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"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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22 April 2006

Episodes From Patpargunj

We moved to Patpargunj, my mother and I, from Trivandrum. We were waiting for my father's posting to be finalised, so we could all move to a nice, big house in Central Delhi, but till then we cooled our heels at our newly built flat in the newly built apartment complex. Patpargunj lies over the Yamuna River (hence the name, Pat= bridge, par= over, ganj=locality) and now there are three ways to get there--over the snazzy toll-road via Noida, over the Nizamuddin bridge which has three lanes on each side and over the ITO bridge, only one lane and not advisable if any of the other two bridges are closer by. In those days, the ITO bridge was the only one that existed, but it didn't matter so much, because traffic was light, because not many people lived there. The cars you saw? Were all old Fiats or Ambassadors or at best, Maruti 800s. (Now, of course, there's almost always a traffic jam when I visit my mother and the cars in the jam are Pajeros and Mercs and even, once or twice, Beamers.)

It didn't matter very much though, to me then. I was still only ten, too young to think about snob values or how much they mattered. There were other kids in the complex we moved into--which was a lot more than could be said about our relatively bigger, but sadly isolated bungalow in Trivandrum.

But the kids were, well, not very much like me, no matter how much I tried to mould myself to their personalities. I think this was about the time I learned, really learned about typical Indian middle class families and their values.

There were two sets of sisters who served as the ring leaders for our small gang. One set was called Abhilasha and Akansha and the other set was called Neha and Puja. Neha and Puja had a younger baby sister as well, called Gudiya, but they had just about moved in, that family, and Abhilasha--who was a plump chubby girl--still ruled the roost.
One day Abhilasha and Akansha told us gravely, during a game of Mother May I that their mother had just had a baby. "And everyone was very upset," said Akansha, who even though she was the younger, was very much the more wordly of the two. "Why?" I asked, amazed. "I don't know," said Akansha, "I just know everyone was crying a lot, even my mother."
Abhilasha interrupted this, to ask whether I wanted to see the baby and led me inside to a room full of relatives and her mother lay on the bed, with such a very tiny, red baby next to her. "Ohhh, she's so small!" I said, and the grown ups laughed, grown-uppishly, before talking over our heads.
Later, rumour, or I think it was Neha, murmured to us that the family had been in uproar because they had another girl. I didn't see, then, why having a girl should be such an issue, and I asked my mother why everyone was crying. "Welll, some people don't like girls," she said, and I think she tried to go into Indian history and tradition and dowries and so on, but having a shortish attention span, I ran off somewhere, feeling pretty glad that my family didn't have an issue with my gender. Quite the opposite actually, because I was fairly spoilt.
Many years later, when I was about 17, I think, a new family moved in beneath us, with three daughters--two older ones and one baby, who the mother carried around everywhere. And again, I heard, through the general apartment grapevine, that the baby girl was actually the granddaughter. The oldest daughter had "killed herself", in her in-laws kitchen, with kerosene and fire and left the caretaking of her baby to her mother. No one talked about it though.
Besides conventional games like Statue or Kabbaddi, we did quite a few other things for recreation also. Once a year, the bigger girls would organise a little programme for the adults, where we did stuff like dance to a Hindi song and do a skit and stuff like that. One year, I remember, they made me the announcer (because I can't dance to save my life, and a skit in Hindi would be beyond my linguistic capabilities at the time), and also I remember, one of the dances that year was to Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You. We called all our parents, proudly, sat them on the terrace, captive for two hours and made them watch things. Then we passed around a little bag of toffees, for them to award prizes. I didn't get one, sadly, being the announcer, but I was much applauded.
Occassionally, I would have birthday parties, ala Enid Blyton for my dolls, where I invited a few girls, served Roohafza and biscuits and they brought one of their dolls as well. One time, at the birthday party of Baby Michael (what? don't laugh), one of the girls brought me a little baby cradle she made herself, out of a shoebox and pretty curtain remnants.
Another girl was a kleptomaniac. She'd come over and after she left, I'd find a whole lot of stuff missing. I only managed to put two and two together after I found a figurine of a white seal that I loved and called Kotik, in her room three months later. I stopped letting her come into my room after that.
Again, inspired by Enid Blyton one time, I decided to make some extra money by doing odd jobs around the colony. I could be quite persuasive at the time, being the fortunate possessor of an active imagination and a very glib tongue, so I rounded up a gang of three other kids and took them from door to door. Most people laughed at us, and sent us away, but one house let us rinse their plates, mop the floor and water their plants and gave us two rupees. Once we got out, gleefully with the money, the other girls started to have pangs of what-have-we-done, so we translated the cash into orange bars at the ice cream cart and went merrily on our ways.
Word got out, though, as it tends to do, and naturally, the other girls planted all the blame squarely on me. Their mothers landed up at our house, in a furious Greek chorus, going, "Do you know what your daughter has done?" "Yes and I think she's quite cool actually," said my mother, exhaling a long plume of cigarette smoke.
But the worst part was going to school, because a nasty little boy in my colony came on the same bus and he yelled, every time I passed, "Jhaadu-poncha waali!" (Which translates into broom-mop-person, which doesn't sound so bad, but in Hindi it was a taunt). I had my revenge, by growing up hot though, and now he stares after me and I put a little extra sashay into my walk going ahahahahaha, who's a jhaadu-poncha-waali now, eh?


  1. Jhadu-pocha-waali, you can sweep me off my feet anytime!

    "It might have been...."


  2. That's such a true depiction of colony life seen as a kid.I can so identify with many of the little incidents...we even tried the earn your pocket money thing by waking up in the morning to buy our neighbor's milk packets from the dairy...lasted about one week.

  3. So many issues addressed in such a short piece that touch me emotionally!

    Hm, Enid Blyton: Are we talking famous five, famous seven, Malory Towers or St. Clare??

    My parents moved me when i was five. I got teased a lot, because my dialect sounded so funny to all the other kids.

    The baby-gender issue. i read the active dabble with gender has brought on a serious misbalance of gender in asia. But coming from a country with a reproduction rate of 1.4 i shouldnt throw stones...

  4. I'm feeling a little dense here but what had you done by doing the housework? Lowered yourself and their children to the status of maids? I'm with your mom here, I think it's cool. We used to sell ticktes to our little programmes, Rs 2/- adult.

  5. I seriously don't get this son-obsession in today's day and age.

    I was initially quite depressed I had a son. My heirarchy of preferences was:

    1. Two daughters (that one's shot to pieces now)

    2. A son and a daughter (keeping fingers crossed for the next time around)

    3. Two sons (will go into deep post-partum depression if that happens)

  6. woot ?

    abhilasha n akanksha wudnt happen to have a brother , and happen to be identical twins that look seemingly similar to each other now would they?

  7. I LOVE LOVE being hot and single in the face of fat and married former tormentors. love love love it. So nice to see an Enid Blyton reference. Nobody here knows her :( Can you imagine???

  8. i was happily ignorant of any caste, religious or sexual differences during my chidhood. i used to play foot-ball with the guys and celebrate Eid and Christmas with equal fervour as I would Diwali and Onam.

    Crying over a baby girl is just awful. i like your mum. :o) she's cool!

  9. "killer herself?" ... it breaks my heart. i can almost picture it and feel her terror those last moments.
    how can people be so so cruel?

  10. heh. We would put up similar programmes to the one you guys would; although we didn't live in a colony, it was just a gang of friends and all our parents at my house usually, cuz we had a big hall. We'd sing, dance and put up skits.
    And we'd (heh) charge our parents entry fees for the same.

    word verification: iggys. Coincidence, huh?

  11. Excellent piece. Reminds me of my childhood in India and the challenges I faced as a bookish South Indian boy in Bombay.

    Incidentally, a small pop culture nit: BMW cars are Bimmers and BMW motorcycles are Beamers. People use them interchangeably and incorrectly ALL the time. I assume you meant the cars.

    Keep writing. You have a genuine gift.

  12. Gosh that really rings a bell. Colony ringleaders, random dance performances (with yours truly managing to escape each time). Have been meaning to ask this for a while - WHEN exactly were you in Tvm? I went to school there in 1986-88.. managed to avoid Holy Angels though. Lived in sarkari land aka Jawahar Nagar.

  13. Ahhh ... memories..
    Enid Blyton is sooo damn influential. Me and a couple of my friends once(8 years old i think) camped(3 bedsheets) in a clump of trees next to the Malampuzha Canal... the parents found us crying at arnd 9 in the night, too afraid to move after a some drunkard fell asleep on our bedsheets :-)

  14. hehhe... very true...
    but i m just nt able 2 get out of my past in some ways , at times...
    i used 2 hv a crush over a guy in my colony wen i ws a kid...
    and now dt i m older... he got 2 know it through my lil bro.. and its like 'da talk' among his colony frenz wen they play cricket n all ... and each time i pass by.. they r all staring at me and i m just so nervous...

    but its k...
    coz i m da one who they stare at...


  15. can i quote you (along with pavan varma's 'great indian middle class') for an essay about the indian class system?

  16. Wonderfully written. And poetic justic also with the transformation at the end! :)

    I was in Patparganj yesterday when I was reading the post!

  17. kotik is from kipling, isnnit isnnit isnnit? you had such a fun childhood though. very enviable. i moved into my current locality at age 10 too, but never quite made friends, until much late. i was through and through a bookworm anda a nerd. lol.

  18. *"Yes and I think she's quite cool actually," said my mother, exhaling a long plume of cigarette smoke.*

    That is just TOTALLY my aunt, your mother. Which is why she is everyone's favorite aunt.

    Great post.

  19. Can someone translate what preyanca wrote into English for me.

  20. Colonies... the 'leader' of the gang... Annual Day functions in the building...rehearsing for skits and dances and of course, the various inventive money-making schemes.. took me right back to my early days as a 5 year old in Bombay! :)

    Loved this post, eM! :)

  21. A great post. I love your style of writing, and wait for such posts where you are not talking about the usual- pubcrawls et cetera.

    (Being a prehistoric lurker on your blog, I thought being honest would be a nice thing to do.)

  22. My brother and I persuaded our parents to pay us for chores like washing the car, that worked better. Till the day we polished the car before washing it. Some of the dirt stayed on two years...

  23. nice post.. enid blyton did inspire a lot of minds , i guess..remember the times. when me 'n my buddy used to play tree house on the mango tree..the fact that our so-called modern society is still male preferential is depressing

  24. very interesting post...
    reminds me of how i used to have parties for my them married once...barbie and ken...
    have pictures too...hey, u juss gave me an idea abt my next post...

  25. This hasn't much to do with Blytons or Patpargunjes, but I thought I'd mention it given your impending trip to Egypt.

    As for the jhaadu-ponching -- when I was in school, students took turns cleaning out the classroom at the end of the day. This, of course, meant that our classrooms were perpetually messy (11 year old boys aren't the most conscientious of workers when dusting is involved), but it did cure us of our silly notions that certain kinds of work are 'below' us.

  26. the family had been in uproar because they had another girl..That kinda stuff made me drop out of society at a point of time. I am guy, so i guess I can only relate to the Enid Blyton bit. Used to like Five Findouters.

    Great post.

    Peace out

  27. Ah, memories!

    My favourite Enid Blyton series was the "Five Find-Outers" . Weirdly, I have *never ever* come across anyone who read it. Doesn't anyone here remember Fatty?? :(

    Rohini: Hey, My gf has nearly the same preference hierarchy as you! Except that she wants twin girls. :)

    eM: Hot jhadoo-pocha-waali...mmm..

  28. Jhadu-pocha-waali! LOL. You know inspired by Enid Blyton and those feel-god kid movies, I had wanted to be an errand girl (like delivering newspapers early every morning). Somehow I never ended up doing that so I am glad you did what you wanted to:-)

  29. @ justtea : u obviously havent met me.... still have arnd 7 of them i think... Fav is 'the banshee towers'..... But i like the poor Mr.Potts(ithink)
    Goddd!! I havent grown up at all..

  30. m.a.: :) thank you, she said, blushing deeply

    anyesha: oh, I should have thought of that! But then I'd probably be doodh-waali, hmmm...

    jemgal: None of those actually. I was thinking of Mr Pink Whistle and the story books, where kids earned their own money.

    b: I don't think we SOLD the tickets. Although the older kids might have, come to think of it. Whatever, we never saw any cash!

    rohini: I want three daughters! Called Maya, Anoushka and Sharona :)

    activity: Nope, Abhilasha was older, by a few years, though Akansha once tore out a clump of my hair ina fight we had, before girl on girl action was hot :)

    me: me too! How can no one know Enid Blyton? EVERYONE knows Enid Blyton. In fact, I think that's going to be my next post! :)

    sonia: no, i don't think there WAS a single minority among these kids--they were mostly punjabi, sometimes from UP, one or two from the South, but us Southies were a minority :)

    anon: I know. It's terrible now, imagine that poor baby growing up.

    thing: Looks like everyone had a little colony skit thingummy. Here I thought we were so unique and all :)

    dush: Ohhhhhhhh, bimmers! See, I NEVER knew that! Thanks :)

    mala: In trivandrum when I was eight, which would be um.. 89 to 91, I think. (God, suddenly I feel aged)

    mohit: Thanks!

    peppone: Where is this canal?

    preyanca: awww, the same thing happened to me when i had a crush on my friend's older brother's friend.

    wendigo: yay! absolutely quote me, i love being quoted. :)

    primalsoup: and you didn't email me? I'm most upset now.

    black cat: I'm so glad SOMEONE got the reference! :) You rule

    kryptic: Oh-kaaaay :)

    horsey: tut tut, you should really keep up with the MSN/AOL generation. You're getting old :) And don't tell your mom my mom smokes or she'll kill me! :)

    ditty: wow, you started at FIVE? Mercenary creature :P

    m: thanks :) I enjoy writing these posts for a change from my usual stuff :)

    sue: tell me the car wasn't white!

    flyaway: ah yes. when i was a kid my cousins and i made a home movie, called "Wolf Girl" abotu a girl who was raised by wolves, prouced by the Mango Tree Compnay :)

    ugly duckling: i never owned any Ken dolls, so my Barbies had to date GI Joes. Now, given the considerable size difference, it was hard, but we (Barbara and I) managed okay.

    nath: i know, i saw it in yesterday's papers. but tickets have already been booked and paid for, so we're going if it kills us (which it very well might do!)

    anti-est, just tea: i LOVE the five find outers. I still have all of them. I think my favourite was the one when Eunice Tolling comes to call, I think it was the disappearing man. oh, and the pantomime cat.

    ab: nah, being an errand girl would mean too much running around. I'd rather stick to mopping floors, which I rather like doing, even now :)

  31. and the wonderful memories rushed in/
    through the windows of my soul/
    like the soft sunshine on a winter morning/
    and the discovery of a rabbit hole...
    i saw a glimpse of my childhood/
    of running around, playing, and when not being allowed to- crying foul ;)

  32. Its Palakkad in kerala.... obscure but beautiful :-)

  33. "Yes and I think she's quite cool actually," said my mother, exhaling a long plume of cigarette smoke.
    Its odd that you remember THAT detail of all things.
    Whats the point since this wasnt a remembered desceription, at least this line?

  34. there was a nice aunty who i would do odd jobs for (fetch the milk), but my mother insisted that i not take any money. so i got lemon tarts instead.

  35. PATPARGANJ, welcum neighbour.
    The world is indeed getting smaller and people are looking up east. I was metted out a similar treatment when i told my colleagues that I stay at east Delhi side. The remarks went this way, "Why E Delhi, for heaven's sake?" or "Atleast try for aomething in Mayur Vihar or Noida?" or "It's so dirty out there." Yeah...South Delhi is lolling in water and electricity this summers, aint it guys?


  36. Can completely identify with your description of middle-class Delhi life growing up...

    I'd probably add Chup 'n' chupai during load shedding, dark room, 'stapoo', chain, pakadanpakadai and pithoo to the list...

    My family's had a penchant for moving house, so we've moved from South Ex (2 years) to Malviya Nagar (8 years) and then to Pitampura before the folks bought a plot in Palam Vihar (8 years).
    When they sold the house and moved to the farm, the sister n me moved from Palam Vihar to GK (1 year), to sec 23 Gurgaon (6 mnths) back to Palam Vihar (2 years) are and finally now in Jangpura (1 year).

  37. Patparganj is now known as I.P.Extension. I.P stands for Indraprastha an acient name of this part of delhi aging back to the times of Pandavas and Kauravas.

    There are two more bridges to reach the above mentioned place though.
    One is an old bridge where you stil will find train passing over an ancient bridge.Nice experience to have a train passing over your head. Very narrow and I doubt a pajero can go through it . The other is through Shahdra, a densly populated locality in far East Delhi.

  38. there's nothing like a delhi neighbourhood to bring you up to speed with everything ranging from where to run when your cricket ball accidentally breaks a window to the latest fashionable bad words.

    on a more serious note, however, it is amazing how much you can learn. in my neighbourhood we had a gaon right behind, so our evening cricket matches would include sundry kids from every walk of life, virtually. All the lessons were learnt as a sort of ex-post rationalisation many years later, but most events of significance were from this period.

    Thanks for your post, I will most definitely be back.


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