I want to be like the Deodars

I want to be like the Deodar when I grow up.

Standing tall above the sounds and smoke,

amidst the clouds and tales of hope.

Holding the earth and all that creates,

reigning over the hills and hearts.

The Tall Deodars…I want to grow up to be like those.

 

 

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Musings from Madhur Vihar

In front of the board that says “Please Don’t Feed The Dog”, the dogs of Madhur Vihar are uniting against a lone cow. They have been hungry for days but it has not dampened the will to fight for their territory. “Go Away! This is our home!”, they seem to be shouting in unison. They are clearly unaware of their own minority status in this neighborhood, and the cow too seems to be oblivious of her revered status in the nation. The dogs are tiring out, and the cow has decided to turn and go back to the garbage dump where it has been left by its owner to find some food. The upholders of the respective status of the above mentioned animals are currently busy taking a nap or watching news with ego-maniacs as anchors, their anger interspersed with advertisements of a very happy generation. “You wan’t to get angry, here I’ll break a mug!” says a loving cosmopolitan husband to his wife who seems to be tired of her luxuries…I am wondering how to sneak in the dogs to feed them, and am sorry for the cow who is not alone in facing double standards. Meanwhile the crows have been spared, and my crow friend has just picked up the egg shell I left for it on the stone slab.

Amma and I (Fiction: Short Story)

On the second shelf in the kitchen are two mugs- orange and yellow. Amma and I bought these together from the neighborhood market some months ago; she wanted to spend time with me over chai.

I have been living with Amma since last summer. It was unplanned.

I had been working in another city for 6 years, when she called me and asked if I would like to move back. I was surprised by that sudden call. But I had been noticing changes in Amma’s voice, she sounded more fragile and lesser of the strong woman who had raised me on her own. I sensed urgency, and feared that leaving this opportunity of time together might be my biggest regret later in life; I started applying for a new job.

A few months later, I packed my bags with great hesitation, said goodbye to the loveliest friends and was home.

Only to realize, home isn’t the same.

My room having served as a space for guests had remnants of their personalities. My books were missing, my memories of an entire childhood had been painted over, and as if to mock at my sense of belonging, a strange wall art had appeared in their place demonstrating dearth of imagination and skill. I was unable to relate with the velvet curtains and their display of fake splendor, and the calendar with models wearing gold jewelry deserved to be hidden.

I felt invaded.

But I decided to curtail my impulses and settle in. I was carrying with me imaginations of a period of bonding, a fresh beginning where the two of us navigate through unforeseen adventures, moments of laughter, nostalgia and exploration. I needed time to slowly initiate this process with her. First, I needed to feel at home. Amma meanwhile had been nurturing her own desires that had been unfolding across time and space. Little did we know that the colourful memories we were hoping to weave, might turn into bitter episodes we both crave to forget.

To give you some context, I have been raised by a feisty single mother, who fought against all conventions to ensure that I have a safe childhood away from her abusive husband, receive good education and appreciate life through all that it has to offer. We had our turbulence and there were times when Amma struggled under mounting pressures, but it would be safe to assume that we managed well. I chose to pursue a career of my choice and consider myself fairly independent. Amma took pride in my achievements and I found consolation in performance. Then I fell in love. After living with my partner for a while, we realized we were happier alone, and I moved in with some friends – the year when Amma stopped being herself.

Having lived her life on her own terms, I had expected Amma to be my biggest support in that phase. On the other hand, I faced an onslaught of unsolicited advice and fears. Her reactions were exaggerated, conventional and seemed alien to me as her child. I wondered who had she been speaking to; can a person’s identity and beliefs change drastically over time? Is this really my mother? I was coping with an estranged partner and also disbelief at my mother’s radical transformation. Things weren’t easy.

Amma’s phone calls kept increasing in their frequency and her tone was always worried. She would call me when I was in office, at the gym, with friends, and her queries were always regarding my future with my partner. He and I were not planning to move back together, yet we cared for one another, how hard was it for her to understand? Things kept boiling between us for a while, I did not want to hurt Amma, but I couldn’t hide my sense of shock at her extreme reactions. My impatience with her was growing, she was disturbing me, I was feeling stressed after her every call, I was borrowing her anxiety, for the first time in my life, I suddenly felt insecure.  My friends asked me to avoid talking to her so much.

I reduced our interaction; I would only take her calls on weekends and make sure the conversation is short. Seeing her missed calls during the week made me feel nauseous with guilt, but I needed to do this for myself, or this is how I justified it. Every passing weekend, I felt Amma seemed even more anxious than before, her questions ranging from my roommates’ personal lives to my ex’s future plans. Once she asked me invasively about my sex-life, at that point I could just not take it anymore. And I burst out. I do not remember what I said; I just know that I was in great anger and that she fell completely silent. I had hurt her, and hurt my own self. After that she stopped calling me. I cried my heart out, overwhelmed with guilt and anger- frustrated at having lost the mother she was and at my own incapacity to be more responsible towards her growing insecurities. I wish I knew how to deal better. Because I could not find a solution, I started escaping my reality. I also did not call Amma. That year, we did not go for a holiday together, our annual treat. I too did not present the idea; I felt it was better for me to keep distance lest I lash out at her.

It was tough to imagine Amma as this weak person who had allowed me to disrespect her. She had been most loving but also a very strict mother. Raising a child on your own in a society as ours has never been easy, and to run your own organization along with it is even tougher. Amma had several moments of extreme stress when I was growing up, and often she would direct her resentment at me in some form or the other. It wasn’t deliberate, she needed attention, care and love, but all she got was endless nagging, judgement and criticism. However she never broke. She held her head high and taught me to do so. As a child I developed an ocean of empathy for her, I could sense what she was going through, I could ignore her angry remarks and focus on her deep love for me. We were a team. This team was breaking now.

After a phase of discomfort in silence, I began calling Amma on my own. She would always take my call, irrespective of the time. She would tell me about the neighbors, the problems at office, some news of my childhood friends who still lived in the city, but never about her health.  I used to feel restless speaking to her, I wanted those conversations to end sooner to avoid possible confrontations. She regularly asked about my meals and I wonder why it never occurred to me, is she eating properly?

Time flew by, next year I could not offer to go on the trip because I had to finish some work. Amma came over to see me. This time she was weaker, fidgety with her luggage, nervous in the taxi and fell sick on eating ice-cream. She was worried about my life. How long will I live with flatmates? Two of them are already married and have moved out; will I always keep working like this? Is this all that I want?  I was surprised at her questions, isn’t she the one who told me in school that if I do not work hard, I’ll waste my life? That it is better to focus on Math than on boys? So why is it now important for me to forget my priorities and instead hunt for a husband? Amma did not persist much; she would just bring it up feebly, listen to my response, and take deep breaths. I wanted to embrace her and tell her gently that I love her, but I couldn’t, I just told her that her views are not aligned with mine.

The year after that is when Amma called me to ask if we can stay together, and I landed home.

She had become quieter, thinner and would often cough. She refused to take medicines or to reduce her workload. She still washed her own clothes and preferred to not have a cook. I on the other hand had gotten used to a different lifestyle. I liked being in control at home, so did Amma, and this has been her home forever. With Amma, life revolves around her rituals and schedule. Her priorities started becoming mine, and I found myself in constant conflict. I felt stranded in my own house and challenged her authority.

In the past year we have fought over our culinary desires, wardrobe, choice of toothpaste, frequency of oiling hair, desire or lack of desire for a pet, selection of news channel, re-purposing of furniture, watering of plants, and of course my marriage. Every time Amma brought it up, I put up one question- I thought she wanted me to live with her, why is she not letting me do that and asking me to get married? Amma refused to respond.

I had come back with a desire to amend things with Amma. To express and resolve the resentment we had built up in the past and to go back to the relationship we shared, but our dynamics grew worse. Neither did we enjoy anything together nor were we particularly helpful to each other. In fact I stopped seeing Amma as my ageing mother, I stopped being gentle, I could sense a rising insensitivity within me which was alarming yet overpowering. Be it on walks or at dinner I would avoid talking to her, or make calls to friends and ignore her worries. Amma on the other hand refused to let go of this opportunity to influence me, she would quote examples from neighbourhood, and warn me of dire consequences in future. In retrospect I think Amma being the protective mother she has always been wants to ensure that I do not face the hardships she went through, she wants an easier life for me, and she sees matrimony as a solution having witnessed happier marriages of her cousins and extended family. What Amma refused to acknowledge was the fact that I am an adult and responsible for my choices and future, it is no more her duty and she can choose to enjoy this time with me, knowing ourselves better. I had hoped that in all these years Amma’s determination to solve my personal crisis would have mellowed; instead it now haunted us day and night.

Amma also had her new-found misery to deal with. A daughter she had nurtured with much love was now being arrogant, defiant and denying her a role with dignity. Over each cup of tea, we fought. With time we became more hurtful, brought out monsters from the closet and delved in self-pity. To aggravate her further, I forced her to follow a new diet advised by a doctor and suffered paranoia regarding all possible illnesses that could divest her of her vitality. She became irritable and stubborn, and I acted like an impatient parent.

I thought this would go nowhere and was on the verge of giving up. I had started looking for jobs again and wanted to move out. Unable to solve our crisis I wanted to flee. Amma on the other hand chose to go into her shell on learning that I might leave again. I was openly voicing my regret at having moved in with her and she started living with the resentment of not having solved my life’s problems.

It was in order to save our relationship and collective sanity that I decided to take at least a break and went back to stay with my friends. I wasn’t running away, or perhaps I was being a coward. I was seeking refuge to be able to soothe my frayed nerves and find a solution to our daily upheavals.  The first few days were relaxing; I followed all advice- from Yoga class to Green Tea and then evening by the river. I was supposed to find peace and I was ready to embrace it wholeheartedly. Just that it was hidden deep within.

On one of my walks in the park, an elderly gentleman who had been greeting me regularly waved at me. I went up to him. He was warm and welcoming and we struck a conversation around purpose and meaning in life. As if he could read my distress, he remarked, just by meditating in this park here you will not find your answers. I felt annoyed and chose to ignore his advice. I continued to live with my friends and worked from distance.

After a few weeks, I could not resist an overwhelming guilt. I decided that maybe Amma too could benefit from this change. I booked her tickets and invited her to stay with me. We spent a week together wherein we watched theater, used our favorite recipes for cooking, sat in the park and read passages from books we had read together long ago. None of us brought up the topic of marriage. She did not ask me when or if I would come back. I was too scared of my inability to control my reaction and she had been silenced. On this trip I realized that Amma had a flair for cards, and she enjoyed drinking mocktails. My friends took her out for a movie and had a wonderful time with her over coffee. Amma laughed easily, music to my ears, yet I found her to be hiding her hurt.

While leaving, she did not say anything; she just squeezed my palms, hugged me tight and kissed me as she always does. When I saw her walk with the trolley, I noticed she was slower, her shoulders drooped slightly. I held back a fierce wave of tears, and shouted, “Amma! I’ll be back soon!” On my way, I recalled, Amma had been petrified on flying alone earlier, how did she manage this time?

That evening as I sat in the room, I could feel Amma. In all her little things- the box with laddoos, the hand towel, my old comics and new pajamas, she had left behind her essence. She called to let me know she had reached safely, her phone had been off and she forgot to switch it on. She mentioned that a very kind young woman held her hand when the plane took off. She thanked me and my friends for the wonderful time she had, and that she misses me terribly. Before ending the call she shared that after a very long time, she felt as if she was with her friend. I wanted to be that young woman, hold her hand and sleep.

A few mornings later, I sat in the park, anxious if he would be there. The gentleman who had remarked on my search for solutions arrived. I waved at him, he walked towards me beaming with kindness. I apologized to him for having been rude and told him that I am going back to where the problem is, the solution resides there itself. He patted me on my back, smiled and walked away.

I went back to Amma again. She was ecstatic. I had not informed her of my arrival, yet I found that my study room had been re-arranged to suit my needs, my books were back on the shelves, and my wardrobe was left empty for me. I prepared a chart offering to cook one meal every day and we agreed to get a washing machine, two news papers and use separate tooth pastes.

It has been a few months, and it is my birthday today; Amma kept a letter on my table while leaving for work. A hand-written letter, her beautiful cursives reminding me of the time I spent at her office desk, following her words and framing mine. She used to work till evening but would ensure that I come back to her from school, have my lunch and complete homework. Prior to my examinations she would prepare test sheets for me to sit and practice. I do not know when she took out time to manage all of this. Being a single parent is a huge responsibility, and one that comes with endless criticism and scrutiny from those around. She never faltered. I do not remember her ever crying, I just remember that she would smile a little less. And that is why, her smile has always been the most beautiful sight for me.

I read through the simplicity of her words, the depth of her experiences. She expresses why I matter so much to her, some funny memories that she cherishes and how she would like me to have friends over as I used to in my teenage years. She even remembers the bands whose music we would listen to! It is a long letter. She has traced my life from her eyes. She writes that with my permission she would like to invite some people who matter a lot to me- my uncle, my favourite class teacher, friends from school and university, and my cousin  for dinner on the weekend. Then she adds as a separate note that she’ll come home late because she has to go out with our neighbour for some shopping. She requests me to not worry about her medicines and that she would be back by 7. As an afterthought she confides, “I think your neighbour aunty has very good choice. I have seen her bedsheets when she hangs them after a wash. That is why I will go with her to select a new table cloth. It will look good when we invite people for dinner. I know you are busy and you don’t like this market, don’t worry, be happy, we will also be enjoying. ”

I immediately re-read the letter, cried, laughed, and kissed it.

In the past year, I have at times been brutally hurt; I have at times inflicted immense pain. For a while I have battled with my wounds and guilt, and have found myself sinking in quicksand. Amma’s letter instantly pulled me out. In her moment of reflection, she released both of us from roles that had outlived their relevance. Amma has made space for me once again in the house, but more than that, Amma and I have made space for one another in our lives. Our time apart and together has made us realize how complete and capable we are as individuals, yet how important is our bond, and we must relish this in our renewed togetherness.

I’ll go for a haircut and call Amrita aunty. It would be great if she can also join us on the weekend, after all she is Amma’s dearest friend. It is 6:45 pm and knowing Amma, I have left the door open. Adrak Chai is ready, ready to be served in our mugs.

I will be back soon, and be with us

The past one year has been perhaps one of my most prolific years on this planet. It has also been my first time in a space, at great physical distance from home.

I could not have felt closer.

However, this time has not been as simple as it appears. I have had moments of complex introspection, have asked newer questions, and reflected on past concerns.

In the process though, I have been fortunate enough to meet beautiful people and to be able to share these thoughts with them, to listen to their perceptions, to admire honest feedback and to nurture collective dreams of better selves.

One of my friends in my new city, who has witnessed my journey here, met me a few weeks ago. Over lunch, as  I endlessly narrated my stories, she shared that she is happy for me-she is seeing me change. I wondered what was the change. She said, “earlier it was always about others, and what you would do for them, now its all about you! You come first!”

This feedback has been most worrisome, if not jarring.

I have been unable to stop thinking about it.

Where my friend is celebrating my embracing of individuality and self-love, my conditioning makes me look at it as self-centered existence, and if I be paranoid, as sheer selfishness.

I feel both of us have binary perceptions of a condition that is perhaps somewhere in between.

While walking to work, while cooking, while standing by the river, I have been engaging with this thought about what kind of a person I wish to be. Do I want to continue thinking about my own self, regardless of what others go through? Is this the self I would admire? Or do I want to go back to an existence, where I almost ignored myself?

Maybe , stay in between.

But this does make me want to reflect upon individuality, or perhaps freedom. What is freedom? I realize, in my naive contemplation,  that many a times we borrow an image of freedom or individuality from another completely different context, and try to apply it in ours. If it does not fit in, we try and change our context, or move to the other context and adopt it. I have no judgement over this, I do not know if this is the appropriate step or not.

I acknowledge that freedom is perceived and expressed differently by different people, and in my situation, I do not assume that thinking solely about my isolated future is a form of individuality or freedom.

My freedom would be to continue to value my core beliefs and work on my dreams, while ensuring the happiness of my loved ones. My freedom would be to not be fearful when advocating for art and culture in my context. My freedom would be to say a no to a man or woman who I believe does not deserve me, irrespective of what my context proclaims, and to unabashedly love the one with whom I share mutual respect. My freedom would be to feel and give love, to provide and enjoy a spiritual security, without losing myself in it. My freedom would be to voice my opinion where there is injustice in the garb of tradition or values. My freedom would be to not be rude or angry , to not let the pace and stress of spectacular society get to my calm. My freedom would be to deny greed in a world that dazzles, to save when I am told to spend, to sleep when tired and to wake up early to hear the birds sing.

I am far from being free.

My freedom is what my innermost being wants, my freedom is to be that individual, my freedom is to be that individual at a place I call home.

I am yet to be free, but I am in the process, perhaps a lifelong process.

I also attempted at reflecting on why I seem to have only thought about my well-being in the past few months. Because I am unable to feel a sense of security that comes when you are surrounded by people you love and those who love you back. Because I am in an alien environment where I worry about my sleep so that I have enough energy to cook my food, to clean my room, to walk long distances to my work and ensure I make the best utilization of my time, alone. This makes me compromise on spending as much time with others as I would have otherwise. This allows me an excuse to not think of others’ needs above mine. This lets me think of “me first”.

Let me be honest,  for as long as I can recall, I have advocated being alone. I have celebrated and honestly cherished every moment spent on my own in that world which I am much acquainted with. For the first time in my life, in my new environment, I realized what is loneliness, and how painful it is. Don’t take me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed my year and new bonds, and am thrilled at the prospect of another eventful year. But even though I still cherish my moments of reflection and quietude, I deeply crave for familiar smiles, sounds, wagging tails of street dogs, ants by the window on a rainy evening, the soft sound of my father’s humming, the joy in my mother’s laughter. I miss the touch of my niece’s fingers, I miss hugging my brother. I miss my neighbor who yearned for a conversation , I miss my friends who met me at odd hours. I miss  being alone when I was surrounded by those my own.

I don’t want to worry about my mere existence, I want to be occupied in thoughts and exchange with all these beings who form my community, who enrich my life with meaning and purpose. Like stories untold, their lives unfold and add color to mine, together we create narratives of a lifetime.

As if the universe heard my queries, the other day I received a message, that an elderly mentor of mine, has been thinking of me. Dear Bhagwan Das Ji, I have been thinking of you too, of the depth in your eyes that speak so much when we often sit in silence.

I would be back soon, for you do give me a reason to channelize my energy and life towards a constructive outcome. I would be back soon, because you and all my nodes back home,  cause me to write from my heart and soothe my soul. Your words and actions cause me to weep and smile, to laugh and fight. And in experiencing these plethora of emotions, you all make me alive.

I will be back soon, and be with us.

The Beginning of Unhappyness- Board Exams

There was one event in my life, actually occurring twice, hence two events, when the entire nation  seemed to have shared the burden of my grief.

Every year these events repeat for some truly unfortunate souls, and their paranoia is catalyzed by each faintly related person, not to forget the special mention in newspapers, radio and annoying social media messages.

This event is fearfully known as Board Exams, it could also be honestly called The Beginning of Unhappyness.

Let us consider the year 2004, since that was my first trial in class X of secondary school.

Two years prior to it, family friends, educators, astrologers and forecasters of all kinds and levels of experience,  had started remarking on how only two more years of enjoyment were left for me- as if the exam was not a useless test, but a monster that would suck the happiness out of my life.

Little did I know that it was precisely so.

In fact my entire nuclear family had to suffer, as I struggled to ensure I answer every question in neat handwriting, and manage not to have a nervous breakdown in the process. This scenario is applicable to many of my friends in nearly similar fashion.

To say the least, the last four years of my schooling were the worst years of my life (in comparison) mentally, physically and spiritually. If we call this education, then the society should rather not have education, because the only thing I learnt was to mug under pressure, to compete, and to live an unhealthy imbalanced life .

Those years marked the beginning of a lifestyle that has left a bitter aftertaste. A lifestyle encouraging paranoia, relentless achievement and isolation from realities other than myopic success. A lifestyle where compromising on that which is essential to me as an individual could be justified as long as I could prove my relative worth on paper. Some people continue with this pattern all their lives without even acknowledging they are doing so, it could become a normalized way of being.

If you have already noticed, none of this includes actual learning, and yes I am certain I did not learn anything through my board exams.

It is a miracle that I am sane.

The amount of stress one deals with in these exams is sheer systemic torture which better be STOPPED. I really did not want ministers to be sending good luck wishes through campaigns, I needed a break where I could be mindful of life beyond school books and extra tutorials. None of these well-wishers told me to relax, to not be worried, that I would be as worthy of love and affection despite my grades, rather my grades seemed to have become the deciding factor for my entire future-  I would be doomed if I do not perform well.

My grades tell nothing about the person I am, they tell nothing about the application of knowledge I might have gained, they just tell that I managed to not give too many incorrect answers.

On another note,  grades are also a matter of privilege. I was privileged enough to dedicate four complete years to just rote learning. I did not have much disturbance, was provided with a comfortable study table and appropriate nutrition. I could afford to take coaching where I was told what was enough to learn such that I score well. Please note, the purpose of this education was acing an exam, not learning for a lifetime- “ICSE Board waale aise hi sum solve karna, CBSE ka method alag hai”.

I was also  privileged because in the heat and in the cold, I had someone pick me up in a car, to drive me from school to coaching and then home. This person himself never got the four years to dedicate solely to scoring well, his children did. They would now be attempting at scoring enough to get through a revered institution.

To get through a revered institution might require an obnoxiously high percentage, humanly almost impossible. I was fortunate because I got the subjects of my choice through an entrance exam, but to clear many of the mainstream entrance exams is a huge challenge. Some of these institutions would be chosen only because they are branded so, they may not have the subjects of interest or affordable fees for several students who do join under pressure or lack of a better option or counseling. This  would require a loan and hard work to get a well-paying job. The job may not necessarily be satisfying, but to have a satisfying job is quite a privilege.

This entire process is filtering chances of young passionate people to follow their own pace, to pursue personal interests, take risks and innovate, rather this process runs on fear and pressure. Stress therefore  becomes a way of life for many, reflected in dissatisfaction and leading to poor patterns of consumption and health. These values get transferred to the next generation, and are encouraged through praise or ridicule as per context. 

Yes, I am painting a darker picture, that’s my hobby. But wait, why not? The purpose of education seems muddled in our current system and rather than panicking and giving in to it, we would need to question it. It has to be a pursuit of growth, not beginning of unhappyness. And if that requires a poorly written post at ungodly hours, so be it!

Screened – Short Story, Fiction

Dear Naina,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in the SouthAsianYouthMeet, to be held in December. We look forward to having you with us and contributing with your ideas for a better world.
The venue is Islamabad, Pakistan and delegates from all over South Asia will be participating in this one week event, from 25-31 December.
We have attached further details of travel and stay, as well as the daily schedule, for your convenience.
We look forward to your participation!
Regards
SAYM Team
Peace in South Asia ~ The white bird flies ~

The first thing that greeted me on a lazy Sunday morning was this delightful text on my laptop’s screen.
I read and re-read, I could not believe it, I had been selected for a prestigious Youth Conference, where young leaders from all over South Asia would meet, share their ideas, plan for a better tomorrow. And I, Naina Sharma, would be representing India. This was too beautiful for me to believe. I pinched myself, yes it was indeed true.

I felt proud on being selected, proud of my academic accomplishments, proud of my organization that worked for peace, proud of the essay in the online application, which probably got me this opportunity; But my happiness went deeper than that. After all these years of dreaming, I was finally going to visit Pakistan, a nation that has intrigued me through history, through war, through messages of love, through politics, through the amazing dramas on television, through music and most of all through my grandmother’s (Dadi’s) nostalgia.

I wondered if any of her quilts would still be there, intact with the neighbours she often spoke of. I wondered if those neighbours were still there, their grand children, how many of them would there be? Their son had visited when I was much younger, and had carried some old photographs. Did Pakistan still look like that? I wondered whose lives I would experience when I visit Pakistan, I wondered if I would feel like a tourist or at home. Somewhere the task of changing the world took back-seat; I was searching for my roots.

Islamabad, Hmmm, now how far is this place from Multan. I used the Google Map to confirm and concluded that even though it seems manageable on the map, the harassment involved in permit was beyond my patience. Perhaps I could visit Dadi’s Haveli some other time.

I have borrowed from my grand-parents and uncles the romantic perception of Pakistan, which gets hurt each time I watch the news, is threatened when I watch biased documentaries on the internet, and is realistically checked when I read the many wonderful blogs maintained by some of my batch mates who had lived in Pakistan, with whom I studied in Singapore, especially the one maintained by Samira. Samira, my beautiful Samira.

I prepared a quick To-Do list on my cell phone since I could not locate my pen; I am surrounded by screens, all through the day, the night, and also in between. Anyhow, the list was as follows:
1. Call Dadi and inform
2. Ask Vinod Uncle for places that are a must visit
3. Inform Samira/Surprise Samira – decide
Before I could carry out either of the three, my mother came into the room and yelled at me for my Westernized lifestyle, greying hair, and lack of a boyfriend who could be a potential husband.

If only I could tell her about Samira, about how we had fallen in love, about how much we missed being together, but I dare not.

She would never accept it, and I am waiting for a miracle to take place.

In the meantime we would satisfy each other with Skype. Oh, what would I not do to have you come out of that screen secretly, if only I could touch the grace on your face and not that solid surface? It reminds me of the rigidity of our structures, reminds me of how you had cried bitterly on our convocation, fearing that we shall never again meet. I am reminded of our shared grief by this screen which separates and unites us at the same time, this screen, which keeps me connected with you all day, this screen which reminds me of how truly far you are, across the border, doing your research.

You are a Muslim, you are from Pakistan and you are a woman,

Just as

I am a Brahmin, I am an Indian and I am a woman.

It does not sound like any of the matrimonial statuses my mother keenly observes with my brother’s help on his laptop.

She has now put up my profile in the privileged section of special members, for a special son-in-law. He would have probably studied in Europe and would have come back to India, to live with his family, or he would be working day and night for a bank in the West. How perfect! Why does she not find such perfection in Priyanka’s husband? Why, because he works in Sri Lanka? Because he has not adopted a pseudo accent and works closer home? Because the photographs he shares show people who are not as fair-skinned as our once colonial rulers were?
And if she never wanted me to think as such and to live with the stereotypes she has so conveniently accepted, why did she allow me to get such education? Why did she herself ask me to question, to think beyond what I see, to enquire? I wish you too would read more Amma (mother), if nothing else, use your son’s laptop for a better purpose. You would at least witness the multiplicity of opinions; you would at least acknowledge that your truth is not the absolute truth. I wish I could tell you about this conference, but I won’t.

I went downstairs into my uncle’s room. Uncle Vinod was busy reading the newspaper. He saw me and kept it aside, he knew I was nervous and excited, both. I told him about the conference and my selection. He was overjoyed! He hugged me and asked me to tell him more, tell him about the participants, where all would I get to travel, how long it was. Even though I had made him read my essay on “Peace in South Asia” prior to my submission, I had kept the venue as suspense. Knowing that he would do anything to visit Pakistan, I was certain he would encourage me to go there no matter what.

I kept mum and then suddenly burst out, “I am going to Pakistan Uncle!! Can you believe this?”
My uncle’s smile faded. He patted me on my back and kept quiet. I had not expected such a reaction from him, not from him, at least. I searched for something in his eyes, he did not wish to disappoint me, but seemed to have no other option.

“Beta, don’t do this, do not go to Pakistan.”
“But…why? You yourself have told me so many stories, about your home, the kites, the food, the clothes, everything. I also want to experience that culture, which is also ours! You only said that to me!”
“Yes I did, but Beta this is not the right time, you have so many goals to achieve, and you cannot take such risk, of visiting Pakistan in your youth.”
“What are you saying? Oh God!! Are you scared of terrorism! Oh uncle, I can very well die here!”
“Shut up you fool! I am talking about your passport. You know you have to apply for US Visa next year; don’t you want to study further? Do you think you would get that Visa with Pakistan mentioned on your passport? NEVER!”
“This is ridiculous, I never expected you to say something as narrow minded as this. Why can’t I visit Pakistan for a peaceful cause? In fact that is such a good impression indeed. And if a country is so biased that they won’t allow me to enter because of this, I shall fight for my right!”
“Then keep fighting till your old age Beta, I wish you luck, I shall feel sorry for your incomplete education though.”

I stamped my feet, threw my phone and ran into my room. I could not come to terms with such discouragement on his part, with such firmness in his certainty of opinion. I could not accept the injustice of such a situation, I could not accept the fact that I was already faltering, and I could not bear with this never-ending separation from Samira.
I do not know when sleep took me in its embalming lap.

I woke up with the sound of a message on my cell phone. Someone had placed it back in my room. It had a few scratches on the screen. The message was from Samira,
“So you thought you would keep it a surprise  Junko called and asked me to see the list of selected participants. Congrats Love! Can’t wait to see you!! I can’t believe this is happening! We would be united, in peace, in love, in happiness! Hugs!”

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I scrolled up and down through the length of the message. I did not wish to believe the probable myth my uncle had introduced me to, but I feared missing an opportunity to study further, to broaden my horizon. I miss you Samira, and as much as I want to be with you, I am scared I am considering the conditions, I am already thinking of making choices, I am already experiencing a loss which has not yet occurred. We might be inseparable through these screens Samira, reality has but too many constraints.

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.”