Monday, December 29, 2008


I think children find their own truths. Those that work for them.

For example, my daughter will tell me she is dog-tired. She has had a tough day at her summer job, survived on just a cup of milk for breakfast and coffee for lunch, and does not have energy left to fill the water bottles to place in the fridge. In other words, Could I please fill them for her? is the unspoken question.

I comply; the mother syndrome always overtakes me. This is the truth my daughter knows, the truth of the gullible mom; it works for her every time. Ten minutes later I see her watching T.V. in her bedroom, with all the sleep and weariness gone from her eyes. Her work is done.

What is my truth? My truth is that whatever I may say--scold, cajole, persuade, promise, bribe, threaten--she will do what she wants when she wants and that is it. And I will still think of her as my baby, though she is an eighteen-year-old in college, with more energy in her young body than in that of her mother's.

There are consequences to these truths. I grow older and get tired faster, since the body is like any other machine; wear and tear and age will show. And I cannot even claim depreciation. More important is that my daughter finds it is easier to get around people through making excuses rather than telling the plain and simple truth. So instead of saying, "I don't want to fill the water bottles everyday," and face the consequences of making an outright rude and unhelpful statement that shows her in "such a bad light," she plays the card of "poor me, mother, I'm so tired and I have worked so hard on an empty stomach," and gets not only sympathy but also the work done for her.

So what if she gets a talking-to after the fact? The work is over, and tomorrow is another day. That is the way of the world, and children learn these truths fast. If truth be told, we are good teachers of what the consequences of truth are.

[First published online in Mosaic Minds]


It was a late night meeting, in a café in Khan Market, one of the happening places in Delhi. I was nervous as hell.

I had to dress the part, which meant I could not wear a traditional, nondescript salwar-kameez and merge into the environment. My dress had to make a statement, so also my make-up, to go with what I intended doing that night.

I decided, once I was ready, that I looked good in the lacy white top, black pants and red lipstick. My son walked in and said, “It would be better if you draped a stole around your shoulders while walking in Khan Market.” He smiled. He knows how to drive a point home without creating a crack on the surface. Since there was a slight chill in the air, I could carry a stole, and frantically began searching for one. Unable to do so at the spur of the moment, I settled for a colourful chunni, a long scarf worn with the salwar, the purpose being the same, to hide prominent parts of the female anatomy. “I will remove the scarf once I enter the restaurant,” I asserted, and my son nodded, “Of course.”

The café was milling with people, a lot of them youngsters. Amongst them, of assorted ages and professions, were about twenty-five of us. It was our writer’s group meet, but it was supposed to be an evening of ‘performance’ and not mere ‘recitation’. The audience was not restricted to writers alone; anyone could listen, watch and comment later.

We sat around our mochas, cappuccinos, chicken /cheese wraps or one-eyed burgers and individually read, recited or performed to a receptive but critical audience.

When I stood up to perform, I was applauded for being enterprising enough, since many had got cold feet and read from wherever they were seated. Shivering and quaking on my high heels, I plunged into the performance with as much gusto as I could.

I finished with the last line of my poem, “I am not that kind of girl,” and was met with stunned silence and then applause all around. Happiness flooded over me, warming my body and face. My first attempt at performance poetry was a hit.

The amount of effort I had to put in not so much in the performance but into convincing myself that I could do it and I would not know ‘where I stood with myself’ unless I stood up to perform, is unbelievable.

After the fear and the nervousness, the adrenaline rush which came over me at that instant of appreciation is staying with me, encouraging me to do more gigs like this. I have taken another step in conquering the doubts and apprehensions that assail me, especially at my age.

Plunging into performance, I have released another fountain of my youthful spontaneity.

Monday, December 22, 2008

We Have to Do

‘Cry a tear so red

for blood is running like water

On the streets of Mumbai.’

There are blasts at Colaba.

Is it a gang war?

An encounter between the police and criminals?

NO, these are bombs, taking the lives of innocent civilians once again.

People who have been out shopping at Colaba return home and are thankful that they are not out, partying at Leopold tonight.

A 100 year old heritage hotel spews fire in the middle of the night, and innocents lose their lives, in the fire, and through shots at point blank range. Others are held hostage.

Two students from a well-known college of Mumbai have duty at the Taj, they are training there. They get shot, and are no more. Their friends won’t see their faces again, their families will reach out to a void and grope forever.

YES, this is war, a war against India and Indians, a war against peace, stability and harmony.

Who is doing this? What is there intention?

The face of this terror is young, it is 22-24 year olds who tote their AK 47 as come out of the Taj. The face of terror is hideous especially when it is young.

The intention is clear. Destabilze India. And do it through blasts, fire and shootings that rob innocent lives to create fear and terror and hatred. Make living unsafe, instill dread. Start with the metros—Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi and now, this devil gathers impetus, it is emboldened— do it in Maximum City, do it in the Financial Hub, do it in Mumbai.

So, once again, held hostage by madness, this time its Mumbai.

The nation and the world watches in horror, as the audacity of the operation hits home. Each heart, near or far, is crying. We will be lighting the candle of grief— for the brave and the bold; the innocent and the dead and injured. But we need to shed our grief and see what we can do so that this act is the last one in the book. We need an action plan, we need ideas and we need implementation. We need not only to speak but also do and get done.

The loss should not be in vain.

Light the candle.

Take action.

In whichever way possible-ideas, suggestions, however far-fetched, throw them in here, in this space. Something has to work. We have to rid Mumbai of menace. We cannot sit with our hands folded and say, “What can we do?”

We have to do.

First published online here november 28th 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eight Hours of Dance, Three Days of Joy

My body, stiff and uncertain.
As I go through the paces, my movements utterly jerky and perhaps unco-ordinated as compared to the smooth flow of our teacher and some of the more agile students in the class, I still feel happy on the whole. I am a bit self-conscious and a bit sad, that I did not awaken to my body’s movements earlier.
The body needs to speak and has its own language of expression. And this comes through easier if it is agile and easy, not fragile or stiff. Bending, lifting, rising, jumping, folding, spreading, pointing and arching, each movement required a different set of muscles to work.
Sumeet Nagdev of Expressions, Dadar, Mumbai, (EMDC), our teacher, who is young, compassionate, and filled with his love for dance, tells us that there are 7 rules for dance, as per his theory.
1. The BODY is one entity. YOU are another entity, separate from the body.
2. Two basic functions /movements of the body are RELEASE and CONTROL.
3. SPACE determines your movement. If you do not have space, you cannot move. There are three levels of space, upper, middle and lower. The upper level of space is the most difficult to move in.
4. GRAVITY is the reason for this, since gravity pulls you down. You can CHALLENGE Gravity, but you cannot DEFY it.
5. The body has its LIMITATIONS.
6. The MIND can make your body work/move, so there are actually YOU, BODY and MIND at work during dance.
7. When you dance, keeping all this is mind, you achieve SELF-ACTUALIZATION.
Well, that was the theoretical part of it, which I guess counts, but the sheer joy of movement, as individuals and as part of a group, without music and with music, all made it fun and fascinating. We learnt the basics-point, passé, fasse, sashay, adaggio, what the terms meant and the positions they alluded to, how to release and control the body, how to move with patience and determination, to jump in the air and to bend over backwards, to flatten our spines and crouch like a tiger. There were exercises and games like ‘mirror’, chasing the little finger, the moving hands and others, just to improve focus, co-ordination and concentration, and to show how every boy’s body speaks its own language, moves in its particular way.
There is a need to keep the body supple and flexible so that it continues to move with grace and life becomes a celebration of movement.
Blood, bone, muscle, skin, the body suddenly acquired a new meaning!
Step-sashay, step-sashay; step, together/ step-sashay!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Certain Quandaries of a Profession

I recently edited somebody’s novel. My editing was appreciated. Very much. My work as a writer was appreciated. Again very much, by the same person, who read my writings online on my webpage. I was grateful, happy, touched.

I was asked, thereafter, to comment on her novel. Now, as an editor, naturally, I had gone through the novel with a tooth-comb. I knew it better than perhaps my own writing at that moment. However, I do not think it was right for her to ask for me to comment on her novel, nor would it have been right for me to do so. After all, there are so many manuscripts I edit, and some leave me flabbergasted, some impressed, some plain tired of the effort I need to put in. The story kind of gets lost in the language to be worked upon. And I do not choose the novels I edit. So I may like a particular story or I may not like it, still, I will edit it. Every author’s writing is not my cup of tea. If I really liked a story, even then I do not think I would comment upon it, because it should not influence the author into believing that I am representative of an audience. For example, Chetan Bhagat’s writings are the rave, yet he leaves me unimpressed. I can do without his kind of stories. Now if I had perchance edited his work and if he had perchance asked for my comments, and then if I had told him my take on his writings, it may have so deflated him that he may not have sallied forth and got his work out into the market with confidence enough. And then the appreciation of so many readers would have escaped him.

I know how important it is as a writer to get positive feedback. And negative feedback may be well intentioned, but it is destroying, and I do know that it requires more than a duck’s feathered back for it to roll off easily. More than anything else, it is subjective. I may not like sci fi, then how can I appreciate anyone writing it? I have to have a particular taste, a particular inclination. So I think writers should be careful whom they ask for an opinion, and it should definitely not be that of the one who edits their manuscript. Especially if that person is a fellow writer and sympathetic to the needs and aspirations of the one whose work she is editing, but will be hard put to give an objective comment without ruffling feathers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Some Thoughts on Hopes and Expectations

We live on hope and expectations. We especially bank a lot on our progeny.
My young modern dance teacher, all of 23, said that he comes from a Sindhi business family. He started his own dance company at the age of 19, began to learn dance at 15, with the help of pocket money- his father would never finance the learning of dance at a dance school for him.
His parents would have reared him with certain expectations, and he would be a disappointment for those who think that dance is for the birds, a hobby, a phase, or something not to be taken seriously, definitely not as a profession. He talked of how he struggled because he was often rejected by dance schools where he applied to learn, and then again when he set up his own dance school. He preferred to stay away from home. He went there recently, on his mother’s request, whereupon at the family dinner table, relatives who were visiting from the U.S. asked him what he did.
“You dance? How interesting,” they said, a couple of them raised their eyebrows. “What work do you do otherwise?’’
The eternal question all creative beings are asked, I feel. He runs a dance company, has opened an office of his own, has branches opening up in Mumbai, yet… it does not seem like a profession like being a doctor or a lawyer. And parents, what of their expectations? So, be happy, if your son or daughter is earning a living and happy with what they are doing, making a mark and a place for himself/herself through hard work. It may not be a profession to your liking, yet it is work, and it is something being achieved with pride and a sense of purpose.
It has always surprised me how a family of doctors will want their children and grandchildren to follow that very stream, whether or not they be so inclined or capable to do so.
Another boy, a friend of my daughter’s, belongs to a business family. He wants to be a professor of literature. I have my doubts if he will be allowed to follow his dream, unless he has the guts to break through. The hopes and expectations that parents pin on their progeny is often something one wonders about. It may be an extension of their unlived dreams, it may be a need that the family business continue at any cost, it may be that the status attached to a certain profession assumes all importance, even if the child’s soul dies in the process. I have heard parents say, “Ro peet kar isey humney lawyer banaa hi dia.”(With crying and beatings, we have made him into a lawyer). And they beam with happiness and pat the shoulder of their child, who cringes and smiles sheepishly. But often his eye will be dead.
A girl wants to study aeronautics, but is forced to study architecture since her father is an architect. Another girl wants to study German, is totally passionate about it, but language has a shaky future and no promise of big bucks, so she is forced to study chartered accountancy. That she eventually gives up commerce and returns to her first love can be credited to her parents’ finally realizing the truth - her unhappiness and inability to cope with a subject not in keeping with her own dreams.As parents we need to be more open to what our child wants to do. And as children we have to more assertive of what we want from life. There is only one life. We must help our child live the life according to his aspirations and dreams, not ours. And we must try to live our life as per our aspirations, not project our hopes onto our progeny. And if our child opts for an uncommon path, we must have it in our hearts to not only accept but to support. A bamboo has as much place under the sun as an oak.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not Nice to be ‘Nice’

Sometimes it is not nice to be ‘nice’. You are actually performing a disservice to the person to whom you are being nice. I had been ignoring the call for comment on the poems of a friend. His poems did not pass muster and hence I was maintaining my silence. However, there is nothing like persistence to get resistance down. I succumbed to his constant requests and gave a comment. It was a positive note that I sent. Really would have preferred to not have said anything. Did not think much of this either, because I think it is necessary to encourage people to do what they want to do.

However, a discussion with another friend brought the disservice I had actually done to the fore. She asked me whether I had really liked the poem and I said no. She then asked me why I had posted a positive comment. I said he did write good poems, some of them were very good actually, (I had read some of them in the past),and this one was not all that bad.

She was not convinced, because she knew from my eyes that I did not believe that this poem was worth responding too, regardless of how good his earlier poems may have been.

I knew she was talking sense.

So I decided from then on to not be ‘nice’. Little did I know that this decision of mine would land me in a soup the next day when I spoke my mind out to a publisher friend. However, wonders will never cease. Though he was very upset at the time when I spoke my mind, he later capitulated and we are friends once again. So if people can take the truth and still be your friend, that’s good. Otherwise, don’t be nice for the sake of friendship. Actually, you are not being the true friend that you should be if you are ‘nice’.

Constructive criticism is necessary. You need not be brutal, but don’t be a sucker in any case. If you can’t say anything good, then keep quiet. And if he persists, then show that you are made of sterner stuff. Continue to maintain silence. And if he still carries on, then tell him the truth as you see it and let him bear the consequences of his pushiness.

If you have to say what is needed, do so, and be done with it. Its better than being ‘nice’, and your friend will thank you for it in the end.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Land of Deep Colours

In October 2007, reality for me was a hot and dusty Delhi. To travel to green and lush Kerala at that time became an escape into magic land. And there was this almost direct flight with just a half-hour stop at Chennai, all the way from New Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram.

Yes, I can write and pronounce that tongue twister name of the capital city of Kerala.

Kerala is green. Rubber, coconut, banana and areca nut trees are what you see for miles and miles. And if you look beyond the trees, you see beaches with the waters a hazy blue, green, grey, orange, and even muddy. It all depends on the time of the day, the location, and your viewpoint. There are hills in the distant, the Western Ghats, not very high and therefore beckoning. There are rivers that flow into the sea and waterfalls like Meenmutty. This has a stone-moss-lined trekking path leading to it overhung with green shade. The River Kallar meanders gently alongside. Here you may be bitten sharp by a mosquito or two, watch a six inch black centipede crawl leisurely by and see an ant nest on a tree. The wonders of the natural world are laid out on a platter.

Kerala is red. Small red bananas hang in bunches from long stalks in roadside stalls and are unbelievably sweet when eaten. Red coconuts have cool, refreshing water to help you beat the humidity and the white flesh scraped from their insides melts in your mouth. Areca nuts redden your lips. Small red flowers are strung in the well-oiled plaits of the young girls like a long forgotten fashion idea. The rows of red tiled roofs shield old-fashioned houses from the sun. There are not many glass-fronted skyscrapers yet on the landscape. The inescapable red communist flags line some of the streets, making their own statement.

Kerala is black. The black soil at Kovalam, rich in minerals, is washed onto the beach. Black boat houses and canoes rock steadily in the waters. There is the black of the mountains, visible where they have been cut away. The gods are black too, hewn out of granite. In the Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram, it is a granite Vishnu that reclines so hugely that he is viewed across three doorways, his black arm flung across to bless the worshippers, adorned with a thick gold bracelet that shines in the darkened interior and highlights the beauty of its form. There is the darkening black of the clouds, when the thunder clouds pour forth their bounty with unrelenting fury and make the land what it is. The people have a smooth ebony colouring, accentuated by the stark whiteness of their crisp shirts.

This land of deep colours and deeper tranquility helped me escape from the blinding daylight starkness and neon-lit nocturnal existence of Delhi. Kerala is a return to the basics, where life flows on in the backwaters of beyond.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I love Mumbai-it rocks!

train to Vashi

I visited Mumbai after decades, hey, don’t go guessing my age, there are better things to do.

I fell in love with city.

Mumbai is rocking late at night. Thanks to the sea breeze that cools the most heated soul and asks them to stroll down Marine Drive to enjoy nature’s gift, away from cramped tenements and trains full of teeming travellers. It is the sea that makes the trade-off between industry and space bearable.

Mumbai is spiced curry at its best. Thanks to a cooked cauldron of cultures that sits a fair, plump Bohri Muslim in an embroidered black burqa who reads a quick magazine next to a multi-nose pinned, necklaced, Maharashtrian with crooked teeth, a big bindi, and weathered skin listening to music with a hands-free to her ear— on a train seat from Bandra to V.T. station. Thanks to the cafes like Mondegar that line Colaba Causeway where “because I am worth it” women wear low waisted, very blue jeans and drink beer late at night to the sound of Western folk music, even as the black and yellow out-dated Fiat cabs with stuffy, blue velvet seats and the red ‘Best’ buses ply the streets outside. Mumbai offers you cheap vada paos and bhel on Marine Drive and the mouth-watering, though high priced fruits at Breach Candy that can make the most satiated mouths drool. It has ‘cutting’ chai that you can have ‘dhai-dhai’ (fast) before you catch that train to somewhere, since Mumbai has a train service that everyone travels by. So when the heavens sing their megh malhar and the rains pour, its no-show at the offices, and everyone has to understand, because the trains cannot run from Borivali and Andheri to Tardoe or elsewhere when the homes and tracks are wet and inundated. Here, the language has its own mix, where the ‘darlings’ heard at Cusrow Baug are interspersed with the ‘kai ko’ sounds of Matunga, and the cauldron continues to spice up its curry.

Mumbai is mannered. Polite men move their arms out of the way so that women in a hurry do not collide with them, an ability of manners sorely lacking in the aggressive north [where women are taken head- on and have to themselves steer clear if they want to, regardless of high heels, shopping bags, screeching kids in arms and usually excessive weight]. Those catching a bus have to stand in a serpentine line that is not straight like a Chinaman’s pigtail, but is more like a ‘z’ at the end of which you may board the bus, one after the other, please. There is no pushing or pulling here. I did not know this, and played by the aggressive rules of Delhi, getting ahead and putting one foot on the waiting bus, waiting to be pushed in by the others, when a voice behind me asked me to get to the end of the queue. What queue? I looked around and, of course, in my hurry to catch the bus I had not spotted the people standing in line patiently in the heat of the mid-day sun. My face red and a stupid smile on my face for apology, I went and stood at the end like a punished student who speaks out of turn. But this kind of well-mannered queue-ism is unheard of in Delhi for sure.

Mumbai has a Fashion Street —a far cry from the high-end Champs Elysees of Paris, but one that may definitely be compared to the Janpath of Delhi for cheap clothes, footwear, bags etc. Most goods can be bargained for and the prices brought down to half the quoted strength. Yes, I have tried it and it works. So you make up with quantity when you are not looking for exceptional quality, and the bargaining also lifts your spirits because you believe you have emerged a victor after a blood-thirsty battle of prices. And then you suddenly feel exhausted with all that energy spent in haggling, and move to the Jehangir Art Gallery for a pint of beer in artistically ethnic surroundings to lift your spirits once again. The Jehangir Art Gallery has been there for donkey’s ears, because I had visited it decades ago as well. A kind of nostalgia gripped me and I was surprised, because it had not happened to me in other places at all.

Another surprise. Mumbai has a highly developed sense of community and environment consciousness. Well-heeled gentlemen take the train to their offices instead of a cab or a private car. There are several reasons for this. One, they reach their offices faster. Two, Mumbai people are, despite their wealth, careful with their money. This can be because they still belong to the old school of thought that if you have it, don’t flaunt it. The most baffling reason for a person like me from Delhi is their community and environment consciousness. The rich will take the train because they do not want to add to the city’s pollution or create traffic jams. They also do not believe that by taking the train they are coming down the social ladder in any way. Many of them also don’t run their air-conditioners unless absolutely necessary, saving on power costs of course, but also because of the increased awareness regarding CFC.

Despite the rains that pelt it announced and add to the dirt, squalor and stench as you wait for the train, clutching hard onto an umbrella and wondering why you are visiting it when you can be in a dry place called Delhi, you know that Mumbai charms you with her downpour of more than mere rain, its how her heart throbs in the midst of it all.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Rohtang Pass & Beyond

Rohtang Pass, (51 kms. from Manali) and situated as it is 13051 feet above sea level, should be dangerous, quiet, forsaken.

I believed it would be covered with ice that shimmers and shines in the direct rays of the sun, and the wind is the only sound that one hears for miles around as one contemplates the harsh beauty of nature.

I had not reckoned with commercialization, whose far-reaching slick fingers insidiously glide and choke all that is untouched and far away, even the high mountains that stand beautiful and bold against the sky.

As I climbed the treacherous mountainside, albeit by car, the sight of a few cars ahead and a couple of them behind (some of them foolishly honking their existence) should have given me warning enough of what lay ahead. I was so happy to be in the mountains that I ignored the vehicles, their fumes, and their insistent noise.

I also ignored the rows upon rows of little wooden shacks and tents which displayed fur lined coats, caps, capes, and galoshes that posed as snow-shoes, for hire. I should have sat up and taken notice that so many locals were running shops which hired woolen garments. They were obviously catering to the needs of many unprepared and gullible city slickers from the plains.

By the time I reached Rohtang Pass, I could well have been in the centre of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, or New Market in Kolkotta.

It is the middle of June, peak season, and there is a veritable trade fair here. Delhi businessmen and their pink-rouged and high-heeled wives laden with the latest heavy gold sets don their coats and galoshes and stumble hand in hand in the muddy snow. So do Bengali Babus and their brethren, giving their children yak rides and snow slides while trying to keep their fur coats from sliding off. Handsome hulks from Haryana who believe money speaks everywhere, strut around, as do pretty young things from Chandigarh who giggle and scream with delight as they snowball each other. There are food and chips and cold drinks stalls, and an avalanche of humanity trying to find its space in the sun and snow as they eat, drink and make merry. Photos are clicked by the dozen, to show family back home that they have ‘been there, done that’.

One quick look at all this from the confines of my car, and I decided to cross the pass as fast as possible, but found myself caught in the mother of all traffic jams. There were cars of various makes and sizes, Qualis, Cielo, Tata Safari, Scorpio, Maruti, et al, inching their way out ahead of me, and more cars behind me. They ate up the narrow driving path between huge ice boulders. Also take into consideration the humanity weaving its way through this traffic, and other cars trying to find parking space to spill out the people who have come to enjoy the cold splendor of Rohtang Pass, and you can get an idea of what was happening around me. Not very different from the traffic jams in any Indian metropolis, but at least the roads are wide there! However, people behaved here as though they were in the city, expecting the environment to make the adjustments.

And it has no choice but to accept becoming dirty and polluted with litter and diesel smoke. Even the snow bows down before the human being, and has changed its colour from pristine white to a dirty brown. The snowfall here is formed from rains that bring the city soot with them.

It took me two and half-hours of bonnet to bonnet driving to get out of this two and a half kilometer stretch called the Rohtang Pass. I felt cheated, for I had not traversed steep mountain sides just to become spectator to a bustling, thriving commercial centre on the top of the mountains. Luckily, this pass is the last destination of all those vacationers who holiday in Manali to watch colour television in their hotel rooms and eat Strawberry Softy at the Manali Mall. They return from here, happy to have done this too!

I could not rejoice with them. They were unaware of the havoc they were wrecking, or did not care. Saddened, I continued my journey to the other side of the pass.

The beauty there of the untouched glaciers, multi-hued mountain sides, sheer rocks that shone black and gold and green in the intense sunlight, told me that the hand of commercialization has not crept this far. I sat on a mountain side and drunk in the view, the tensions of the past few hours dissolving right there.


P.S. I experienced this in 2002, felt the need to put it online now. Things must have worsened, or maybe I am just being pessimistic about humanity.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ticket to Ride



Theek hai?

The words are spoken by a man behind me, I don’t know what he looks like, but he has a heavy and loud voice.

Route no. 534 from City Select Mall at Saket to Anand Vihar. And I’m on it. So I get to hear this, experience a lot more.

The hair on the young boy in front of me curls nicely, like a cat’s tail comfortable.

A man on the street puts a cigarette in his mouth, lets it dangle and then lights it as the bus moves on, leaving him behind like a flash in the noon light.

White and brown spangled belts, on two different people, one of them has an orange skin tight nylon shirt and a big blue square watch on his wrist, embroidered blue jeans. The other disappears before I notice him, apart from wearing a belt in keeping with that of the orange shirt man.

On the road someone is selling helmets in blue, black, green, they are heavy upturned caves waiting to be filled by cooked heads. People working far away on dry fields, are visible. Trying to grow something in this blazing heat that makes everything wilt and bake is an amazing enterprise.

On the passing pavements now, rows of red tomatoes, ripe to bursting, their colour heightened by the strong sunlight, asking to be picked up and washed and eaten, or they will squash very soon on their own.

Cucumbers peeled and cut in the open-a cool invite to passersby.

Balloons now, shaped in all kinds of toy forms.

The bus conductor calls out, “Mother Dairy Depot, Anand Vihar, Anand Vihaaa…aar”, hoping to drum up ghost passengers from the pavements.

The boy with the curly hair leaves. Two girls with their mother now occupy the seat in front.

The kids, almost twins in the fact that they look alike except one is older, obviously since she is slightly bossy, are dressed in nylon pink and green dresses, their hair tied on two sides tight, as ponytails, with old fashioned ordinary long-forgotten use of red rubber-bands, no fancy stuff here. And despite the heat, and despite this nylon cloth clinging, and despite the fact that their mother occupies the seat with them, and she is not slim, they are excited. I can feel the excitement in the way they look out of the window, chatter and talk to their mother about this and that. Their hair is long in curls, but brittle and brown with split ends, lots of conditioning needed here, and the younger one scratches her hair, so most probably it is lice ridden. Their father, darker-brown skinned, grey and balding already, sits in the seat in front of them.

The mother takes out a coin, one of the girls hands it to the father and the father throws the coin far out. It is for a beggar on the pavement near the traffic light where the bus has stopped. The beggar slides along the hot pavement on his thin behind, his legs are thin, useless sticks, and picks up the coin with the mutilated fingers of his right hand. There is no emotion on his face.

"Lao ji," says the conductor to no one in particular. “Give, please” this means, money for your ticket to ride.

Char ka mera.” pipes up the guy next to him. He is not betting on anything. He is saying that he wants a ticket for Rs. 4/-.

The bus is decorated in the front with the usual posters of gods and goddesses of the Indian pantheon. What is new here are two steel rods strung with multi coloured bangles which add more colour to the colour. A tall thin man comes and stands in such a way that my view of the front of the bus is blocked for the moment. My attention shifts to the girls and then outside.

“Lao, bhai” the conductor is on his prowl, brown safari suit suits the predatory nature of his approach. In his simple words of “Give, brother”, a world of meaning. It means fish into your pocket and take out the fare.

“Teen ka dena” and the conductor hands over the ticket to the person who asks, quietly. He does not argue or ask till where; people who are regulars know their route cost.

The bus moves at a monotonous speed as though the heat is taking its toll on it as well, and rocks and jerks and makes straining noises like an old man trying to gather steam. This swaying and the drone of the engine and the heat hitting the face from outside, the people within, all combine to make me want to close my eyes and doze off. I clutch hard onto my purse in case I do.

“Now at Kalkaji mandir, I am in the bus, standing, will reach in fifteen twenty minutes, it will take the time it will take,” says a man into his mobile, philosophical like.

“Family passenger, gate par chalo, stand aane wala hai,” shouts the conductor suddenly. He is asking some family members to disembark. Which ‘family passengers’, I try to see.

“Maharani Bagh wali family passenger, aage se utro.” The conductor is shouting for the family to disembark, we have reached the Maharani Bagh bus-stand. I see a couple get down. They are the family? The conductor’s terminology foxes me

The girls in the front are fidgeting, they want the destination to arrive, and tell their father about how they have traveled this route before and seen the Akshardham temple, which their father is pointing out to them, earlier already. So he says nothing then, and returns to his thoughts.

“Do rupey kiske hain?” Whose two rupees are these? asks the conductor, and someone extends a hand out to grab the two rupees, acknowledging his ownership

Gulmohur trees blaze orange in the sun, so do the bougainvillea in their pinks, purples and reds. The amaltas blooms a soft, soothing yellow. The parks where the children are playing despite the hot summer sun, are parched dry and barren of grass. A stray growth here and there indicates what might have been. A forgotten green.

Stanislavski has talked of an actor’s journey. The actor’s path is set, but how he reacts to the beautiful events that he sees as the journey unfolds is what helps him create his acting. I cannot see anything beautiful on this journey of mine. My path is set too, but I just want to get home, the sun’s heat brings tears to my eyes.

School children clamber on to the bus, their white shirts hot emblems in the sun, their navy blue shorts dark against their brown skins. Their faces are tired after a stultifying day at school. There is hardly any joy or laughter among them, though some smile shyly when I look in their direction. I smile back.

A man behind me talks loudly into his mobile, chomping as he talks, and it is not because he is eating something, it is a harsh chomping of the jaws, as if he wants to destroy something, the world perhaps.

The bus turns a corner sharply and I grip onto the seat with my buttocks and grab the hand rail tight so as not to fall off my seat and onto the bus floor. The bus careens around, then stops abruptly at a red light, and I look at the crowd standing within the bus and wonder as to how they have not fallen onto each other, how they can maintain a centre of balance despite the antics of the bus. Man is capable of anything, I muse to myself.

We are approaching Balco, a local market, and the labourers laying bricks on the pavement doze on their haunches, their head between their legs, right there on the street side, impervious to the traffic, noise, heat, dust, flies—nothing bothers them right now.

Somnolent slumbering in the mid-day heat, and the bus moves on, an elephant that grunts and splutters as it makes its heavy way in the city jungle.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Together and Separate

We grow together and we grow separately.

Last year I attended an intense two week residential program, to find myself, so to speak, for I had lost the essences of my life in many ways. The set of ideals and values I lived by had taken a toss, and I was agitated, irritated, angry, unmoored, lost and thrashing against anything and everything that came my way, unable to accept or take anymore of life as it had been.

A suggestion by a friend whom I had recently met, and who is one of the initial change-makers in my life, led me to experience this workshop. It was a sudden, impulsive decision, and I am glad for it.

En route to this workshop, I made friends with a woman sitting next to me, and it turned out that she was traveling to the same place and the same workshop. The friend I spoke of earlier, who had suggested this workshop for me, turned out to be a close friend of hers. It turned out that during the workshop, we were sharing the same room in the hotel; this grouping had been done by the organizers. We also found out that we had known each other in another city, at another time, in our childhood days. She had held her face in astonishment and delight, her eyes wide with excitement, and kept repeating my name as if it was a mantra all of a sudden, the revelation was so great for her. It was she who placed me from those times. And then the excitement began to touch me as well, soon enough. We became comrades in arms, and she was a good room-mate, understanding, adjusting and fun to be with. Her thoughts and their expressions were clear and coherent, and her views openly radical in a society like ours. She heard a different drummer and was not averse to stating it. I refused to be shocked, and took her in my stride. Despite her tough stance, she had her own vulnerabilities, which made her human to the core. For me, she was sensitive and considerate and that was enough. She also gave me space. Her occasional unconscious and sometimes conscious attempts at trying to change my thinking failed, because I am stubborn to the core. What I considered worth taking, I did. She was stabilizing in her own way, making me see certain aspects of my behaviour in a clearer way. Needless to say, the relationship has strengthened quite rapidly ever since our return from the workshop. We are each other’s sounding boards, and our friendship is based on a great degree of openness.

This year I will attend the second phase of the workshop, and she will not be with me for this journey, for she will be away in another country with family and friends. And so this time my growth and evolution during the workshop will happen without her. We grew together the last time, this time we will grow separately. She will be in another country; I will be in the workshop.

So it is with people in life, we grow together sometime, and we grow separately sometime. And both are required for individuals to flourish on their own, and for them to flourish with those they consider their friends and compatriots in life.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Dilli Walli returns from Mallu Land, saga 2:

I am the lone tea drinker in a crowded coffee bar…wait, this is an airplane!

Was I thankful when that eight year old who kept hassling his polite father for something or the other, and hassled all around him because his insistent voice was loud and demanding, got off the plane at Chennai. I leaned back a bit, now I could read my book in peace.

My relief was short-lived for a cacophony of sound entered the plane and it was seating itself all around me. There was a never-ending bunch of males boarding the flight now, part of a group, and they talked like excited schoolboys out on their first picnic. I shook my head in disbelief. From the frying pan into the fire, and it was suddenly very hot in that air-conditioned space. The chatter of voices never stopped, never mind that politeness required that due consideration be showed to others riding the bird/soaring the skies with you.

One particular fellow, who just happened to be seated right in front of my seat, kept popping up like a jack in the box. He was short and middle-aged, dressed in jeans, and had a silver ear-ring on one lobe to show that he moved with the times. His excitement level was of the totally juvenile variety. During the flight, he traveled up and down the aisle, laughing and joking rather loudly with his friends. He would return to his seat, then pop up to look outside the window and watch the blue sky as if seeing it from close quarters for the first time. To do this, he leaned across the other two friends who occupied the inner seats. He then commented on which part of the country we were passing over-he was sure it was Madhya Pradesh. He said this loudly, and then called for the air-hostess to confirm this great deduction of his. She said she did not know, but would find out and inform him. “No need,” he said, his expression benign and all-knowing, “I am sure of it,” and that kind of settled the matter.

Refreshment time, and suddenly the plane was even more alive, with orders for coffee for various friends seated all around me. I felt somewhat foolish asking for tea in this sea of coffee drinkers, but decided to stick to my choice. As I heard plaintive cries of “Coffee, Caaffee” all around me, I asked for a cup of not-so-strong tea in a rather subdued voice. I was kind of wilting since the dosage of males who wanted coffee was getting too strong for me.

The man seated next to me decided to talk. “Madam, “he said, politeness quite overtaking him now, “what do you think of this turtle?”


Did not know much about them, except that one of them was a major character in a childhood fable.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Sorry,” I said, “can’t help you. Don’t know much about turtles.”

“Your pen please, Madam, could I borrow it?”

“Of course,” I handed it to him and watched as he filled in the price for an item on a wish list provided by the airways. The highest bidder would get the object of desire, which ranged from watches to handbags to turtles. Yes, turtles, of the feng shui variety. He was entering the price with my pen.

“Lucky pen, I think, Madam,” he said, and smiled as he returned it to me. I did not know what to say.

Turned out, he did get the turtle, not because of the lucky pen so much as the fact that no one else bid for the turtle. He beamed with pleasure when he opened the box.

“See,” he said, as the small, golden coloured turtle with stone eyes and jeweled back glinted in the afternoon sun that streamed in from the plane’s window. I could not help but see.

“Great,” I said, suddenly happy for him. Part of my stiffness melted; after all, my pen had been instrumental in making his day.

I use my pen for writing, and the whole idea of writing is to reveal something that the naked eye misses. The turtle revealed to me the pleasure of small joys. Peeping out of the plane window need not be reserved for kids alone, nor the enjoyment of turtles for that matter.

I think I had been behaving like a somewhat stiff upper lipped jerk.

I relaxed thereafter. The crew was there in any case to enforce the rules, albeit I must say that they were quite ineffective in this.

“May we request all passengers to be seated and to fasten their seat belts...”

“Sir, Sir…”

Ladies and gentlemen, may we request all passengers to…”

“Sir, …”

Yes. The gentleman in question had to be politely forced to be seated. To fasten his seat belt –a prisoner for a while. It was beyond his comprehension as to why he should, but then, I think it was his first flight. The excitement would wear off and he would learn to obey the rules of the game. Like all adults eventually do.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pushing the Right Buttons

I wanted my computer fixed. Part of the problem was that the floppy disk drive was missing, so I wished to buy a new one.

“Mom, are you crazy? Which age are you living in?” my son asked

“No one sells floppies now,” my daughter also had to put her two- penny bit in.

“In the days of pen drives, you are talking of floppies?”

“Why not just burn a CD for your storage or transfer purposes?

But I need to transfer just a couple of articles now and then,” I said, suddenly apologetic about my redundancy.

“A floppy has just 1.44 MB of space,” said the all-knowing one.

“And a CD has 700 MB” piped in the second all- knowing one.

“DVD can also be used if you want a lot of data storage It has GBs of space.”

“Yes,” I thought, now I would have to write something really phenomenal to use that kind of space.

“Don’t worry; you can just burn a CD, even if it is only a couple of articles.”

I was scared of learning something new. Why couldn’t I just do things the old- fashioned way? Why did I need to burn things now? And burning was a way of getting rid of things, not adding them. In my dictionary, anyways.

“What is wrong with floppies anyway?”

“Mom. You don’t understand. No one has them.”

My look must have said something like that was not enough of an argument.

They went on to press their point home into my equal-to-floppy-redundant brain.

“Mom, you have to move with the times. Its like saying you don’t know how to use a keyboard on a computer.”

I had shifted from a pen and paper to a screen and keyboard. It was easy, said the kids. Everything was easy for them. I had to first break down the resistance in my own brain before I could get myself to learn anything new. And I had to do it faster and faster, if I did not want to be left far behind.

Technology just leapt too fast from the page to the stage. Take the case of the MP3s. They were so hot a couple of years ago, but with the onset of ipods, they now lay junked. Or the digital camera—who except pros needed one, what with the new mobiles which captured everything for you in candid camera shots.

With more and more gadgets in the market, I felt swamped with the need to learn where the right button was. After all, if one clicked pictures one also needed to know how to upload them onto the computer which meant understanding cables and ports and USB devices, and what not. New terms, abbreviated and otherwise, blasted their way onto my mind and then my tongue and I better know what I was talking about.

What is getting scarce is of course, water, love, space, time and energy, as everything becomes focused on gadgets.

I get back to the here and now.

“Where did I put my mobile? I need to call Megha for the video conferencing with Armana in New York.”

“And after that, of course, you will burn…that CD.” My kids chime in. “We will show you how.”

“Of course.” I can’t give up in the middle of the race, can I? I am made of tougher stuff.