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Hudhud and later

A number of catastrophes seem to be happening one after the other. The floods in Jammu and Kashmir, the floods in North-east and now Hudhud in Andhra and Odisha. Yes last one has affected me the most.

Why? Because it is in Vizag that my parents live. It is in Vizag that my brother and his family lives. It is Vizag that has been my ‘land’ for the last 20 years or so.

To tell you the truth I came to know about the impending cyclone only on Saturday Morning. And I called up my mother. ‘Are you all set for the storm’, I asked.

‘Yes’, she said, ‘Children have been given a holiday, we have stocked up on essentials’.

‘Get some extra milk packets, store some water, charge up your mobiles’, I said. ‘And in all probability the cyclone will just pass away with a whimper because every one is so prepared’, I joked.

Vizag is used to thunderstorms. It does not have any ‘rainy season’ as such and there is rain usually when there is a depression in the Bay of Bengal. The intensity of the situation did not hit either me or her.

And then till Monday evening, there was no news absolutely. Scared, anxious, I sat online surfing through news, afraid to read the obvious.

Until I got a whatsapp from my sister they are safe.

I started breathing again. The glass doors had been unhinged. There was no power (still there isn’t). Water they have because they arranged diesel somehow and operate the generator now and then to pump the water up. Their two wheelers are damaged. Milk is scarce. But the important thing is they are safe and together.

But the city is devastated. The steel township which has been our lifeline has become a skeleton. The thick vegetation which surrounded it is no more. The Steel plant itself has suffered badly and if it does not start operations soon, will be a burden on the economy.

What is heartening to see is that so many voluntary organisations working on the scene. And so many others too. Residents who for once have stopped cribbing and started lending a hand, people have come out of their cocoons to strategize on finding out ways to come out of the situation.

Yes there are black marketeers, there are people who want to make a fast buck but today at least the people doing good far outweigh those who are selfish.

But then the thought comes to my mind who has to be blamed for such catastrophes, man, God who.

It is said that there are three-fold miseries of our lives adhi daivik (divine-problems caused by external forces) , adhyatmik (problems caused by self on the mental platform) and adhi bhautik (problems caused on the material plane, physical). And I am confused as to whether this is adhi daivik or adhi bhautik?

Why??

Isn’t it we who have destroyed our forest covers

Isn’t it we who have digged into earth incessantly?

Isn’t it we who are building so many structures? Often competing with each other in terms of how high my building is or how many buildings/ flats do I own.

In Bahrain we have witnesses so many landfilling exercises. So many areas have sprung up where there was previously the Sea. I am sure if we compare the picture of Bahrain 30  years back and the present, there will be no similarity at all. Doesn’t all this constitute an ecological imbalance.

So is this an adhidaivik vipada or an adhibhautik? Is this a misery caused by some external force or man made…..who knows? And does anyone care?

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Realization

Radha was weeding with such a ferociousness which made the earthworms squirm.

For forty-five years Radha had been the undisputed queen of the home front. As a new bride she had a lot of apprehensions. The fact that she had a bossy, chauvinistic husband scared her more. But she had been a fast learner. And had learnt to manage the home beautifully, raised two kids and had even managed to tame the BOSS.

But now…..

After her husband’s retirement they had come down to stay in Ukkunagaram with their son who was working for the Steel Plant. They had arranged their son’s marriage and everything was going well. She still managed the home while her daughter in law managed herself and the kids. everything was going well until yesterday when her daughter in law -Shruti had screamed at her saying-Ammaji if you still insist on doing everything yourself when will I learn?

‘Huh as if i have stopped her from doing anything’, thought Radha. But what had angered her more was the conversation she had had with her daughter Anoo.

Anoo’s call had come immediately after Shrutis outburst and Radha had not been able to control herself and had cried whilst speaking to her. But Anoo had not sympathised, instead she had said-Amma but Shruti is right. You don’t leave any scope for her to do anything around the house Earlier when the kids were small it was alright but now they have grown, isn’t it time you let her do something.’

‘But I have never stopped her from doing anything’, she had argues.

‘Yes you haven’t. But before she can do anything you finish off all the chores. Like you finish cooking before she comes into the kitchen and…’

‘But what can I do if her day begins at 9 and mine at 5.’

Let it be amma. Does it matter if her day begins at 9am. What matters is that you get your lunch at 1pm.’, Anoo argued.

‘And she cooks such bland, oilless food your dad just abhors what she makes,’ she argued back.

‘Good, he should have such food. Amma Dad has cholesterol, he should have food with minimal oil,’ and so they had volleyed till in frustration she had banged the phone down.

And here she was weeding away in the blazing 11 am sunshine.

‘Radha weed away your anger too,’ it was her husband. ‘I have been thinking Radha, what Anoo and Shruti are saying is right. True in our age we feel unwanted and that’s the reason you try to do everything. To show your worth to show that you can still manage. But Radha we have raised our kids and now is the time to train them to face their responsibilities and if need be to aid them. Its time we moved on and let them come to the forefront.’

Radha understood when told in such a manner. ‘But then what will I do?’

‘You and me will start life afresh. I always wanted to play tennis, now I will learn. True my knees will trouble me but still I will learn. You are so fond of classical music, join some course and together we can go for Gita classes.’

‘But at this age won’t people laugh at us’, she asked.

‘Let them but there will be many who will admire our guts,’ he said with a smile,’ And then we have each other for company, we can face the music together.’

And then came Holi

Aruna gave final touches to her rava ladoos.
Growing up in Karkala, Karnataka, Holi didn’t have much significance, but marriage and then coming to this township, it had. So apart from Gudi Padva, Rakshabandhan , Dussehra, Deepavali, Holi too had an important place in her festival list now. So here she was now preparing sweets and snacks for Holi but with a heavy heart.

Newly wed, the township had welcomed her warmly and made her their own. Including Gurinder Bhalla. Both their husbands were posted at the Sinter Plant. Being of the same age and temparement they had clicked instantly. And had gone through pregnancy and child birth simultaneously. Gurinder initiated her into Punjabi cuisine and Aruna into Konkani and so on.

But because of some misunderstanding or idle gossip, Gurninder had not been talking to her for the past 2 years and that hurt; hurt badly.

She knew that on Holi you could dissolve all differences but 2 years back Gurinder’s brother who was in the Navy was transferred to the Eastern Naval Command and she would go off to celebrate Holi with her brother.

‘But the point is was our friendship based on such shallow foundation that someone’s gossip could break it? If she was hurt by some remark of mine, she could have told me on my face rather than hibernating’,thought Aruna.

Evening was Holika Dahan and although she saw Gurinder, by the time she edged towards her, she had already left.

Holi dawned and everyone played to their hearts content, while the ladies backed off by 11 am and returned to their respective homes, men and kids kept on playing till there was call for lunch. Lunch on Holi day was a ‘cluster affair’ where each family would bring their specialties at Mrs. Bannerjees Garden, her garden being the largest as it was the corner one. So while Mrs Bannerjee brought her rasgulla and luchis, Santosh her Daal Baati, Aruna her rava ladoos and appes ( a mini idli made in aebleskiver pan) and so on. Gurinder used to prepare Choley bature.

Aruna was busy making chutney when the bell rang. Thinking it must be some kid, she opened the door to find Gurinder with her platter of colors. Aruna was shell shocked and stood agape, when Gurinder asked ‘Tilak laga doon’ (Can I put a dot on the forehead) Aruna numbed in joy could only nod her assent. And then Gurinder said ‘Ladoo nahi khilayegi?’ (won’t you give me ladoos?).
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HAPPY HOLI FOLKS!!

And then she knew….

Ritu inspected her garden; the garden of hers had been a journey of patience. The whole area around their house had been rocky and the entire place had to be dug up thrice and the stones removed, manure and soil put and had then been ready for ‘cultivation’. The front side had been used for carpet grass and ornamental plants i.e flowering plants, crotons. And the backside was a kitchen garden.
But it was the front garden which was her pride (the kitchen garden was looked after by her mother in-law). All types of crotons existed there. And also flower shrubs, roses in different colors, hibiscus, seasonal flowers etc. On any day her garden would look like a rainbow, vibrant colors, pleasing to the eye.

But there was a problem. As soon as she planted a sapling and it started to bloom or flower, if the plant/shrub was small it would be stolen. So was the case in the whole neighborhood. They informed the Home Guards but were told that they were more in the lookout for burglars, car thieves etc and not these petty crimes which were probably someones prank anyways. So the ladies in their area that is of Cluster 135 Sector 1 decided that they would be always on the watch not only of theirs but also the whole cluster’s gardens. Whenever one of them was going out, they would tell atleast one of the others because usually these thefts occurred when the family was out.

Today ‘Paa’ was being screened at the multipurpose hall of the Officers Club and the whole family was going out to watch it and Ritu was worried. Her yellow-red dual colored hibiscus had two beautiful flowers and her instinct told that it would be stolen. So she locked the garden gates, informed Archana her immediate neighbor and Swati who lived upstairs, sent a silent prayer and left for the movie.

Night they were late in returning so she could only inspect her garden in the morning and lo, her instincts had been right, the shrub had been stolen.

Both Swati and Archana confirmed that they had not heard any sounds.

This left Ritu very morose. She lost interest in gardening, socializing, generally in life.

Couple of days later her husband came with some chemical in a bottle and started telling of its qualities. Ritu was never interested in chemistry and so said, ‘Cut it short, tell me why you have brought it home.’

‘My dear its sort of a dye, if you apply it to your treasured plants and when they are watered the water and sunrays create a sort of fluorescent light.’

‘So?’

‘So if our plants are stolen by any of out neighbors and if you see any plant gleaming you will know……’

‘Enough! how can you even think that any of our neighbors can steal,’ she was indignant.

‘Someone has isn’t it? Why don’t you apply this dye and…….’

‘No I won’t’.

‘Okay then I will and let’s see.’

Two days later they all went for some shopping and again that day one red rose plant was stolen. And Ritu shed silent tears.

The ladies of her cluster had a monthly kitty party in one of the houses. That month it was Archanas turn, after the food and the games were over, the party moved to the garden as the weather was just right to idle out in the open. Archana thought of watering her garden while chatting with them.

The weather was good, sunshine mild and because the garden was being watered there was this mild wet smell of soil. Ritu’s moroseness flitted away and she relaxed when something gleaming caught her eye…….it was her red rose plant.

If looks could kill, Archana would have turned to ashes then and there.

And then came fame

Ukkunagaram; the township of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant is almost a Utopia. For in this township, there are no difference in strata, no rich, no poor as all are employed in the Plant. There are no keralites, Telugus, UPites either, all are ‘township’ites.
But for the women there is not much to keep busy. Women can be either Doctors, nurses, teachers or engineers who are working for the Steel plant. The more ambitious ones can go to the 35 km away Vizag city, the rest can do some odd business at home like trading in sarees or giving tuitions. The rest keep busy in housework, gardening, mahila samaj and kitty parties.

The latter two are good, people exchange ideas, views, socialize and do some social work, but on the flip side they also tend to comparisons; who has better sarees/ salwars, better jewellery, whose kid is more talented, which kid is more illustrious-those sorts.

Its Durga Puja time. Right from the 6th to the 9th day there is Bhog at the Kalibari (Kali temple).the whole township irrespective of religion, caste and creed gathers there. For apart from the puja, the socializing, the bhog of khichdi, charchari, khajur-tomato chutney and kheer is so scrumptious that only a life or death situation can keep anyone away. Even the employees on duty on special permission, go by Rota to partake this meal.

Evenings are for cultural programs. There will be professional artists enacting the story of Durga-Kali but there will be programs by the locals too.

And so on Saptami ( the seventh day), Shanti is in tears. Why? Because her neighbor Kavita has got herself new sarees for each of the day and her friend Nisha has got a diamond set and she has got neither.

Also all her friends kids are so talented. One got a prize for rangoli, one for singing. Another in the quiz competition and so on. And her kids? Her son Vishal is good in swimming but not champion material. Who cares for swimming anyways, its only cricket nowadays? And her daughter Vidya, the bane of her life. Neither is she good looking nor is she interested in looking good. She is mediocre in studies, fair in singing and a horrible dancer.

Her husband comes in to see her teary eyed and asks the reason. ‘You, you are the reason, neither have you bought any good sarees for me nor a single gram of gold.’

‘Saree, our wardrobes are bursting with sarees and gold is so expensive. I would rather buy some Reliance shares, atleast I will have some guaranteed returns’, he replied.

‘Yes yes think only about yourself’, she said before she could continue the phone rang. ‘Hello, oh hi Sujatha, oh is it, Congrats’, and she kept the receiver down. And then she burst into tears.

‘What, what happened?’, her husband asked.

‘Sujathas daughter got 1st prize in dance and see my kids; leave prize, no participation’, sobbed Shanti

So she continued in her morose mood the next day too. Just then Mrs.Sharma burst into the living room,’Shanthi Shanthi, guess what happened’, and before she got a reply continued, ‘Chintu, the brat fell down into the KBR reservoir. Vishal dived in and brought him out and maybe because of the shock, he had lost consciousness and had drank too much water. Vidya revived him. What brave children you have got.’

And after that there were non -stop phone calls and visitors, everyone praising her kids and when the Plant too recognized their efforts and awarded them, Shanthi was the happiest woman in the whole town.