Monday, September 28, 2009

Lessons From A Tailess, Hairless, Blind Pink Meatball

I wouldn't call my family a very "pet friendly" one. But we have had a lot of pets, ranging from cats, dogs, love birds, rabbits, a guinea hen, a turtle and so on. But one pet that has always remained close to my heart is my squirrel.

This again, is an old story. Happened about 17 years ago, way back in 1992. I was in the third grade. We were in India then. It was almost a year since the Gulf war. Mom and dad had returned to Kuwait. We kids stayed back at one of dad's cousin's houses, waiting for Kuwait to get safer for families to return.

Dad's cousin sister stayed in Palkad, Kerala. It was a village with lots of trees, a river, hills, tiled and thatched houses and of course a bunch of uneducated but innocent people. The facade of her house opened to lush green paddy fields stretched as far as one's eyes could see. Beyond the fields, stood the hills and the waterfalls - such a beautiful sight.

One fine morning, we were getting ready for school. That was when war would erupt at home. Queues at the bathroom door. Fights at the breakfast table. Homeworks half done and our auto-rickshaw driver who would always come early when we were late.

That day was no different. I was angry I had to plait my long hair on my own. I had pretty long hair then (an ample supply of lice too). I insisted the maid plait them and adorn them with a rose each day. But she was busy washing plates by the well.

Suddenly, we heard her scream. She had stooped to draw water from the well, when she felt something cold and fleshy, fall on her back. We rushed, to see a small hairless meat ball - alive, squeaking and trying to move on her. I cupped my palms and took it in slowly. It was pink in colour and its eyes were closed.

The tail seemed short. It was cut and was bleeding. A crow had mistakenly dropped its meal. But we couldn't figure out what the creature was. Whatever species it belonged to, it was a lucky meatball, to be alive.

I took it inside and placed it in the warmth of coconut husks (abundant in Kerala!) and fed it milk with an eye dropper. Someone said it was a rat. Someone else suggested it was a squirrel. What difference did it make? As far as I was concerned, I hoped it would live.

Days passed by, and our love for the pink hairless meatball only grew. It started sprouting fur. Thats when someone figured out it was actually a squirrel. To us it was immaterial by then. We had started loving it, immaterial of its genesis. (First lesson learnt - Love Doesnt Distinguish Race)

One day, as I fed 'him' (I figured out that much by then!), he opened his eyes! That was an awesome feeling. To be the first person, to be seen, by an infant! I figured out how heroic yet humbled gynecologists felt, when a new born right out of the mother's womb, looked straight at them. (Second lesson learnt - Some Lessons In Life Are Taught By People Younger To You)

I felt more responsible for him. I felt I need to help him. Feed him. Grow him. Teach him. Lead him. I was hardly a ten year old. But I already knew what motherhood pangs meant! (Third lesson learnt - You Need To Be A Mother To Know How She Feels)

He grew into a handsome squirrel. His golden brown coat, the three white lines which extended from his head towards his long bushy tail ... oops! did I say "long"? Well, that was the only thing he lacked. He had a short stubbed tail, but that dint keep him from exploring the world. He was a proud prankster. (Fourth lesson learnt - A Lost Limb Doesn't Necessarily Mean A Life Lost)

He used to climb up my hands, to the back of my neck and cuddle within my hair, often falling asleep in the warmth. He used to bite everyone except me. He took a liking to drinking Tang. He loved bananas and mangoes, to the extend, once he almost choked to death when a large chunk of mango blocked his trachea. He almost passed out.

I thought we lost him. I realized why people cried at funerals. I understood what it meant to lose someone. How it hurt to know that they would never return. I started crying. But, thanks to my aunt's prompt thinking, she managed to pull out the fruit with the help of a steel fork. He gasped. Coughed. Blinked. And was back on feet and running around soon.

But little did I know I would lose him soon. Not to fate. But to his personal choice.

He had a cage, which was always left open. He was free to roam and was used to climbing up the trees and exploring his small world. But he always came back before dark. (Some good manners!)

But one day, I kept waiting. And he never came. The night passed with no sign of him. Two days passed and still no squirrel. My tears saw no limits. How could he abandon me? What had I not done for him? Has he no gratitude? No memories? No love or regard? After all what was he without me? An orphaned, tailless hairless blind pink meat ball.

I equated my helplessness with that of parents, when children left them in search of happiness, to build their dreams, to live their lives. (Fifth lesson learnt - You Cant Expect People To Reciprocate Exactly The Way You Want Them To)

Eventually my tears dried. I accepted that he would never come back. But I still loved him. Cherished memories of him. Prayed for him to be happy. Wished him good luck. Bid him farewell.

I was growing up.

I was thinking like a woman.

I was learning to forgive and forget.

Though I dint realize then, I had just learnt the greatest lesson of life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

29 07 1994: Flight - III & IV 'KWT - Muscat' & 'Muscat - TVRM'

It was 9 pm by the time the airport authorities figured out what to do with us - passengers. We were to stay at the airport's 5 star hotel for the night. We would be put on the flight to India the next day.

We managed to collect our baggage and went to our room. It was quite a struggle. Especially with no special care for the "Unaccompanied". But, we really dint bother as we were finally treated as adults and left to do 'our own stuff'.

The room was comfy. The white beds, cosy and inviting. I remember watching TV till late before sleeping off on the bed I shared with Chechi. We slept well... rather too well.

The next day, the 29th of July, by around 11.30 am, we were awaken, by knocks on the door. You could call them bangs rather.

We found a neatly dressed man and a smart lady at our door. They wished us,

"Good morning Mam! Good morning Sir!"

We turned around to see if they actually meant us.

"Your breakfast has been arranged for. May we take you to the hall?"

We were sure they were mistaken. We tried to figure out. But they insisted we follow them. We had to do a rush job with our brushing and pulled on something to wear.

The dining hall was empty. There was a table, neatly arranged and set for three. We figured that our fellow passengers must have already had their breakfast.(People dont generally eat breakfast at 12.00 noon)

We were treated with special care and attention wherever we went. (Little did we know then that dad had called the airport that morning to check on us, only to get a casual reply that our room was locked and we must be sleeping. He gave them a 'royal hearing'. The sudden red carpet treatment was an after math of that lecture session, I presume).

We were told we would be sent to India, as separate batches in different flights. We had no reason to complain. To us it meant, one more day at Kuwait and that too at a 5 star hotel, great food, plenty of TV watching and gaming without scoldings.

There was a large hall for indoor games at the hotel, with plenty of games too. That was where I first saw a Football Table. We spend most of our time playing there or nibbling on something at the restaurant.

Our flight to Muscat, was in the evening at 8 pm or so (I think it was the East-West Airlines). We boarded the flight quite sure that it would too bring us back to Kuwait. But it dint. No announcements, no crash landings.

From Muscat, the next flight to Trivandrum was scheduled close to 2 am. That too seemed to fly alright. I remember it was early morning and was raining, when I first caught a glimpse of Kerala from inside the flight. It was the 30th of July. 2 days since we first boarded our flight from Kuwait.

That was an awesome sight. The rivers over flowing with muddy waters, the rain that drizzled by, the coconut trees, the red tiles of houses... everything seemed the same... the way we remembered seeing it a year ago.

We knew there was no going back now. But we still hoped we will be back in Kuwait soon.

Little did we know then that we would live in Kerala for 13 years (before shifting to Chennai), graduate there, have our first crushes, get our first jobs, count our first salaries, see our sister get married and have a kid, lose our dad and much much more... in Kerala.

We would know what "Life" meant.

Life, different from what we had seen and been familiar with, while in Kuwait.

We never realized then, that we were finally home.

In God's own country.

Kerala!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

28 07 1994: Flight - II 'KWT - TVRM'

It was 6 pm (almost 12 hours since we boarded the first flight), when they announced our flight was ready for take off again and the passengers could soon start boarding. We hadn’t been able to contact our parents. We wondered if they knew.

Three unaccompanied kids.

An international airport.

No one to guide.

Completely stranded.

We followed several queues. Asked whoever came our way. Maybe the Gods must have felt we would indeed be left behind in Kuwait. So he decided to send a family we knew, to help us. They were travelling by the same flight.

Meanwhile, there were a few elderly men who felt equally stranded at the Arrival terminal of the Trivandrum International Airport. They were our uncles and relatives. They had come to receive us, all the way from Kasargode, around 400 miles from Trivandrum. It was more than 8 hours since our expected time of arrival. The flight seemed delayed. They were worried why. (Mobile phones were not yet in use then).

At the same time, dad and mom were at a friend’s place the whole day. They were worried too. But the airport authorities dint budge. Rules were rules. Once security check up was done, there was no way out.

It was dark by the time we boarded the craft.

The announcements. (Welcome to _____ , your preferred airlines! Ha ha ha)

The apology (for the 12 hours spent at the airport).

The aerobics session. (This time, I paid attention).

The flight took off and we once again bid farewell to Kuwait and to our imaginary parents, who waved at us happily from the airport.

One funny memory from that trip was how an air hostess was curios to know if the three of us were siblings. When we said we were, she gave an amused smile and went inside only to beckon a few more flight stewards and hostesses. They kept koochi-kooing us for a while and left. According to them it was impossible for couples to have three cute and beautiful kids. Maybe I was supposed to be ugly or deformed as per statistics?? (Yeah, I know what you’d be thinking now! I found it weird too!)

We were served some food, and soon people slept. Selt belts were loosened. I was sitting next to my brother, who was fast asleep.

This time, there was no warning. The plane hit the ground with immense force. We felt we had crashed. There was a screech. Of tyres? Of brakes? (Do these things have brakes?) It was a panicky situation. Babies cried. Children fell off their seats. Women screamed. The elderly prayed out loud.

I was too shocked to cry. My brother woke up startled and I was hugging him saying it was alright. But somewhere inside I knew we were going to die.

The plane continued to speed away. We dint know where we were. We dint dare to look anywhere except into each others eyes.

We felt completely helpless. It was left to God. Or the pilot. But if I were to tweak the Pareto's theory, I would say the Vital God was accountable for 80% of our life and the Trivial pilot for the remaining 20%. I was however clear they depended on each other to ensure we were alive.

Slowly, the plane lost speed and came to a stop. Time for announcements. The pilot started with an apology. He had to make an emergency landing and hence couldn’t request us to fasten our seat belts. He requested all passengers to stay calm, composed and to co-operate with the crew.

Men rose from their seats and walked towards the cockpit, demanding to be put on a safer flight. The air hostesses and stewards had a tough time requesting them to be seated.

Meanwhile, we 3 looked out of the window and smiled at each other.

We were back at the Kuwait airport.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

28 07 1994: Flight - I ‘KWT – TVRM’

The Gulf war perhaps gave us a second life. But in actual, it never hit me that we had cheated death and that we were lucky to survive. The time I really felt so, was in fact 4 years later - in 1994. When we bid farewell to Kuwait forever and boarded the aircraft of India’s national carrier. That was when I saw death lurk before me. I felt my life was at the mercy of the pilot and of course God.

We had returned to Kuwait soon after the war. Families were back. Schools had reopened. People had started to rebuilt their lives again.

Then, in June 1994, during our summer vacation, my parents decided to pack us three off to India. I had attended the first term of seventh standard. Unniettan was in 8th and Chechi (my sister) in 9th. (Yeah! I know what you are thinking right now!)

The plan was that we would fly ‘unaccompanied’ or without guardians. (We had done that before so). We were to stay with our aunt and enroll in a new school in Kerala. Mom was to resign her job and join us, by December. Dad would stay back in Kuwait.

We were not too happy to return to India. All the war memories had vanished and Kuwait had again become our country. We dint want to leave our school, our friends and social circle. We waited anxiously till the 27th, for some miracle to happen so that we could stay back. But destiny had other plans!

The next day morning by 7 am, the three of us sat inside the aircraft, glaring at anyone who’d look twice at the “Unaccompanied” badge pinned to our shirts. The beautiful lady who’d accompanied us till the craft made sure our tickets were safe with us, we were seated comfortably, our luggage was in place, and left.

The regular announcements followed.

The seat belts to be fastened.

The ear plugs to be worn.

And of course the aerobics session. (You may fasten your seat belts like this by pulling… the emergency exit is towards your right…. the oxygen mask should be held close to your mouth…)

What could be different about this three and half hour flight! As the plane moved, we waved at the airport hoping our parents would spot us through the window and signal us to get off the craft and come back. But the flight took off and our hopes faded. The more we flew up, the farther it took us from Kuwait. No one could stop it now.

Kuwait became smaller and soon vanished. We were soon flying above the sea. My brother was seated next to the window. That was when he felt he saw sparks from below the wing of the craft. I thought he was making up a story. But I knew he wasn’t when I saw them too. Soon, we felt the craft was making a turn. How could that be?

There was an announcement by the pilot to fasten our seat belts and that we were returning to Kuwait. I don’t remember his exact words, but from what we grabbed we knew there was some malfunction and we were going for an emergency landing.

Maybe I should have paid more attention to the aerobics session. Now, where did she say the emergency exit was?

We soon saw Kuwait appear before our eyes. The airport grew larger. Where were mom and dad? Had they headed back home? They should be here to witness this signal from God and let us stay back.

My thoughts came to an abrupt end as the flight landed. You couldn’t call that a landing. It rather crashed. It felt as if the plane had suddenly dropped to the ground. People were in shock. Everyone stopped breathing. What if that would cause an imbalance? Slowly the craft came to a stop.

Fellow passengers demanded to know what was going on. The pilot came out to calm us and said there was some fault which would be rectified soon. We were to wait at the lounge while the craft was off for inspection.

Meanwhile, mom and dad had known about the flight. They were at the airport but not allowed to see us, as our customs clearance and formalities had been done. They were assured that their children were in safe hands and that the flight would be ready for take off soon.

But little did the one who assured nor the one being assured know that the worst was yet to come!

The Gulf War: Part VI – ‘Life is beautiful’

It was almost past midnight on 23rd September 1990, when we boarded the flight to India. We landed at the Bombay International Airport (now Mumbai) at an odd time. And the first thing everyone did was rush to the nearest phone booth and call up relatives and confirm to them about one's existence! After all, we couldn’t blame them if they felt we would not make it. It had been almost 2 months, since they last heard from us.

The Government of India had made all arrangements to welcome the ‘long lost sons and daughters’ back into their soil. The arrival was crowded. There were Tamilians, Marathis, Punjabis, Sikhs, Gujaratis, Goans and there were Mullahs, Nuns, Priets and Poojaris. We felt we knew each one of them and they welcomed us as if they had been waiting for a life time to see us. My mom broke done seeing how people fought to feed us, help us and to take us home. For a moment, heart welled up too and I realised I was proud I was an Indian.

We went to a hotel. I remember watching the street lights and colourful bill boards decorating the streets of Bombay through the side window of our car (the side seat was something we always fought for furiously). We had a warm welcome at the hotel. We were served chicken biriyani at our rooms. But we chose not to touch it, as the cockroaches also seemed to devour the food. I was surprised that dad and mom dint complain.

There was a special train to take us to Kerala the same day afternoon. Or was it a few compartments reserved for us? I don’t remember exactly. What I do remember is every where we went; complete strangers welcomed us like friends. Their warmth and love made us feel wanted. At every station the train stopped, we had men offer us food packages, fruits and water through the windows. They seemed genuinely concerned about us and assured us that we were safe now. It was a unique experience, to know that people could actually love you and not the suitcases you bring along with you.

I don’t remember if it was me or my brother (I think I have forgotten quite a lot… I must be growing old!). We managed to deprive a girl of her spectacles, in the train. As we played, we banged her so hard by mistake, that her specs flew off through the window and fell on the tracks. Someone said we could pull the chain and stop the speeding train. But no one dared. Perhaps, losing one’s spectacles was not good enough a reason to stop a train.

Meanwhile, dad and mom celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary in the train on 25th Sept, 1990. The next day morning, we stepped down at the Palghat railway station, Kerala. It had been 11 days since we started from Abbasiya, Kuwait. Anxious relatives awaited us. Everyone hugged. Prayed. Smiled. Shed tears of joy. Then, joked about the entire thing. Only to hug and cry again. The process went on for a while.

As for Geethu…

Well, I felt good to be back in India. And to my surprise, for the first time ever, it felt I was home. The relatives dint seem to crib. And the buzzing of the mosquitoes was not so bad after all!

In a few days, everyone got over the fact that we had just survived a war.

Life went on...

Beautiful as ever.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Gulf War: Part V – ‘Humanity & Brotherhood’

The bus journey was tiring. People were no longer happy. They seemed restless and irritated. Everyone wanted to get home. Sleep. Eat good food. Feel safe. Be in the comfort of a home that would pamper one. These were things one normally took for granted. Things one felt would last forever, until shaken by a calamity like a war or an earthquake, a bomb blast or a tsunami.

I don’t remember how many days it took us to reach the Amman camp. But, it was almost dark when we got there. This was a larger camp and quite crowded too. We are asked to stay together in groups and instructed not to leave elders. As we got down, we heard screams from a tent faraway. Ruckus followed. Little did we know that mom had vanished in a glance! Meanwhile, Dad was unloading our stuff from the bus.

There was no light anywhere. Only the faint glow of candles from some tents. Dad held us. All those who had been with us, had found their tents by now. There was no sign of mom. We were still standing near the bus waiting for her, hoping she doesn't get lost. It took some time before she returned.

Finally, we found our tent, our home for the night. As we unpacked, mom said one man had fainted and he was almost dead by the time she got to his tent. She had to resuscitate him and clear his airway (as if it were some highway). She said the medics had arrived before she left, however he was up and talking by then.

But, I chose not to talk to her. I was very cross with her. How could she leave us alone in the dark in a lonely place just to hand over 'CPR medicine' to a man, she dint even know!

The next day she took us to a tent and introduced us to a Goan uncle in his late fifties. The glow in his eyes and wide smile on seeing my mom told me that the 'CPR medicine' she had given him had helped him live. I tried to forgive her for abandoning us the previous night.

We could see people move in groups towards a UN truck with food supplies. We had enough stock of food to last us while we were at the camp (we were hoping to catch the flight the next day). However, my mom felt otherwise. She insisted we too stand in the queue and beg for food. According to her, begging to another person for your meal was not something everyone gets to do everyday (well, I agree to that part). To her it was an experience that would teach us to value food (well, I have to admit I am still fussy about mine).

I still remember how we stretched our hands towards the military guy, who kept throwing loafs of bread, juice packets and fruits at us, refugees. I managed to grab an apple. A red one.

We started for the airport by afternoon the next day. We were asked to alight at some place close to the airport. We had to walk it down now. There was heavy traffic control by police to manage the crowd. We were treated like desolates. We had to walk a long way before we found the airport.

I never liked airports and flights. There was something about it which made me sick in the tummy. However, now it appeared warm and welcoming. The flight for our batch was chartered for the next day afternoon. We had no choice but to spend the night in the airport, on the cold floor.

As the day dawned, Dad got us breakfast from some food counter. But there was no water to drink. He took our 5 litre can and went off in search of water, only to return after a good 20 minutes. We watched eagerly, for our throats felt dry as the desert. But alas! As he approached, a hundred hands from several other queues stretched towards him for a drop of water. He couldn’t resist the urge to quench their thirst and it took him several rounds of trips beyond the thirsty men to get to us finally.

Meanwhile, Mom was busy filling up a hundred forms to board the flight. Not that we had so much to fill up. When she had finished ours, a voice begged,

“Didi, angrezi nahi maalum. Thoda bhar ke de do na? Bhagwan aapko khush rakhey!”

She dint have to wait to finish the first form. More voices echoed in.

“Akka, ithum konjam fill panni kudunga. English theriyaathu”

“Chechi entey form onnum poorippichu tharumo? Ezhuthaan ariyilla.”

The languages were different. But the request was the same. Most of the men who flew to the Gulf in search of a stable life, were illiterate. They hardly knew how to spell their name or mark their signatures in English. They were all requesting mom to help them fill up their forms.

At 8, I couldn’t understand what my parents were up to. I so badly wished they would behave like regular parents – the normal ones (and mind their own business). Not run around to be utilised by a mob of men who couldn’t get water on their own or fill their own forms.

But today at 27, I feel proud of what my parents were, for what they did.

They taught us to help the needy.

They showed us that in spite of all our constraints, we can help someone if we choose to.

Beyond all that, they taught us the greatest war lesson we would ever learn.

That was of humanity and brotherhood.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Gulf War: Part IV – ‘Eleven days’

Our bus trip started on 15th Sept, 1990. We had to reach Jordan to take the flight to India. It was easier said. In actual it meant an ordeal which would last 11 days, 2800 kms - bus via the Iraq border, a couple of days at the refugee camps, flight to Bombay and train to Kerala.

To imagine that the same trip two months back meant a 3 hours flight.

We boarded the bus by noon. Suitcases with very essential clothing and woollens were placed on the top of the bus. The rear end of the bus was stacked with food and water. Along with a gas stove and cylinder, just in case. Even though women, in their never ending quest to feed their families had already cooked and packed all the cuisines they could think of. For us kids, it meant options to choose from.

People were happy. It seemed like a leisurely trip to us kids. It was during that trip, I first came across Archies comics. Must have been my age, but I just couldn’t gather why the 12 year old reading it seemed extremely fascinated by it. We kept moving for days together, only to stop by to answer nature’s call. It was then that someone found out that the exhausted driver was driving with his eyes closed! Now, that is a skill one should admit! However, some smart man from the group volunteered to take over, and we made sure the driver got some sound sleep.

We had to pass through Iraq and travel close to the border to reach Amman. One clear memory I have of Iraq is the huge cut outs of Sadam Hussein placed by the sides of the roads we passed through. There were many check posts and several inspections of the bus. But, Indians were generally treated well by the Iraqi soldiers. We heard it was because Sadam Hussein had great respect for India and held a good relationship with the Indian government, then.

The No Man’s Land:

As we moved on, the buildings and all signs of life gave way to uninhabited and desolate patches of the desert. On the fourth day, we reached a land that looked like a sea of pebbles. It was just a barren land with nothing but large and small pebbles strewn across till one’s eyes could take one. Someone said the Bible has a mention about this place, where it rained rocks.

This was the ‘No man’s land’, one of the UN’s refugee camps we would stay at. Someone said the name came because it dint belong to any country. It was night when we reached and people warned each other about desert snakes. I remember how mom made us walk on her feet so that the snakes could bite her first, just in case.

Now, that’s one thing with mothers. Sometimes, they feel they are super humans and they have the right to get hurt. Even now at 64, she argues that she is stronger than I and that she needs no rest. Well, some things are better left as they are! :)

I faintly remember what happened after we reached the camp. Mom said I fainted due to exhaustion and they cooked rice gruel and fed me. We slept in one of the tents. On the bare rocks. But it dint hurt. At least, it felt nice to feel the ground under you. For days now, we had been hearing the brakes screech and feeling the massive tyres move under us. This was a welcome change.

The next day morning, my elder brother Unniettan (as I call him) and I, decided to inspect the place. There were a lot of empty tents and they provided ample hiding space for me to play hide and seek with him. Moreover, when I couldn’t find a bathroom, I found relief in one of those empty tents. We saw tha place had a lot of shells too, which we stuffed our pockets with. ‘Maybe this place was a sea before’, Unniettan stated matter-of-factly. I felt proud that my brother was so intelligent.

Mom cooked rice for the two days we stayed there. She continued providing supplies to anyone who’d come to her. Milk powder for the new-borns, rice gruel for the elderly, medicines for the wounded. She reminded me of the Indian concept of the Akshaya Pathram, the vessel which kept refilling on its own, as one served from it.

Dad was asked to volunteer to clean up the place. They had the TV crew lined up with their video cameras to cover the life of refugees at camps. I remember walking up to one of the UN representatives and asking for a mattress to sleep on. Maybe they smiled. Maybe they snapped back at me. I don’t know. I guess I did not wait for a reply.

We stayed there for two days, before we started our bus journey again. This time we were headed for another camp, a better one. From there we could catch our flight to India. Soon, we boarded the bus again, and headed for Amman, the capital of Jordan.

The Gulf War: Part III – ‘Destination - India’

The war seemed to teach mom some lessons too. Though a nurse, she seemed quite adept at the theory of utility and exhibited excellent utility-maximizing behavior under the given economic constraints. When we ran out of vegetables, we saw the watermelon rinds (which usually belonged to the dust bin) become part of the curry for lunch and Chick peas (Channa) become pickles.

However, food was never scarce. In fact, those were days when my parents fed even strangers. We had regular visitors. Some came with supplies. Some bare handed. But mom ensured that every one returned with a full stomach.

I remember visiting my school once those days. My school was a two minutes walk from our building. It was closed. Now, that was a dream come true. Empty classrooms. Huge blackboards all to myself. Dusters and colour chalks. I was obsessed with chalks and writing on blackboards. In fact my birthday gift that year was a blackboard and a set of colour chalks. I even thought I might end up being a teacher for my love for chalks.

The play ground was empty. Our building’s watchman Ayappan Uncle, as we called him held my hand and took me around. I kept grabbing broken pieces of chalks. Once home, I felt like I had just been back from the Monte Cristo Gold mine, clutching those coloured chalk pieces to my chest.

In the meanwhile, Dad and friends were planning on how to return to India. There were stories of people leaving in buses and cars. There were stories of accidents and deaths. And there were stories of buses being checked at the borders and sent back to Kuwait, only to return to empty houses and declining food supply. Hence they chose to be on alert and hang on till we had clearance from the Indian embassy.

It must have been when all his hopes of escape died that one day he held us close and begged mom to get some poison from the hospital. To him chances were slim and killing us by his own hands seemed a better option than to be gunned down by the military or militants. I saw patriotism in his eyes when he said, “Even if we don’t make it, I’d be happy to die if my children are safe somewhere, anywhere in India”.

To me, that statement dint make sense as usual. After all Kuwait was my country. It was where I was born. It was where my school was. My friends were. Where I could drink Crush and Vimto. Eat Kitco. Watch Jhangar. And of course my blackboard and chalks were here. Unlike India – our vacation spot during summers. To me India was then, a land where mosquitoes dint stop buzzing and bunch of relatives who dint stop cribbing.

But now, I know!

Days kept passing. And then one day, dad came home smiling. He said we are leaving in 2 days. The bus had been arranged and all paper work cleared. Forty-nine of us (10 families and a few bachelors) were to leave Kuwait and head for India. The chosen day was 15th Sept, 1990. By then we had spend 45 days in war struck Kuwait.

Destination --> India.

Distance --> 1948 miles

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Gulf War: Part II – ‘3 Iraqi soldiers’

As the days went by, horrific stories of how men were killed, women raped, children orphaned, houses looted kept flowing in. The good thing was Dad was at home always. He worked with the Ministry of Kuwait, at the ship port in Jaleeb Shuwaikh. Now, with the ship ports and airports shut down, he dint have work.

But mom was on call 24 hours a day. She was a nurse at Ibn Sina hospital and worked for the Ministry of Health. We begged mom to stay back. But she never heeded. Every day morning, she would get ready for work. The moment she wore her nurse’s cap, she would turn to us and tell us in a matter-of-fact tone that she was now a nurse, and not our mother (Is that what they call Multiple Personality Disorder?) She’d go on about the Nurse’s oath and Florence Nightingale (sounded more like Greek and Latin to us).

Eventually, we figured out that nursing was a profession where one was made to promise that the patients will be given more importance than one’s own children.

One of the best things the war taught me was how to be a good sales person. Kuwaiti Dinar, which once held the highest exchange rate, was now as valuable as a piece of paper. We needed money. And the only way we could get it was by selling our furniture, cutlery, clothes, shoes, books and even toys.

Every morning, we sorted our household items into avoidable, necessary and unavoidable. The avoidable stuff was packed and off we went to sell them. People – Engineers, doctors, clerks sat like vendors, by the road side with their stuff littered into a huge pile. These were bought by local Iraqi people who had come into Kuwait. Most of them were illiterate. We heard stories of how a family had sold their washing machine and got into trouble because the lot who bought it from them, said no ‘pictures’ could be seen when switched on. (They mistook it for a TV apparently!)

To us selling each item even for the pittance they fetched us, gave us more joy than it would give a sales man on achieving his yearly targets.

When we were done with the avoidable stuff, we switched to the necessary stuff. I still remember how mom kissed her refrigerator and bid farewell to her oven, with immense pain. The tears in her eyes taught me that we could actually love things that would not necessarily reciprocate and love us back. (Another war lesson learnt)

It was on one such night that we heard the knock on our door. The peep hole showed 3 Iraqi soldiers.

Dad froze.

Mom was at work.

Our Sri Lankan maid howled and hid in the bathroom.

We three were preoccupied with Tom & Jerry.

Dad knew it would be stupid to wait. I had never seen such fear in his eyes. It might be bullets bringing down the door.

The 3 men who barged in had guns which were taller than I was. (I have always been short)

I and my elder brother were so awed by their presence that we knew Tom & Jerry could wait. We wished them in Arabic,

“Salam Alaiykkum”

The men wished us back

“Wa Alaykkum Asalam”.

We asked them

“Kaif Haluk?”

“Al Hamdul Allah, Zein”.

Now, we were talking! Like men.

Dad offered them water or anything they would like to take. He showed them where the cupboard was and told them to feel at home. He assured them we hid no Kuwaitis and said they could inspect.

Meanwhile, we were busy inspecting them. I was more interested in the gun while my brother was keen on the dagger and its leather case. The men looked on for a while. I trust they had an interest on our National Panasonic TV. But perhaps the cartoon brought childhood memories and they chose to leave it with us. They smiled at us and shook hands with us. They chose to take nothing. Ours must have been the only house they left un-touched.

And in a glance, they were gone. Only to return in my memories, once in a while.

The Gulf War: Part I - ‘Life was good’

The Gulf war of 1990, left everlasting scars in the lives of thousands of people. Be it on the Kuwaitis, the Iraqis, the Indians, the Sri Lankans, the Americans or of course on Little Geethu.

How can one joke about a war? Well, I am not trying to find humour in a catastrophe. This is just a feeble attempt to give a different perspective to a war. A perspective of what war meant to a third standard girl, an 8 year old then.

We went to bed as usual, in a free Kuwait that night, on the 1st of Aug, 1990 (If I remember right). Little did we know, the very next morning we would wake up to a bloody and war infested Kuwait.

It was the TV which went haywire first. And anything to do with the TV not working meant tragedy to us kids. We were expecting Jhangar, the robot which could transform into a car. But what welcomed us was the colourful vertical strips and the awful beep sound.

I knew that meant bad news!

Slowly, as the day set in, news of the invasion kept coming in from various sources - Radio, phone calls, house maids, friends.
News of Iraq invading Kuwait the previous night.
News of the prince and the royal family having fled to Paris or some place safe.
News of the airports & ship ports being shut.
News of bank accounts frozen.
News of Kuwaitis being slaughtered.
News of not being able to contact your dear & near ones.
News of being stranded in a country hardly 7000 square miles in area.

The first thing dad and mom did was to literally raid the grocery shop (of course they paid!) and stock our house with cereals, pulses, food, chocolates and what not! Then, they stacked the windows with mattresses. I still don’t understand the logic of how a bullet that could pierce a concrete building, would not find its way through a fibre foam mattress! Anyways!

As the days went by, we started having a lot of uninvited guests at home. Mostly the bachelor crowd - Watchmen. Drivers. Electricians. Plumbers.
Men who suddenly longed all the more for their families far away in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and places I had never heard of before.
Men who dint have money.
Men who starved.
Men who had to wait for my mother to take mercy on them and feed them.

The 3 of us, me, my elder sister and brother took many more years to understand the seriousness of the war. To us it only meant no school and no homework. We were never asked to study. It felt like an extended summer vacation. Moreover, we were never scolded at. We could eat all the chocolate we wanted and drink all those fizzy drinks. Movie tapes were littered for us to watch and we were never asked to take our noon naps. Of course, there was only one strict instruction which we were to follow - “Do Not Waste Food”. But that was not so bad, considering the rest of the stuff we were allowed to do.

Who said the war was bad?

Things had changed.

For us, Life was good.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hot Cross Bums

Not a great title for a blog I guess!

Well, I can explain...!

This is my first attempt at blogging... and for the past few weeks I have been trying to name my blog, like proud new parents try to name their new born, but all in vain. Some of the outcomes of my pathetic attempts were:

Flower from the wild --> someone said that read like a porn site.

Sing & Rule
--> blaaah! nah! (Bad one, I agree)

The Ages
--> that was a good one. And if you shuffle the alphabets, you get Geetha! But someone else was proactive and the name was already taken :(

That's when I felt my first blog should be on my first experience, or at least the oldest one I could remember. The story goes like this...

This happened a long time ago... when I was a 3 or 4 year old kid. We were in Kuwait then. I remember it was very cold. Must have been December, when it was winter there.

Mom decided to give me my bath. A forced one. After that cold shower, I decided the towel was not serving its purpose. So, I pushed mom aside and ran to the living room (yeah! you are right, in my birthday suit).

Mission --> Room heater

Picture me standing with my back towards the huge heater, which was perhaps one feet taller than I was. The more warmer it became, the more cosy I got. Now, for the naive kid I was, the distance maintained between the bum and the heater was inversely proportional to the heat generated. Of course, I unaware how to calculate distances, unaware of the Hot Stove rule, unaware that the heater had other intentions...

And, yeah! Eventually, I placed those tender bums on the hot rails.

The rest was history!

(But that's not the end of the story.)

For the next one month, my bum was put on display. Any guest who came home, was ushered in to hot tea, biscuits and a free 'sighting' of Hot Cross Bums!

Hmmm... so that's my story.

And, now you know why this name has such a strategic importance in my life!

Welcome to www.hotcrossbums.blogspot.in

(Happy reading!)