Thursday, December 22, 2011


I have gotten back in touch with many friends and classmates from school thanks to Facebook. But there is one person I will never find on Facebook, and one whose well-being I really want to know about. She’s Satyamma.

In 1981, my father, through articles he wrote in the daily Gomantak, put forth the idea of a residential school for the deaf and mute in Goa. He came up with the idea after meeting the father of a deaf and mute child, who lamented that schools for special children were too far in Goa. Lack of proper transport was a major issue back then in Goa. He had ultimately sent his wife to Pune to do a course in teaching such children, and she taught their child at home.

People responded immediately to the first article. The office of Gomantak was inundated with phone calls by people offering to help in kind and monetarily. Letters and cheques poured in. People met him to give him money. A meeting was held in our house where a trust, the Lokavishwas Pratishtan – People’s Foundation – was set up. After funds were collected, a two-bedroom house was rented in Ponda for the school. The medium of instruction was Marathi.

Just as people came forth to contribute to the idea for the Lokavishwas Pratishthan school, they also helped it afterwards. Like a barber’s assistant, whose deaf and mute son studied in Pune, handed my father 25 paise everyday to help run the school. The owner of a local hotel provided rice for one year. Many others provided furniture.
Initially the school was run in that rented house. But then the Shantadurga devasthan trust at Kawale gave the school a plot the temple owned. The foundation stone laying ceremony of Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s ‘Shri Shantadurga Krupa Prasad’ complex took place in the presence of the honourable Swami of the Kawale math. Today the complex has a separate day school building for the mentally challenged, and a residential school for the visually challenged and the deaf and mute. The complex also has a spacious hall. The Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s school has twice won the state government’s award for the best educational institution.

Initially there were a handful of children at the school. They had left behind their families for the first time. They couldn’t communicate. I remember the day of the inauguration. It was raining heavily. Children stood confused as parents cried and tried to explain to them that they would live at this school now.

Satyamma was there too. She was the daughter of construction workers. Someone had told them about the school and they had brought her there. I think they were Kannadigas.

The first academic year began on August 16, 1981, my father’s birthday. As the school progressed, we also began to learn about the world of the deaf and mute. Most of them can’t speak because they cannot hear. If this fault can be corrected by hearing aids or surgery early in life, some of them are able to speak.

I remember once my parents dropped me off at the school while they went for a function nearby. I would have lunch there while I waited for them to return. The kids’ school was over and they too were waiting for lunch. They knew who I was. I was watching TV in the living room. They kept coming there and staring at me. Then Satyamma pointed out to a board on the room. It said STD I. Then she asked me to follow her and took me to the other room which said STD IV. She gestured as if to say she was in class IV and asked me about myself. I was also in class IV. She was thrilled. Then the other kids were also excited and began to tell me what class they were in.

At the end of the first academic year, parents arrived to collect their children. Satyamma’s mother was there too. Seeing her, Satyamma uttered a single word, “Aai!” Her first word to her family. Overwhelmed with emotion, her mother rushed to my father and fell at his feet in gratitude.

I often think of Satyamma. She finished school and went back to her family. Is she married? How did her husband accept her? Where is she? Did she tell her children about the school? Does she work?

Perhaps I will never know. But I do know that Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s school for the handicapped continues to make a difference in many more lives. I only wish people continue to help and run the school the way they have.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Loyalty issues

I have a loyalty issue.

I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way. And this problem creates a lot of other problems in my life.

Take for instance today, when I went to a Crossword store to buy books for my nephews. After buying what I wanted for them, I made a beeline for a shelf containing Ruskin Bond books. It’s no secret among my friends that Vikram Seth and Ruskin Bond are two of my favourite writers. Sure, I’ve decided books are very costly and I won’t buy them anymore etc, etc, but when I go to a bookstore, I end up checking if there are any new books by these two guys. That’s loyalty issue no 1, for this means I barely check out other authors. Even if I decide on a book by another author and buy it, I always go check if there are new books by Bond and Seth.

Loyalty issue no 2 extends to my cellphone. My sister once told me Nokia phones are the best. In the past 11 years since I have begun to use these gadgets, I have only bought Nokia. Even the most cheap or most user friendly phone by another company will not convince me to buy it.
There are more loyalty issues, but let’s stick to Bond here. I love Bond for another reason. He’s not one of those authors who boasts of an education abroad or a jet-set lifestyle (Yes, Seth kind of fits into this description, and he’s the only exception to the rule whose works I like). Here’s a man of so-called English origin – juxtaposed with our many young present writers of ‘Indian-origin’ – who admits he missed India in England and returned home. He knows Mussoorie like the back of his hand and he’s a simple man who uses words to weave stories from his life. He writes about the same place, and sometimes the same people, and most of us love him for this.

In a time when every Indian writer in English claims to be a ‘global writer’, I prefer going back to the writings of this podgy gentleman from a small town, who has no pretences of ensnaring readers with his international style or erudition. I am happy reading about rain in the mountains, or how it feels like to swim in a pond, or how a python was fascinated with his reflection. I don’t have to find the perfect frame of mind when I want to read his books. Most importantly, I can keep reading them again and again like going back to meet old friends.

Some may say Bond never strays from ‘the formula’. But if its an author whose words I can trust to make me happy, or even cry when I am feeling low, or uplift my mood if I am simply tired, I will buy his books. Then this is one loyalty issue which I am happy with.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On writing

I started my other blog as a tribute to my sister whom I lost to complications from breast cancer. But four months ago I lost another person I loved. My father. He was bedridden for a while after a stroke.

I am still learning to live without him.

It’s going to take some time getting used to writing again. The art both my parents, my mother, an author and translator; and my father, a well known author and veteran journalist, passed on to me. Each time I write, I know I pay tribute to them. I shall cease to exist the day I stop writing.

I always find solace in words, but there is a time when I didn’t. That was the time my sister died. Everyone who came home spoke the usual gibberish consolers speak. I longed for them to stop. But they didn’t. They all kept saying the same words intended to comfort us. But I was tired of hearing them. Then a neighbour’s son came to meet us. He didn’t say anything. He just hugged me. And that was all that I had wanted.

Over time I have made my peace with words. After my father died, the same people returned with the same words they had spoken when my sister had died. This time I succeeded at keeping both of them away. And now, four months on, I am accepting words back into my life. The last time I found solace reading ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’. This time too, it’s another book and another experience. It was my gtalk status message saying ‘Can someone lend me a copy of ‘Eat, pray, love’’ that made my friend G buy me a copy of the book which was delivered to my home.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the book when she was 36 – my present age – and lost in life. I had heard a lot about the book and wanted to read it. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it in the beginning. But as I read it, I began to find solace in it.

I don’t know what I will read after this book. But one thing’s for sure. It has made me want to think about what I want to do in my life. And I do want to write.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My tribute to Julia

I love to cook occasionally. Lately, I’ve been addicted to reading food blogs and saving recipes taken from them.
During one search, I discovered the blog of Julie Powell. Then recently I saw the film, Julie, Julia. Whenever I see a film based on a book, I have to read it. In this case, the movie is based on two books – 1. My life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme and 2. Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen by Julie Powell. I found myself looking for Julia’s book. Thanks to a friend who works with the USIS, I managed to get a copy of My life in France.
The book moves through the period she and her husband Paul spent in France where she learnt to cook, to his postings in other countries where she followed, and the time they spent at a house they later built in France. It is the story of a woman who wanted to cook well for her husband. It is also the story of a novice cook growing into a celebrated TV chef who went on to introduce French cooking to America.
I haven’t had French food yet. My favourite food is home food, followed by Punjabi and Chinese cuisine, followed by Italian. Still, under the influence of Julia’s writing, I tried a French garlic soup recipe. My little tribute to Julia. I found a recipe on the net which had carrots in it, so the soup looks a little carroty. But it tasted good.