with wonder at the embellished safa he proudly wears on his head onto which the mukut is affixed by loving sisters, proclaiming to all that he is the bridegroom and it is the happiest day of his life. And let us bless with hearts kind, as he sits astride the ceremonial horse with the confidence of a king, back straight in all his splendor while his sehra hides his joyful glow from any evil eye. Get together and applaud as he travels the last mile to bring love, companionship and happiness home. Allow him this day to express his pleasure just like my cousin did as he danced on the carriage that carried him to his equally and now I shall share the word with her ‘radiant’ bride as their long-held dream was on the threshold of coming true.

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Photo Credit: Richa Pandey Wadhwa

 

 

 

Gender Bender

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Two conversations are to be credited with for today’s post. The first this morning was a rather serious one and the second later in the day lighthearted and fun. I will share the second first.

This afternoon, I met up with a group of fabulous neighbors, who share my passion for reading and constitute one of my two book clubs (the other being equally amazing.) After we dissected ‘The Sense of an Ending’ and found our own closure to Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize 2011 winning novel, that almost all of us began by hating and then while discussing all changed our opinion of, well again almost all. The discussion then veered off to the craziness of parenting, we laughed at our foibles and our successes. Till one mother of a 3 year old shared her worry that her daughter hates wearing dresses so much that at parties she would pout and sulk if taken in a dress. “She only wants to wear jeans and her circle of influence is only male, she only ever plays with boys,” the mother shared. Now before all the feminists get their knickers in a twist, let me set the record straight the mother who said this has broken far many gender stereotypes than you could even think of. She like every mother is concerned that she is doing right by her child. Some other mothers and I too shared with her that there is nothing to worry, all our girls were the same. My almost teen daughter hates wearing dresses, skirts, and any attire feminine, if it were not for her shoulder length hair and love for nail art she would easily pass off for a boy, so ‘tom-boyish’ is she. Pretty princesses are passé, make way for the girls of today, who are pretty kickass (pun intended.)

Some of us women and I will stress on some, straddle both worlds with complete confidence. We follow our dreams working in any field that we want to and are successful at it. We multitask and can maintain a work-life balance that is the envy of the men in our lives. We dress as we please and travel where the wanderlust takes us. When we sit at home to nurture, we do it on our terms and with complete conviction. A friend of mine who works with large groups of Graduate students once told me that in his fifteen years he has seen girls evolving in confidence far more rapidly than the boys he teaches. He said that he worried for the boys and the kind of men they would become.

This brings me to my first conversation of the day, with someone who is very precious to me. I caught him on a day that was even in at the beginning of it was proving to be yet another in a series of stressful ones. I may ruffle some feathers here, but then I’m a self-proclaimed bad feminist. While we women are breaking the shackles that centuries of gender stereotyping made us wear, the men are struggling stuck under the yoke of theirs. While we endorse a girl’s right to be a ‘tomboy’ and find her wings and soar, the boy that wants to play with a doll is frowned upon and it would send his parents into a tizzy of anxiety if he ever asked to wear a dress. The expectations on men today sometimes to me appears harsh. He continues to be (in most cases) the primary bread winner, he continues to be expected to be emotionally the stronger one, to be tough, to be protective and to defend himself. Then why is it so wrong that he should want to come home to an atmosphere of love and support after a tough day and unwind with the love and laughter of his family rather than come home to an angry parent or a spouse waiting with their own expectations weighing heavily against him? I’ve made my own share of demands, yet I have learned from my mistakes and what they cost.

Some women would say that after centuries of dominance they deserve it. I pose this question to them, should the sins of the father be held against his son? While we celebrate our emancipation let’s also have some compassion for our men, only then can we hope for true gender equality.