The cash crunch and my ‘note’worthy moments

“Are you going to the bank today?” Ira asked my husband. She knew that he had been queuing up outside different banks almost every other day to withdraw the princely sums that were being doled out so that we had food on the table, and on some days, a little jam too. We were learning new lessons in frugal living. I had read about the Amish, who are said to have weathered recession far better than most Americans. The time had come to find, like the Amish, true abundance in simplicity, sharing and saving, the last of which was impossible given that we had barely enough to sustain us on some days. Cash was the new cow, sacred and protected.

I have, for a long time, harboured intentions of leading a more minimalist and spartan life, but nothing had prepared me for the monastic existence, which we were forced to lead overnight, when demonetisation carpet bombed us. But, I was told, it was a small price to pay (by credit card) to fight corruption and get back all the black money stashed away in alien lands. Despite the nobility of the cause, our large family quarrelled daily over who would stand in the queue with the sun blazing overhead (what with reports of deaths due to sunstroke and dehydration) and who would have the privilege of carrying change in the wallet. Nobody wanted to be strapped with a Rs 2000 note and bereft of purchasing power. Small change was rare and cherished. Every coin added up. We were cash-strapped and we wore our status on our sleeve and had a good self-deprecating laugh over it. Little were we aware then of the deep effect of the PM’s mission or its overpowering reach. If he knew, he would be chuffed. Lessons learnt early in life spread deep roots.

So, on that day, our concerned five-year-old, who had witnessed the after-effects of the economic challenge, asked once again, “Are you going to the bank?” I asked her, “Why do you ask?” “Because I want my money.” she replied. “What money?” I questioned. “My many money,” she said earnestly, her hands spread wide to indicate the amount. “Where is it? In the bank?” I asked, wondering how the little one had acquired a loot in these times of scarcity. “In my piggy bank. I want it. Now,” she said, stamping her feet, and looking at me and my husband suspiciously. There was fear in her eyes. It was obvious that our credentials were now  being questioned. After all, she had seen our eyes light up at the sight of small change and it had occurred to her that her savings might be in danger.

Horrified at the prospect of being perceived as a potential piggy-bank robber, I raised both my hands and splayed my fingers wide to prove my innocence.  My husband gulped. We had, for months, filled the child’s piggy bank with coins of all denominations, till its rotund belly had bloated.”Your money is safe in your piggy bank,” we assured her. She was not convinced. “What do you need the money for?” I ventured. “To give it to everyone.” “Oh, really?” I remarked, moved by the generosity of the kindergarten kid. Our tales of paucity had transformed her into a junior philanthropic. “That’s wonderful. But, if you give it all away, you’ll be left with no savings,” I warned. She waved her hand and said with a casual air, “If it gets over, I’ll make some on my computer.” Horrified at the thought of  fake currency infiltrating the market, I shouted, “You can’t do that. That’s not allowed.”

Taken aback by my strong reaction, she paused and closed her eyes. “Okay, I’ll give away only some money. I’ll keep some for myself,” she said. Just as I marvelled at her new-found wisdom and went down on my knees to hug her, she wailed, “Give me my money now!”  “What will you do with it?” we asked. “Count it,” she said quietly, and with a solemn face, emptied the contents of the piggy bank on the bed and counted the coins, one by one, never mind that she missed, skipped and jumped numbers and that there were far too many for her to count. The counting done, she gathered them and elicited our help to put them back into the piggy bank. Tucking the piggy bank under her arm, she marched to her room to hide it in a secret corner, away from our prying eyes. The innate tendency of human beings to hoard moolah at undisclosed locations amused me to no end. Age was no barrier. Returning to our room, Ira declared, “I will need money when I grow up.” We couldn’t agree more.

Later that day, the little one made a phone call on her toy phone. On her lap was a diary, in which she  had scribbled something. “I want to buy a house,” she said into the mouthpiece. “What is the cost?” She listened intently to the non-existent voice at  the other end. “Twelve hundred rupees?” she exclaimed. “I’ll buy two. I want balconies too,” she informed, again enquiring, “What is the cost?” Pause. “Four  hundred rupees,” she screeched. “Okay, I’ll buy two.” She hung up, looked at us, and in an important voice, announced, “I have bought two houses and two balconies. One for you and one for me.” “How will you pay for them?” I asked. “With my many money,” she answered. “Thank you,” I replied, my heart filled with gratitude on being gifted a house in times when real estate tycoons were in mourning. “And where are these houses?” I enquired. “In the Himalayas,” she said breezily. “How wonderful!” I said, remembering the book by my bedside, Himalaya: Adventures. Meditations. Life, edited by Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale, whose cover had a picture of the Himalayas, and about which we’d spoken earlier. We had also been on a house hunt before the cash crunch hit us, leading to  discussions on real estate prices. All through this, the little one had been unwittingly initiated into the world of economic jugglery and investments.

At five, she had stashed away her cash and bought two houses at the most exotic location in the world. Who needs notes? Small change goes a long way. And, all I need to tide over demonetisation is a fertile imagination and the eyes and ears of a five-year-old.

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A Spider, Ants and an Angry Crow

Last morning, I was on an island. Not marooned. To tell you the truth, it wasn’t an island at all. But, when you are with an almost five-year-old, with a fertile imagination, a mound of soil in the middle of a dewy green patch of grass, on the eastern side of a large garden, is instantly transformed into one. Ira stood right in the middle of the mound, and spreading her little hands wide declared, “This is our island.” Walkers turned around. Joggers stopped in their tracks. If anybody had any doubts about the ownership of the island, there was crystal clear clarity now.  I smiled sheepishly. “Do you like our island?” she asked me. “Oh, yes, it’s lovely,” I replied, not quite able to accept the unexpected takeover of a tract of land, without having to pay hefty EMIs. So what if it wasn’t surrounded by water? I was now in the league of the likes of Richard Branson and Ted Turner,  who, I’d read, owned private islands. While they had a retinue of personnel to look after it, I discovered that we had an army of red ants swarming all over the island, ready to welcome us, their mandibles all set to sting. I pulled Ira down reminding her of the purpose of our visit to the garden–to spend some time drawing and colouring. She protested, worried that if we moved, someone else would encroach upon our land and lay their claim to it. I pointed at the procession of ants, making their way to an undisclosed destination and assured her that they would guard it for us. She looked at me with suspicion but the prospect of spending time with the angry inhabitants of the island made her acquiesce. After all, we had disturbed their peace.

We now made our way to the “biggest mountain in the whole wide world”, which is a hillock in a corner of the garden. In the off-white canvas bag on Ira’s shoulder were a sketching notebook and my set of colour pencils, which she had bulldozed me into parting with. Her own set of crayons had assumed a new identity. The blue one had been powdered and served to me on a cupcake made of play dough, the brown one shaved and almost pushed down my throat as chocolate, the green one grated and sprinkled on a ‘burger’ as olive toppings. The rest of them had metamorphosed too, into edible and inedible entities whose new avatars I hadn’t bothered to look for, having survived being poisoned by the aforementioned ones.

The hillock is lined with trees. There are spaces between, well-trodden paths that make climbing easy. “Follow me,” said the little one, words that I dread but which goad me into submission every time Ira utters them. She picked up a stick and held one end of it, while she commanded me to hold the other. Though I haven’t read out Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken to Ira yet, I realised that she had veered away from the well-beaten path and was edging her way between the trunks of two trees. “Come,” she beckoned, and before the trees could trap me, my face was plastered by a sticky mesh. I was Spiderwoman! I had walked right into a web, face first. As a cry escaped my mouth and I rubbed my face frantically, Ira asked me, “What happened?” “There was a spider’s web here,” I explained. “You broked the spider’s nest?” she asked, in an accusatory tone. “Web,” I corrected her. I was overcome by guilt. I had unwittingly destroyed a tiny creature’s home. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. It happened by mistake,” I said in defence. “But you broked its home,” she insisted, forgetting it was she who had led me to the site. “Where is the spider?” she asked, just as I felt something crawling on the nape of my neck. I slapped my neck repeatedly, as Ira watched horrified. I was touched by her concern, but only for a moment. “Did you die the spider?” she chided me, as I hoped that the arthropod that had found itself on human territory by accident, hadn’t tattooed my neck with its venom, before being dislodged from it. If it was still alive, it would be baring its fangs now.

“Lets go,” I said, ignoring Ira’s questions, and insisted on taking the beaten path. After the brush with a horde of insects and a menacing spider, we made it to the mountain top. I spread a chatai below the mango tree. As we opened the sketching notebook and spread out the colour pencils on the chatai, I heard a crow caw. It was nothing to be alarmed about. Ira began to draw the sky, the grass and the mud. I watched fondly. Soon, the cawing became insistent. “It’s your friend crow,” Ira said, referring to the crow, who visits our house every day for his daily fare of Marie biscuit, no less. I looked up to see a fierce mother crow hovering above our heads at pecking distance, and I raised my hand automatically to cover the patch of thinning hair on my scalp, lest it invite this feathered being to test the sharpness of its beak on it. I gathered Ira into my arms, noticed the nest on the tree, with the chicks inside, and bundled the chatai, all at once, and bounded down the slope. “We can’t sit here. This crow isn’t my friend. It will attack us. It thinks we have come to harm its babies,” I said, panting. “I want to see the babies,” Ira cried, and made to climb the hillock again. Luckily, the crow cawed again. Menacingly. It was enough to make her turn around. I was relieved. My neck was sore, my feet had ant bites and my scalp had been saved from being punctured. I was going back home to recover.

Realising that I wasn’t going to be convinced to return to the “mountain top” or to the island, or wedge my body between two unsuspecting trees, Ira led me to the umbrella tree in the garden. “Let’s stand under the umbrella. For just a few minutes,” she pleaded. I softened. ‘What harm could it do?’ I asked myself, till she insisted that I recite, “Rain rain, come again,” with her. There we stood, in full view, reciting the lines of a poem I had to create impromptu to invite monsoon, after it had retreated deep into the skies for an eight-month slumber. Walkers smiled. Joggers laughed. I waved at them. The rains remained elusive.

“All this in a day?” you may ask in disbelief. In just a couple of hours, really. When you follow a child leader, on a nature trail, a few close encounters with creatures of the world are inevitable. I’m safe and alive and years younger. And, I can’t stop smiling.

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The Day I Faced the Consequences

It’s natural for a growing child to pick up words, start building its vocabulary and begin speaking whichever language it is exposed to, fluently, in no time. Sometimes, as it happened with Ira, you can be flooded with a barrage of newly learnt words, almost overnight. It was enough to alarm those in the household who swore, albeit rarely, or uttered the dreaded F-word, when the tongue slipped occasionally. We didn’t want a swearing little cockatoo unleashing its newly imbibed expletives on us or on unsuspecting visitors, or worse still, at school. School admissions are an ordeal and suspension or dismissal on grounds of linguistic misadventures, thereafter, though unheard of, is not impossible. One cannot be too careful when a child is in perpetual receiving mode, absorbing every syllable it hears and making every word its own.

As I sat peeling the skin off a plateful of bitter field beans, one day, Ira was my helper. She picked up a sprout, holding it between her tiny thumb and forefinger, its shoot dangling like a tail. She scrutinised it and said, “I really like its “profile”.” I looked closely at the sprouts, picked one up carefully (after Ira’s remark, the sprouts had acquired a human visage), and held it close to my eyes. “Hmmm… I said, in agreement, though I couldn’t for the life of me see more than a flat off-white surface. As I continued peeling the sprouts mechanically, she said, “I love its “expression”.” That was enough for me to grab my spectacles for clearer vision, hunt for a magnifying glass, and check if the sprouts were indeed displaying human traits. “Expression?” I asked. She nodded solemnly, as if I were an ignoramus. I sure felt like one. Here was a not-yet-five-year-old explorer who could detect and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of inanimate field bean sprouts. “It looks happy, doesn’t it?” I asked, sounding fake, struggling to paste a smile on the sprout’s face. Ira laughed. I shooed away the thought that the sprouts were perhaps sad, knowing their fate, the imminent journey down a few human gullets. Thankfully, during lunch, I was spared the guilt of eating a happy organism, whose profile had warranted a discussion and some serious inspection. The taste had obliterated the “expression” and Ira ate the sprouts usal with relish.

One afternoon, as she rode her red bicycle in our living room, Ira applied the brakes all of a sudden. Alighting, she dialled a number on my old Blackberry, her prized toy now, and called up Flute. “My bike’s broken. Flute’s on his way,” she informed me. “Who is Flute?” I asked, my mind conjuring up an image of the reedless wind instrument. “He’s my “pretend” friend. He’ll “fix” my bike.” “I see,” I replied, and waited. “He’s come,” Ira said, excitedly, jumping up and down, as I raised my hand to greet an invisible entity. “He’s a monkey,” she continued, as I gulped at the thought of a simian mechanic, who went by the name of a musical instrument, apparently “fixing” the bike. I was indeed transfixed.

As days passed, everything around was branded either “amazing” or “awesome” or “niiiiiice”, the last, a reminder of the affected drawls of the adults in the house. It was when Ira showed a visiting friend the washroom and told her how “awesome” it was that we called for an emergency meeting. How unimaginative we had become! How embarrassed we were by these much-abused, deficient words. How were we to describe a washroom? Lists were drawn. Ira, of course, was oblivious to the frenzied vocabulary-building exercise, though she did throw an amused glance at us now and then. I suspect she was “pretending” not to be interested, and in the near future, during a vulnerable moment, I’m going to be hit by a word grenade.

A few days later, as we were having dinner, Ira announced that it was her “choice” to not eat brinjal. At her age, I had no idea that I could have a choice.

On a rare occasion, Ira and I had an argument. I refused to let her watch Peppa Pig, the animated series featuring an anthropomorphic animal. It was bedtime. My refusal upset her so much, she declared, “I’m sending you to the jungle. The tigers, lions, hyenas and birds will eat you. It’s your “consequences”. I do not remember what scared me more; the prospect of being eaten alive by wild animals or Ira’s vocabulary spurt. I remembered a discussion we had had earlier in the household, about how teachers and psychologists were avoiding the usage of the word “punishment” (with its negative connotations) and had replaced it with the word “consequence”. I remember how Ira had repeated the word immediately, pronouncing each syllable distinctly. Not once, but at least four times, enjoying the sound of the word. Little did I suspect then that I would have to face it some day.

Thankfully, Ira and I settled matters amicably. I read her a Peppa Pig story. I’m still in the concrete jungle, alive and kicking. I mind my language. Ira has announced that she is a writer. I suspect that she has the propensity to become a football player, considering that she kicks up a storm now and then. Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be. At the moment though, Ira is engaged in some awesome (did I use that hackneyed word again?) no, fascinating wordplay.

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The Day Ganesha Fell Ill

Years ago, my colleague, Bhavani, gifted me a little ceramic idol of Ganesha. I placed the tiny figurine on my writing desk, next to a clock, and he watched, as I wrote or stared at the screen of my laptop, struggling to write. I did not garland him or offer him flowers or pray to him for guidance or fold my palms in reverence before him. But, he has been my companion for years–my friend and confidante–and has witnessed both my elation and my despair as I played with words, and chased elusive ones. I took his inconspicuous presence for granted, till I saw little Ira staring at him curiously. My desk was a territory that had escaped her exploration. Till now.

Without warning, she picked up the idol in her tiny hands, and holding it aloft, scrutinised it. “He is Ganpati Bappa?” she asked. We had visited many homes during Ganesh Chaturthi, and she was familiar with the elephant-faced God. Many were the questions I had answered as patiently as I humanly could, about his visage, his home in the sky, about the tiny mouse who ferried him around, and his broken tooth. “Yes, Ira. Be careful. Don’t drop him,” I said, as she placed him on the bed with a thump. Next, she brought in a toy utensil that resembled a lamp and rotated it before him, singing what sounded like an aarti–gibberish set to tune. I couldn’t help smiling. It was when she started feeding him a small lump of dough, which our cook had parted with, under duress, that I knew I had to be on guard, especially because my octogenarian mother had entered the room and turned to stone.

Mother’s mouth was a cavern. Her eyebrows had disappeared into her hairline. So astounded was she at the sight of the god being fed unpalatable food so unceremoniously, that she sputtered and gesticulated, till she found her voice. “Don’t do that,” she reprimanded. “But, Bappa is hungry,” the little one remarked. “I’m feeding him laddoos.” I had leaned forward to retrieve Ganesha from Ira’s hands but her innocent concern about the rumblings in his stomach and the purposeful look in her eyes, forced me to retreat. “Gods understand, Amma,” I assured  Mother, who was already looking skyward and chanting, asking for forgiveness for the ‘sacrilege’.

“Amma, have you taken your blood pressure medication?” I asked, as I steered her out of the room, one eye on the feeding ritual in progress. Satisfied that Ganesha had had his fill, the little one wiped his mouth and placed him back on the desk.  She stood with her hands on her hips, smiling like a triumphant mother who had overfed her child. “Bye, Bappa,” she cried out cheerily, and waved, as she sprinted out of the room. “How could you allow Ira to play with the god?” Mother asked, still reeling under the ‘impropriety’ of the kid’s act. “Oh, Amma, it isn’t how you see it. She looks at him as she would, her doll, Bluebell. She means no offence. Did you not see the love in her eyes, when she fed him?”  Mother was skeptical. She brought out her crystal rosary and moved her thumb furiously over the beads, hoping to mitigate the potential wrath of the god. The feeding became an almost daily ritual, and I could see a beatific smile on the idol’s face, which I attributed to my overfertile imagination. Mother too came to somewhat accept it as an affectionate gesture, but continued with her damage control routine of prayer and counting beads.

Two days back, as I stepped into my room, all set to write, there was Ira with the ear tips of her toy stethoscope plugged into her ears. So engrossed was she in her role of doctor that she failed to notice my presence. Lying supine on the adapter of my laptop was Ganesha, the destroyer of obstacles. Ira had wound the cable of the mouse attached to the laptop, around his body. She had placed the chestpiece of the stethoscope on his chest, covering his entire being, listening intently, and asking him to “Take a deep breath.” I stood quietly not wanting to interrupt the examination but was curious, nevertheless, to know what ailed the harbinger of health, wealth, happiness, wisdom. I had stopped breathing, when she turned around, and in a clinical voice befitting a doctor, announced, “Bappa has a stomach-ache.” “And the cable?” I asked, “what is that for?” She clicked her tongue and slapped her forehead, exasperated by my ignorance. “That is not a cable. Those are tubes. Bappa is in hospital,” she said, solemnly. I remembered all the episodes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ that we had watched, assured that the kid was sleeping peacefully. It also took me back to the day the scamp had given us a scare and been hospitalised for a couple of days. The memory had, obviously, remained.


Mother’s entry into the room couldn’t have been more ill-timed. “Oh, no. What have you done, child? Gods don’t fall ill. They cure us, look after us. Please forgive the child,” she pleaded, looking at the ceiling. Her face looked flushed and she broke out into a sweat. Not understanding what the fuss was about, Ira looked at me for an explanation. Knowing from previous experience that I would have to use all the wisdom bestowed on me by Ganesha, so as to not pit the petulance of a four-year-old against the hypertensive tendencies of an octogenarian, as both would prove detrimental to my own mental health, I straightened my spine. “Bappa needs to get well soon, sweetheart. So, what is doctor Ira going to do about it?” I asked, as I made Mother sit under the fan and handed her a glass of water. “Hmmm…,” Ira said, nodding. Tearing off a page from my writing pad and grabbing my sharpened Apsara extra dark pencil, she scribbled on it. “Medicine for Bappa. Calpol,” she said and handed the prescription over to me with a flourish, confident that what her own doctor had prescribed during her illness, would work for the god too.

I pretended to feed Calpol to Ganesha, and placed my ear close to him. “His stomach-ache is gone. Bappa just told me that, doctor,” I announced, as I unwound the cable encircling his body and helped him to his feet. “Thank you, doctor Ira,” I said, smiling broadly, before she changed her mind about his recovery. By then, she was examining my mother, who exhaled noisily and let out a sigh, now that the mite’s attention had shifted from the divine to the human. I had managed to avert a health disaster and rescue god himself from a potentially long confinement. “Maybe we shouldn’t feed him dough and so many laddoos,” I remarked, hoping that Ganesha would be spared the unconventional gastronomical experiences, in times to come. “Yes, ArchanMama,” she replied. “Do you think he would like to eat a pizza?” she asked, after deep thought. Mother coughed noisily. “Ira, I think Bappa needs to fast. No food for some days. You’ve only just cured him, ” I said, as I suppressed my laughter, opened my cupboard, and apologising to Ganesha for this unexpected development, placed him inside it. For some time, he would be safe.

That the gods look after us, I had been told since I was knee-high. The little one taught me that, once in a way, gods too need some tender loving care.


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Why Fairies Don’t Have Haircuts

I have been in hibernation for months now, struggling to complete my long-pending book, hiding away from little Ira, whose timing to get into my hair, coincides perfectly with the arrival of the Muse. Just when I’m having a writerly moment… the words flow, the narrative finally moves and the characters surprise me with their wanton behaviour, she bolts into the room, taps her tiny feet on the floor, and gripping her bottom, yells, “Potty.” It is like someone has screamed, “Fire.” Potty time is always urgent. It is an emergency. The Muse must wait. It is a different matter that she has little patience with aspiring writers who place dealing with the call of nature before the calling they have chosen.

I’m saying this again: The toilet seat has an uncanny capacity of bringing out the philosopher, the rebel, the thinker in my precious granddaughter. She gets this look in her eyes and a question pops up, to answer which, I have to summon the greatest thinkers of all time, dead and alive. This time, having noticed the length of her thick hair, which kept slipping on to her forehead and getting into her eyes, and making her all hot and sticky and sweaty, I suggested that she needed a haircut. Her tiny eyes flashed fire through the network of stray hair, and she wailed: “Noooooo.” Worried that she was probably facing a challenge in eliminating the forbidden pizza she had eaten the previous night, I stepped forward to soothe her. Before I could blink, she had gripped her hair with both her hands and let out a war cry to make me back off. “I won’t have a haircut. Fairies don’t cut their hair,” she cried. Her fear, at the possibility of a wicked entity chopping off her hair, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The digestive process got a boost and we were out of the toilet in a jiffy, bowels emptied and battle lines drawn.

I had all along suspected that Ira had a secret identity, that explained her impishness, her devilish defiance and that look which cropped up in her eyes now and then, making me wonder what she would be up to next. That she fancied herself a fairy was news to me and hope welled up that she would turn out alright and that her mischief and rebelliousness were just age-appropriate behaviour of four-year-olds, no matter what pandemonium it caused. It was all unintentional, after all, and it was my writer’s overfertile imagination that saw a sinister design behind her actions.

I tried to obliterate the trail they had left behind–the moon-sized ink blot on my snow white bedsheet, the mounds of dried-up dough I found in my wardrobe with angry red ants feasting on it, my best stole that had been transformed into a rag used to wipe her six dolls’ bottoms and the ground they slept on, the idol of Ganesha supine on my desk being examined for a stomach ache (what else?), as she played doctor, the vile-looking play dough cupcake that had been stuffed into my mouth (I was the privileged one who got to taste it), and the tiny car which had been strategically placed right outside my room, which I had slipped on with far-reaching, bone-shattering consequences. My granddaughter was a fairy, who loved her tresses. I leafed through the fairy tales I had read out to her. Every single fairy in the pictures sported long hair. I was sure they washed, combed and coiffed it regularly. My little imp wouldn’t let me touch it, lest I snip it snidely.

Soon, the inevitable happened. Her hair became a tangled mass. Her mother, as distressed as I was, about her little angel’s wild side, appealed to her, in vain. No combing. No brushing. No washing. Even Samson, the Biblical figure, whose might lay in his hair, combed and washed it. One can safely assume so, I suppose. Did Ira’s power too–considering the salvos she fired at us, the decibelic heights she could stretch her vocal chords to, the strength with which she moved the furniture around in the house (she is wiry, all skin and bones)–lie in her hair? Was that why she guarded every strand?

It is one thing to have a bad hair day. It is quite another to have a smelly-haired existence. We had to come up with a quick solution to the mane matter. Stories about squeaky clean fairies who bathed twice a day and washed their tresses with fragrant shampoos, cut no ice with her. The Muse rushed to my rescue. She planted in me the seed of a story. It was about a certain Mrs Louse, with a large brood, who was looking for a dense jungle to live in, on a flaky floor, on which to plant her feet and create an unbearable itch. With that, we managed to get the reluctant mite under the shower, as Mrs Louse shifted her attention to denser pastures. With her mother volunteering to get a haircut for herself, (she would have lost some of her hair anyway,due to the stress the tangle had caused), our little fairy condescended to give it a try at a local salon.

My daughter, a psychologist, prepared the hair stylist (a celebrated young fellow who is a veteran at dealing with fussy divas) for the ordeal. But, even he had not foreseen the hair-raising adventure that was to follow. It is way easier to placate a fuming diva, whose hairstyle has gone awry, than it is to manoeuvre a pair of scissors around the head of a kicking, flailing four-year-old, determined to defend the source of its high energy, at any cost. By the time the deed was done, the self-styled fairy felt so light that she sprouted wings, and the stylist, all sweaty and harassed, flashed a weak, fake smile, canceled his appointments for the next day, and trembled as he relived how he had missed nicking the scamp’s ears by a hair’s breadth. I could see before my eyes how post-traumatic disorders originate.

We are at peace now. The mite keeps shaking her head vigorously to flick her bouncy hair. I’ve found a picture of a fairy with short hair. Okay…I drew it myself. She is my poster girl now. The elf’s questions haven’t stopped though. I still meet with freaky accidents around the house, caused by objects that mysteriously lodge themselves under my feet. The Muse still waits (she has gotten used to her secondary status) and there is still the mad rush to the toilet every morning to deal with emergencies. Like the origin of the Universe, the source of Ira’s indomitable strength still remains a mystery. Did I mention that I adore the little speck?

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How to Stop God

Let me at the outset reveal that such a thought has never crossed my mind. I have neither the temerity to nurture such misadventurous ideas nor the creativity and imagination to pull off an impossible mission. On most days, I’m at peace with the Creator. There is enough of the mundane to deal with and everyday stuff to occupy my mind for me to venture into a duel with the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. I learned early to leave such entities alone to do their jobs and to approach them with utter humility and devotion, when I required their services, which was, I must confess, more often than I would have liked it to happen. My grandmother ensured that I said my prayers, thanked the gods, and remembered that I was being watched, if not to be judged, to be nurtured. Her devotion and their beneficence saw her live up to a ripe 98 years. God, she had told me, was invincible. I never doubted her.

Today, I learned something new. Not in a classroom and not in the most divine of places. I can offer no explanation for this but I can assure you that I wouldn’t initiate a long dialogue on the mysteries of the Universe in a space where some of us read our morning papers, some of us hide from the world, and most others just do their business and walk out. But, a four-year-old sitting on a commode can metamorphose into a philosopher, thinker, evangelist or astronaut in a jiffy. And, as her grandmother, I can only listen indulgently, marvelling at the wisdom spewing out of her tiny mouth, her innocence and daring, her flights of fancy. Pardon me for venturing into the scatalogical, or close, as a description of the layout of the area in which the engaging conversation took place is vital to the revelation that followed. Our, er… toilet has an attached area, separated by a glass door, which I keep open to create the illusion of space. The area has a large window which is covered by a curtain, which guards our privacy.

Today, a strong breeze was blowing, raising the curtain to a height that brought in coolness on its wings. Ira watched as the white curtain swung up and down, helpless against the gust.

“Why is the curtain moving?” she asked. “The breeze is making it move.” I answered.

“Can’t we stop the breeze?”

“Well, no.”


“Because God blows it,” I said, off the cuff. It was the first thing that came to my mind.

“Can we stop God?” she asked.

That was a salvo directed at my solar plexus, no less. Unexpected, powerful and loaded, I reeled under its impact. “Can we stop God?” In the years that I have lived on this planet, I have ruminated upon the existential with little or no success. “Who am I?” I had asked myself once and some of the astounding answers I came up with had boggled my mind. Now, I was faced with a question that went way beyond, to the cosmological,  the philosophical. I’m neither a scientist nor a sage. I’m a coward when dealing with the unknown, the nebulous or the intangible. When it comes to what I perceive as insurmountable, I tend to surrender rather than engage in a losing battle. Tamely, I told Ira, “No, we cannot stop God.”

I should have known better.

“Why?” she asked. “Because we can’t stop God,” I said meekly.

She had finished her job now. Looking at me with amusement, she said, “Wash me and then I will show you how to stop God.”

This I had to see. Washed, dried and clothed, she sprang up from the seat and scampered to the window. Like a little warrior, she looked at the rising curtain for a fraction of a second. The breeze was in her hair now. She reeled back a little, then raising her tiny hand, she  pressed the curtain against the wall. It fluttered a bit but did not rise again.  Triumphant, she looked at me and said, “See, I have stopped God.”


At the moment, God is sitting outside my window. Stopped in his/her tracks by a four-year-old, who has no idea who S/He is. The breeze will blow again. The curtain will be raised. Unnoticed, gods will enter and exit. Whoever they are. For now, four-year-old Ira has managed to halt their march with a sleight  of her tiny hand.


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Coming Out

This was meant to happen last year; actually, a year before that. Honestly, it should have happened on Lakshmi Pujan day, during Diwali, four years ago. The disclosure. I didn’t want to hide it but neither did I go about declaring it to the world. I wasn’t ashamed of it, certainly not!  On the contrary, it gave me the kind of joy that has only multiplied over the years. I was overwhelmed by its suddenness, by the transition, the new role and its demands and my totally unprepared state. I had nine months to allow the idea to gestate, to tell myself that things were not going to be the same, that everything I had taken for granted was going to be thrown out of gear. I also knew there was nothing I could do about it.

When my daughter announced out of the blue that she was going to be a mother, I reeled and had to rest my hand on a nearby table to steady myself. She was glowing and I was happy for her but I wasn’t ready to be a grandmother. No way! There should be a law against thrusting grandparenthood on unsuspecting parents. Vanity was already rearing its head! l looked into the mirror. My crow’s feet and laugh lines seemed more prominent than they had been the last time I had scrutinised them. But, I protested, ‘I’ve barely stepped into my 50s. I’m a going to be a juvenile grandmother. This is premature ageing!’

There were fears too. Would my girlie gang oust me from their circle now that I was going to be in a different league? Would I become inconsequential overnight? Would I have to grow my hair long, switch to pastels, stop chewing gum, watch every word, every expletive that came out of my mouth? I wasn’t even equipped for my new role. The last diaper I had changed was almost 25 years ago. I had forgotten how to burp babies. I remembered well the sleepless nights I had passed when my kids made genre-defying music all through the night complete with deep growling vocals and multiple tempo changes. (Need to buy an under-eye cream, I made a mental note). I shuddered to think of having such a tempestuous night life again. I had relied then on a certain Dr Benjamin Spock to tide me over every maternal crisis. He was God. When I began leafing through my tattered copy of Baby and Child Care , my daughter looked at me with disdain. “Mum, Spock? Really? He is so outdated!” I looked at the calendar hanging on the wall reminding me that I was in some years going to be a relic. I was tempted to say, “You’ve turned out all right,” but stopped myself. I was going berserk. I dreaded that the metamorphosis would have an adverse effect on my already crazy hormones.

Be warned all you grandparents-to-be! You will be mowed down by the sound of the heartbeat that a sonography machine throws up. Wear protective gear or ear plugs. I was felled too. “This is my grandchild, this tiny soul I can’t see now,” I had thought as I heard life throbbing inside my daughter, the day she underwent her first sonography. I had a red nose for hours after that. For days, the sound ticked in my head and then, one day, sitting outside the operation theatre, biting my nails, I heard it. The war cry, the announcement: “I have arrived.” I stood up, waited for the doctor to come out, unable to contain my eagerness to see this little flesh of my flesh. “It’s a girl,” she said, inviting me inside to meet my granddaughter. One look at the mewling and my heart was on the floor. I held her tiny hand between my fingers and the little digits closed over my pointer and held on. I lifted the little bundle, swathed in soft cloth and something shifted inside me. She was so beautiful and so vulnerable and so lost. And I was never the same again.

Then, I remembered. I had a daughter who was recovering from the exhaustive journey of childbirth. How could I have forgotten to ask about her? This little devil had already taken hold of my senses. I hugged my daughter for a long time. Later, the hungry suckling, bathed and swaddled, lay in a cradle beside her sleeping mother. Some time in the middle of the night, all through my periodic checking that she was breathing, and getting familiar with her features, she puked. I panicked, pressed the bell frantically to call the nurse, rushed to the cradle and lifted the smelly, wet bundle in distress. She was bawling now, a helpless cry that was breaking my heart into tiny splinters. Should I turn her on her side? Should I rub her back? I didn’t know, I couldn’t remember. All I knew was that she needed comforting. I held her close to my chest. Thankfully, she had stopped vomiting. Soon, we were both smelling of vomit. And…I didn’t mind. What was happening to me? So it began four years ago, this wonderful adventure into a chaotic land. I’ve surrendered. I’m smitten. Ira is the love of my life.

I’m a Grandmother! There, I’ve said it, I’ve come out. The last few years, I’ve performed incredible feats: crawled on all fours, done a somersault (I swear it’s true), I’ve run up a hill, spoken gibberish, had conversations with crows and squirrels, squealed at the sight of a butterfly and laughed till tears rolled down my cheeks. And I’m a child again!

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