Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I fought with my dreams for you
Doubted my gut
Questioned my sex.

Made myself believe
Every passing day
That this is how it goes.

It was never formulaic
Thus I continued to be
To be in love with you.

Now I am tired
A little wasted

I would like to know
How long and how much more
Call me and let me know.

Scenes of Mumbai

Scene 1.

The man was broken. He was sitting curled up at the edge of the road, with his one foot in the drain trying to avoid falling into it completely. His face is contorted with a deep grief that I hadn't felt before or even imagined.

I am waiting for my bus back home, stationary, beguiled by this man’s angst. With a mammoth effort, he moves slightly and I discover a huge gash on his entire foot, running from his knee to his ankle, bleeding profusely. I ask a bookseller nearby about him. I am told that that morning something ran into him and in desperation, he put his leg into the drain for some relief and has been there since.

Scene 2.

I am in the train standing in the passageway taking support from the edge of the seat. There is a young boy of about seven in front of me holding onto a Rs. 5 packet of Cadbury bytes. Dressed in a clean shirt and pant, standing politely next to his mother, he is trying endlessly to open the packet until he simply cannot find the strength in himself to do so anymore.

Meanwhile, a slender, tall girl with hip hugging jeans and a Dell bag looks at the small boy. Without a word transacted, he hands her the packet and she with her well-manicured hands tries to open the packet with as much finesse as possible.

The girl continues to struggle. An aged tribal woman dips her hand into her plastic bag and hands the Dell girl her betel knife. The girl reluctantly takes it. The job is done, the boy is smiling, the girl is amused, I am humbled and Andheri arrives.

Scene 3.

I am getting out of the rickshaw near my building. As I am paying the rickshawwala, I notice an old raggedy man sitting on the pavement shivering. Between shivers, he is skimming off the upper layer of a food mixture in a transparent plastic bag. He is carefully removing the fungus, so he can eat his fill today.

Thank you.

Our values are anti-consumerist. Well, that sounds a little harsh as well as untrue. Especially, coming from a person who can eat up to three brownies drowning in chocolate if she is upset.

However, I cannot deny the fact entirely as well. My childhood was never embellished with opportunities like, “If you stop shouting, I will buy you that toy.” Dad thought it set base for a bad habit. I would grow up into becoming one of those people who made stupid, unnecessary instant buys just because they felt like it. I won a quiz in class today – let me buy myself a dress. Or I failed an exam – let me buy myself a pizza. Or something like that. You get the idea.

So, when I would come back home with, “Dad, I stood third in class.” Everyone would congratulate me, my parents would hug and smile approvingly and the matter ended there.

Sometimes, when I come home and mom would be angry that the maid had not come and she would be exhausted by the sudden overflow of housework, she would scream at me for not picking up my clothes, or not making my bed and I would be thinking – “What’s new in that?! When did I ever do it anyway?” –she would calm down later, and say a soft embarrassed sorry and that was it. While my other friends got gifts when their parents messed up, I would get a sentiment.

Friends received cameras and bikes. One friend even got a puppy. In my case, the sentiment never really turned into anything tangible.

In such a levelheaded childhood, one never really celebrated birthdays or anniversaries. If we did, the fĂȘte meant the entire family of 12 coming together and having a ceremonial dinner.

Nonetheless, I grew up to have celebrated each of my birthdays. They were more like small get-togethers, but I enjoyed them. I still eat maggi, pizza and brownies when I get
completely hopeless (otherwise, I would never eat this unhealthy stuff :)).

On the other hand, I have never heard, let alone, imagine my dad ‘celebrating’ his birthday. He never casually met with his friends or went out drinking or for a get-away two-day trip. I have always known him to be a self-sufficient man and he is not deprived of happiness, but to my understanding, birthdays are a great excuse to celebrate. To his mind, when you celebrate everyday, who cares about birthdays. He does meet up with his friends, he does not drink but he does go out to have kababs, he does do his two-day breaks although not as often as I would like and he certainly has a fantastic time doing it. When he laughs, there is an inherent echo in his hyena laughter. Even when on the phone, I know the man is having a bloody good time. He is a man of small happiness, my dad.

He turned 48 yesterday. Most people know that I am the official and the chairperson of his ‘fan club’ and because they love me, they love him as well (I know, it is not a syllogism but I would like to believe that).

Most of my friends called him; some texted him, the others mailed him to wish him a happy birthday. It all began with S, who emailed me one day giving me this incredible opportunity of wishing her mother a very very happy happy birthday. Moreover, I remember how good I felt just thinking about doing it and I did it. I mailed aunty and I was smiling throughout engulfed in a wave of a warm fuzzy feeling inside my heart.

I do not know if you felt the same. I thank you for humoring me and making my dad feel confused and crazy special. It makes me believe sentiment is not all that bad after all.

An old love.

Yes, it is all thanks to M. She careened into class with her limited sophistication and her old friend. She lodged herself into the chair next to mine and introduced him to me. I was enamored. He was a brown ink pen. The made in china one with its gold cap and HERO embossed into the edges.

I was brought up in a school, which allowed the use of only pencils up to fourth standard. By fifth standard, our much-awaited dream was fulfilled when we held our first pens. A brown ink pen. Practically organic like my blood flowed from my fingers into the pen and dripped through the nib into a blue- lined notebook. However, that affair did not last too long. We soon dumped our first ink pens for fancy, newer, snazzy looking gel pens.

However, here I was and HERO was back into my life. I spent much of that lecture smiling. He kept me from the professor’s rendition of social markets and I kept him away from M. I had decided I needed to get back with him.

On my way home, I dropped into the local stationary shop and purchased my lost love. The shopkeeper reluctantly gave me the huge bottle of black ink that I had ordered to go along with the pen, as if knowing that I would never use the pen anyway and I was just
satisfying my upper-class whim.

Back on my study table, I tried to unscrew the inkbottle whose metal cap refused to budge. Finally, late in the evening, S came home. I introduced him to my new friend and turns out, we had another friend in common. With his huge hands and wieldy fingers, S opened the bottle. Needing no encouragement, I hurriedly dipped the nib right into the inkpot and the ink overflowed blackening S’s hands. S held the pen up and rubbed it into his hair.

Another old memory instigated. I wanted HERO for myself, into my hair.

I spend that night with him. HERO, not S.

I was sitting in my pajamas lolling on the bed with him. We started with shy nods but slowly progressed into a slow waltz gliding over the white ice of my notebook. We lazed around in bed until four in the morning and the last thing I remember is murmuring, “Thank you for such a good time.”

Nothing like an old friend to make you happy.

Lesson for the day.

I was talking to S on the phone while trying to buy a coupon booklet at Govandi station. I am standing in front of the very man, my savior and my villain who haunts my ears every morning and night – the railway announcer. (In Govandi, one has to buy tickets from the railway announcer. Weird, yes I know.)

“Ek coupon booklet milega?” I say preoccupied.

“Kyun nahi milega,” he says comfortingly with a casualness one does not see often in railway announcers.

I am humored and charmed and I say, “Kitna?”

He smiles, “Chaalees ka hai.”

I struggle with my pockets and hand him the four notes of ten one after the other. I think I am done and am about to get back to my phone call when he looks at me intently and then questioningly as if measuring me on his mind scale.

He says, “Aap ladies log paisa aisa kyun rakhte ho?”

I am perplexed.

“Oh, bhaiyya woh pocket mein…” and I stop because there is really no good excuse.

We are both now looking at the four notes carefully. They are crumpled pieces of paper almost becoming half their size and Gandhi seems to have visibly gnarled skin. He is trying to iron them so that he can close the accounts.

“Aap ladies log se hi aisa note milta hai. Ek nikalne mein dus girta hoga,” he murmurs

“Sorry bhaiyya. Theek kehto ho aap.” I get back on the phone slightly taken back.

I am wondering whether it is true. I am used to exchanging such notes with everyone. Or
is it just my girlfriends?

Do the men keep their money better? Probably yes. They always seem to have a wallet where they tuck in their money systematically and those wide spread jeans where the wallet finds home. Seems rather convenient and easy.

Whereas, I have no jeans which can accommodate any wallet. I pride myself in buying jeans, which can accommodate my phone. Probably it is a jeans problem. Our jeans do not accommodate wallets. The wallet companies need to speak to the jeans companies.

It is also not that easy for us women. If we dress in a salwar kurta, a sari, or a skirt, I may excuse my kind for I suppose they would carry a purse and they could always keep their money safe and nice. However, if you wear jeans, you are tempted to store quick money in your pockets. The front ones mostly otherwise our asses would look bulky.

My father always said that a person who keeps money carefully respects the worth of money and that was the first thought that struck me when my charmer for the day pointed out those emaciated pieces of paper called money to me. So, I wonder, probably, it is not a jeans problem after all. It is a reflection of my lazy unorganized self. Yeah, that sounds like it. I need some reorganizing. I should tell my railway announcer that.

Five reasons you do a post graduate programme

1. Your father did it and wants you to as well. Your father never did it and hence wants you to do it. You will not be very marriageable if you do not. Your elder brother with his PG will earn more than you will all of your life. So, for the sake of your family, society and the programme, you do it.
2. You do not know what you ‘actually’ want to do. Therefore, you decide to buy time by doing a PG.
3. You know what you want to do, but do not feel technically equipped or competent enough to do it without a PG.
4. You are sick, tired and completely bored with the world around you and need a significant change and the PG is a god send excuse to make an escapist trip.
5. You actually want to study the subject in question, meet likeminded people and your life would simply be incomplete if you did not.

Note: Other than a few Bengali friends who have gone ahead to do their PhDs, I know no one including myself, you did a PG for reason 5.

For a friend

Be free.
Say your name every time you smile,
And smile for me.
I have been uncomfortable with myself
And had demands, endless killing demands of me,
I would fail and I would pain.
You have held me in distress, in grief and in tears,
Till my kohl-lined eyes looked like blurry dark evenings.
I take the same kohl and make a speck below your earlobe to remind you that it will all be okay.
You are you and I admire that,
The ease you have in being yourself.
Be focused, stay calm but also
Celebrate for there is much to feel.
Your eyes are closed in prayer.
But they pass moments to open up-
To the sweet taste of being.
As for the sour grapes,
They were never for you.
Desire better to deserve better,
For you deserve much much more.
You are, if nothing, a laughing Buddha,
You are, if nothing, my superman,
You are, if nothing, you, and I am proud.

PS: You know who you are.

Five things that make me happy

- Reading a book whenever, wherever and however I please.
- Dancing whenever, wherever and however I please.
- My sister, when I come back home tired and often late in the evening
- Beaches
- Writing

What are the five things that make you happy. Tell me.


I thought it would be a great idea to have a paan. S thought it would be a great idea for me to have a Banarasi paan. And it did sounds like a good idea. It was something new and I was bored enough to have something with supari in it (I am ultra health-conscious).

We are at the most popular paanwala in Juhu which means the place has eons of history and paan juice probably runs in the blood of the three pot-bellied men with bleeding red mouths who sit there making paans endlessly.

A light green leaf cut at the stalk is stained with chuna-katta and then a little bit of salli supari is placed in the centre. The paanwala looks at S to ask whether there would be a need for any more additions. S, being the man, who was initiating me into the real paan world, suggests a little wet supari in it. S looks at me and says, “The first time I had it, my ears went hot.”

After folding it like the elegant art of origami, he hands it over. I bite into it and eat it rather enthusiastically. It’s like eating rocks and a leaf. I chew, chew like a cow and still the pieces do not dissolve the way normal food does. I am thinking now - how does one swallow this?!

S looks at me struggling and confused. Spit it out, he says.

No, no. no. I am okay.

I am still chewing as I say this. The rocks are now tiny pebbles and I am sure by now I have lost certain capacities of my mouth to function permanently.

Then, I spit. I grab the bottle of water from his hand, gargle and spit. So much for enthusiasm. So much for- ‘No, no. no. I am okay.’

I am back to eating my meetha paan with the Barbie doll dressing. I am trying to force all of it in my mouth making a complete mess of it with paan dripping at the edges of my mouth which S finds funny. We begin to walk and as we pass another paanwala, S asks, “You want to have a paan?”


(I was in Rajasthan for 10 weeks this summer residing in a small town called Bagar helping out at a rural BPO. I had written this when i left. Somehow, i have been thinking about it and just felt like sharing it with all, who made it such an fantastic experience.)

I am beginning with the presupposition that I will not remember much. I know of a time when I used to hate any kind of documentation – photos, diaries – any kind of journalistic accounts. I loved the frivolous life I lived and I enjoyed the limited expanse of my memory. I believed that that would ensure that I would remember the best moments.

Well, I was wrong. Every time I embark on one of these finding-self journeys, I am supremely enthralled by the fact that a new place and new people allow individuals to be whoever they want. No one knows you, you can be contentious, you can be mean, you can be childlike, you can be senseless, and you can be downright pathetic. People could judge you but you would not care less. You are not to know them for life anyway. So, this time, I decided to be the best version of myself. Friends suggested that I blog on a daily basis so that I could at every point of time retain the value that this experience would give me. This could be a reference point of who I wanted to become.

Well, I did not follow their advice. Instead, I sit here almost at the end of my stint thinking to myself – "how do I feel about leaving?" and it is this thought that brings me to this commentary.

I am not one of those people who are engulfed by a certain passion and they owe it to themselves to realize it. I am also not exceptionally talented or skilled or smart to be doing that one single passionate thing. Having studied one full year of social entrepreneurship, I often wondered whether I was doing the wrong thing and whether I had it in me at all to be a social entrepreneur. Did I have that singular fervor to madly pursue social change? I figured I did not care enough about anything. I always considered myself to be one of those ordinary souls who can do a decent job at almost anything.

To be brutally honest, I have learnt that I care. I have learnt that it takes 10 women and a rural BPO to have experienced the most rewarding and satisfying chapter of my life.

I have learned listening is a handy skill. Some of the brightest ideas come in the most trying times when one listens to people around them.

I have learned to ask questions. It is the most exploratory method of understanding an issue.

Having studied in an extremely academic and theoretical environment for the last one year, somehow I had forgotten what praxis feels like. In that light, I have learned to make things happen.

I made some new friends in the process. I will miss them to bits. (I am not even the sentimental types)

And I will miss my women -

I will remember Saroj when I think about ambition.

I will remember Rajni when I think about empathy.

I will remember Sarita when I think about cheekiness.

I will remember Vidya when I think about unionization.

I will remember Neelam when I think about youth.

I will remember Sulochana when I think about generosity.

I will remember Anjana when I think about outspokenness.

I will remember Kiran when I think about candid wisdom.

I will remember Shobha when I think about lending a hand.

I will remember all these epitomes.

I will remember the broken relics of Mandawa. Shashank's mad antics on the journey back home on the top of a bus. Ashish's crazy cheering "Watson!Watson!" at the IPL. Pooja's flaky stories of Bihar, UPenn and elsewhere. Manisha's wit and comments spelling murder for Vijaysai. Vijaysai's litigious ardor to make an argument. Kamalji's tree climbing skills. Dharamveerji tryst with food experimentation. Rahul Reddy's fascinating handwriting and endearing Hindi. Saudi's bloody eyes. Neeraj's sleepy eyes. Srikant's sincerity and Rachit's enterprise. Rahul Kaul's (Kaulboy – Thank you Nishant) endearing self-motivated ways. Nishant's Aquarian (read childlike and curious) ways. Akshay Singh's utterly expressive stories. Vijaysai's PITA (Pain In The Ass). Shrot's unknowing (annoying) habits. Gagan's KAKA KAKA. Radhika's looney tunes. Shalin's "NO". Naman's weird music tastes. Radheshyamji's random jigs in the kitchen. Scooby's slow wagging of the tail. The ticks tenacity at sucking doggie blood. The lizard's carcass. The scorpion. The praying mantis. The sheer variety of bug bites – all sizes and colours. The occasional clean toilet. Pabudhaam. Vijaysai Hai Hai. Katherine's thank yous and sorries. Preeti's affectionate tears. The sandstorms and the rains that followed (the best night of this year). The poultry farm. The old maulvi at the dargah. The camel rides. The donkey dicks. The pinkie Bagar boys. Dole Sole and body fit and fine. Andy's vocals. Stephanie's black belt moves and keen sense of humour. Ashish's competitive and warm spirit. The real cool town of khetri. Gaurishankar's Jasmine. Cudlai Mistress. Shrot's next-door chatting. Manisha's Shrot impersonations. Animal sex. Srikant's ant mutilating skills. Andaz apna apna. Sleepwalking into people's rooms. Litchis. To be continued….

There was a time the work was so good, I would have loved to stay. There is a time the people are so good, I would have loved to stay.

So how does it feel to be leaving?

It feels like nostalgia already. Sweet biting nostalgia.