Weather

It was the kind of day when the sun is warm and inviting, the shade pleasantly cool.

The kind of place where, as you walk, you get nicely toasted, and then a large shadow looms up – a tree, sometimes, a building at others – nice and cool, but the sunshine on the other side seems too nice to linger in the shade.

There was a riot of colours all around – the reds and oranges of dyes from a desert, the deep blues and maroons of the intricate penmanship that spoke of time and pains’taking, the tiny stitches that transformed transparent muslin into a translucent pastel gauze.

Silk, cotton, muslin, zari, beads, bangles, silver, pottery, jute, coir, wool, led up to the smell of butter and frying, asafoetida and fish, mustard oil and steam from a wok; to the warmth of stone benches in the sun.

Johnsons babies toddling off and grasping my shawl to steady themselves, a warm smile from the grandmother who sees me coax the little hand into letting go of my clothes and holding my finger instead. A stranger who smiles at me as I watch the artist make me a replica of the earrings I want – or did I smile first?

People, people and so many more people. Sunday mornings, full of benevolence; like warmth in winter, a commodity to be treasured in this city.

Status symbols

I suppose that has to be the theme of at least one post while I’m in Delhi! Well, here goes.

The market where I live has two vegetable shops. One’s a Safal vegetable shop, where there are usually only two kinds of vegetables per day, and the other, located in the main part of the market, has ‘imported’ veggies. So we usually do our vegetable shopping at a much more downmarket market, and stock up for the week.

Yesterday, however, was one of those days when there was nothing in the fridge and no time to spend at a subzi mandi. So off I went, to pick up something for MM to cook. Since there was nothing at the Safal shop as usual, down I trotted to the upmarket ‘mart’, feeling terribly underdressed among the pretty fireflies who come out with the Delhi dusk.

I found a couple of cook-able veggies and paid for them, and on my way out, saw three fireflies examining some trying-to-look-perky asparagus. Long straight hair, two inch heels, a woolen shawl over bare shoulders. “You can put this celery in a salad, it tastes so good, you know?” “Uss-pay-rug-uss hai madam, celery wahaan hai”

I smirked into the hood of my authentic-foreign-university-sweatshirt, as I carried my bhindi  and baigan out of the door with my head held high.

Dreams

Three little birdies wanted to fly west. They had their reasons, you see. Different ones each, I mean. And they didn’t really know each other, but since they were all planning to fly west, they thought they’d make a pretty formation in the sky. A nice ‘V’, they all agreed, could be made with three birds.

Two of the birds were young and strong, but they weren’t sure. The third wasn’t, either, but she put on quite a show of exhorting the other two that they could, they should, it was meant to be. She painted pictures with words, or tried – pictures of the wonders they would see as they flew, the wonder that awaited them at journey’s end.

But then the doubt began to eat at her too. If these young ones felt they had no right to challenge the winds, what made her think she could? They had brains, and courage, and strength, and youth. All she had was the arrogance to think she could try.

The youngest bird decided not to go. She felt too unsure of her wings, she said. And she loved home; and she wasn’t sure west was where she wanted to go. The eldest talked her back into the trip, but it wasn’t enough. There were too many reasons not to go.

The middle bird wondered whether he should. The youngest told him why she wasn’t, the eldest told him he should. He looked for someone to help him decide, put it off for a while, and then felt it was too late. Or was it? He saw signs and portents as confused as he was. What now?

The eldest? She was too far gone, drunk on the wine of flattery and false confidence. She would try, though a little voice kept asking her how she would survive the fall, what she would do if she was thrown back to earth. Her bravado, she hoped, would carry her through.

When these people have a headache

do they ask for their head to be cut off? (Thanks for the link, Dimmy!)

I remember an invitation once, to meet an amazing old lady over tea and sherry. I remember a sun that didn’t seem to want to set; oranges and pinks and silver in the sky, gold and pink and green on the ground, showing through the window in front of which she sat talking to us.

She didn’t know us, of course – she just knew we were young women who wanted to study. Maybe her hair was brown once, maybe she wore spectacles as a young girl. Maybe she’d been to India. Whatever the reason, she decided that women’s education was a topic of interest to me.

So she talked to me of how important it was that women’s colleges continued to exist at the University. Why she didn’t believe in making them open to men too.  She didn’t say “they excluded us, why should we include them?” Or even “we fought so hard to get this space, why should we give it up?”; though she had every right to do so.*

She said that women, after all, have so few spaces to call their own. So many spaces remain closed to them, in fact if not by law. The college, she said, was a public space for women only. A space where men could come and go, but as guests. She didn’t want that to change – it had an inherent value to the development of young women, she believed. 

I told her at that time that I agreed with her – a space that was exclusively female allowed women to do things that other social mores might prevent them from doing. (No, not in those words. I still spoke English then.)

*It was only in 1988, among strong protests from men, that the last surviving men-only college there became co-educational.

An MRI machine

I want so much to know what it looks like from the inside. The inside of the tube, I mean – the actual inside is probably a lot of wires and chips and stuff.

And why they keep sliding you up and down inside it. Like and elevator, lying down. All the way up, and then stopping at five floors before coming to a standstill.

And how come the noise keeps coming and going and changing in rhythm. Is it intentional, like the flashing lights in an EEG?

Who can tell me?

Open Secrets

Can you have a secret that everyone knows?

Is it a secret if everyone knows it but everyone who knows also knows it’s a secret?

Is it a secret if everyone knows but you don’t know everyone knows?

Is it a secret if everyone knows, but they don’t know what they know?

Since I am trying to work up to doing some work on apps, and since open secrets seem to be in the news (the news of my life, don’t reach for that paper!) right now.

The Awesome Foursome and the Frog Prince

“Dips, what is this?!”

“What is what?” 

“How did the Frog Prince get in here?!”

**** 

It seemed as if it were meant to be.

Projects were allotted in the first week of term, and Spectacle-Chewer always wanted group work. And since no one knew anyone (or so he thought), he allotted groups too. So there it was, a list of topics, each with four names under it, complete with roll numbers next to them. 

Minty stood beside the last bench, trying to work up the courage to go look at the list. There seemed to be about twenty people, each double her own size, clustering around the notice board. And then she noticed Chutku emerging from the group, her hair more disorderly than usual, clutching a notebook. “I’ve got my group”, she announced to the world at large, putting her owl-glasses back in place. “Am I in it?”, Minty asked hopefully. “No – it’s roll number wise. 1, 11, 21, 31 – or some such thing!” said BB, coming up beside Minty. Dips joined the three of them as they made their way back to their seats; “Hey, Minty, we’re in the same group! 6, 16, 46 and 56. You are 16, right?”

Thus it was that three weeks ago, Minty and Dips had begun their common mission, their quest, something that was to bind them together, join them at the hip for the rest of their law school lives. The LM Project. 

*** 

Minty woke up, yawned, and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Or tried to. But sleep seemed to have turned into some yellow gooey stuff that was gluing her eyelids together. She stumbled her way to the bathroom, rubbing  her eyes and cursing under her breath. Her eyes were red. “Bloodshot”, she thought. “Well, what did I expect? I should never have let Dips talk me into working late last night!” She splashed water on her face and went to wake Dips. “Look what you’ve done now!” she said, pushing open the door of the room. Finding no one there, she padded back to her room, bumping into the Surly Senior Next Door.

“Eww! Look where you’re going! And what’s wrong with your f***ing eyes?” said SSND.

“Slept late.”

“How late? You were asleep when I came in at eleven! Are you sure it isn’t conjunctivitis?” 

***

Two hours later, the doctor had confirmed that it was, and there was now a “Conjunctivitis Tap” at the washbasin, a “Conjunctivitis Loo” and a “Conjunctivitis Bathroom”, and Minty was receiving instructions to use only those and no others.

“And when you go to the mess, use your own plate and spoon, and use a clean kerchief to pick up the ‘phone.”

“Okay.” 

***

“What do you mean, okay? We have to submit in three days! We are supposed to meet tomorrow with our individual rough drafts!” Dips was on the verge of yelling, till she realized Minty was as upset as her. “I suppose there’s nothing we can do”, she sighed.  

“Actually, you should ask for an extension” said Chutku, plonking herself two steps down, as the girls waited on the stairs outside the mess for BB to join them for dinner.  

“An extension? You mean… of the deadline? You think we can get one?”

“Of course you can! You have the perfect reason!”

*** 

But of course, since this is not a fairy-tale (and since if it were, he might well be an ogre), Spectacle Chewer just looked over the top of his spectacles and said, “Well, you can submit your part late, Minty, but I don’t see why the others can’t submit on time!” and dimpled away before she got up the guts to argue. 

*** 

“What does he mean, anyway, he can’t see? If he kept his bloody glasses on his nose instead of trying to eat them up, he’d be able to see something! How can he expect us to submit without your part, Minty? Didn’t he say he wanted one project?” Dips was actually yelling now, not caring who heard her.

A huge tear rolled down Minty’s nose. “I want to go home!” she sniffed. “I’m sick, they won’t let me into the acad block, I found a frog in my shoe this morning, and now HE WON’T GIVE ME AN EXTENSION!”

“Chill out, you guys. We’ll do it. Instead of meeting this evening, we’ll meet tomorrow with each of our drafts, and fair it out at night, and then we can do the ToC and intro and stuff the day after tomorrow, if we bunk class, and still submit on time. Don’t you agree?” Peacemaker turned, obviously expecting support from the other male member of the group. 

“Whatever” 

***

And so it was that the four met the next evening, with three drafts. Yes, three, because “whatever” apparently didn’t mean “okay”.   “Okay, don’t start yelling. There’s no point to it. Dips, you start fairing out the other drafts, and I’ll write something for him tonight.” Poor Mr. Peacemaker. “We’ll have to fair that bit tomorrow, then. Minty, can you do the intro, Research Metho and other frills tonight?” 

*** 

So, here they were, an hour before submission. They’d taken over one of the make-out benches. Papers lay on the bench in two neat piles on either side of Minty – the ones she’d finished proofreading, and the ones she was yet to read. The others sat on the ground in front of her, Peacemaker drawing borders to the text on the finished pages, and the Other One writing “Defamation” in intricate handwriting in the centre of a white sheet.  

“Dips, what is this?!”

“What is what?”

“How did the Frog Prince get in here?!”

“Huh?!”

“Dips, look at me. Till what time did you work last night?”

“I don’t know. I fell asleep working.”

“What did you dream of?”

“Some silly stuff…you mean … ??!” 

And Chutku and BB, to this day, don’t know why 6, 16, 46 and 56 laughed so hard when they asked whether they’d managed to submit their project on time.