Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Where Akbar rests

Akbar's Tomb in Sikandara - a beautiful way to rest in peace...

 A visit to Agra was long overdue, since I had already covered Delhi and Jaipur and was keen to complete the Golden Tourist Triangle of India. In Agra, I was drawn to a lesser known destination in --- the suburb of Sikandara.

To make the most of our time, we boarded, excitement aplenty, the early morning Delhi-Agra Shatabadi Express. But as they say, “Man proposes, God disposes”. Our plans went kaput as we reached Agra where we find ourselves caught in one of the heaviest downpours of the season. Determined as we were, we set off to Sikandara --- a suburb eight kilometers from the city centre.

Although Sikandara owes its name to a Lodi Sultan from the early 1500s, it is now known for being the resting place of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It is said that in keeping with Tartary tradition, Akbar himself ordered the construction of his tomb here. To our modern sensibilities, this was a somewhat chilling revelation. Nonetheless, the beautiful double-storeyed southern gate with its typically Mughal-styled chhatri-topped minarets compelled us onwards. We found ourselves facing a mausoleum that lies symmetrically in the centre of a massive square garden in the traditional charbagh layout, and is flanked by decorative gates on the other three sides as well.

The deep-red tomb inside exemplifies Akbar’s taste for Indo-Islamic styles and his preference for sandstone. The imposing tomb is a four-tiered building with multiple pillar-supported chhatris adorning the various levels of the structure. We walked closer to admire the fa├žade which is splendidly covered with inlaid stone and carved motifs. The tomb rises to culminate into a courtyard, where we saw Akbar’s cenotaph and strolled around in the surrounding marble arcades. As is traditional, the true coffin lies undecorated in the quiet ambience of the basement.

To lead us there was a very high vestibule intricately decorated with coloured tiles and filigree work. As I gave this unique dome-less tomb one final glance on my way out, the layered chhatris and the prancing deer in the background transported me back to my childhood's fairy tales.

Akbar’s tomb in its entirety, a startling red juxtaposed with the vast sea of green where it stands, was a sight that made up for the day’s initial misfortunes.

( This article was published in the city edition of the Hindustan Times, Chandigarh on 2nd July, 2013.)


Dedicated to the………

``Mumbai is not the right place to fall sick,” announced my friend while introducing me to the city. It left me confused. I thought to myself, ``is there a right place to fall sick? Why on earth would anyone like to fall sick, anywhere?" When I asked her what she meant by that, she just waved it aside saying that I would understand when I would have my first encounter with a doctor in Mumbai. So far, I had only heard of encounters between Mumbai police and underworld gangsters, but an encounter with a doctor? Sounded strange! When I voiced my thoughts to my friend, she told me that the doctors were as good (rather bad) as gangsters in extorting money from their victims (oops... patients) because their charges were exorbitant and simply unaffordable.

The day was not far when I actually had to see a doctor, after settling down in Mumbai. At the appointed time, I reached the clinic with some apprehension. While in the waiting/reception area, I broke into a conversation with other patients. I was dismayed to learn that the doctor had given the same time-slot to three more patients! ``This doctor must be very competent and busy,” I tried to convince myself and people around me. ``Nothing of that sort,” said one of my co-patients (who shared the appointment time with me). ``Most of the doctors do this to create this impression of being in great demand.”

After waiting for an hour, I was called in. I was impressed by the very clean and hygienic look inside, I must admit. One gets to see such sterilised look only in movies. I was asked to sit. Expecting questions about my condition and ailment, I was taken aback when the doctor began with, ``who referred you to me?”

I was startled and before I could gather my senses, pat came the next question, ``Are you working?”

``Yes, of course. I am a housewife. I slog 24/7 hours to look after my family.”

``In that case, where does your husband work?” he asked blatantly, without appreciating or sympathising with me on my work conditions.

I gave a puzzled look, as I wondered what relation my husband’s job had with my condition.

He added quickly, ``I mean whether in a public sector or a private company etc., and whether you get your bills reimbursed.”

I had to tell him, albeit reluctantly, that my husband was a banker. Finally, the `doctor’ somewhere within him woke up and he enquired about my health and condition.
 As I started off with my list of problems, I noticed that the doctor was least attentive to me and was vigorously jotting something down. He had prescribed me a long list of medicines and a couple of lab tests before I had finished!

I asked, “Am I to go for the tests first?”

``Hmmm. You can start the medicines right away; go for the tests at your convenience. But you must undergo these tests, just in case....” he left me nervous at the complexity of my disease.

At the reception, the lady had already prepared a receipt-cum-bill for a handsome amount. Having parted with the amount, I left the clinic with a heavy heart and a lighter purse. On my way back home I pondered as to how the receptionist knew that I would ask for a receipt for the payment made, as my husband was enititled to get a part of such medical expenditure reimbursed from his employers. What the doctor was inquiring in his cabin, made sense to me now and presented a perfect picture of telepathy between him and his receptionist.

After a few days, I had to take my younger daughter to a dentist. An old filling had come off and needed to be redone. The dentist examined my daughter’s teeth and uttered something, which sounded quite alarming and compounded my fear and premonition that my daughter was in for a long course of treatment. Although the doctor sounded quite sympathetic towards the patient, the expression on his face didn’t quite reflect that. To me, he appeared quite thrilled and ready for his kill. For a while, I thought that I was becoming too suspicious by nature. But my fears came true as I was explained an elaborate treatment plan. After a treatment covering ten to twelve sittings and stretching over a period of five weeks, I came to know that the doctor had gone to Europe on a holiday tour, leaving my daughter high and dry in the middle of her treatment with a few freshly dug openings and canals, not unlike BMC leaving dug pot holes and roads before the onset of monsoon. Anyway, it was a much needed commercial break (literally) for the doctor. My daughter is a sweet, charming and accommodating person. Though not endowed with a very good set of teeth which can launch a thousand toothbrushes of all shapes and sizes and toothpastes of all hues of a rainbow, she’ll nevertheless have a `million dollar’ smile by the time she leaves the dental clinic or Mumbai, whichever happens first.

My elder daughter, who is a computer graduate, suffers from recurring bouts of backache. Recently, I took her to one of the city’s leading orthopaedic surgeons. The reception room had a portable TV mounted on a wall just below the ceiling, to entertain waiting patients. It was placed at such a convenient (or strategic?) height that everyone was able to watch the TV, but only by giving a slight twist to one’s neck. By the time my daughter went in for consultation, I had a stiff and sprained neck. I had no option but to take an appointment for myself too. What an idea!(Sir ji). The long list of degrees, the doctor held to his credit, looked like an anagram of the English alphabet to me. I could decipher only two of his degrees. One was MD to `ensnare’ prospective patients! And the last in the list but not the least was an MBA! (That explained the position of TV set). When I narrated this incident to one of my friends, she told me of the innovative ways pursued by some doctors to manage substantial turnover of patients.

Everyone knows how the smallest ailment, which could best be attended by the family physician in good old days, gets referred to a never ending chain of specialists nowadays.

The veterinary doctors are not far behind in the pursuit of this unholy wealth accumulation. A friend of mine had a pet dog. One day, the poor dog just collapsed. My friend took the dog to its regular veterinary doctor to confirm its death. The doctor put the dog on the examination table and went inside for a while. He came out holding a cat in his arms. The vet left the cat on the table and it walked over the dog’s body. The dog did not move. The doctor thereafter proclaimed that the dog was dead and apologised to my friend for his inability to save the poor creature. At this moment of grief, my friend asked the doctor with hesitation whether she had to pay some money.

The doctor said, ``Yes ma’am, you may pay rupees three thousand and five hundred only.
``Rupees three thousand and five hundred?” asked my bewildered friend.

The doctor confirmed, ``Yes, rupees five hundred as my fees and three thousand for the cat-scan!



Note: All characters except the dog and the writer of the article are fictitious and any resemblance in real life to any doctor or patient is purely coincidental!

( The article was first published in `Colleague' -  the inhouse magazine of State Bank Of India in the year 2004 and reproduced In `Apka Apna' - again an inhouse magazine of State Bank of Patiala in June, 2013).

Friday, 19 July 2013

Teenage Teenache

My elder daughter had entered her teens that year only. This is the time when most teenagers are trying to come to terms with various physiological and psychological changes going on inside them and their reaction to these sudden changes is manifested by resisting to their external environment. The most common reaction is their social behaviour-resistant to any advice from elders  and the tendency to do the opposite of what they are expected to do in a hurry to be called grownups, independent and worldly-wise. Surrounded by teenagers, my daughter and her peer group, who all behaved in a similar manner, I found it proper, then, to put down on paper what I observed about them.

My story----Teenage Teenache

Summer vacations had started. I had to face the same old question from my teenage daughter that she had been asking for the past two years.

"Why don’t you let me make something in your kitchen, mom? All my friends know at least two to three basic dishes to make. How come their mothers allow them to cook?”

Their mothers must be brave enough to have allowed them to enter the kitchen, I thought to myself.

"Okay, you will be allowed to do some cooking this vacation if you first learn to arrange washed dishes on the kitchen rack without dropping any.” I knew this was not an easy feat for her to perform with her head always moving to the music of A.R.Rehman and her feet tapping to the tune of MTV. Contrary to my expectations, the challenge was accepted. The sound of the falling vessels lessened by the day and on the eighth day she dropped only a spoon. At that stage she requested (read forced) me to allow her to cook on that day itself as according to her, dropping of one small ,unbreakable, steel spoon was an ignorable mistake. Moreover, a friend of hers was coming over to spend a day. As I felt that she was looking forward to some support from her, I had to submit.

Finally the auspicious moment arrived. The girls (including her younger sibling) started to discuss the menu for the meal. I overheard her friend cleverly suggesting to make `Pav-bhaji’. The idea to decide on pav-bhaji was to choose something which sounded like a two dish meal but actually involved cooking the bhaji only.

"Cool”, I thought.
The mission started.
On overhearing some argument I went in to check whether they needed any help.
"So, what is going on young ladies?” I enquired.
"Photosynthesis”, pat came the reply.
"Photo...... what!” I was shocked. Slowly it dawned on me that what they meant was food-making, and the term was picked from the plant world.

I left the kitchen in desperation but kept myself in hearing distance as I thought it would be interesting to listen to some teenage lingo and to know what they were up to.
Next, it was time to put spices, I could hear. When they opened the masala-box, there was a short pause as they studied its contents, cluelessly.``Forget about their names yaar”, said her friend.
"Let’s start with the red powder. Don’t you know all curries look reddish in colour?”
"Oh yeah”, agreed my daughter, appreciatingly.
"Now step-by-step (really?) let us add all other powders too. Here we go! One measure spoon of green masala, one of yellow and one of black.”
"Don’t you think it is darkish?” asked one.
"You are right, what do we do now?” wondered the other one.

In the meantime, my younger daughter, aged eight, who had joined them out of curiosity, came forward with a suggestion. (She had recently joined a painting class).

"My drawing teacher says, if you want to lighten some colour, add white,” she parted with the information.
"Lo and behold! There is a white masala in the box,” screamed her friend with joy and put one measure spoon of salt in the curry.

Impressed by the application of one’s textbook knowledge in situations like these by her younger sister, the older one was inspired and corrected her friend instantly, ``Hey, come on, this white powder is the chemical sodium-chloride which we use in the school lab,” Now it was her friend’s turn to be impressed!

Bhaji was almost ready. (So they thought!) They asked the younger one to have a look for expert comments.

"Humm’’ she said feeling important “Don’t you think it is too watery?” she opined.
"Yes we know that,” said both the seniors admittedly hiding their irritation. ``We know that the last step of any cooking is still left and that is evaporation,”
"Food is ready”, came the announcement in chorus, loud and clear. ``And Mamma is going to have it first. (``Oh my God”, I panicked.)
"It is alright, dear ones. Since you have put in so much of effort, I won’t mind if you make a first move. I will join you shortly,” I said politely. ``It smells and looks tempting” I added not to hurt them.

So all three of them tasted one spoonful each from the dish and my elder daughter exclaimed in horror, ``Oh mom, what have we made? Why can’t I make things the way you do? How are you so perfect in everything?”

"Never mind”, I sympathised. ``It is a matter of approach”.
"When your approach or attitude towards a task is right, everything gets right.’
A matter of approach...attitude”? What do you mean?”
"Errrr.... I mean a matter of principle” I added cautiously.
"What…a matter of principle?”
"Look girls, I, as a teenager, always tried to do things the way my mother did. And you modern day teenagers always try not to copy (by principle) what your old fashioned mothers do. Generation...g.ap...ya...know!”
"Anyway don’t get disheartened, there is always a second chance.” I tried to console them and reduce their guilt at the fiasco.
"Disheartened? What do you mean?” She retorted.
"Take it easy my child. What I meant was, you know,” I added hesitatingly, "at your age, I could cook for the whole family without any outside help.”

Her friend glared at me.

"What is the big deal mom? At your present age also you are doing the same. But when I will be thirty, I will be well placed in a company and earning well for a family.” She argued.
"Agreed, but cooking is still......”
"Leave that for the men folk. Mom,” she cut me short.
"What? Come again?” I was amused at the idea.
"It is women’s liberation, you see!” quipped the junior.

About the Article- This was my first attempt at writing and I was pleasantly surprised to see it published in a women's magazine. It was published in a Teenage Special issue of Women's Era way back in May,1995. I have reproduced it here to share with more people and have replaced the illustrations in the original article by real photographs of my daughters and mine of 1995.