Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Stocks & Shares can be volatile

Bangalore Stock Exchange Building

 I have come home from the Stock Holding Corporation of India-- in a bit of a daze. All the way home I thought of the enormity of what I had learned. My husband and I laughed happily and felt sad too that Mum who had left us the shares-- had passed on. 

When she first passed on in May I was extremely dejected, because her shares, given to her by her family and bought along with Dad as well, had dropped dramatically in value. They had been worth 60 lakhs a month before she died and with COVID 19 had crashed by TEN Lakhs. I have always enjoyed investing in the stock market. Something my husband and Doc son are whizzes in buying and selling, and --I was disappointed. 

Even more disappointed as my wonderful brother, who is joint executor with me, had made a nasty comment ( as always) to my wait and watch remark to the family. He said he had spoken to Mum’s wealth manager who told him, the shares would take TWO years to recover. So I began the procedure of liquidizing the shares-- THAT is what takes time folks. Remember that -- NOT the volatility of the share market.

So I filled up the dozens of forms, made dozens of photos which had to be affixed. Lucky my husband is the calm and cool kind and he was handling the paper work. My parents had been helped for years by him and so they knew they could trust him and me. Thank God! I was left as the nominee which my father had done.

Not visible the plastic sheet across the counters

So here we were parking the car and going up to the 4th floor, thickly masked to be safe. Temperatures taken and sanitizer smoothed on, we walked in to be greeted by a lady who by now knows my husband. Poor guy had to do a lot of running up and down to get the paperwork organised. Mum's own sons would never have helped like he does and all for free. Their charges -- let's not discuss that!!

In the front of the ladies tables a huge thick sheet of plastic had been fixed, with a tiny slit through which the papers were slid. “ Make a completely separate account for this work,” advised my wealth manager, “ especially since you have such nasty siblings. All your personal shares should not get mixed up with your parents.” Fantastic advice, but it delayed me by a month till a brand new account had to be made.

So, here we were, climbing the steps to the 4th floor in order for me to sign all the documentation. Hardly anyone in the office and that’s the amazing part of the pandemic. Banks and offices are almost always deserted.

A smiling Yuvraj brought me all the documents and I was signing for about 10 minutes. Then my husband said, we need a printout of today’s values of the shares. “Sure!” said Yuvraj and marched off to get it for us. “ Thanks a lot! How many days will this take to kick in?” asked my husband. “ Two or three days at most,” said a smiling Yuvraj and we left down the four flights of steps.  

Peering at the values my husband laughed and I asked --” What?”

“ Mum must be laughing at your brother's nasty comment,” he said. “ The shares have jumped up by 15 lakhs!!”  Silently I thanked God that Dad had kept me as the nominee, because they were safe.

The Mumbai Stock Exchange Building

Getting into the car and looking for 20 bucks to pay for parking, the parable in the bible which was often quoted to us as kids by Dad came to mind. I could not stop smiling at how God is always on the side of the right.

The "Parable of the Talents", Matthew 25:14–30 tells of a master who was leaving his house to travel, and, before leaving, entrusted his property to his servants. According to the abilities of each man, one servant received five talents, the second had received two, and the third received only one.

The property entrusted to the three servants was worth 8 talents, where a talent was a significant amount of money. Upon returning home, after a long absence, the master asks his three servants for an account of the talents he entrusted to them. The first and the second servants explain that they each put their talents to work, and have doubled the value of the property with which they were entrusted; each servant was rewarded:

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servants. The third servant, however, had merely hidden his talent, burying it in the ground, and was punished by his master:

Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. — Matthew 25:24–30

I don't have to explain what the parable means to me in this case. My mother has died and we are expected to share the estate left behind in the care of us -- the servants. But I do know that the ‘unprofitable’ and greedy servants --  will be punished in time and when God sees fit. 

And I love the sentence -- there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Book Bound my book club, goes virtual and online

The Invite for our first WEBEX Book Bound event

 I never thought I’d live to see the day when my book club --Book Bound, went virtual and online. Too many months offline due to COVID 19 and the members kept wondering, why we could not go virtual? 

After conducting the Masters PG Dissertation exams online, for St. Joe’s & getting ready for JNC, MCC & Krupanidhi college sessions, I realised it was pretty simple. All those unknown fears vanished.So much easier  not to bother about timing oneself, to walk to college. No bother of keeping my clothes out the night before and my bag to snatch, as I left the house at 8:30am, to reach on time for the first class.

Instead I just kept my eye on the various clocks across the house and  when it was time I clicked myself into the meeting. They could be on Skype or Google Meet or like the latest set up for me by a senior CISCO employee, on Webex. Authors are very grateful for my help in getting their books off the ground and once they are guests on my book club, they stay firm friends, ready to help and support me.

Many whose cameras were not working could not be seen!

 I had no one to do it for me, for my first book. No platform to launch myself instead I had to pay for everything. From the hall in the club to the parking in the church and the snacks, we paid for it all.That’s when the penny dropped and I decided to start a book club called iBrowse in the CC with a win-win formula for both sides.   

 Soon, the members liked the format which I planned, to help authors get noticed.We start the evening with the star of the evening -- the author who introduces her book to us all. None of us have ever read it, except for me, and so are eager to know more. And it evolves -- I play the evening along by ear and it always falls on its feet.

So our first meet last month in July, went online with Google Meet. It was really a sort of dry run where I had not even got myself prepped about a book that I had read. ( I read all the time and was reading a pile from Harper Collins)  However we are all readers in the club and in minutes we had all shared about books that we had read and enjoyed through the month. One member talked about Ranbir Kapoors book after his death and how terribly full of gossip it was! That's why people buy it - we had to remind her!

Again only those whose cameras were working were seen

I ALWAYS, like a true academic, read the author's book to the last page and dissect and bisect it to plan my questions for the evening. It’s amazing how each person resonates with the author on a different level. For me this time we had Anmol Malik a young 26 year old who had just returned from doing a degree in Creative Writing in the UK. She is based in Mumbai -- the famous Anu Malik’s( Bollywood musician’s)  daughter.Her entire book resonated with me, because like her I had spent a year in a British college and in a British University hostel. It was like doing my year all over again through her eyes. I loved it. 

Anmol is actually a screenplay writer for movies and a lyricist for songs, so one of us asked her to sing and she DID -- one of her songs on YOUTUBE which has millions of hits. Just like that! A Trained LTCL ( Trinity College, London, like me)  on the piano, she just plays and sings like Lady Gaga!

I love my book club and because it’s virtual we have THREE members based in London now! Truly makes me so very happy that the club I started in the Catholic Club prospers on and I have my own smaller and much more interactive and intellectual club, which I prefer. All thanks to my parents and my maternal grandparents, who gave me the gift of reading.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Erasmus Mundus Masters in Journalism, in Europe

Mundus 2006 to 2008 class

In 2004 I decided to apply to the Deccan Herald for a job. I was writing for them on a freelance basis for years, but I was tired of spending my day working out of the house and wanted a full time job. The boys were in their final years of school and it was time for me to do more with my life I thought.

It was strange working in a huge office with hundreds of journalists, quite different from the advertising office I had run and the pre-school I ran too-- all out of our home. It was an absolutely new experience for me and something I quite enjoyed to a point. I enjoyed the coffee man coming to my table giving me a piping hot cup of coffee twice a day and going down to the canteen for a delicious veggie meal which cost a princely Rs 35, cut out of my salary!

Some of  us infront of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen

I enjoyed working with a team, running around town covering food and movies and fashion shows and even flying to Mumbai to cover the Sting Concert and Mark Knopfler no less. Life was good and I was enjoying moving onto writing about the heritage of the city and making a name for myself there.

But I was chafing at the bit. Having been used to running my own office and being my own boss for 12 years running my ad agency I found the time bound day, and yes-sir-no-sir difficult to handle. I was Chief Sub no doubt, but male patriarchy was something I was unused to with a Dad who had no such illusions. We were all equal, male and female.

In Amsterdam for our final party

After two years I applied for a fellowship which happened to be sent to me by a journalist who was based in Mumbai, whom I met at one of the events I covered. She said--” Apply! And all the best! Very few get chosen!”

So when I was selected for the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Journalism, it was a dream that any young woman would give their eye-teeth for, forget me in my late forties. I could not breathe when I opened the email which said I had won a 42,000 Euro scholarship to study in Europe and to choose my countries from the list sent. I had to choose THREE countries to do modules in Journalism which I wanted to do.

Yes he was my professor in Amsterdam!

I chose Aarhus in Denmark, Amsterdam in The Netherlands and Wales, in the UK. I could have chosen Germany for the final one year sem, but I avoided it. It was exciting to be applying for my visa to leave and my sister and Aunt in Australia told me about a relative who was in Aarhus, no less, since the ‘70’s. It was the most thrilling ride of my life and I grabbed it with both hands.

Denmark was wonderful and like I wrote in my stream of articles which I sent back to the Deccan Herald, I looked out of my University apartment and stared at the handsome men and women who cycled by. Every single one of them were fit and slim and so good looking, I wondered if I had got lost in some movie. The Danes are a very handsome race, not an ounce of fat as they cycle everywhere. It was the beginning of the opening of my mind to academics and life, which changed me forever.

We went to The Hague for my Birthday to the World Peace Palace.

It was in Europe where I learned how to travel in trains and enjoy the countryside rather than fly around like I was used to. Europe has the most wonderful train system ever and our student passes gave us an opening to a world we exploited to the hilt. Every weekend was a new town or city and every weekend I got food & fodder for my next article.

It was in the classroom where I was pitted against 20 and 21 year olds, besides a few my age. That really made me realise that our Indian system of education just makes kids who ‘by-heart’ information and do not use their own logic, and skills to research. I was re-educated from the bottom up and I loved every minute of it.

Blue bells in the Hendrofolean student village that I lived in, in Wales.

Tech savvy me?? I turned tech savvy after two years of the Mundus. We had to research in the most wonderful wired libraries, we had to load our assignments on platforms, we learned how to use plagiarism checkers, fact checkers, the works. I loved it -- it was such a roller coaster ride.  Best of all I learned how to work with a team and make PPT presentations of our work. Stand up infront of a class of 38 of the best minds in the world and defend my assignment with my team.

I learned to use a debit card in Aarhus, there were no banks filled with people to dole out my money, like in India. I learned to buy tickets off a vending machine at 10pm at night, when returning from a group brain-storming session, in Amsterdam. And best of all I learned about art. I splurged on a card which gave me access to all 400 art museums in Amsterdam. I went to  hundreds of them across Amsterdam and learned about all the masters of art in European world and wrote for the art section of the Sunday Herald. Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Monet & Renoir, Da Vinci & Raphael I was introduced to their world and the beauty of their art.

My flatmates in Swansea, Wales.

I learned to travel over the length and breadth of every city that I lived in and see and taste all the different cuisines which were on offer. I NEVER pined for Indian food like some Indian students and instead revelled in teaching my classmates how to make easy Indian dishes instead, while they taught me theirs.

I learned to keep my room and toilet spick and span or get ready to be fined. We Indians are naturally dirty. And I learned to segregate my waste and not dump it all in one container, besides learning to share my food. Cook a little extra, put a label to it and leave it in the common kitchen in Amsterdam and Wales. It was a whole new world for me and I learned the respect of other cultures and not cringe and cry for my own.  That’s what studying abroad does to the mind -- it opens you to new experiences.

Lisbet and Isabel taking our pictures in Amsterdam!!

I made friends for life from across the world. Many were younger than me and so looked to me for help and advice. That’s part of student life and one learns to be caring and sharing. I was shocked at how some of the Asian kids would just demand things from their parents inspite of such a big allowance that we got. I instead saw the European kid work after hours to earn money by Data Entry or even cleaning jobs.And yet we Indians pat ourselves on our back and denigrate western culture, which is ridiculous.

The Erasmus Mundus changed my life. I came back every four months ‘cause I had a family and kids.The others loafed across Europe, but I did not mind as I had already done that by Eurorail, backpacking with my husband. I never chose to study in Germany for my final sem, ‘cause I heard stories of racism which I am told is not there today ( don't know and don't really care) Instead I chose Wales ‘cause Catherine Zita Jones came from Mumbles!

A canal boat ride in Amsterdam

I loved Wales and that’s where I came into my own in the University of Wales, Swansea by the sea. I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity -- Mother Teresa’s sisters and cooked once a week at their shelter. I volunteered in church and cooked an Indian meal for students which the Parish priest relished most of all! My dissertation guide was an Indian by roots but born and bred in Jamaica. I chose her and am so glad I did as her guidance made my dissertation on Naxalism, seamless.

And I came back to my family --ready to take on the world, while I left classmates who found jobs and lived on and still live in the UK. Many years later when I did my PhD it was one of my classmates who is a professor now in Florida who reviewed my PhD thesis -- Professor Azmat Rasul. 

We worked as a team for an assignment.

I did not stay long in the Deccan Herald though I went back and was rewarded as Assistant Editor, instead I quit to start the Media Section in St. Joseph’s College with Fr. Ambrose and till today share my skills with youngsters doing their Post Grads.

Life took on a whole new hue after I went for the Erasmus Mundus and I am eternally grateful to the European Union to have given me the chance to change from my hum-drum life. 

Forty-two thousand Euros was the value of my fellowship and in true Indian fashion I saved most of it and was able to give my son my card, so he could pay his rent, when he went to study in the UK


Ofcourse I loved Bath in the UK

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Self made -- Doctor Janet and DermaZeal

The clinic DermaZeal 

A long time ago in 2004 when I was working as Chief Sub at that time in the Deccan Herald, I would pass a new beauty salon and a gym which had opened on Castle Street, where we lived, going and coming from work. I was curious about who was the owner and so one day stepped in to check it out. A young smiling woman came up to me to introduce herself and immediately a solid friendship and bond of mutual respect -- was born. Dr. Janet Castelino was the young woman’s name and it was lovely writing about her enterprise for the Metro section of the Deccan Herald which was hired to write for. Janet blossomed and grew from one salon named Cleo’s to EIGHT salons across the city. I was dazzled by her enterprise and amazed by her energy. 

Doctor Janet and me

All the salons did well and Janet felt she had reached her peak and yet -- she felt incomplete as a doctor. That was when she went off to do a three year MD and qualified herself as a professional dermatologist. After that solid educational backing she decided to open only derma clinics to give professional treatment to women for their hair and skin issues.

 “Why don’t you come and see my clinic Marianne?” she would repeatedly ask me and I had stopped driving and there was no way I was going to visit half way across Bangalore to HSR Layout. Then yesterday in the middle of Bangalore’s third COVID virus lock down, I got a call from Janet out of the blue.

 “Come and see my clinic Marie -in ( that's how she says my name) “ “ I have stopped driving so I can't come to HSR layout ,” I reply. 

 “ I will send my driver, don't worry, just come!” she says. 

 Snap decision, I dress and go. And I am so glad I decided to do that. My mouth was on the floor from the time I entered her clinic which is three floors, till I left. The whole place was typical Janet -- impeccable, five star and what an amazing experience. As I enter I am greeted by two smiling -in- welcome girls at the reception, who are masked and capped and even their shoes are covered. I look around and in true Janet fashion, the place has been done up in pastel shades of brown and cream -- absolute understated elegance. 

One of the 40 lakh lazers

I love it and settle down into an elegant waiting chair when in minutes a man in a jacket arrives asking if I would like coffee or tea. No thanks I say as I had just had lunch and so did not want a coffee. 

“ You don't remember me Madam?” the man says, but he is behind a huge mask so I say “ No!” “I am Manunath and have been with Doctor Madam from Castle Street. You used to come to our gym with your second son who was studying in St. John’s to the gym.” 

 I did not remember, but I feigned that I did and brought so much joy to his face. Later when I asked Janet she said thats Manjunath who used to sweep and swab our gym and now I have elevated him to this position. I can see where his loyalty stems from and Janet’s kind and giving heart. Janet performed a whole lot of various procedures for me from Glycolic Acid Peel which according to Andreas superb coffee table book --Glycolic acid from sugar cane and fruit extracts, is known as the supreme exfoliator and is considered to be the king of exfoliation. 

Me on the table!

The secret to younger and glowing skin I lay back to enjoy her ministrations. You could even go in for a Chemical Peel which is again extracts from cane sugar, fruit and milk penetrates to deeper levels of the skin and enables excellent exfoliation of dead cells. The book told me about Laser Hair reduction that they perform, to handling Hyperpigmentation with the Q switched: Nd: YAG Laser System where a beam of light penetrates the skin and scatters and absorbs the dark pigments. They also handle the bane of most youth -- Acne Scar Reduction.

Another  laser where the carbon peel was done
 Here again a Fractional CO2 Laser penetrates deep into the layers of scarred skin stimulating skin cells below the surface to resurface as perfect skin. “ Each laser machine cost me around 40 lakhs,” says Doctor Janet and we want to be able to give our clients only the best and value for money. I was taken for a walk about of the whole massive clinic and was introduced to all the nurses and doctors who have been there since its inception. “ We have our registers full of satisfied patients who return time and time again, happy with the results of our treatments. 

Me on the table with a face pack which was divine.
Infact I have both men and women coming from NYC who say my treatment cannot be had anywhere else in the world,” says Doctor Janet, rightfully proud of her work. So many women who have skin problems need to have sustained treatment to have clean and glowing skin and Doctor Janet, her daughter young Doctor Andrea and their team ensure your money is put to good use and not wasted.

 For details contact: DermaZeal Clinic, # 422, 1st Floor, 27th Main Road,Next to ICICI Bank,HSR Layout,Sector-1, Bangalore - 560102 Ph: 9008624202 Timings: 9am to 8pm. .

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Writing kiddy books and other novels

The girls two books getting posted out faster than I can keep up Once upon a time--- once upon a time -- she always started her stories with --” once upon a time”. My maternal grandmum, Ethel Pereira, who was young and plump and smelled of lavender talcum powder always sat on the bedroom steps and told us stories every night. Sometimes it was in the light of the huge big moon and thats where I learnt to see a rabbit in the moon! She was always laughing and joking with us, especially solemn eldest me and always stitching the most delightful dresses for both my sister Christine and me. My maternal grandfather Michael Pereira was a slim and gentle soul who had the most amazing collection of books on a revolving bookshelf. We could lie on the diwans for hours, my sister and me and read his whole collection of Perry Masons and Sherlock Holmes and his only diktat was -- no reading while you eat and no turning down pages, here are bookmarks.
Weighing and telling us the cost of postage in the Richmond Town PO Grandma Ethel’s stories definitely have played a huge role in my evolving as a writer. I write for a living for decades and get paid by the word. First as a journalist and now teaching writing skills among other subjects to PG journalists in Mount Carmel’s College, Jyoti Nivas College and ofcourse St. Joseph’s college, Bangalore. So one day when I was faced with suddenly turning into a grandmother myself and immediately having to tell stories to keep the little girls engaged, where did I search for ideas?? Of Course my grandmother’s wonderful tales. They were as one could say, my spring-board for my font of stories which I told Alaina and Natalie and I loved to see their still faces, concentrating on my words and their eyes, imagining my far fetched tales!
Bonny and I had fun making up the packets to post. Both have very successful Dads who never grudge them anything. No food or drink, no toys or books, no holidays and trips, it was hard for me as a grandmum to think of gifts for them. My sons do not allow fetishes but they do not stint on buying them stuff ever. So I decided one day to write them a special story with them and their Dads in it -- get it personally illustrated and give it to them for Christmas. It was expensive -- not my story, that flowed out like a stream from my mind but the illustrations and the digital printing. Each story had to be read by the artist who was my colleague in Deccan Herald. An absolute professional. I loved Yathish work as he had done my earlier kiddy book -- The One Eyed Ogre and other stories. I wanted ONLY him to do my illustrations. Ofcourse I sent him pictures to show him what a cardinal looked like or a dandelion flower, or even Davids house and garden! But it was a bad thing because the first book for Alaina got done only in six months. And the book for Natalie TWO years -- I kid you not! The reason was simple, his computer crashed and lost most of his work which he had completed. It was hard for him to pick up and get back, but he did, the poor guy and I waited, patiently.
My next book on the table which is 15 stories long! Finally both books are DONE and before the girls can see them, they are getting sold and are almost sold out! It’s exciting to see how many packages my husband and myself have made and taken them down to the Richmond Town PO and speed posted them. Expensive? Yes Of Course! I am not making back my money, but who cares -- I want kids to read them and treasure them! The books are expensive because the artist costs around 10 k and the digital printing another 18 k cause I want only imported art paper and a laminated cover! If you want the best, you pay big money, and that's ok. Might as well give them a legacy.I know 100 books are the expensive bit cause if I printed 500 it would cost less.
Fun reading my books at kiddy schools in the city. So, for my next book -- yes, I have written a 15 story book now which is on the table getting done, I used an old friend as illustrator who lives in Goa. I chanced on Air Marshall Giles Gomez at a show in Bangalore and we had schooled in sister institutions -- he in St Columbas and I in Jesus and Mary School , New Delhi. He had taken voluntary retirement with his airforce doc wife and bought the family home in Goa and refurbished it to modern standards. Over lunch he told me he was enjoying cartooning which was his hobby and that’s when I jumped in, both feet forward. Could he do the cartoons for my “Boysterous Living” my 15 story book which was all about the pranks my boys had been upto which was especially for all four kids now -- Alaina, Aiden, Natalie and Arthur. All about their Dads and their uncle Steven. Giles raced through the sketches in a month. But, finding a graphic designer to do the layout which Yatish did for me always as part of the job was tough. Finally I am working with GAAP Communications -- a friend who is putting the book together while I Plan how many copies I want. Seeing how the single story books flew off the shelves I am making 500 this time for sure.
My book on Parkinsons in 2019 My sweet daughter-in-law ( more a daughter) Annika has packed my suitcase with beautiful gift sacks as they call them in the US. Those who are coming home to collect get a sack and those I have to post get a cloth lined envelope from on top of the road. Meanwhile I keep getting alerts from all my friends who have ordered, that the books in Bangalore have reached safely and they are so excited to have them. It’s a lovely feeling being a creative writer. It is a gift that one can hone over the years and brings you such a lot of good will and satisfaction. And I know it was my Dad who prodded me on with my first book-- Above the Ricefields of Pilerne. I took 10 years to finish it, well after he died but that was the start.
The book that started the deluge Today I don't need prodding -- books pour out of me and they keep me busy for most of the year besides my lectures in college. It’s a good life to enjoy one’s work, then its entertainment and not work.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Writing story books for my girls

The launch of the One Eyed Ogre book with Fr Ambrose Pinto my then principal of St. Joseph's, Penelope Edwards who had been my classmate in school for 2 years in SHGHS and Francisco Saldanha then President of the CC. I never cared about writing kiddy stories till I worked in the Deccan Herald and Daksha Hathi who was incharge of the Open Sesame came and said I want a story for my next issue written by you -- go for it. Hell! I was writing fashion and food and reviewing movies and flying all over the place covering musicians like Sting and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Who the heck would write a kiddy story? But I love a challenge and so picked up Daksha’s gauntlet and racked my brain for an idea. As they say stories come out of a writer’s head, from their experiences and something they have read and ----out flowed “ The One Eyed Ogre”. Illustrated beautifully by the designers, my story obviously caught the reader kids attention, with a one eyed ogre no less and I had an excited Daksha come running to say -- write some more -- write another -- the kids loved your story and look at the letters she said waving a bgi sheaf of them! It was not yet email time, hard copy letters were still in fashion.
My " One Eyed Ogre" Book which is sold out now. So I delved into my childhood where my Mum’s grandmother was the super grandma story teller of all time. Her stories kept us entranced every single day we spent holidaying with her in Baroda. We sat on her bedroom steps and listened, while she wove the most outlandish tales. And the more outlandish the better they were for us. And then suddenly I was grown up and had my own sons and I never had the time to tell them stories. But I did encourage them to read and so did my parents thank God. And so till today my son David and the youngest Steve, never feel alone like me, ‘cause they always have a book to keep them company. Stacks of books,that they spend their savings on driving me crazy because it’s way crazier than I ever was.
Alaina's Dandelion Christmas gift book And then I have two DIL’s, who are crazy readers too and so to my great happiness their homes are overflowing with books and they read as passionately and fanatically too. It's good to be non compos mentis about books especially if you are like me, living on the written word.And I am forever grateful to my Mum who taught me to learn one new word everyday, so I do -- I still do and there’s plenty more to learn and use. Then, along came my grand daughters and presto-- what is the best way to keep them happy and engaged? Well tell them a story and ofcourse the more outlandish the better. After all they are MY grand girls!
Am invited all the time to kiddy schools So, I decided last Christmas when we all met to celebrate Christmas together in London, to give them a book as a gift. A book with a story written especially for them and illustrated beautifully and printed to boot. It was expensive ‘cause the illustrations cost me a pretty packet and the colour printing as well.
Natalie's special book But my story is not over yet -- right from going to the Colour Xerox place to get the books digitally printed, I was met with excitement from all who handled the book. The graphic designer who opened up my PDF on a pendrive, just loved the look of the book. The printer who digitally ran off 50 copies for me kept looking at me and then finally asking if I was the author! The trimmer who trimmed the sheets and stapled them to make them into a book, told me he had a granddaughter and could he have one book and I gave him two! And finally the owner who said Maam, can I have a photo with you, the author of a kiddy book printed here is a proud moment for us!
Another picture with the interested kids I felt like a star and ofcourse wallowed in all the adulation. And carried the books home all beautifully wrapped in brown paper to put into my suitcase to take to the girls. The joy and wonder on their faces on Christmas Day I will never forget and was worth all the effort and money I had spent. “ My own story book? No one else has a book like this? You wrote the story just for me? And your friend from the newspaper did all the drawings? All my thanks was emblazoned across their lovely baby faces. It made my Christmas and it made all the effort worthwhile. So, promptly I came home to India and wrote 15 stories at a stretch. Fifteen wonderful tales about their Dads and their Uncle Steven and then began my search for an illustrator. Yes, Yatish had moved on from the paper and I had helped get him into Infosys, where they recognised his humongous talent and kept him busy.
Another school in Sarjapur So, I wracked my brains and then suddenly, quite by accident I met with an old Delhi classmate who is a Doctor out of AIIMs and was an Air Marshal heading the Military Hospital in Bangalore. The section that had the hyperbaric chambers which saved my Mums leg in a horrific accident. Giles said he had donned another avatar with retirement and was illustrating besides running a tiny clinic with his wife in Moira, Goa.And he would be proud to illustrate my book. Ofcourse I had to listen to how he and his gang came for all the sports meets to watch me run and win. How I never even deigned to look at them. Well-- who had time to look at ugly, pimply classmates! My book is on the graphic designers table and soon 15 stories will be made into a lovely book for my little girls to enjoy about their Dads. All the pranks they were upto as kids, all the schoolboy stuff they did, the prizes they won, the fun they had, all wrapped up and written down into a book.
Many adults love my book That's what grandmas are for and I am glad I am upholding my grandmas tradition of story telling, though in a more sophisticated avatar. In an illustrated book which they can save for a lifetime. Just sad that my parents are not here to see, what their prodding has done to me finally!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return

Beautifully illustrated. Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return uttered by the priest on Ash Wednesday. When he marks your forehead with a cross of ash. This sentence has for some reason reverberated through my writer's mind from a very young age. The finality and the fragility of our human bodies cannot be more succinctly extrapolated than by this sentence. We would kneel to have the ash emblazoned on our foreheads, with some of it falling into our eyes and distracting us as children. But looking into the mirror later one sees beyond the ritual. The ash signified the end of life. The beauty of the original Latin, “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris,” was brought home to me by my Uncle priest - Father Simon Furtado, a Jesuit, during one of our many conversations about the finality of death after my Dad’s passing. And if literally translated in traditional English it is, “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19 )
On our foreheads This is pretty humbling information for us who think we humans are infallible. And humility also comes from the word humus or, ‘down to earth’. In the Gospel reading for the day, Jesus reminds us that all that we have here has been created from ‘dust’ and can return to ‘dust’. He reminds us that we should instead be placing our heart on the eternal and spiritual things that last forever in heaven. “. . . To dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Although in creating mankind, God has lifted us up from our lowly origin, we are cautioned against pride. All our earthly goods are destined to be lost. Everything we have, all our worldly possessions, will one day turn to dust, just as the great ancient empires of Egypt and Babylon, Greece and Rome have crumbled. Even before then, time, age, illness and “doctor’s orders” can take away our taste for chocolate, an Indian sweet, or our ability to enjoy a fast car. Let us ruminate on the point, that one day our bodies will fail and die and naturally revert into the dust they originated from.
We all turn into dust Guess with my mother’s passing and my helping to ‘dress’ her before she was laid out, I realised all she ‘went’ with on that final journey, was her favourite blue lace blouse and a pair of black trousers, that I had chosen earlier with my second sister and kept aside in the cupboard. A cupboard FULL of clothes and scarves and shoes and shawls and coats. Other cupboards with Linen and crockery and the kitchen with utensils and white goods. She took NOTHING of any of it. The enormity of that thought hit me square in the face - SHE - TOOK - NOTHING. And as I carefully sort and give away all she treasured through her life. I watch sick to my gut as the servants squabble for her clothes. They demand her things as they had ‘worked’ for her, forgetting that they had been paid wages and nothing was for free. Humankind is basically greedy I thought, as they grabbed and wrapped up her things, to spirit away a lifetime of collection. The frailty and the fragility of our existence comes to haunt me and I suddenly want to register my own will. I have written several over the years, but seeing the overpowering greed all around me for Mum's finances, I call my lawyer with a draft and want to sort whatever I have right down to the last detail, to prevent any one sibling taking advantage of the others. These are siblings that we thought we knew and trusted-- but sadly there is no trust left.
“Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return” --There is something about the finality of the sentence that touches us on a fundamental level. We are invited to see ourselves as dust again, to detach ourselves from the things of this world and empty ourselves so that we might be filled instead with God’s “breath of life,” that is, with his eternal Spirit. We need to pray, --“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me” (Psalm 51:12), and engage in penitential practices like abstaining from food and charitable giving of our material goods. It feels good to just give away a lot of her possessions to a poor school, through a priest friend. And then my mind moves to search for another reading that I remember hearing in church which is like a corollary to turning into dust -- ‘Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.’ Matt. 6:20-21. And I begin to give away my own things and spend rather than save and hoard --- for whom?
And unto dust we shall return One generation passes away, and another generation comes..." [Ecclesiasticus 1].In a sense, there is both joy and sadness in the passing of a parent - sadness at death but joy at life, the life to come.In today’s world where the children do not live with us, making our final passing easier for them with finite time, its good if we gift away and turn minimalists. Strangely my boys are already minimalists and do not allow hoarding. Infact the older one says if we do not use something for a year give it away, we don't need it. Death doesn't frighten me and I happen to love the idea of mortality. Don't get me wrong: I'm no middle-aged spiritualist yearning to be with God, brooding on the morbid and the morose. I'm certainly not welcoming my demise, but I'm not resisting it either. I trust that it will come in its perfect time. Until then, I want to live, but shunning the need to hoard and keep.
What we are finally reduced to -- dust. The crisp awareness that this too shall pass brings life into focus. The finite gives life its contour. Limitations of time, energy, resources and awareness shape our choices. Choices shape our life journey. In the end, these outlines form the boundaries of our lives. Within those boundaries, lie our accomplishments, our contributions, our creations, our joys, our love received and expressed and the markers for continued evolution into our next life. These boundaries beget the magic and the measure of our lives. I want to believe that I had a life well-lived. When I shuffle off this sweet mortality, my body will indeed return to dust. I hope that a beloved someone will take that burnt ash and spread it on the winds over my little village of Pilerne in Goa. Let my dust return to dust, replenishing Mother nature and the finality of the words that breathe --“Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return” rings across the universe. And my spirit will fly.