Category Archives: Vintage Red

What do I remember?

As usual, it’s been a stressful month. Women all over the world have a mile long checklist at this time of the year. Holiday décor, gifts for friends, family, teachers and coworkers, hosting parties, and attending them, and keeping an eye on the pounds and dollars- the list is endless, and not merciful. I have my own items on the generic list. There is a birthday, there are a couple of anniversaries, and then there is a holiday tradition to be created. Then there is work. Then there is Santa Claus rally. Then there is the ongoing quest to find a logical end to the novel I am writing, and edit it, or find an editor. There is no time to document, and there is absolutely no time to dramatize. But then, it’s an injustice to my life if I die without sharing the magnificent moments of our holidays where none of us have ever answered the mundane questions about finding someone to share the life with, or sharing the love with a new life.

The only question people ever ask me during holidays is “What’s your holiday tradition?”. Sorry, writing cards in beautiful calligraphic handwriting, or shopping for gifts, or hanging the lights and wreaths, or taking advantage of the discounts in the shoe store, or trying every little holiday dessert at Costco are not considered a part of a “tradition”. Holiday picture isn’t considered a tradition either. I blank out, trying to come up with a story of my own. There are no traditions when it comes to this family. Or better yet, the tradition is, to do whatever makes you happy and enjoy the season without stressing yourself to repeat something you don’t even remember. I don’t think I can come up with a tradition to follow every year, but I can always make up a tradition to do something new every year.

Today we got ceiling lamps installed. I took the morning off from work. I don’t get that luxury often. I take mornings or afternoons off because there is something else I have to accommodate while I work on the go. There is always something to clean, something to organize, something to take care of. But this morning, the house was clean, the kids were at school, and the husband was tied up with meetings. The installers worked in every room of the house except dining room and kitchen. I had access to coffee, phone and laptop, nothing else. I called my mom, talked to her for over an hour, gathered all details about my baby brother’s new bride, and baby sister’s new groom, and a thousand other things.

Suddenly realized that this year will be the first year in my life that I won’t visit my parents. Otherwise every year either they visited us, or we visited them keeping the tradition of spending time with them at least once a year. There was a tradition, of meeting parents every year, and of calling mom every day, and this year I have broken both. I talked to her after three long days, and I have canceled my trip home thanks to the greenback harvesting program. Catching up on things here and there, I read an email I sent to a group of my virtual sisters a while ago, sharing an article on Huffington Post by Wendy Bradford “What will children remember?”.  What my children will remember is left up to my children.  But I can certainly share what I remember of my mother, snippets, nothing serious, nothing poetic, just ordinary life that we shared, mundane moments of our lives.

I remember..
My mother trying to find her glasses. Every morning. Sometimes they would be tucked in hair because they fogged up while she sipped coffee reading her newspaper. Sometimes they would below her bed because she did late night fiction reading and pushed them below her bed when she was done so that no one tripped on them. They were of gold frame, and were meant for reading only. For a woman who detested gold and jewelry, that was a surprising choice. Some days she would run to class without glasses proudly declaring that its been such a long career, she has memorized the text book. Thankfully she only needed reading glasses. Imagine the horror when your mother says I know my street, it’s been a long life and walks off into a busy intersection without glasses!

I remember..
My mother telling me it’s OK, I am still young, I will get over it no matter what it was. She said that when I lost my precious Hero pen, she told me that when I lost my ring which was grandmother’s gift, and when R moved back to US after our wedding. It seems big today, but one day, it won’t matter according to her. At that matter it did. I never thought I would agree with her, but been such a long life now, I don’t see the misery in all those things that happened. There are so many pens in the pen stand, yet I don’t use them for anything other than signing, and there are so many beautiful memories with R, I barely remember the woes of our long distance relationship. End of the day it was all OK. I like to glorify each little thing and whine, and she managed her job, her family and her reading/ writing without ever saying a word about how hard it was for a woman to have it all, or to want it all.

I remember..
My mother wore cotton saris, always. It hit me one day that I could earn awesome allowance starching and ironing her saris. So I brought the supplies, and became her personal laundry girl. It didn’t go well with her when I tore her sari trying to separate the folds when it was dry and ready to iron. That was the end of my short dry cleaning/ starch and ironing career. She treasures her saris a lot! Her wedding sari looks like it was bought last evening. Not a single crease, not a single stain, and it’s not even the stain proof, waterproof variety like mine. Her cupboards overflow with saris at any given moment, and so does her suitcase. Packing light doesn’t apply to her.

I remember..
She was not the cooking and cleaning type, but she made holiday delicacies and special items that dad and I loved. When she cooked, I assisted. There was not a moment in my house where everyone else sat down watching TV while the woman of the household made dinner for the family. My dad would sit and talk to her while she cooked, even if it was at 5 am. The pressure cooker went off at 7 am, and the curry leaves would splutter in the oil at 7.15am, and the faint smell of Jasmine soap would drown all that by 7.30am. That’s the smell I associate with her. Jasmine. No wonder my backyard is filled with jasmines of all kinds, and most importantly her favorite Mysore Mallige- Arabian Jasmine.

I remember..
She loved to read. She read every book that was released. Even though I learned in English medium, she made sure I learned enough Kannada to read and write. One proud moment she could never get over was, when I was eighteen, both of our poems made it to a leading magazine called Tushar. It took time for me to get over it because my poem got a special mention, and hers was selected as the best poem. Even now, she buys me every book that she likes, and tries to get the author’s autograph for me. When I was little, there was a corner of the bed that she liked to read on. Her, her specs, and her book, and peace around. Now when she visits us, it’s her, her specs, and her book, and peace around till we wake up. She finds time, in every chaos to spend time with her books. She finds time for herself unlike me who gets lost in the chaos. There is always a stack of magazines and books in every room she occupies.

So many other memories surround me on a cold California evening, and I bring out a sweater that she forgot in my house and wear it. I know, I will stretch it out, but one thing my daughter has taught me is, that’s OK. There will be other sweaters. There will be other shoes too, though I don’t believe in that theory. A shoe gone is a shoe gone and no other shoe will fill that void, ever. Anyway, shoes are not her issues, they are mine, and my daughters will write about it one day in 140 characters or less. May be something like “OMG MOM #SHOEADDICT #FREAKING OUT #MOM MEMORIES”. I don’t know. I can’t do that kind of texting. I will pay a dollar more, but I will use my words.

All these memories of her saris, her starch and ironing routine, and her obsession came up only because she has agreed to be generous enough to donate her sari (a box full that she left behind in my house a couple of a years ago) to the non profit Wishwas – the ladies there will make beautiful items out of them, and repurpose them. Talking about repurposing, there used to be a sari in the family with real gold woven in silk. It was the color of the pomegranate seeds. I wore it whenever my grandmother opened her box and let us touch her treasures. But one day my grandmother was gone.. so was her sari.. taking the memory of her mother with her.. I wish I had, so that I could get something done out of it, and keep it in my house forever, as her memory, as a part of family history.

What’s your tradition?
What do you remember of your childhood?
What was your mundane when you were not leading your life?

Chasing Happiness #35

It’s a pity that the body clock doesn’t understand the boon of an extra hour. Bound by habit, my eyes opened at the same time as every day, but since we rolled back our clocks last night, it’s an hour too early to start the day. The rest of the family seems well adjusted to the change, all of them are fast asleep, without a single thought about the clock. I ran a mental list of things I could do in the extra hour, and decided against efforts to claim the good mother, good wife and good daughter title. Bring in the to-do list, because if not now, it will never see the light of another day! Chasing Happiness tops the list, something I started on the new year’s with much enthusiasm, but lost steam before the month ended. Also, I am three hundred blogs short to fulfill my commitment of chasing happiness for 3-6-6 days. It’s not like I haven’t chased happiness, I am doing that every moment of my life, but I haven’t documented every happiness that I derived from life.

Next on my list is a certain story that wrote itself for the first twenty thousand words, but the next five thousand took eternity. I closed the file one day to revisit with fresh eyes, but it’s been so long already, the masterpiece doesn’t make any sense today. But, I will not give up. It might take a year, a decade or my lifetime, I will share this story. Here are a thousand words, without a history of what happened before, or a glimpse of what comes next..  Ideally I should upload this to http://www.joshini.com, but it’s been so long, I haven’t just lost interest in this project, I have also lost my password, and the structure of the blogs. That too, when I am blessed with an extra day. Oh wait! This is the year of an extra day. I should claim it before the year ends!

Dressed like a farmer’s wife, covered in oil and slick, I balanced a basket of vegetables on my head and walked towards Pune. That was the final destination. There were no partners in this journey, nor were logical stops. I was supposed to stop when my feet hurt, eat when hungry, wherever and whatever I could manage to find, with not even a single person to take my responsibility. Its wasteful life to live, I wonder, why don’t I have the bravery to take that little knife Pratap gave me to protect myself and end it all at once. There was no one to cry on my grave even if I died. I would just feed a few stray animals of the jungle until the body deteriorates and even they don’t want to touch it. Neither Hindus not Muslims think it is a befitting end to a human life, but everyone will agree that I did not live a life befitting a human being. If I had happily jumped into a fire and killed myself before I was caught, it would have been an honorable life. If I had bent my head and asked the man I had learnt to love to let me rest my soul in peace before I fell into enemy’s hands, it would have been an honorable life. But I have always chosen the cursed path, so be it. Probably sins of a life before need to be repaid.

I walk, I walk, and I walk, with no end in sight.

Every village that I cross, I encounter Shah’s men standing guard at the gates, yet let me pass without taking a second look at me, making fun of my dark skin. They ridicule the dirt on my clothes. They take vegetables from my basket and toss them around and laugh loudly as I pick them up carefully and stack them back in my basket. They think they are abusing me. They mock my Marathi, call me a squeaky mouse. I endure it all, head bent, like someone who didn’t know how to lift one of those swords from them and kill each one of them, or cut their limbs off and see them suffer.

I wonder, if I weren’t so beautiful, if I weren’t born in an affluent and politically influential family, if I had married a man without political clout, would life been merciful? Would life been easier if the only worries of life were to find food and shelter? Naïve I was, I thought the women of the working class led an indignant life, working half clad in the fields, taking care of the manly chores, ruining their skin, not being women enough. As I cross city after city, I am given entry into the cities, I am given food, shelter, without eyes pausing on my semi-clad body, as if by lending my body to physical work, I had become physically undesirable.

The legs ached, every muscle craved for a servant who would bring hot water to soak them, then clean them, massage them in Jasmine oil while I relaxed my eyes under the gentle sun. The nausea wouldn’t let me take two steps at times, and then at times I would feel like I had the energy of a horse. The weather had changed, giving way to the cold winds, and early nights, winter had almost set in. Without fire burning in each corner of the house, and without wrapping myself in the fine wool from Kashmir, I walk in the woods alone, because that is the only hope of survival now.

It was only last year when I met Krishna in the same jungles. My mother thought we went to the temple to pay respects, but that little Nandini and I would run off to the jungle to see Krishna. We would sit and talk for hours, planning our future in the palatial home he would build for me after our wedding, the servants I would need, and the children we would have together. We had even picked names for the first six. It seemed so simple,  and so ordinary to grow up in a household littered with servants and to expect to marry in such a household where you will be treated no less than a queen. I would live and die, and the proof of my life would be my children, I thought. I had never imagined that there would be a tomb bearing my name, carved in black stone,  hosting my body dug deep in the ground, enduring sun and rain, century after century telling people about the person that lived long ago.

A week ago, I was at Athani, still not sure how to go to Pune, alone. I saw ten thousand cavalry, fifteen hundred musketeers, eighty five elephants, twelve hundred camels, artillery cannon crossing the city after they stayed there that night. The generous merchant who gave me shelter that night on the steps of his store told me that a battle would be fought, between Marathas and Shahs, and shared that stories of bravery, of the commanders of the Shah, of  Rustam Zaman, Fazal Khan, Musa Khan, Manoji Jagdale, Sardar Pandhare, Ambar Khan. Intently I listened to every word, adding my own expressions of surprise sometimes, showing my ignorance as a woman of little knowledge. I asked him, he must have plenty of women in his Zenana then.

I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it, from a stranger who didn’t know the Khan or the Maratha.

Copyright © Meghana Rajesh Joshi

That’s all!

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Chasing Happiness #2

Compared to the well planned layouts of the houses now, it was a weird house. It stretched good 1-6-0 feet in length, but there was only a forty feet width to it. The front door and the back door opened to different streets. I called it a train, with no private room, there were two attached houses with inter-connecting room, running a hundred feet long. Living room opened into the “room” and the room into the dining room, dining room into kitchen, kitchen into smaller kitchen and to the bathroom before it exited to the backyard. If you sat on a chair in the living room, facing the door, you could see all the way to the bathroom, provided all doors are open.
Every summer when the rich and famous retreated to their vacation homes, we retreated to this weird house called “grand ma’s house”.

There would be a reunion of sorts, unplanned. My grandma’s sister would drop in with her daughter and grandkids in tow, her brother would drop in sans wife.. and my only aunt lived next door, with her three kids. All men would be at work, and all who that didn’t share the same blood line would miraculously be busy with something else, in this case that only woman being the brother’s wife.

As if by order, the older group, two sisters and the brother sans wife would be in the kitchen, talking in hushed tones, mostly the sisters and the brother nodding and trying to say something. In the “room” between dining and living, the first cousins, my mom, her sister and her cousin would sit, all of them talking animatedly, giggling, and being the people they couldn’t be with us. I would always wonder, this laugh of my mother’s, I didn’t see it anywhere else. It was always a controlled, sophisticated behavior outside that room. May be the fact that she was born and brought up there, lived a carefree life laughing like that.. before she was a wife, a mother, a writer and more over, a lecturer- who didn’t have the privilege to laugh like she meant it at job.

Outside, in the living room, and in the patio would be us, cousins, first and second. I was the youngest and the oldest was eleven years older than me. She thought she was too cool to hang out with us, would sit and read a book with a provocative (at that age, a man and woman looking into each other’s eyes holding hands was provocative enough) cover, with a romantic title.  The rest of us would be busy playing, sometimes splitting into even smaller groups and sometimes as a team.

A typical summer afternoon from my childhood.
It’s been thirty years to that image I have stored in my heart, like a thousand others.

Yesterday, I was talking to my mother, and she mentioned that she is going to the death anniversary of her uncle. He is the man who nodded to everything his sisters said, when he visited us sans wife. One fine morning last year when I was making breakfast, my mother called me and gave me the sad news. As per the custom in my family, I took a shower, then lighted a lamp at the altar, prayed for him to find peace in death. After that we went out for lunch, and forgot all about the departed until my mother brought up the death anniversary.

I realized, all the people from the kitchen are no longer with us. My grandma, her sister, and their brother.. his wife too. Except for the memories of the vague afternoons from my childhood, that floods the mind on days like this, when it’s a death anniversary, or festival that we celebrated at their place, we hardly think about them. We don’t mourn their loss, or grieve for them anymore. May be they lived a full life, may be we were prepared to lose them, may be the end of their lives had a proper closure.

The “room” has only my mother now, my aunt had a heart attack and left us soon, and so did their cousin who left us too. I lived in a world far away, woke up to the news one fine day, and as I should, took a shower and lighted a lamp, prayed for them.. but this loss, I mourned, I grieved.
Long after the grieving period was over, I still remember them, miss them sometimes, miss them mostly because they made my mother a different woman. A happier woman. These days I see her share the same uninhibited happiness with my daughters, but it’s not the same.

If it’s all doom and gloom in the first room, with only a ray of sun shining in the room, the living room and patio are flooded with light, and sound. A group of eight kids, we have grown into eight families, almost each one of us with two of our own kids. I think that’s the reason we light a lamp when someone departs, to indicate that a lamp somewhere ran out of the wicker to keep burning, but there will be new lamps, there will be light..

Happiness today is knowing that there will be light.
Happiness today is knowing that all the memories of those departed are colorful and vibrant.
Happiness today is meeting those cousins, moving on with the compartmentalized life to the “room” while my mother moves to the kitchen, and letting our own children occupy the living room and patio.

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