Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Suddenly, One Day.

At the Pragati Maidan Metro Station, two people waited.. One was a young woman not more than twenty, dressed in black like most of the people her age. Every once in a while she looked up from her iPhone, craned her neck a little bit, looked around, and went back to fiddling with the device.The other was a middle aged man, grim looking, with silver rimmed spectacles. The two of them sat next to each other, unspeaking, comfortable with the silence – waiting for their Metro to arrive.

Rajesh sighed impatiently and leaned back onto his chair. He glanced at his daughter, Akhila, who was still tapping the screen of her phone and occasionally smirking. He shook his head and sighed again. What is it that Akhila found so fascinating about the Metro? It was just a train, except it was silver in colour and looked a little more fancy. They could have taken the car – but Akhila had insisted that they use the Metro. The young people were more concerned about the environment these days.Rajesh looked around a little more. Damned train.

The Metro came whooshing into the platform and suddenly the idle crowd came to life. People stood up, straightening their newspapers, clothes, hair. Women checked their reflections in the mirror. Men started gulping down the last sips of their coffee. Children started jumping up and down and clapped their hands with joy. Teenagers said their “Catcha later, dude. Gotta go.”

Akhila looked up from her iPhone and put it away, and stood, her eyes gleaming with ill concealed anticipation. Rajesh also silently rose, and followed his daughter to the train. They stepped inside and sat down, and within a few minutes, the massive vehicle rumbled to life and whooshed out of the station.

Not many people had got in and the compartment was relatively empty. Rajesh looked at Akhila again, and saw that her phone was nowhere in sight, and she had pressed her lips together, like she did whenever things became awkward. He wondered if she was expecting him to make conversation. Rajesh winced internally. He was horrible at small talk.

“How is college these days?” He heard himself say.

“Good.” She replied, looking slightly relieved.

Rajesh nodded. Now what? “You don’t go with your friends these days?”

Akhila shook her head. “No. They have gone to Ladakh.”

“From your college, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Why didn’t you go?”

“Because of my asthma problem. The doctor didn’t clear me.”


Awkward silence.

Akhila tapped her phone a little more, set it down and stared at a boy in front of her. Then she tapped her phone a little bit more. What was this tapping business? Rajesh wondered. He surreptitiously leaned in to see.

Akhila was on FaceBook  (big surprise) ‘updating her status’. He leaned in a little more, and read.

Sitting in the metro. Hot guy sitting in front of me! :D :D

 Rajesh chuckled quietly, and cleared his throat. Akhila looked up quickly and touched her hair uncomfortably.

The train stopped at Rohini East. Rajesh looked at his wristwatch and realized that the Metro was behind schedule. Passengers shuffled in, some shuffled out but the compartment still remained fairly empty. The Metro started again.

They passed buildings, and cars and more buildings. From the window, he could see two drivers engaged in a fight about their collided cars. He saw a small boy rolling  a tyre around with a stick. He saw a massive lorry carrying sugarcanes to somewhere. An old woman buying carrots from a roadside vendor. Two men leering at a girl crossing the road. Then they passed more buildings, and more cars. Then he looked away, bored. He tried to think of something else to do.He missed driving his car. Damn Akhila's concern for the world.

 Rajesh looked out of the window again, watching the buildings and shops whiz past him. They were now on a bridge, and suddenly the Metro gained speed. Outside the window, everything was a blur. Rajesh frowned, and heard mumble. She looked outside, and said: “It's moving too fast.”

By this time, other people had also realized the change in speed and were looking out of the window, a little tensed.

 There was a loud thud and the compartment shook violently, throwing people off their seats. Akhila squealed. Rajesh put a protective arm around her and held her tightly as the train shook.
People were screaming, crying, some desperately looking for the emergency exit. Someone had hit their head and was bleeding profusely, and a small child probably had broken her arm. People were rushing towards the tail of the compartment, hoping that the train would stop. Some were swearing, others were praying. It was utter chaos.

Rajesh looked at Akhila, had held her even tighter, and closed his eyes. He prayed to God, hoping that Akhila would get out of this unharmed, and that his wife and son would remain safe and happy their entire life. He prayed for this mess to stop. And he prayed to God to save his life. That was his last clear thought.

He heard the massive noise.He heard the screams, the ear piercing screech that only colliding metals can create He heard the cries . And then he heard the silence.All the noise of screaming people, crashing glass, screeching metal stopped suddenly stopped. As if everything was alright with the world again.

Rajesh opened his eyes. He couldn’t see anything. His vision was blurred. He tried to remember where he was. His jaw hurt, as did his chest. He had lost all feeling in his lower half. He could feel blood trickling down his face. He tried to shout for help, but nothing came out. Then he felt something. Rather someone. He rolled his eyes to the left, and found Akhila, bleeding. Then he remembered. He was in a train that had crashed. Gathering all his strength, he called her.

“Akhila?” A whisper came out, to which he got no response.

“Akhila, beta? Can you hear me?” He spoke louder.

Yet no reply.

Tears welled up in his eyes, and silently rolled down his cheeks, mixing with the blood. He prayed again, to keep Akhila safe. To let her be alive and unscathed. Then he closed his eyes, and let the blackness overcome him.

" Put pressure on that wound. Sister, please get me 100 mg of Thiamine, 1 mg of Folic acid, I amp MVI and 3 grams magnesium sulphate. Fast!”

“Yes sir.”

“His pulse is low, I need you to keep the defribillator ready. Now check his…”

Rajesh tried to hear more, but he was feeling dizzy, and already the voice had started growing more distant. He couldn’t remember where he was. His body had lost all feeling, except for the faint awareness of the fact that he was hurting. It was too much of an effort to think, he just went back to sleep.

“Rajesh?” A voice from a tunnel came. It seemed familiar “Rajesh? Can you hear me?”

“Papa, please wake up.” Another voice came from the tunnel. It was closer. “Papa.” The voice became a whisper, then he heard someone cry.

“Don’t cry, Ma. He’ll be fine.”

“Yes. Yes, he’ll be fine.” The first voice said.

Rajesh felt like he had suddenly resurfaced from a pool. He opened his, but the light blinded him.

“Rajesh! You’re awake.” He heard his wife speak to him. His wife. He opened his eyes and saw her, smiling through her tears. “Arun! Call the doctor, fast!”

“Yes, Ma.” Arun hurried away.

“Akhila?” Rajesh managed to say.

Sarala held his hand tightly and tried to calm him down. "Shh, you rest now. Don't worry."

"But Akhila?"

"Sarala held on to his hand tightly and smiled, trying to reassure him, "Everything's fine. The doctor's just coming."

Rajesh blew out a sigh of relief. He looked at his wife. She was smiling at him, clinging on to his hand like a lifeline. Rajesh stared at her, completely transfixed by a tear drop that seeped out of the corner of her eye, slowly. 

The month of March was hectic. My daughter Ishita appeared for her class X board exams. It was a stressful time for all of us, may be I'll blog about it later. This was a story Ishita wrote for her school magazine. I copied it blatantly, with her permission of course. Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Hormone Years

"Why don't you tell me what to wear and what not to?"
"I thought you didn't want me to tell you all that. I thought you said I had to stop imposing my opinion on you."
"Yes, but my friends' moms tell them what not to wear...it shows they care about their daughters.
" OK, so let me tell you right now, the skirt you are wearing is too short."
" Will you stop telling me what to wear all the time?"

"Can I colour my hair?"
"Whatever for? You have beautiful hair"
"But I want streaks. And I want curls."
"Your hair is naturally beautiful now. Wait till you become a little older to experiment with colours."
"You never want me to have any individual style. Why do you have to be such a tyrant?"
"It's just that you have such beautiful hair. Colours and curlers will ruin your hair."
"So can I get a Lady Gaga wig instead? Red?
"Lady who?"
"Never mind, you would not recognize her if she left a comment on your blog anyway."

"Do you have to pick me up from school? I am old enough to come on my own. And please wear something a little more glamorous when you come? You look boring in jeans and T-shirt."
" I thought I looked pretty good in jeans and tees."
"You look old."
" I am not old."
"Mom, you are practically vintage."

" Stop telling me to study all the time."
"Well, I can't, your boards are starting in exactly 3 weeks."
"Why do I have to do well in my exam?"
"So you can get into a good college/school."
" I think you are just trying to get rid of me by sending me to a good college. Who wants to live in this house indefinitely anyway?"

"Will you have a problem if I have a Muslim or a Christian boyfriend?"
"I will have a problem if you have a boyfriend, period."
"Come on mom, some of my friends have boyfriends."
"You are only 15, too young to have a boyfriend."
"So when I am old enough to have one, will you object if he is not a Hindu?"
"No, as long as he is good and treats you with respect, I will have no problem."
"God, will you stop being so nice? How am I supposed to have a dramatic fight with you on this one if you never object to a boyfriend?"

"I washed my school uniform."
"That's very good. I am so glad you are acting like a responsible person and sharing the chores."
"Yeah, well, the i-pod was in the pocket and it got washed too. And now it's no longer working."
"What? Your i-pod? You didn't check the pockets?
"Err, actually it was dad's, I had borrowed it from him for a day."
"You washed your dad's i-pod? Do you know how cross he would be?"
"Can't you ask him to look at the bright side? The uniform looks almost brand new now."

"Can I pierce my ears?"
"You already have pierced ears."
"Can I have couple more piercings?"
"Two more? May be we can talk about it after your exams."
"You know, you are not too bad for a mom. In fact, you are more tolerant than a lot of moms I know." 
"Well thank you."
"Some of my friends are always complaining about how domineering their mothers are. I told them my mom is not as bad."
" Uh..thank you I guess."
" You are really open to suggestions and you do let me have my own say."
"Oh baby, I'm so glad you finally saw that."
" Yeah, well, so can I have a tattoo? A scorpion on my lower back would look awesome."

I bow down before all those survivor moms who successfully negotiated teenage years. I only have 4 more years to go with this one. By that time, the second one would be 13. With plenty of wine, chocolates and Yoga, I'm sure I can go through that one too.
And those women who are currently mothering those cute angelic kids, kids who make you say "awwww let me take a picture of you cutie-pie, cootchie-coo,.." well, to those women let me say, I hate you with gusto.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Giving Away The Memories

On the 17th floor of my building, lives an old man.

He does not live alone. He stays with his two grown up sons. Their wives. Their kids. It is a big family. There should not be any reason to be lonely. Or feel empty. But I think he does. Every evening when he goes for a walk, I can see it in his eyes. He is lonely and sad. And this feeling has nothing to do with his large family.
He may have a lot of people in his life but the person who mattered the most, his wife, died a few months ago. And ever since, he has not been the same.

We all have different ways of coping with grief. Some cry. Some deal with it with dry eyes. Our ways may be different but we all feel this profound sadness. We all feel a deep emptiness that descends on us when we lose a loved one. This old man I know, does not keep his grief bottled up. He talks about her to people he meets in the elevator, in the park, in the grocery store. He tells us about the wonderful years he had with his wife. His helplessness towards the end of her illness. His relief when he realized she has passed away and was incapable of feeling any more pain. He talks a lot. And sympathetic neighbours, some strangers, some not, listen to this old man's ramble.

Few days back, he called me while I was walking in the park.
"Do you tie your hair?" When I said that I do indeed tie up my short hair occasionally, he handed me a shiny object.
"Keep this then, it will look good on you." I opened my palm to find a rather tacky looking hair clip And I knew. I knew instantly that he has begun the painful process of going through her stuff. Bits of items that were once precious to her. Hair clips. Bags. CDs. Stuff that he will  never use in his life, stuff that perhaps his daughters in law do not want,  he has started handing them over to utter strangers. These things are no longer useful to him. But he can not bear to throw them away.. So he gives them away, hoping some stranger will honour these silly items and somewhere, somehow, his wife's belongings and with them her memories, will live on.

I know I will never use this clip. It is neither pretty nor serviceable. Moreover, it does not even hold any sentimental value for me. What will I do with this? Perhaps I will give it away to my domestic help. Or I will give it to a street kid in need of a hair pin. No matter what I do, I know the lady will live in her husband's mind.

Just because you get rid of something does not mean you lose the memories.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

It's been more than15 days since I last posted.

I feel terribly guilty for neglecting the blog but a tiny corner of my mind is celebrating this utter laziness. The blog can wait, my laziness can't.

Actually there are quite a few things that are making me feel guilty. Like how happy I am now that my mother in law is not in town. She is a sweet lady and is pretty easy going and she brings a sense of discipline to our house. There are set meal times in the house when she is at home.The laundry gets folded at the right time, the kids drink their milk right on time. The maid comes early, the chores get done right on the dot.With her away, things are extremely slack around the house.And I am loving every moment of it. We have been eating a lot of stuff she considers inedible. Sandwiches, spaghetti, pasta, soups...my kids think they have died and gone to heaven. I am just relieved the food takes less than an hour to cook. That gives me more time to indulge in my strongest passion, reading.

I have been reading a lot of Nora Roberts lately. She is entertaining and funny and I immensely enjoy all her books. The last book of hers that I read was called The Search. Both my daughter Ishita and I loved it. My friends deride me for reading such junk but I refuse to feel guilty about my reading habits. Whatever gives me pleasure, right? So what if they are chick flicks? So what if they do not make me enlightened and spiritually elevated? They make me want to stay all day in my pajamas, curled up reading. For company,I generally have a bag of chips. One hundred percent pure guilt Hence the pleasure I get from her books is usually doubled.

The other thing that is making me feel guilty these days is my lack of exercise. My yoga teacher is on a holiday. So no twisting of my body at awkward angles, no I-can-touch-my-nose-with-my toes moves and no fire breathing, hell burning, soul purifying breathing exercises. I can't tell you how happy that makes me feel. I have noticed that happiness has an adverse effect on my weight.But I have decided to look away from the mirror to assuage my guilt. I do go for walks, but that is purely for pleasure and has nothing to do with guilt.

So what else has me feeling guilty lately? A big box of finest Swiss chocolates that's sitting in my fridge. Someone gave it to us and I've been raiding the fridge at midnight quite often. Experts however say that I have nothing to feel guilty about. Dark chocolates apparently improve the function of blood vessels. Cocoa elevates mood and preliminary research suggests that chocolates boost one's memory and concentration span. What's more, it is hundred percent vegetarian and does not give you a hangover.Or make you pregnant.

So there. Now that I've vented my feelings, I am feeling less guilty about my inactive lifestyle. With Blogger around, who needs a shrink. And who needs guilt...it is such a wasted emotion anyway.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

This Christmas Day

Thank God my parents never believed in Santa. They never took me to an old, fat guy with a fake beard and asked me to sit on his lap. Subsequently I never suffered  from the trauma of discovering Santa Claus did not exist.

They did believe in plum cakes and a good Christmas feast though. So my brother and I always looked forward to the 25th. That was the night we went out to eat. 

When my kids were born, I tried to tell them that Santa existed. Truly I did. It worked also in the beginning. "Eat your lunch or Santa won't give you any toy, " or "Behave or else Santa will give your share of candies to your sister," but they were pretty smart. They figured out all by themselves that good old Santa was just a figment of mommy's over active imagination. So they took charge of the whole festival, bought a big tree that almost touched my ceiling, bought Christmas presents with their own pocket money and rented some Christmassy movie to watch on Christmas Eve. To be honest, as long as they did not expect me to bake a turkey or wrap their presents, I was quite happy with this arrangement.

This Christmas however every thing has gone wrong. Their father has gone on some long official trip up north. Their mother has forbidden them to put up the big tree that overwhelms the rather small living room. Their exam schedule, (especially the older one's) has clashed with the festival. The friends of the older one are all at home studying for the board prelims. The friends of the younger one have all gone out of town to celebrate the holiday season. So this year there have been no plum cakes, no presents, no tree and definitely no Santa.

We have spent this extra-ordinary day doing ordinary stuff. Got up rather late in the morning. Had Maggi 2 minute noodles for lunch and lazed around the whole afternoon. The kids have demanded pizza for dinner. So the evening will probably turn out a little better.

So how did you celebrate the holiday this year? Did you get a completely useless gift? And did some of you spend the holiday getting over a hangover? Whatever it was, I bet it was better than mine. 

So I thought I'd cheer myself up with this hilarious video. What do you think of this? Isn't this awesome? Enjoy people, and have a great holiday season!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Decisions, Decisions...

Sometimes we are pushed to one, some times we make a conscious one- but we all make choices. Everyday.

The day starts with the most important one. What do I pack today for my kids' lunch? At 6 o'clock in the morning, when admittedly I'm not at my best, I often make the wrong choice. The result? The lunch boxes come home with the food barely eaten. Apparently nobody eats rotis and vegetables anymore in the class. The super cool moms have graduated to making pastas and pizzas. I, being old fashioned and 'uncool' still persist on packing rather orthodox meals. Decisions. Do I make something nutritious and hope hunger would compel them to eat it? Or do I make something tasty but junk just to make sure they have something in their stomach?

Then later, do I laze around with a cup of tea and read the newspaper? (Which I badly want to) or do I go for my yoga/walk/pranayam routine which I badly do not want to? That is a tough one indeed!

Sometimes the decisions are fun. Which place to go to this summer? An ancient city or a modern one? Glam and glitz or quaint and serene? Mountains? Beaches? Architecture? We argue, discuss and finally come to a conclusion. This time, looks like an old civilization would win over everything else.

Do I go and meet my cousin and stay with her for the weekend or do I stay at home and help my younger daughter to study for her exam on Monday? The cousin has come from abroad and I get to meet her only once a year. The exams happen all the time. So the cousin wins. And the daughter gets 90 in the exam. She usually gets 100. So was that a wise decision or a stupid one? I think a wise one. Quite a few don't agree.

The older one will be appearing for her all important class 10 exams next year March. Like all typical Indian parents, we too are feeling the pressure. The boards are almost here. How many hours is she studying? Is she still watching T.V.? Is she studying at least 6 hours a day? Have you got the last 10 years question papers? Is she solving them? Science, Arts or Commerce? Has she made a decision yet?

The latest to join the bandwagon is the IB curriculum. The schools are wooing all the students to join this prestigious board. Apparently this board has the best methodology and offers the students a shot at world's best universities. The schools are inviting the parents of class 10 students for a presentation. The fees are too high. Around Rs 6 to 10 lakhs a year. But what is a little money compared to your precious ones? Think about their bright future. Never mind the fact that the curriculum is rigorous and not many students perform well enough to get into an Ivy League college. So decision time once again. Continue in the same school? Transfer her to CBSE? What about the junior colleges? Though that would mean changing over to the State board which many consider slightly inferior.

So what decision do we make about that? My daughter is not one of those highly motivated, super brilliant, overly ambitious teen. She is just a normal 15 year old who deserves to have a decent enough education without feeling the constant pressure to do well. We talk to other parents and read about all the possible systems. We discuss with the current students of all the boards. Hopefully, the decision regarding her education will be based upon her needs and not what others expect her to choose.

And if I've not blogged lately, there is a reason. My electricity bill hit the roof last month. And I've been thinking, do I continue to be a net addict? Surf, Facebook, Google and blog? Or do I save electricity?

Life is tough sometimes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Fear Of Flying

Every time I travel by an aeroplane, my insides drop to my feet. I hear a roar in my ears, my stomach muscles work overtime and my heart beat accelerates. A friend, who also happens to be a doctor, tells me that I have some "underlying issues" and I need to go through some "cognitive coping strategies to deal with the anxiety disorder". Remind me never to have a doctor for a friend.

I feel if some one up there wanted me to fly, he would have given me wings. It is unnatural to fly strapped in a weird giant bird making a strange noise.  Every time I fly, I make it a point to sit next to my tolerant husband. That way, I can really grip his hands hard, twist his fingers  and squeeze his palms almost to a pulp. That is the punishment the guy gets for insisting I fly with him. If I had my way, I'd be walking or driving every where.

This time, when we went to Rajasthan for a short trip, I flew in the smallest aircraft I've ever flown in. The damn thing did not even require proper stairs. You could just haul yourself up the plane. And there was only one door. The familiar claustrophobic feeling slowly engulfed me. I thought a strong cup of tea or coffee would settle my nerves.  (Damn the puritan Indian airliners for not serving liquor on board).
 "Sorry ma'am, for your own safety, we would not be serving any hot beverages in flight," the cheerful air hostess informed me.
 " Why the hell not?"
 " Because bad weather and turbulence might cause your coffee or tea to spill."
 I nudged the husband. " Honey, may be we should just spend Diwali in Mumbai. I hear the lights have a spectacular effect on the otherwise dull city and makes it almost pretty."
"There, there," my husband just patted me indulgently. " Take a few deep breaths and count backward from 100 to 0, you'll be just fine."
 "Yeah but did you hear the air hostess? Turbulent weather ahead. What will happen if lightening strikes?"
"Chances are the bolt would pass through the nose or the wing tip and exit off through the tail." That explanation did not sound very comforting. What if the bolt decides to enter through the fuselage? That would be a disaster, right? My husband of course was blissfully unaware of my incessant worries. The flight was at an ungodly hour and he had slept off even before the plane took off.

Rajasthan is a lovely state. I have been there countless number of times and every visit I discover something new. This time the discovery was in Ranakpur temple, around 100 kms from Udaipur.

I saw this temple for the first time when I was in IInd year college. A gang of us had gone there during our
Holi break. That was quite a few years ago. The temple had looked absolutely breathtaking. Exquisitely carved pillars, underground vaults, beautifully sculpted domes, the temple looked majestic amidst the Aravalli range.This time though. it was a disappointment. The light marble looked black and ugly. There were too many people inside and we were barred from going up.Somehow the temple had lost its pristine looks. The peace that we found there so many years ago had disappeared.

Perhaps we looked lost. Or perhaps we looked disenchanted. A little girl came to us and offered to show us around. Her name was Yogini and she was the priest's daughter. Since the temple's inception, the men in her family had been the priests there, performing the Puja every day.. Her brother, who was only 5, would be the  the 20th generation priest one day.

She acted as our guide, telling us various stories associated with the temple, expertly weaving fiction with facts, history with mythology. She knew the story behind each pillar. She knew the temple like the back of her hand. Her command over Hindi was impeccable and I could not help but be impressed. She was only in Grade 5.

End of the tour, we asked her if she liked to study. Her beaming aunt, who was standing behind us for sometime, informed us that the girl stood first in her class every year.
" So what would you like to be when you grow up?" We asked, expecting the answer to be the standard 'a doctor' or 'a teacher'.
 " A pilot," pat came the reply.
 I was flabbergasted. " Why a pilot? Wouldn't you be scared to fly a plane? Going so high up in the sky?"
"Not at all. To be able to fly, to be able see the earth in a whole new way, to be able to soar... it would be so liberating"

So there. That is what I found in Rajasthan this time. The cognitive coping strategy to combat my anxiety.

 There is joy to be found in soaring after all. Even a little girl knows it.