This thing about buying books…

Picture this:

It’s a busy Saturday. The list of errands we need to run is barely shorter than the grocery list for the week, and we’re skittering about the mall, slightly cranky toddler in tow. Lunch was a humble affair at the foodcourt and we’re trying to do as many things as we can before we can get into a cab, because a car ride with Miss Munchkin right after lunch isn’t really a good idea, if past experience is anything to go by. Nap time was about an hour ago, and we’re slowly but surely inching towards overtired.

And then I see an atrium book sale. 3 for $10!

The books, their covers worn soft and pages turned brown due to age, call to me. “Just give me a second,” I say to my husband, who by now knows me well enough to see the danger signs, and rolls his eyes in warning. “No, really!” I insist, “Just a second.” I walk along the display, gingerly touching the spines of the books, a fixed smile on my face. I imagine the pages, worn soft. Of late, I have been zeroing in on the children’s and young adult section, and I wonder if I can find a couple more Roald Dahls to add to my already growing collection. Despite being a sucker for chick-lit, I have this rule about never buying them first-hand, and so book sales are also perfect for grabbing a few indulgent fluff reads.

The husband starts getting increasingly annoyed. “Not fair,” he says, “You do this each time!” The little one, now truly overtired, refuses to let go of me, and so I do what I know best: pick her up and browse through books together because no way was I walking away from a book sale empty-handed. I manage the seemingly impossible manoeuvre of handling four thick paperbacks AND Miss Munchkin settled on my waist, and walk to the payment counter.

We come back home, the husband still miffed about my impractical detour and the toddler an absolute mess, while I hug the books to me because hey, I bought books!

I think it all started about two years ago. I mean, before that my husband and I did have a somewhat okay collection of books but it was nowhere near huge. I still remember the first buy that opened the floodgates. Miss Munchkin had just turned one and half, and I had joined that Mommies’ Group on Facebook where we all sold off our stuff, and this lady was selling off her books for $2 each. I grabbed the whole lot, and was extremely proud at having bought 20 books for $40. Some of those books I had read, having borrowed them for the library, but I bought them for the sole purpose of owning them.

My second major jackpot was when we came back to Singapore from Dubai last July. I rejoined the Mommy Group, and came across this lady who was selling off her entire bookshelf. An entire bookshelf! Double stacked! The family was moving, and they had moving boxes lying around, and I basically grabbed an entire boxful of books. Hardbound Jeffrey Archers and Stephen Kings, cookbooks… all in mint condition, 45 in total. The bookshelves started groaning in protest. My further purchases didn’t really help.

But this post isn’t really about listing how many books and where I bought them from (although it does read a lot like that so far, I know) This post is about the wonderful people I came across in my incredible journey of book-purchasing, and how my belief that book lovers are a whole different community altogether has been reinforced.

I started teaching last year, and because I teach English, I consider it my cardinal responsibility to ensure that my students have a steady supply of good books to read. The first time I bought books exclusively students was for my ninth-graders, when they’d handed me a brilliant class project and I was so impressed with the amount of effort they had put in it that I unabashedly promised them gifts. I remember the look on their faces when I walked in with the new books and told them the books were theirs to borrow. Word spread, and one day a sixth grader walked up to me and demanded to know why I was being unfair and lending books only to the higher grades. The simplest reason was that I didn’t have any books suitable for middle-schoolers, and the moment I realised that my stuffed bookshelves didn’t cater to the needs of a particular section, I knew I had to fill the gap. A harmless comment made by a cheeky eleven year old was what triggered it all.

On this journey towards converting our home to a veritable library, I have sought help multiple times, and have received it from all quarters. I remember desperately looking for a second set of Harry Potter books because I was unwilling to lend out mine. I had even decided to shell out the money to buy a new set in Popular since no one was willing to sell off theirs. Until I heard from this lady who had a spare set but was concerned that the box was slightly squashed. “Who cares about the box!” I wanted to tell her, “Tell me about the books!” I went to meet her straight after work, hoping it was worth it. Boy was it worth it! The books were in impeccable condition, and she’d wrapped the covers in clear plastic to make them durable. I could’ve hugged her (I think I did, I don’t remember) because I was overjoyed.

Because one of my students mentioned that he loved dogs but didn’t quite like reading books, I decided to get him books about dogs, and on that pursuit, came across this woman whose daughter, a voracious reader herself, was selling off her collection. It was late in the evening when I took a cab to their place, almost half an hour away from my place, and I decided to keep the cab running while I went upstairs to fetch the books. This young girl, on knowing that I was buying books for my students, decided to give away quite a lot of books for free, and I couldn’t do anything other than bless her. That day, on the ride back home, I thanked my lucky stars, my faith in the younger generation restored. All was, after all, not lost.

My latest tryst with providence came a few weeks ago. Through that same blessed group, I came to know about a lady having a garage sell with over 700 books and DVDs on sale, and the books were $3 each. The only glitch was that on the day of her garage sale, I had to go to school for a parent-teacher meeting in school, and was highly disappointed at having to miss it. Sending a hurried message asking her to send me photos of any remaining books, I prayed my luck hadn’t run out.

Turns out it hadn’t. I reached home, exhausted, only to find a message from her saying the books were now $1 each, and there were quite a few left, and would I be interested? Typing faster than I ever thought was possible I told her I would take the whole lot, and true to my word, reached her place the very next day armed with tote bags to bring the books. When I came back home and checked the books, I almost cried. Classics, Newberry Honour Medal winners, even hardbound books in perfect condition… it felt like a crime to pay only a dollar for each book and yet I couldn’t thank the higher powers above. Someone had once told me that if one’s intentions are right, and if one is desperate enough, things will go out of their way to fall in place.

Books

One of these days I will tell myself that maybe I have finally run out of room on my bookshelf. That maybe I’ve bought enough books to last me some time.

But then again, one can always buy another bookshelf, right?

Once a misfit…

I remember vividly two instances in my childhood when I realised I was a misfit. The first one I have written about here. I was in primary school, and compelled to participate in an “action-song” competition that everyone thought was a singing competition. Everyone but me. Which is why while everyone sang their graceful songs, I hopped and skipped and shimmied to “I had Auntie, an Auntie Monica…” In hindsight though, that could also have been because my Mamma had asked me to do so, and Mamma’s word was the Bible.

The second instance is still vivid in my mind. I was in fifth standard, and our class teacher had decided to introduce the concept of voting to our class. So instead of choosing a class monitor herself, she’d asked for volunteers. A few boldly stood up, and among them was a student who was, well, less leader material, more class clown. A lot of girls started laughing. Not me. Our teacher got rightfully agitated and gave us a ten-minute lecture on how it took courage and responsibility to stand up for oneself, and that we were being mean by being judgmental. Once her lecture was over, she made everyone vote. The entire class voted for that girl. Not me. Everyone kept looking daggers at me while I defiantly sat, red-faced and convinced that since I hadn’t laughed at her in the first place, I wasn’t compelled to vote for her, specially since I really didn’t believe that she was capable of being a leader. I guess I was proven right barely a week later when a new monitor was selected (not elected this time) by the teacher because the first one wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping the class in order.

The point here is not about being proven right, though. It is about a nine-year old who realised that she somehow didn’t fit. In fact, if I had to sum up my entire high school I could do it in three words: I didn’t fit.

Part of the reason could be because Mamma taught us Physics and Chemistry, and was known to be one of those strict teachers whose one glance could silence an entire class. All my friends thought I would go home and babble in front of my Mamma all the deliciously sensational gossip they indulged in. It was an all-girls school after all, and talking about boys was what made the world go round at that time. I wouldn’t have much to contribute anyway. Tongues wagged, rumours spread and I would usually be the last to know. I was the quintessential wallflower, and would often have tiffins with only my book for company.

The other reason why I was a misfit was maybe because back home I had a completely different life. With an age gap of six years between me and my sister, and a childhood spent trying to catch up and always failing, my conversations with my parents and my sister were a far cry from the conversations I had with my friends. Our dinner talks revolved around books and fictitious characters and music and stories from our parents’ childhood. My sister and I had a whole different world we had made for ourselves. One where our favourite pastime was to curl up with a book each and read aloud specially hilarious or particularly beautiful lines, or to sing songs with seconds and experimenting with techniques. We were quite self-sufficient, so to speak.

It was in college that I first felt as if I belonged. I had a group of friends (an entire group!) for the first time in my life, and we hung out together, bunking classes in college and after tuition classes. These were guys who got me and made me laugh. I wasn’t anonymous (Deuta had taught in the college for twenty years before moving on to Tezpur University) but I was isolated enough to enjoy the freedom of being away from the spotlight. Maybe that helped. Or it could have been the co-ed environment after twelve years of studying in an all-girls school.

Things took a turn for the better once I joined university. The fact that I was the daughter of the Controller of Examinations, didn’t exactly help me blend in (no, I stood out like a sore thumb) but by then I had learned to ignore wagging tongues and hushed whispers. There were people who were too intimated to come up to talk to me and people who thought it was okay to talk about me (often they were the same people) and yet I had friends I could count on. I had my band, and like always, music made everything okay. I loved my solitary walks around the campus just as much as I loved my evening “walk to the canteen” with a bunch of friends. Right before I had to leave, which was right before I got married, was when I realised that I had indeed made quite a lot of friends (a lot of them my juniors) and the separation hit me hard.

I am still the introvert with an extrovert personality who gets anxiety when plonked in the middle of a large group. I still have issues with exclusion, having faced it my entire high school, and am hardly the person with a ready retort to when people say anything sarcastic to me. I still feel like a square peg in a round hole, but if there’s something that I have learned, it is that you don’t really need to go around trying to fit in. All you need is one or two square pegs just like you, and then the round holes don’t matter anymore. And if everything fails, there’s always a book.

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A Sunday to cure it all

Today has been a good day after ages. And when I say ages I mean almost a month that has felt like forever.

Like everything bad it started with a hot forehead and a thermometer reading that confirmed that the little one was running a fever. If I were truly honest I think it started with the new term in school, and my getting assigned the role of a class teacher this term. They say the first few days in a new role is always the most difficult but darn it, when do the first few days end? Anyway. Not that I am complaining about class-teachership. I adore having my own class, and lugging bag after bag of books, old and new for my class library. I adore walking into the classroom feeling like mother-hen. Although more often than not it involves resolving disagreements as well.

Coming back to the fever my little one was running, because that, after all was when it started going further downhill… Along with a ridiculously high temperature, Miss Munchkin kept coughing a dry cough that ached my chest each time I heard it, and one morning she woke up crying and struggling to breathe. Guess what Mother of The Year did? Went to work. Having asked Daddy dearest to take Miss Munchkin to the clinic, I went to school because I couldn’t afford to miss a few important classes. Half way to work, I wondered if I had made a mistake because I was on the verge of breaking down in tears. My mind was barely functioning, until I received a call from the Husband telling me that the doctor had assured him that it was only viral and nothing worse and that she would get better in three days. When I came back home that day, she seemed okay although warm still, and Jenny told me she’d been eating well and playing. The same thing happened the next day, and by the third day her fever had come down. That afternoon I went bargain hunting at a Warehouse Sale of a popular bookstore, and just as I had got down from the bus and tried crossing the street, it started raining cats and dogs. Deciding to make a run for it rather than waiting at the bus stop, I ran across the street, and the moment I entered the hall, sopping wet, shirt soaked and sticking to my skin, I received a call from Jenny that the fever was back with a vengeance. Everything that followed felt like a blur: picking up books, paying for it at the counter, booking a cab back home. Hoping that my intention to be a good teacher justified my neglecting to be a mother, I finally reached home, guilt ridden, with my bag of books feeling heavier than usual.

That evening kind of set the tone for the next two weeks. The fever subsided after the very next day, and that being a Saturday and Bihu, we celebrated the first day of the year the only way we knew: by singing. My sister’s family visited us and we spent the day in the company of her guitar and age-old songs. But then, after they left, Miss Munchkin, having forsaken her nap in favour of listening to her Mamma and Jethai sing, turned into a screaming banshee. Bedtime became a nightmare, and she refused to be put down. Had I known that the banshee act would be more the norm than the exception for the next week, I would have been very, very wary. The tantrums continued, the screaming and the yelling and the kicking continued. I was at my wits end, overwhelmed, wondering what I had done to deserve being subjected to two hours of “I want to watch TV, I want to watch TV” at 2am. And did I mention that Miss Munchkin had decided that she didn’t need to wear clothes anymore? Every morning I had to manhandle her into wearing her school uniform, and every evening I had to rock her to sleep while standing till my back felt like it would snap. At the end of the week I finally gave up and realised that if this was how it was going to be, I would have to get used to it. I mean, it would be so, so easy to just give in, you know. Let her watch that extra bit of TV, let her stay home and not force her to go to school, say yes when she said she didn’t want to sleep and let her play instead. But I knew that if I listened to her, she would get the message that screaming got things done, and that was the last thing I wanted. And so I became the bad Mom, the one who refused to budge. The one who got screamed at. The one whose patience got tested over and over and over again.

Which is why yesterday, when my sister and I performed our Deuta’s song at the Bihu function organised by Assam Association Singapore, I had to leave Miss Munchkin behind because I was scared (yes, scared) that she would have a meltdown and I wouldn’t be able to handle her. I felt my lowest. My first duet with my sister after ages, and my mind was drifting to my bundle of tantrums refusing to be put down for her bedtime. When we came back home yesterday night, Jenny was in the living room, with Miss Munchkin asleep on her shoulder. Having decided that I would give in, just for once, I rocked her to sleep yet again, despite a stiff back. I told myself I would, for once, not let the whining turn into a screaming match.

And just like the clouds parting after the rain, she woke up smiling for the first time in ten days. We went out for lunch with my sister and her family, she played happily in the sand with her cousin, took a nap with him too, and we came back home much later in the evening. I know today might have been just a fluke, and come tomorrow I might have to manhandle her into wearing her uniform yet again, but at least I have today. We’ll take tomorrow by the horns if we have to.

P.S. I really hope I don’t have to. I mean, I love my daughter to the moon and back but boy does she make me want to pull my own hair out sometimes.

The All-Woman Workplace

My Mamma had taught in an all girls high school, the same place I did my schooling from, which means for over twenty years of her teaching career, my mother was in an all-women staffroom. I didn’t think much about the implications back then. All I knew was that the teachers in my mother’s staffroom shared a lot of recipes and we in turn reaped the benefits. From my limited knowledge of adult women friendships, I gathered that the staffroom was a warm place where women shared their woes. Advice, solicited or otherwise, flowed free, as did suggestions and recommendations. From fabric to jewellery, from bargains to vacations, everything could, and would be discussed. Those were days when job-hopping was almost unheard of, and loyalty to one’s workplace was something one would be proud of. My mother’s colleagues, who later taught me in class when I reached high school, were a constant fixture of my childhood, whether it be in our dinner time conversations or during the occasional social visit to each other’s place.

Back then I obviously didn’t think too much about how studying in an all-girls school would shape my life. I reached college, and started getting used to the idea of sharing classroom space (and later, bench space) with boys. I realised I was not the “I need someone to go to the restroom with me” girl, and neither was I comfortable indulging in gossiping like most other girls loved to. The difference became stark when I started living in a hostel during my graduation days. Going out shopping in a group, even for underwear, was a “thing”, something I could never wrap my head around. Gathering around dissecting Cosmopolitan magazines, pretending to be naive and innocent and taking pride in “not knowing anything” also turned out to be a thing. It didn’t take me long to understand that my vehement refusal to move in a herd had caused me to be excluded from the all-women excursions. To say I was ostracised would be a little harsh, but it was also true that I was declared a misfit. Towards the end of the last year, the girls around me stopped inviting me even, assuming my refusal as a granted.

From then on, I had always been more comfortable hanging around boys. I found talking to them uncomplicated, and would rather spend hours cracking up goofy jokes with them than struggle to be a part of a girls group, trying hard to read between the lines, wondering if someone was being sarcastic and if that sarcasm was directed at me. It’s not like I didn’t have girl friends. I did. Really good ones too! But it was always one-to-one friendships. I was never a part of a BFF group, and while I thought it was pretty cool to have a gang of girls you could count on no matter what, I realised that it was only the lucky ones who managed to find a whole group of people humming at the same frequency. My selectively social nature coupled with an absolute inability to keep up with tongue-in-cheek comments in a sassy conversation because I would be rendered temporarily dumb, ensured that I was never comfortable in a large group, and preferred a small coffee-for-two affair over a sixteen seater dining table affair any given day.

Getting married and traipsing from one country to another didn’t offer me many opportunities to make many new friends, and the ones I did were again, one-to-one friendships. I had hoped I would someday be a part of a Mom’s group, and we would grow stronger as friends as our kids grew older but even that turned out to be a fantasy (I have only my selectively social nature to blame for this though)

And then this job happened, and for the first time in a years I found myself in an all-women workplace. I hadn’t given this much thought until today, and that’s because we had to undergo a training workshop where our facilitator asked us what it was like to work in an all-women staffroom. I told her it felt free because we could speak our minds out, because after all we still have hangovers of living in a society where certain topics are still taboo in  mixed-gender company. I’ve had candid conversations with my colleagues that I don’t think I ever would have had with another man. Then again, I have never really worked with men before, so maybe I am not the right judge of this anyway. But I can tell you one thing. No male colleague would have noticed my new earrings or my new dress or let me know that my scarf was not matching with my shirt so could I please put the scarf away? No male colleague would understand my love-hate relationship with food, nor appreciate my shameless display when I stand up and tug at my skirt to show that I have lost inches. The way we women are emotionally connected, the very warmth the place exudes, I wonder if it would be the same otherwise. Learning to tread my toes so I am not stepping on anyone’s, and getting used to being a part of a huge girls gang is still something I have to work on, given how I had always shied away from them, but I know I am right on the verge of getting so comfortable I can’t imagine working at any other place.

Of course there’s talk about clothes and jewellery and recipe and bargains and sales. Why, just the other day I asked my colleague who sits next to me if she wanted to go to the washroom with me!

Bihu and Homesickness

They don’t call it homeSICK for no reason.

It all started with the Namami Brahmaputra song. Like any other khar-khuwa, bhaat-dali-aloo pitika lover Assamese true to her salt, I too got goosebumps after listening to the voices I grew up with. Admittedly, the video left a lot to be desired, but the vocals struck just the right chord, tugging and pulling at my heartstrings till there was a palpable ache in my heart.

And just like that I wanted to be home. The other videos I watched right after, including Nilotpal Bora’s Majuli and Abhishruti Bezbaruah’s Tok Dekhi Mor Gaa didn’t help much. Majuli reminded me, no accused me, that I hadn’t been to Majuli, the biggest river island in the world in our very own Asom, despite being an Oxomiya, and I had the sudden urge to impulsively pack my bags and just up and leave to be there. Absolutely loved the lyrics and the cinematography, and the video gives me hope for the future of Assamese music.

Tok Dekhi Mor Gaa made me miss Bihu, and the shivers I get down my spine whenever  I hear the dhulor-maat. Something about that sound… I remember one time when I was still studying  in Tezpur University and we’d invited a Bihu troupe to perform at a programme showcasing the culture of North-East India. The troupe consisted of mostly young boys and girls, barely in their tweens, and the moment they started playing I wanted to get up and dance. Except of course I couldn’t because it was an uber formal setting.

It took me decades but I finally understand what they mean when they say “bihu-boliya“. I know the literal meaning of the expression is “mad about Bihu” but I didn’t know until now what exactly it entails. Bihu-boliya is when you would do anything, but anything, to hear the sound of the dhol just once. It is that tingle in your toes that renders you incapable of sitting still the moment you hear it. It is that inexplicable happy song your heart sings whenever spring approaches and each breath of air brings in the smell of togor and kopou phool. It is that feeling of longing, come April, to be home. Because home means getting to feel the drumbeats reverberating in your heart, and dancing with no fear of being deemed crazy with the husori dols.

Funny story: Growing up, our neighbourhood was sandwiched between two “villages”, which basically meant we were a cluster of Assam-type houses in an extended semi-rural area that has only recently graduated to bricks and mortar. It basically meant that even though we passed through the village every single day and knew almost everyone by name, we were never considered one of them. Oh yeah, there was a definite “them” and a definite “us”. This was most apparent during Bihu when the village Bihu troupe would make the rounds of the neighbourhood. I would be envious of the young girls dressed in muga mekhela sadors on top of their red frocks, puffy frilly sleeves peeking under their pinned sador pleats. These young girls got to dance around the neighbourhood, while collecting the symbolic token money, and they definitely didn’t have mothers who thought anytime after dark was too late to be outside.

By a happy twist of fate, I chanced upon an all-girls troupe that was in need of a new member. I must have been around thirteen, that impressionable age when a girl those days was old enough to understand that talking to strange boys was a no-no, yet young enough to be innocently unaware why. It was as though I was given a short-term pass into a world I had  since then only admired from afar. I went for practice religiously, every single day. I tried to laugh at their jokes, although most of the times I didn’t understand them. The girls tried to make me feel comfortable, but I guess even they knew that I wasn’t one of them. Didn’t help that I was the only one who went to an English-medium school. We were practising for the prestigious husori competition that was to be held on the first day of the Assamese new year, and I was only remotely interested in it (mainly because I knew we were terrible) but what made me breathless and sleepless in excitement was the fact that we would be doing the neighbourhood rounds. I would be one of those clumsily dressed girls! I would get to wear a fake kopou phool on my fake bun! Eleven year old me thought it was the heights of popularity I could ever hope to gain. Why, I would practically be a celebrity!

On the highly anticipated day, I could barely make it through breakfast. I fidgeted while Mamma dressed me up in a mekhela sador. I went to pee three times before she did though, just in case. I didn’t want to take any chances. When I walked out of the door, I could feel my palms get clammy. I stumbled in my steps (walking in a mekhela sador can be tricky sometimes) and when I reached the house where we had been practising, I realised I was the first to arrive. I nervously rang the bell. Patiently waited for five minutes and rang the bell again. And because my Mamma had taught me not to be crass I didn’t shout out my “friend’s” name. I must have waited for fifteen minutes, smoothing my pleats and touching my bun for the umpteenth time when a kind neighbour took pity on me and told me the people weren’t home. “Aren’t home?” I stammered, “But… our husori…” She hadn’t had the faintest, of course. She told me maybe they had sudden plans and had to go somewhere. With no other point of contact, I had no option but to stumble my way back home. I was devastated. What shattered me most was admitting to my parents that I wouldn’t get to dance around the neighbourhood after all.

And thus ended my husori-dancing career.

I think I have been jinxed to never dance Bihu, I swear there is a jinx. Each time I get remotely close to donning our gorgeous Bihu dancing costume, something or the other happens and I never end up wearing it. Which is why I guess right now one of my deepest desires is to get all dressed up in the costume, big red dot on my forehead, bright red lipstick on my lips (staining my teeth for good measure), grinning ear to ear. And dancing. Forget the fact that I might just be a terrible Bihu dancer. I mean, I have never been complimented on my Bihu dancing anyway so for all I know I could be pathetic. But hey, I am an Oxomiya. Bihu runs in my blood.

Which brings me back to where I started. We haven’t stepped into April yet, and this first wave of homesickness threatens to drown me in misery. Heaven save me when it actually is Bihu.

Leaving this here because the dhol and the pepa sounds the most authentic here:

 

 

 

All rolled into one

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last wrote. A month! For someone who started blogging because she had too much to say and not enough people willing to (more like having the patience to) listen to her blabber I have seemingly relegated to wannabe sporadic blogger at best. I used to be prolific at one point. I remember a time when I would have to stop myself from posting something online because it had only been an hour since my previous post.

Such were days…

So what have I been up to for the last month? Well, a lot and nothing all rolled into one, to be honest. Good news first, the book has gone into copyediting! When I got to know that the book was in the hands of my editor (as a side, does it mean I am finally, finally an author, now that I have an editor of my own?) I was in tenterhooks. This was the one person who could make or break my book and if she didn’t like it, things would be tough for both of us. I braced myself for rewrites, and had almost started worrying about how I was going to manage time between school and home to set time aside to write. Forget the fact that it has been so long since I finished writing the book that I feel as though a different person had written it. But when she told me that there weren’t any changes that couldn’t be handled during copyediting, I found myself being able to breathe finally. Work on the cover page should start soon, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

We have already started planning a book-tour of sorts (a woman can dream, eh?) and I am thinking of going all out for my book launch in Guwahati. It is only once in my lifetime that my first book will be launched, and I want to make it big! We’re thinking a posh hotel banquet hall, people crammed into it, fancy high tea in twinkling silver with ridiculously tiny portions of gourmet stuff , the paparazzi (oh wait, I’m not famous yet) and amidst all of this, I’ll be the shining star, a dedicated fan-blower following my footsteps so I look perfect in each photo. A live band singing songs about me is also something we are considering.

Jokes apart, the moment I get to know the tentative release date I am getting my tickets booked for Assam. It’s been a year since I last went home and I am so homesick the pain feels physical. After the book launch in Guwahati, I am planning a few meet-the-author events but I guess everything will be concrete once the dates come in. Exciting times ahead! Can’t wait!

Until my book is launched and I am catapulted into fame, my humble life goes on. The one where I get up every morning to the Moana song because little Miss Munchkin refuses to get up from bed without listening to it. The one in which my getting ready for work routine includes picking up books off my shelves for my colleagues and their kids, because I am the walking talking library (I kid you not, I carry three or fours books every other day and distribute them in the staffroom) The one in which I have adopted the toddler sleep schedule and go to bed at the ridiculously early hour of 9pm because by the time I put Miss Munchkin to sleep I am tuckered out myself. The one in which I am reading young adult fiction more than anything else so I can let my students know which ones are worth reading and which ones they can give a pass. And then wondering if I shouldn’t be reading more enriching stuff better suited for my age, because sad that it is, I am not a young adult anymore.

It might sound like a humdrum existence, but even as I write this, three things come to my mind that I HAVE to let you know about. The first being that my husband and I went on our first couple-only trip a fortnight ago. The Husband dropped Miss Munchkin and Jenny at my sister’s place, I took a cab to the airport straight from work, and before I knew it we were off to Bangkok! The trip was admittedly short. I mean, blink-and-you-miss-it short, and we spent more than half our time getting stuck in Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams, but man was it worth it! Goes to show how far I have come from that woman who had cried her eyeballs out on knowing that she’d have to leave her daughter behind to go to work everyday. I am on the verge of making this an entire post in itself but I will restrain myself. The two day-trip was all about food (gluttony, more like. Thai is hands down my favourite cuisine) and getting relaxing massages and then more food.

I also HAVE to tell you about this adorable table and chair set I got from IKEA for our balcony as a surprise to my husband who was away in Krabi for a sales meet. It was an impulse buy, one of the few I don’t regret at all, and I felt really proud that I could manage to keep it a surprise because I am terrible at giving surprises. The fact that he was on a flight and mostly unavailable during that time doesn’t count, does it? We would keep talking about how our balcony looked too small to do much with it, and keep vaguely planning to maybe get chair or something, but it is only after I got the set that we realised how perfect it is for the morning cup of tea. I got a potted bonsai and a lamp to go with the table, and it has now become a coffee table, dining table, book-reading spot, talking on the phone spot, all in one.

The third and the final thing is this book.

 

There are different kinds of funny. There is your Diary of a Wimpy Kid funny that’s ridiculous beyond belief, your P.G. Wodehouse kind of funny that keeps bubbling simmering on your inside and finally bursts out as peals of laughter, your Sophie Kinsella funny that is well, superficial funny. And then there’s Ellen funny. Ellen funny is what makes you laugh out loud regardless of the fact that you are in public. It is what makes you want to read it out to others but renders you incapable of doing so because you are laughing so hard reading is impossible. I turn to the book when I am too bummed with corrections and deciphering bad handwriting. I turn to it when I am so sleepy I can barely keep my eyes open. I turn to it when I am walking past it and it is lying on the dining table. Best airport bookstore buy, ever.

If this post doesn’t define random, I don’t know what random is. I know being “busy” is never an excuse to not write, or to call your mother for that matter (Mamma, I am so so sorry I haven’t been calling you as often as I should) but I realise now that sleeping at 9 and waking at 5 does have its advantages. Here’s hoping for more early morning writing then. And hoping my creativity gets the memo and adjusts itself to flow during mornings instead of late nights like it is used to.

Note to self: Staying up till two in the morning reading a book *also* has its advantages but doesn’t really lead to much productivity.

On teaching

When I was a child, a wee little tyke, with a flair for striking up conversation with virtual strangers, anytime I was asked that standard “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” question, I would reply without batting an eyelid: “A teacher”. It would make sense of course. With both parents in academics I guess it was taken for granted that I would naturally be drawn to that line.   My parents never read too much into it. They thought it was cute, the way I would clumsily drape Mamma’s saris and pretend to teach an invisible class. Or how I would mark my own old notebooks because the very act of putting a red “tick” mark on paper would fascinate me. How a tiny slate hung up on the wall would be my blackboard and how I would constantly reprimand my particularly noisy invisible class to keep quiet and listen to me, shaking my head in disapproval, rolling my eyes wondering what they could ever amount to if they were this naughty in class.

It’s been decades since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think for once in my life, I thought I could be anything else. A writer, yes. But writing was more like an extension of myself, and not meant to be a profession because truth be told, I never thought I would be good enough to get paid. I still don’t, but that aside, I always knew that if there was a profession, one profession I had to pick, it would be that of a teacher.

How could I not, when one of the first memories I have of my father is him huddled over a table with six-seven students around him, poring over textbooks at our place because college was closed for the holidays and the syllabus hadn’t been completed? My mother would make tea and goodies every evening, and the students would be a constant fixture in that make-shift classroom for over a month. It was much longer before it occured to me that he didn’t do it because he was getting paid for it (he wasn’t) but because he was responsible for the students and their education, and he took it upon himself to complete the syllabus. My father’s students loved him. They became a part of our family, and even now, after all those years, we still know his students as our “brothers” and “sisters”.

My mother, on the other hand, was the science teacher everyone was scared of. She had built a reputation of being strict, and she was one of those teachers who could silence a class with one glance. Despite the fact that her belly laugh could be heard from the staffroom loud and clear even four classrooms away, the girls (ours was an all-girls school) were terrified of her. And yet, I have heard her have hour-long conversations, counselling teenage girls, being compassionate and understanding, crying for them and laughing with them and being their best friend. I have seen her hold a student in a tight embrace and tell her everything was going to be okay. I have seen her defend her students in front of demanding parents.

Times changed, like everything else. My father went into administration and moaned about how students took to coming to his office only when there was trouble. My mother became the principal of a school which, at that point, only offered classes till Grade 3, and became the motherly figure who would give company to little ones who refused to walk into class. My father became that ominous figure who walked through the campus every evening and refused to let latecomers appear for repeat exams. My mother once let a four year-old pat her tummy because he thought it was cute and cuddly. The tables had turned, and my perspective changed. Not for once though, did I ever think that I could find better teachers than my parents even if I scoured the entire world.

I’ve been blessed with amazing teachers who left an indelible impression on my life. Like my science teacher who taught me the importance of spelling regardless of the subject and made sure I never, ever forget the spelling of balloon. Or my English teacher who lent us P.G.Wodehouse and introduced us to the delicious feeling of having our bellies ache in laughter. Or the coolest professor I came across in university, the one who made being in class feel like the most fun thing to do, ever.

Which is why when I prepared myself to become a teacher, I told myself that this was my one chance at living my dream. Having made one dream come true, it was time to focus on the second one. J.K. Rowling, I reminded myself, was a teacher when she started writing Harry Potter. I could definitely wing it, this being writer and teacher at the same time. It simply felt right.

Everything I knew about teaching told me that your students make their first impression in the very first class, which is why you go in as an authoritative figure, or they’ll never take you seriously.

Me, I ended up humming notes from Closer in my first class, right after discussing the summary of The Solitary Reaper.

From that day started this brilliant roller coaster ride that I call teaching. Each day I walk into class I feel the same enthusiasm pulsing through my veins that I used to feel as a kid playing pretend “teacher-teacher”. With the younger ones, I tell them stories that used to fascinate me and I listen with all attentiveness to theirs. I learn their ways, whether it be “doing the dab” or teaching myself the steps to “Juju on that beat” or hear declarations about the most successful bottle flips in a row. With the older ones I talk about the songs on my playlist and the books I want them to read. I even started a so-called “class library” where I lend out books on the condition they keep them intact. I find myself aspiring to be the teacher they talk about years down the line. I want to be to them what my English teacher was, and still is, to me. I want them to fall in love with words, and for them to find out that there is nothing in this world, no sorrows or tragedies that can’t be cured with words. I find myself laughing along with them at inside jokes, wondering the very next moment if I am crossing that invisible line that separates teachers from students. Which is when I realise that sometimes, being a teacher and being a friend are not mutually exclusive. You could very well be both.

To close the circle of life, I offered to lend a student a P.G.Wodehouse today. And I find myself thinking of Mrs. Gopalan. Thank you, Ma’am, for starting it all.

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