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.