I was in the midst of another doodle when I received a call from Dad informing me of yet another of his transfers. This time around he has been posted to Bombay. (I refuse to use the name ‘Mumbai’) As banker’s kids we have been dragged across to a whole lot of places. We have done our schooling in about 4-5 schools. We have made friends and have borne the pain of having to leave them. This time around it was easier to accept as number one, I don’t stay with them as I have set up my own establishment and number two, sis is almost on the verge of completing her degree, so dad can move without worrying about admission and stuff like that.
Dad is somebody who has always been very averse to the idea of hostels. So whenever there was a transfer we all moved lock, stock and barrel. Luckily for me, transfers came at easier times in my student life. It was my sis who bore the brunt of transfers in her crucial student years with transfers in her 9th and 11th standard and also having to learn Marathi in her 6th Standard. The poor girl was saddled with learning a totally alien language and to give her credit she did it very well.
I don’t remember much about the first transfer. I was barely 5 and have only faint recollections of going to the new school. I guess the enormity of change was too much to be realized by a 5 year old. Then came next transfer after 5 years. Now I was this 10 year old who refused to leave my school, my friends and no way I was going off to an alien place. But no amount tears and tantrums seemed to melt Dad’s heart.
Then we landed up in the educational capital of India, Madras. (I refuse to use the name “Chennai” as well.) Now coming from the land of water, water everywhere, it was difficult to adjust to the hot, humid and perpetually water scarce Madras. The first day at school was full of trepidation, as we knew no one in the new school. From being queens at our old school, we were total nobodies here. But children being children manage to mingle fast and within a short span of time we were speaking English and Tamil fluently. One major factor that Dad took a transfer to the metro was that his children would become smart. (Dad must be wondering now as to why he has two outspoken and opinionated daughters as against the timid ‘garelu’ (homely) daughters of his cousins)
After another 5 years came the next transfer to Bombay. If I were still in Madras I would be going to school. But as we landed in Bombay, I was going to Junior college. College life in Bombay is the best, with so many days, Rose Day, Friendship Day, Traditional Day. I thoroughly enjoyed my junior college days whereas little sis was busy mugging up Marathi. I should say I truly became a little bit more confident about myself after being in Bombay. I was transformed from a bespectacled student with braces on her teeth to a contact lens no braces girl. Must say it did wonders for my morale.
Every time, we went home for the summer vacations, our family members were anxiously waiting to see the change in us. Whenever we went home from Madras, we were called ‘Pandis’. We were mercilessly teased by granddad and uncles to take a proper bath in bountiful Kerala to get rid of all the accumulated dirt. The most shocking look was when I landed home from Bombay in my jeans, short top and contact lens.
In MasterCard terms:
Black & White top : Rs.200
Black Jeans : Rs. 750
Contact Lens : Rs. 1250
Look on family’s face: Priceless
Must say my transformation from a geeky kid into a non-geeky teenager was startling to the family. Now don’t think I have metamorphosised into this beautiful swan. Its just that this duckling has been given in the outer trappings of contact lens and other paraphernalia so that she can atleast attempt to pass off as a swan :-)
From the hep Bombay, Dad got yet another transfer to Kerala. Now sis and me were not too delighted with this transfer as by now we had outgrown Kerala. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Kerala but I find it stifling after 2 weeks. The men with their twitching nerve problems (njarmbu rogam), the MCPs who think all women are theirs to comment on and pinch, etc. etc. Added to it the countless family functions we had to attend. Now being out of Kerala for more than 7 years apart from the mandatory summer vacations, it was claustrophobic to meet the same relations week after week for some baptism, first holy communion, engagement, marriage, funeral, housewarming, etc., etc. Added to it, the pain of arranging outfits for all these functions. I must add that most of my cousins have photographic memory when it comes to dresses and boyfriends and crushes. So heaven help you if you attempted to wear an outfit more than once in the nearby timeframe. We were reminded with precision as to for which aunty’s daughter’s engagement we wore the same outfit with which shoes and earrings. Whew! For people whose only known outfits was old jeans, tees and uncombed hair this was too much of a makeover.
Mom was the only happy woman those days as she got to see her messy daughters wearing something nice and that too with combed hair. But all good things (bad things for us, sisters) come to an end and so within one and a half year, Dad got his next transfer to Sadi Dilli. Now as I was in the midst of a professional course I didn’t really suffer much but Dad had a lot of running around to do to get my sis admitted into the second half of 9th std. Dad ran around all the convent schools carrying letters from parish priests to Bishops but the hard hearted nuns didn’t budge even an inch. One prestigious convent school in Delhi said that they would admit sis in 8th std and not in 9th. To think of the temerity of these people; this paltry offer, inspite of my sister having very good academic records. You wouldn’t believe me when I say, that these stupid people called up home in the annual vacation offering my sister seat in the 9th std when she was busy preparing for her 10th std.
But thankfully, one brave principal took one look at my sister’s academic records and agreed to admit her in the 9th std. Must say that due to principals like her, banker’s kids like us are able to complete our schooling without any breaks in the academic career.
Delhi was a revelation as this was the first brush with winters for us mallus. For people who knew only two types of climate till then (hot and hotter) courtesy Madras, Kerala and Bombay, the first winter was terrible as we were ill equipped to deal with it. But over the years, my family loves winters and looks forward to it with as much excitement as a true Punjabi. Must say the first brush of winter was not exactly nice to yours truly as she had to get up at unearthly hours, run to attend classes in the midst of thick fog and then run from there to office and from there to the next set of classes from evening till night and then limp back home. This was a very tough time for me but thanks to the prayers of near & dear ones and a bit of hard work from yours truly managed to pull it off very well.
The only irritating thing with Bombay and Delhi and the rest of India, is that any person becomes a Madrasi even if that person is from any one of the southern states. I have shouted myself hoarse a 100 times saying that there are 4 different states in the south of India and not one lump of earth called “Madras”. The other thing, which I got to hear even with more frequency, was that “Aap Madrasi lagte nahin ho, aap itne gore ho” (You don’t look like a Madrasi as you are fair). This line used to get my blood boiling. One thing being called Madrasi and the second thing being that all people from South India are assumed to be coal black. I took pains initially to explain to these ignorant people that not all people were coal black in the landmass of Madras but after a point of time I just acted as if I hadn’t heard this particular dialogue. It was easier not to react than to get all angry and bothered.
Very soon Dad got his next transfer and this time around back to Madras :-) I was happy as I was getting a chance to meet my close school friends. This time around we were shocked to see the transformation in Madras. From a conservative and orthodox duckling Madras was changing into a hip swan. I guess IT industry and call centers have a huge role to play in this makeover. With a lot of IT companies setting shop in Madras, there was an exodus of non-Madrasis into Madras thereby polluting the orthodox climate of Madras. Whereas 10 years back you would have seen girls in pavadai-davani (half saris) with mallipoo (jasmine) and mookkuthi (nose ring) it is very easy to spot traditional girls in jeans with mallipoo, mookkuthi and the pottu (bindi).
I was in the last leg of my professional course and doing the whole rigmarole of classes, office and more classes. Must say that being at Madras for the last lap of my professional course really helped me as it scared the shit out of me when I realized I knew nothing about the course. How do you feel when there are thousands of iyers and iyengars who solve sample question papers as easy as gulping down “thayir sadam” and ask profound questions like “Did you try question No. 2(b) from the year 1993. I have found an alternative solution for the same”. For yours truly who had not even set her eyes on the question set from the year 2000, this was a wake up call that if I wanted to pass my exams, I really need to study and that too fast. Sis was having a good time at her school with her discovery that her super long tongue could be put in good use in the field of extra-curriculars. Thereby life was going busy for both of us when Dad drops his bombshell that he has been posted to Delhi again. Now with Sis in the midst of her 11Std and me almost finishing my course there was a lot of confusion.
Dad was very sure on taking the entire family to his next posting as well. Dad, this time went straight back to the kind principal who had last time given admission to sis in the midst of 9th and asked her to help us out this time again as well and the kind lady obliged us again. Sis got busy with preparing for her boards whereas I had just completed my first professional course. Now, this was a long time back and now after 6 years, Dad has been told of his next transfer. This time around, Sis has almost finished her first professional course and is about to finish her internship and start with her masters.
Must say that Dad and mom must be a bit relieved and relaxed this time around as they don’t have to look out for kind principals.