Friday, May 09, 2014

Strange Ambitions

Here's my translation of this little poem on Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary this year. With all this research work leading nowhere but taking up my entire day, I cannot say I do not have ideas like this child sometimes myself.

Strange Ambitions
~Rabindranath Tagore

Daily when I go to my class,
        By this lane where our house stands
At ten each morning I pass
        The vendor with wares in his hands.
“Bangles! Bangles!” he calls
His basket has porcelain dolls,
He takes the path that he likes,
        He goes home to eat when he wants.
Whether it is ten or half past,
        Never does he once fear delay.
I wish my slate I could toss
        And go selling things that way.

Source: Google Images
I come home, hands ink-stained
        Half-past four is the hour.
The gardener digs with a spade
        In the rich man’s patch of flowers.
No one ever tells him to stop
On his feet lest the spade he drop.
His head and body gathers dust,
        But his work no one shouts over.
Mother doesn’t give him clean shirts,
        To wash the dirt she never wants.
I wish I could have been
        The tender of those flower-plants.

It is hardly very late in the night
        When mother sends me to bed.
I look out the window and sight
        The guard with the turbaned head.
Darkened lane, few people go,
Dimly the gas lamps glow
Dangling a lantern in hand,
        He stands at the doorstead.
The night goes from ten to eleven
        “It’s late!” he never has to hear.
I wish I could be a guard
        Awake alone in the lane here.

(Translation by Sugata Banerji)

Friday, May 02, 2014


On 10th June 1988, my mother came back from her month-long Europe trip with my father. That day, Timi was born.

My sister Jolly was not even two when my parents had gone to see Europe leaving us with our maternal grandparents and uncles. While I don't remember feeling any extra sadness for them during this period, Jolly missed my mother severely during the first few days, and then completely forgot about her towards the end of the month. Imagine my mother's surprise when her daughter failed to recognize her upon her arrival, and then started calling her "Didi" imitating my uncles. That did not last long, however, and mother and daughter were reconciled within an hour or so. But I digress. We were talking about Timi.

Timi was a snow-white teddy bear with a red ribbon around its neck that my mother bought in London for Jolly. In those days, teddy bears weren't everywhere like they are now. In fact, that was probably the first teddy bear I had ever seen. While tiny in comparison to some of the bears visible in malls these days, Timi was still pretty big when compared to my sister, and she was terrified of it at first. My mother named Timi after a black rabbit that her cousin had in Germany (whose name, as I now realize, was probably spelt Timmy). Soon, Jolly and Timi were pretty much inseperable, and Jolly adopted Timi as her daughter.

Let me make it clear. Timi was not my sister's teddy bear, she was her daughter. Timi was not even considered a bear, just a human child who looked a little bear-ish.

We did not know about Winnie the Pooh then. We did not know about Binker. But since then, Timi was as much a member of our family as the rest of us. She slept with Jolly at night. She even travelled with us on summer vacation from Allahabad to Hooghly sometimes. This was deemed necessary as her birthday came in the middle of the said vacations and it would be weird to have a birthday party without the birthday girl.

As Timi grew up, she started speaking. Her voice would differ from time to time, depending on who she was with. A grown up girl needs clothes, of course, and Timi was provided with clothes: some hand-me-down from her mother and aunts and some bought or made just for her. She supposedly went to school too. She had little books, little notebooks, small thin pencils, small report cards from school, a tiny stamp album. She had distinct personality traits - she loved to eat, she loved bears. At one point we even felt awkward changing clothes if Timi was in the room. She was hidden in the cupboard if particularly violent kids visited our house. My mother bathed her once a year. Drying took a week.

Timi is of course very much still in existence. She lives in Jolly's room in our house in Hooghly. She isn't snow-white anymore, and speaks less now, but she listens to everything. Jolly may not have taken her when she went to her husband's house after marriage, but it will be wrong to assume she loves her any less. Even now, she is furious if she comes home and finds Timi sitting on her table instead of her bed. It seems prolonged sitting on a hard surface will hurt Timi's bottom and her mother is more concerned about that than any of us.

The reason I wrote this post about Timi is that Jolly gave birth to a daughter today. So Timi has a younger sister now. We haven't yet thought of a name for her, but whatever she is called, I would like everyone to remember that Timi was here earlier. Apparently I am not the only one who feels that way. If eyewitness reports are to be believed, the first thing that Jolly said after regaining consciousness and being told the baby is a girl was, "Oh, then Timi will get lots of clothes now." That's what a loving mother sounds like.

The world may be congratulating Jolly on the birth of her first child, but we family members will always know that Timi came first.