The VALENTINE DAY BOUQUET

Who thought being beautiful could be a curse? Anamika thought so. She should know- born with utterly beautiful skin, hair and the most delicate features, she was what most people would consider conventionally good-looking.

From the time she was a pretty baby she was bestowed with special attention. People coochie-cooed over her prettiness and remarked how exquisite she was. They fawned over her during her childhood years and were mesmerized by her increasingly breathtaking beauty as she turned into a teenager. Relatives advised her mother to ward off the evil eye, the buri nazar. So her mother used a dot of kajal under her jawline- always.  Everyone assumed that Anamika would have no trouble finding a suitable boy in an arranged marriage, that is if she hadn’t already found a boyfriend by then.

Anamika was not Anamika’s real name. But this was the name she gave prospective suitors, of which there were many. In fact, friends teased that there was a queue of boys pursuing her. Anyone else who was in Anamika’s position would probably be very pleased with their life- who wouldn’t be? The world was falling at her feet. Compliments, attention, the head turning second looks. The lead role in plays offered to her on a platter although she had stage fright- the perks of being beautiful were too many.

Then of course there was the queue of boys which deserves further description.

The queue consisted of boys in her class, uncles in her colony, watchmen in her coaching class, professors in her college and the nameless roadside Romeos in the college canteen, at the train station and even third cousins at wedding who all lined up like salivating wolves behind her.

It’s not that Anamika did not like attention. She did. It’s just that along with being pretty she also happened to have the IQ of a rocket scientist, although she nurtured dreams of becoming a forensic scientist. She much rather preferred a game of chess than checking herself out in the mirror. Of course the mirror on the wall loved her.

But it did not take Anamika long to realize that the burden of being beautiful could lie so heavy on her pretty shoulders. She had to prove to people that she actually had a brain inside the thick, flowing mane of hair and that brain was sharper and faster than most people she met. Just as most boys fell hopelessly in love with Anamika at first sight, most girls hated her at first sight. They would also viciously assume she was dumb and then if she happened to ace a test, they would spread rumours that the professor was partial to her.

Arey, she doesn’t have to study, her face is enough”

It was another story that although professors lusted after her, she did not give them any attention. On the contrary, she went to great extents to ward off attention for how she looked. In fact, during face to face examinations, Anamika made it a point to look as unattractive as possible. She would take some of the kajal from the dot that her mother still painstakingly applied under her jawline and rub it under her eyes to make fake dark circles. She also emptied nearly half a bottle of coconut oil on her hair and tied tight plaits. Despite her efforts, much to her dismay, she still looked nearly as beautiful. However, the professors would find it hard to concentrate on her looks when she started talking and spouting knowledge that they had to later, double check in textbooks. They would nod in disbelief as if one so beautiful wasn’t meant to have a brain this clever.

If there was one day in the year that Anamika loathed, it was Valentine’s day. As if all year- round attention wasn’t enough, here was a special day created for boys brimming with testosterone to unleash their romantic potential. The day that the Romeos could give vent to their creativity and enterprise. Was it going to roses or chocolates? Bouquets or a single stem? Individual eclairs or a whole box? Was it going to be a proposal or was it simply going to be an extension of ‘frandship’ to someone who did not even know of their existence. Then there was another was another dilemma- Woo one girl or several girls? It was like a lottery after all- the more tickets you buy the greater your chance of winning. These gleeful thoughts ran in the minds of the many boys in the queue, all through the month of January. By the time February arrived, their modus operandi was ready.

Anamika had seen much action in her short life. By now, the roses bored her and the chocolates made her yawn. That year there was much excitement in her college. Some enterprising boys decided that eclairs and roses were passè and that something more exciting was needed to spice up Valentines day. After all, how many romantic messages could be written in the 2 Rupees card that was popular every year. The boys on a shoestring budget would write in their two-bit poetry on a coloured card paper bought in college and sign off.  The anonymous Romeo would sign off in illegible writing- the thrill of writing was enough, it required too much courage to reveal one’s identity- That’s it and off went the card by hand-delivery to the lady love who would either accept it or more often, toss it in the garbage bin after a few giggles. The eclair stood a better chance of being accepted as it was eaten up straightaway but the accompanying card discarded in the same bin which overflowed on V-day.

Anamika had one notorious suitor, Laalmani who was at the front of the queue. At the front, because he was a much-feared character who had shoved and muscled his way to the front of others. Over the years, he had failed his exams several times and at an age when he should be a professor was still rubbing shoulders with students. That itself filled most people with dread and the boys in the queue let him go ahead of them.

Now, it was one thing giving out roses, cards and eclairs innocently on one day of the year. But Laalmani, being Laalmani crossed the line too many times well before the day he officially got a chance to exhibit his sleaze. Before V-day arrived, he honed his romantic skills by singing a recent release ‘Jumma Chumma de de’ to any girl who passed by. It gave vent to his frothy, bubbling masculinity. There was no shame in asking for a kiss publicly if a Bollywood hero had given it the stamp of approval! It was another thing that nobody in their right mind would ever want to have anything to do with his filthy, gutkha-stained mouth which saw a toothbrush only three times a week. He usually hung around with his cronies who were also at an age where they could be escorting kids to kindergarten. The cronies were nameless and shameless, known only as Laalmani’s yaars. They hung on each other with locked arms as if they would fall if unsupported. If Laalmani grew in confidence it was largely his yaars who were responsible. They applauded his singing, patting him on his back as he smoothed down his oily, middle-parted hair. Laalmani’s vocal chords were every bit as badly behaved as him. They screeched, howled, and sank lower each time. His loyal yaars tried to provide a chorus to his off-key singing, but failed miserably. The cronies also hissed “Kiss me, kiss me” to unsuspecting girls as they passed by. They also encouraged Laalmani’s literary pass-times which mainly included writing filthy graffiti on the walls of the girls’ hostel. Laalmani began to believe that he could achieve anything at least in the romance department.

*

Among the many activities planned for Valentine’s day in college was a new enterprise called Valentine Bouquet auction. Not many people knew what an auction was except the organizing final year students.

The students gathered in the main hall of college. Of course there was a choice of not attending such events. But most did as there was little else by way of entertainment in college for a long time during the year. The annual day was not until November.

The girls gathered in their groups, sitting on one side of the aisle, while the boys hung separately with their coteries on the other side. A few couples hung shyly at the back in the dark. In those days, public display of affection was blasphemous, let alone acceptable. Just in front of the couples, sat Laalmani and his yaars.

A huge bouquet of luscious red roses had been bought for Rs.20 at the phoolwala outside college. It sat in a wicker basket, covered by a glittery cellophane paper, making it look more expensive than it was worth. The bouquet took centre stage and stood on a stand like a trophy ready for the finale.

The Valentine’s day programme started off with the obligatory distribution of the eclairs, single roses and cards amid cheering and whistling from the boys’ side.

Girls dreaded the moment their name was called and reluctantly went forward to receive their Valentine present. Some rejoiced inwardly. Some cringed on reading the name on the card. Some were just grateful to receive something but refused to divulge the name of the suitor.

It wasn’t surprising that there were no cards, roses or eclairs for the boys. They were simply content to see the surprise on the face of their loved one or loved ones.

That year, Laalmani had lecherous eyes only for Anamika although he did sometimes wonder if he should have a back-up. He had planned on giving Anamika seven roses. One for each letter in her fictitious name. But the deadline for sending the roses had passed and his roses did not get sent. He was already furious at this yaars for not reminding him and even kicked one of his yaars, so he could remind him next year.

The hall filled with the fragrance of roses and eclairs. Eclairs wrappers and torn cards littered the aisle. It was now time for the bouquet auction. For Laalmani and his cronies, this was a new experience. They thought they had seen it all in their many years in college. Checking the dictionary meaning of the word ‘auction’ was out of question because the library was unknown territory for them despite knowing the college inside out.

The organizing students were led by the student leader who armed himself with a microphone and screamed to the crowd who was already on a sugar rush.

‘Ok, now it’s time for the grand Valentine day auction. Are you with me”

The boys cheered. The girls looked on nervously.

“Alright, we are going to start with bidding at 25 Rupees”

No response.

“Do we have anyone for 25?” the student leader cried out, worried that this was not going too well. He signaled to one of his cronies to start the bid. The crony lifted his hand.

“Ok we have 25.” The crowd cheered not really understanding much

“Do we have a higher bid? 30 anyone?”

The crowd was just puzzled. What happens now?

“Any dashing boys who would like to bid higher?” the leader screamed.

One boy from 2nd year put his hand up.

“Ok we have 30 from the gentleman in 2nd year”. The crowd cheered, warming up to this.

Laalmani and his yaars looked around wondering why the crowd was cheering.

“Ok anyone for 35?” the leader tried his luck. He was already fed up shouting his lungs out over the mic trying to convince people how popular this game was. He longed to go out for his cigarette and wished it would get over soon. 10 Rupees profit was enough- he could buy a few more cigarettes with it.

“Anyone bidding for more than 30. C’mon guys you can do better than this” he roared enthusiastically.

Laalmani and his yaars had finally cottoned on to this auction thing. He raised his hand lazily.

“Ok we have Mr Laalmani Sir at the back. How much do you bid Sir?”

The yaars whispered among themselves.

“50 bol” Laalmani commanded. He needed some thrills today. He looked at the giggling girls on the other side of the aisle, trying to spot Anamika.

“Ok we have 50. Fantastic, things are heating up now”

“Anyone more than 50?”

A boy from final year lifted his hand up.

“70” he said, sacrificing nearly all his pocket money for one month.

The crowd in the hall cheered lustily. It wasn’t every day that an auction took place.

Laalmani was not one to be outdone. His yaars poked and prodded him and he decided if he should kick them or get a kick by upping his ante. He decided on the latter.

“90 Rupees” he screamed hoarsely, excited by the number. He knew he would never score 90 in his tests but this 90 was definitely doable.

“90 from Laalmani Sir”

“Anyone for higher? 100 anyone?”

A wannabe Laalmani in first year decided he would risk it.

“100” he screamed. The crowd went crazy and roared. Here was a new hero and that too from first year.

The girls restrained themselves. They laughed, but into their hankies or dupatta ends and craned their necks to see who this daredevil was. Anamika debated if she should leave the hall and go to the library, but her friends pulled her back. The action was just heating up.

“Anyone for more than 100? Do we have a new challenge?”

Laalmani’s yaars provoked him further. They could not allow a new competitor on the scene. It was a question of their reputation. Laalmani was getting a bit irritated now. He just wanted to get out of the hall for a dose of gutkha.

Without thinking he lifted his hand.

“How much do you bid Sir?

“150” said Laalmani lazily.

The yaars were shocked by this sudden jump in the stakes. But Laalmani was nonplussed.
“Anyone for 150?”

Laalmani’s competitor who was equally crazy shouted immediately “200” knowing he could never afford 200 unless he took a loan from his buddies.. The crowd cheered lustily.

“More than 200 anyone?” The senior screamed with delight. He was busy making plans with the profits for his own Valentine’s night at a special restaurant.

Laalmani was incensed by this sudden increase in stakes. Could he afford 200 Rupees? It was his gutkha allowance and bus money for a week. Just then he spotted Anamika’s pretty face in the crowd and to his sheer thrill, she happened to look in his direction. She happened to have a small smile on her face or at least he imagined it.  Laalmani did not need any further coaxing. It was a small sacrifice he told himself. He wouldn’t eat gutkha for a month and he would walk to college.

“300” he bellowed with pleasure.

The hall fell silent. An astronomical sum of 300 Rupees for that bouquet? Was Laalmani out of his mind?

The first year student fell silent. He could no longer muster the courage to go further. Laalmani looked around and expected applause. But the students just whispered among themselves. Then someone giggled and then some more giggles and then more, until the hall reverberated with laughter. Laalmani did not know if he should laugh or cry. He tried to be brave thinking of the bouquet he had won. He reminded himself that he had never won anything in his life.

The organizer was afraid of being beaten up by Laalmani and his cronies. Instead of joining the laughter of the crowd, he invited Laalmani to come up on stage to receive the bouquet.

“I now declare Mr Laalmani Sir the Valentine King”.

This wasn’t Laalmani’s first time on stage, He had broken up many functions with his rowdy behaviour in the past. But it was his first time being honoured. The epithet of Valentine King was his. It had come at a price but was worth it.

The crowd decided to humour him and were rapturous in their applause. Laalmani greedily grabbed the bouquet, a bit annoyed that he couldn’t smell the roses through the cellophane paper. He waved at the crowd as if he had won an Olympics gold medal.

“Sir who do you dedicate this bouquet to?” the organizer asked in feigned innocence.

There was only person he could think of.

“Anamika” he squeaked. And then finding his voice roared, “ANAMIKA”

“Who is Anamika?” the organizer asked the crowd. The crowd fell silent.

There was no one by that name. But the crowd knew who he was referring to.

“Can I request Anamika to come up on stage?” the organizer demanded.

Anamika did not have to go on stage. That was not even her real name. But she decided she must.

There was pin- drop silence as she walked slowly and purposefully up the steps. She looked at the crowd in the hall and then at Laalmani.

“I will accept the bouquet only on one condition” she announced.

“Yes sure” the organizer nodded, as Laalmani stood, tapping his feet, impatiently. The trophy was his and the bigger trophy was about to be his too. His cronies sat at the edge of their seats ready to break into a dance.

“I want you to sing a song for me- Jumma Chumma De De is my favourite” she said sweetly into the microphone. The crowd erupted with excitement and then fell quiet. All eyes and ears focused on Laalmani.

The chorus group of yaars sitting in the audience became dumb statues. The time for singing a solo number had come. They had to let him do it alone.

A sudden spasm erupted within Laalmani’s vocal chords which matched the sudden contraction of his bladder.The excitement of being Valentine King was too much. He stood mute, motionless and blank. All he saw was darkness explode in front of his eyes.

Check and mate.

First written for womensweb

The STALKER’S DESTINATION

Some places just stick in ones head just as some faces do.

One such place was Hotel ‘No Name’.

First of all, this was no hotel. But in India we refer to restaurants as hotels. Second of all this was not even a restaurant. Labourers from construction sites, assorted workmen, peons from nearby offices, bus drivers, conductors, unemployed vagrants, occasional beggars, drunks in various stages of inebriation and hangover and so on, frequented the place. It was a desi equivalent of a pub where men gather to drown their sorrows, except that this was unmistakably a male bastion and no alcohol was served. Instead, it also doubled as an ‘Amrutatulya’. Piping hot, milky sweet Chaha was churned out of huge containers and poured into glasses on white, shiny tiled worktops and served to men in need of refreshment and a break from their monotonous lives.

Then there was the food-The overpowering strong smell of jilbees, batata wadas and kanda bhaji fried in stale oil wafted to the nearby Pulgate bus stand, carrying with it the stench of the nearby communal toilets. Outside, muddy families of pigs munched on the oil-stained newspapers on which the fried food was served. Buses arrived and departed round the clock from various destinations- Mundhwa Budruk, Wadgaon Sheri, Pimpri Sandas.

There was a continuous hustle and bustle as people alighted and boarded, lost and found, ran and caught or missed buses. Students, folk from faraway villages, city slickers travelling to and from work, housewives running shopping errands at the nearby Pulgate vegetable Mandi were the usual passengers. Yellow clouds of dust and thousands of white ticket stubs thrown by people and conductors circulated in rising whorls until a bus broke their merry dance and forced them to settle on the ground.

Through one such dusty afternoon haze as I stood waiting for a bus, having missed two, I saw him staring at me. He stood at least fifty metres away at the white-tiled entrance of hotel ‘No name’ with a glass of tea in hand, his beady eyes transfixed on me. I adjusted my dupatta and averted my gaze.

This was a common situation, I was a grown woman, I could look after myself and this happened every day, every place. Yet, there was something about the stare that bore through my being as if he had X-ray vision. I ignored him and boarded my bus to Pune railway station as if nothing was amiss.

I usually caught the bus at 3:40 pm after I finished my duty at the municipal school nearby where I worked as a teacher for little children. After I finished I would grab some green pale bhaji from a vegetable vendor outside the school and make my way to Pulgate bus stand.

I had a long journey- first bus, then the local train to Malavali, where I lived. I had to reach in time to cook dinner for the family. As I rushed along the next day and passed the hotel, longing for a bite of the hot spider like bhajis, I saw him again. This time he was reading a newspaper. After walking a few feet, I had a sense that someone was following me. I tugged at my cloth bag, some of my methi leaves spilling out and continued without looking back.

I reached my bus stop, saw my bus approaching. The dysfunctional queue broke up as the bus rolled into the bus stop. Although it would get empty, people still rushed at the bus out of habit and created a mini stampede in the process. Luckily, I caught the bus as I did every day. I stood on the steps of the crowded bus, freeing the end of my dupatta from under someone’s foot and happened to look sideways.

I saw his blank face focussing on me. I expected him to whistle, jeer, wink, hoot, catcall, But he did none of that. He just looked as if he knew something and wanted something. In a few seconds, the bus moved ahead and I could not see him, but the image stayed with me as I boarded my train and even the next day as I drew on the blackboard for my students.

Then after a few days, I saw him again, this time at my bus stop. He did not do anything- just stared as if he had a hidden agenda. I waited patiently for the bus, looking over my shoulder from time to time but he stood there making me nervous- of his motives. I boarded my bus.

I decided to wear a scarf- not so much for the sun but to camouflage myself. I wasn’t pretty but didn’t want to attract undue attention. But the horrifying thought that maybe he carried a bottle of acid he wanted to throw at me, compelled me to wear a hideous, old colourless scarf. The scarf folded into a triangle that was tied at my chin. I stopped wearing my daily jasmine gajra– anything to appear plain and inconspicuous.

I tried to take a different route, bypassing the hotel. It took longer and was part kaccha road and part broken pavement occupied by street stalls, but if I hurried I could still get my bus.

Nothing worked. He continued to follow me with his eyes- boring, penetrating, as greasy as the bhaji stains on the newspapers. But he kept a distance at the bus stop- at least a few feet away. Yet, in that crowded place I felt alone as if an attack of some sort was imminent. There was a determination on his face as if he was going to do something. The eyes and that small scar running along the side of his mouth, the blank expression made my heart stop cold the moment I accidentally dared to look at him. But once I boarded the bus, I would turn back to see he had not followed me, and all the anxiety would vanish until it was time to return to that wretched bus stop the next day.

I starting dreading coming to work – working was not an option, but a necessity. I thought of taking a rickshaw to Pune station, but could not afford it- that would be my family’s vegetable budget for a few days. So, I continued going to the bus stop. Until I hit the idea of walking to the previous bus stop on East street. It would be a detour and the bus would be crowded. So, I did exactly that. I would leave school slightly early and rush to the next bus stop. I had to forgo the trip to the Mandi market. Anyway, I was scared of going anywhere other than rush home after school. At the other bus stop, sometimes I would miss a bus or two, but eventually something would come along.

And then one day, as I admired a new hoarding that had come up high on a building, I felt a movement a couple of feet away. This was not usually a crowded bus stop so I turned to see what it was. The same face, same eyes but with a glint of victory. I could feel goose-bumps coming up on my arms. I thought I was going to die. But suddenly another teacher from school came up to me and started talking. She was at the bus stop waiting for a six-seater rickshaw to come along. Chatting animatedly while I was panicking inwardly, she asked me why I did not take that instead. I mumbled something about it being too crowded, but something made me get into her six-seater with her. She said it was going to Hadapsar in the opposite direction- I did not care. I just got in and travelled all the way to Hadapsar and then back by bus to Pune station.

By the time I arrived home I was a tearful wreck. I finally told my sister. She could understand. Should we tell Bhau, our brother? No, she said. “what if he comes with you and gets into a fight with that man?”

“How can that man do anything to you in crowded places?” she reasoned…..True. I calmed down. Yes, maybe I was getting worked up for nothing. It was probably a coincidence that he was everywhere I went. Maybe I was imagining it. Maybe he was following someone else. No cannot be.

I tried to muster courage but in vain. I thought of what else I could do. I had old spectacle frames that had belonged to my grandmother. I decided to wear these too- to look as plain and unrecognisable as possible. that would stop the acid from getting into my eyes…..

The next day, I did not see anyone. In fact, for a long time there was no one. Maybe he had given up. So, slowly over the next few weeks,  I got bolder. I started going to Pulgate to catch the bus. At first hesitantly, and then a bit more confidently. I resumed my indulgent Mandi vegetable shopping.

One day was particularly lucky. I had got cheap bananas from a handcart vendor. They were almost brown but at a bargain. I had managed to buy palak and bhendi too. I boarded the bus and to my surprise got a window seat. But to my luck, there was a broken down rickshaw obstructing the road traffic out of Pulgate. The bus stopped just near Hotel ‘No Name’. Who cared when one had a window seat. I looked out peacefully and actually enjoyed the smell of bhajis being fried and dropped onto the newspaper. The sight of the frothy tea cascading from high above into the glasses held my attention.

Suddenly in that dark dingy place, behind the thick stream of hot tea, I saw those eyes staring at me. Something sharp and cold pierced my heart and my stomach sank low. The face emerged out of the shadows and the rest of him. I willed the bus to start, but it wouldn’t. To my horror, I could see him run towards the bus and jump on. I kept my handbag on the seat next to me. Should I tell the conductor? No. Nothing has happened. Out of the corner of my eyes just behind my shoulder I could see him grab a seat on the other side of aisle, two seats behind and buy a ticket. I could get off the bus- but he could too.

Sweat poured down my neck and tears formed in my eyes. I bit my lip. I would have to carry on. I wished he would get off at some stop. But he continued to sit and stare as if he meant to do something. Was the acid bottle with him? I prepared to scream. I could not breathe and struggled to swallow through my dry mouth. Camp, Aurora Towers, Lal Deval, Sassoon. Pune station would be here soon. Before the bus stopped, I prepared to alight and run. But he was faster. He now stood just a foot behind me with another person in between.

I jumped off the bus while it was still in motion. The toe of my chappal broke, but I dragged on. Thankfully, the lady behind me was slow and remained at the door, so the people behind could not alight. I bolted to the station without looking back. Dodging red-uniformed hamaals carrying heavy suitcases on their heads cursing under their breaths, mongrels, beggars and irritated passengers, I ran up and then down the overhead bridge despite my chappal.

Some bhendi fell out of my bag and the bananas crushed. I could feel their stickiness seep through the bag against my leg. My scarf came undone, my face was wet underneath. The askew dupatta on one shoulder was sweeping the floor. I reached the platform and waited for the train. It was not due for 3 minutes. I stood at the spot for the ladies compartment.

My eyes searched around in fear, but couldn’t spot him. A grubby beggar boy appeared out of nowhere and clawed at me incessantly for money. Usually, I would shoo him away but that day I gave him two darkening bananas to lighten my bag more than anything else. He ate them gratefully with his buddy and threw the skins on the platform.

The train pulled into the platform and just as I was about to walk to the door, I saw the eyes rushing down the platform stairs. It was unmistakably him. No, this was not happening. I rushed forward to the train door, trying to push past the other women who cursed me and pushed me back. The chappal slipped off my foot and got lost in the melee. He was now almost on the platform, rushing towards my compartment. I managed to get a foot into the door and the train started.

He would still get onto another compartment, I noted with horror. I willed the train to pick up speed but he ran along with the train as it picked up speed. I craned my neck to see his hair flying, eyes darting wildly. I breathed rapidly watching with evil fascination and glee as he slowly slipped from view under the train. Those banana skins work every time.

MY FIRST PROPER FICTIONAL PIECE WAS PUBLISHED RECENTLY BY WOMENSWEB AS A SHORT STORY ‘THE STALKER’ . https://www.womensweb.in/2021/10/stalker-follow-me-not-oct21wk/

I HAVE CHANGED THE TITLE AS I THOUGHT IT TO BE MORE APPROPRIATE.I HOPE TO PUBLISH MORE SHORT STORIES FROM MY COLLECTION OF ‘TRAIN TALES’.

WATCH THIS SPACE

miss India

In India, when we go to restaurants (we call them hotels), we place our orders in the most bizarre ways.One day we had gone to a restaurant in a large group. My MIL did the ordering. She said to the waiter : “Sweet and sour soup : 3 by 8 kar ke laana“. So basically , 3 bowls of soup, divided into 8 bowls for 8 people. I cringed. What is MIL asking? We can do the division at the table . Why embarrass ourselves by telling the waiter to do it?In any other place, the waiter would probably pass out or at least look as if we uncouth people had come from some uncivilised land. But in this case, no problem. The waiter nodded almost appreciatively probably thinking ‘Madam is so enterprising’….and off he went to tell the kitchen to divide 3 large bowls of soup into 8 smaller bowls…without batting an eyelid, no questions asked. Maths and jugaad hand in hand, he delivered exactly as requested. This happens only in India.We Indians think it is normal, but try doing that outside India and you will be met with stares and condescending looks. Miss that about India…….

ABRACADABRA: Unravelling the magic of a BRA down the years

Many years ago, I remember doing what I just love doing at the end of a long tiring day…..unhook, unclasp, undo and whoosh… off it comes…..Oh! the liberation that comes with yanking it off ……when you can finally let your hair down and release those poor organs from the clutches of that garment……it’s an out of ‘body’ experience only a girl can have.
Anyway, my daughter who was a toddler at the time watched as I expertly undid and slid off one strap under the sleeve of my top ,then the other and voila, there it was in my hand ready to fling as far away as possible…..all this with my modesty intact. For her it was like a magic trick……’My mummy is so clever!’ Who knew I had so many tricks up my sleeve ??
So, this is one trick that I would say every girl should know. How to get rid of the ‘body’ slickly and effortlessly. Learned many many moons ago in the hostel when a Bombayite came to live in the hostel one night and taught us naive hostel girls this manoeuvre. The way she executed it before an excited live audience as we gossiped and chattered, it has to be one of those things that will remain in my memory forever and needless to say I remember her only for that brilliant performance.
Why are you calling a bra a ‘body’ you might ask.Well, well, girls of a certain vintage will recall that a ‘body’ is that taboo feminine garment worn underneath, whose straps are as evil as are its other parts, which can never be on public display not even when left out to dry. We in India remember older ladies of the house call a bra a ‘body’. Wonder why….was it short for ‘bodice’ given that we corrupted a lot of English words? I have no idea. But ‘body’ it was……
The ‘body’ was a secret to be kept under wraps. Actually it was more like a white, ‘mulmul’ or thin cotton sleeveless vest, probably tailor made. I remember getting a sneaky peek at an occasional ‘body’ as it hung under a towel to dry.
When we went ‘body’ shopping , we had no idea what size to buy. 32 sounded like a good number so 32 it was. The body shop which also housed the body’s compatriot [ which deserves another story], was a cramped little dingy hole with boxes upon boxes of bodies. The bodies had names- Hema , Lata, Asha and some even had lace. We had no idea that bodies had cups. The idea was you entered the body shop, didn’t smile[ it was after all an undercover operation] and got the sales person, usually a miserable looking male to open the cardboard boxes. ‘ 32 ‘ we would croak in a hushed whisper as if that was a shameful secret being let out. And then as fast as we could, we just checked the hook and straps….the cups were usually a wrinkled mess….and thats it -you paid and left, not to return to the body shop for another 2 years. In those years the cup size changed, [ who knew anyway], the bra size changed[ does it matter??] and the straps went through 50 shades of grey.
In school as teenagers, wearing a bra was a big thing. Despite being an ‘only girls’ school, it was kept concealed by the other garment we wore – the petticoat. [a thin cotton sleeveless dress that extended to the knees….which these days is worn on its own as an outer fashion garment , but that’s another issue]. The petticoat persisted until one acquired the boldness to wear the bra on it’s own. We were bashful of the bra’s existence and even the bra strap on the back was viewed through the school blouse with fascination. As girls with changing teen bodies, we were curious to know who had started wearing this grown-up garment and although it was kept concealed in the snug confines of the petticoat , some clever girls figured that a little friendly slap on the back was all it took to diagnose a bra wearer! In the 9th and 10th std there was a lot of back slapping going on.The farewell parties in those years were when we wore our first sari blouses with the first you know what……complete with safety pins, straps sliding off, often the bra bigger than the blouse as it was borrowed from mother, aunty, older cousin or whoever. Or a random size 32!

Fast forward to the present. You don’t need me to tell you about body shops and bodies in this new world.
Just as I thought I knew everything about bodies and how to size them [ thank you Marks and Spencer] and how to sacrifice comfort for sexy style[ thank you wonder bra], i learned a new trick.
A friend told me that she hooks her bra on the front first, then turns it around 180 degrees so the strap is now at the back and THEN the arms go through the straps! Wow! You learn new things everyday.
****

Dental story : Surgical strike

Surgery classes were a terror. Our blood froze, mouths dried and muscles paralyzed at the thought of going for the weekly mockery that was surgery lectures. Wading through musty, sickness-laden, phenyl swabbed confines of the government hospital, past rusting stretchers with groaning faceless bodies covered with off-white, crumpled sheets, trying to avoid inhaling the stench of urine, vomit, raw wounds and dried blood in the ‘apatkaleen’ department was a challenge in itself. Uniformed Mamas on duty who looked into police cases like suicide and dowry deaths ignored us as we walked past the emergency department. Compared to the sanitized confines of the dental hospital, this was where the real action took place. It was grim, hard-core real medicine, real life and death scenarios playing out without the glamour seen in air-brushed serials on television. The fatigued nurses in their pristine white knee length frocks, tights and caps looked as if they had stepped out of the era of the British Raj. The doctors looked calm despite their surroundings. The one similarity between dental and general hospitals were the paan-stained corners at the top and bottom of every flight of stairs. It was hard to distinguish the paan from blood; it could have been both.

Surgery lectures were held after the daily dental lectures for the day were over. Groups of us students walked in, heads lowered, trying to keep as low a profile as possible. To describe the lectures as a spectacle was an understatement. It was more like a circus performance with us dental students playing jokers for the entertainment of the surgical registrars who stood against the wall at the back of the room enjoying the show as we trembled wondering what new insults would be hurled at us and what comic fun we would provide. Surgery class seemed to attract more students than our usual cohort of 70 something. The aged, ‘experienced’ faces joining us for this weekly session of shame were the ‘chronics’ who had suffered a ‘KT’ in surgery for more years than one.

To preside over the show, the sadist would emerge tall, lean, hunched, bespectacled. With a long finger he would point randomly at one of us. “YOU” he commanded in his quiet, refined voice. That’s it, the humiliation would start.

“What is the nerve supply of back of hand?” he once asked.  Shuddering we collectively tried desperately to extract a piece of information that had never been fed to our already exhausted brains. What does the back of hand look like? Yes, there are 5 digits. That’s as far as our knowledge went. How were we expected to know when our anatomy cadaver in first year dissection had no hands at all? Remember, we had only head, neck and torso; no limbs. Of course, we didn’t know. So, one by one we stood, clueless, mortified, embarrassed, blank. Like a pack of dominoes we fell, one at a time; what was left of our self-esteem shattered to a million pieces.

Dental story: The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.

 

I remember from an early age being brainwashed by my mother into thinking that I had to be a doctor when I grew up. I had no idea what I liked or much less what I had an aptitude for. But I went along blindly with what she advised. As the time to make a choice drew closer, I was convinced that I had to be a doctor no matter what. I was good academically and loved biology , so there was no thinking involved. I hated maths, so going towards engineering the other popular choice, was out of the question. The other options were unthinkable at that time.

So, when despite of getting great marks I missed out on getting admission to medicine by a point something margin, I was devastated. I joined BSc because I had not applied for anything else. I was obsessed with getting into medicine. I studied for all the medical entrance exams like a person possessed.

People asked me why I had not applied for BDS and I ignorantly asked ‘ what is that?’ Well, its dentistry, of course. I was horrified that they could even suggest that. I like so many, hated dentists and dental treatment. I had hated my orthodontist all along. Although he transformed me from an ugly duckling into something more presentable , I absolutely abhorred him .And his assistant. The needles, the nauseous smells, the hair-raising drilling sounds and of course the pain as he uprooted three of my teeth in quick succession made for regular nightmares. The smell of post-lunch oranges on his hairy, bare ungloved hands as he fiddled around in my mouth is still fresh in my mind. Nope, I did not want to be like him.

I would rather do BSc .Yes, I would do chemistry and become a scientist.

Soon, my stubbornness to persist with medicine faded and slowly I accepted that perhaps I needed to give myself a chance and apply for something else. Just being with people doing the BSc course changed my opinion. My peers were mostly unmotivated and disinterested youngsters who were whiling their time away doing BSc. Not all of them of course. But the majority definitely was.

So , when after one year, I could apply again, I applied for dentistry and pharmacy too.

This time around I missed out on getting into medicine by 2 seats. I can still remember vividly going to Grant medical college for the interviews and the person 2 places ahead of me getting in and the admissions stopped right there. The girl who was a place ahead and myself, bawled our eyes out. I was shattered and my dreams of wearing a white coat and brandishing a stethoscope had come to an end. I could not stop crying all the way to Pune. I was inconsolable as my poor father watched sadly in anguish. By the time I was home I could not cry any more and I went back to BSc. But a week later I got another interview call. This time for BDS.

I went along with my father to Mumbai and this time I got in comfortably.

I was on cloud nine, not because I got into dentistry but because I had now found a way to escape BSc and Pune and all the misery that I had put up with in the last one year.

I was elated and enthusiastically joined BDS in Mumbai, not knowing what I was doing.

Once there, I found to my sheer joy that the subjects were the ones taught in medicine. Subjects, that me, with my love for biology had a natural affinity for. Anatomy , physiology fascinated me. Pathology and pharmacology captured my imagination. The dental subjects too enthralled me. The laboratory work captured my fancy. I had always been a creative and artistic person. I loved doing things with my hands and had been very dexterous. Art had never been a career choice as we all knew it was not a sure shot mantra to money making. But now making dentures from scratch in the lab was a fantastic outlet for my creative energies. The intricate waxing , carving, getting messy with plaster, wax , acrylic and all sorts of materials was just the sort of stuff I liked to do. Not always easy, but I loved it.

Without realising it , I had entered a profession that was tailor made for me.

A mix of medicine and art, a challenge to the brain, a test of deftness and manual skills.

Now looking back I know that unknowingly I was pushed into making the right choice.

Oh yes, I did get admission into medicine by passing the All India PMT that year but the results were declared later by which time I was well and truly in love with dentistry and I am both proud and relieved that I stayed put and declined medicine.

Yes, my orthodontist would be shocked if he found out his worst ever patient went on to become a dentist! And yes the same smells, sounds are now reassuringly, part of life.

Sure, no one likes dentists, but ask anybody who has had toothache . Who helped them out of their pain? Their doctor or their dentist?

Getting someone out of pain is the most satisfying thing as a dentist and when ever I do that I know that this calling in life was just meant to be.

The tipsy thrills of C2H5OH

For the longest time, my sister and I thought brandy was a medicine that cured colds . We thought rum and whiskey help prevent colds! In fact, on our rain soaked adventures in the Khandala hills during our childhood. we were given whiskey – neat or mixed with rain water. We both actually enjoyed drinking the stuff and as predicted did not catch any sinister viruses.
Another time , as a teenager I was playing with neighbour friends in my uncle and aunt’s bedroom where there was a stash of alcohol under the bed. Someone dared me to drink some. So I foolishly opened a sealed bottle and took a swig. The friends were mortified that I had actually done it and I felt like a hero!
But somehow alcohol did not impress me as an adult. Perhaps we had grown up seeing so much daaru being sploshed around and various people getting sozzled and making fools of themselves that it put me off . I associate it with losing control over mind and body. The taste is another thing……people have tried to educate the naive , uncouth me of the taste of fine wine( a visit to Napa valley with me spitting most of the stuff out) or tried to make me exotic cocktails. It just doesn’t do for me what it does to others! Perhaps I needed a larger, stronger dose. I mean it tastes disgusting. I have tried to pretend liking it but beyond a few sips, I have to give up. I would much rather have stinky blue cheese ( yum, yum), bitter gourd or Marmite than alcohol.
I am not a prude and do keep trying to like alcohol. I want to be able to stylishly hold a flute of wine and get drunk some day. I have loved mulled wine but that was more for the added spices and the warmth which was comforting in the cold. I still love a sip of brandy for its ‘medicinal’ taste. I would love to lick just the foam off the top of beer if someone is willing to waste a beer on me . I once thirstily drank a glass of Pimms at full throttle because I thought it was ‘sarbat’ ( with MIL giving company and thinking the same innocent thoughts)- I mean we saw the apples and mint floating in the alcohol and thought it was fruit juice so we both drank it up and got dizzy together. I love pina colada but wish someone would not bother with adding the white rum- it tastes so much better as a mocktail. I love Baileys but that’s because it’s milky- why make it bitter??
So if anyone asks if I drink I don’t know what to say. I’m no teetotaller-it’s a bit like being a vegetarian who will have only the curry from ‘non-veg’ dishes!
I really want to like the stuff. I want to know what makes it tick. Why do people drink? How much does one have to drink to get drunk?
I do keep trying. I tried drinking on the plane some time ago so I wouldn’t feel anxious about flying, but alas I couldn’t down more than a few sips. I just cannot do what they do in the movies- glug several shots forcefully. The fear of losing control is so strong that it stops me from crossing the threshold.
In my late teens, I carried a water bottle during my Bombay Pune travels. I had an old, flat plastic bottle, which fitted perfectly into my small travel bag. One day on a delayed Bombay Pune train journey I was sitting in the general compartment. I was thirsty and nonchalantly whipped out my water bottle. I cannot describe the look on the faces of some males on the train. To me it was just a bottle. To them, it was a bottle of XXX rum and here was this girl drinking from it. So what if it was only water but it was still a daaru bottle. It was at that time in my life I realised how taboo alcohol is for some people.

DENTAL STORY : YOU KNOW YOU ARE A DENTIST WHEN…….

 

YOU KNOW YOU ARE A DENTIST WHEN…….

  • You know you are a dentist when the first thing  you notice about anyone is their teeth.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when RIGHT is always ‘Patient’s right’ and

LEFT is always ‘Patient’s  LEFT’ …….. Basically Right is wrong!!

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you look at a pretty model’s teeth and instead of admiring the photo shopped / airbrushed face, you wickedly concentrate on the  posterior metal fillings, black rimmed margins of crowns and so on.

 

 

  • You know you are a  dentist when you think of Alginate when you knead chapatti atta dough.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you have delightful dreams of removing chunks of calculus( ahhh the pleasure)!!!

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you spot calculus , plaque, materia alba and stains  in the lower incisors of hot hunks .

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you can spot a smoker by looking at his/her lips.

 

  • You know you are  a dentist when you become highly suspicious when you see a perfect set of teeth in an elderly person and look closely to make sure it’s not a denture!!!

 

  • You know you are  a dentist when you figure out a  person is a gutka eater from the way he speaks

 

  • You know you are a dentist when  you are never bored in a train or bus; you just amuse yourself diagnosing Class 3s , anterior open bites, bimaxillary protrusion and so on. Throw in a mesiodens and your day is made!

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you sincerely wonder when MS Dhoni is going to having his missing upper premolar replaced.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when u are still trying to find out who did  Kajol’s orthodontic treatment.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you describe people whose names you don’t know by their teeth- ‘oh the guy with the missing laterals!’ Or ‘hmm the girl with the buccally displaced canines’

 

  • You know you are a dentist when your kid, in his mothers day card, thanks you for making him brush his teeth everyday..

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you eat most of your kids’ Halloween candy under the pretext of saving them from cavities.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when the smell of good old Zinc oxide Eugenol smells better than any balm on this planet.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when nostalgia means fondly remembering the days of triple arm slip joint, extra extra low snail speed ancient hand pieces, chip syringe and other such wonders

 

  • You know you are a dentist when your patients bring you chocolates

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you sit at a dining table, listen to someone’s jaw clicking and diagnose TMJ dysfunction

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you see a person you know who used to have a missing premolar and ……there she has it now. ‘Ohh she didn’t come to me for treatment’.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you can identify a person who has had Orthodontic treatment even as a first year dental student.

 

  • You know you are a dentist  when instead of saying  “say cheese” while taking a photo, you say  “give me a molar to molar”

 

  • You know you are a dentist when extracting a tooth even a wobbly third degree mobile one, successfully, gives you a HIGH!!- every time!

 

  • You know you are a dentist when, at a party, you always dread the moment when somebody asks you what you do.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when the person in front of you  says, ” Nothing personal but I don’t like dentists” and you just smile and say ” I know, I know.”

 

  • You know you are a dentist when new acquaintances who have just found out what your profession is, cover their mouth, assume you make a lot of money and get a free consultation there and then.

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you just hate it when people ask how many months it took for you to do the dentistry course!!!  As if it’s some kind of sewing/ embroidery class

 

  • You know you are a dentist when you hate it when people ask ‘what made you take up dentistry?’ As if implying  ‘why on earth would someone want to be a dentist’

Can’t reveal the secret that actually I wanted to be a doctor but kya Kare, that 0.01 mark changed my destiny (for the better!!!).

 

You just say ‘I always wanted to be a dentist’. After all, dentistry contains  ‘destiny’!