Remember the time?

It’s fun when you fly in your mind. The most enjoyable part is you never really know where you’ll go, where you’ll land, if at all. While I was struggling to chain it, and then tame it so that it lets me write all that I’ve been wanting to all of these weeks, it flitted from place to place, memory to memory. The annoying imp! My writing is, needless to say, compromised. But I am not going to give up. I am going to write. Rubbish stuff though it may be, it just might get me out of this fanciful frenzy yet.

Opening doors to freedom

I must’ve been twenty-three then. I used to spend like I had a king’s treasury to back me. (That part hasn’t changed, only, the king’s treasury has shrunk by kingly proportions without notice.) On the day of the disaster, I had no money in my bag, but thankfully it was pay day. My employer was a known miser, and cheat and true to his image, he didn’t pay me. I went to his office, trying to reason it out with him. I even told him I was broke. But he refused, citing dire situations as a sorry excuse, considering he’d paid almost everyone else (read everyone he “liked”). As I was getting up, furious to the core, he said, “Okay, I’ll give you a few thousand.” He picked up the phone and told the accountant to “give this girl some pocket change to celebrate Diwali.” And then he leered. I glared at him and stepped out of his office, kicking the glass door to open it. The door shattered. The boss came out running and shouting. I told the peon, “Tell your saheb he can cut the glass’ cost from my salary, and that he can keep the change.” And then I took an autorickshaw to my friend’s house. He had no money to pay for the rickshaw either. We searched his house for all kinds of change, and finally collected enough to give to the guy waiting patiently downstairs. And what’s more, we even found enough to buy me a ticket home!

May I please hide my face somewhere?

My mother has an unnerving sense of righteousness. And sadly, she likes to impose it on people she loves, too. She hates the fact that I drink alcohol. Every time she gets to hear anything about my having indulged in so much as a sip, her eyes pop out and she pretends she never knew. “You drink?” “My daughter?” “Is this what I’ve taught you? Chhee.” “I never thought my daughter would do something like this.” After a few minutes of melodrama, she warns me to never drink in her presence. And I quickly agree to escape further filminess*.

That night, General D offered me vintage cognac in my mother’s presence. I looked at her; she looked away, smiling. I took the glass. The greed for a chance to taste something that’s said to be subliminally heavenly took over my daughterly sense.

I no longer remember the divine swirl of the golden liquid as it caressed the insides of my mouth. (This linguistic bacchanalian tosh is just to impress you.) But I do remember the look on my mother’s face when she saw that I’d accepted the glass. Nothing can make the feeling of an intense loss of dignity go away.

Providential interventions

I wasn’t late for my commute to catch the train home for Diwali. I knew I’d get it. But sometimes I know little. The city was mad that day and the commute bus provided by my hostel was snailing through the crazy crowds. I got down at the intersection, sure that I could walk faster than the bus to the other side of the red light. I stood there for minutes, trying to find an empty autorickshaw, but didn’t. We Delhi girls hitched a ride in a vehicle if we needed to, but never alone. As I stood there, looking at my watch in despair, I saw an old man with a turban and henna-dyed beard on a scooter. I asked for a ride, and he obliged. He somehow knew I wanted to go to the train station. Weaving through the almost immobile traffic, he got me to the bridge from which I could see the train below on the platform. But it was slowly moving now and picking up speed. Leaving the station. Even if I ran down the steps of the bridge and tried to catch it, I couldn’t. There goes my Diwali, I thought. But no, there was some festive luck in my favour after all. Someone must’ve pulled the chain to stop the train! Soon as I saw the train groaning to a halt, I ran. The train was full of people spilling out of the doors, the roofs were full of people sitting nonchalantly as if they were riding their trustee steed. I groped for the nearest handrail and heaved myself up. No time to buy a ticket! It was impossible to get inside, so I sat at the doorstep, rejoicing at the opportunity to finally make a train journey sitting this way. But that wasn’t to be either. Well meaning people insisted I go inside and sit like ladies should. They made way for me, and got me a few inches of seat. “You couldn’t have bought a ticket in this craziness,” an old man said. It wasn’t surprising he could guess it. A lady asked me not to worry, she’d pass on her ticket to me if the ticket inspector came. If he came. Well, he didn’t, and I reached home to have some Diwali time.


I am extremely impatient with unnecessary rituals and an imposed authority about it. It was the day before my wedding and I was full of nerves, contrary to my expectations. There were fewer relatives than there usually are in an Indian wedding because Bhartan and I hardly gave anyone any time to prepare and plan. This lack of a huge bunch did relieve me of the usual nonsense in the name of tradition, but a couple of aunts insisted in making their presence felt. They criticised my mother’s supposed lack of organisation of things, they insisted that “certain things must be done.” Well, they’d pushed their luck, and promptly heard it from me. I was a bride on a rage binge! I didn’t break anything, no. But I had the bride’s license, so I spoke my mind. And how. One doesn’t speak one’s mind to a revered aunt, though, so the whole congregation was shocked. My parents looked at me with eyes that understand, yet plead to shut up already, because some things are just not done. Well, my license made use of, I retreated. And phoned Bhartan, my all-time medicine. Or rather the sometimes all-time kind.

Coloured white

Those were the days of experimentation and reckless indulgence in trivia. Succumbing to the general trend, I coloured my hair with a nice L’Oreal mahogany, just for the heck of it. When the hair began to grow, I saw some white hair at the roots. That was then, and this is now. Half of at least a quarter of my head-forest is pristine white. After years of L’Oreal-cursing, I realise I like it like this. It’s sort of a trophy celebrating trials overcome with human-ness and superhuman-ness. Sometimes it just celebrates stupidity, but what the heck.

A friend, however, shook this undying faith once. She told me, “Priya, when you have children, and you take them to preschool, their friends will ask them if they’ve come with their grandma.” Trite as it was, it scared me for a bit, and I used henna for a while. But good things do come back, like the Christmas cake, and I am undyed again.


*filminess: often used in Indian English (Hinglish) for being melodramatic. I am very filmy, if you really must know.


53 thoughts on “Remember the time?”

  1. Priya this post of yours surely belongs to our country. Any one can identify with all these thoughts. Actually i also traveled for the first time without ticket during the Dashera holidays. As all the engineering colleges and other colleges are closed for few weeks during that period,and we had only one train from there to my hometown. So some thousands students were on that train (as even buses were full) without ticket that day, so i was very little worried about the factor that i did n’t have ticket; because i felt that even though i would be caught, but the no of peoples w/o tickets are too much to be arrested. Still that one was the best journey, i ever had. And i also felt like “May I please hide my face somewhere”. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Just one question to you, “Did you really kick that glass door of your Boss?” ๐Ÿ™‚ If yes, then for sure you did the best thing you could have.

    1. Oh yes, I did! And it did feel like the best thing I could’ve done. The boss won’t forget it in a hurry!

      Travelling without ticket with friends is fun. I’ve done that once, too. Ours was unintentional. We’d purchased the tickets, but a friend threw the new ones instead of the old ones from the morning. Gosh! The scare we had when the T.T. came!

  2. โ€œPriya, when you have children, and you take them to preschool, their friends will ask them if theyโ€™ve come with their grandma.โ€ Trite as it was, it scared me for a bit, and I used henna for a while. But good things do come back, like the Christmas cake, and I am undyed again.

    I have more stray grays now and this is my secret fear when I drop my daughter off at her school! Of course, my husband is almost all white hair now, poor guy. He could pass for her grandpa.

    Great writing as usual, Priya. I loved it.

  3. What jumped out at me from this post, besides the relaxed and gentle humor you claim to lack, was the lesson that our lives are really a mixture of uncontrollable circumstances and our own decisions. This was fun to read, and I didn’t want it to end. I hope there’s more to come.

    1. You said to me yesterday, “Does it have to be all or nothing?” This post is the result of that, so you have you to praise.

      Relaxed and gentle humour. Wow. I wish I could accept these words with faith. It’d make my writing existence. But I do thank you, Charles. You are the best.

  4. All these vignettes are great. Five of them! Your mind was certainly prolific. I love how you took scattered memories and developed them. And, I can understand why you remember each one so clearly. These are moments that shape you and reveal who you are…or they can be the experiences of characters you write about in a story to produce fiction.

    1. Oh my mind is prolific, take my word. The places it visits! I could use them to develop characters, yes. I wonder why I didn’t think of that. Thank you, Georgette.

  5. Priya, your ability to chain and tame your thoughts is far greater than my ability. I am certain, having read many of my posts, you know I can relate to your frenzied thoughts. I hope you have more frenzied thoughts, because I quite liked the randomness.

    Charles is right, too. You claim to lack humor and wit, yet you have both, and you express each very well.

    I have always found premature gray hair beautiful. Truly. I look at it as a mark of royalty. I am sure, you wear your natural hair color well. I’m certain any future children will not be mistaken for grandchildren – though they will be grand, indeed!

    Thanks for sharing these stories with us.

    1. Et tu? I do not claim to lack humour and wit, I do lack them. I am an imposter, if you think otherwise. See? Fooled ya.

      If the future children are going to be grand, then I can suffer giggly looks for a granny figure with remarkable dignity. Thanks, Lenore.

  6. I love this way of sharing your life with us – in little snapshots, brief jottings down of memories on scraps of paper. I especially love finding out that you are quite a rebel, that you dance to your own tune and always have. I admire you so much!

  7. When you started I imagined your memories flitting about your head like butterflies, happy to be left to flit and flutter. It takes a bit of rebellion to trap them for the benefit of others.

    1. When I read this first, I imagined the thoughts flitting about my head, too. It’s sort of tiring for my head, I realised. Having tamed them a little came as a relief!

  8. Do you know I didn’t have my hands henna’d for my wedding because I had a fever. My hair, on the other hand, I henna’d every week as a teen, a ritual for ensuring lush growth and exquisite softness. The hair and I have since parted ways. This post made an interesting read, quickly bringing me to your vicinity, bringing me back home.

    1. Did you miss using mehandi? I suppose I wouldn’t have, provided the fever didn’t bother me in other way!

      Using henna for hair was my routine as a teenager, too, and boy, did it give a lush growth and exquisite softness! Haven’t been using it since I’ve greyed. The only thing I do occasionally for my hair now is oil them with mustard oil or almond oil. But that’s no routine. Must begin doing something before they begin thinning, too!

      Happy to know this brought home a little closer!

  9. You have some spunk (I secretly wish I could just kick some people’s doors. *grins*).

    I think these snippets are all representative of your current train of thought. It may seem like all the ideas are just all over the place but I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed each anecdote.

    Also, some parts of your culture are parallel to ours – the extended family with lots of opinions that need to be heard. I think if I was in your place, I’d have spoken my mind too.

    1. That’s an interesting observation, Nel. You really think these random memories represent my current train of thought? I’ll have to think about this!

      We allow good things to become our masters, and then curse them. The same has happened with relatives and traditions, I guess. If only we had the mind to keep things just where they belong and stopped them from trickling into our own personal space.

      1. There’s a likelihood that your mind is wandering and wondering without any goal or destination. But then, my friend, only you can truly answer that question. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Priya your little viignettes are delightful glimpses into both a world I can barely imagine as well as feelings that feel stolen from my own heart.

    I absolutely cannot imagine having to negotiate for money that is owed me. Nor can I imagine the daily strugggle of commuting in a place where you must fight for a literal toehold. I can’t imagine hennaed hands, although they look stunning.

    I can so easily imagine your auntie’s apoplexy over your non-traditional wedding plans! I can just see your mother’s disapproving eyes as you lift that oh-so-lucious beverige to your lips. And your hair! For years I spent too much time and too much money having my hair colored. Eventually, my hair dresser began encouraging me to just let it go. Can you imagine…the guy who’s profiting from my fear and vanity? I thought about it for a while and began to notice “younger” women who had white hair. They all seemed to share a certain dignity, self-confidence, and elegance. They looked like interesting women. So I decided to join them. I’m not dignified or elegant. But I am confident and…I’m told…interesting.

    BTW: My mother had dark brown hair until I was in my 20’s. Nevertheless, she was almost 40 when I was born and she dressed like an old world babushka. People always thought she was my grandmother, despite her dark locks.

    1. The train I boarded that day looked just like the one in the picture, Linda. Though I must confess that much as I enjoyed the adventure, I am happy that that occasion was the only one I had to get on something so crowded. While I write this, I remember considering climbing up to the roof like the other people, but the ones below at the door stopped me. It would be disastrous for a woman to do that!

      Your hair dresser is wise. He knew the right advice would always be more appreciated. For even though we take the commercially-driven advice of salespeople, deep inside, we all know we didn’t really need to.

      Dignified, elegant, confident, interesting. From all that I know of you, I can say with conviction that you’re all of that, and more. Coloured hair or no.

      Babushka. I love that word. Your mother must’ve had a granny-like spirit besides to warrant this reaction from people! I love grannies.

    1. Since fourth grade? Whoa! You rock, Kelly! I looked up Cindy Joseph. I wonder how the modelling world didn’t first laugh at her. Did it? They do like to demand the impossible from their models, no? And when they can’t get that, they photoshop!

      I also quickly visited your blog and am already your fan for being a candlestick maker and a mother of teenagers. The latter needs a stout heart, I hear. And if you live in a little yellow house, I am even willing to start a temple of reverence in your honour!

  11. These vignettes suggest a delicious and welcome flavour of a woman named Priya. I really enjoy the fact that you are a woman of character – having the courage to speak up and challenge tradition. Some of us have immersed ourselves in a form of slavery to some traditions that need re-visiting. Then…there’s ones we all know to leave alone, right?

    Though I have never fully understood, a Face Book friend from Kerala writes often about train and bus trips. He’s frequently on them and seems compelled to report on these trips. I think you’ve given me a teeny insight – connections and crowds. Is that it?

    Oh…and truly – I hope the Cognac didn’t burn too much! I noticed you wrote about alcohol and dignity in the same story. I have a quote from a friend. He said it flashed through his brain and caused him to stop drinking: “Dignity – the one thing that cannot be preserved by alcohol.”

    1. I’ve often heard people visiting India from the west saying that if you want to know the real India, travel in her public transport. Primarily trains. I never really understood why, but now that I look back in retrospect, being at a stage when the only public transport I use is an occasional aeroplane (which is effectively scrubbed clean of the Indian-ness — usually), I think it’s because the masses, the middle and low income group is the real India. People full of colour, and its mucky mixture. Yes, it must be the connection, and the crowds — both implying something happily memorable and nighmarishly forgettable. ๐Ÿ™‚

      The dignity I mentioned in that story was with memory of having lost to greed, Amy. And of having disappointed my mother. The cognac wasn’t potent enough to cause anything else.

      Your friend is a sensible man. No matter what fun, warmth or high alcohol gives, it is still an external crutch, and I for one am extremely suspicious of things of this kind.

      Ooh, Delicious. I swoon with delight at the word!

  12. Oh Priya. After reading this, I feel like I’ve been on an adventure with a sister. This is such wonderful secret sharing of thoughts. Thank you for allowing me to travel and sit on the step next to you.

    1. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s been my pleasure, Barb. I don’t have a sister, but a lot of cousins and girlfriends with whom I sometimes share stories. I am not very experienced in that, though, so what you’ve just said to me touches my heart more than you’d know.

    1. Oh Sandra, wish you’d told me earlier! I’d have written more often.

      It’s fun travelling in a really full train, isn’t it? Not the Mumbai commute ones, but ones in which you’re going to have to sit/or stand next to a breezy door (that’s not next to a very-used loo. Ugh to that!

  13. Though you think this a bit of rubbish writing, I find it brings me into your world – these sound bites are like glimpses into your life, and I love that!

    And I have stopped using commercial hair coloring, as it has dried my hair to frizz – my formerly glossy thick hair! I find henna (creme) a blessing. Conditions, colors – aaaaahhhh ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. What is creme? Does henna come as a cream application?! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

      I love it when I am able to tell all of you just how me I am. If this post does that, I am sated. For the time being.

        1. Technology is amazing! I am not so sure I’ll use henna on my hair anymore, Bela. It colours. I have found other conditioners (amla, reetha, besan, curds, egg) that do the same magic without turning greys into another colour. These conditioners require a lot of work and even more stink. But what the heck! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. What a delightful vignette of memories Priya…the train scene…your mothers reaction…the filmy aspect…the Shaadi scenario…I can not only see them so clearly in my minds eye…but understand where you are coming from in them! How wonderful to be able to relate to each other like this across borders and age!
    There is a heartwarming cohesive thread in all of this which is…you! You have no reason to rubbish it… Very enjoyable read Priya…

    1. The more I think about it, the more this cohesive thread in the stories points towards a very devil-may-care me.

      *sheepishly* But what the heck.

      It is amazing, don’t you think, that a careful look at things reveal that all of us are in fact extremely relatable deep down? Thanks for stopping by, Shama. I like you.

    1. Whoops. I’d forgotten I’d private-d my About page and then promptly forgot to put it back on!

      Thank you for the award, Patrice. No, actually. Because at this moment I am not very sure how I’m going to graciously carry forward the chain. That terrifies me. But thank you very much for calling me a “powerful woman”. I am going to spend a really happy day day-dreaming!

  15. Priya, aren’t memories wonderful? I rely on them constantly–sometimes to get me through rough days, and others, when I need a good laugh. When my children were growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money and so I made the decision that I would try to provide them with as many childhood memories as I could. As a result, we traveled to visit family twice a year. My children spent their summers in the company of their cousins and friends and skated, built tree forts, roasted marshmallows, saw fireworks, you name it. Now that time has passed, it’s always wonderful to sit together and remember those times. I’m glad you are able to do the same. And for the record, I too had a nightmarish experience with henna where everything, hands, clothes, fingernails got dyed, except for hair! Thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting! I hope to see you again soon! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I agree with all the comments. I’m with Charles wanting more, with Barb I’ve enjoyed “… the secret sharing of thoughts…”, with Amy that you have “the courage to speak up and challenge tradition”

    I love it when you share your memoirs Priya because you give us the little titdbits like having to fighting for your wages, or a toe-hold on the train (and being prepared to go sit on the roof) to remind us that you live in such a different country in a continent half way round the world from us [your time zone is 12 hours ahead of mine]. We’ve all seen photos of crowded trains in India but we’ve never heard what it’s like to be on one, or that
    “Well meaning people would insist you go inside and sit like ladies should…. they got me a few inches of seat”

    or what happens when your mother saw you – her daughter – drinking alchohol, or that an Indian girl could be rebellious at her wedding. (something I wasn’t able to do at my wedding. Was it because I was only 20?)

    1. India is a juxtaposition of the obvious and the unexpected, Rosie. While you might expect an Indian girl to be demure, timid and “without a voice” (considering all the atrocities that go on against her) it is also equally true that an average Indian girl is pampered like any other. It is mind-boggling how such extremes co-exist with such matter-of-factness.

      Perhaps you were awed by all that was happening at the wedding that you couldn’t see an opportunity to be rebellious when it arose? That would’ve been the only way I could’ve stopped from creating a right ruckus if I was 20 at my wedding. I was more brash (though it was always cleverly hidden behind a sweet smile), less concerned about the larger picture. The only thing that could’ve stopped me from speaking my mind would’ve been the glamourous sarees, the fascinating little things that happen in a marriage home. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. I’m late to this post, as usual… sorry!
    Lots in here, Priya. I love your henna’d hands photo (is it your hands?) I love the beautiful designs on skin from henna… though I don’t like tattoos in ink… somehow the artificial colours of those turn my senses away from them, while henna turns my senses towards them.

    My own hair started getting grey when I was in my teens. Now it is only the hair on the back of my head that is its original colour -very dark brown – and some of that now has grey mixed in with it. (Curious that I’m saying ‘grey’ as I’ve always thought of it as white. My mother always referred to hers as grey “it’s not white hair” she’d say.)

    My mother wasn’t bothered by me drinking, but she had the your mother’s attitude when I swore. She couldn’t bear to hear anyone swearing, and certainly not her children. And the looks I used to get from her!

    I love these autobiographical writings of yours, Priya. This type of writing is the reason I began reading people’s blogs in the first place. So I am delighted to read yours. It helps no end that I know you a little more than ‘just a usual passing reader’, too.

    And I love that you’re yourself in your writing.

    1. No, they’re not my hands, Val. None of the pictures here come from me.

      Have you smelled a hennaed hand? Or hennaed hair? I think they have a wonderfully magical smell. Though all won’t agree with me. A cousin refused to get inside the house or come near his mother when she applied henna on her hair or hands (he was 4 or 5 then).

      I like to think of my hair as white. at least for the time being. I am re-reading the Lord of the Rings and Gandalf is White! My hero.

      I enjoy your visits, whenever they are. And that is precisely because you’re not a ‘passing reader’. Thank you.

  18. “My employer was a known miser”
    …can’t stop laughing at this one… somehow all employers turn out to be so…:D

    1. ๐Ÿ™‚ I know just what makes you understand this phrase.

      Though I must say that this particular one was the only one with whom I had to “break doors”. The rest were pretty “generous”.

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