Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Eighties Girl


The year when my life and India's destiny changed forever.

Baba was allotted a government quarter in Minto Road, Delhi. The people staying there were rather ordinary. Middle class. Warm. Friendly. They came from different parts of India. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Punjab and Bihar. A kind of mini India. I made friends with a girl from UP. Do you want to play?" was the first question asked. Who asked? Who answered? All we knew was that by the end of the day, we had formed a deep friendship. I stayed in that government colony for more than 10 years. The friends I made then are still my lifeline.

That was also the year Sanjay Gandhi died. We did not really care about politics, my friends and I. But we did hear some snippets of adult conversation. Emergency. Turkman Gate. RajivGandhi. Only later we knew how important these words were to our country.


It was the year of love. Sapna and Vasu. Bunty and Pinky. Charles and Diana. I fell a little bit in love with Kumar Gaurav. My mother refused to let me see Love Story the second time because she thought I might get ideas and elope with someone. I was so upset that I locked myself in. My mother broke open the door and spanked me. I was angry, tearful, dejected. Back in 1981, my mother was all powerful. And I was not even thirteen.


That was the year of excitement. Asiad was the hot topic. Appu was the lovable mascot. And Doordarshan was changing colours. From a drab black and white, we went shocking pink .Bright blue. Dark green. Deep orange. The experts had yet to figure out how to control the colours and contrasts. Or perhaps like little kids, they also got a little carried away seeing all the colourful possibilities. For whatever reasons, our eyes had to undergo a lot of trauma. The TV set was manufactured by the Electronics Corporation of India. It took ages to switch on. We waited with bated breath to see the first flicker of colour. There was also no remote. Did we care?


A year of possibilities. A car that was mass produced, transformed our roads. A frozen frame showed the reigning screen god's brush with death. And a cheeky, spunky devil from Haryana lifted the World Cup. The initial matches were considered so insignificant, India's chances were considered so remote that we did not even send a camera crew. But for the semi final and final, we were glued to the TV. Occasionally we lost signal from London. Occasionally the pictures were grainy, but we saw our men, who dared to dream, finally lift that huge cup. '83 was the year we started believing in ourselves. We believed we could buy a car. We believed we could fight death and emerge victorious. We believed we could beat West Indies in cricket and be world champions....well, may be that was still, a little bit unbelievable.


If the previous year had hope, this one had tragedy. Starting with my board exams in March. The syllabus was humongous. There were too many subjects. But who said the life was easy? To celebrate the end of the boards, my parents took us to Srinagar. And then the nightmare began.

The Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple. Curfew was imposed and we were stranded in the Jammu- Punjab border. 5 days of living on the roads. Extreme heat. No food. No doctors, (we all got heat stroke) and most important, no bathrooms anywhere. I wonder whether the young people who have grown up taking for granted ATMs and credit cards, cell phones and internet, ACs and plane travelling, will ever be able to fathom the trauma my father went through when his money ran out. He was a long way from home and he did not know when this would end. After 5 gruelling days we managed to reach Delhi and found it simmering with resentment. The same year in October, Indira Gandhi was gunned down. And the city I loved, burst into flames. From our 7 storey building, we saw the red sky. Heard horrific news of the riots. The schools and colleges shut down. Young boys like my brother, patrolled the colony at night to stop possible rioters. The immense love and respect Hindus and Sikhs had for each other, was gone in a heart beat. Sanity took a long time to return.


We saw Ravi Shastri driving his Champion of champions' prize on the huge Sidney cricket ground that year. His team mates had crammed into the car. Some were also on top. It felt like we were taking that victory lap ourselves. The first world cup win was considered to be a fluke and that year we felt vindicated. That was the year we heard about a car called Audi for the first time.


A year of growing up. That was the year I went to college. The difference between the claustrophobic school and the fun loving college was palpable. New environment, new teachers and new friends. The year's chart buster was "That's what friends are for" and we could not have enough of the song. This year we also saw the Challenger space shuttle burst into flame and the vivid, horrifying image stayed in our minds for a long time.


That year, every Sunday morning at 9.30, the whole of India came to a virtual stop. We made it a point to sit in front of our neighbour's TV (most of India were still to acquire one) and watched Ramayan. The roads were deserted. Trains, buses and taxis stopped running. People rescheduled their appointments and all of us caught the Ramayana fever.

A year we learnt 2 Russian words. Glasnost and Perestroika.


My brother could not stop raving about the young girl who danced to a strange song that went like Ek Do Teen... For one full day, he lost his ability to speak and went mooney eyed on us. He would lie down and stare at the ceiling and sigh once in a while. I kind of empathized with him since I felt a bit like that for a young actor who was playing the role of a Fauji in a serial of the same name.

That year, I also went to Rajasthan with my college friends, my first trip without my family. Has there been any other state with so much history, art, colours and passion? Not in my eyes.


A year of filling up forms for higher studies. A year of contemplation. A year of sitting down with friends and family to decide on a career path. There were so many avenues, so many options. We saw the Berlin wall fall and realized impossible could happen. We saw the gutsy students protest at the Tiananmen Square and felt bravery could come in many forms.

That was the year I finally grew up.

I know this has been a long post. But I had to write this one when Blunt Edges said “So you belong to THAT generation?". Yes I do. Those were the days my friend... I also could not resist putting this video clip here. I do not know how many of you will have the patience to see this one. Those of you, who do, let me know how many faces you recognized. They were the faces of the eighties.....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Eat, Pray, Enjoy. And Wait For Next Year.

Durga Puja to me was never about religion.

I admit I grew up listening to the story of how the Goddess destroyed the evil force. I learnt the songs associated with the festival. I heard Birendra Krishna Bhadra's narration of the story every Mahalaya morning. I more or less knew the rituals and traditions associated with the Puja as my family in Kolkata performed this momentous occasion at home. But still, to me , Durga Puja was never about just rituals. It meant shopping, gorging on food, watching Bengali movies in the pandal, eating bhog and flaunting all my new dresses to my non- Bengali friends. In short, it was all about fun.

Those of us who grew up outside Bengal, the Puja was the only occasion to connect with our roots. The fun started almost a month before the Puja. We would get the dress materials as Puja gifts from our relatives. My mother and I would spend hours discussing the dresses. We would pour over the design books at the tailor and finally select the ones that both of us liked. In the days of no Shopper's Stops , Lifestyles and credit cards, shopping was admittedly more fun. We had to constantly watch our budget and at the same time keep an eye on fashion. It was another matter that in the eighties, fashion was more often than not, a complete disaster.

My best friend, who was from U.P., was perhaps more excited about the Puja than I was. Immediately after Puja, she would borrow all my clothes. The ones that she liked the most, she would keep permanently. If I protested, she would make an identical one for herself and then would wear it all the time. Fed up, I would stop wearing mine. She would then come and take that one also. This continued for years.

The Durga Puja was also about Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen movies. The Puja Committee would rent out the latest hits or some old classics... depending on the money collected that year for entertainment. As we were perpetually short of money, all four days of the Durga Puja, starting from the shashthi (the sixth day of the Navaratris) to navami, (the ninth day) we would sit on the dhurries ( or shotoronchi as we call it in Bengali) and watch Uttam- Suchitra scorch the 16 mm. projector screen. This was one mega movie marathon. Every night there were 3 movies screened. We never complained about the discomfort of sitting on hard ground all night. We also never complained about the heat, dust or mosquitoes.. We were too busy having fun. The lights would come on every time the projector operator changed out the reels. We would stretch out, yawn and walk a to the food stall. That was the only time we got to sample the Calcutta style rolls and mughlai parathas. And the ghugni (the Bengali version of chchole) was too good to resist. A few cups of tea to wash every thing down and we were ready for some more on screen romance. I remember once during a movie, we were left very confused when we saw a dead man walk after we saw him die just five minutes back. Later we realized the operator had by mistake shown the wrong reel first.

My friends could never understand how we could eat non-vegetarian food during the Durga Puja. For the Notrth Indians, the navaratris meant fasting and giving up on non-vegetarian fare. In our case, it was just the opposite. The more fish cutlets, the better. They would accuse me of not being spiritual during the holy days and I would just nonchalantly carry on eating. How could I explain to them that to us, eating a sumptuous plate of kosha mangsho (a kind of mutton curry) was almost as spiritual?

All four days of the Puja we ate out. The bhog , which was a simple fare, was served in the pandal every day. At night, we went pandal hopping and ate every thing the different food stalls had to offer. Dhakai paratha, luchi aloor dum, vegetable cutlets... my brother and I had to taste simply every thing. Once we also had some thing called ice cream bhaja ( fried ice cream). It was ice cream coated in a batter and deep fried. To be honest it was not as appealing once the novelty wore off.

The four days would simply fly away and on Vijaya Dashami day, we would all be a little teary eyed. I always resented my brother that day because he got to be on the truck that carried the idol for visarjan. For lesser mortals like us, there were buses. No matter how much I pleaded, I was not allowed to enter this all boys club. By evening, the banks of Yamuna would be full of idols from all parts of Delhi. The drum beats, the last aarti, the fragrance of incense... the sight was indeed magical.

In the evening, we all would meet for the Vijaya Sammelani, touched the feet of elders and sought blessings from them. We would eagerly wait for the invitations from most of them. "Come tomorrow to my house for Bijoya" actually meant" Come to my house and eat as much as you like. " Huge amount of goodies would be consumed and by night we were too tired to move.

There would be sadness in the air after the Puja but we knew we would meet again few days later for Laksmi Puja, (those yummy home made coconut laddoos) And then there was Kali Puja (Diwali) in another 20 days. My North Indian friends came home with their Diwali feast. Then Bhai phota ( bhai dooj). Although I complained bitterly that day because my mother would make my brother's favourite dishes. And some where tucked away in the middle, was Eid. Some of my friends would lovingly send some home cooked authentic Biryani. My brother and I felt like we had died and gone to heaven. And before we knew it, it would be Christmas (oh, those plum cakes and puddings!) and then New Year. The new beginning would bring some more festivals.

Life goes on. Celebrating a new festival almost every month. That is India. Aashche bochchor aabar hobey. It will happen again next year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Survey Shaam Shantir Bhavatu

So I took one of those surveys and found I was a helicopter.

I have to say I was disappointed.

I so wanted to a be a Mercedes Benz. Cruising at 150 kms per hour, without hitting any bumps or craters on the road. Giving every body a joy ride through life. Playing some soul stirring music. Looking at the map just once in a while to figure out where exactly I want to go. But no such luck. I am a chopper. That means I possibly make a lot of noise that bother my near and dear ones. They perhaps have to duck every time they see me land. My presence probably just blows them away. They surely hate me. And who can blame them?

The survey seemed pretty harmless when I took it. I did not know it would pack such a devastating punch.The very first question was if I wanted to put my children in day care. I said no thank you. I am a stay at home mom.

Then it asked if I checked my daughter's cell phone messages. Considering my daughter does not have a cell phone and all her messages come to my mobile, I said yes.

This one was innocuous. Do you accompany your children every where? Indeed I do. The city roads are not safe for young children. I mean, would you not accompany your 14 year old daughter to her tuition class at 7 pm? The class is not near. And it goes on till night 9, so I bring her back home too. Do you mind?

The next one was straight forward. Do you let your kids go online without you supervising? No, never. And to be doubly sure, I have kept the computer in my bedroom. So they are in my room whenever they use it. I will be that way till they are legally old to watch porn. Which in my opinion will be never.

I think the next one was what buried me. It asked if I helped my kids in school work. Of course I said yes. I am an educated person, fully equipped to handle any queries (except any pertaining to physics). Why shouldn't I help them? And if I don't, do you think my mother in law will ever forgive me? Her precious son was a gold medallist through out his life.My daughters are dumb according to her. ( All due to poor mommy's defective genes) If I do not help them to perform well, they will have to hear how daddy won medals and cups at school and how pathetic it is not to do well in academics. I never want my kids to hear that. So there.

And the last one was absolutely useless. Do you always keep track of your kids' friends, their activities and their class schedules? Yes, yes, yes. I know their friends, where they live,what they do, what books they are reading currently, their phone numbers and their parents' cell numbers. Any problem?

So now you all know the result. I am a helicopter mom. I constantly hover over my kids and bug the hell out of them. Apparently, I do not let them make their own choices and constantly suffocate them with my over-protectiveness. I am so devastated to know this. My mother in law on the contrary is sure to be a Porsche. She sent her only son to a hostel at sixteen and has never stayed with him till her husband passed away, which was just three years back.

So to make sure peace prevails in my household and my children learn to be independent and confident individuals, I have decided to turn into a new transport. So no interference from my side, no reminders of any class activity, no dropping and fetching to wherever. To help me go through this difficult time, I have taken to fervently praying every day. May good befall all. May there be peace for all. May all attain perfection. May all be healthy. May all experience what is good and let no one suffer. Aum Shantih Shantih Shantih.

It is going to be so damn difficult.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


All around her, Priya saw only colours.

Purvi, looking gorgeous in pink, drawing the colourful alpana. Saniya, looking breathtaking in blue, talking to some guests. Rukmini, a vision in yellow, painstakingly arranging the flowers. They were so lovely, the orange marigolds, the red roses. And then there were those gifts, wrapped in cheerful colours. Happy, bright, vibrant colours. So different from the grey that had permeated her world just a few years ago, when Arun died.

Priya knew if she turned around, she could see Arun's face. He came to her everyday, encouraging her to live her life. Telling her not to lose hope.His face was so real to her, still . The forehead with two deep vertical lines, an endearing feature that showed how much he frowned when he thought. The sharp nose. The eyelashes that would have made any woman proud. His slight smile. That beloved face, with just a hint of a beard. "My 5 o'clock shadow" that's what Arun called it. Priya used to laugh. "How come your 5 o'clock appears at lunch time? Like you, your shadow also hurries through life." She would gently caress his face. How she loved to touch that face.

"Would you like to have something to drink?" Startled, Priya looked at the woman who asked her the question.
"Are you from the groom's side?" Priya was desperately trying to recall her name, not recognizing her at all. And why was this woman wearing white? White was a colour of sorrow. Today was a happy day. She was getting married today.
"My name is Padma, I am here to look after you. Are you feeling comfortable?"
Priya nodded. Looking at the revelry around her. The music. The dance. The laughter. The sound of bangles and anklets. Sounds so different from what she had heard a few years ago.

The wailing siren of the ambulance cutting through the silent night. Priya sobbing, clutching Arun's hand. The swinging doors of the emergency. The frantic conference of the doctors. The mechanical beeps of the machines attached to the still body. All sounds of grief and helplessness. If Priya tried, she could still hear them. If she tried harder, she could even hear the sound of her endless vigil beside her lover, who was slowly fading in front of her eyes.

"Come, sit on the bed. Why are you crying?" Priya was again jostled back to reality. Why couldn't this woman in white leave her alone? Why did she have to disturb her memories of her last few days with her only true love? Priya knew she was only trying to help. Perhaps trying to take the place of the mother who was also snatched away from her just days before Arun's death.

A scream. That was what Priya remembered most when they told her about her mother. They said she was coming to visit Arun in the hospital when the car ran her over. She was coming to ease her daughter's pain. Priya still heard that scream in her nightmares. Her young vibrant mother, suddenly snatched away from her when she needed her the most. And just a few days later, Arun was also lost to her forever.

"Hey Priya, dance with us." Her joyous friends tugged her hands and forcibly took her to the middle of the room. Priya smiled, looking at the faces of her friends. Purvi, Saniya, Rukmini. The pillars of her life. Her support, her strength. The friends who took her out of the cesspool that was her life. They had come after her mother's death. Quietly sharing her grief. Offering her support. " Dance Priya, dance." Amidst cheers and happy bantering, Priya caught the sight of two more people who mattered in her life. Arun's parents. These two gentle, loving souls who took her under their wings. Loving her unconditionally. Keeping her with them. Crying with her. Trying to laugh with her. It was because of them she had the courage to build her own life again. Because of them she consented to marry the young man who was so often there at their house. Today also, they were with her.Priya could see them, just beyond the glass door, talking to a sombre faced man. Was he the groom's father? He looked grim. And who was the man next to them? From a distance, he looked a bit like Arun.

"Priya, come and sit down here." Priya ignored the command of the woman in white and went towards the window. She looked down at the busy street and saw the endless stream of cars. Life went by, no matter what. Was she doing the right thing? The man she was marrying was not Arun. She twisted the ring on her finger. The simple ring with a single white stone. She turned her finger, trying to catch the sunlight. She desperately needed sunlight in her life. She was so tired of living her life in the dark. She needed to feel whole again. She twisted the ring on her finger, slowly at first, then faster. The play of light on her ring was almost hypnotic.

"Come away from the window Priya, sit here. Your family will be here soon." Priya did not pay attention to the voice. The woman in white. That hateful colour. The colour of the walls in the hospital. The colour that was Arun's favourite. The colour of the sheet that covered her mother's lifeless body. She hated it. She saw the white stone on her finger and tugged at it. The ring slowly came off and fell. " My ring! Please, somebody, my ring fell!"
"Come away from the window Priya,"
"Where Priya? Where is the ring?" Her friends were trying to peep over her shoulder.
"Oh, there. Just on the ledge. Go get it. Priya. Just reach over and get it"
"No, Priya step back."
"It is your engagement ring, get it Priya."
"Priya, step back"
"Jump Priya, jump. Get it now. Jump.
"Nooo, Priya...doctor...doctor help"

Lying on the bed, Priya slowly tried to focus on the people around her. A woman in white. A grim faced man. A woman sobbing.

"We tried so hard to bring her back amongst us doctor. But she has been slipping away ever since her mother died. She just could not get over the shock of seeing her mother lying in a pool of blood"

Priya tried hard to listen to the voices. Arun, that was Arun's voice. Calling her to join him where they would all be happy together. Her mother. Arun. She.
"Mr. Sharma, This is an acute stage and she needs to be monitored constantly. She has started hallucinating and hearing voices. The lines between her reality and unreality have blurred. She is capable of harming herself and others. She needs expert help. I hope you will make up your mind after this episode."

Priya glanced around the room, searching for her friends. Purvi, Saniya, Rukmini. Friends who came only when her world was dark. Her support. Where were they? She saw the retreating backs of her mother. And Arun. Were they leaving too? She needed them so badly. Her eyes slowly closed, shutting out the room, the voices, the people. They always left her.

The old couple slowly emerged out of the hospital. Drained after the lengthy admission procedures. Their tired steps faltering at times. Each holding a hand of the son. Seeking support. Perhaps giving it also. The young man tightly held the mother." I loved her so much Ma. I tried so hard to bring her back to us. But in the end she forgot me too."
" I know son., I know."
" May be if the father had not abandoned her when she was small. May be if I had not been taking so ill at that time." He tried to voice his thoughts, trying to make sense of the bewildering world of his love.
"Yes, Arun, I know."

Holding their son's hands tightly, the man and the woman started the slow journey home.

This is my first attempt at fiction, unless you count those few stories I attempted writing in my school days.
ZB (who else? He will be the death of me one day) challenged a few of us to write this story. As he gave us the story line, the characters, the names, the beginning, the end...in short every thing and asked us to strictly adhere to it, there was not much left for me to do. But I could not stick to the original plot completely. And I did not kill Arun. My blog is a happy place and I could not see a man dying here.
Sorry ZB, I cheated. Am I disqualified?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Homecoming

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to meet each one of you.

I read my wife's blog while I was in Tel Aviv and could not suppress a smile. It gave me immense pleasure to read about her plans to destroy all my worldly goods. After 17 years of togetherness, I can claim to know a little bit about her. She does not have a violent streak and I knew all my possessions would be safe. ( Although I admit I counted the CDs once I reached home.)

I must say some of her ideas were pretty fierce. My gratitude goes out to all those who tried to reason with her and asked her to spare my CDs and my IIT ID card. Of all the things I possess, I cherish my IIT certificate and the ID card the most. That degree is my pride and joy. Both the certificate and the card are now tucked away in a safe place, away from my wife's eagle eyes. The Blu-Ray player and the DVDs have also escaped her wrath and for that I am grateful. I can be a pain in the wrong place if I do not have my weekly dose of Marlon Brando. The Godfather series is intact and I am thankful to the Almighty for giving my wife her forgiving nature.

I also read all the comments this particular post drew. This was a daunting task as there were quite a few of them. Some were amusing, and some made me think a bit.There were a few issues I felt I must address here. Hence the decision to write this post. My wife gladly agreed to lend me this space.

I do not always teach my daughter. I just guide her when she needs help in Mathematics or Science. Similarly, my wife teaches her if she needs help in Geography or English. We still do not know what she will ultimately decide to study. Although there is no pressure from our side for her to achieve a certain percentage, we have tried to instill in her the value of an all round education. Moreover, if I have the required expertise on a certain subject, why shouldn't I guide her? Why depend on an outsider if I can do the tutoring? It also gives us the chance to spend some time together as father and daughter. As parents, isn't it our duty to pass on our knowledge and wisdom to our children? So to all those who felt that we should let her study on her own, let me just say that I would prefer it if my daughter approached me for any problem, be it physics or any thing else, rather than go to a stranger. My daughter is quite independent. But she knows that her parents are always available in case she requires help.

The second issue concerned the branded items. It is only after my wife wrote about them that I realised there were some expensive items I have acquired over the years. Although most of those things, like the shining, gleaming car and the LV bag have been given to me by my company, there are some good things I have bought myself. I passed out of my college when I was 20. Now I am almost 46. All these years I have worked very hard to reach where I have today. I have gone through my share of local trains and unreserved travel in sleeper class coaches. I also cannot get over the fact the Louis Vuitton bag as well as the music system cost not just more than a return New York ticket but also more than the apartment my parents bought during my father's last few days before he retired. Ditto for the Salvatore Ferragamo ties - each cost more than my dad's last drawn salary. If I fly first class today, it is because I have earned it with my hard work. So, to the younger generation, let me just say that there is no short cut to success. If I am proud of my possessions, it is not because of their brand value. It is because I bought them with my own hard earned money. Sure, the IIT degree helped, but so did my willingness to work hard. Someone up there was more than kind to me.

On a lighter note, let me just say that the lady who suggested I watch a Ranbir Kapoor or a Fardeen Khan movie as a punishment was spot on. I would do anything to escape watching these two gentlemen, including watching an episode of Rakhi Ka Swayamvar. So if there really was a prize, you will be a winner.

So thank you ladies and gentlemen for reading this bit. I am glad to be back home, defending what is rightfully mine. So sorry there was no actual award. I was also a bit relieved to know that my wife did not think of offering herself as a prize. Now that would have been a disaster, for me as well as for you.

To prove that I was actually working very hard, I am sharing some of my memories here. If it seems like this was a tourism trip - let me tell you it was not. The business addresses that we visited were so heavily guarded (even some of the employees carried handguns - I am not joking) that I had to not only leave my camera behind, but my cellphone as well. Hence the pleasant pictures only - for you to enjoy.

The ultimate fusion of religion - you have a minaret of a mosque on top of the room where Jesus had his last supper and then King David's tomb below. I can tell you that I sorely missed Vishwa Hindu Parishad here ! Some combination !!

The famous wall in Jerusalem which separates the Jewish and Arab settlements. The Jews are giving it back to the Arabs in style what happened to them during WW II.

A view of the Mediterranean Sea from Herzeliyya beach.

This is the tomb where the shroud of Jesus was found.

The wailing wall - the most sacred place for the Jewish religion. This was part of the original temple.

Jerusalem is not just about religion. The night life rocks as well.

These are the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found hidden.

The Dead Sea - finally. It is a crazy experience. I could actually sit on the water in "Dhyanmudra".

The Dead Sea again - you can see the "running horse" image on the hills - which are actually in Jordan.

Israel has an identity of its own. It has a great survival instinct - it exists right in the middle of the Middle East - surrounded by unkind and at best hostile Arab nations. It became independent about a year after India - but the progress is awesome. As I left the city through Ben Gurion airport (and landed smack into the hands of the famous El Al security) , I could not but feel a deep sense of respect for the country and its people.

P.S. I know the pictures are small. I would appreciate it if somebody can tell me how to enlarge these photos.