All posts by ahostofpeople

People say I look like my father. Some say my voice down the phone resembles my mother's. Friends say I am full of energy and strangers brand me as 'cute'. Elders say I am a kid at heart and kids think of me as their Tai. Through all of that; who am I really? Me. That's who I am :)

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.


Sea shells in Seychelles

22 July – 31 July 2017

It was a rather random plan that was floated among the four of us – a trip to Seychelles. The name sounded rather exotic to a geographically challenged person like me, and simply the mention of beaches was enough for the idea to be sold.

My husband and I often travel to the forests of India. These trips usually have a fixed itinerary – wake up, go on safaris, eat, go back on a safari, sleep and do the same thing the next day. As routine as that may sound, the real thrill is in discovering the hidden beauties of the forest. So each minute in each safari is unpredictable, although the overall trip is planned to the T.

This time however, the destination was a little out of the comfort zone, and we struggled to wrap our heads around it. What do we pack, how much do we pack, do we need to carry food, will we have to wear a new set of clothes every single day?! Questions troubled us on the prior evening as we sat amidst a pile of clothes and wondered why we chose such an ‘offbeat’ destination….

My first impression of Seychelles was a thin strip of runway, flanked by sea on both its sides. Suddenly, I was restless for the plane to land and to get out there and smell the ocean breeze.

We landed in Mahe and rushed to catch a jetty that would take us to the island of Praslin. We had planned our vacation around the three islands that are usually preferred by tourists – Praslin, La Digue and Mahe. Unlike my traveller husband, I had not read anything about these places. I was ready to embrace whatever came my way, the good or the bad. Although looking around at the beautiful landscape, it didn’t seem like any bad would come our way for the next 9 days.

The boat ride to Praslin was the first reminder that you need the bad to help you appreciate the good. As the boat rode the rough sea at high speed, our stomachs churned and each one of us dealt with our first bouts of sea sickness. When the boat finally reached Praslin an hour later, we walked out with pale faces and weak knees, but eager to have reached the first destination.

The only plan for this vacation was that it was going to be entirely unplanned. We had a few destinations in mind, which we absolutely wanted to check out, but other than that….we could laze around all day in the house, on the beach, or wherever we wanted.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Was, too! 😉

We lived in self – catering apartments on all the three islands, and that was a rather fun experience as opposed to living in a typical holiday resort. You get a taste of what setting up a home in a foreign country will feel like. You get used to a different kitchen set up and new tools around the house. You get used to the neighbourhood and the cheapest bread and butter options around! And above all, you get acquainted with the locals and their way of life.

Each island we visited had a different perspective towards life. Mahe was a typically bustling city, filled with supermarkets and branded stores. People rushing about their work, not having the leisure to share a smile with their neighbour. Praslin, on the other hand, was a little more relaxed. Random strangers greeted us and wished us a Good Day ahead; taxi drivers struck up conversations on the most weirdest of topics!

But the best of the lot was La Digue. A tiny island, the only way you could move around was on foot or by bicycle. For the lazy, there were battery operated cars too. Everyone here had more than a minute to spare and we were ‘my friends’ to all the locals. This was a place where everyone had the time to see the sunset, every single evening.

These 9 days on pristine beaches and foreign soil, somehow put my entire life in perspective. I wondered why we miss out on admiring nature’s beauty so often and prefer to stay glued to our computer screens instead. Why don’t we look out of our windows more often? Why don’t we take a moment to think about why we are doing what we do, but just prefer to work right on? A taxi driver in Mahe further strengthened this thought, when he casually commented, “See, only Indians working on Sunday. Rest everyone takes break, Indians work!” Does that mean we are extremely hard working people? Perhaps! But doesn’t that also mean that we are losing out on so much that there is to offer, beyond our four walls of comfort?

When was the last time you appreciated the sunset and let it envelop you in its romance? When was the last time you walked barefoot through the silvery sands of a pristine beach? When was the last time you stood still and just let the waves wash you around? When was the last time you lived all day in your swimsuit and didn’t mind the sand trails you left all over the house?

I hadn’t really done any of these things till date. But at Seychelles, I lived them to the fullest. It was hard to come back to a life of traffic and pollution and deadlines…but come back, we had to. It was a mental break definitely, but it was also a great learning experience for me.

It taught me to take some time off from all that routine we get ourselves into. It made me look beyond the hazy polluted air and smile at the orange hues of each sunset that I daily drive back home in. In fact, it made me leave office in time to catch each sunset.

Almost 12 days later, I am still suffering from the Seychelles hangover. I have a tan, evidence of all those hours on the beach. I have a swimsuit filled with sand, souvenirs from the waves I jumped into. And I have a smile on my face that refuses to diminish, proof of how effective that vacation was…

The Kanetkars at No.39

7 August 2017

When you are born an Indian, you grow up accustomed to a crowd. Be it at your local supermarket or while waiting in the enquiry queues at Government offices; if there is one thing we as Indians cannot escape, it is people. And people by the dozens!

Little wonder then that families aren’t an exception to this rule. But with today’s fast – paced and ‘busy’ lifestyles, we tend to hole up in our own spaces. And hate it if asked to share that precious privacy that is solely ours, at the end of each hectic day. A colleague muttered on his way out of office today, “This is all I do, rush from this place to that; find myself trapped amidst the hands of a clock! I don’t seem to have any time for myself!!” That is exactly how each week pans out for so many of us. It is not surprising then that we prefer to just enjoy the silence of our nuclear homes rather than setting foot out into the maddening crowd!

It was just another Monday morning that I woke up to. A Friendship Day Sunday was just past, and though I had been overwhelmed with emotion toward all my friends, I had preferred to maintain a rather low profile. Talking over the phone seemed to be a little too much, texting them seemed much too distant. I shot off some quick “Same to you” messages, but my mind carried over a slight regret on to the next day. Ironically, the next day was a day dedicated to brothers. So yet another wave of emotion and yet another “I’ll talk to them later tonight” excuse to drown it.

Luckily for me, this time someone else took matters in hand, and decided that tonight will literally mean ‘tonight’, for once. A relative had taken the initiative of inviting all of us over for the Rakhi celebration. We cousins always make it a point to meet up on this day, but we never make it to everyone’s houses. So although we do keep up with the tradition, it is still as ‘nuclear’ as it can get! However, this time after a really long time, it was the Kanetkars (and the additions and modifications!) under one roof for an entire evening!

It was with tremendous excitement that I finished up at office that day, and made my way to the relative’s house. Some of the family had already gathered and enthusiastic hellos welcomed us in. People kept coming in over the next hour, and soon we were switching places and accommodating everyone that came in. In a sudden moment of nostalgia, I caught myself looking around and realising that as a family, we had lost some but we had also gained some. Where once we were the ones being the centre of attention, causing all our parents to come rushing behind us; we were now running behind our niece. In narrating to her our childhood stories, we relived them once again. In sharing with her our favourite spots as children, we visited them once again. In helping her discover new relations, we acknowledged them once again. And in seeing her build new memories, we walked down our own memory lanes yet again.

As 4 generations sat down to share dinner that night, I realised that the Kanetkars at no. 39 had spread themselves all over the world in the past few years. Our surnames had changed and so had our preferences. But none of that seemed to have affected our excited chatter that evening. There was no awkwardness, but only a deep sense of security that comes from being a family.

And at that moment, it felt like no matter how many friendships you may build over the years, there is something about family that will always makes you feel ‘at home’…No matter how much the crowd, you will never once feel lost in it!

Cooking Lessons

26 January 2017

Finding good help (or maids) is hard to find. You need to be extremely lucky, they say. But I believe, what is harder is not just finding a maid, but finding someone who is ‘maid’ to be a part of your family too! (Excuse the pun, I couldn’t resist!) I have been having my share of struggles with a new cook in the house. I am not someone who loves to cook; in fact spending too much time in the kitchen is something I am averse to. Thus, after 2 whole years of ‘learning to cook courtesy the Internet’, I gave in to the suggestion of hiring a cook for the three meals in a day.

It is tough, training a third person to develop your taste and presentation of food. It is tough, to teach someone how to please your palate, every day and with every meal. I don’t know how to do it…but I know someone who knew this so well!

It was a text from my mother a few days ago, which brought bad news and ironically also good memories. We had a wonderful cook in the family, ever since I was a baby. A few years ago, she had to quit work because of a severe illness. And a few days ago, she succumbed to it. The day she quit cooking at our house, was the last time I met her. I must have been a school – going child at that time, which seems a long enough time now. And yet, the taste of her food still lingers in my mind…I don’t think I have ever tasted such delicious food, ever again.

She cooked, not just with the ingredients, but with love. She cooked, keeping everyone’s likes in mind but also taught us to respect each other’s differences. She fed us till our stomachs were fit to burst, but she also taught us how to feed ourselves.

She taught me how to roll my first chapati, and then teased me when it puffed up. “Look, the chapati is angry on you! See how she has puffed herself up with anger.” As a child, I used to panic and say Sorry to the chapati, hoping it would forgive me for putting it on the flame. I also believed it used to soften up with my heartfelt apologies and so wasn’t hard to tear up into smaller morsels. I could never roll them round, but she never scolded me. She just taught me Geography, calling those random shapes I rolled as ‘maps’. There is a wall atlas installed in my house, and I think those were the only times I studied it with interest….trying to find where in the world my latest shape fit!

She was someone on whose cooking all of us cousins grew up. She taught us the meaning of family, as we sat together and shared the food. She insisted the entire family ate together often, and she cooked up a storm in the kitchen on those days. Cooking for two people is a task in itself for me, and I wonder how she did it or at least made it seem so easy, even while cooking for almost 13 people, 5 of which were growing – up bodies. We lapped up her food, and we fought over it. We grew up on her food, and we were spoilt rotten for it too.

There are some people you respect in life, and some who you admire. But there are very few people you hold in reverence, and for me, she was the strongest candidate in that list. I don’t have any photographs with her, but I have her memories to keep me going on. She wasn’t related to us, but she never made us feel like strangers. She was, and so we could be.

She will remain, and so will we….bound by the thoughts of her love and the taste of her food.

Rest in peace, Gangubai 🙂