Historically Speaking …

I looked at the delectable pile of books by my side waiting to be read. The top of the pile was the beautifully annotated ‘Jane Austen’s History of England. –

Just the sort of history book that appeals to me. Written by Jane Austen when she was 16 years old, the book bears the hallmark of her humor.

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I sat smiling at some of the things written about Henry the 8th & Anne Boleyn.

The book certainly sounded like some of the answer papers of my youth.

I have always felt that History was one of those subjects that was calculated to freeze my brain. Good though my teachers in the subject were, bless them, they could not but help say that the Second Battle of Panipat was fought in 1556. Inside my brain, this simple fact would start a whistling train of thought:

1556. Hmm … funny number.

How to remember that number?

55 in the middle and 6-1 = 5. 

Why not 6551? Because that is in the future.

Very clever. But what about the number 6? Why 6 and not 7?

Maybe, History is the sixth period(?)

But only on Wednesdays.

If only it were 1596, 15*6=90  and then add 6

“Can anybody tell me what happened to Akbar after that battle?” These teachers have voices that have a way of cutting through the most interesting meanderings of the mind.

“What battle?”, I’d write on the side margin, and slip it across to my friend. There she would be, sitting by my side at the wooden desk with a vacant expression on her face biting her pencil. But at this urgent message, she’d stoutly pull herself together and write back, “The Battle of Panipuri, I think.”

Then the exams would roll along, and after days spent cramming the dates and emperors, I would come to the conclusion that all emperors who sought to reign should be made to stand in line in shorts and recite the dates of all those who aspired to power before them.  If they still want to reign, may their shorts fall while they lead the charge – that should teach them not to add to that horribly long list.

To make matters worse, the rumor mills during examination time worked overtime:

(a) The teachers likes diagrams, one person would say, stating emphatically that whatever you do, make sure you draw a diagram for it.

Feverishly, we would start drawing Africa maps, and label the Gold Coast, and the Sahara desert, throwing in the Kilimanjaro for luck. Never mind that the question was about Egypt.

(b) The more you write, the better will be your marks.

So, we would write double-spaced and add spice to the Spice Wars.

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One time I remember writing about Alexander’s Horse. Our History teacher had on one occasion told us about the fine breeds of horses that emperors prided themselves on. My brain tick-tocked away with Alexander’s Horse, and I found to my amazement that the brave stallion was heroic beyond what History books knew. I imagined the horse pulling his great emperor across the blizzards of the mountains one day just by trusting its instinct. The marvelous animal found a stream of fresh flowing water for its emperor. I wrote about 16 sentences on the virtues of the horse, borrowing heavily from my recent reading of Black Beauty (also a black horse with a star on its forehead, duh!) I wrote of its aching muscles, its loyalty that was much admired, and how stable managers had a job that was olfactorily unsatisfactory maybe, but really quite a prestigious one, if it meant looking after the emperor’s horse. I also gave him a name, Macedonia, if I remember right – sealing my understanding of the reign once and for all. (Alexander’s Horse, Bucephalus, would have turned in his grave and asked ‘Is she talking about me? Neigh! ‘ )

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By Walter Crane – The story of Greece : told to boys and girls

“15 more minutes.” the examiner said, and I looked to see that while the paper had a brilliant character sketch of the horse, it had very little about Alexander the Great.

I hastily started another paragraph on the the horse’s rider and finished up the paper. I came out into the brilliant sunshine from the exam hall when my friend said looking at me in admiration, “How much you wrote! I saw you taking two extra sheets! I am sure you are going to ace it!”

I shrugged off this undue praise guiltily, feeling a little sorry for the teacher who had to read such drivel.

It was years later that I read “I, Claudius”, the historical fiction book written by Robert Graves,  and came upon Incitatus, Caligula’s horse. Whether it was fiction or not I cannot say, but this was the horse that the Roman ruler, Caligula, sought to make a senator, and invited to State dinners.

http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/did-caligula-really-make-his-horse-a-consul

The truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. Mark Twain

I smiled at these pleasant memories, and opened the book in my hand.

 

Jane Austen said,

Edward the 4th

This monarch was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage of which the Picture we have here given of him, & his undaunted behavior in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another are sufficient proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a Widow who, poor Woman! was afterwards confined in a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity & Avarice Henry the 7th. One of Edward’s Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble actions, his Majesty died, & was succeeded by his son.

Dear Athai

When I look back upon my childhood, I see that it sparkled with a fine collection of aunts and uncles (most not related by ties of blood) My father was a teacher in a residential school (Lawrence, Lovedale), and all teachers lived on the campus along with their broods like one large, extended family. It is only natural that we adopted some of his close friends for our very own aunts and uncles as well.

“Isn’t she such an inspiration?” said my friend, as we waved to Athai (meaning Father’s sister) one night about thirty years ago. “Poor thing has had such a tough life.” Athai seemed happy enough to me, I thought to myself, why was her life tough? Seeing my puzzled expression, my friend, who was older, taller and wiser (she still is), took it upon herself to enlighten me.

That evening, she told me how Athai was a very well off young lady when she lost her husband unexpectedly. She realized later that she not only lost her husband, but her fortunes as well. Suddenly, she found herself rudderless. She told me how Athai took up the job as matron in her children’s school, and how she had rebuilt her life with dignity and perseverance. She had gone on to raise her three children as a single mother through those hard times.

I never looked at Athai the same way again.

They say children have an innocence that is hard to define, and I understand now what that means. I had known Mrs Ramachandran my whole life spanning less than a decade without stopping to think about her past life: her life beyond being matron to hundreds of children, the person who managed the kitchens and Athai to all of us. In all of these roles, she was gracious, loving and giving. It was as if she had simply sprung into being the same beautiful way in which I interacted with her everyday. Her grey hair framing her round face with a ready smile that dimpled her cheeks.

When I stopped to think of it, I realized that she must have been a stunning beauty in her youth.

It was then that I started asking Athai about her life. She would share bits and pieces of some incidents here and there and I was happy to listen whenever she did. She came home in the evenings some days with her friends and we always looked forward to seeing her if only for a few minutes.

One day, I opened the door looking despondent. She asked me what the matter was, ever ready to deal with the intensity of teenage turmoil.

“This is one of the reasons I don’t like jewelry!” I said as I finished telling her about how I lost one of my gold earrings on the playground. I was feeling miserable.

With her characteristic humor, and knowing how much I balked at wearing jewelry, she teased me that I might find myself married to a husband in a remote village, where every woman wore six chains, twelve bangles, sagging earrings, a nose-ring, and that I would have to get into a bullock cart decked up in my finery, in order to take a phone call from my sister on market day. I laughed, feeling better already.

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Then, she said, “You should be careful with your belongings, but you must not become attached to them.”

Every bit that Athai shared of her life was beyond inspirational, it was motivating. I sat mesmerized by how without her ever realizing, she weaved her grief, misfortunes, perseverance and joy together as one beautiful tapestry through which her personality shone through. I loved every interaction with her, the attentive companionship she gave, and her unfailing good humor.

Last week, Athai passed away at the age of 88. I wished I lived in a remote village and had to wait till market day to receive the sad news of her passing. But WhatsApp is relentless and swift. The network packets encrypted and decrypted the message the same way it packaged every inane joke and forwarded message: “Athai passed away. “ it said blankly.

I am enormously grateful that my life was influenced by people like Athai, Raghavan uncle, Mr Bharathan and so many more.

Don’t cry that it is over, smile because it happened. – Dr Seuss.

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I dragged my children along for a walk that evening. Fresh air always makes it easier for me to think happy thoughts, and I knew the walk would help me celebrate Athai’s life. I do not know whether my children will remember the evening, but for me, it was important. It is a tiny piece of Athai that I wish to share with my dear ones.

I know Athai would have liked to know my little ones. In her heart, there was always place for love.

Dear Athai – may you rest in peace and thank you for everything.

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The Mystery Of the Blue Hot Box

Weekly once is Trash Night. It is that night of the week when I marvel at humanity’s ability to generate trash. It is that night when I look efficient and bustle, while the children scramble to save their Works Of Art. The husband throws a protective arm around wherever he is sitting and says. “Please! Not now – I will sort it out later. “

“When?” I demand. He treats it as a rhetorical question and wisely refrains from answering.

As I gather the copious amounts of trash we generate from the various dustbins, I ponder: If one household had this much trash, what would happen to the Earth as the population grew? What are the lessons we are learning? I didn’t realize then that the trash was to give me a valuable lesson soon.

Fifteen years ago when I first set foot in a mall in the United States, I was awed that this rich country had such vast, sprawling areas set aside for the activity of shopping alone.

This initial awe soon gave way to disappointment. I missed the chaos of bazaars, I missed the joy of finding a treasure in the pile, I missed the call of the vendors beckoning me to take just one look before deciding. I distinctly yearned for the abundance of prints, styles, and fabrics that shopping in the tiny shops in India had accustomed me to.

The last time I visited my family in India therefore, I plumped for a bazaar – no fancy malls for me please. What I wanted was beauty in the seemingly chaotic.

The little bazaar had tiny shops that had the dimensions of a large dining table, but enough merchandise crammed inside them to fit a garage. We were like kids in a china shop. When I paid what was asked for, I was lovingly chided that I had forgotten the crucial step of bargaining. But I was happy. I was not going to haggle with a small business owner, I said. The head shake that greeted us from family and store-owners alike said, ‘These NRIs!’.

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Among the merchandize that day was a cricket bat, and some lunch boxes. You know those ones that profess to retain the heat? Those ones. They are imaginatively called hot-boxes.

Back home, we displayed all the things we had picked up. We held up the pink and blue hot boxes with pride.

“Why didn’t you tell us that this is what you wanted?” asked the parents-in-law in rare unison. “We are always re-gifting these hot boxes!” they cried.

“In fact, if you buy sarees worth Rs 5,000 in one store, they give you two hot boxes for free!”, cried the mother-in-law stung at being deprived the joy of getting free lunch boxes for the children.“These NRIs!” they said to each other and shook their heads.

Back in the US, after the school year started, I lovingly used the hot-boxes. The daughter is a fussy eater, as has been well documented in these chronicles. What that means is that all things food related completely misses her sonar and radar. If the lunch boxes she has lost, held lids and stood in a line, it would snake around Lake Tahoe. So, every time I put the hot boxes in their lunch bags, I reminded the children to bring back the boxes.

For the first few weeks, things went charmingly well. Slowly, the novelty of the hot box wore off, and soon, the lunch boxes went missing. I put on my investigator’s hat and tried narrowing down possibilities.

Could it be your locker? Or maybe you just forgot it somewhere in your school bag? Did you eat what was in there? I asked. The daughter rammed her foot up and down, like she was practicing how to pump water and pedal a cycle at the same time, and said in response to my accusatory glances that it was not she who had lost them. “I don’t know, but I didn’t lose them, okay?” she said as though she had enough with lunch boxes to last her a decade. The husband, who tries hard not to lose an opportunity to support the daughter,  said I was getting a bit tiresome with the lunch boxes, and told me to cheese it.

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So I did.  Till that day when I was doing the little trash musing. I picked up the trash in the kitchen and I felt something heavy in there. Something round and heavy and light blue and moldy. I suppose Sherlock Holmes felt the same way when a breakthrough came in his investigations. I felt a tingling in my nerves. Whether Sherlock Holmes ever solved a case by sticking his hand in the kitchen trash, I do not know, but I confess I gingerly used a straw to poke around. And there it was: The light blue hot-box covered in potato peels, and tea leaves.

I ah-ha-ed! Give me a chance to gloat like this, and I can show you how it is done. I started off with the subtle angle first, “Anyone realize how we pick up skills that we don’t even know we have?”

“NO!”, said the family trooping in to the kitchen for dinner. I avoided gazing at the sink holding the evidence of the moldy blue hot box. It lay there in hot water, soaking, and looking like a little love would not be a bad thing.

I then proceeded to give the closing arguments for the case and summarized how life has taught me various things over decades, sometimes overtly, sometimes subconsciously. Never did I know that I had the ability to wonder why a kitchen trash bag was heavy.

The husband burst out laughing as I explained the mystery, while the daughter looked discomfited. “If you are so proud of yourself because you know how much the kitchen trash weighs amma, that doesn’t sound like a high and promising life does it?” she said.

She had me there.

“Remember, your grandmother sacrificed buying sarees for this lunch box.”, I said, and smartly went out with the trash before she would work that one out.

Can Llamas Use Zebra’s Mascara?

‘What can I do to help you for your play? Can I help you rehearse or give you some tips on how to render your lines?’, I asked the daughter one night. She is starring in ‘The Lion King’ musical in her school and I wanted to show my support. An act she was quite keen to avoid. We were fiddling about when I offered help, and she bucked alarmingly at this train of thought. She can diagnose an enthusiastic helper when she sees one, and she did not like it one bit.

‘No! Thanks.’, she said. Frosty and a tad too vehement perhaps, but I let it go.

‘How about ..?’

‘Amma – no! How about this? Apparently, we need to put on some make-up for the play… ’

I tchah-ed her and said, ‘We already have stuff from past years – I am sure the powder and the lipstick can be used – so what if it is a year or two or three old?’

‘Amma – there is an expiry date!’

‘Fine – we’ll check it. What else?’

‘Apparently, we need mascara – I am a hyena this time remember, so why don’t you go to the store and get me mascara? That’s help right?’, she said, and I agreed. She will make a good robotic manager one day.

Please stop me if you have heard me babble about my demented fashion sense or crocodile-crocodile before. One of the things I would have said, had I been a cosmetologist going about designing these moistening creams and so on,  was that there were so many different shades of people in the world. I mean, how do you come up with a cream that suits every complexion type? That is why the great cosmetic industry has given me a miss thus far and has prospered without my help.

Drop me in a cosmetic store and I bumble famously. Mascara, unlike facial creams, is easy. One color – black. I strode into the store with confidence. I surveyed the area and located the cosmetics section. Once in there, I balked at the lipsticks and sneered at the nail polishes and went straight to the section that has eye-stuff. Golly beans!

I mean, I had no idea, which just goes to prove that confident strides mean nothing if you don’t know the different types of eye make-up available in the eye cosmetic department. I stared limply at the multi-colored eyebrow pencils, eye pencils (they are different apparently, and I had no idea green eye liner was a thing), liquid eye liners, eye shadows, and I had not even touched the eyelid section. By the time I crawled to the eyelash section, my eyes looked like it could do with a dash of all the above to make it look peppy.

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Finally, I saw what I was looking for: extra voluminous mascara, the label screamed and one confident that mascara and eye lashes go together, picked up one number. Back in the confines of the home, I gave it to the daughter proudly, and we opened it.

‘Gee – thanks Amma – Good job!’, she said and patted me in a puppy-dog-good-doggie manner. We tore open the packaging like lions tearing their prey apart.

Something was amiss. The product we had in hand may have suited a zebra, but they certainly did not seem to be for the human eye. It was white. Do you know of any person whose eye lashes are white? So, why was this white?  Curious. Very Curious.

We pieced together the ripped apart packaging like piecing a puzzle together and it seemed that this white colored voluminizer was meant to fluff up your eyelashes till they look like a chihuahua’s tail, and then you put the actual mascara on top to get the real effect.

This of course led to an interesting discussion in which the daughter insisted that zebras have black eyelashes, while I said they could be white in one eye and black in the other. The zebra, wherever it was, decided it was better to meditate than listen to this hypothesis.

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It turns out that zebras have black eyelashes. Humble pie tastes marvelous.

Llamas, on the other hand, have beautiful white eye lashes. But the last time, a meditating zebra checked with a llama, it did not want our mascara. Plus, the Lion King play has no place for llamas, and it is too late to change the script.

I am heading back to the store. Let me know if you’d like anything.

Of Hailstones & Laundry Baskets

“I have a great idea! “, said the kindergartener. His face was shining with excitement. I braced myself and nodded for him to go on. I had between my teeth, a clip that threatened to tie my tongue together, my hands were yanking a large unruly mess of hair into a pony-tail for the daughter, and the stove was hissing ominously.

“Why don’t I wear the red laundry basket to school?” said the kindergartener. That tied my tongue, the daughter yelped because I pulled on the hair making her pony tail look like a sausage through a tree, and the stove boiled over.

The past week has been a whimsical one. It was ‘Read Across America’ week to honor Theodore Seuss Geisel’s birthday and the little world around us lit up. In Elementary schools, everyday of the week, it seemed, was a special one, and fliers exhorted all of us to jump in. I love the Elementary school age-group when the human mind is at its most creative, supple and fertile and is bursting at its seams with curiosity and enthusiasm.

Wear As Many Colors As You Can Day
Crazy Hat Day (the red laundry basket is always being worn as a hat by the toddler at home, and he thought it was a marvelous idea to go like that to school)
Favorite Story Book Character Day
What Do You Want To Become Day (What do you want to be?)
Mismatched Fox in Socks Day

Somewhere along the line, we lose that element of fun, and I admire how children can help us tap into it at times. The past week was a hectic one, but I must say that I enjoyed wearing mismatched socks on purpose just as much as the children did. There were times during the stern day when I smiled to myself thinking of my striped sock and my polka dotted mismatched socks that had resulted in so such mirth in the morning rush.

I had with all good intentions gotten a biography of Dr Seuss to read before his birthday, but in my typical feather brained inefficiency had not so much as moved past the Prelude to the Introduction (why do books do that?) So, the Dr Seuss post would just have to wait.

Dr Seuss was very much on our minds as we stepped out for a walk by a river to wrap up the week. There we were, ambling along a roaring river with the backdrop of the mountains in the distance. It was also a deceptively cold day(I am too cold), for there were patches of sun(I am too hot), patches of dark grey clouds scudded past the cumulonimbus clouds and the wind whooshing at times knocked off our hats (not laundry baskets.)

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Minutes into the walk, we were stringing together nonsense Seuss-ian style and cackling:
I am too cold
I am too hot
Why are you always too something?
I thought you were five
No I am not five cold
I am not five hot
I am too cold
I am not two but too
I thought you were five

And so it went….

You know how they tell you in these be-calm lessons not to do anything suddenly? Ignore it. For suddenly, the rain pelted down, and not just that, it pelted down with hail stones. Silly or not, being pelted with hailstones is amusing and annoying especially when the good intentioned mother did not bring an umbrella on a walk. But the toddler tackled the problem with a whining grace. He ducked under his jacket and we raced to a tree, and stood under the tree sticking our tongues and hands out to catch the hailstones.

“Eat it”, I said as I popped a hailstone into my mouth.
“What? No! Amma! You cannot do that. “
“Yes you can – you may like it. Try it Try it if you may.”
“Say! I like Green Eggs and Ham”, finished the toddler and popped in the hailstone looking amused.

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It is perfectly normal to be mistaken for normal if you wear laundry baskets and eat hailstones, thanks to Dr Seuss.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/29/what-pet-should-i-get-dr-seuss/

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Every now and then, there arrives a book that is designed to knock the sails out of your windpipe. William Kamkwamba’s journey to build a windmill and uplift his community is one such. It is the true story of a poor boy in Malawi.

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I bought the book a while ago, and it lay languishing on my tsundoku pile. Maybe, there was a purpose to the book. The book needed to be read at a time when I most wanted to reassure myself on human potential if only we choose to apply it for good.

The only son, among eight children, of a poor Malawian farmer in Wimbe near Kasungu, Malawi, this is a true story of William Kamkwamba.

The book started off slowly talking about tales of magic, witchcraft and sorcery in Africa. As you read about William and his journey, you cannot help getting absorbed into the life around him with good natured understanding. You like his dog, Khambe, and his friends, Geoffrey and Gilbert, who show themselves to be the kind of stalwart friends you wish your children will grow up to be. Kind hearted, supportive, fun and ready to lend a hand, always.

When, famine hits Malawi, William Kamkwamba is forced to drop out of school, it is crushing to read how his father felt and I wish no parent should have to face that in their life.He writes about how his family struggled for months with nothing but a few nsima cakes between them to eat everyday. Everything we tell our children about starving children in Africa is true.

During those long hours of working in the fields to do their best to see if they can fortify themselves against another famine, it is William’s dream to build a windmill that keeps him going. William had seen pictures of a windmill, and given that his little village is always blessed with wind, he wants to build one, so that water and electricity can mitigate another famine. He is called misala (crazy) for haunting the trash piles to find something reusable to build his windmill.

After months, of scouring trash piles and junkyards, using tools that would not pass any safety standards laid out in the West, it is a proud moment indeed when finally he connects his rickety windmill to a tiny light bulb.

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The windmill is noticed by a school official who notifies a professor and a blogger. From there to TED Fellow in 2007 is a remarkable journey for a boy who had never set foot outside his little village in Wimbe.

When William is finally called upon to talk at the TED conference, he is justifiably nervous. His English is poor among other things, and to make it easier for him, his host on stage, Chris, prefers to ask him a few questions that he can answer instead:

My heart beat fast like a mganga drum as I climbed the steps to face the audience, which totaled 450: inventors, scientists and doctors who’d stood on that stage in the previous days.

Five years ago, you had an idea”, Chris said, “What was that?”
“I want to made a windmill”. Wrong again. Chris smiled.
“So what did you, how did you realize that?”
I took a deep breath and gave it my best. “After I drop out of school, I went to library…and I get information about windmill…”
Keep going, keep going…”And I try and, I made it.”

The problem with reading a book like The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind on public transport is that it is takes phenomenal effort to keep from tearing up. You can manage a silent tear that just needs to come out, and one that you can unobtrusively wipe away as if some dirt got in there. But if the book goes on to make you want to weep not out of despair or sadness, but out of pride, joy and the eternal good-ness of mankind despite everything, that is hard to do.

Some pictures from the book: The image of his prototypes, his big windmill and one of his parents after he was able to harness the energy generated from the windmill to provide clean drinking water and electricity in his village.

Unfortunately, for every William who is outstanding in perseverance, grit and intelligence, there are thousands of williams who flounder in the stormy tempests of life. Every time I am caressed by the wind during this Thanksgiving break, I will know what to give thanks for. Thanks to William Kamkwamba.

I try, and I made it.

Please watch the TED talks, even if you are unable to get to the book:

TED Fellow William Kamkwamba

The Sun Shall Rise Again

I wish I could have captured the toddler son’s reaction to the election results. He burst out crying and sobbed that he did not want President Obama to go. “He has been the President my whole life!” he sobbed. That is true. The little fellow has since picked up a book on Barack Obama from the library and has had it read to him every night.

“Amma – stop over-reacting. Why are you so sad? It is fine.”, said the daughter, seeing me mope around with drooping shoulders. I was reading a Children’s book called ‘Night World’ by Mordicai Geistein, and my mood matched the illustrations in the book.

I am not able to shrug it off in my usual manner, because this time it feels personal.

What I am about to tell you happened all of 20 years ago. I was selected to become the first female General Secretary of the Department in my college in my final year. It was not exactly an earth shattering position, but enough to cause a stir in the conservative community.

I took my responsibilities seriously and went out of my way to find someone note worthy in the industry to come and give us a talk for kicking off the year. I myself prepared a speech simply dripping with quotations and positivity, exhorting us all to Dream Big, Achieve High, Reach For Stars and so on. Einstein jostled with Jawaharlal Nehru, Ramanujan and C V Raman.

Some stalwart friends (both boys and girls) helped me with the various tasks associated with this event. A large auditorium was booked, flowers procured for chief guests and professors, some of the folks with the best singing voices were to ring in the August Assembly and wrap up with a hearty chorus of the National Anthem. It seemed to me that it was going to be a function fit enough to ring in a new year of hard work, and success.

What I neglected to do was order sufficient food for the gathering, and here I accept full responsibility. The truth is that I had simply under-estimated teenage appetites. I assumed everyone will be content with half a biscuit and a whiff of tea. But that apart, time and venue were printed out and sufficiently publicized in the college, professors reminded their students in the classes and smiled at me when they told me that they had told their respective classes to attend, and how they themselves will be there with their bells and whistles on. The Principal himself came out for the event. All very noteworthy.

I must say everything went well except for one glitch: Not a single boy turned up for the event. Minutes before the Chief Guest was to arrive, a boy in the first year came and told me that he had been told to inform me that all boys were boycotting the event because they were biffed that the ‘prestigious’ position of General Secretary of the Association had gone to me, a girl.

My crest fallen face evoked sympathy from the poor fellow and he left looking miserable and determined. That boy went on to become a friend in time, but then I could not bear his looks of sympathy. Tears stung my eyes. I turned away from him. I told myself that I must brace myself and got on stage. Great leaders instead of romping on stage with their inspirational quotes simply waddled up there like dispirited ducks on sewage water.

When the Chief Guest was speech-ing away about Networks and Protocols, a few of the more decent fellows made an appearance and lurked at the back entrance so it would look like they came but also would not look like they had overtly supported me. Obviously, that boy must have told the other boys how crushed I looked.

Twenty years on, the humiliation still rankles. What I wanted to do most was to take off the next day, week or month, and possibly burrow myself in a hole. But of course, I knew I had to face this problem head on. So, I made my way to college the next day determined to find out what the problem was. Had I done something to upset all the boys? Were all the boys upset with all the girls? Or just me?

The previous year, I had been the first Associate Secretary, and that time there did not seem to be dissent of any kind. So, this was truly baffling. Had I done something wrong? When I holed some fellows in my class, who were decent enough to look abashed the next day for staying away, and then making a half hearted appearance, they told me, that the Boys did not really mind me being the Associate Secretary because that involves a lot of work, and not much recognition. But the General Secretary was quite something else, I was told. There was recognition here, and that was what they could not bear. They felt recognition should not go to a girl.

Who could not bear? I asked. But all I got out of them was that ‘They’ felt that way.

I pushed on. Can you not bear?

‘No no’, – they quickly assured me. ‘We like you, but we were told by Them not to go. You understand? ‘

I told them I didn’t.

Twenty years later, America has done the same thing to Hillary Clinton, and I still do not understand it. The pain is raw. The wound still stings. I am sure there are plenty of women out there who have things in their past that hurts the same way, and for those people I offer solidarity.

I sighed a bit and continued reading. I turned the book over to the last page, and like President Obama said, The Sun Did Rise Again. In the book at least.

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