Friday, October 19, 2012

Monkey Mail!

In all the years I've been married, we've hardly ever had a postal address with a house number or a street name.

Our address has always been 'c/o' (husband's designation), followed by the name of a tea garden, a Post Office, and a district name. A bit like the Phantom, who sends a man to collect 'any mail for Mr. Walker' from the Post Office in Denkali, a tea garden manager has a 'dak wallah' who goes to the nearest post office every morning to drop off and pick up letters.

Couriers don't come to our doors but leave their dak or mail and packages at the nearest town.

So when my sister Viji in Mumbai sent me a package with things that our brother Bala had handed over to her in Chicago for our mother Maiji and me, she was worried that I never acknowledged receipt. Viji called me on the 28th and said the courier office there told her that the parcel had been collected on the 25th by one 'Surit Nandi, peon'. I called my husband Mohan and told him at once. Mohan said Surit Nandi was not a peon, but he was a garden chap all right. 'Who is Surit Nandi?' was all I could think of.

They found him. He was questioned by Mohan and the head clerk. Surit denied (stoutly? perhaps) that he had taken any parcel from anywhere. The head clerk, or Bara Babu as we call him, told Mohan he would follow things up.

Viji called with more news. The parcel was on its way back to Mumbai, according to the courier, DHL. This was terrible. Bala had sent, among other things, the video of his son Kartik's wedding.

I told Mohan the parcel was heading back, and he told Bara Babu. Bara Babu rang up his friend, the proprietor of Sree Krishna Stores in Hamiltonganj and told him what had happened. 

Sree Krishna's son swung into action. He stormed into the DHL outpost in Hamiltonganj, thumped the desk and hollered at the clerk there. Why, he asked, had they not alerted Sree Krishna Stores when a package arrived for Mr. Mohanakrishnan?  That was all they'd had to do. Sree Krishna - and son - would take all responsibility from then on. The clerk apologised. It was a terrible mistake, he agreed. He promised to make enquiries.

A further call from Viji said the courier was not DHL, but DHC. Right. After we had - well someone had, on our behalf - made a ruckus at DHL.  I felt sorry for the chap who'd been threatened. But he hadn't protested. He'd apologised for a mistake he'd never made. It must be a tough life out there in Hamiltonganj.

I asked Viji what DHC had to say. Once again, the suspect's name cropped up. Surit Nandi. He had signed for the package on the 28th, not the 25th. Who is Surit Nandi, I asked Mohan. He is the school bus driver, said Mohan. He drives a bus into Kalchini and Hamiltonganj everyday, ferrying the workers' children to and from schools there.

This was spooky. A bus driver had pulled Maiji up into his vehicle after Kartik and Danielle's wedding and she'd hurt her knee. Now, a bus driver had made their wedding video vanish. 

I decided to go to the DHC office. It was a little shop, not an office, which turned out to be in Kalchini, not Hamiltonganj. It had a Xerox machine on one side and the courier's desk on the other.

'DHC?' I asked in a chilly voice. 'No, Madam, this is JaYshree courier service'.
Silly me. I felt even sillier when both men behind the desks stood up and directed me in polite voices to the right place. 

I went outside in a hurry. Our driver brought someone to the car. A sweet-faced plump chap who smiled and gave me a 'Namastey'.
'Memsaab, this is Surit Nandi', said the driver. What! This man! But he didn't look like a thief! Surit Nandi! He was still smiling.  
One thing was clear. I wasn't going to let this Surit Nandi get away. I asked him to get into the car and come to the DHC desk with us.

This time I made sure I saw a sign that said DHC before I opened my mouth. I took out a piece of paper on which I'd scribbled the docket number which Viji'd called out on the phone.

'Do you have this package?' I asked the man at the desk, putting the piece of paper in front of him. Very business like.
He had no smiles for me, and he matched my aggression with a 'So what?' kind of defensiveness. Here's how it went.

He: 'Yes, I received it.'

I: 'Where is it now?'

He: 'I made so many calls to the telephone number on the packet. That person said he would come. I rang up five or six times. He kept saying he would come, and he never came.'

I: (dripping with sarcasm)'Oh! Is that so? Let's talk to him now.' (I dialled Mohan on my phone)

He: (quickly) 'But he was in Alipurduar'. (I cut the call)

I: WHO was in Alipurduar?

He: Actually it was my brother who rang him up from Alipurduar. My brother isn't here now. 

I: I want to check when your brother called on my husband's number. 

He: He should have come to collect it.

I: I have come to collect it. Where is it?

He: Company rules say that if a package is not picked up in three days it has to go back to the place where it came from. But I know you are from a tea garden. That's why I asked him (pointing at Surit Nandi) to sign for it.

I: What! You gave him the package!

(Here Surit Nandi piped in: I don't have any package! I didn't take anyone's package!)

I: (frantic) Then where is the package? When will it reach Mumbai? What did they say?

He: I have it.

I: WHAT!! You have it here??

He: I didn't want it to go back to Mumbai. But I couldn't break the rules. That's why I took Surit's signature and informed the company in Mumbai that it had been collected.

(Short silence)

I: Will you give it to me?

He: Yes.

He went in and came out with a parcel. I couldn't believe it. It had my name on it. It had Viji's name on the other side, spelt Vigi.
I smiled. He smiled. I said thank you. He asked me what my name was, and wrote it in his receipt book which I signed. I asked him what his name was. Ajit, he said. He smiled and said thank you, and I smiled and said thank you. 

Oh the joy of coming home and opening the package! I took out the wedding video and we all watched it as soon as we could.

At dinner time, Mohan had something to report. 'Halla has broken out among the garden workers that Surit Nandi is a bad man and a thief, and that he stole a parcel belonging to the Superintending Manager.' Oh, oh.

(Published in The Statesman annual, 'Festival 2012')

'Human Laboratory' in Hamiltonganj

Monday, October 15, 2012


Bittersweet the taste of cold weather in the morning air, bittersweet the taste of these sweet limes, mussami, harvested yesterday.

 Mussami juice was something that figured on hospital diets when I was a child. For years my mother associated it with illness! Whenever Dr. Hingorani visited and prescribed juice, it meant mussami juice. There wasn't anything more fancy - packaged or unpackaged - available in those days. Those fruits weren't like the hybrids we get today; they were full of fibre and seeds, just as God made them.

It was a chore to extract juice from them. For some reason, wedding guests used to get them in traditional goody bags or Thamboolam. Those days, the mussami -saathukudi in Tamil - used to taste more bitter than sweet. Our eldest brother-in-law was the only person who really enjoyed drinking that juice.

 Now I find all my childhood tastes reversed. I've started liking home-made white unsalted butter. When we were children, home-made butter was such a punishment, while Amul Butter was so yellow and salty and so desirable!! Mohan and I are enjoying this bittersweet tough old juice from our home-grown mussamis much more than the smooth juice made from bought fruit. We're growing up? Or old?

  The gardener is ready to harvest the fruits of his labour. Bittersweet was the goodbye I said to the garden I loved for so many years, but how sweet it is to savour what someone planted many years ago in the garden I love today.  

Bittersweet, all these fire ants on the tree? I don't know and don't want to find out!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Into the Sunset

The rain has eased a bit now. Late evening is my favourite time of day. I like to come indoors just before we turn on the lights. By that time, it's well past susnset. Some sunsets have nothing to do with the sun. It's the atmosphere they create.

 I took these two pictures near Kalchini town on one such evening.

Some sunsets are spectacular. You just want to stand and gaze and marvel at the show up there. Until someone - in my case, the gardener - asks you why you aren't taking pictures. Like this one on Sunday last.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Today an interesting creature happened to be passing by and stopped for a while outside the jali kamra. It looks like something out of Harry Potter, with the two serpent heads at the wing tips!

Young Aruna, who works in the bungalow, was very happy to pose for the pictures.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Breakfast Spice

Many years ago, I wrote an article for a magazine about how I got as much excitement as a masala Bollywood film in the pre-breakfast hours in my bungalow. I was young, and our first born was a little baby. I'd oversleep because I slept whenever the baby did, and I'd wake to find no electricity, no gas, no cook, no bread or eggs in the house and the husband's motorcycle puttering at the gate!

I thought that was all history - after all I'd grown up years ago. I could manage things. Like the time when the cow decided to have her baby on the lawn and company directors were eating breakfast with us. The bearer whispered the news to me with a quiet smile, and I nodded with an equally dignified smile. No one knew what happened until the new mother and her young were in a state to receive visitors who took pictures of them. However, one can't take things for granted.

Image from - this is what a Rava Dosa looks like!

Shankar, our old cook from Moraghat, always used to tell me not to plan Rava Dosas when we had guests. He said they were jinxed. Everytime he made those rava dosas for the family, they came out crisp and light, but lo, when there was a guest, all poor Shankar would get on his tava - or griddle - was scrambled rice lumps.

That was long ago. Or so I thought. We have been enjoying all kinds of dosas in our present bungalow, so when our next guests came to stay, I decided they'd get Rava Dosas at breakfast. After all a Rava Dosa is not just any old dosa, it's a delicacy. With my mother Maiji here, a lip-smacking sambar was guaranteed. Our cook knows his dosa and all I did was issue a few airy instruction in the kitchen before going off to see to the flowers arrangements and other trivial things.

We were seated at the table and the sambar and chutney were borne in in style. The bearer exited, only to come back after five minutes and give me a tortured look. I excused myself and went to the kitchen - I didn't rush, but just glided in - to find that Shankar's jinx had followed us here. There were congealed lumps of rice flour on two tavas and the cook was just about holding in his tears. 'Now what?' said his expression.

'Toast' I whispered to the bearer. 'Keep the saheb log busy.'

There was an extended toast session which must have puzzled my poor guests.

When they could, my team served up some very apologetic dosa with excellent sambar and chutney. The cook struggled to keep the show going. He is not used to failure. He didn't break, even though the dosas did. The bearer served each person at the table with a look of deep remorse.

As if I wasn't feeling guilty enough, breakfast was concluded in great good humour, with everyone present praising the perfect taste of the dosas - and what do appearances matter, they all asked. What with looking light hearted at the table and trying to be a lifestyle guru in the kitchen, I'm quite ready to go to bed for a week after some amnesia inducing drink.

Friday, April 06, 2012

A Fool For April

Good Friday: Bleeding heart
comes into flower
after April showers.

It rained a little. Just enough to send our spirits soaring.
Could we ask for more? You bet we did.

More Haiku My Heart here

Friday, March 30, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Expecting to Fly

This moth was in the verandah for several hours in the morning.

I rushed to get the camera, thinking it might take off before the grand capture. No, it stayed. Some of us stood around and made comments. It didn't budge. Then I got the camera really close to it - and dropped it, typically for me. It fell pretty close to what I imagine were the moth's ears. Did it stir? No.

A good role model for someone who needs to 'chill' more.
 You can listen to Buffalo Springfield sing Expecting to Fly here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

And They Call It Poppy Love...

It is rewarding to write - especially when when you get interesting responses. When I read my brother Bala's comment on my last post, I decided to publish it on the main page. Here it is. Thank you, Bala!

"The moment I saw your Poppycock piece, I was transported back to my second year at IIT Delhi. There were five of us who would go to practically all the English movies showing at Rivoli, Regal, Odeon and Shiela.

In 1966, along came a movie called The Poppy Is Also A Flower with an unbelievable cast: Yul Brynner, Rita Heyworth, Angie Dickinson, Jack Hawkins, E. G. Marshall, and more. The five of were excited about the cast and went for the movie.

To say the least, when the movie was over we all walked out rather disappointed. It was more like a documentary and was all about something called heroin and drug addictions.

Heroin -- we did not know anything about the drug or the drug culture. Those days of innocence!More on the movie here: "


Saturday, February 11, 2012


Winter. I know exactly what I want from winter in the Dooars. It should be pleasantly cool, with temperatures not lower than 11 degrees C, and no higher than 22 C. It should be just cold enough to justify the lighting of a fire in the place.

The joy of airing and wearing sweaters, snuggling into quilts and being able to knit without feeling suffocated by the warmth of wool.

Clear blue skies, sunlight to sit out in, no dust and no humidity.
Christmas cake.
Masala chai.

My mother has always said that the cold weather in Delhi is wonderful until Christmas, after which what she calls the 'dirty winter' begins. I can't think of a better description of those murky skies or those foggy days and nights with miserably low temperatures.

The Dooars is not as cold as Delhi, but here too, blue skies and sunny days come to an end by the beginning of January. In the morning, the fog gives way to a dust and cloud haze. Everyone seems to fall ill. We long for warmth, for an end to the misery of cold days and nights.

February usually comes with drought, chills, more dust, and an increasing difference in day/night temperatures which adds to the woes of those suffering from coughs and colds.

It's been different this year. In most parts of India, winter began early and seems to be in no hurry to leave.

For the last two days, we've had a replay of the early cold weather. The sky is blue, the sunshine is warm enough for me to lie about in chairs and drowse, and occasional chilly breezes bring the comforting thought that the weather won't hot up and spoil it all too soon.

My cold weather garden has a very few blooms. We moved into this bungalow at a time when it was too late for me to plan or plant the garden. The previous occupant had had no time either, being caught up with packing for retirement.

So I have what the mali (gardener) could manage with his own resources. I never grew poppies after our chhota bungalow days, becoming very picky as I gained seniority - not necessarily wisdom - as a tea memsaab. Poppies were things I looked down upon. They have this tendency to blaze for a day or two in glory before fluttering away their all in a mess on the ground. It's tempting to think of them as wastrels. They are completely out of place among superior species that hold their heads up as the well cultivated should.

Well they hold their own here - however fleetingly - and they have silenced me. I'd forgotten their depth of colour and the richness of texture of each petal. The 'mess' of fallen petals makes the ground come alive with colour. I'm willing to eat my words – and the poppies too - if it will prolong the heady daze of these extended cold weather days.

The sky at noon - from under a favourite tree