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Monday, December 27, 2010

School Concert Sideshow

If you haven't been to one, this is the kind where there are about 300 kids on the stage, all anxiously blowing their trumpets or clutching their violins, wailing or screeching with the desperate teacher at the piano in front as he valiantly tries to cover the lack of tune and synchrony. The parking lot is always an ocean of cars with all the relatives come to see their favorite nieces or grandsons perform. My daughter's school had one a few weeks ago, and I dutifully chauffeured her to and fro rehearsals, trips to the mall to acquire 'concert attire', cookie drop-offs,etc. etc.
The concert went off fine, not as untuneful as I had expected, but the sideshows were more entertaining. I had plonked myself in the middle of a row to the mid-left facing the stage, while another desi mom appeared to have done the same in the row before mine. As others walked up, staking claims to more and more seats with jackets, purses, and scarves to mark their territory, she thought the better of her seat and got up to ask me if the one next to mine was available, and sat down.
Barely five minutes later, another desi lady moved into the row behind and started up a loud conversation with my neighbor in what sounded largely like Hindi to me, until the generous references to 'Mian' cued me in to the fact that they were speaking in Urdu. At some point, another friend of mine stopped by "Eppo vandel?" ( 'When did you arrive?', in Tamil, to which I naturally responded in Tamil), moving back to her seat on the other side of the theater after a brief exchange.
My neighbor didn't bat an eyelash, continuing with softer responses to her loud friend behind us. They made free with all and sundry in their conversation, ranging over after-school activities for their kids to flaws real or perceived in what their Mians did or didn't do.The decibel level was getting so high, that the people in front turned to look at us, me sitting there silently, trying hard not to laugh, my neighbor and Mrs.Loudvoice. From the expression in their eyes, I wonder if they were annoyed at the loudness or the fact that it was in a language unintelligible to them. Maybe they were considering alerting Homeland Security, for all I know.
It was getting harder not to laugh out loud, and I did chuckle audibly while continuing to eavesdrop (not my fault, of course, it is impossible not to overhear when the dialogue is right next to your ear.). At which point, my neighbor and her friend suddenly realized that I could understand what they had been saying. The lady behind looked miffed, my neighbor a little less so. I suspect that she may have been having a hard time with generating enthusiastic responses to her friend's comments. "You can understand Urdu?", she asked, as it dawned upon her that just because I spoke a different language didn't preclude the possibility that I might know their language.
"Yes, Hindi actually, but I can probably follow 90% of your Urdu."
The conversation continued, a little more muted in tone and tenor, now that they knew that I could understand, and it stopped entirely as the school band and orchestra took to the stage for their first item.
The concert proceeded with very little ado, ended on dot, and everybody heaved a sigh of relief as they collected their budding geniuses from the stage and headed back home.
My entertainment for the evening was gone with the crowd.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two Bachelors

(Just one of those snippets of memory that popped up, after reading Kochuthresiamma's ruminations on Mallus and Bongs...)

We lived in a tiny complex of 4 flats, on a side road branching off one of the main thoroughfares.  Ours was on the second floor (or first floor, take your pick, if you prefer to call the lower floor the ground floor.) We were one of two families initially, the flat below ours already housed another family, whose daughter was also a Sujatha, just like me.
They had a Pomeranian mix puppy, named Tarquin for the Roman emperor,even though she was female. By the time they realized their mistake, it was a little late to correct everyone's impression of her name, so Tarquin she remained. She was a friendly little thing and would trot up every morning for a lick of sugar from my palm, nudging at our door, which would shudder every morning promptly at seven. I would open the door, dispense her treat and she would trot back down, contented. All was right with the world.

Soon enough, the flat opposite had some new occupants, a pair of Bengali bachelors. Both had the same name (Ashok) but one was Banerjee, the other Chaterjee. One was tall and thin, the other short and chubby-faced.They largely kept to themselves, their presence made evident by occasional whiffs of fish frying wafting from their kitchen, or occasional snatches of flute melodies that Banerjee liked to play.

Some months down the road, trouble started. We would hear Tarquin banging on our doors at odd hours of the night. We tried complaining to the neighbors downstairs, but they swore that Tarquin had been chained and asleep at those times. It took one night of staying awake and whipping open the door at top speed to catch the culprit.That was when we found out that it was the bachelors acting up, having indulged in a 'little tipple', confusing our door with theirs and generally being nuisances. There was little we could do, since we hardly talked to them anyway.

We did come up with a sneaky solution, based on a suggestion from our maidservant. The flat doors had an external latch, so we took to latching their door from outside after they had retired to their tippling, and unlatching it in the morning. After we tried this a few times, they got the point and stopped indulging in banging the doors.

A few months later, Banerjee fractured his leg in a major accident and he spent months moping lonely in the flat, hobbling around on crutches. There was literally non-stop flute music during the day, of we heard very little, being busy and out of the house. The weekends were another story. We would make every effort to go out, just escape the mournful flute.

At some point, the leg healed, and Banerjee made his way back to work, walking with the slight limp that would last him all his life. Chaterjee had moved out, repelled, I suspect, by too much melancholic flute melodies. Or it may have been that he got married and needed to move out.

(Time has a way of blurring some details of the story, while the main focus remains sharp and clear, in full color.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Involuntary Volunteer

A few days ago, I received an anxious call from a close acquaintance. "Are you going to be helping out at the special lunch at the high school on Wednesday?". Her son is my son's classmate.
We had all received  a printed letter on the school letterhead (??? whatever happened to emails and preserving the trees?) requesting assistance with supplying food items ('preferably reflecting your culture and ethnicity') for some student event. I pondered it briefly before deciding that no, I did not want to send food to be wasted or just eaten by the teachers in charge (as had happened some years back when I had meticulously made idlis and sambar for some similar event in the middle school.) Or horror of horrors, had to remake items for some bake sale because what I had dropped off originally was nowhere to be found.
So I told her, "No, I have no plans to be there." She launched into a long story about how she had been co-opted into helping out, only to realize belatedly that she had other commitments that day. She was hoping that I could take her place at the 1:00pm event.
Oh bliss and schadenfreude, as I uttered the words "Sorry, I work outside of home and don't get back till late afternoon. Plus, I do have an important meeting that day, so can't take the day off or work from home."
Our conversation didn't last long after that.
Today, as though reading my mind, this article highlighted similar decisions by numerous 'involuntary volunteers' who are now backing off from their school volunteering commitments and restoring a semblance of balance to their harried lives.
I still volunteer, but on my terms and my choice of time. I have it relatively easy, having chosen the internet communications task, which can be done from the comfort of my home. I may not be able to schmooze with the bigwigs at the PTA since it is a  low profile task, but I have the consolation of knowing that while other committee officials come and go, my committee lives on ....well, not forever, but at least till my younger kid leaves for college.