Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Best New Year Party Ever

Wishing You a Very Happy 2013

It is December 29. At 8 pm we receive a hand written note; an invitation, actually. The invitation is for a New Year Party and the party is being arranged by the four elder Lilliputians: Maheen, Saif, Zainab, Apple. 

There’s one invite for every adult and every invite bears the invitee’s name and sketch. I, for one, feel special.   

Though not really a party person, I know I want to attend this one.

The fact that my study was ransacked, my reams of paper ravaged, and my pens robbed to design the invites, is, of course, another matter.  

The invite is for 10:30 pm. And from 8pm to 10 pm a strange calm descends on the Land of Lilliputians. 

While we try to make the most of this unexpected peace, one room alone bears the brunt of loud noises and crazy thumping of the feet. It’s the room where the party will be hosted. The room is turned upside down to create the party mood. Rehearsals of dance and singing sessions are undertaken. And menu is planned.

At ten, the doors of the party room are opened wide. One Lilliputian after the other starts running wildly from one room to another, hollering ‘the party is about to start.

And there is more to these calls. The recently- turned- commercial Lilliputians have decided to make this party another commercial venture. We are told there are entrance tickets. Of 20 rupees each.

We pay the entrance fee, and are allowed to enter the party zone.

Along with the meticulous entrance fee collection mechanism, the party place is also well organized. There are happy New Year banners on the doors. There’s a music system. There are peanuts and cake rusk. 

And there are curtains billowed beyond their capacity; they have been morphed into backstage.

The party begins.

Maheen emerges forth from the billowed backstage. There’s a welcome address that actually tells us how lucky we are to be attending such a great party.

The next move is really impressive.

 After the welcome address, Maheen goes inside the backstage and a moment later the four Lilliputians materialize as a train that is chanting ‘Happy New Year.’ 

There’s amazing coordination as they jump, turn around, and stand there with their backs toward us. Each back has a word pasted on it: Happy- NEW- Year- 2013. Amazing, amazing.

We clap like mad. Amid rounds of applause, we are treated to many dance and song numbers. Well-rehearsed. Well choreographed. Well coordinated.

There’s one Lilliputian who dances without having rehearsed a single move. And she is perfect: almost-two- year old Raina.

While the party is in full swing, the three down-with-fever Lilliputians catch the party spirit. 

Now they join the others and dance with such verve, velocity and valour that can only happen under the influence of fever-lowering syrups. And that can only happen with children because for them fever is just an episode among many exciting episodes, not to be taken too seriously.

We are asked to stand up as the party ends with the singing of the national anthem. 

Mobby stands in the front row. And he is wearing a serious/solemn expression.

Perhaps the beginning of a new year does require a moment of serious introspection.

The Best New Year Party Ever.  Well worth the expensive entrance tickets. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Home of One’s Own

The Lilliputians have abandoned us. They have charted their own course in life. They have become independent.

Now they live in a grand mansion of their own. The mansion is a 6 by 4 feet wooden plank and is nestled in the hollow of a garb tree.

The dwellers of this palatial abode have actually made it quite comfortable. There are cushions. There’s a shoe rack. Behind the shoe rack, there’s also a study of sorts where one book is strategically arranged in such a way that the onlookers may see it and remark: the studious Lilliputians.  There’s a strong possibility that for all intents and purposes the study in question is merely a showpiece.

While the residents of this luxurious lodging enjoy their new found independence, the adults of the land of Lilliputians are reduced to being errand people for siphoning out food to the tree house dwellers.

The Lilliputians are happy. But not so the birds. All the birds within 100- metre radius of the land of Lilliputians have been spotted wearing ear plugs. The combined chirping, cawing, twittering, and squeaking of all the birds is no match to the intensity of sound pouring out from the mouth of just one Lilliputian. And now since they all dwell in a tree, the decibels emerging from the tree are much above the standard threshold of birds’ hearing.  Poor birds!

As the Lilliputians enjoy their new found independence, we, the errand people, look at them with frustration. They have become out of reach, but not out of earshot.

The Lilliputians seem to have satisfied two of the pressing human needs: freedom, and independence.

They have also proven one thing: the regality of a residence is relative. It is just a matter of perspective.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Eureka! A Journey of Self-Discovery on a Tricycle

Every moment in three- year-old Mobby’s life is a ‘Eureka!’ moment. He is so taken with the discovery of his own self. 

Starting with the revelation of being able to hold a full mug of milk, he is now onto some bigger self-discoveries. And for the last two weeks this journey has been happening on a tricycle.

He starts wheeling. His concentration level is optimum. As he tries to push his feet downwards to roll the obstinate pedals and discover the power of being mobile, a new world opens up for him. He declares with an evident not of pride:

“See I can ride a cycle.”

A few days later, he decides to move out of his comfort zone. In a resolve to stretch his physical boundaries, he announces that now he is going to opt for some bigger feats.

He lets go of the handles.

Now the tricycle inches forward, zigzagging.  Mobby’s arms extend wide as if he has suddenly grown wings and he shouts: 

“Look! I can ride without even touching the handles.”

Incredible. Amazing. Not just the feat, but the sense of self discovery which he now feels.

Next comes something innovative. Now he wants to try how much weight can he cart. 

He picks up something heavy. It is a bed sheet. He folds the bed sheet, and piles it up on this cycle. He starts rolling the pedals.

“See! I can carry this sheet and still ride the cycle. I am powerful.”

Mobby is falling in love with his own prowess.

And while he rides, and while the revelation of his physical strength sinks in, his mind jogs. He thinks. He flips and flings a few ideas in his mind, and comes up with an invention.

He parks his tricycle and covers it with the bed-sheet, which he had been carting for sometime, and proclaims:

“I can use this sheet to cover my cycle. It can keep it safe from dust and rain.” 

I am sure very soon he will figure out that the sheet will fail to protect his tricycle from the rain. And then he will devise something new. And much more.

Mobby is smart.

But it is not just about a three year old. I believe we are a smart species. But somewhere along the journey, we just forget it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

We Mean Business

Life can change in an instant. Capitalism can catch you unawares. Some little people can suddenly become rich.

And this happens on a quiet evening when I have sneaked inside my study to somehow experience what silence feels like. Not even a minute has passed and I am still trying to get hold of the oh-so-elusive sound of silence, when Omar barges inside.

“You are so nice,” he coos.

“Thank you, Omar.” The compliment makes me feel good. Only it is not really a compliment. It is just a prelude to the sales pitch that now starts:

“Show me your finger.” Here he takes my finger, slips on it a piece of wool tied with a knot and continues, “this is a ring. See how good it looks on your finger.”

“Ring? Eh...yes, it is beautiful.” I try to be nice.

“Yes, designing and making it required a lot of effort. Now you have bought it, and you owe me thirty Rupees.” He wears the expression of a businessman who has made a real good bargain.

“I bought it? I see. It seems a bit expensive.” Something tells me I am stuck with the bargain but still I try to haggle.

“When I made this ring for the first time, the wool snapped and I had to make it again. So it’s like two rings, thus expensive.”

Omar’s logic leaves me speechless.

“You can pay me later. I have to go to make a few more rings,” Omar announces and leaves.

While I am still looking at my fingers, trying to figure out which finger would look good with the woolen ring, Zainab and Apple come romping inside.

Apple hands me a plastic flower threaded with a woolen string. 

“I have brought a bracelet for you.”

Zainab steps forward and shows another plastic flower threaded with a longer woolen string.

“Here’s a necklace for you.”

“See we have used wool not an ordinary thread. And look at these beautiful flowers! You will look so nice in them. We are selling it cheap, at Rupees 10 each. You owe us twenty Rupees.” Apple gives this lengthy sales pitch and informs me that my jewelry collection has grown by leaps and bounds.

Have they rehearsed their sales pitch, or does it come naturally to them? However, by now I know that this transaction is like fate: irrevocable.  So I simply resign myself to it.

Embolden by the success of this business venture, the Lilliputians decide to branch out and diversify their product line. And seeing a potential market, the others join the three pioneers.

An hour later there is a new product: papers puppets. Expensive paper puppets. Of course, I have bought a few.

If there is any consolation, it is this: I am not the only victim of this sudden onslaught of commercialization that has sneaked inside the Land of Lilliputians.  Every adult in this Land now owns a piece of jewelry, ingeniously made with wool and plastic flowers, plus a few puppets. And we have run up a huge debt.

The Lilliputians, by the way, have become immensely rich overnight.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Apple’s First Good Bye

One fine evening I receive a telephone call. It is Apple and she has to share something very important, as she informs me.

"You know about my best friend, Aimen Omair, my namesake?" she asks.

"Yes, you have told me so much about her. What happened? You two had a fight?"

"No. it is something else, something very serious." Here she starts padding out of the living room to huddle somewhere in the veranda with the cell phone. (Apple’s mother later recounted the scene)

"Aimen Omair has left school!” She says after settling down in a corner where nobody can hear her.

The nature of the emotional upheaval dawns upon me.

"Oh no! Apple this is so sad."

"Yes. Now I don’t even feel like going to school. You know she used to sit with me. And she always stood first while I came second. Now that she is not here I will stand first…not that I am happy about it.”

Good bye is a mixed baggage.

"Yes, standing first is no compensation for losing a friend. Do you have her phone number? You can always call her, or maybe visit her sometime."  I try not to read too much between the lines.

"Phone number! You know what...she wrote her number in my school diary and it is: 1234567. Do you think it could be anybody’s number! And she said she lived in Islamabad in a house with a black gate! I can’t check every house with a black gate!" 

Now a note of exasperation creeps into her voice, momentarily replacing sadness.

"Yes, checking every black gate can be…well, tedious. You do have other friends?" I try to somehow assuage her. 

"Yes, there is one boy I sit with. He is not very hard working. Actually I made Aimen Omair study hard, and I taught her English and Urdu...."

"So you can also train your new friend."

"Yes, but boys are so unruly. She is not here, now I will stand first but I am not happy about it. I miss her."

"I know Apple, I am so sad for you. But you have so much work lined up for you: you have to train your new friend so that he can stand first."

"Yes, I will make him work. I will tell you how it goes…but I do miss Aimen Omair."

So every good bye is also a new beginning. In seven-year-old Apple’s case it is about training her new friend.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Lessons in a Yellow Scarf

A yellow strip of cloth, with mauve ribbons sewn at the ends, hangs on my computer table. 

No, I have not draped my table to ward off some ancient or present demons.  Much as I believe in charms, I have found them impotent when it comes to demons. Demons, whether ancient or newly befriended, are here to stay. So I might as well make peace with them.

The yellow strip of cloth, which gently sways as I grope my way through words, is a scarf that is supposed to drape my neck and not my computer table. It’s a scarf even if it doesn’t look like one. It’s a scarf because Omar says it is; and he would know because he designed it.

It was after much cajoling that I was allowed to hang the scarf on the table instead of adorning my neck with it. I had to rest my case on a built-in engineering defect: that of having too thick a neck on which such a beautiful scarf wouldn’t look becoming.

The cutting, sewing and designing business is the latest craze sweeping the Land of Lilliputians. Scarves were initiation rites of sorts. Lilliputians have long since graduated to shirts and shorts of various sizes and shapes. You can find them strewn in every room or hanging on the banisters.

Omar is the master designer. Or call him master sahib, if you want to. He looks at a piece of cloth and can immediately make out if it can be turned into a scarf, a shirt or shorts. For Omar, every cloth can be designed and stitched into anything. Anything at all if one wants to.

There are some possible lessons in the way he finds all his designing and cutting solutions.

Lesson one: If one wants to do something, it can be done. And if something has been done before it becomes radically simple to do it since you now have a sample.

Lesson two: Start with the basics. So what is so complicated about a shirt? Nothing at all.  Look at any stitched shirt and all you find is three holes to make your head and two arms stick out of the rag in which you wrap your body. Once the shirt is designed and cut, we, the adults in his life, have to perform the mundane task of stitching the ‘two sides.’ Whenever the master designer wants us to.

So there are shirts and there shirts. All with three gaping holes.  And now we have to guard our pillow cases.  Omar can look at a pillow case and immediately gauge its potential upgradation to a shirt.

“You just have to scoop out some cloth to make three holes. One for the neck and two for the arms. You don’t even need to stitch the sides; this doesn’t involve much work, right?” Omar’s mind dwells in possibilities.

Lesson three: Once you have figured out the basics-in our case it amounts to three holes and two stitched sides- you can always graduate to aesthetics. Like a shirt that Omar designed for Raina. A two coloured shirt. Wouldn’t Raina look so cute in it? I tell Omar that the shirt seems a bit short for one year old Raina.

“But we can try it. And if it doesn’t fit her we can give it to somebody else, everyday some body is having a baby,” Omar also has a grip on our population statistics.

“We can even give it to a baby boy. Can a baby boy wear this pink and yellow shirt?” he asks

“Of course, Omar. Boys can wear pink and girls can wear blue," I make a feeble attempt at gender sensitization.

Omar is now making sorties into the world of multi-coloured shirts and shorts for both boys and girls. And why not? In Omar’s world, everything is possible.

The yellow strip of cloth may not be able to ward off my demons but it does flutter merrily with a few lessons.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Martian in the Land of Lilliputians

“Are you really from Mars?” Saif asks me in his usual pitch of voice: loud. He apparently presumes I am sitting on the ceiling fan. 

“Saif, I am near. I can even hear you whisper. Yes, I am from Mars.”

Saif tries to lowers his voice a notch. He doesn’t succeed.

 “No, you are not. You make up stories, and you don’t understand the language of birds and animals. You have made up also those stories about Selfishia and Kayseria.”

“Saif, first you doubt my Martian antecedents and then you challenge my communication abilities. Okay, if you don’t want to believe it, don’t,” I say with Martian nonchalance.

“But why do you say so? Okay, now that the Curiosity Rover has landed on Mars will you go back?”

“I don’t need any curiosity rover. I can go there on my own volition, just by snapping my fingers and closing my eyes.” Martian nonchalance helps to make your point.

“I know this can’t be true. You are not from Mars,” Saif asserts his nine years old adult-hood.

“Okay, don’t believe it,” I shrug my shoulders like a Martian who doesn’t care a wee bit about what the earthlings say about her.

Saif now turns towards his father: “Baba, is your sister from Mars?”

Baba is working on his laptop but manages to look up, pause and utter, “If she says so.”

Now the statement that Baba makes does not stem from any sense of familial obligation. It is not made to validate the antecedents of a Martian sister. The thing is when you are CEO of LumenSoft, which Baba is, then nothing else in the world is worth commenting upon unless it has something to do with Candela. And Mars can only become an interesting place if some retail brand decides to open up a store there.

Here Saif now turns to Dado.

“Dado, is your daughter from Mars?”

Dado is like: “Khamkha. She is my daughter.” Dado asserts her ownership rights.

Now Omar comes running to give his verdict on the situation at hand. And he hollers as if communicating from another room. I decide not to play the role of 24/7 nagging adult and ignore Omar’s voice rising to a crescendo and probably resonating in our neighbor’s living room. Besides, what Omar has to say needs to be proclaimed loud and clear:

“I know she is an alien. She doesn’t sleep at night and she drinks tea and coffee all the time.”

Omar’s proclamation has piqued Roshan’s interest. “Do you have four arms, are you hiding two?” he asks me.

“No, I am a two armed alien. They are a step up in the evolutionary ladder. Better than four armed aliens.”

Roshan, of course, ignores my Darwinian eloquence.

Omar’s mind is racing, weighing cosmic considerations.

“So when you fly back, can I hold your feet and fly with you?” Omar is excited at the prospect of charting the cosmos by hanging on to my feet.

I feel good, somebody believes in me even if it is just an imaginative five year old. 

A perfect day. 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

How Selfishia got Rid of Her Feathery Moustache

Selfihsia the selfish hen was unhappy. And understandably so. After all, having a feathery moustache is not the same thing as having a new hairdo or a brand new dress from a well-know boutique. She couldn’t flaunt it.    

It didn’t make her feel beautiful. It didn’t even make her feel like an ordinary hen with a few feathers missing. She felt feathery at the wrong places and this made her sad.

One day when she was crying and looking at her reflection in the puddle of water near the grape fruit tree, Kayseria strutted toward her.

“Selfhisha, I have clucked at the thought and have finally come up with a solution,” she said.

All the hens had been thinking about Selfishia’s moustache for a while now. There had been five meetings under the grape fruit tree to get Selfishia out of her predicament.

“Really!” Selfisha clucked loudly with hope. Hearing Selfishia’s loud cluck the others came trotting and gathered around her.

When the cluck cluck of excitement settled into a hush of expectation, Kayseria said:

“We can have the feather removed from Selfisha’s nose, but there is some risk involved. She could lose her life.”

“Lose my life? If I am dead what would I care whether I have a feather or a broom in my nose,” she said and started crying.

“Selfishia, stop being so melodramatic. And there is always a risk. In fact, being hen is in itself a risk. So listen. We can ask Miss Nosy the cat to help us.”

“What?” They all clucked so loudly that for the first time they were louder than the oh-so-loud Lilliputians.

Miss Nosy was the ginger brown and white cat who prowled in the land of Lilliputians. She was always lurking outside the hens’ cage trying to eavesdrop on their cluck cluck. She sat beside the cage during the most intimate, egg-laying moments of the hens. And  she mewed past the cage every day, stuck her nose inside the cage and rolled her eyes swiftly to figure out which hen laid which egg, how it was laid and when. This was the kind of cat she was. Nosy down to her curled white tail. So obviously, none of the hens were fond of her.

“But why would she help us?” Napoleon who had been standing quietly on one leg till then, asked.    
“Because she is nosy and nosy people like to help. This gives them a chance to poke their noses in other people’s affairs. It also gives them a chance to get a whiff of some of the well-kept secrets,” Kayseria said.

After a brief pause, Kayseria continued thus to outline her plan:

“We can promise Miss Nosy that we would tell her one of our secrets-for instance we can tell her who lays the biggest egg-and in return she can pull out the feather from Selfishia’s nose with her teeth. She has a bigger mouth and she also has teeth. However, because she has teeth and because Selfish’s head will almost be touching her mouth, there is a likelihood of a catastrophe. Selfishia’s head could end up in Miss Nosy’s mouth from where it can travel down to her stomach.”

“When my head is lying in Miss Nosy’s stomach, would it matter if it has a feather inside the nose or not?” Selfishia again started crying.

“Look Selfishia, we have to take this risk. We will all stand around you and Napoleon is sure to do all he can to protect you,” Kayseria said

After much deliberation, the hens decided to go by Kayseria’s plan. One afternoon, Miss Nosy was invited and was offered a secret in return for her help. Miss Nosy agreed happily. This is what she had always wanted: to be near the hens and learn their secrets.

The hens circled around Selfisha and asked Miss Nosy to do the work assigned to her. When Miss Nosy held the feather with her teeth, she almost faltered. Selfishia’s small head looked so appetizing. But Napoleon who was standing near the cat and looking at her ferociously, sensed her temptation and crowed loud and strong: Koo kara koooooon. Napoleon’s angry crowing managed to dispel Miss Nosy’s moment of temptation, and she pulled the feather from Selfisha’s nose.

The hens were jubilant, and there ensued loud clucking and crowing to mark the event.

Selfishia immediately went to look at herself in the puddle. There was no feather. Gleefully bobbing her head, she started singing and dancing.

And after a while, she began eyeing  each hen, trying to gauge which ones were about to lay eggs. She was planning to eat all of them.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

How Selfishia was Punished

Napoleon the rooster was worried. 

Selfishia had not mended her ways. Since the day they arrived at the land of Lilliputians, she had been eating not only her own eggs but also the ones laid by other hens.

One day he lectured her: 

“Selfisha, you will land in trouble. When you are a hen and people buy you and feed you day after day, it is for a reason. And the reason obviously is not to listen to your cluck, cluck, cluck. It is neither to do research on your eating habits.  One reason why humans keep you guys as pets is your eggs. The other, more sinister reason for you, is your flesh. And even your hennish commonsense can tell you that it is much better to give them your eggs than to end up in chicken burgers!”

Selfisha gave a silly vacant look to Napoleon as if instead of scolding her he had been discussing the relative (de) merits of different political parties in Pakistan.

Her silly shifty look irritated him and he crowed loudly to vent his anger, and decided he couldn’t do much about her eating preferences.

And one hot afternoon, the inevitable happened.

Napoleon was standing in the veranda, when he heard Selfishia’s name. The Lilliputians were telling someone about the vanishing eggs.

"It is Selfishia. I have seen her eating eggs," one of the Lilliputians was saying.

Napoleon peeped inside. A fierce looking woman was sitting with the Lilliputians. The women thought for a while and said, “I can teach her a lesson. I know how to fix egg-eating hens.” And she stood up with the confidence of a doctor who had performed complicated operations all her life and now was only being asked to remove a thorn from somebody’s big toe.

Napoleon trotted back to warn Selfishia. But the woman was soon inside the cage to get her. Napoleon tried to protect Selfisha, after all she was part of the family. But a rooster is no match to a woman who has made up her mind to teach some hen a lesson. In fact, nobody is any match to a woman who has decided to teach someone, anyone, a lesson.

The woman grabbed Selfishia, picked a feather lying in the cage and inserted it in the egg-eating hen’s nose. Poor Selfishia! She looked like a hen with a feathery moustache.

After the episode, all the hens gathered around Selfisha.

“You--- look--- funny.” Lazee Bayzee laughed, paused and then laughed again. She was so lazy she couldn’t even laugh or talk in one go. She had to stretch and rest before every word.

Chandni was sad and sat down to lay eggs. Laying eggs calmed her in difficult times.

“If only the woman had inserted a twig instead of a feather! I could have eaten it,” said Goatia.

A crow came and looked at Selfishia with surprise, and laughing maliciously started singing:

“A funny hen have I seen
Given a moustache because she was mean
A mean hen I have seen...”

Selfishia started crying and hid her face. “Now, even crows are making fun of me. I look like a freak,” she mumbled through her tears.

Napoleon crowed to frighten the crow away, and said: 

“Didn’t I tell you? Getting eggs shells instead of eggs is not the Lilliputians’ idea of fun. You were supposed to give them warm eggs, not brittle egg shells.”

Kayseria, who had been quiet till now, said angrily, “But Napoleon, this is not fair.”

Kayeria was the only one who called him Napoleon. Rests of the hens were more respectful. They addressed him as Sir Napo or Napo Gee. But Napoleon ignored his act of disrespect, treating it as yet another quirk of hers. Actually, he was secretly in awe of her un-hen-like brain.

Kayseria continued her diatribe: “These Lilliputians don’t always do what they are supposed to. They don’t talk. They scream and shriek. Has anyone ever put silencers in their throats? There should be some justice.”

Napoleon knew she had a point. The Lilliputians were really loud. In fact, his loudest crowing was merely a whisper when compared to their normal-talking-voice.  

“But what can we do,” he lifted his left leg, straightened his comb and bent down his neck to assume his thinking pose.

“Let’s sit together and ponder,” said Kayseria.

And they all huddled together under the tree near their cage, and started thinking.