Thursday, December 30, 2010

For some spice!

You know the irritating feeling when everything around you seems to be at a standstill? When people aren't updating their blogs, leaving you with no entertainment. When the cafe around the corner and the Chinese takeaway and the library are closed, ensuring there is no place you can read apart from your room . When a stuffy head and a bad cold make you feel like nothing and demand that you stay within four walls. When your essay refuses to structure itself inside your head, let alone make its way onto paper. When everybody's new year plans involve going to a bridge to see fireworks on a cold night. When every Facebook status seems to be same "Happy New Year" and it begins to wreak havoc on your nerves.

Then you're probably a cranky international student spending the Christmas vacation in London.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Of friendship over assignments

I see most of my classmates once a week, for a span of three hours. That's it.Three hours, when we're trying so hard to get our head around ideas, to learn, absorb, assess and impress. The moment it stikes four, everyone disappears, only to reappear the next week looking their calm, perfect and collected selves! So much so that in the first few weeks of class, I wondered if we would ever be more than just classmates, if we'd ever open up and get to know each other as individuals and whether it was only me who seemed to be uncertain about so many things. It didn't help that my friends on other programmes in the same department seemed to be hanging out with their classmates after class, going for meals, concerts and sharing a great sense of camraderie.

But the moment came. It was on a bleak morning when we were supposed to hand in our first formal assignments, when I walked into the library, and found myself surrounded by familiar faces. The only difference being that this time, I saw sleep deprived individuals, who had simply put on clothes and dragged themselves to college, pushing themselves to read their essays one last time, people united by the desire to make one last ditch effort to save their essays and to use a very Asian term, to save face. We waited while people edited, proof-read and printed and then walked together to our department to hand it in. It took less than two minutes for the deed to be done...but I'm glad we did it together. Because it those few minutes of shared anxiety that forged a sense of camraderie. I now feel at home!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Miserable opps

There are those that lack opportunity
And those who find misery in opportunity
I refuse to be either

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Be you five or fifty
Under the mask of bravado and a confident step
Despite the exhilaration of starting anew
Is a child who misses home

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beautiful Ends

I've always read obituaries in the paper. And even shed a few tears for people that I've never known. Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking of death and pain even more. For one, because I lost my eldest aunt (the first of my mother's seven siblings) to cerebral haemorraghing. She was 73...but not old, as dynamic as ever. As her grandchildren stepped out, specially dressed by her for the Onam celebrations at school, she accompanied them to the gate, ensured they got their transport. Little did anyone think this was to be a final farewell.
A few hours later, we heard she was sick... we hoped, we prayed, we questioned why the doctors were taking no more action...but less than 48 hours after she was hospitalised, she passed away.
A week after the funeral, her younger grand daughter Karen was found carrying a picture of her to school. Her response had me in tears: "I carry it so that I can look at it whenever I have a moment". The family say they often find her kissing the photo.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been listening to fragments of stories adding to the memories of my aunt. This is my tribute to the woman who personified resilience, who kept going when life handed her more than her fair share of bitter lemons. She reminds me that it is possible to keep loving, even when people and situations take nasty turns. And somewhere in my heart, I am glad that she'll never be in pain again, physical and emotional, and that she's with the Lord, at rest for ever.

The death of two other people, have also taught me some strange lessons. One was a family friends' father. I will always remember him as the cheerful old gentleman who after cancer and radiation managed an exhaustive tour of Israel on foot in his 70s, simply because he wanted to.

The other, a young girl of 19, who I am only connected to through blogosphere, who succumbed to dengue last month. I don't know Tejaswee but her pictures tell me she was sunny, vivacious, bursting with life and energy. I read her blog, a letter that she writes over a year ago to a child that she planned to adopt sometime in the future and I quote my favourite line: "I dream big, and I watch my dreams fall. Right now, I have the strength to rise."

Hark....the death knells

Behind the crazily crowded street that leads to my office is a cemetery. I've never seen it but every once in a while,I come across a small procession of men making their way to the burial ground, carrying on their shoulders,the mortal remains of a loved one. I dare not to imagine their emotions as horns blare, urging them to move on, move quicker and make way for traffic when all they want is perhaps to take it slow, to make the last few minutes with somebody last just a little longer? That people will be sensitive to their loss.

Everytime I see them, I tell myself that I can afford to wait another five minutes to get to the office. Because I have memories of a sunny November afternoon when I was part of the procession of vehicles making its way through the streets of Old Bhopal to the cemetery allotted to Christians. We doubted if the ambulance would make its way through the last stretch- a narrow crowded alleyway lined with houses on either side. For a few minutes, the little children in the area forsook their favourite playground (the road), all business and talk was forgotten. And as we slowly moved ahead, I have a hazy memory of some of them even throwing open the gates of the cemetery to let the ambulance in. I am grateful for that moment, for the symbolic gesture of kindness for a person in pain.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Living a delusion

Ever been told?
That you are indispensable
That there will always be place for you
That people will miss you for more than a week
That even your paranoia or madness is unique
That you were meant for much more

Ever been told?
That you are living a delusion

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shine on her, crazy diamond

In the misty vapour of the hamam, I see the body of twelve-year old Jehanna Begum, the week her mother died. Lying on the cold marble slabs. Her eyes trained on the red diamond in the chandelier, questioning. Her tears washed away in the stream of water that runs over her. The child, without a maternal bosom to sink her head into.
Into the hamam rushes the restless Jehanna at fourteen, accusing the red diamond. Trapped by her female body, trapped in the zenana. Craving the sun that she is never exposed to. Jehanna, with her two attendants to unleash her fury upon. The adolescent daughter of the emperor, visited by her father once a year.
The sixteen –year old Jehanna, who in the few moments before her attendants come in, prostrates herself before the red diamond, praying for respite from her aching loneliness. The young girl, who submits herself to the hands of her attendants, to be made beautiful. For whom, I ask?
Into the hazy mist of the hamam, is brought the body of eighteen-year old Jehanna. To be soaped, scrubbed and washed one last time before her burial. Jehanna, who will never make it into a love saga, whose beauty will never be described in the chronicles of the kings. The woman, who was embalmed in the light of the red diamond.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The days of community love

For an outsider, it was just Annual Day at the Indian School. But it wasn’t. This was the yearly exhibit of community love and engagement. The type of event that everybody became a part of, in some way or the other. Not too hard to envisage, given that there weren’t too many schools that you could choose to send your kids too. And if at all, your child were culturally/musically inclined, then ‘Sound’ or ‘Tune’ of Music were the only options on hand.
So annual day at the school meant that the dance mashas had their hands full of classical and filmy routines, that the piano and guitar instructor David sir was recording rhymes for the kindergarten kids to sing to or that Anto sir had rescheduled classes to ensure that all the kids participating in a programme had the same slots at the music school. It was a flurry of activity – setting up sessions, calling all the kids, and finding out who could pick up whom.
And teachers weren’t the only ones taking the decisions. Parent called each other, picked up swatches of fabric, compared notes on costumes & tailors and even went out shopping together for the right outfit. Music blared in many homes, as kids practiced in bedrooms, living rooms, and backyards waiting for the yummy intermissions in between. Then there were the miffed parents, who stormed to school to question why ‘their’ children got left out of the programme. And the night after the function where you would bump into parents and kids, irrespective of your choice of cuisine or how late it was in the night.
And it wasn’t just the week before annual day. It was on all those days when the kids and parents got on to the huge school buses to Dubai take part in DALA competitions, the Kairali Kala Kendra festival or whatever was the big event that year. Little tips were exchanged on dance makeup, safety pins were handed over, some parents listened as other students practised their extempore speeches and the entire parent and student fraternity cheered when their kids performed on stage. Proud parents pushed us onto stage, year after year, to take the trophy for the school championship, and the cameras just kept clicking. I don’t know how many albums I found my way into. Years later, what I do know is that, at the risk of speaking in cliches, these were the best days of our lives and of course, community love.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cracked pains

It was the alien eye roving about them, that made her mind restless...that forced her to thrash these same thoughts out, again and again.
She'd always been independent..according to her way of defining things. Some others may have thought her to be the servile wife, whose life remained confined to making sure that her husband's coat and tie were ironed, the kids had good food in their tiffin and creating a comfortable ambience at home. But she liked it that way...she was her own boss for hours and hours. In the evenings, when the kids were young, she would take them out for a stroll or if her husband was back, they'd take a ride to the beach, the four of them on that bike that she could never learn to love. Thank God for the scooter that she had...made it much easier to pick up things without having to walk all the way and to socialise with all those women who couldn't but keep their minds off other's lives and bedrooms. That's why she'd been a bit of recluse, and hadn't kept a maid. After all, maids were the leaking taps that dribbled gossip all over the place. And it wasn't as if anyone had condemned her to this position. Her husband and she had talked about it when he came to meet her first. She was in the mood to work in those days and he'd only encouraged her. In fact, she was the one who decided that she would give it up, not for him or for the kids that they had in a few years, but simply because she wanted time for herself. And he had always respected it, despite the fact that her income had meant that they could splurge a little more on clothes and the movies. Moreover, she liked to be there when the kids came home, surprise them with the little daubles she'd picked up for them or the chat-patta stuff that she'd made for teatime, drink tea in the tiny lawn with her husband or just watch him read the paper. The little pleasures of life... she relished the thought that she was the one who made it all possible. The comfort that she could give and deny!
Which is what made everything harder she was, unable to get up from the bed in the morning till her husband came and propped her up with pillows and got her to sip on tea and biscuits...No she couldn't eat them, not because of the chemo but because her mind rebelled against being waited on hand and foot and her throat just wouldn't co-operate to push those morsels down. And the ultimate humiliation, she needed help to dress and bathe herself. It was humiliating to feel her that husband had to put her bra straps on for her...her arms and fingers just wouldn't co-operate. And then to keep things simple, she would go out for her chemotherapy sessions in a nightgown. In her 30 years of married life, she'd never made an appearance in public in her nightie...let alone step out of the house in it. And her she was, in an auto, on the way back from chemo, hating herself for being dependent. And then this kid in the next auto was looking at her as though.....
He looked at the kid in the next auto. She looked young enough but by the looks of where her auto was going, she was headed towards one of the offices that lined the road ahead. She seemed sensitive enough, after one quick look at his wife's bald head and him holding her with one hand and a wheelchair precariously perched in front, she'd gauged the situation and had the sense to look away. She appeared the young confident type, who probably thought that she had learnt all the lessons that she would ever learn in the few years she had spent at work. Poor thing, little did she know that there were somethings that she would never know about herself. After all, till a month or two ago, he'd thought of himself as the strong one. And all it took was one piece of paper, a medical report to shake him out of a universe that he had thought would remain unchanged till the time he beat a quiet retreat from it altogether. His wife hadn't been unhealthy at all. There were the few times when she'd had the occasional backache and the tiredness but after a night of good sleep, most of her problems had been sorted out. She'd never been one for lying in bed. Three weeks after their first child had been born, she'd rushed back to be with him rather than staying at her mother's place for the first three months. And the second time, she had refused to go altogether saying that she had enough experience to deal with it herself, provided she got an ayah to just help out a bit. When their elder son asked whether he could go to the States for his undergrad, she'd told him flat: you either get a scholarship or don't go, despite the fact that he had been willing enough to pay. She'd been equally staunch about the two children marrying kids from their income group and type of family. Coming to think of that... he hadn't told the kids much yet.. just mentioned that mom was weak and that she needed regular treatment at the hospital. But they were soon going to ask why mom didn't come to the phone or why she needed to be hospitalised so often. Moreover, his daughter had threatened to take the first flight out of San Francisco when he told her that her mom was taking a nap and couldn't be disturbed. Before they arrived that he'd had to steel himself up. He couldn't afford to let them see how much it hurt to see the one who had supported him and opposed him equally, to wane so quickly...Just as much as he wanted to show the world how strong he was, at that moment he craved support himself. He looked at the kid in the auto...she would learn too..he only wished that it wouldn't be the hard way.
The kid in the auto looked at the aging couple in the auto next to her. She'd never know who they were or what the story was, but their picture remained her head the lines were forming already...
"It was the alien eye roving around them, that made her restless......"