Friday, March 8, 2013
In literature, aunts are the most unappreciated and yet, some of the most memorable characters. More often they are villains who try and create problems for the protagonists in every possible manner. At the same time, there are aunts who change the lives of their nieces and nephews with their own courage, ingenuity and spirit of adventure.
Among the books I’ve read (which is a pitiful number) the most adventurous of the lot is, without a doubt, Aunt Augusta, Henry Pulling’s crazy aunt and the woman of Graham Greene’s entertaining novel, Travels with my Aunt. This 75 year old woman has the spirit of a 20 year old and is not just young at heart but also in possession of great wit. Her adventures take Henry from the serenity of his home (and his dahlias, which are his one great obsession of retired life) to Paris, Turkey, and finally to Paraguay. Suitcases stuffed with money, gold ingot hidden in a quaint candle stand, investments made for fugitive friends, stories of lovers, Scotland Yard and the CIA feature in Henry’s mundane life, all thanks to his Aunt Augusta. It is not difficult to fall in love with Aunt Augusta’s vitality, zest for life, love of travel and her eccentricities (and to wish for her too).
Another aunt who comes to the rescue of her niece is Fatima Phuppo, the very confident, sari-clad, bold aunt who takes a stand for Zeba in Shazaf Fatima Haider’s debut novel, How It Happened. She is the perfect example of a modern, successful woman who is not afraid to express her viewpoint even if it entails taking a stand in front of her domineering mother (and Zeba's dadi). Fatima Phuppo is a character we should all aspire to be, whether as an aunt or as a woman.
But there is no lack of aunts who aren’t afraid to express their views. They call at all hours, expect their instructions to be followed to the T and scare the living daylights of their nephews. One such tyrant aunt is no other than Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha. ‘The one who eats broken bottles and turns into a werewolf at the time of the full moon…’, or ‘..the one who kills rats with her teeth and devours her young…’. Of course Aunt Agatha doesn't do any of these things. She may be a bully but she’s no vampire.
Bellatrix Lestrange, on the other hand, is an aunt to put fear in the hearts of all and sundry, what to talk of nephews. Aunt Petunia pales in comparison to her. At least she tried to keep Harry safe (even if it was only out of fear) while Lestrange was ever ready to sacrifice her own nephew if it meant earning brownie points with the Dark Lord. And it’s not just in her evil ways that Bellatrix towers above Aunt Petunia (hint: weird hair-do).
And while on the subject of aunts, I cannot complete my tribute without mentioning the two evil aunts of poor little James; Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. Even though their reign of evil was short (they meet their end quite early), they caused enough misery to force James to move into a giant peach.
Aunts in literature often play a small yet pivotal role in the story line. Sometimes they try to exert their influence on their nephews. Who can forget the stern and haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh who tried to stop Mr. Darcy from marrying Elizabeth (and failed miserably). There are some aunts, though, who can both exercise influence and get their way too. Bertie Wooster, I’m afraid is the poor nephew who, on the bidding of his Aunt Dahlia (yes, he has two aunts) actually stole the silver cow creamer from the antique collection of Sir Watkyn Basset. That he managed to get away with it is another story for another time.
This woman's day I shall pay a tribute to the crazy, evil, stern, and strange aunts. Of literature, of course!
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Tonight, while out doing some quick shopping at Zamzama, a hijra (transsexual) walked up to me asking for money. I quickly walked into a shop to avoid him. When I walked out a few minutes later, the hijra was still there and on spotting me came forward again. I walked towards another shop and kept saying no to all his requests. Before stepping into the shop, I turned around and said to him: 'You are able bodied. Why don't you find some work instead of begging like this'.
The horror of my statement hit me within minutes. I went through my purse, took out a fifty rupee note and decided to give it to him. But when I stepped out of the shop, the hijra had left.
I still haven't been able to forget the expression on his face. I don't remember many details of his appearance except that he was quite decent, unlike the ones who are begging at the Teen Talwar signal. He had a cleft lip which he had tried to cover up as much as possible with white powder.
Have I become so indifferent to my surroundings that I told him off with instructions to find a job? I mean, in all seriousness, who will give this person a job? Me? You? I understand that handing out money to them is not a solution. Maybe even the hijra I met today might have just blown the money on booze or drugs. But maybe, just maybe, he might have bought some food for himself and some friends.
It is easy for us to walk away from them in shopping areas or turn a deaf ear when they tap on our car windows at traffic signals. But the truth is that they are as much a part of this society and this city as we are and as humans, they have an equal right to live. Just because we were born normal and in a good household doesn't make us better or superior. And even though doling out money is not, like I said, a solution; I will be on the lookout for this hijra tomorrow evening.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Friday, February 15, 2013
Splendid is the tea my love makes,
Though making it, he hours takes.
Strong, black tea; a perfect pick up,
He pours, each morning, in my colorful cup.
It's not just tea dears, it's love he pours,
And the hot beverage becomes plaisir d' amour!
At Pie in the Sky for a late Valentine snack
Friday, February 8, 2013
Because some of the best conversations happen before the dinner party.
Scenario # 1
A couple is having evening tea in their garden. The wife has her hair set in a high bun, is dressed in gym clothes and has a white Siamese cat in her lap. The husband is also wearing gym clothes, and is busy on his cell phone.
Husband: You remember about the dinner on Saturday?
Wife (stroking her cat): Of course I remember. I’m going to miss all my dramas because of it.
H: You can always watch the re-runs.
W: You think your sister is not going to tell me all about them when we meet her at the brunch? Completely ruined my weekend, I tell you. I’ll have to go through two unpleasant events back to back – dinner with your friends and then brunch with your family. And, the irony of it all, they aren't even your friends!
H: Of course they are! We play golf together.
W: Then why don’t you invite them over for the boys’ night every month?
H: They don’t drink.
W: We do. Non-drinkers shouldn't invite drinkers then.
H: Don’t be childish! I couldn't say no to him. We've been playing three times a week since the past one year. The others had already accepted the invitation when he asked me. And (he takes a sip from his cup) I thought you liked meeting new people or are you too old for socializing now?
W: For pointless socializing, yes. Just like you are old for….
H: I’m not old.
W: You are too darling. Especially in bed!
(She laughs and lights her cigarette. The cat jumps off her lap and sits on empty chair)
W: Where do they live?
H: Somewhere in Defense. He’s sent me the address.
H: Yes, I think so. Why?
W: (blows out a perfect ring of smoke) So that I can decide whether to eat something at home before the party darling.
Scenario # 2
Man is browsing through an art catalogue. His wife is sitting across him, instructing a young man about a certain painting. The woman is the owner of an art gallery. Both husband and wife are sitting in her office at the gallery.
Wife: The exhibition is on Sunday.
Husband: You've told me.
W: I don’t think you listen to what I tell you. Otherwise you wouldn't have said yes to this dinner.
H: Drop it Hajra. We've had this conversation ten times already. I've told you before that…
W: Okay, okay. Spare me the details. I’ll have to come back to the gallery after the dinner so please don't sit too late. I’m going to be here in the day also so you’ll have to pick me on your way to their home. The gallery is on the way, right?
H: (puts catalogue on table) I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’ll smell of paint and cigarette.
W: I’ll tell them it’s an exotic French fragrance. I’ll even make up a name. These high society women always get impressed if you throw a few foreign words around.
H: And you, of course, know all about these high society women, don’t you?
W: Who do you think comes to buy all these paintings? Why hasn't he brought tea yet? (Reaches for intercom on side table)
H: Try not to be too critical about their art pieces.
W: If they have any worth criticizing! Oh, I’ll have to eat before we leave. Such a bother these dinners with total strangers are!
H: He’s not a total stranger. He plays golf with me. Besides, I've told him you’re a vegetarian.
W: You what? Oh dear God! Now they’ll make all sorts of weird dishes for me and when I won’t eat any, they’ll bitch behind my back.
H: They won’t be the first ones!
Scenario # 3
A woman is sitting at her dressing table brushing her hair. Her husband is sitting on the bed reading a book.
Wife: Have you decided about your birthday celebrations?
Husband: (reading) No.
W: But you must darling! It’s your 40th birthday. Remember how Sakib bhai did his?
W: Oh come on! Don’t you remember that amazing party at French beach?
H: Oh that!
W: We have to do something grander. I’m going to ask Saira to come over on Saturday for a brainstorming session.
H: (puts book down) Not this Saturday. We have to go out for dinner to my friend’s place.
W: Oh dear God! I had forgotten! This Saturday?
W: Let’s see. Saira’s exhibition is next weekend. I’ll invite the wives of your friends at the launch event. In fact, I’ll put the invitations in my bag now.
H: Put them on the dressing table. You’ll forget them otherwise.
W: No, I’m going to put them in the bag right now. (Puts five envelopes in a Chanel bag)
H: Remember to buy a cake on Saturday.
W: A cake? That’s so cheap! I’ll have a special chocolate basket made. In fact I’ll just call Mrs. Baig so she can have it ready by Saturday. What kind of chocolate should I order? Milk, white, dark or a combination of all three?
H: A combination.
W: What about the colors of the wrapping paper? Brown and beige tones will be alright, no?
W: Great! What time will we leave for the dinner?
H: 8:30 I think. They live nearby.
W: I should be back from the parlour by 7:00 pm so I’ll have enough time for a quick bite.
H: We’re going to a dinner, not a wedding. Why are you planning to have an early dinner at home?
W: Oh my dear, I can’t eat there! Don't you remember? I’m on a diet.
Scenario # 4
The host couple is sitting in their living room watching news on television.
Husband: Everything is ready for the dinner?
Wife: Yes almost.
H: Why almost?
W: Don’t get me started on this dinner, okay?
H: Alright, alright! Just let me know if there is anything I can do.
W: Yes, there is. Stop having these dinners. We hosted one, what, three weeks back? I’m sick and tired of entertaining people I don’t know. Life is too short to waste on mere acquaintances.
H: They aren't mere acquaintances. We play golf together.
W: Now please don’t start on your speech about friendship and socializing. What is their ETA?
H: Their what?
W: Time of arrival.
H: Oh. I asked them all to come around 8:30.
W: Then we should expect them by 9:00. I’ll eat early so don’t get after me during dinner.
H: And why will you do that?
W: Because the last time I acted the good hostess and didn’t eat, there wasn’t anything left except the potato salad and strawberry cheese cake. So this time, I’m going to eat before your hungry guests arrive.
H: Suit yourself. By the way, make sure none of the liquor bottles are in the dining room cabinet. I don’t think any of them drinks.
[I've come to the conclusion that writing is sometimes the only outlet for venting out frustration, especially when hubby dear isn't around. It's definitely better than banging head against the wall but not better than chugging down Coke. Chilled, of course. Oh wait...Was this bottle for the dinner tonight? Oops...]
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
I just couldn't resist displaying these beautiful illustrations from the 1946 edition of Anna Karenina published by The Living Library Series. From top left: Anna & Vronsky dance at the ball while a shocked Kitty looks on, Anna & Vronsky courting each other in public, the distraught lovers, and Anna walks to her death (bottom right).
[This post is a part of the celebration of love and literature all this month on the beanbag. Why? Read here].