Army Behind The Army

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(c) https://i.pinimg.com/736x/83/a9/cfb5afd07d1141c6ea0bd05841ba.jpg

By Deepika Divekar-Panicker

08.11.2017

A couple of weeks back, I had started writing a post on power women and their gospel secrets. But then the writing plans, like so many others, got derailed with a terrible episode of dengue fever that landed me in hospital. And while I wouldn’t wish for such a menace on my worst enemies (not to say I have many), these two weeks have been a
massive eye-opener!
In our last post, co-blogger and fellow army wife Sashwati has succinctly and eloquently summed up the lives and times of the powerhouses that are army wives. But what happens when every once in a while these powerhouses falter and need some urgent fixing? With the husband being away, often in areas where a phone call is a luxury and
the nearest airport is a day’s journey, being alone in illnesses and festivities alike is an exercise in misery.
While I was lying on the hospital bed running high fever, the husband was on a post hundreds of miles away, in a place where I couldn’t even get hold of him over the phone. Parents stayed up beside me night after night and family and friends diligently took turns in hospital duties. I am sure most of us have faced a scenario like this, more often than we have liked. The story of every army wife surviving through long distance – you really want to be strong and take care of yourself and your people but you are human after all and there is only so much you can do.

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At times like this, when being an army wife living away from your spouse seems like the hardest thing to be in the world, there is another army quietly but resolutely rallies behind you. This army is your family, the relationships that you were blessed with and those that you have built over the years. Parents and in-laws, friends, and siblings and of course the army family, rises up to the occasion and while nothing can ever fill the void of him(or her) being far away, these incredible people try their best to get you through the difficult times.
“It takes a village to raise a baby” goes a famous African proverb. Well, to raise an fauji’s baby, I can well imagine, it takes more than a village! A dear friend was reminiscing a few days ago about how she has gone through a major part of her pregnancy  and her baby’s initial months, with her husband being posted in the remote North-East, secure
in the knowledge that her mother and younger sister had her back all through those lonely months.
A wonderfully strong senior lady once told me that when her husband was posted in Kashmir and her son was a few months old, her parents locked up their house in their native place and moved lock, stock and barrel to hers to help her with the baby, all for a period of a couple of years. After those couple of years, she would, of course, join her husband in the next peace station, while they would have to go back to the house they had so selflessly locked up and try to resume their old lives, all along remembering their grandchild’s dinner timings and first words.
I have attended birthday parties of fauji brats where Papa is away but grandparents, uncles and aunts have helped Mummy make it a memorable day for the kid.

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(C) Sashwati Bora

Why, I have had siblings and childhood friends going out of their way to make birthdays  and occasions special for me, particularly because the husband has been away and as they say they can’t stand the thought of me moping about on these days.
There are truly inspirational stories of mothers-in-law standing like rocks by their daughters-in-law through the martyrdom and the immeasurable pain of the loss of the man who was their world, forgetting their own grief and helping the daughter-in-law get back on her feet.

What do you say about these silent heroes then? People who hardly ever get to experience the charm of the army life but still have to deal with the challenges it comes with. Parents who can never really retire because daughters or daughters in law might  need them as support systems on call. Siblings and friends who must put their own things aside because they need to be there for the army wife in their family. Theirs is a heroism that does not claim glory. Often, it’s not even the one that gets its due. But it is certainly the one that lets a soldier sleep a little more peacefully in his border outpost, knowing that while his wife is valiantly raising their family and keeping their life in order, there is a squad that stands by her, rising to the occasion when he can feature in only as a reassuring voice heard over a thready STD line.

Of course, there is no thanking this incredible squad of yours (in all probability you will get shouted at for being stupid and formal) but there is always a special place in the heart for each of them. When a long painful separation from your man in uniform finally comes to an end and a move to the next town when you can be together is the only thing you can think of, you still get a lump in your throat at the thought of leaving behind home and  all those wonderful people who have stood by you through thick and thin. Until next time, you say to them, knowing that the next time is going to come all too soon!

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No medals for those who love and fear.

By Sashwati Bora.

Husband and I had just reached Mhow for his course when I felt quite adventurous one day and decided to make rotis along with the rest of the meal. It was something that I had never tried before but I figured, how hard could it be, right? (As it turned out, very). So I set about mixing the flour with water and then used a belan (a rolling pin) to give my hapless dough some kind of shape. Burnt finger, burnt rotis (yes, in plural) later, I sat on the floor, almost on the verge of tears, realising to my horror that I had become a caricature. I was the “woman with the belan”, immortalised in comic strips and not even a very good one at that.

“Why? Why? Why was I doing this to myself?”

I wondered through tears of frustration. I could have worked and created things and instead, I left my job and I was here, trying to do something I wasn’t even good at.

The answer, of course, was right in front of my eyes with his nose firmly buried in his book. I was doing it for my husband so that he can study for two months peacefully without having to worry about how our home functions during this time.

In the Mhow Cantonment, I am amazed to see the amount of responsibility women take on – from buying groceries to taking care of children to working from home – doing every small thing in and outside the house all alone. Women holding the fort while their husbands study. After all, being spouses or partners is built on the idea of love and shared responsibility. Barring, of course, those times when one person has to step up for the other.
unnamed (1)What I also see among these army wives is the desire to find meaningful camaraderie – women bonding over the dailyness, the all knowingness of what the other person is going through. Friendships among the army wives are reliable and, above all, easy, comforting, constant. This is a tribe of women whose friendship can see us through success and failures, marriage and children, joys and losses. In each other, we find respite, recognition, conversation and that comfort that our lives, our struggles and experiences are so closely interwoven. In the stories of other army wives, we find traces of our own.

Of course, it is not all joy and light in paradise. There is no denying the fact that some women don’t get along with some other women sometimes. There are petty jealousies, arguments, power struggle, even loss of friendship among the army wives, much like anywhere else. However, I choose to be quite optimistic and believe that for every negative story, there are also many hopeful ones. From my own experience, my first “First Lady” was someone who set an example for me quite early on. A doctor by profession, she always encouraged us to work and be financially independent, never making unnecessary demands on us that we couldn’t fulfill. She was always helpful, always there if we ever needed her, and to me, she is everything that a leader is supposed to be. Even now I remember her with respect and fondness and that I believe is and should be the tradition of the army wives – of genuine concern and respect for each other, no matter what our husband’s rank, the tradition of kindness, of helpfulness, of shared humanity.

When you are married to a fauji, one question you get asked often is, “You are so strong. How do you do it?” I tell anyone who asks, that on most days, I am not strong. On most days, my heart is in my throat. But I do see brave army wives all around me. I see brave army wives who live alone or with children away from their husbands. I see brave army wives who pack their entire world into boxes at a moment’s notice. I see brave army wives who are unable to talk to their husbands for days. I see brave army wives even surviving unspeakable loss. In all of this, however, I also see brave army wives making hard choices every day, be it deciding to leave their jobs and moving to the most interior places or staying on in one place to work and provide for their families, away from their husbands.

All of us come from different walks of life, all of us have different backgrounds and education and stories. However, there is one fierce link that connects us all: it is this realization that the things we pray for have changed over the course of being an army wife – now we all desperately just want our husbands to come home to us safe. And when the said husband gets up from his desk to give me warm water for my stomach ache without being asked to, I know I will sit on the floor and make world – map shaped rotis for him a thousand times more.

 

 

Bar Bar (Mat) Dekho!

 

Deepika Divekar-Panicker

31.07.2007

 

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(c)http://www.themedots.com/witty-dialogues-trucks/

This one dates back to that amazing week in Goa.  The Husband and I are sipping cocktails on a secluded beach, having one of our regular animated ‘discussions’ (read arguments). He moans about the burgeoning crowds in our city (to be fair, he spends most of his time in the mountains where he can’t spot humans for miles) and claims that baby-making and adding to the population is India’s favorite pass-time. But I absolutely beg to differ. I rant (apparently loudly) “Our national  pass-time is ogling! Staring with wide unblinking eyes and dilated pupils at anything which remotely looks like a woman. Or even a child. Men aren’t immune either, particularly if they so much as hold a woman’s hand, with her consent, be it the legally wedded wife or a friend who simply needs help crossing the road”.
I claim without hesitation that there is no woman in India today who at some point in her life has not been at the receiving end of that ugly stare. What’s more disconcerting is that most of us seem to take it in our stride and thank our stars that “they only looked right, didn’t do anything after”.

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(c) http://www.eta.co.uk

Tell me if this has happened to any of you. There you are, walking down the street balancing a bag of groceries in one hand and your purse and laptop on the other, and you spot a creep, looking you over lecherously as if he has a pair of X-ray machines instead of eyeballs. You feel the goosebumps rise on you hand. You hurry along, in the hope of putting adequate distance between him and you do that you are out of his eyesight. In that moment, that foul creature seems to hold more power over your body than you do. Chances are, all of us have suffered through it at some point. More frequently than we like to admit.
It happens to young women, older women, little girls even.. Age doesn’t seem to matter. A little girl footballer cycling to her football practice in a pair of sports shorts is as vulnerable to these preying eyes as a middle-aged lady dressed ”appropriately’ in a saree.
Contrary to what most people tell me, even what you are wearing  doesn’t matter. Not to deny the fact that if you are walking down the streets with a few inches of your legs uncovered or a hint of make up on your face, these creeps seem to think they have earned the right to ogle at you. There have been times when I have dressed up for a party or an event and I have actually avoided stepping out of the safety of my car to do my chores, not wanting to suffer through the lecherous stares. And here I must clarify that I look like a very regular Indian girl, I am no Madhubala or Marilyn Monroe to blind the world with my beauty.  Nor do I have an extra limb or horns shooting out of my head. But stare they must, because apparently why would I dress up or wear make up if I don’t want people to ogle at me. It’s the same twisted logic that we seem to apply for all things evil that we do to our women. We say, ‘was she not dressed to grab eyeballs?!”
Do these voyeurs not understand that there is something intensely violating and obnoxious about looking at somebody like that?! That ‘dekho magar pyar se’ is not something that regular girls feel towards strangers?! That it can very well amount to harassment which is a criminal offence? I am quite sure they do. But if you can get away with it (they mostly do), why not?!

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(c) http://www.marrily.com

And then there is a genre of what I call the ‘social starers’. They comprise of both genders, and while less menacing than the psychopathic ‘oglers’ they are equally disconcerting. They are those guys who keep staring at you under the pretext of the much abused ‘checking you out’, leave you feeling uncomfortable and slightly sick.This is a group of people who seem to think that any one who publicly acts in a way that is different from their own gives them every right to stare and keep staring.
These are the aunties who can’t seem to keep their eyes to themselves if they spot you in the neighborhood in a short sundress. They are the people who can’t seem to stop looking if a man and a woman walk hand in hand (husband, brother, friend .. the relationship notwithstanding). They seem to want to make you confirm to their notion of socially acceptable behavior, one judgmental stare at a time. What’s more annoying is that they don’t seem to think that they are violating your privacy when they do that. “We didn’t wish to do any harm, it was just an ‘innocent’ look. So no harm, no foul, right?”. So wrong!
Going back where to the story, I tell the Husband I have started a personal campaign against this nasty business of staring. You stare at me and make me uncomfortable, I will stare right back. I will not lower my eyes or hide my face. I will make sure you turn your obnoxious gaze away.  I am practicing my death stare and it sure seems to be working till now!
He smirks and gestures to my left. My tirade is expectedly met with “looks” from two aunties chilling on sunbeds next to mine. They can’t seem to decide what offends them more, my clothes or my words. They decide to use the best weapon at their disposal and keep staring at me in the hope that ‘aakhiyon se goli mare’ is a workable attack plan against my beach shorts and my thoughts. I look back and give them a short wave of my hand. Caught unawares, they quickly turn away their eyes and get caught up in their chicken drumsticks. Well corrected, ma’am! After all, as you know very well, “Buri Nazar Wale Tera Mooh Kala” !

Veg Biryani: Pun Intended

By Tanvi Kulkarni.

Guest Writer. 

08.07.2017

 

“No thanks, no wine for me…no, not even beer.” My host regards me with a doleful look. Too soon, I think, too soon. When he offers me the kebabs – you can’t go wrong with kebabs now, can you? – I press a smile and say, “No thank you, I am a vegetarian!” And then there it is, the jaw drops gingerly, the eyes widen with part caution and part pity in them, and there’s absolute silence, perhaps even in anticipation that I would suddenly break into a “I’m joking” laughter. I quickly fill the silence with a defensive retort, “It’s by choice and I eat eggs!” Yup, I am that quintessential “bore” who eats “leaf.”

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I was not always a vegetarian. In fact, I am told of my childhood days – and grandma (mom’s mom) lets out a sigh every time she narrates the story – that I could devour chicken with proficiency. Much to grandma’s despair, I turned vegetarian at a very young age following a meatless day campaign in school (I believe she still thinks there were other forces at play in ‘converting’ me!). The decision was not a big deal and thanks to Mom, who makes genius adaptations of numerous recipes, my sister and I were exposed to varied cuisines. It had been a smooth gastronomic journey, until Delhi happened.

[Don’t get me wrong – this post is not a rant about how I don’t find enough vegetarian food in Delhi (although it is true that if you are a vegetarian who (a) lives in a hostel, (b) doesn’t know how to cook and (c) doesn’t have a steady income, your options are few).  Nor is the post about ‘how I survived Delhi as a vegetarian.’]

Delhi gave me two food-related culture shocks: First, that potatoes and paneer (cottage cheese) could constitute a daily staple vegetarian diet; and second, that being vegetarian could render you to be an object of derision. Soon enough, I had a food hate-list. The once-beloved potato topped the chart and paneer was inching to a close second. I have left many a social-do starving and then stuffed myself with paneer kathi rolls, re-considering my decision to put paneer into the food hate-list. My attempts at deflecting ridicule and pity have included sarcasm, eye-rolling and making a poker face.  I have stopped keeping count of the number of times I have been asked, “How are you able to live in Delhi?” by well-meaning people who consider it their duty to point out that I miss out on an unparalleled joy of life by choosing not to relish at least the tandoori-chicken in the city, and by family back home who imagine that I am the only vegetarian stuck on an island of meat-eaters.

Now there is nothing unusual about the experience itself but the essence lies in the ordinary. Little did I know, when I made my decision to be a vegetarian, that there would be occasions where I’d be expected to be apologetic about my dietary choices. Unending as it is, this vegetarian versus non-vegetarian squabble is representative of the annoying Indian trait of passing judgements and opinions on what sits on another persons’ plate (or even in their glass) and somehow that judgement extends to the person’s character as well. So while I am the “good Hindu person” within the folds of family tradition, in Delhi I become the “typical dull”, by virtue of the food I do not eat. Our understanding of “right” food practices involves contempt for and rejection of other practices. We grimace at the sight of meat or mock the girl who refuses kebabs. It doesn’t stop at that. As Devdutt Pattanaik puts it, “People are not content just following their choices. They want to convert others. And punish those who do not covert to their way.” And punishment can take various forms, from social exclusion to lynching.IMG_20170628_230625.jpg

I have lived in Delhi for almost seven years now as an unapologetic vegetarian. In fact, I have new-found appreciation for food. This is because I have had the most wonderful friends who not only respect my food choices but also welcome them. They plan food outings and get-togethers consciously but effortlessly. Meals are accompanied by delightful culinary discussions. These are also friends who defend me against unintended and intended jibes about what I eat. It makes a huge difference when people stand up for you. And when you stand up for others, you in turn assert your own rights too. So when I participated in the recent protest (Not in My Name) in Delhi, against hate crimes and cow vigilantism, I was not betraying my vegetarianism; I was simply asserting people’s right to their food without being hated for it and certainly without being lynched for it. Beef-eater or leaf-eater, you are not only what you eat but you are also how you treat what others’ eat.

Tanvi studies international politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.  

What the fat, Aunty ji?

17.06.2017

By Sashwati Bora

 

Full disclosure: I am a former ‘thin’ woman.

It happened slowly. I kept gaining little by little over the last couple of years until suddenly one day, I was not thin anymore. The factors were pretty much the same as anyone’s,

a) an intense love for food (Cheese is the only thing I would use the word ‘bae’ for. And may be, brownies.)

b) an equally intense dislike for any form of exercise (I would much rather curl up on the couch and read)

There was a c) in my case too – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder (making gaining weight so much more easier than losing it, besides of course, other more serious repercussions), sealing the coffin to my rising body mass index.

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I was blissfully unaware of it until neighbourhood aunties started pointing it out making it seem like it was a personal affront to them that I had gained a few kilos. I don’t know if it happens in other cultures but Assamese aunties have one favourite question, “Why are you gaining weight?” As if weight gain is a mystery that needs shrewd detectives to solve.

What do they expect me to say?

“Injecting lard into my body every night is my favourite pastime.”

“I blame the cake.”

Two years back at my wedding, when someone asked this question to my sister, I was furious. “What kind of a question is that?” I replied, outraged on her behalf. However, when it happened to me, it was not simple rage. The question stung. It bothered me more than I cared to admit.

I have always been an advocate of body positivity, believing with all my heart that we do a great disservice to ourselves as well as to others if we reduce our worth to a laundry list of how thin/pretty/fair we are. And here I am, bothered by an obnoxious question from a couple of aunties I didn’t care much about. While I was whining about gaining a few kilos, I shuddered thinking about people who were dealing with crippling self- doubt every day, people who gain more than a few kilos, people who have to struggle with their weight/ body image issues all their lives, people for whom “fat” defines the trajectory of their lives. It’s no secret that insecurities, even self-hatred, come gift – wrapped with love handles and stretch marks.

I wanted to know about other stories, people who face debilitating criticisms and who, in spite of it all, beat their insecurities every day. The badass kind of people that I was not. So, I did what I do for any problem that needs solving – I read.

I began with Lindy West’s Shrill. I read the entire book in mild horror as she narrates the painful details of every cruel word and snide insinuation directed her way. I only had to face my neighbourhood auntijis; she had the whole of internet to contend with. However, in spite of so much of criticisms and hateful attacks that might have easily crushed a person’s spirit, it was surprising to find a hopeful note in her story. She believed that her biggest achievements were three instances where she made people rethink their behavior, three instances when she drove home the point that rape jokes are not funny, fat jokes are not funny and that we cannot let people’s lives and struggles become the punch lines of bad jokes.

I was and still am astounded that seemingly well – intentioned people have it in them to casually hurt others. Casual cruelty, I have noticed, comes easily to people. Casual cruelty, in today’s world, has become normal. What does it take to be kind in this world? We are all struggling and failing and trying. The only difference is the issue that we are struggling and failing and trying about.

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I admit that I still react to the aunty question, but now it’s more anger than hurt. Now, what the auntyjis are telling me is something I already know I am not- thin, weightless, hot, Katrina Kaif. What angers me is that the opening question is never, “What have you been up to lately?” or “It’s so good to see you,” or even a simple, “How are you?”  The opening question or statement when you meet someone is always and invariably, “You have gained/ lost weight.”

We must rethink whether we want to pass on our insecurities, our body image issues to our children as legacy. It is this fear that makes me not want to obsess in front of the mirror and for the first time in my life, acknowledge the importance of exercise for the sake of health and not just the weighing scale. I fail a lot but I do try. I write this with a lot of hope that perhaps in some way I can contribute to the conversation on this issue and perhaps there will be a tiniest shift in the universe, a door somewhere will be slightly ajar and we will become a little more considerate towards each other. To borrow Lindy West’s words, “the culture is ours to shape, if we try.”

And as far as the neighbourhood aunties are concerned, I refuse to answer why I am gaining weight anymore. Ask better questions.

 

 

A dreamer for all seasons!

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07.06.2017

By Deepika Divekar-Panicker

 

This one is for the dreamers. That one there, with a thoroughly dog-eared Pride and Prejudice on her bedside table. The one, with a with a map of Paris, Cairo, Bogota or Nairobi pinned up on her soft board. The one, who has already made a list of books her unborn kids should read. But hang on! Are they different people really? Or is it a million shades of the same girl? The girl who dreams. Spins yarns of her dreams and cocoons everybody around her into those yarns. She is sometimes camouflaged behind the veil of practicality, profession, societal pressure or her own inhibitions. But if you are the brave man who has fallen for this dreamer, you are in for a hell of a ride!

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photo by Sashwati Bora

Of course, to be with her, you will have to woo her tirelessly. You see, these dreamers can be quite a pain in the wrong part of the anatomy. So the first date will probably be an obscure play at the local theater followed by a heated discussion about the flawed hero. If you take her sailing and watch the sun set over the horizon or find a game room allowing you to set off on treasure hunt with her, you are sure to earn some brownie points!

But more importantly, the first date will have to be about talking and listening. So look deep into her eyes and to read all the secrets they hold. Hold her hand and make love to her fingers. She has been dreaming of her perfect first date forever. Probably has been let down more often than not. So make this her dream first date and do it with all the honesty you have in your heart.

Let the first date blossom into a romance. Never ever call what you share with her a relationship. Its too mundane. Of course, calling it an affair is sure to get you frozen off forever.  Make this the romance of her life and yours. After all, you have to compete with Rhett Butler and Mr.Darcy or her personal equivalents of them to become her hero.

If you are not a dreamer yourself, being with this one will do weird things to you.  You will remember dreams you had given up long ago. Aspirations will go much beyond surviving the day at work. Every once in a while, pragmatism will be over-ridden by emotion and soaring imagination. Blacks, whites and greys of the world around you will seem a tad too dull. You will see the yellows and purples, the reds and the golds that it holds.

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If you catch her looking at you with an indescribable expression on her face, don’t wonder. She’s just trying to figure out what her heart’s telling her about you.

If she holds your hand and takes you to an old dilapidated bungalow she’s always dreamt of owning someday, if she shares her dreams for her start-up going international or if she discourses about the importance of the kids learning French, take it as a sign that you are now a part of her dreams.

Few people have been there before. It’s a place so sacred that the guy she has dated casually or even the childhood friend everybody thinks she’ll end up marrying will hardly ever come anywhere close to it. Run for your life if you don’t like the intensity. But they chances are, you will not be able to budge.

 

So what is the big deal about this eccentric sounding dreamer, you ask me? Why is it so important to be surrounded by her and all her larger than life ways? The answer is quite simple. Because your dreamer believes. She is a creature of faith and hope. She believes in her dreams and yours. Every time you find yourself in a place with very little hope, you can turn to her for an unlimited supply. Your dreams matter to her as much as her own. May be even more.

She understands and believes for dreams to come true, struggle and sacrifice can’t be forsaken. She isn’t the one to hold you back.  She knows that guts and brains is what leads to glory.

Even more importantly, she knows that dreams are meaningless without the people who dwell in them. She believes in the joy of life, in its beauty. Life is not a series of problems and solutions. It’s a kaleidoscope of moments.. Of moments that take your breath away and the moments that bring a tear to your eye.

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You will dwell with her in a land where hope grows. Where happiness, tempered by some troubles, some difficulties and a little heartache is a staple. If you are lucky, you will grow old together. Siting beside each other in your home in the mountains, you will reminisce about your life, a life well-lived.  And as the sun sets over the horizon, in the haze of the dusk, with a fading memory and a blurring vision, you will wonder, was that really your life or was it just a dream?

 

‘The World was hers for the reading.’

26.05.2017

By Sashwati Bora.

 

A couple of years back, I was working for a publishing house for children’s books when IMG_4649an enterprising colleague (I am not sure who) came up with the idea of having a book talk every Monday morning. Someone felt, and rightly so, that we need more book-related discussions (Also, what better way to chase away those Monday morning blues?). So, when it was my turn to present a book, I was under a mountain of stress. Coupled with my stage fright, there were so many books that I loved! Choosing only one seemed like an uphill task. I thought of and rejected most of my choices until suddenly one day it struck me that nothing could be more perfect than The Story of Ferdinand.

Now, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, The Story of Ferdinand is the story of a gentle bull who would rather smell flowers than butt heads. The book was published in 1936, at a time when Hitler was the Head of State in Germany, Mussolini was the Prime Minister of Italy and Fransisco Franco was the General of the nationalist faction in Spain. Himself an American, Munro Leaf, however, chose to set his book in Spain. The Spanish civil war began just a few months after the publication of the book. The Nationalists of Spain condemned this book as supporting pacifism (opposed to war/violence) and banned it. Hitler called it “degenerate democratic propaganda” and had it burned. Apparently, Stalin even named a piece of artillery after Ferdinand, the bull. When Berlin fell in 1945, 30,000 copies of the book were immediately printed and freely distributed among the children in a mission of peace.

Hitler had a children’s book burned.

Let this sink in for a minute. This was a children’s picture book and the man responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust was afraid of it. Hitler and the Nazis knew that one of the most important ways that they could shape the ideology of the nation was to regulate the kind of books that the people read.

This is one of the most powerful examples of why books matter.

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Picture by Mereleen Lily Lyngdoh Blah.

 

When I think of it, my books and I have gone on journeys together; each book sparking a different emotion, a distinct memory. The Bluest Eye broke my heart and also began my love affair with African – American literature. The Story of Ferdinand turned me into a storyteller. Not just during the Book talk but also later when I went on a road trip with my husband and read the book aloud to him. The Book Thief made me cry until I couldn’t tell what I was crying about – for Liesel or for my failed relationship at the time. Americanah made me want to go back to my roots in my writing, to create my world as vividly as Adichie does her Nigeria. Before Just above my Head, I was convinced that pain can only be felt and could never be fully expressed in words. Baldwin taught me how language can be moulded into shapes to describe the visceral ache of loss, of not even being free to love. After reading The Hating Game, I regretted never having a crackling office romance (To be fair, I am a straight woman who was surrounded by a sea of women. That made the possibility of an office romance, crackling or not, decidedly difficult).

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This is what a book does, every single book you read makes you think and question and readjust your worldview slightly. Books spark so many emotions – of love and anger and joy and disgust and freedom. How many times have we been upset and our books have told us, “Shh. It’s okay. I love you”? How many times have we been on a train, a flight or a bus and wanted to talk to a fellow passenger reading our favourite book? How many times have we all bonded with someone over a bad book?

“Half- girlfriend? I hope he/she cuts their girlfriend in half turning it into a bloody murder mystery. Only that could perhaps make his insipid novels marginally better. ”

Or for that matter, how many times have we wished for our favourite fictional characters to come to life and love us back?

To go back to Ferdinand, Munro Leaf always maintained that the book was written for the amusement of children and it was neither political nor autobiographical. However, his wife, Margaret Leaf talked about her late husband and recalled seeing a photo of the author when he was a child lying in front of a group of people. And he was smelling a flower.

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Picture from Pinterest.

 

 

My Mother’s Daughter

 14.05.2017

By Deepika Divekar Panicker. 

mothers-day-lion-6 Photo by Joanne Macgonagle (c) http://conservationcubclub.com/2012/05/happy-mothers-day-to-lions-tigers-house-cats-and-humans/mothers-day-lion-6/

This story takes off from my teenage, which, I occasionally realize, has been a long time ago. Those were the best of the times and the worst of the times. I was a rebel without a cause and my mother generally bore the maximum impact of the exploding teenage hormones.  She was either my best friend or Satan, and there was nothing in between. Now, my mother is well known in the family circle for her legendary patience but there were days I would see her struggling to bring about the taming of the shrew.

Don’t get the wrong impression, Dear Readers, my mother is no ‘abala nari’. From the day she told me that it would be either me or a dog that would be cared for in the house till today when she looks with skepticism at my plans to buy a bigger car than a house (asking me if I would be staying in the car and moving around like a gypsy), my mother has hardly ever let me get the better of her.

She and I traded fire daily over one disputed territory.. our respective choice of outfits. She would fire a salvo (not to say this is entirely in the past) that my newest clothes looked a decade old and were more than a few inches short and I would retaliate by calling her choice of sarees (cottons in summers, silks in winters) old fashioned and stuffy. 

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  Photo by Sashwati Bora

However, amidst all the madness that would ensue in the household frequently, there is one particular image from those days that is firmly imprinted on my mind. While I would be at the dining table complaining  about being too busy to even iron my clothes, Mom would be making breakfast, packing her lunch and dad’s, instructing the help about my grandfather’s medicines and  piling on her legal files, all in a perfectly starched and neatly pinned up cotton saree. Her Sarees, much like their intricate motifs, wove themselves into memories of comfort and confidence, their pastel colors gently exuding principles and compassion.

Mom has never been the one to spend time in front of the mirror. She has always put it down to a lack of skill in that department, though I suspect it was more about never making herself a priority. But what I wouldn’t admit back then, Dear Readers, is that the days that I saw my mother leave for work, composed and assured in her perfect draped saree, I wanted to steal all of those sarees and much of that personality.

Now, adulthood is like an emergency procedure to set you straight, don’t you think Dear Readers? It’s a sudden (and not so happy) realization that your parents were right and the world, in fact, does not run according to you. I outgrew the proverbial cocoon and family, work, money are the main causes in this ex-rebel’s life now.

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Photo by Chaitanya Vikas Ghanta @Drishyanvesh Photography

Balancing marriage, a thirty year old child (henceforth referred to as the “Husband”)  and some very difficult clients has brought a tolerable amount of patience and confidence my way. Like something that happens to most people after a few knocks in life, I have grown closer to my mother than ever before. That, however, doesn’t stop mommy dearest from smirking at me every time we watch the Sridevi starrer English- Vinglish together. She sighs dramatically and pretends to be like the much taken-for-granted Sridevi.  I, of course, can’t help rolling my eyes at her.

So here’s confessing a secret on behalf of all brats (apologies for taking this liberty). Moms, each time you wear the perfect outfit, cook a lip smacking meal or  negotiate a cracking deal (or do all of them together), please know that we either want to be like you or want to end up with someone like you, we just might not know or admit it yet. You have raised the bar of womanhood.   

As about the old bone of contention (read : clothes) between me and mine ; much to her vindication, today, being married to an army officer, the Saree (along with that personality, I would like to think) has become my second skin. I even wear one for most of the workshops I conduct. Just before stepping out the door, when I take a deep breath and adjust my pinned up ‘pallu’, a composed confidence steals over me. There is not much that can go wrong, I tell myself. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.

‘Coursemate hai’

11.05.2017

By Saswati Bora.

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Photo by Shruti Sharma.

This story goes back to when I was completely new into the army fold. After my first wedding ceremony in Assam, we flew to Pune for a second and this time a Marathi ceremony.  Since I wasn’t married according to Marathi customs, I couldn’t stay with my husband yet. Everyone agreed (not that anyone thought of asking the bride and the groom) that I will stay with my aunt and uncle who had come with me to Pune till the ceremony was over. While we were boarding, husband gets a call. Some VIP was visiting and so, the guest rooms that were supposed to be ours had to be cancelled. I was worried, naturally. We were there at the airport, supposed to reach Pune at 4 a.m. with no place to stay. Husband, however, was nonchalant. He did his thing, called a few people and by the end of the flight, he had it figured out. We were staying at his friend’s house in the cantonment for a week (The couple were not even staying in their house at the time). Now, this confused me a little.

“So, they offered us a place to stay, just like that?” I ask the husband.

“Yes”

“And they are staying in the house?”

“No.”

Let me remind you here, Dear Readers, that we were complete strangers to the husband’s friend and his wife. And being someone who till then firmly belonged to the big, bad “civil” (a fauji term for anything that’s not fauji) world, a world where I would tiptoe around asking something as simple as hitching a ride with someone, everything that was transpiring was a tad baffling.

“But why would they give us their house? I mean, who does that?” I pestered again.

“Kyun? Coursemate hai.” Husband says, in a matter of fact tone. Like it’s the most natural thing in the world, to open one’s house for three strangers.

What I would soon learn is that the phrase, “Coursemate hai” is a reasonable explanation for anything among the men and women in the army. No favour is too much. Someone needs the car for a day? Done. Someone needs to be dropped at the airport? Done. Visit an injured friend every time you are in the city? Of course. And these are only the most basic, the tangible examples. In these two years, I have not seen a single person hesitate and always it’s just a matter of a phone call or even a text message. I would wonder sometimes. Was it because they stay away from their families and have only each other to lean on that makes these people’s hearts grow ten times bigger? What are these men and women even made of?  People who are brave and simple and with a generosity of spirit that I had never seen before. (You might think that I have rose- tinted glasses on, Dear Readers. However, I know and understand certain criticisms levelled against this institution. In fact, I have had things to criticize about the army too. Also, I am not someone who indulges in or appreciates jingoistic nationalism. But all said and done, I have to say that the army has my heart.)

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Photo by Shruti Sharma.

 

But I digress. To go back to my original story of the two people who showed me before anyone else what it means to be a part of the army family. After a week of staying at their place, I didn’t know how to say thank you. Sometimes words encompass everything and at other times, they even fall short of holding a simple emotion – of gratitude. I didn’t know what my note should say, so I didn’t write one. A gift did not cut it either. But since then, I have told this story to anyone who would listen, always with a silent note of gratitude.

So, my first blog post is my inelegant attempt to say thank you. Thank you for showing

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Photo by Abhilash Panicker. 

rather than telling me about the big and warm and generous heart of the army. Thank you for helping me enter into this world with an important lesson of kindness. Thank you because later when we asked a coursemate and his pregnant wife to stay at our place when we were away, we had a great example to follow. Thank you to the two strangers who are now friends. Thank you, Deepika and Abhilash.

 

Two women and a handful of words!

Great stories happen to those who can tell them, was the hope we carried in our hearts all through childhood and teenage. Eventually, we realized, great stories happen to those who can live them.2017-05-09-PHOTO-00001621

So who is this “we” you ask? We are two bibliophiles, Deepika Divekar-Panicker and Sashwati Bora who became friends over a shared love of words, opinions and a cuppa (tea for one, coffee for the other). Not to mention, the bond that forms between two proud army wives living through long-distance relationships.

Though we’ve met a total of about 3 times, our social media shenanigans and then the more personal chats soon told us that each of us harbored a special love for stories. Spinning stories comes to us also because of our respective professions (one of the many since we have recently discovered that we are Janes of many trades).

A self- proclaimed quotes-hanger, feminist and fictionista, Sashwati packs a punch in the FullSizeRenderlit and editorial department, with books being her bread and butter and more importantly, tea. Deepika, on the other hand, is a lawyer by day, moonlights as a Book-woman, and knows for a fact that words and stories can get you into and out of some serious trouble.

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So here we are, two women with our two cents on life, love and a glass or two of Chardonnay. We are quirky, curious and a tad bit crazy. Our stories might amuse you or provoke, you might roll your eyes or you might grin from ear to ear! We will write about how we feel, what we think and why we do.

So bring out your wine glasses, make do with tea cups or even steel tumblers. But keep the flimsy paper cups away. Because papercupsarenotforchardonnay!

Love,

Deepika

May 9, 2017