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Grandma's romance

This mini memoir was first published in The Indian Express.

This February, when mother and I met after almost a year, she recollected the grand funeral organised by our family of bureaucrats for the woman who had reared six children to be officers of the republic. Suddenly, those magical sketch pens, the chocolate-raisin cake, lemon pickles, Amla oil — everything about this remarkable personality — come back to my mind. So, too, did the ache in the fingers. Grandmother would constantly hit us with pencils if we ever made mistakes while solving maths problems.

Last December, in a winter that froze tears, she passed away, gasping heavily in her mulmul quilt. My grandfather, sitting by her side, silently watched her as she left him after 67 years of companionship. He had brought her in her bridal finery hundreds of kilometres away from where she was born — the restless hamlet of Sidhouli in the United Provinces of pre-independence days. She was the first woman intermediate that Gangania village, in Bhagalpur, Bihar — her new home — had ever seen.

Grandfather was a scholar-lawyer, she became a teenage freedom fighter. He drafted petitions, she roused crowds to take on the British. He mesmerised the juries, she thundered from chaupals. They were two diverse souls, united by a common ferocity of passion. Grandmother, my father says, was a lone warrior, the unusual woman who did not value jewellery or rations, but freedom. And, as he recalls now, she used to complain after every argument with grandfather, who clearly did not measure up to the chivalrous prince of her dreams who would write poetry and build a Taj Mahal for her.

Sure, grandfather didn't ever write a poem, or build a Taj Mahal, but while she suffered for two years from a paralytic stroke before she died, he was every bit the dutiful, caring companion. On her deathbed, she was accorded the glamour of a bride — deep red sindoor, benarasi sari and gold jewellery, as is customary for a woman who dies before her husband. As she was placed on a sandal-wood pyre, grandfather pulled her wrinkled cheeks, stroked her hair and exclaimed: "Oh! she looks as if she has just arrived from Sidhouli."

This evidence of a romantic disposition in an otherwise stoic man made us all cry.


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वो बुलाता है मुझे
आओ पल्लो, वो बुलाता है
उसकी आवाज़ समंदर चीर के
दिल के कल तक आती है
मैं नदिया सा उमड़ती हूँ, थोड़ा हिचकती हूँ
वो फिर बुलाता है - आओ पल्लो
आओ, संम्भल के आना, इस दौर की गलियों में मुड़ो
तो ज़रा देख के मुड़ना
कीचड़ जैसे अपमान हैं, फिसल न जाना
वो कह देंगे तुम्हें बेअकल,
तुम डर मत जाना.
तुम धीमा चलना, ज़माने की रफ़्तार तेज़ है
वो भागते हैं आंधी सा, पर बंध जाते हैं अतीत में
तुम आगे देखना, देखो सर ऊंचा रखना
इस अन्धकार में देखना ज़रूरी है
ज़रूरी है आशा भी, तुम दीपक लेकर आना
पाँव तले धरती है, तुम ओस की बूँद सा बरसना
थोड़ा थोड़ा देना जीवन, थोड़ा थोड़ा सपने देखना
बड़ी क्रांति किसे चाहिए, थोड़े थोड़े से घड़ा भरता है,
पल्लो, जब तुम्हारे सपने धरती से बड़े हो जाएँ
तो डरना, बहुत डरना पर अभी आओ,
 धरती पे आसमान जैसा धीरज रखकर
आ जाओ.
वो बहुत इलज़ाम लगते हैं पर तुमने किसका लहू पिया है
क्रांति के नाम पे लहू सामान धरती मिलेगी सफर में,
सदियों से उनके दाग उन्हें डरा नहीं सके
पर तुम डरना, बेशक डरना
ये भविष्य की अतीत पर जीत है -
तुम्हारा आना, डूबते हुए सूरज जैसा उनकी मतधारा को
नए भारत का ह्रदय दिखाना।
कई बार लगता…


If I were ink,
I would have fallen
on your white shirt -
in dots as big
as the tip of the nib.
would you still have thought
i were just a colour,
worth a scribble,
a useless reason for a bath?

Life at the LSE

LSE. (c) P.S.

In the long queue outside the Wrights bar at lunch hour every day, an overwhelming sense of equality grips me. It is here that I stand in unison with many to avail the benefits of scholarship: a jelly-filled dough nut for 60 pence and a steaming can of hot chocolate for another 60. Let truth be told: on any given day, this is the best I can afford for lunch on days I choose not to cook. In the inviting lunch joints on Kingsway next to the LSE, a modest lunch pack usually comes for 5 pounds. That counts to 500 in the currency of my country. I still haven’t stopped calculating every time I look at a menu. Almost always, I turn away and walk back to the Wrights Bar. The people at the Bar know me by face now – a hard-earned recognition in the middle of the madness of college life; an unintended happiness in a city where everyone’s time, including mine, comes at a premium.
Sometimes, I share a treat with a friend and classmate from A…