Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014, Be Done With You!

It’s a sombre post I write as 2014 slips into history. Barely ten of the 162 bodies have been fished out of the icy waters off the coast of Borneo. Another crash in SE Asia, another linked to Malaysia. Not just lives, families stand destroyed.

Yet our hyperventilating TV Anchors are screaming themselves hoarse over the timing of Dhoni’s resignation from test cricket. The media is always like a dog with a bone. Wearily, I switch to CNN and BBC.

Earlier, the horrific massacre of school children at Peshawar. We empathised. My own children have studied at Army Public Schools at Udhampur, Bangalore and Dhaula Kuan (Delhi). I don’t think any event affected me quite as much.

Animals! They shouted `Allah-o-Akbar’ (God is Great) as they mercilessly snuffed out young lives. Lives yet to blossom. How great can your God be if this is done in His name?

Islam needs some serious introspection. Maybe it’s not merely the interpretation that’s skewed. Maybe it’s the texts themselves. But oh, it’s not about Islam, is it? It never is!
But there have been positives too. We’ve finally rid ourselves of that Italian waitress and her cohorts who have systematically decimated the country. We have a man with vision at the helm, a firm hand at the tiller.

But he is slow. And we are in a hurry. Soon, the promise that he showed may fade. The economy has yet to get the `animal’ instinct it’s been screaming for. Canon mouth ministers continue to make idiotic statements, and remain unchecked.

On the sports front, our badminton stars did well. Apart from Saina Nehwal, we now have Kashyap, Srikanth and Sindhu among the world’s elite.

We won the Asian Games gold in hockey, thus automatically qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

But Vishy couldn’t regain the chess crown, are his days over?

On the personal front, we made delightful trips to Singapore and the Andamans. While Singapore had mind blowing 4G speeds, there was virtually no data network in the Andamans. Ah, the facets I notice, it’s a digital world after all!

2014 has been brutal. 2015 can only be better.

`Happy New Year’ messages pour in on WhatsApp. I try to personalise each response. I mean every word.

How do I plan to ring in the New Year? Wrapped up in a quilt, watching TV, I suppose. Age has its downside, sigh! I remember the Dordarshan days where the 31st December programming was special. Now with the proliferation of TV channels that are indistinguishable from each other, it’s one big mish-mash.

May all of us see a bright and fun-filled 2015! May `Mitti Pao!’ flourish, may love continue to conquer!

New Year Resolutions? Watch this space…

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Champions Trophy 2014

Spoiler Alert. If you have little or no interest in field hockey – yes, it IS our national game – then this post is not for you. Am tempted to throw in a few expletives here, but hell, to each his own, I guess.

Me and my son Sid, we’ve always been great sports buffs. Even as a toddler playing `gully’ football, he’d name himself Platini or Cruyff (Pele was far too common for his esoteric tastes), much to the surprise of my fellow officers. Of course I was proud!

Sid's selfie with Dilip Tirkey
At the first match of the Champions Trophy, he ran into Dilip Tirkey during the half time break.

“You recognised him?” I asked incredulously. “Of course!” he replied, “I even clicked a selfie with him!” I was delighted!

But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Field hockey, our national sport, was for years, the only medal hope for India at the Olympics. Between 1928 to 1964, we won 7 of the 8 Gold Medals on offer, losing only in 1960 to Pakistan. Who can forget the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where we beat Pakistan by a solitary goal scored by Mohinder Lal. Pakistan piled on the pressure, but the great Shankar Laxman in goal stood like a rock. Incidentally, other than Lal and Laxman, all the remaining nine players of that team were sardars!

Apart from the Olympics, the Hockey World Cup was started in 1971, and the Champions Trophy in 1978. The Champions Trophy has the top eight teams in the world competing with each other, and is naturally a treat to watch.

India was to host the 2014 edition of the tournament at the newly built Kalinga Stadium at Bhubaneswar. Since Bhubaneswar happens to be my sasural, I grabbed the opportunity. Sid and I decided to witness all the matches.

We managed VIP passes, courtesy my wife’s nephew, and were all set.

The eight teams were split into two pools of four teams each – Pool A had Australia, England, Belgium and Pakistan, while Pool B featured Holland, Germany, Argentina and hosts India.

The tournament draw was a bit odd. All 8 teams were already assured places in the Quarter Finals – the pool matches were only to decide the placings, ie who would meet whom in the Quarters.

Strange as it may seem, the two teams who finished at the bottom of their pools, ie Pakistan and Germany, were the ones who met in the finals! Naturally, there was a huge criticism of how the whole tournament had been drawn up, as teams received no benefits from the points earned in the league phase!

Other than India, Pakistan was the team that was cheered most – when browns play goras, we brownies tend to team up!
All smiles after beating Belgium!

While the non-India matches were thinly attended, the stadium was packed whenever India took the field. To hear the 7000 crowd sing the national anthem in tandem with the 15 players lined up in the India blues behind the tricolour is enough to give anyone goose bumps!

India were to meet Pakistan in the semis. We reached the stadium two hours in advance, as there wasn’t an inch of space available anywhere. As the Pakistani greenshirts entered the stadium, there was a huge round of applause, only out decibeled by the roar that went up when Sardar and his boys entered, in their traditional sky blue jerseys.

The SF line up India vs Pak
Watching an India Pakistan hockey match in a jam packed stadium should be on everyone’s bucket list. Sid and I had managed to interact with both teams at their hotels the previous day, and were licking our lips in anticipation.

It was a nail biter. We scored first, they equalised. Then they took the lead twice, we equalised twice. Then, in the last quarter, we did everything but score. Then, to our horror, and totally against the run of play, they scored with barely a minute to go. The stadium went into a stunned silence. The final hooter sounded. We had lost 3-4!

The Pakistani players were understandably jubilant. But what they did next shocked us to the core. While two of them fell to their knees in prayer, the others went berserk. Ripping off their shirts, they screamed obscenities at the crowd, showing middle fingers, and gesticulating as if to say `Ab kyun chup ho gaye?’

In a word, it was disgusting. Shahnaz Sheikh, their coach, had to run onto the field to curb them. He even slapped an over enthusiastic Amjad Ali who was doing something unmentionable.

What a contrast to the last India Pakistan match I had witnessed at Bombay in 1976. Then, the Pakistan captain Islauddin had won 60 thousand Indian hearts when he and the team threw rose petals into the stands! Nobody, just nobody had grudged them their 1-0 victory over Bhaskaran’s Indians that day!

“Pa” said Sid to me as we wound our way out of the stadium “I was all set to root for Pakistan in the finals. Not any more!” he shook his head in disbelief.

In the finals that followed, so roundly were the Pakistanis booed, and so heartily did the crowd back Germany, the Germans felt they were playing in Munich rather than Bhubaneswar.

It doesn't get any better!
That nasty bit apart, we had witnessed a great tournament, seen some terrific hockey, met some of the greats of the game, and came away totally satiated!  

The 2018 World Cup, with 16 teams, is once again scheduled to be held In India. At the very same Kalinga Stadium at Bhubaneswar. Will we be there? Insha Allah!!

Hockey rules! Give me Sardar Singh over Dhoni, anyday…

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ravinder weds Ravindar

“But sir,” the nervous attendant at the Check-in counter stammered, “I’ve already handed you the Boarding Pass for Ravindar Dugal!”

“That was for Ravindar Dugal. Now give me the Boarding Pass for Ravinder Dugal!”


“Check the spelling” Ravi urged him, nary a trace of exasperation in his voice. He’d been through this before. A zillion times.

But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sikh names, for some strange reason, are gender neutral. So it’s not uncommon to see a neon lit sign in Maler Kotla cheerfully proclaim `Mahinder weds Surinder’, or a garish `Harpreet weds Manpreet’ lighting up the skyline of Kot Kapura.

Or even in Bombay, as in the case of Puja’s in laws, a card being delivered at your doorstep, reading `Ravinder weds Ravindar’!

Ravindar and Ravinder
Ravinder weds Ravindar, seriously?? You’d be forgiven for thinking that this guy called Ravinder was really taking narcissism to a new level. But no, if you looked closely, you’d notice a minor glitch in spelling. An `a’ versus an `e’. And, if you read the fine print, there was also the case of a `Singh’ versus a `Kaur’ 

Of course this only adds to the confusion. Seriously, what on earth were they thinking?

To come back to our case in point. We had just returned from the nuptials of Puja and Sukh at Ananda near Rishikesh, and were trying to check in at Dehra Dun’s Jolly Grant Airport for our flight back to Pune.

So Ravi was being patient. The check in clerk was a meek, mousy little guy, unlike the beefy, no nonsense African-American female at Newark, with whom the Dugals had had a similar altercation. She had almost chucked them into a flight back to Bombay!

Ultimately, the clerk saw the light, and realisation dawned. His eyes, behind their nerdy glasses, actually twinkled! Relieved that he wasn’t on Candid Camera, he notched this incident up as yet another sardarji joke!

And then there are the highly anglicised Sardar nicknames. All Grewals are invariably `Gary’, and anything ranging from a Harminder to a Harpreet to a Harsimran is automatically shortened to a `Harry’.

Check how their conversation goes.

“Hi Harry!”

“Yo, Gary!”

Having exhausted their angrezi, both Harminder and Grewal immediately revert to their roots in Phugwara.

Hor kiddan??”

The word `Hor’ in Punjabi is loaded. Punju etiquette dictates that when the first `Hor dasso’ comes up in a conversation, you start looking furtively at your watch. By the second, you raise your collective asses off the couch, and you should actually be well past the door when the third one is uttered.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore this community. Anybody who has spent 30 odd years in the fauj will tell you the same. And now that I have a Sikh samdhi, how can I even afford no to?

But gender neutral names? Seriously?? The confusion is best summed up in the limerick

Harminder wed Sukhjinder in Khartoum
And when they finally retired to their room
They spent that night
In one hell of a fight
As to who should do what and to whom!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

On Crab Curries and Besan Laddoos..

In the summer of 2012, we planned a family weekend at Dubai. I called my then `net friend’ Samina who was based in Dubai, to enquire about decent hotels out there.

“Why do you need a hotel?” she asked, “I have a huge house here, and you guys can bunk in here!”

Now we had been `net friends’ for about a decade, but had never met or even spoken on the phone. Even this conversation was actually a chat on Facebook Messenger!

So I simpered bashfully (or as bashfully as Fb Messenger would allow). “No, no, how can we bother you?” etc etc.

“Look,” she cut me short peremptorily “Don’t expect any khatirdari. I’m too busy with my work, the kids have their school, so you’ll be pretty much on your own! Haan, I do have a Bangladeshi maid cum cook who you can bank upon, although knowing her abilities, I wouldn’t advise it!”

I was bowled over by her straightforward, no nonsense approach. She had, after all, been the wife of a Pakistan Air Force officer. We faujis are a clan, no matter the colour of our uniform!

The trip turned out to be wonderful. And as Saby (Samina’s delightful daughter), Heena (the ibid maid cum cook) and Puja shared a sofa, it was like a mini SAARC summit – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, sipping tea together around a coffee table!

So when Course mate Rajeev Khullar called from Bhiwadi to say he and his wife Vinny were making a road trip to Pune, and asked me to book a room at the RSI for them, I pretty much gave him the same no nonsense pitch Samina had given me.

“Stay with us” I told him. To my utter delight and amazement, he didn’t simper (bashfully or otherwise), and immediately grabbed the offer. Even though we barely knew each other! We had been in different battalions at the Academy, and had never met formally.

And there was nary a word of protest from either lady. The Course mate creed, like Barney Stinson’s `bro code’, is sacred. Even to the Army wives. Especially to Army wives!

I had to guide Rajeev to Pudumjee Park once he drove into Pune. I asked Vinny to turn on the speaker phone. “Turn right at Mahesh Lunch Home” I guided him.

“You have a Mahesh Lunch Home out here!” Vinny squealed in delight “Wow! They have the most amazing sea food! Their Mangalorean Crab Curry is simply to die for!! Then in a space of seven seconds, she gave us her take on sea food in general, and Mangalorean crab curries in particular.

“Vinny ji, unko direction toh dene do pehle” Rajeev’s tone had all the resignation that comes from a 40 year old marriage.

Now Rajeev and Vinny are facebook friends, and self confessed fans of `Mitti Pao!’. While Rajeev is the quintessential Infantry officer, complete with handlebar moustache and a deliciously uncluttered attitude to life, Vinny, a Malyali born and brought up in Bombay, is a different kettle of fish.

Trained in classical music, she is a registered singer/performer at All India Radio. She is also a foodie, and apart from having run her own restaurant a few years back, has also helped her son edit a food magazine called `Chef at Large’!

She sure writes as well as she cooks, as this piece by her on her grandma’s minced meat cutlets shows. One can actually feel the smoke, and smell the aromatic spices as they’re hand ground in that kitchen! Do look it up at
Sid gets his laddoos!
So when she posted a pic of some besan laddoos that she had prepared, on Facebook, there were loads of salivating approvals! I had dutifully `liked’ the post, while mentioning that these were Sid’s favourite. Matter forgotten. Or so I thought.

Along with some thoughtful gifts that she had picked up for us, gift-wrapped in cellophane and neatly tied with red ribbons, she had also brought a box of the most aromatic, melt-in-the-mouth besan laddoos that she had prepared specially for the ocassion. “These are for Sid!” she smiled.

Vinny and her crab!
As gestures go, this was simple enough. But then, I’m a sucker for sentimentality, and was totally bowled over. To me, this woman can do no wrong. Not in this lifetime, for sure!

PS – We did have that lunch at Mahesh Lunch Home, and between them, Puja and Vinny demolished that crab in a manner any ISIS jihadi would have been proud of! You can take a woman out of Cannanore, but…  

Monday, 3 November 2014

'Phittey Muh!"

My mother had no formal education. Yet her witticisms, in earthy Punjabi, have become the stuff of legend in the Puri household, and have been gleefully passed down from generation to generation.

Here are a few of her pearls of wit and wisdom.

“Phittey Muh!”
Frankly, I haven’t the slightest idea what this means but, depending upon the severity with which it is spouted/spat out, it could mean anything from a plain `Dogone it!’ to a mildly reproving `What the hell!” to a totally exasperated `Holy shit!’

The expletive can also be personalised to a more pointed “Phittey muh tere ehejey de!” which is, of course, “Phittey muh to someone like you!”

Literal meaning – Ash!
Mummy’s meaning – Bullshit! Nonsense! Balderdash!!
Usage – When we reported completion of any task she had assigned us, she’d inspect our efforts and exclaim “Swaah keeta tu ne, kakh nahin keeta!”

The more forceful version of this was “Swaah sataan chulyaan di!”
Literal translation – Ash from all the seven chulaas!
Mummy’s meaning – TOTAL bullshit! UTTER Nonsense!!
Why should ash be equated to nonsense, and why should it come from precisely seven fireplaces is something only the Wahe guru can explain!

Literal meaning – devourer of your spouse (husband, actually)!
Mummy’s meaning – Idiot! Khota (donkey)!
Used liberally at every slight, even though it totally beats logic, I mean how can a lad of ten actually devour his husband??

“Comkaan nu tusi phooko, agg lao!”
Literal meaning – Burn those comics, set fire to them!
Used when we were buried in books or comics, and refused to surface despite her repeated entreaties.

“Tu keda maklawa lain jane ae?”
Literal meaning – You fancy you’re off to fetch maklawa??
Now I haven’t the slightest idea what a maklawa is (maybe someone more well versed in the nuances of the Punjabi language can educate me), but this was sarcastically intoned every time I tried to `deck up’ before leaving the house.

“Haye haye kar lao tusi pehlan!”
Her reaction whenever her grandkids greeted each other with a `Hi!’ rather than a `Namaste!’

“Gal vi es tarah keeti ae, unth de padh vargi!”
Literal meaning – You words have the wisdom of the fart of a camel!
Pretty self explanatory, I’d say.
A camel? Seriously??

“Chittadan nu goond laa ke bae janda hai!”
Literal meaning – He applies glue to his buttocks before sitting down
Mummy’s reaction to any guest who overstayed his welcome, or refused to leave after a decent interval.

There were plenty more, and while her grand kids will no doubt be ROFLOL reading this post, I’d beseech them to sober up and come up with a sequel.

As for Mummy  herself, I can picture her reaction to someone telling her that her favourite son had written a post on her sayings.

“Hor kee karna si khasma-nu-khane ne!”

What else could I have expected from that idiot, she’d exclaim! 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Parenting 2.0

“Here’s my latest Business Card”, she proffered. I was surprised. Having taught for 30 odd years, she was now a `retired school teacher’. Veli, like the rest of us. Or so I thought.

The Card read `Ms So-and so, Parenting Expert’. Hain??  When had that transformation taken place??

You teach in a school for most of your adult life, you raise a couple of `normal’ kids, normal meaning neither Einsteins nor Al Capones, and overnight become an expert at parenting?  What skills do you acquire? More important, are there any skill sets that you can acquire or even teach to people?

I asked her as much. “I’m now a global ambassador for Parenting 2.0!” she announced with the delicate flourish of an ostrich laying an egg.

“O ki hunda ae?” I asked.

She gave me the typical `school teacher’ look, the one they reserve for the more severely challenged of their students.

“Google it!” was the cryptic response.

I did. Apparently it is a collection of retired school marms, spread across the world (hence the `global’ ambassador bit), and even has its own website.

But I was intrigued. Having been brought up by parents whose parenting skills were questionable at best, and having barely raised the bar a notch or two myself, I was definitely intrigued.

All the `skills’, she told me, can be summarized and bullet pointed into one Power Point slide, as under:-
  • ·      Nurture self belief and confidence in the child
  • ·      Offer unconditional and fair love
  • ·      Be consistent
  • ·      Set goals
  • ·      Listen to your child
  • ·      Life and Social Skills

Simple, hain ji? Not quite!

Let’s do a small exercise.

Take an A4 size sheet of paper and pen. Draw up a list of your siblings and/or close friends, and sort the list as per the above qualities, the best at the top and so on. Call that Column A.

Now draw up a list of their children at Column B and sort that column according to how well the kids have turned out.

You could also draw up a third Column C of their kids, and sort it in the same manner.

You’d think the best parents would have the most well rounded kids. You’d imagine that the lines connecting parents to kids and further to grandkids would, by and large, be straight horizontal lines, wouldn’t you? Well, you’ll be in for a rude shock!

In my case, the lines were completely zigzag. How could `below average’ parents produce such terrific, well rounded kids, and how could those terrific kids then go on to produce their own kids who were the very antithesis of `achchey bachchey’?

So is all this `Parenting 2.0’ or parenting skills coaching just a lot of hogwash? Is it just a case of playing blind, a lottery over which one has little or no control?

One would be tempted to think so. But let’s not trash their efforts out of hand. We can only make efforts at being better parents, and hope like hell that those efforts pay off.

I know of a mother who strove to raise her kids as a single parent, slogging to be both mom n dad, slogging to impart her own values to her children. She was a sublime parent by any standards. But her kids won’t even talk to her today, even though she’s well into her 80’s! And they’re good kids otherwise, mind you.

So yes, do your bit. And hope for the best. Pray, if you happen to be spiritually inclined.

But please don’t hand me a Business Card that qualifies you as a `Parenting Expert’. There’s no such thing, believe me.

As I never tire of saying, the only thing I know about parenting is that by the time you get the hang of it, you’re simply and unceremoniously fired from the job! 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Mothers Will Be Mothers...

Come summers, and the raw mangoes, fiercely protected by her from street urchins, would come off the tree in the yard, and the process would begin.

Some were sliced vertically in thin, long slices to make the traditional aam ka aachaar.

The rest, she would grate finely to prepare what was her very own speciality – the delicious, sweet and spicy Gujarati chutney we called `choonda’. The mix had to be `cured’ in the sun for about a fortnight, for which we would trudge up to the terrace every morning with the huge cauldrons, only to bring them back down after sunset.

The glass jars (barnis), normally stocked on the upper shelf above the dining table, had to be taken down. As I climbed up onto the chair, she immediately stopped me, and asked my elder brother to do the needful. “Pappu”, she told him, “Tu laa. Ede kolon tut janiya ae!”

My brother tried to reason with her that I was now a full Colonel in the Indian Army, was commanding a Regiment, and was therefore, perfectly capable of retrieving the jars without breaking them.

“Ede thalle barah sau aadmi henge” (he has 1200 men serving under him), he added for good measure.

But my mother’s faith in my abilities remained unshaken. She shook her head “O vi saare ede varge e hone ae!” she said. (I’m sure they’re all exactly like him!)

My mother was something else. Her rustic sense of humour, and her one-liners delivered in her own brand of Punjabi, have become folklore in the Puri household, and have been passed down from generation to generation.

For a woman with no formal education, she made sure that all the six children she raised (including one grandchild) were well read. Two engineers (Colonels too), one doctor and three graduates!

Mummy's `khes'
Although her name was Rakshawati (check the beautiful way she embroidered it on her khes), she was called `Rixaben’ by her Gujarati friends. She, however, remained `Mataji’ to all of Pudumjee Park – our Sindhi neighbour Ishwari called her that, and the name stuck. I think only me and C2 (my kid sister cum niece) called her Mummy.

Knitting was her forte. She won the Dhariwal Knitting Competition three years in a row. She had to just look at a design for a few minutes, and could replicate it stitch for stitch. With no formal education, mind you. Her sweaters, and I still have some of them, could beat the best of Marco Polo hands down!

She was asthmatic, and spent most of her life in Poona, which is not kind to asthmatics. Winters and monsoons were her bane, and she suffered terribly in those months. She passed that on to my sister Shobha, and to the rest of us she bequeathed her `nervous’ digestive system.

With grand daughters 2T and Sumi
Between her two daughters and her eldest son, there was a gap of about ten years. In this period, she suffered eight miscarriages, and it seemed her desire for a male heir would remain unfulfilled. It took a trip to Sialkot (now in Pakistan), and a holy bath at Puran Singh’s well, for her to finally bring forth my brother Satish into this world.

She had made that trip with a cousin of hers called Mahinder (or was it Surinder?). Apparently this guy was called Mahinder, but his nick name was Surinder (seriously!), or as Mummy would put it “Na Mahinder si, kehnde Surinder si”. This has now become a standard phrase in the Puri lexicon for anything that is absurdly named.

She was in her late 30’s when I was born. Asthma had made her totally feeble, and I barely remember her ever carrying me. She hated being touched, hugged or even fondled, but I was her youngest, and got away with everything.

“Je tenu nahi karanga, te ki Ishwari nu karanga?” I would ask her. She would push me away, saying “Tere na hath nichlay nahi rehnde!”

Mummy passed away on 25th September, 1996 – barely two and a half months after my father. When she passed, we tried to locate her cousin Mahinder/Surinder. All we knew was that his surname was Yakhmi, and he lived at Shahdra, near Delhi.
When we finally managed to get through, we learned that he too had passed away two weeks ago!

Mummy died at Vishakapatnam. We took her ashes to the banks of the Godavari river at Rajamundhry, about four hours away. Throughout the journey, I held them in my lap, and as I caressed them gently, I could almost hear her plaintive voice, asking me to stop.

“Tere hath hale vi nichlay nahi rehnde!” she seemed to be saying.

Some chapters in life are difficult to close. And mothers, no matter what their idiosyncrasies, will always be mothers..