It has been a 365 of the Unusual. When Lockdown and Covid began its agenda on us all, I prepared for a season of quiet, introspection.
But that changed. It was a year of meeting new people in all kinds of places. There were women with burns’ accounts that broke me before I could put that in stories for them, there was the young man who called at 12 midnight about his dad with the virus, and we watched that dad get better! Yeah Faith walked in with wide arms and I had to be held, had to be taken where I’ve never been before. The Govt said ‘Stay home’, we shivered, sanitized, then followed the call outdoors, whenever. A funeral, a wedding, a prayer meet, a birthday. Veggie stalls and Mall, nothing looked the same again. Not even WhatsApp. Not Gmail. Instagram. Our words were changing like our worlds. Overnight we feared the same thing, the same way.
Blindness didn’t seem as daunting. Education and fashion trends took a Lil walk someplace else. Protocols changed. We wore pajamas to zoom meets, lipstick ‘neath mask? Ugh. We stared at leaf and sunrise. Sunsets and rain. Everything seemed changed, re- arranged. We met loneliness on new terms. We became beggars for blessings, for Grace. Praying happened with acceptance from people who shirked its very stance. We thought about existence, pain,humanity. We wouldn’t forget George Floyd, we couldn’t look past emotional and other poverties. And Isolation. We became old and young at the same time: we were sifted like wheat in sieves that did not stop.
“What is,life?” The Poet asked. A Sparrow replied,”Transient, like I.” “Us!We!” Said the Atheist. “Aha.” Cried the Preacher. “Ouch.” Wept the sinner. “Amen.” Said the Prayerer, before we all sat down to sanitize our psyche, nodding heads and elbows for the high 5s we could not high 5.
Have not been much of a ‘fan’ ever, must confess. Except for ice cream, and the plant kingdom. Heard his ‘Freedom,’ & Born again if you haven’t please do. This one that screamed for Cover👇🏼in a day, happened so fast, hadn’t time to even know i could be videoed (pardon spatial mess, uncombed-ness, and son Joh sit/rocking like a lotus in yellow Tee:) he continues to inspire with his brand of innocent fire. I thank You Lord for every reminder that Your arms work via my feeble ones, if am willing.
These Lyrics have me forever. Origin: Teresa of Avila who survived epilepsy till she succumbed at 67- notorious for her wit and joie de vivre….
So I get serial visits from childhood. My mates in ‘tails & school blue. Ashok in red bicycle and forehead lock, his bright eyes lit up with mischief that time he asks Sis M. why they wear veils and wouldn’t she please lift that veil for us once please? Sis M. blushes pink red purple and glares at him through her brows but you know she isn’t angry.
Yes we got in a school mates W/A group; we see new pictures of old friends, Yesteryears tiptoe in, loud in my mental ears…
Ranjana the fabulous, first she wore little plaits then her straight black hair grew out like a sheath cut blunt to shoulder. We were 3 ft tall… she sent me little cards strung with felt tipped flowers. Then she started talking and when she did whoa…. it was interschool debate, podium glossy words: I remember thinking she’s the most brilliant girl I’ve ever..! Large dark dreamy eyes that looked beyond our little confines into a wider world waiting out there. She is our class Genius, the life of the party, still is!
Devasmita, my ‘twin’ some said for our similar dark rimmed glasses and hair, but nah. This one’s our class Beauty, and a Sport! We did Sack Race and Badminton together.(“3 leggeds..” she reminds me. What sweet sport! Now they have Fear Factor🤯😅) Deva still has pure marble like skin, laughter rimmed lips, soft brown eyes and wit that needs just few words, with sass mind you. Do not forget we’re the late 70s high schoolers. It was Sholay and ‘Yaadon Ki barath’.. Bobby, Oh Zeenat Aman at her best. Hair worn in side bangs, xxx ear hoops and platform heels simmering under 34″ bell bottomed pants.
Who wore the widest bells? Unsure. The largest starched collars…? It was somethings between Elvis Presley and Amitabh B. The guys wore swag!….oh c’mon ofcourse you did, still do. I’m amazed they’ve not lost the gloss of Pre- Man days. They were Man – Cubs, and they were/ are big brothers.
Were there in- house romances? I’m certain. They were good days, as in Innocence. ‘Dates’ were eyes looking away in corridors and sports field, hehe.
Vimal (Design & more) marries a Beauty with brains, she’s a Doc who also Motor cross country races for heavens sakes, ofcourse he would; Vim so like his Ma. Wide Bambi doe eyes, dark lashed in high cheek-boned face, pure like Gujarati ghee, untouched by materialism. On saturdays, aunty would pack dhoklas in a tiered stainless steel tiffin carrier. Haven’t you had dhoklas? Then you must. Vimal sent us pictures wherever he went in the world… pics in garden chair or mountain rides.. he remembered birthdays, yelled when you forgot, he kept your scribbles and holiday letters (mine were filled with fish tales he grumbled) threatening to use them when we became an MF Hussain, haha.
Hey my classmates are beautiful people inside out. Joyati, our very own Bong-babe soft haired long plaits to the waist, voice like a song. You never heard her yell, her shirt always white, like her socks ‘ neath blue pinafore. Glad they did not give us ties;
this was 10 kms from Coastal Odisha, humid monsoons and summers ripe with mango, oh Lassi thickened with coconut gratings, and cashew if you were fortunate. I loved the rain, especially when it fell in the Grotto in Momma Mary’s smiling face like she were doing tears of joy. Ay they were days of serious fun, and some.
Exams were the monster. For me it was Hindi, and Math. The details are deadly. I felt hounded by heaven and hell; my mates were brilliant. I gawked at their intellect, their knowledge of laws and physic, of mercury and Algae, trigonometric squigglies and theories. Who was I, why ? I wondered, but not these Mates mine they laughed at impossibilities. Vimal was it, or Bhabani…. hummed like a bee/ dropped book piles in the floor?? Oh Bhabani: school Princy actually liked sparring with him. Sis Rosalie, she had this little Maddona smile that said much when Bhabani would not tuck shirt in, he’d grin back. They did these silent half-smile matches where I suspect they let each other win. I’ve never seen anything like that since. They were 2 Gladiators, well matched… never mind the decades between them. One was a curly haired tall teenager who could not cut his hair up above ears please, simply because he couldnot, he said. Then the thing about his footwear. It hurt him, he said. He tried once or twice. It was something with his feet. Not possible to wear shoes… did he succumb finally to Sis. R? No? Yes? I cannot remember. But the memoirs of those convos curl with humor.
Here were a generation without Google, WA, & Asphalt gamers. The Net was what fishermen brought home, and Apple was still just a fruit. Phones were black creations on a side table, you went to it. You “rang” it, then you “hung up”. How you hung up determined your mental state. There were no Emojis, just physical stickers you sewed on your jean knees, or stuck on books, on bikes. Books were everything, libraries ruled. I mean ruled. ( And you didn’t know to say Rock for Compliment) …
Oh Encyclopedia sat there like emperors and their wives & children, decked in gold edged flat greens and blues. Readers Digest stared at you, vying for your eyes along with Panchatantra and Cabulliwallah. Enid Blyton though! Some of us ate her pages feeding our soul with Adventure that had nothing to do with Bungee jumping. Horror was stories we retold in verandas, some moonlit nights. Sis Rosalie did our literature …. ” ancient Mariners’ seas .. a ghostly galleon…” she knew how to whisper, how to lift her chin like a hymn being sung, then she’d stand all regal with one foot nestling in her other foot; one wrist on hip, waiting for us to shhhhlisten as we met Wordsworth, Chesterton & RK Narayan….
Surprised at the recall here. I haven’t thought of her Coleridge albatross in decades! But I’m stoked, bro as our kids say.
Nah and we didn’t stoop to auto correct, hey what was a Comp? Lap tops were exactly that. Tops of laps. Here we hid lil notes,
Paper slips that horrific day .. when we didn’t know the name of an Island. But Bhabani. He knew. Ofcourse, he was Guru General Cool. Did he wear a lil ring on little finger? Unsure. But he knew name of that Island; how he spelled it was his own. None of us recognized the name though Ms. Shameem did. She hid face in her white dupatta wrapped around one arm: “You people…” she shut her eyes carefully inside pale pink coral glasses, knowing we had all carefully copied out Bhab’s version of ‘Sacremento‘. Then she slow- swung in my direction and said in sorrow, “You too?”
2 things here. I was official Church Mouse, as decreed by Class officials, not just because I was quiet and shy but too, my existence represented the church in all its forms- my mom was Mrs.David the gentle woman with guitar and songs of Jesus- I had sinned. We had also done Ceaser’s famous Et Tu Brutei… I felt like a murderer of trust. Uh.
We had seen worse days. The time we wrote in the walls of our class with raw mango: were we angry about something? Sure there was rage to follow: Sis Ro. standing there in the grounds by St.Vincent in marble looking down on us as we stood socially distanced from each others elbows, oh spread out for Primary and Pre- primaries to see and know. The eastern Indian sun never fell so harsh and long, food in our lunch boxes curled with waiting… other teachers tut-tutted, we examined our shoe’s buckle and lace, our socks and knees, we pondered on the sand. I forget if we had to clean up classroom before or after this Runway show, but we did. Aye, ‘Ratilal (our tall aristocrat) refused to partner with his broom’, someone reminded us this morning. It should’ve been a great video, but those days ‘viral’ was only a flu’ and ‘U tubes’ lived in Chemistry labs; though now we have memos in our chips inside,
dearest Lord God, souvenirs of such days You made…
You made Shailaja and how come she doesn’t change one tiny bit, her head held high on a neck that’s still slender like the rest of her: a Princess still with that same peace about her, as if all the changes around do not matter. Patsy, she has that quality too, she… our nightingale and abs.charmer, now a teacher herself …. we were “Little Women” together,
with Sis.Margaret scowling at the gorgeous Alpana Watwe for not liking her green and red costume. “And hasn’t God made red flowers with green leaf?!” Sis M. rallied. (Alpana flushed: didn’t she know she’d look great even if they gave her a sack to wear?!) I worried about my ‘necklace’. It was a pale pink large pearly thing I got from where I’ve no recall. My role was Hannah the maid, in this great black velvet dress from costume wardrobe; it reeked of mothballs and damp wood… now I thought it needed my pearls. Sis M’s ferocious black eyes went through my skull then she burst into laughter; she nodded at my odd pearls.
I still wear it inside, a Reminder that we are what grew us. Teachers like Ms Brenda D’Coutho too, not just fairytale pretty but respectful. I wasn’t a star student, but no one laughed. If they did, it was friendly fire. It built. It did not break your back. We learned the simple things. Oh Sujata, our Ms. Joy. Today she is a Wizard in a Tech world, the first time we saw her she was in little red ribbons. Today I saw a pic of her in stylish grey crop and sweater looking like a Desi Hollywood Halle Berry, just wow .. she’s designed Helicopters?!
Here we are decades later. Yesterday Ashok Lohia actually now a grown up and ace Businessman thanked me for helping him draw his bio practical book cockroach, and I teared up thinking how the core of us never changed.
Shailaja : “Change is inevitable but all look good. And there is that special something about everyone which hasn’t changed. 💕 Ranjana: “Yes that something special…that only an old friend can tell!”
I could say some more but the words want to stare at each other and just say thankyou. Thankyou my mates, for still being there.
Stay precious, stay blest.
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