“Madam are you from Japan?”

“Madam are you from Japan?”

For a moment I thought he was kidding me, but unfortunately he wasn’t!

Just because I had stepped out of the airport with a friend from Manipur and distinct features, I was perceived to be Japanese by the auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi. I am not from Japan, my ancestors are not from Japan, and I do not have the physique or features that  people use as a lame excuse for nurturing  a simplistic perception of anyone from the North Eastern States of India, with least awareness of the plurality of people . I look Punjabi and even am Punjabi, this was the most incredulous comment ever, and I am still overwhelmed by the sheer ignorance that persists!

I told him I am not, that my friend though from Manipur, lives in Delhi and asked him to drop me in a residential area of Delhi, indicating that I have been to Delhi before and am not the tourist he assumes I am. But this guy was truly persistent. He tried to take me via longer route, he told me how Delhi is a great place, and then to exasperate me further, he actually pointed at India Gate and told me how it is a must watch tourist destination.

When we reached towards my destination and I guided him on the turns, he assumed it is thanks to my mobile phone and maps, and finally before leaving told me how he came this far just because I could have been cheated by other driver folks in the city.

I think somewhere the gentleman mentioned gave me the beginning of an answer to a  question another had asked around 6 months ago, “Why do we need museums?”

Buddy, you need museum to go to the anthropological section and begin to understand that the North Eastern States of India are not Japan, to start being aware, to nurture empathy, not ignorance.

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Counter Trouble- Create Art

So what do you do when you feel that the world has come to an end?

What do you do when you delve in self-pity and misery, as if there is no tomorrow?

You remind yourself of the many stories around you, the wide variety of emotions, facts and fiction which surround you, there is much more in the world beyond you and its great!

To counter troublesome thoughts- create art

To feel good- create art

To share joy- create art

SO here’s one for stories, stories we all are, stories we live with.

poornima sardana story poster

Daily Musings

For a few months, I had been writing daily posts on facebook based on what I experienced each day. On looking back at it, I cannot really think of a sole purpose for doing so. On one level it was a selfish pursuit in giving vent to overwhelming thoughts, on typing it out and reading it, I found comfort as well as feedback. At times it entertained others, at times I am certain it must have not been pleasant. There are some posts which I now feel are mere rambling or sermons, while some serve to make others smile, or reminders of things forgotten. I feel writing and reading both heal, connect and are a shared experience between people. Where some of them unfortunately turned into egotist monologues, I do feel that there were some which got me warmth and affection from people through messages on how what they read did touch them or their lives in certain ways.Anyhow, I thought i would post a few of those here as well. I am placing them together, as if in continuity, for in many ways they are indeed coming from the same place:

“He appeared all of a sudden, almost out of nowhere. A thin little boy, with big eyes and long fingers. I was in an auto-rickshaw holding on to the tiny pair of shoes I had just purchased for my niece, and he was my surprise acquaintance at the traffic signal. I thought he would ask for money, he did not. He kept looking at me, and wrapped his fingers around my wrist. I smiled and asked him to not do so. He did it again, I asked him to not do so again. He did so the third time and I gave him a fake stern look which made him giggle. I was certain he would do so yet again, I did not know the reason behind this play, was he wanting to tease me, or express something I was blinded towards, whatever the cause, I knew this was now a game which I did not wish to lose, so I was ready this time, the moment he tried to place his fingers again, I caught hold of them. We both started laughing. The light turned green, off to my destination, he too moved on…While carring footwear for a child, I met another, who standing barefoot on that road, asked me to question what just happened and why”

“My heart sank as I saw them take her in that closed vehicle, hidden from our eyes, I could not dare to think how scared she must be.
They refused to listen to me, they refused to let her be, they refused to agree on the fact that she is a quiet peaceful soul who harms no one. They pulled her mercilessly as she fought for her freedom and with a final tug of their relentless weapon, threw her in the caged darkness.

Months ago they had done the same to her children, which I only got to learn from an eyewitness. SImply picked them up, and they never returned. We did not know where to go and search for them. We felt helpless, but not as much as the mother, who for days roamed around in a state of confusion, or perhaps a state I cannot truly even empathise with.

Those men, men with power, authority, they are ruthless, and rude, with a narrow focus. Fine, someone complained from the Resident Welfare. I am a resident too, and I care for her, I refuse to agree on the complaint that she is harmful. Why is a non inclusive elitist body’s opinion more valuable than mine? Why can your system not be open to dialogue? Who the hell are you to pull that dog this way? Why can you not give me the address of the hospital you are taking the dog to? Why can’t you give me a contact number to ensure our dogs return? WHY? WHY YOU BULKY STUPID MENACE WHY!!

And the great Welfare body, who is much bothered for cleanliness, space and safety, when were you bitten? So one dog, at one place, probably due to your own interference in its space, followed you, and you got scared to death. Work on your lack of empathy, your lack of contact with animals, your lack of common sense. Stop reducing their space with your boundaries, your parking lot, your roads, your this, your that, your control over this Goddamn planet you oaf! And by the way, the twenty-something dogs you bid goodbye today, they are as much residents of this space as you claim to be, ever thought of that, of course not, why would you. Every time they avoid someone from trespassing your household, they just make noise right? Every time your irresponsible sons and daughters deliberately tease or hurt them, thats not your problem right/ Why don’t we call a van to pick up your kids and put them in an obedience cell for a while? They seem to need taming much more than those dogs, dear sir, ma’am.

It si shameful indeed, truly shameful, that while I argued with those men, rest of the neighbourhood comfortably watched. Entertained weren’t you to see someone else’s helplessness, their grief?

They did not take away a dog, they took a part of my life with them, and I shall ensure that each and every one of them gets back to their space, which they deserve before I do. I am sorry, I proved to eb your useless confidante, who couldn’t do anything for you, you would all , when you do return, you would all be animals devoid of the rights of their own body.

Its such a shame, that this is all we can do. Make boundary, take more than possible, get scared of losing that space, remove obstacle, be ruthless, be selfish, be merciless.

The two who were left behind are refusing to leave our home, they are scared, refusing to eat or drink, the roads are empty, go residents go, enjoy your roads, go lie on them, go kiss the roads, you got your well deserved space back, only for yourself…”

“For a moment I thought he was unconscious, he wasn’t.

He lay on the grass in deep slumber. Neither the sounds, nor the people could disrupt his peace. He slept in visible comfort, while the birds hopped on his back. He was one with his surroundings, one with himself.

I would not have wanted to romanticise his state, perhaps he did not have a closed place to go to, he did not have a bed and mattress as I do, but he had an undisrupted sleep in the open, on the grass, next to the lake, beneath the trees, amidst the birds, some thing I fear I might never be able to experience on my own.”

“Four little boys walking with a sense of achievement, pride in every stride. Leader of the pack, holding close to his chest their prized possession. A tiny black fish just caught from the lake. The pet bottle becoming their pet’s cramped abode.

Crows bathing in a puddle. Each waiting patiently for its turn.

Orange dragonflies I meet every day, today a bright red one sat on the giant leaf looking over the green lake.”

“My Brother’s Scooter

My brother and his scooter are an indispensable part of my life, yes together. The scooter parted ways with us physically, and is in someone’s safe hands, but emotionally stands outside the gate, next to the car, there, look carefully, it is smiling as well.

I remember Pune, in the heat, sitting behind my brother on his scooter, I felt like a stud.

I was in school then, and to ride with him was my most exciting activity. When he would take me for buying grocery, I would be gushing with pride. I am the chosen one. Big bro takes me for grocery shopping, I am too kool. Yes I did think like that, my world was simple and the criteria of greatness began and stopped at big brother.

We bought some eatables, and then while he smoked a cigarette, in style, I devoured a Lollipop with just as much of attitude. I hardly remember the conversation, but I remember nodding and agreeing to almost every word. And then the ride back, nothing mattered, neither the sun, nor the baked bum, it was me and bro on the scooter!”

“Have a sweet

I got out of the metro station and was called by the auto rickshaw driver. He quoted a fair amount of price for my destination and I hopped in.

White hair, white moustache and a red gamchha, he drove steadily and with ease. He was quiet and looked straight ahead, when suddenly a brattish driver chose to puzzle others with his car’s acrobatics. The gentleman with red gamchha was taken aback and the auto meandered a bit, before coming on track again. But this was not to be. Now our auto got stuck due to some carefree personnel on motorbikes assuming the road to be only theirs. Sitting on their bikes and eating a snack each, they refused to budge, until this gentleman gave them a polite yet stern sermon.

By the time we reached my destination, he seemed tired and disgruntled. Each day must be so hard on him. I handed over the notes. As he opened them (I had folded the notes together to form a roll) to count the coins, he found a sweet.

He gave me a surprised look. I showed him another which was in my hand and said “toffee”. He gave me a beautiful broad grin and left.

I do not know about him, but his smile made my day.”

“I do not know if all my friends self-examine their breasts at regular intervals, I don’t, and it is not a very prudent state of being.

This is not a call to be paranoid, but just to give your body the importance it deserves, the care it needs and the love with which you could nurture it.

I wonder if we really love our bodies, are we at one with with ours?

The body tells us everything, how many of us really listen to it?

At times we play demonic roles in another’s sense of his or her body as well.

From teasing heavy-breasted classmates to calling the opposite a stick, from making rude gestures at those who are obese, to asking the skinnier ones to put on weight. Someone’s hair seem funny, someone’s nose seems crooked, someone’s ears call for our attention, and someone’s invisible neck makes us laugh. There are many instances, when Humor lies not in the body, but in the perversity of our mind.

I apologise if this sounds like a sermon, that was certainly not the intent. The intent was to remind myself and share with others, the fact that each and every part of me, deserves my respect and care, I cannot treat it as just an extension, it supports me, it helps me be, it empowers me daily, and I cannot just take it for granted.”

“Home made ice-cream is always great! My mother often prepares dessert which is something in between Rabri and kulfi, has the goodness of both. But there is one that she used to make many many years ago, mango ice-cream, that was incredible. I can still recall the taste, have never had something as delightful again. (No, not even CreamBell’s SauchMuchAAm can match this one, trust me!)

But there is one which seems almost like a tradition, the one with Faluda and Roohhafza, I am sure all my aunts know how to prepare this one, and am sure they must have served it to me at least once after dinner, a birthday party perhaps.
Oh, that reminds me of birthday parties! We don’t have those functions anymore, those grand occassions when all your family and friends would come togeher to celebrate.

My birthdays were even more eccentric, since I had very few friends, my brother’s friends would be invited on mine as well. There would be cakes in beautiful shapes, carefully selected return gifts, balloons, laughter and just a lot of people. I would wait for it the entire year, and more so, i would wait for the day to get over, to open the gifts wrapped neatly, and to build mountains of shiny, glittery paper on the floor. To carefully pick up the books and keep them in the cupboard, Noddy and the ginger cake , the 3d comic book on yaks, the anthology of short stories, the mickey mouse watch, the pink scary weird teddy bear, the bright pencil box and above all, the leftover sweets and return gifts, TREASURES.

Days before the occassion, my mother would start preparing packets of sweets to be distributed in school, assisted by my brother and at times cousins as well. A lovely thought though, to give on your birthday, to share joy and happiness, but it was mostly shared with those in my daily vicinity, so I also contributed to their many tooth cavities.

What was most amusing was the fact that on that day, many of my classmates would speak to me, smile at me each time they look at me and guess what, might even want to stand next to me. Celebrity for a day, I guess a colorful dress as contrasted against the uniform, makes you so, or perhaps the special song sung in the assembly for birthday girls does that, or maybe the sweets in your bag, or maybe birthdays just make everyone happy and loving anyway…”

“Pink shoes

I had never thought that I would ever do so, buy pink shoes, but I did. I had thought that if I ever come across such a pair, I would make an ugly face, I did not.

This was around four years ago, or even more, when I had gone to Bangalore. We were in a shopping mall. One glance in their direction and I knew I should wear these.

I went closer and inspected, I gave myself the following justifications:

1. I could not believe that they were available in my feet’s extra large size. This was Divine intervention, I must obey the universe in this case at least.

2. They looked super comfortable. I tried them on, yes they were indeed a great fit.

2. They were quite cheap, I re-checked lest I read a 0 less. No, they were actually well within my budget for casual shoes.

3. I needed one such pair to wear every day. It would look good with most of my clothes.

4. They had a cute button on them, which won my heart.

5. This was probably the first and last time I have liked pink in shoes, I might never again feel such awe.

My mother also approved of those and we got them home. I wore them through thick and thin. They have been through a lot.

One day while travelling in Metro, when I finally managed to get off at RAJIV cHOWK I came out and realized that the buttons had stayed back with the crowd. I continued to wear them without the buttons, they still looked great.

They eventually started wearing off from inside, their colour faded but I did not give up. They started opening up from sides, there was a tiny hole right at the tip, but I did not give up
until
the rains last year.

It was then that they caused me to slip, and I realized, that it was time I allow their soles to rest in peace.

I don’t think I will ever again find shoes with that perfect shape and that perfect shade, but whenever I come across an old photograph with those shoes on, it makes me happy, it makes me enjoy the fact that I could appreciate pink beyond being pink.”

“I was searching for Nariyal Paani, hoping that it would cure my mother of her illness. I have lately begun to associate magical attributes with nariyal paani, considering it has been a great support each time I have had to treat a disgruntled stomach. Anyhow, I was talking to a friend who accompanied me in the search, and was recounting what all we were to do, nariyal paani, medicine, tailor shop collect stuff.

An elderly gentleman, who resembled my nanaji a bit (pink cheeks, white hair, the cloth bag), turned back and said, baaki donon tum dekho, nariyal paani to bhai main bhi piyunga.

I couldn’t help but giggle like my niece, and said that I would let him know if I find anyone selling the same. the one who stands close to our house was not here today.

After a long walk, we did find naariyal paani. We were delighted. I took four, I knew I would run into him.

At the corner near our house, I saw him again, but not alone. He was with a group of gentlemen, discussing something. He saw me, and I think I saw him rise a bit from the bench, as if anticipating something. I moved closer and foolishly told him about the shop. I did not know how to offer nariyal paani to only one amongst so many.

He smiled and said, he would go to that shop then.
I came back with the extra nariyal, feelig stupid and regretting my lack of spontaneity. I should have offered it to him, so what if he had his friends along. They could have had a sip from it as well.

This extra nariyal is right now sitting and staring at me in the kitchen, and I am hoping against hope that i run into him sometime soon, soon enough to have nariyal paani together, with his gleaming eyes, and my giggles…”

“There was so much noise in the empty room, that I had to meander on the roads.

It is advisable to walk on the pavements right outside the shops, to make way in between the parking, through people, through lives, through their stories.

Four men playing cards behind the Volkswagen. Chai ke cup, tambaaku aur dher sari shaan.

A man was washing his feet with water filled in a crumpled plastic bottle. Pehle kabhi it must have been sealed with pristine drinking water, khaas minerals ke saath. Khair ab to bottle purani ho chuki hai, some would have crumpled it a bit more to render it suitable for the dustbin. This man continued to wash his feet, on the sidewalk. The water formed a narrow stream which joined a puddle, black puddle, dark and shallow, in which a white dog played merrily. He needed no company, he found himself.

A familiar shop, the employee smiled at me. We exchanged greetings, kucch idhar udhar ki baatein, ek chhoti mulaqat. I had not gone in to buy anything, he knew I wouldn’t. We spoke of mountains, people and fruits.

Sadak kinaare coffee, seeing with a little clarity, a few passers-by, an elderly man and his grandson. Haath chhuda kar chhote janaab ghoomein gol-gol. Dadaji kabhi hadkayein to kabhi chhoote hansi unki anmol.”

Have a seat?

If you live in Delhi, and travel frequently by the Metro, and if, you change your line at Rajiv Chowk, you deserve a hug. On second thoughts, you might not want that, having forcibely been hugged (clubbed?) by the swarm of fellow citizens .Having somehow managed to set foot inside and on feeling the Metro’s floor with your feet (i.e. you are not stuck between two people and hanging), the next challenge is to grab a seat.

After a tiring day, and the war to get in, a seat seems like human’s creation of paradise. All you want to do is to drop your weight against that sturdiness, let your body act like a fluid which would be shaped by the container…And that moment… when you really get that seat…especially on that terrible day when your laptop weighs heavier than yourself… or when you forget to have lunch…that feeling my friend, of gaining access to a seat, its orgasmic.

I often travel standing, for there are others who need the seat more than I do (in other words I generally don’t find a seat), and also, because standing  in between, hanging seemigly victimised, you get a chance to look around and observe how people really use the seat, what does a seat mean to different persons? What does a seat mean to you? Perhaps the meaning of the seat varies with  your understanding of your own self? So maybe the question must be reframed to who are you when it comes to a seat?

I possess the seat:

There are some, who enter with an air of ownership. I own this seat, and I deserve to spread my flesh on this material as much as I possibly can . It is my right.

Touch-me-NOT:

There are some who do not wish to rub skin with others. They create a boundary, an isolated seating arrangement with the help of side-bags or shopping bags etc.

You really are invisible, I can see through you:

There are some who look through you, without flinching. They convince you that your pleading face or the anger of an elderly lady is unseen by those eyes, which are staring at some ghost in another zone altogether. No matter how difficult it is for you to stand with your seven bags, they continue to sit right in front of you. You wonder if they are human, they wonder if you are a fool to be carrying so much in the Metro.

I am so tired I believe that I am a woman, an elderly or a person with disability     (even though I am not):

These are the extremely tired species, who occupy seats reserved on the basis of gender, age or physical disability. It is obvious to occupy those seats if not needed, but often one finds them full, while the ones who might apparently need it more, are standing, hanging or trying to balance. Those are hard nuts (occupants), it is difficult to talk sense to them and this leads to the role of the next category.

I am the seat-activist:

They are the ones who help others in need for a seat. They would ask men to get up for women, and youngsters to make space for the elderly. They would offer their own seats and might not accept one even when there is plenty of space. Some of them would stand against the pole, look outside while banging their head to music, some would stand with their head raised in pride, some glare and look around for any more victims of seat-bullying.

I share- I am sorry I am sitting- I am sorry for my existence (let me shrink a bit):

These are the empathetic and kind souls, they realize others’ need.

Some of them even go to extremes, they sit on the tip and manage to fit in some more people, no matter how uncomfortable it would be for even those whom they are trying to help. Maybe, this is just my assumption, maybe, they went to school in a private auto-rickshaw like I did.Now that I look back at it, I am unable to decipher, how I managed to fit in, fit into that autorickshaw with at least twelve or more species of my kind. How did we manage to share that space, especially that additional wooden board, the jugaad in the name of well…seat?

I am flexible, will you shift please?

These are people who assert their right and also convince others to make space due to their body’s flexibility. They are the ones who make best use of the kindness of above-mentioned category and truly complement their efforts.

I need space, and I shall fight for it!

They are the ones who have really had a bad day, and you better let them sit, than have them ravaging across the compartment. They don’t need other agents, they can fight for themselves, bully someone, stare and embarass or even continuously pass comments until allowed to sit. Their pain and discomfort is greater than anyone else’s and hence they believe in single-minded obsession for possession of the seat.

If we don’t sit together, we might not remain best friends:

They are probably superstitious that  a tangible distance in between could create a rift in their bond. They always sit together and would request people to move somewhere else if possible, to make sure their togetherness is not hampered. They love each other so much, that if they were standing, and one seat is vacant, they can’t decide who should sit, when both of them desperately want to sit there. On such occasions, they also manage to convince the flexible ones to shift a bit more and try to fit in, together.

I am grounded

They have either given up, or are wanting to show they don’t care. So there are some, who sit on the floor with a sad expression and give fleeting glances to those sitting higher, while there are others who express their comfort on ground in every possible manner.

Then there are these special categories who perceive differently not just the seat but the entire space altogether:

I am in my living room:

They are often almost sliding while texting on their celphones, or reading the book in such demeanour that it makes you grind your teeth while you swing and sway each time the Metro halts.

I am in the classroom eating my tiffin:

They stealthily eat from their tiffin box/from something inside a huge polythene bag/from something wrapped in aluminium foil etc. and gulp without having chewed upon their food normally. Their faces bear testimony to sheer delight and guilt which arise simultaneously. They are hard to miss, because amidst body odours and tired deodarants, arise the smell of Paratha Sabzi, or mango pickle. You try hard to ignore, but your jealousy cannot be hidden,you just swallow back in acceptance.

I am in a telephone-booth:

So they have perceived themselves to be inside a cubicle, and assume that none of us can listen to them cribbing about their boyfriend’s changing behaviour, and how their life has become redundant after marriage. They might themselves want the world to know that they are handling a crucial deal or that they are about to win a date. The intent varies.

These were just some of the categories, there are so many more, I do hope to update them.

No offence please 🙂

Faith in hand

A bus journey for three hours in Northern India: A panorama of the most incredulous yet unsurprising juxtapositions through the moving window. Disney Bakery and Gautam Travels take great pride in being flanked by blue coloured houses (shrieking of a certain TATA Indicom), while Airtel and Vodafone adorn all-purpose tea stalls next to (yet another) Agrawal Sweets. Red haired men indulge in spontaneous spitting tournaments, young couples exchange sheepish looks after glancing at ink smeared posters of YOUNG Monica, little boys run after buses with packets of water ” 2 Rs. ka ek” and women decked in their sparkling saris and sequin laden shawls, yell at their children ,while their men devour on ground nuts.
As much as I enjoy the varieties and surprises of this linear yet non linear sight, I cannot help but agree that this cannot be mistaken for a romantic reminiscence of a bygone era or nostalgia for small towns. This is the reality of a present, where a dishevelled bus will drop me at a cold metro station , post which I shall leave a numb tunnel and move out, only to be transported into a world of Louis Vuitton, Dal Moth and KFC.
I felt a surge of hopelessness, of grief and anger. Why? Will it never change?
Will I remain a part of helpless audience?
Questions am sure we all ask and in all likelihood move beyond and above.
I was coping with my oscillating reactions when I saw him, absorbing the sun and gloating in its warmth. He had his fists tightly clenched, kissed them twice, opened, and blew. In that indifferent cold, where people stood shivering, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, that boy had made a wish. He had nothing but Hope. Faith in himself and someone much greater than him and you and I, he believed in change.
Thankyou dear boy, I hope that we can also have your spirit and execute than just narrate the often told.