Sunday, August 09, 2009


Hot- Kanpur in India in June.
Happening-it happened!

A Participant’s Version

I’m on my way, I don’t know where I am going, but I’m on my way…

Sometimes you are led to places you want to go but are not sure about why . And then also you almost don’t make it. And after that, boy, are you so happy that it happened. You kind of wonder why you missed the first few days, but it could be that you were programming yourself for cold feet, and then realized that there was so much hope waiting there for you that you just had to go. If this sounds like rigmarole, let me lay it out straighter.

A friend sent a call to writers per se, for a science fiction workshop happening for three weeks(3 weeks!) at IIT, Kanpur in June(what a joke, who would go to Kanpur in this heat?) at the cost of Rs. 3000/- only but cost of travel not included (pretty reasonable, kind of balanced the heat). I just forwarded the mail to other writing groups I belonged to, saying this is not for me, but there must be others out there who love stories of science and are capable of writing such too, or aspire to write such. Now my aspirations know no bounds, and though I had washed my hands off the whole deal, something nagged. Three weeks of writing solitude. Maybe I could give sci-fi a go. Max what, a no, for which I was well prepared, given that I was pretty scientifically challenged. All I know about science is that it makes living for me very happy, what with the electricity and broadband and automobiles and elevators and everything else that makes life happening for me in this century.

I wrote what I thought would qualify as a sci -fi story. Sent it off with all that I knew of sci fi and why I wanted to attend the workshop. I think it is my adventurer self that makes me wade in unknown waters. And then the waters say, wow, we are sucking you in, my dear. That’s what happened. My story was accepted, and in the throes of excitement, I booked my tickets well in advance.

My birthday is on the cusp of Aries-Taurus with a Gemini rising, and that combination usually deters people from standing in my path (I have to attribute this to something, might as well be the stars). Yet, not people but something else intervened (the stars?). The night before the 13th of June, with the Shatabdi waiting to be boarded by me the next morning, my ankles swelled up. In brief, I had fallen down some stairs, hurt my leg, was taking some painkillers, and I think the painkillers reacted. I did not know at that time what was happening, but I just decided not to go. A couple of days and check ups later, the doctor said I could go, there was nothing wrong. I had lost time and had told Suchitra meanwhile that I would not be coming.

Suchitra is Suchitra Mathur , Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IITK and the organizational ‘genius’ and one of the facilitators of the sci fi workshop at IITK. She donned the avatar of the many handed devi here, or in modern terminology, the mantle of the ultimate multi-tasker.

She said my room was ready and waiting with the computer and net connection and they hoped to see me sometime, anytime that week! The cooler would also be installed once I arrived. That decided it. I scrambled for another train ticket, and was on my way to the first of the All Indian Three week Science Fiction Writers Workshop being held at IITK.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Being Served the Unexpected

The weather served up something unexpected today. A sudden storm. As I shut the windows I smelt the dust enter my nostrils. Against my wish I breathed it in.

Against my wish, a couple of days ago, I had got dressed to go to a friend’s son’s wedding. Duty called, for I hate weddings, largely because of the amount of dressiness it entails. And because of all the artificiality that surfaces in its glitter and proclamation of where one is at.

This friend, staying at The Pinnacle in Gurgaon, was really at the pinnacle of his career and life, one may say. We had called the cab early, a Logan for a little bit of style and more for leg space comfort. My husband did not want to drive to Gurgaon and back in the night. Clever move, but he had called the cab a bit early.

Since this was to be a wedding without hard drinks, my husband suggested we visit my sister and brother- in-law in Gurgaon for drinks before the wedding. Their home was a stone’s throw away from The Pinnacle. I agreed a bit skeptically, but my sister loved the idea. She had not met her brother-in-law for sometime. “Scotch on the rocks,” she said. “Delighted, her husband said,“if that gets over, then we will bring out the champagne.” We began to look forward to Gurgaon.

I was all dressed up in borrowed plumes and glitter. My mother’s sari that was a light chiffon (I possess heavy silks that would make me wilt in the summer heat, and cottons that wilt in the summer heat) with silver embroidery and was just the right thing for a summer wedding. My sister’s diamond and emeralds hung like heavy fruits from my ears, and her diamond necklace graced my neck, diamonds spangled on a bracelet. This was the first time that I had actually borrowed stuff to wear, I usually manage with whatever I possess. So getting ready for this wedding was no last minute lick and polish affair. I had been well prepared to attend the wedding.

So Cindrella and Prince Charming got into their Logan, the chauffer switched on the a/c, thank god! The music also on but one speaker gone, and it went ‘errprrrkhrr’ behind my husband’s ear,so my husband told the driver that he had the radio tuning off, he should put on a CD. Suddenly from “Anchal tera phalak ban gaya hai” we had some strong Punjabi music that went ‘errrprrkhrrr’, as well, but with a more rustic twang. So we told him to turn the music off, much to his disappointment. Every driver likes his music especially on the day he can’t celebrate with anything else. It was a dry day, being election results day.UPA had just won so many seats and they may be celebrating to high heaven in their places, or palaces, but the ‘aam aadmi’s tekhas were dry for the day and the night.

And now we were depriving him of his phata hua (broken)music as well.
One and a half hour of non music and heavy traffic to get to Gurgaon. We arrived, delighted to have reached finally for the drinks. We told the driver to have his dinner, we would be departing in another half- hour. We just wanted to stretch our legs.
Wet our gills.
We did not tell him that. Not that he needed any explanation.

We settled in easily into the drinks session. I kept refusing the namkeens that my sister offered and since I was hungry, kept munching them as well. I had deliberately kept my stomach empty, going as I was to a wedding where I was sure I would get wonderful food of different varieties. My intention was to definitely eat at this wedding. Not gorge, but eat. Since I am watching my weight nowadays, I often do not eat at weddings , limiting myself to juices. My mother, when she had last heard of this strategy of mine, had been appalled. She told me in no uncertain terms that a wedding was a lot about eating. So I shovelled gram flour covered peanuts into my mouth, (they accompanied the scotch and soda) since I was hungry; and kept telling my sister how much I was looking forward to eating the laccha paranthas, the pudhina parathas the soft naans and crisp tandoori rotis. You can figure out what a roti freak I am.

Meanwhile, she kept telling me how beautiful I was looking (the effect of borrowed plumes and her indulgent vision and the drink).In my new avatar as Cindrella dressed for the ball I did not mind this at all. So I smiled and asked her to give me some lipstick to touch up my lips some more, and then reminded my husband that we should be leaving now, we were well past the time to leave and it seemed to me he had forgotten all about our real purpose for coming to Gurgaon. I had to literally drag him out of his chair from which he was still holding forth on politics(well, what else on that day, but that’s his usual ‘fun’ topic in any case) and my brother in law too was matching him in his evaluation process. The way they were comparing seats won by UPA and those lost by NDA, it appeared that they had a personal stake in this.
In a fog induced by hunger, sleep, politics and half a drink, I had no desire left but to get on with it and into bed at home somehow. We had a long night ahead .We did not know how long then.

Out of the door, into the car and on the way to Pinnacle, we went from Gurgaon’s plaza and DT Megamall area to the DLF Golf Club and a little beyond to Pinnacle , a stone's throw away, but it took us 25 minutes to get there, Saturday night traffic does not let up.

No sign of a marriage happening there. Except that The Pinnacle was lit up so bright that it could have guided ships into Mumbai Harbour. I surmised then that it could not be lit thus on all nights, what a waste of much needed electricity, so a marriage was responsible for this wastage. Definitely.

We asked one of the guards, “Where’s the marriage?” He said, “No marriage here.” A ‘baraat’ had left a couple of hours ago from there, though. This he stated as an after thought.

I peered at the card, which fortunately, I had picked up. It had the driver’s parking coupon. That may have been the reason.

While my husband fished for his spectacles I brought mine out and peered at the card. The marriage was at Mithas Farms, somewhere near Tivoli Gardens. My husband kept asking me, “Are you sure? Are you sure?” I asked him to check it out himself ( seeing is believing). The driver, meanwhile, said he knew Tivoli Garden, it was a landmark, and pepped the car around. With the Metro construction in full swing, the roads are eerily unrecognizable, less so in the middle of the night by two middle-aged, drunk and bespectacled individuals. “Where is Satbari?What is the Chattarpur Mandir, is it the Shiv Mandir?” This was the rest of the address of Mithas farms.

“No, no,” said the driver, a trifle put off that my husband was unaware of another famous landmark, that too a mandir! “I know Tivoli Garden, I will take you there.”
My husband peered out at the road, hoping to recognize something.
We made it to Tivoli Gardens. I kept saying “ Thank God its on the way back home.My husband kept saying, “Then why did we go to Gurgaon if it was here.”I kept quiet. No point in telling him it was his idea, his goof up etc.
Tivoli Garden had been reached. This farm was nowhere ‘near’it.
More darkness and more desolation greeted us.
We finally reached Mithas Farms after 45 minutes of driving from Pinnacle, and similar number of minutes of frayed nerves.

Mithas Farms.

Absolute and eerie sannata greeted us. Not a bird quacked, not a car honked.

Four things instantly crossed my mind:
There was another Mithas Farms somewhere down the road perhaps?
The wedding could not have got over so fast with no a trace of anything.
They had shifted the venue and not informed us.
The wedding had been called off, and they had not informed us.
My brain’s earlier fog had cleared. Totally. A new fog had emerged. The mystery of the wedding that…

“Is the date right? Check the card?” prompted my husband.
16th, Saturday, May,it was all gold type on a deep brown surface. Designer card. Confusing card.3 or 4 of them, engagement, sangeet, wedding, dinner…we had them all there. Now these flat, hard rectangular invites fell on to our laps to adorn them instead of the dinner plates with food.
We began to cross examine the two guards who sat outside Mithas Farms in the semi-darkness.
One old, grey, thin, wrinkled, wearing a crocheted cap close to his skull.
The other young and heavy, with a gold wrist watch that glinted in the dark against his brown skin and white kurta. He walked up to us now.
Very much like the wedding card. Hefty, layered, meaningless.
“Where is the wedding?” we asked him
As if he knew. We had taken a shot in the dark
“I don’t know. Not here,” he said.
“This is Mithas Farms?” I asked
“Then where?”
“I don’t know. Several others came in cars to ask.”
We were not the only woebegone treasure hunters.

“Why not wedding here?” I asked
“These farms have been closed for sometime. Can’t have tamashas here.” This from the older man.
“No tamasha, this is serious, a wedding!” I said.
“Sorry, ma’am, we don’t know.” He was polite.
No luck from him either.
“Where did the other cars go? Any idea?”
I looked at the card again.
R.S.V.P. Two numbers were given
“Let’s call and find out,” I said. Such a bright idea.
We called the two numbers. No one picked up.
“They must be busy with the wedding atop some tempo.” My husband was dripping sarcasm now.
“Driver, wapis chalo,” he said.
The driver had also joined in our card gazing and deciphering game a little while back. So he put the useless cards aside and turned on the ignition.
I tried from my cellphone now, a last ditch call.
My husband said, “We tried.”
I did not have to watch my waist. Someone was doing it for me by making sure I missed the dinner venue.

We sat in silence on the way home, till the cell crackled.
Something came to life.
My son, wanted to know when we would be returning since he had to drop his girlfriend home by 12.30 p.m.
“What you doing?” asked my husband
“Organizing dinner.”
“We will join you. We have not had dinner,” my husband told him.
Nothing fazes my son. No questions. “Cool,” he said.
So we returned home to greet his girlfriend and a dinner with pudhina paranthas. I got them at home, but only one variety. Plus gosht korma and choley, dal and curd. It filled our hungry stomachs and laid to rest unkind thoughts directed towards whatever led to this
I had been served not what I expected. Definitely not the vegetarian dinner amidst glittering lights and air kissing that I thought would happen. I was served drinks at my sister’s place and a non-vegetarian dinner at home. There was subdued light and more lively talk, coming as it did from my son and his girlfriend.

I had not wanted to attend the wedding. Neither had my husband. I think the universe was just listening too hard to the two of us.

P.S. We found out later that the wedding took place at Chabbra farms. There was another card which we missed seeing that gave directions to it! When people have too many functions and too many cards, simple and straight forward folks like us get lost on the way.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

About a Desk

In the midst of all that I am feeling, you know, some general stuff and some not so general stuff which we humans go through at some point or the other, what is happening within me is a surge of happiness to have my desk finally the way I want it. After many years of dithering it took just two days to get it fixed, once the decision was made. This was because I had first toyed with the idea of selling it as it was, and then buying a new desk. This desk was not originally intended for computer work. I had a built-in ironing board fixed into it, at a great expense at that time (many moons ago), which was a drawer that pulled out to reveal an ironing board. The desk had a greater depth then, twenty five inches, more than the standard one of eighteen inches, and its drawer depth was also greater, having to house the collapsible ironing board. The fact is that despite all this hoo-ha, I never used the ‘goddam thingamagig’ (pardon) as an ironing board! So when I got my own computer and needed a desk to place it on, this is what I used for several years. I wanted to change it, it was too wide, but it was working.

The change happened when I bought a new chair, a couple of weeks ago. Yes, that also had a lot of dithering and time pass attached to it. In this case it had to do with the practical aspects of one chair to be lugged all the way from Rani Jhansi road to my place in east Delhi, and the transport stuff always fazes me. Its all in the mind, I have these built-in blocks. But I tightened my girth and did not allow my brain to think too much, and just went and bought it. Pronto, with not too much window shopping and raising of confusion level. It got dismantled and in the car to be easily transported. Nothing to it. Relief. What happened with the chair was that its seat was two inches higher than my previous chair. Don’t ask me about the furniture standards etc. here, that’s something we Indians are not familiar with. What’s a couple of inches here or there in the long run. With the higher seat, my thighs got a bit pressed by the deep drawers of the table, whenever I moved the chair too in. Not very uncomfortable, but still something I could not suffer forever. Change was coming.

Getting back to the table, I had been looking at buying the simple ready made available ones, a dime and dozen kind of computer desks that are available, nothing fancy. I would first need to sell the old desk; then buy a new one. Then I realized that it would be cheaper to get the old one cut (the wood is excellent and expensive), and done to the way I wanted, rather than try selling it with a pull and push ironing board which may be too stylish for the likes of anyone around. The ironing board was removed and packed off to the dungeons (also known as the loft in modern parlance, so the dungeons are now above our heads). The width of the table was reduced, the drawers decreased in depth and viola, it was ready. This happened when the carpenter came to do the kitchen work, and I told him to fix the desk after that.
Even then, a part of me resisted the idea of getting it done! What? Just some left over mental blockages against change.
As they say, the time has to be right for the idea to happen.
I am swimming in freedom now. Alive, kicking happy.
You want to feel this? Just go get something changed, make it more suitable, more comfortable. It may be just a desk.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desperate to be Separate?

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”

~Robert Frost ‘Mending Wall’

I look at all the sweet, young teenage things, noodle- strapped, straightened- hair and blue- jeaned. Bangles and kohl eyes and nose stud—surely this makes them different; Eastern, Ethnic and Exotic. Non, non. From Madonna and Britney to the occasional girl in downtown London, this is also there now. So we can do a transference of these girls from India to that place in the U.S. and they will be very much ‘chewing- gum happy’. And they will be able to ‘talk the walk’ as well, since we do have the English language as the great binding or liberating force, depending on which side of the coin you are looking from.

So whether it is material girl or metro- sexual male, woman of substance or man of means— identities and their definitions change fast and furious in a world in a hurry. Welcome to the 21st century, where cultures collide to merge or get submerged in what is termed the ‘globalization’ of the world. Human beings are still human beings, but the world has changed.

What has happened is the advent of communication and connection whence the exchange of both ideas and ideology are no longer limited by time and space. I refuse to cry ‘foul’. Protest has raged rampant about how globalization has made everyone identical, that culture and identity has taken a tossing in the whirlpool of everybody ‘mixing’ together. McDonalds, malls, and Valentine’s Day have besieged our country and turbans, tandoori masala and tattoos their country; but we should stop and think—is this just not what was happening before? The Beatles and Ravi Shankar did play together a long while ago. Fusion is possible. The change has accelerated, and the handshakes are faster across cyber space, that’s all.

Eastern identity feels threatened, but one needs to question why. It is not a one- sided deal. We are also giving a lot to the world, making it available in ways not possible till now. The Gayatri Mantra can be heard on a CD in California by an Indian lady and her American friend and they can both enjoy and discuss it. Not possible if the world were not globalized today. An Indian surgeon in London can advise an American one in New Jersey how to perform a particular surgery through a video conference. Not possible in yesterday’s world. Book your tickets online. Make friends and chat with them free, whether they are in New London or Kalimpong. Strike deals on the mobile as you walk your dog. You can still say your morning prayers in your temple. You can still wear your salwar kameez and bindi. You can still talking Punjabi with your friends. What changes for you is that you can now teach Punjabi to a friend outside your city anywhere in the world, via the net, which has been so instrumental in making the world smaller. In fact it has made the world bigger for all of us, because we now have access to all kinds of knowledge, ideas and thoughts. And people can understand other cultures better, be it Eastern or Western, with this widened knowledge base.

Why should we be desperate to be separate? Decades ago, when people moved from villages to cities, it was urbanization, and it threatened the very core of thinking then. Yet, in the cities, people from different places and backgrounds walk and work together. Globalization is cursed because it brings with it a kind of commercial uniformity all over the world. Have a look at the sized and packaged bananas available at the malls; they are perfect clones of each other. This is just a micro-level example, but it states a fact. It scares us that we humans may some day become perfect clones of one another. Globalization also raises issues of ethnicity and immigration. Should immigrants from Algeria be assimilated into France? Should Sikh boys be allowed to wear turbans in British schools? There are cultural upheavals that take place.

We have to find our answers and make our decisions. But we cannot be static.

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. Humanity definitely does not. The answer actually lies here.