Josna Rege

Five Years!

In Notes on March 1, 2015 at 12:08 am

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DSCN3436It was on February 28th, 2010 that I wrote my first story for what would become Tell Me Another at the instigation of my son, whose idea it was that I should start a blog and who set it all up for me. Here it still is, 300 stories later. Hardly a day has passed these five years when I haven’t enjoyed an exchange with a friend, a far-flung relation, or a hithertofore complete stranger, sparked by a story that struck a chord with them and prompted one  of their own. Wonderful things have happened as a result of sending these stories out into cyberspace like messages in a bottle (a nod to you, Bottledworder), including reconnecting with long-lost friends and family and enjoying members of the Indian and English branches of my family meeting cross-continentally, albeit virtually, through a conversation on the blog.

What do I have to say for myself? Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss for words; perhaps I’ve used them all up. As for TMA, it is what it is, as my son would say in the zen-cryptic language so masterfully employed by him and his peers. And what is that? Again, I don’t know. It’s not quite a memoir, neither is it pure storytelling, nor is it a series of wise reflections befitting someone who has unaccountably attained my advanced age. The blog is a strange animal, and I suppose I’m discovering its possibilities and limitations as I go along. It’s an ungainly word that will never sound noble to my ears, but there’s no denying its pleasures.

I have my favorite TMA stories, but I would be delighted if you were moved to tell me yours. You can see the full list, both in the order in which I wrote them and the order in which the events unfolded, by clicking on the links below.

Thank you, dear Nikhil, and heartfelt thanks to all of you, especially my regular readers, who have commented on Tell Me Another.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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301. Babysitting

In Family, India, Nature, parenting, seasons, Stories, United States on February 27, 2015 at 12:43 pm
Jamun tree (telegraphindia.com)

Jamun tree (telegraphindia.com)

(from chennaiNature on youtube.com)

(from chennaiNature on youtube.com)

My parents have always loved birds. In India, Mum would look up and identify all the birds that came to feast in our jamun trees when the purple-staining fruit was ripe. After immigrating to the U.S., they always maintained a well-stocked, squirrel-proofed bird-feeder and kept the water fresh in the bird bath. One spring they rescued a baby bird which had fallen out of its nest, keeping it warm overnight and returning it to the base of the tree the next morning, when its parents managed to coax it back up to safety.

(from thepioneerwoman.com)

(from thepioneerwoman.com)

In their retirement Mum and Dad have remained avid bird-lovers, keeping binoculars handy for distant hawks and eagles, and checking off in their Massachusetts bird book every new variety that they spot in the garden. Especially in the spring and winter, during the nesting season and the bitter cold, their trips and outings have been seriously curtailed as they have watched anxiously over the eggs and worried about who would refill the feeder if they went out of town.

I remember one spring day in particular when I dropped by to ask my parents if they’d like to accompany me on an errand. They were both a bit agitated, and told me that they couldn’t make any commitments just then because a pair of birds (not being a birder, I can’t remember what kind) had built and laid eggs in a low-hanging nest just under the eaves of their deck, and the eggs had just hatched. They explained that they had been watching over the nest while the parents were out getting food, and on this occasion it had been unattended for some time. With the open fields behind the house, the nestlings were exposed to all sorts of predators, so they couldn’t think of going out.

They were babysitting.

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Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

300. Mistrusting My Inner Voice

In 1960s, 1970s, Books, Inter/Transnational, Media, Music, reading, reflections, women & gender on February 19, 2015 at 12:12 pm
Tears of a Clown

Tears of a Clown

Readers of Children of Violence, Doris Lessing’s five-volume Bildungsroman, follow the protagonist Martha Quest from her stormy adolescence to her old age. This series of novels, published over a 17-year period between 1952 and 1969, with four set in Southern Africa and the fifth in Britain, has all of life crammed into it, but it is through the developing character of Martha that we understand the events, both as they unfold and retroactively.

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One of the central truths that I take from Children of Violence is that we see the reality of who we are very early on, but are only able to act on that self-knowledge after we have made all the mistakes that most people inevitably make in life. Martha’s inner voice speaks to her throughout, but in her earlier years it is often drowned out by the passions of youth and by little-understood patterns of behavior that stem from her upbringing and even from the upbringing of her parents. For many years she acts as if programmed, even when she knows that she is making a mistake. Thankfully Martha does grow, and one of her insights is into “Matty,” the protective persona that she created as a young woman which continued to speak and act for her long after it no longer served her, if indeed it ever did.

“Matty” was a clown, the life of the party, always using self-deprecating humor to mask her intelligence and her sober, questioning Self. It is a pleasure to watch Martha recognize Matty as a construction and eventually outgrow her. And this reader, at least, squirms with self-recognition. For who among us has not created a persona as a protective mask against the world, and who among us has not seen that creation taking on a life of its own and outstaying its welcome, like an party guest who sets up on the living-room couch?

d076091226823762201983572cd1e7b7A succession of memories swims into view as I recall created personae that I have inhabited, consciously or otherwise. Sometimes they “worked,” in that they served their purpose, while at other times they completely backfired on me. One such instance was when, at age 13 or 14, we went on a school outing to see The Sound of Music (for the umpteenth time). Sitting next to a boy who had recently become my boyfriend (as this relationship was defined in boarding school in 1960’s India), I remember thinking, as a sentimental scene approached, that it would be “feminine” to cry and, amazing to me now, I turned on the waterworks on cue. Unfortunately it didn’t have the desired effect; curling his lip, he expressed his contempt for such soppy sentimentality: “just like a girl!”

It served me right! I had deliberately been untrue to myself in order to present an appealing model of femininity, but it hadn’t worked—the object of my deception had reacted just as I would have done if I had been him. Of course, reinforced by society, such “feminine wiles” must pay off in some way, otherwise women wouldn’t continue to deploy them. Although it is troubling that people feel the need to perform such stereotypical identities, it is tragic if they thereby lose access to other, deeper selves.

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Another incident still embarrasses me all over again whenever I remember it. It was in 1972 or 1973 while I was at university, perhaps 18 or 19 years old. One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs was, and still is, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry. Although there are many interpretations of Dylan songs that I love, by artists as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, and Johnny Cash, in the case of this song I have never heard a version that comes close to Dylan’s own. At the time my college suitemate was dating an older student who had a twin brother, and she had recently found herself getting involved with the twin as well. Anyway, another artist—I forget who—had just released a cover version of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” which I had heard and immediately hated. The very next day, one of the twins—the brother of the first, I think—was visiting our dorm, and mentioned Dylan’s song, my favorite. I was in awe and not a little envious of these sophisticated friends of my suitemate, and found myself wanting to impress. Before I had a chance to think better of it, out of my mouth came the following travesty: “Oh, did you know that so-and-so has just come out with a terrific cover of it?”

His rejoinder served me right, as he said exactly what I had been thinking: “Oh, I love Dylan’s version, but that cover changes it out of all recognition. I hate it.” My attempt to impress had completely backfired on me, making me look like a tasteless idiot. Why, oh why, hadn’t I had the self-confidence to say what I actually thought?

I’d like to be able to say that I have learned to trust my inner voice, that these early experiences taught me to tell the truth about my responses to art and life. But of course they didn’t. These inauthentic performances continued into my adult life. Did they ever serve me well? I don’t think so.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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