All you need….is a little bit of grudge!

18 October 2018

Remember that time when you grudged someone for not lending you an eraser? You possibly remember the situation but have lost context of the face associated with that incident. Remember how you grudged someone of asking your crush out despite knowing you wanted a shot? Thinking back, you are now probably glad it never worked out.

You don’t remember these incidents over the years, but more often than not, you remember having nurtured a grudge. How it crept into your mind and then so sneakily made its way deep down into your heart; and how it just settled there like an unwelcome guest in your house! You didn’t want it there but had the decency to wait out its departure. At times, the grudge just melted away, the years making it invalid. At other times, the grudge took priority, costing you a relation.

On my way back from office a few evenings ago, I instinctively took a turn into the lane that led to one of my childhood haunts. This was a place I frequented often during my pre – teens. It was a place I was in love with. Such was the pull that I kept going back, even after my teens were over.

But then, one day, something changed. The place I loved, betrayed me. Or so I thought. It was a moment in which the mask slipped on this place that I loved; when I saw the ugly face behind those kind eyes. It left me bewildered, confused and I made a run for it. Leaving that beloved place out of my thoughts, having vowed never to be back.

But you know how childhood memories have a magnetic pull on even the strongest of us. And so I often rode that way again, but taking care to pass by when I was sure of the place being deserted. A few evenings ago, when I made that turn, I forgot to time it right.

I passed by, seeing those familiar people hanging around at the gate which led to my childhood haunt. Despite my best intentions, I braked….and after a moment’s hesitation, walked in…

I was hoping to be washed over with tons of childhood memories; moments that I owed to this patch of land I had frequented so often. I was expecting to be greeted by ghosts of my past; infectious laughter that hasn’t crossed my lips since the last time I ran carefree here. I looked around, almost believing my two friends would run and catch up with me. But none of that happened. No burst of emotion, no thrill of having let my guard down. I walked in, calm and composed and stood there in the shadows.

Those familiar faces recognised me, greeted me, enquired about me. But as I stood there and looked around at how everyone had aged, I realised….so had I. At the exact moment when I braked so instinctively, something inside me had shifted. I had politely requested the grudge inside me to leave, and to never return. I had put aside all my hurt and decided to forgive. I had realised that growing up with a grudge simply resulted in not being able to relive my childhood memories wholeheartedly either.

I just knew, in that moment, that it was time to forgive and move on. And though walking in through that gate did not bring me the innate happiness I had hoped for, it did bring in something else….

A sense of relief.

And the realisation of having grown up a little bit more!

A Home Away From Mine….

05 October 2018

Memories have a weird way of catching you off guard. Even a whiff of a familiar smell can transport you across the years and countries. Today evening, a friend who recently moved to Germany sent me some pictures and Nostalgia knocked its way straight into my heart…

Germany, July 2007.

My first ever international trip. The first time ever that this 15 – year – old introvert packed her bags to spend the next 6 weeks with a Deutsche Familie. I was terrified, to say the least. A single child was crossing international borders to stay with 3 siblings and 1 dog. All of which was unfamiliar territory for me.

My first memory of landing on foreign ground was walking out of the airport, straight into the arms of a calm and composed father and two extremely excited girls. My next memory was walking mutely behind them into a car that contained my name board. “We made it for you, but in our excitement forgot to bring it along!” And just like that, laughter broke the ice and for the first time since I had landed in this country, I looked carefully at the people who were going to be my family for the next month and a half.

Olaf – the father. A tall, quiet man who smiled so simply and looked over with kind eyes. The man who cared deeply for his family and was always at the door every evening at 5.10 pm on the clock. The father who spent as many hours learning about the rules of cricket as mine does watching it.

Ulrike – the mother. A woman constantly bustling about the house, making sure her three girls toed the line. The woman who chased her daughters to bed and then unwound on the sofa with the mandatory glass of wine. The mother who spoke broken English but who never let go of a chance to have ‘conservations’ with me!

Christina – my exchange student. The girl who was absent-minded, had a temper and needed her ‘space’. And yet, the person who made my family hers’ and shared hers’ with me, in a heartbeat. The sister I never had, the sister I now always will have…

Isabell – the peace keeper. A sensible personality, much too older for her age than her 13 years allowed her to be. The younger sister who made me feel comfortable in the house and introduced me to an awesome game called ‘Beach Ball’.

Larissa – the whirlwind. The youngest of the lot, this 11 year old was happy, excited, angry, sad, frustrated and in love with the concept of me, all in one go. She had to shift out of her room and reminded me of her sacrifice every single day; and yet religiously slipped 2 pieces of chocolate under my pillow every single night. Just to make me feel I was home.Fenya – the first ‘person’ to greet me into the house that was to be mine. A shaggy dog who right till the end could never decide whether she loved me or just hated having a ‘stranger’ in the house. The only other living being in that house who loved her walks more than me, and thanks to whom I explored so many green spots around town.

It was an experience meeting these people. It was an experience living in their house and adapting to their schedules. I am sure it was an experience for them, having someone who spoke bits and pieces of German, sharing their lives all of a sudden.

But it is funny how we humans connect to each other. How we build relations. And how we learn to sometimes take the worst of someone with a pinch of salt and bask in their best versions. And so it was, with this family.

I lived, loved and laughed my way through those 6 weeks. I cried in their arms, when I missed being back home. I snuggled deep in bed when I was down with a fever. But not once did they make me feel like I was a stranger. They opened their hearts and took me in. A stranger who walked into that house 11 years ago, having gotten a family in return.

Such was their love that 6 years later, when I was in UK studying for my Masters’, I couldn’t resist flying down to Germany just to see all of them. And so I did; only this time, via train but still into the waiting arms of the family. Once again without the name board, but with smiles that had already recognised me while I was in the train. With a dog that still came running outside to be the first one to greet me….and with a mother who simply stood at the door, tears streaming down her eyes and saying, “My fourth daughter is back home! My family is now complete.”

The first time I met this family was 11 years ago. The last time I met this family of mine was 5 years ago. Sitting here on the sofa tonight, I feel them all around me once again. I can smell the scents of the house, I can feel the softness of the carpet below my feet, I see the glowing stars’ wallpaper all around me and I feel their warm smiles looking back at me.

It is funny how certain associations go a long way. How once you have lived with someone, they simply become your family. And then you sit back and wonder how these relations lasted so many years, and you realise it didn’t need any efforts.

Because your family is always there, they never leave. The house will always remain your home, no matter how far away it may be from the one you are currently living in…

Ganpati Bappa….More Ya ;)

14 September 2018

On Ganesh Chathurthi eve, I was rushing about….beating the traffic and heading home, during daylight hours for a change! I got home, walked around to buy some stuff and was just about to head home when my phone rang. “Will you be able to accompany your father to bring home the Ganesh idol?” It was my mother, having her own version of a crazy day. This was a request I simply couldn’t deny. I leapt at the chance for it was an excuse to relive a childhood tradition.

Growing up, God has always been an approachable figure for me. Someone to trust in, but not be fanatical about. A friend, in a true sense…for don’t we all beg, plead, bribe and cry in front of God ever so often? I have always loved the atmosphere at home during the Ganpati festival, and His favourite foodstuffs automatically made him my favourite version of God.

There was always such an excitement running through everyone. We decorated the space where He would be kept, we went out the earlier evening to bring an idol home. The entire family prepped for this, and it was a bonding time like no other.

On that evening, as I climbed up the stairs to my maternal home, all those thoughts came rushing into my mind. Some things never change, I thought and smiled as I opened that red door, still bearing the initials of my grandfather.

My father was getting ready; a plate at the ready, a chequered cloth kept in it. Funny how a single piece of fabric was enough to spark up my nostalgia. It has always been this same cloth…

The next day when we actually installed the idol and gave it life (so to say), I sneaked a look around the house I haven’t lived in for the past 4 years. A lot has changed, so has my family. Everyone is growing older by the year, our faces and bodies proof. I am standing taller than my grandmother now, when only a few years ago, I reached somewhere near her waist.

But as we sing the praises to the Lord, I am taken aback by how some things really never change. The room takes on an atmosphere I have always known. My grandfather is no longer with us, but I see him there….my father his reflection, as he stands in front of the Lord, his eyes closed and his head bowed down in respect. My mother is out of the house, but I see her there too, clapping around heartily. My grandmother forgets few verses of the prayer, but she chimes the bell in time to the rhythm nevertheless. And there I am, age 3 and age 26, all at the same time.

I remember how years ago, my grandfather always threatened me to get ready in time or he would just start off the first day of the Ganesh festival without me. I remember how somehow I never managed getting ready in time, until today…

I realise now, as we stand there in front of Lord Ganesh, that no matter how the years may pass; we will always remain connected in His Presence. One family; one that may lose its members but never forget the memories attached with them…

P.S : It has been rather crazy since this year began. It seems unreal, even as I just typed the date out, that 8 months of the year are already past before I sit down, think back and decide to write a blog once again, before the year slips out and the calendars flip.

There is something rather soothing about writing and yet it needs its ‘quiet’ time. So many people, in these past few months, have stopped me at rather odd places, and demanded to know when the next blog is due. So this one is for all those people, a Thank You for reminding me that I need to visit my words more often 🙂

Creating the Magic…

18 January 2018

4 years ago, I walked up the stairs of a strange building for a scheduled interview. Bugged of not having had one satisfactory interview so far, I was already dreading this one too. So sure that my dream job existed in a parallel universe altogether.

The interview was scheduled at an odd hour of the afternoon, making a drowsy me concentrate real hard on the upcoming ordeal. I rang the bell and waited….

A seemingly empty but spacious flat awaited me. It gave me the slightest of chills….was this an actual office? But then a lady walked out, asked me my name and said, “Just give me a minute, I will be right with you!”

When I walked out of the interview a while later, I never realised how an entire hour had passed. It was quite unlike the job interviews I had attempted until then. How was this different? My boss got me to talk about my passion, and then simply asked, “What if I paid you to work for exactly that?”

I walked home that afternoon with a job that had made me happy even before it started…and now, more than 4 years later, I still walk out of the same building with a smile on my face, no matter what a mad, bad, crazy and frustrating day it might have been!

That day, during my interview, I spoke a lot about how I wanted to make English an accessible subject for students. How I wanted them to love it and not learn it. How I wanted books to become a part of their lives, and these were not just textbooks I was talking about. I couldn’t stop talking about how if I could cultivate the same love for English that I have in yet another individual, I would be more than happy. And how, through all that chatter, my boss smiled a secret smile throughout.

I think she saw that I was serious. That I really did want this love affair to become public. Perhaps that is why she gave me a pretty free rein right from the beginning. I had to sell her the ideas, but once convinced, she encouraged me to push my limits further.

Slowly but steadily, I built up a different, more approachable syllabus for English in our school. Oh, we run two schools and I work in the Content Development team, for those of you who don’t know! So, I worked at it from scratch. Taking the kids from their ABCs right  to introducing a novel into their syllabus.

It’s been 4 years of that, and now I have gone higher up in the organization. I now get to do another cool thing, taking me closer to realising my passion is being put to good use. I get to visit the schools, interact with the students and watch them work with the syllabus I have created. It is a beautiful thing, even watching them tear something apart. It makes you realise, you are getting there. You are helping them express. You are letting them find the errors, proving that they are now a step ahead.

Today, I went to school for one such observation session. Walked into a Std 6 class and seated myself onto the last bench, waiting patiently for the class to file in. In they came, armed with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the novel they were studying for the unit. What left me pleasantly surprised though, was that they weren’t just walking in. They were walking in with their noses buried in their books. Banging into the desks because they were just too engrossed to look up and into the reality. They were there with Harry and his friends, soaring on the broomsticks that the magic of reading had given them!

After class, the teacher pulled me aside and suggested a screening of the Sorting Hat ceremony in class. “It would just help bring the magic alive for them, you know…” she added, hoping to convince me. It was something to think about, and think I did….all the 10 kms. back to office! By the time I had parked my bike, an idea was already brewing in my mind…one that I wasn’t sure how to pull off. Wanting to give it a shot, I peeked into my boss’ cabin and had a quick word with her. In less than a minute, the entire office was on board with my idea!

What was it? Sending in a Sorting Hat as well. For there is nothing more magical than actually plunging into an activity instead of just being a spectator. The plan was to get a Sorting Hat stitched. But that’s just cliched, isn’t it? Out came the old newspapers, old chart papers, files long since discarded. We cut, we pasted, we played with the dried Fevicol too and we went absolutely mental with our laughing fits.

It was an afternoon filled with creativity and magic. We went from piecing together crumpled pieces of newspaper to creating our own Sorting Hat in a matter of 2 hours…apprehensive, excited and exhausted by the end of it.

The next day, the teacher called and just said, “Hats off to you!”

In that one sentence, I knew I had struck my first pot of gold. I had helped create a piece of magic; one that would transport the many students into its realms; one that would leave these students discover the joy of reading and watch it come alive….

…and now that prompted me to keep on and nurture my passion!




Awe and Wonder.

11 January 2018.

A gust of cold wind blew through the window and I awoke to it. Wide awake. Ready to kickstart the day, only to realise it was barely 4 am. For the next two hours, I tried everything to put myself back to sleep. I finally dozed off, cuddling a book, just to be woken up by the blaring sound of my alarm. The day had just started and I was already in a foul mood, courtesy the lack of a good night’s sleep.

I dress up as usual, ride to work navigating myself through traffic and sit down at my desk. Just as I am losing myself in my work, another blaring sound brings me to reality. A terrifying one, to say the least. It is my mother, calling me with some news. She starts the phone by addressing me with her friend’s name. Thinking she just dialled the wrong number, I am almost on the verge of hanging up when she clears her throat and says the same name. Only this time, that name is followed by a sentence. “She’s no more…”

It’s funny how the utterance of a familiar name can invoke not just the memory of the person’s face but also associated smells and visuals. And just like that, before I can digest the news, I am transported back to my childhood…sitting in a corner of her house, with my nose buried in a book. Childcraft books, to be specific.

As a child, you live in a constant sphere of awe and wonder. Every new thing you stumble upon brings a sense of discovery with it and pushes you to explore a little more of the world. In those Childcraft books, I lost myself in a world of wonder quite frequently. She introduced me to that world, my mom’s friend. I lapped up the words and couldn’t wait to turn the page to discover the next new fact. In fact, so much did I enjoy going there and waiting for her to open the distinct blue door to her house, that the time to leave was almost physically painful.

A lot of happy Childcraft days later, I grew up. Got busy with my own life. Became independent and made my own friends. Hung out with them more often than going with my mom to her friends’ houses. But those childhood memories always urge me to enquire about them. Especially about her, for she had so lovingly nurtured the baby bookworm in me, for so many years.

Growing up, there is a childish belief that the people you grow up with and in front of are immortal. They always need to be around, right? Because how else would you imagine your own life? It gets defined, moulded, nurtured by those people. New people keep walking in and out of your life, but the old ones never actually leave. They stay, either in your life as a constant presence or in your memories.

It’s just then that you realise, people are immortal. Perhaps not in the physical form, but they remain immortal in the memories they build. Everlasting memories. Memories that left an impression. Memories that laid the foundation for your love of reading.

Each time I go back to a Childcraft book, I always think of her. It doesn’t matter how old I am. It won’t stop, even though she may be gone. But what will begin now is a sigh of loss with every flip of the page. A sense of regret will accompany that old sense of discovery, for I don’t think the tiny me ever said Thank You to her for welcoming me into her house and book collection. What will also begin now, is my urge to share the same sense of discovery with someone else. Through books. The hard bound ones. Through that delicious smell of old and familiar books. Through the tiny paper cuts decorating your fingers in your eagerness to read on…

You will live on, although you will be sorely missed…

Upholding a legacy…

14 November 2017

This last week has been a flurry of activities. What with my UK friends having come over, the days were packed with as many things as were humanely possible. We chatted, we walked, we ate, we explored the city at every opportunity we got. In an effort to show them some regional colours, my husband and I landed up at the Dastakari Haat exhibition held at The Monalisa Kalagram, Koregaon Park on a Saturday evening.

Little did I know then that an evening I had sleepily walked into, was going to turn into something rather unexpected. This exhibition was an amalgamation of various artists and artisans from the different parts of India. Local arts and flavours were overflowing that evening, as we floated from stall to stall.

My friends stopped at a ceramic stall as the items caught their attention. On duty, I stopped with them too…ready to translate among the seller and the sold! The purchase was quick and professional. The Punekar in me couldn’t resist and I suddenly butted in, “Kaka, double packing kara haan…tyana khup laamb gheun jaycha ahe! (Uncle, please pack it up with a double layer…they need to travel a long distance with it!) The man at the stall smiled at me, spoke to me and packed the parcel beautifully. He asked me where my friends were from, where I was from. Upon hearing I am a local, he immediately launched into the various opportunities his studio had to offer, in case of day visits, hourly trips, etc. I was intrigued so I stepped closer, into the light so he could see my face clearly.

Suddenly, he stopped mid sentence. “Apla naav kay mhanalat?” (What did you say your name was?) A confused look and some faltering later, “…Kanetkar” is all I said. And at that moment, every inch of his body language changed. An elderly man, possibly in his ealy 60s, tired because of a long day suddenly resembled a small boy, excited upon accidentally stumbling upon treasure. His eyes lit up, his smile was even more welcoming than what it was a few moments ago. “Babancha naav kay tumchya?” (What is your father’s name?) Ok, definitely getting weirder, I couldn’t help thinking! I was hesitant to share any further details but couldn’t resist that curious look on his face. “Umm…Atul?” With that name, all his suspicions got answered and he almost leapt around in excitement. “Mhanje….Narayanrao tumche…?” “Ajoba!” (“So that means…Narayanrao is your….?” “Grandfather!”)

It was a long time since I heard someone address me as his grand daughter. It used to happen a lot when I was in school, but as the years passed, I came to be known as my parents’ daughter, as my husband’s wife and as just myself! While I was thinking all these thoughts, the man was gushing praises of my grandfather. He owed his life to him, he said and that sentence brought me back to reality.

They say a man’s reputation succeeds him…and that evening, I experienced it. For a man who left this world 11 years ago had helped this man in front of me some 25 odd years ago, and now the man was reliving those moments while talking to his granddaughter of 25 years! In that moment, my heart swelled with pride. The man smiled at me and said that now when he looked at me closely, he could see the resemblance. I didn’t probe further but I am curious to know…where the resemblance rests. Is it in my looks, my behaviour, my personality or simply in my surname?

No matter where it may be, I realise that with this name and these features and this lineage, I am upholding a legacy….one my grandfather started to build, almost 85 years ago.

Just ‘ana’ther day! 

7 November 2017.

I am in the cab, heading toward the airport, a million things running in my mind. Is the room clean enough? Is the water heated and stored? Did I forget to spray air freshener in the room? What would she be like? How would meeting her feel like? Would I even reach there in time to see her walk out of those doors?

I have been dreaming about this day, this moment for months! I don’t know what it would be like…for all you know, I would probably arrive panting and sweating while she waits patiently at the Arrivals gate.

You can never construct a perfect moment, I realise… But would it really matter if that moment wasn’t? 5 years ago, was the first day I met her. Saw her rushing and panting to greet me. I was new to her city, she was a mentor paired by the University to help me settle in. We were absolute strangers, who bridged all gaps that day. I was touched by the way she spent the entire day helping me feel at home in her city. Today, it’s my turn.

After 5 years, I am going to see her once again. For 5 days. In my city and home. Living my life with me. All those dreams I’ve seen of having her over and entertaining her… They all culminate in this moment. How it would be, I don’t know. How I would feel, I do know! For I am showing all restraint and not jumping around like a maniac in the cab. I am trying to appear all staid and responsible when a part of me is raring to poke my head out of the window and announce to the world, “She’s coming!!!”

My buddy. My best friend from the UK days. My go-to in times of confusion. My one piece of home in a strange land.