Saturday, December 19, 2009

Right To Life

When I was about 15, a girl in my apartment committed suicide. She was nineteen.

She was not really a friend but I knew her well enough. She was a member of a club I belonged to and sometimes we all hung out together. After her death, we went to her house to offer our condolences to the family. Standing on her ninth floor balcony, from where she jumped off to her death, I could not stop shuddering. Everything looked tiny and small from up there and I kept on thinking what immense courage it took to jump off from that height. At that time, to me, suicide meant courage. I could never think of ending my life. Death was an uncertainty and I was not brave enough to face it.

Later, much later, I realized choosing death over life was actually an act of cowardice. No matter how painful her life was at that point of time, she needed to face it. She needed to examine her feelings, talk about them. She needed to fight for her life. One meaningless act, that perhaps took just a few seconds to execute, forever changed the life of her family. She left her parents, her brother and her sister, who she claimed to love with all her heart, guilt ridden and unhappy forever.

Life is all about meeting challenges. Just when everything is smooth, it throws a curve that leaves you a bit clueless. But there is no problem that a human mind can not navigate. We may get hurt, but we also heal. And we continue to journey on our path, knowing that there is always a new dawn, breaking somewhere, on this earth.

But what if our mind and our body did not decipher this truth? What if we permanently stay in a world which is always dark? What if we lose our ability to walk and to talk, to eat and to breathe, to know and to comprehend? What if we have to be kept alive by machines and modern medical marvel, completely stripped of our dignity? Suffering pain and trauma that will never go away? Do we still say that choosing life over death is the only right thing to do?

Aruna’s story, which is currently in the news, has left me in a moral dilemma. Do we have the right to decide to end the life of a person who can no longer decide for herself? Do we say that in her case, death is a better option than continuing her meaningless suffering? The hospital staff, which looks after her is vehemently against euthanasia. They have looked after her for the last 36 years with love. They can continue to do so for the next 36 years. But is this the life she would have wanted to lead?

I know that if I ever were reduced to a vegetative state, completely dependent on other people for my basic survival, life would lose its meaning. Life may be a struggle at times, but I know that it is worth fighting for. But what if I knew there would never be an end to my pain? Would it still be meaningful? Would it be wrong for me, or for any one for that matter, to seek a dignified exit?

The medical world is divided over euthanasia. Do we have any legal right to end somebody else’s life even if we know the person may suffer endless trauma day in and day out? There will always be 2 sides to this story. But I continue to believe that though I have the courage to face any challenges that life may throw at me, I also need to have my right to dignity. And my right to live a life that is not spent hooked up to various machines and force fed by well meaning strangers.

A cruel life or a merciful death…I should have the right to decide.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Maa on Facebook

"This is Hema? The last time I saw her, she was in pigtails. Now she has a daughter who is that big!"
"Yes. And this is Shukla aunty, who still looks the same."
"Who is this?"
"Don't you remember? The Gaurs on the 4th floor? This is the daughter Ritu."
"How did you get the pictures?"
"Ma, this is Facebook.  It is a social networking site. I found a lot of my old friends here. They keep uploading their pictures. And we exchange notes and greetings."
"How did you manage to locate all these people after so many years?"
"My friends found me through friends search."
"Our times were different, we had to send letters. And if the addresses got lost then that was the end of our friendship. Who are all these men?"
"Don't you remember my friends Dheeraj, Aziz and Ajay?"
"Of course I do, they were very sweet boys.This is Ajay? He looks like a panditji."
"That is because he is a panditji now. Well, almost. He has become very spiritual."
"Has he stopped painting? He was so talented."
"No, he still paints. Only, he paints pictures of gods and goddesses. Want to see some of his paintings? He has uploaded some of them here also."
"How come there are so many men here?"
"These are all my friends, ma."
"You have so many male friends? Does your husband know?"
"C'mon ma, I am an adult now. I can have male friends you know."
"Hmmph. This is beyond me, all these men and you. Is your brother also on Facebook?"
"Yes he is, but he is not my friend."
"What? You and your brother are not friends? Is that how I raised you? You do not want to be friends with your own brother?"
"Ma, he is not my Facebook friend. I don't want him here snooping on me. Moreover, if he has not sent me a friend request, it means he also does not want me as a friend."
"This is completely outrageous. I hope your husband is there in your friends list."
"Yes is, but he is not very active."
"What else do you expect? He is a very busy man. He will not spend time on such frivolous activities."
"Facebook is not a frivolous activity. A lot of very busy people are there on Facebook. It helps us to reconnect with all our old friends. It is just that your son in law is not the friendliest of person and does not have many friends. Hence he is never there."
"And what is this red heart doing on your page? It says you have a relationship request pending."
"D sent me a request to be my spouse on Facebook. I did not accept, so it is still pending."
"But he is your spouse. Why did you not accept?"
"I don't want him as my spouse here, OK?"
"This is totally beyond me. You and your strange ways. He is your husband, whether you accept him on Facebook or not. And what does Akhila mean here? Her relationship status reads as 'It's complicated.'
"It means that she is recovering from her divorce and is currently seeing someone.''
"O my god, when did this happen? She was such a sweet girl. I always knew her husband was a moron. How much time do you spend on this Facebook?"
"Not much ma, just log in to tell my friends what I am doing at the moment. Drinking coffee at the Barista, at home teaching the kids, like that."
"Who will be interested in knowing all that?"
"All my friends. They also keep updating, so I know about them too."
"Can anybody open up a page on Facebook?"
"It is called opening up an account  and yes, everybody can."
" Is Vikram on Facebook?"
"Who Vikram?"
"You know, Mrs. Usha Reddy's son? They were on the 6th floor. remember?"
"Oh yes, I remember. She used to send us yummy tamarind rice. I don't know, why?"
"She once taught me to make mango thokku pickle. I forgot the ingredients. If her son is there, then may be you can ask him to be your friend. And then may be two of us could connect after all those years. She was such a fabulous cook, she made lovely chutneys and stuff. And she did ask me once how I knitted those cable sweaters. May be we can be friends on Facebook and share our stuff. Hey, if you are in touch with Mrs. Sharma's daughter, can you then tell her to make an account for her mom too? And remember Mrs Balakrishnan?...."

 November and December are busy months for me. This is what my daughter Ayushi calls the 'guesting season'. As you have guessed, my parents are already here. I am also expecting my friend and her mother from USA, my cousin and her family from Muscat, my brother and his family from Kolkata. So I will be blogging sporadically till December. I will however keep reading all my favourite bloggers. So you keep blogging. Till then, bye....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rootless In The City

A city still commonly referred to as Bombay has been my home for the last several years.

 This city was perhaps not what we had in mind when we planned a home for us. It was crowded, it was dirty and it was a chaos. On top of that, it was expensive as hell. We never thought we could bring up our children here, in this city, where land was at a premium. There was no open space for my children to run and play. No place where we could walk hand in hand. No place where we could sit back and relax and watch the time go by. Constantly moving, constantly bustling, there was never a moment of peace here. A lot of time we felt hopelessly out of depth. But slowly, I do not know when, this city seeped into our blood. The city became so much a part of us that it became hard for us to imagine living anywhere else. It became home.

But lately I have been wondering about our decision to stay here. After all, as some people claim, the city belongs to the Maharashtrians first and Indians later. As my name suggests, we are clearly not Maharashtrians. Having grown up outside the state, my husband and I also do not speak the language. We are outsiders here. We have taken the place of some locals who perhaps would have stayed in our flat. My husband perhaps has taken the job of a Marathi who would have got the job otherwise. Education, ability, skill; they all take a back seat. The fact is that we are not Marathi Manoos and we do not belong here.

So where do we go? Do we go to Delhi where I grew up? But we are not really North Indians. I can not speak Punjabi either. Does Delhi belong to the Punjabis anyway? We can go to Patna where my husband was born and brought up. But neither are we Biharis. We are both products of parents who trace their roots to East Bengal, now in Bangladesh. So do we go and stay there? May be we should migrate to Kolkata, after
all we are Bengalis even though we have never stayed there. We do not know the city as well as we do Bombay. Or for that matter Delhi. But that doesn't matter, does it? The fact is that we are Bengalis and we might as well go and live there.

Imagine how peaceful India would be then. No fighting for land. No fighting for languages. No fighting for culture.We can then fit our lives in to neat little labels. Chchat Puja in Bihar, Ganeshotsav in Maharashtra. They can keep Sachin Tendulkar, we will be happy with Sourav.  Dosas in the south, parathas in the north, rosogullas in the east.There will not be any friction over culture, speech or festivals. Sheer bliss.

But the trouble is that when I see Sachin play, I do not see the Maharashtrian.. Just like when I hear Kishore Kumar, I do not hear the Bengali. I do not label APJ Abdul Kalam, Lata Mangeshkar, Amjad Ali Khan. Amitabh Bachchan, Narayan Murthy.... when I see them, I simply forget which region they come from. I only see the face of an Indian. But perhaps I am only one of the few who think like that.

So currently, I, with my fondness for Kanjivaram sarees, Sachin Tendulkar, Hindi movies and aloo parathas, am rootless in the city I call home. When I hear Raj Thackeray say that Mumbai belongs to the Marathis, I start  to think, where do I really  belong then? What label do I use for myself?

I am still thinking about it. I also keep thinking about one more thing. How many of you, while singing the National Anthem, ever think the song is in Bengali?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Everyday I learn.

I learn that my children are like a lump of clay. I have to decide whether to create angels or devils. Everyday  I learn that it is easier to create devils. It is very hard to make angels. I learn that to preach about discipline and schedules, routines and time management is one thing. Practicing what I preach is another.
Everyday I learn that staying healthy is not merely an option, it is a necessity. That only a healthy mother can bring up healthy children.

Everyday I learn that more complex my life gets, more I crave for simple pleasures. That walking barefoot on a beach brought me more happiness than taking a limo ride. Seeing the first rain, feeling the sun on my back on a cold, winter morning, sleeping till late on a lazy Sunday have been more fun than shopping in Paris.

Everyday I learn that my parents need me more than ever. That my father is no longer strong and capable and he needs me to take charge once in a while. I learn that my mother who was my support for so long, is now dependent on me. Everyday I learn that my parents are steadily growing older. And I learn that no matter how old I become, I will never stop needing them.

Every day I learn. I learn that it is easy to hurt and to wound but is difficult to heal.  That some hurts stay fresh forever and no amount of kissing them can make you feel better. I learn that it is easy to forget, difficult to forgive. That it is even more difficult to forgive ones own mistakes.

Everyday I learn that my body is slowing down. That this decline in strength is natural and inevitable. That this is just the  nature's way of telling me to take things easy  and not to rush through life. But  everyday I learn that though I would love to sip a cup of tea and read the newspaper early in the morning, it is rather difficult to do so with  two growing children.

I learn that though I loved being single and childless, it is not who I am anymore. I also learn that my years, my scars and my experiences are a part of me. That there is grace in accepting that colouring my hair will not make me 23 again.

Everyday I learn that my happiness and my joy depend on who I am and how much love I have. That my friends love me for what I am and not what I want to be. That the love I have received over the years can never be measured.

Every day I learn that I am truly blessed to be born, here on earth. To be surrounded by so much beauty and joy. To be a part of this unique planet. To witness the change of seasons, the flowering of plants, the sands of time. And everyday I learn that  this is what really matters.

Header photograph by Ishita Gupta

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Car Trouble

The shining, gleaming car has landed me into big trouble.

Two days back, this innocent looking guy in the super market asked me a rather innocent question. " Which car do you drive?"  Since then my life has been miserable.

"How could you insult my car like that?"
"But he asked me so suddenly. And all I could remember at that time was Maruti Esteem and Ford Ikon. Since I knew it was not an Esteem, I did the next best thing and I said we drove a Ford Ikon."
"I have never driven a Ford Ikon"
" But what's wrong with it? It is a car right? I forgot the name of the car you drive"
"How could you forget?"
"Oh for heaven's are acting as if I forgot the name of one of the girls"
"It's worse. An Ikon? How could you call my car names?"

I learned to drive when I was still in college. At the risk of sounding immodest, I drove rather well. There was a time I could actually drive better than him, but that was before he turned into an ogre and refused to let me sit behind the wheels.

" You jumped a signal for heaven's sake. Didn't you see the big red light?"
" Of course I did. I didn't see any hawaldar. So I jumped."
" What if he was hiding behind a tree?"
" Then I would have said' I am sorry officer' and batted my eye-lashes at him."

And that was the end of my driving days.

I had also been accused of being blind as a bat. All because I was trying to get into the wrong car.

"You almost got into the wrong car with the wrong man. Again."
" But it looked so similar."
" How can you say that? It was a different model. And moreover it was golden and not silver."
" The model was different? Really? It  looked the same. And gold, silver, bronze...the metals are almost the same, right?"
"So in that case why don't you exchange all your precious gold jewellery with some silver ones?"

 That kind of shut me up. For a little while.

"You let the kids eat pop-corn and Pepsi sitting there? Now look what happened to the leather."
" Stop being so fussy. It kept them quiet. Other wise we would have heard 'we are bored' every 5 minutes''
'' Eating and drinking here are a strict no-no. They have to learn that"
''OK Mr fuss pot. The girls will try to remember the next time. Now can we drive?"

So that shut him up. For all the way.

I love long drives. I enjoy the feeling of power every time I get behind the steering wheel. I love cars for the freedom that they bring. But I do not get emotionally involved with them. My husband  on the contrary probably has a name for his precious car. He also probably kisses it 'Good morning' and 'Good night' every day.

" This is just a set of wheels with a tin body."
" Are you mad? This is more than a set of wheels with a tin body. Look inside the engine to learn about the car"
" Don't tell me you judge women by looking inside their minds"
"Are you accusing me of being shallow now? Of course I look into their minds. I did not marry you for your tin body."

The arguments continue.

Over these seventeen years of marriage, there have been quite a number of cars, starting with a second hand Fiat. There have been words exchanged over all of them. But this time was apparently a blunder. My husband feels I have severely insulted his pride and joy by calling it an Ikon. He feels I have hurt the car's feelings and he is threatening me with dire consequences if I do not apologize to his car.

Over my dead body.

Oh, before you people fill up my comment box in support of my husband, let me tell you another thing. He once seriously considered buying a Merc over a flat in Bombay. Now who is the crazy one in the relationship?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My raison d'etre

The soft cry was what made me conscious.

When I looked around and saw only happy faces, I knew every thing was all right, but still, battling anxiety I asked, "All fingers in place?" My mother was so engrossed, she did not hear. For the new dad, it was love at first sight. Even if the baby was born limbless, he perhaps would not have cared. And my brother and the cousins who had gone there to support me, the less said the better. One look at the baby and they forgot all about me.

Ishita's birth was a celebration in my family. She was the first grandchild. To witness her birth, at least 15 members of my family had turned up. Wait a minute,probably  there were more. Ask Sujata, she might have the right number. I was drugged out of my mind (thank God) and have no recollection whatsoever. I am not good with numbers even when I  am not giving birth anyway.

So, after a while, when I realised there was no help coming from my mom or my dad, I yelled. "Hello, does anyone remember I exist?" My husband came hurriedly to my side and said, "Need the doctor? Will call." And disappeared again.

She was the cutest baby born in the family for a long time. Actually, she was the only baby born in the family for a long time. My brother's son, who was next, came 4 years later. For 4 years, she enjoyed being the only one, pampered and loved, spoiled and cosseted.  The initial years, which kind of merge in my mind, were the years of discovery. Witnessing a tiny infant, slowly growing up to be a beautiful girl. Nature's greatest miracle.

Over the years, I have tried to be a teacher, as well as a mother. Teaching her to stand up after she fell. Teaching her to talk. To read and to write. Teaching her to respect every individual, to show love and kindness...but a lot of the time, the roles were reversed. It was she who taught me to be patient. It was she who taught me to be unbiased . To find pleasure in the smallest things. To find laughter in Disney characters. From her I learned that every day was a new day and nothing was commonplace. There was joy to be found even in chasing a butterfly.

She is still teaching me. I have learned lately that my love is not always unconditional. At times I am guilty of loving less.That I am capable of harsh words.That though I am her staunchest ally, I am also her worst critic.  From her I learn every day that motherhood is not easy, specially when you are a mother of a teen.

So there are slammed doors and angry tears. Ugly skirmishes and yelling matches. There are hurtful words and lack of understanding.But there is also love, beneath all the overwhelming thoughts.

Over these 14 years I have realised that my daughter is the central point of my life. Though I did not set out to  be a full time mother, this is what has made my life rich.  She is the motive for everything that I do and being her mother is the identity I have carved out for myself. And when I see her happy, vibrant and smiling, I know I have not done a bad job.

 Happy Birthday sweetie-pie.May you get everything that you wish for in life, including that i-pod. But don't wish for a boy friend just yet. There's still some time for that.

  Like may be when you are 28?

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Of the three communities that suffered the trauma of Partition the  most, I belong to one of them.

Though my grandfathers on both sides had come to India a few years before Independence, both had properties and firm roots in East Bengal. They used to refer to their native villages as "Desh" or homeland. My father's family went to the ''Desher Baari'' or the ancestral house to celebrate Durga Puja every year. But suddenly, one fine day in August, a hurriedly drawn line by some British gentlemen, told them that they could no longer go back to their homes again.

Displaced, landless, jobless, hoards of traumatic relatives reached my paternal grandfather's house. My grandfather's older brother, was so shattered by this forced migration that he never recovered from this shock. Along with his home, his livelihood and his sense of belonging, he also lost his mind.

My parents might not be true refugees,but my in-laws were not so fortunate. A single cruel blow of fate and both were left homeless. My mother in law at times, reluctantly and haltingly tells us how she, along with her siblings, had to hide in various places when the furious mob attacked the village. How, despite the tremendous hardship and resistance, the family decided to stay back for another year just because her elder brother was taking the matriculation exams. Leaving Dhaka would have meant discontinuing his studies as the family did not have the money to send him to school in India. There, in his school in Dhaka, he used to get a scholarship. Even now, she gets traumatised when she sees a crowd of people. In her mind, the friendly scores of people at Indian railway stations turn into hostile and angry mob out to attack her. She is not alone. In every household of East Bengal refugees, there are men and women like her, who still desperately try to suppress such painful memories. Along with these, they also try to suppress the memories of lush green fields, mango orchards, fishing in village ponds, numerous rivers and their scenic villages. Calcutta, with its numerous concrete houses, narrow bylanes, smoggy skies and so many people, never seem like home.

Growing up in Delhi, one could not ignore the existence of the Punjabi migrants who came as refugees to the national capital. Perhaps their story was the most violent. The mass exodus between the divided state saw countless deaths .Each one more painful than the other. The murders, rapes, and brutalities had gone on for months in the name of religion on both sides. I heard stories of ordinary men, like my tailor, the local grocer, the fathers of my friends. How they all travelled, loaded in trains and bullock carts,army trucks or on foot. Such a  long distance, without food, without water. Always in fear of their own neighbours who had suddenly turned into their sworn enemies.

I became  close to some Sindhi women only after coming to Bombay. Of the three communities, their loss perhaps is the  most unmeasured. They came into a country which was formed on linguistic lines. Here, they not only had no state, they had no one who spoke their language, no one who followed their tolerant Sufi belief, no one who followed their culture. After the trauma of losing their language, their culture, their territory, they also had to go through the indignity of hearing once that the word Sindh had no place in our national anthem as the said teritory  lay in a hostile nation. The house where I currently stay, belonged to a Sindhi lady. One afternoon, while chatting, I discovered her mother had crossed over to India when she was pregnant She got separated from her family in that chaotic period. All alone, at the age of nineteen, with a group of migrants, she travelled to Bombay by ship. From there, she went on to Madras, where her husband had found a job. Much later, through intensive search, she managed to locate her lost family.Even now, at the age of 80+,  this courageous lady stays there, all alone, after her husband's death. Her story, gave me goosebumps. I wondered what I would have done, if I were in her shoes.

 The rest of the Indians, who perhaps without thinking label the Punjabis as aggressive and pushy, the Sindhis as cunning and miserly, the Bengalis as timid and reluctant to leave their comfort zone, do they ever try to learn the psyche of these scarred people? I wonder.

No matter how much we try to shake it off, the past stays with us. No matter how much we say that the Partition is over and done with, it still continues to scar us.. As long as we have people still living with us who were directly impacted by this tragedy, it will continue to haunt us. And if we ever forget the trauma it caused,  there is a danger of this happening again.

I took my children to Amritsar to show them the Golden temple and the Wagah border this Diwali. At Wagah, I expected heart break and silence and found jubilation and Bhangra beats instead.. A synchronised show of mock hostility. Patriotic songs. Euphoric dances. A loud and passionate cry of Bharat Mata Ki Jai or Vande Mataram once in a while This was not the cry I had expected. This was not how I had imagined the border to be. I thought people would shed tears and lament. Light a candle for peace. Try to make sense of something that was so unnecessary. But this was almost a celebration. This brought laughter. What about the lives lost? Does anybody want to remember?

I looked around and saw most people in their 20s, to whom Partition meant nothing. The iron gates that stood between the two nations did not stir any passion. The people from the other side did not arouse any interest.

Perhaps this was better. We have come a long way since Independence. Unlike my parents' generation who always said India lost both her arms at the time of Independence, we have come to think of India as a whole nation and not as a fractured one. But what about the painful memories? How to heal them?

On my way back to the hotel, I kept on hearing my mother in law's voice in my mind. " Tui amake ekbaar Dhaka te niye jaabi? Amar boro dekhte ichha hoy" ( Will you take me to Dhaka once? I wish to see it one more time.)

 How do I describe the exaggerated  pomp and show that takes place in Wagah every day, to her? What will she think of this border? Will this ever make sense? Will she ever think the border is a happy place? I really do not know.

The India-Pakistan partition saw the largest migration in human history. Nearly 10 million people lost their homes. A million lost their lives.

Various  videos of the Wagah retreat ceremony are available on youtube.You can have a look if you are interested.

These are some of the images that our camera caught. The last shot is of the flock of birds that kept flying from one side to another. They, unlike us, knew the real meaning of freedom.

Pretty young things dancing on the GT Road, the highway to Lahore.

The Indian stand, looking at the show.

The border gates, dividing the nations.

The gates have opened.

Some ridiculous show of superiority I guess. You can see the Pakistanis on the other side.

Showing the thumb to the enemy?

The actual fence, electrified.

The birds.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


If Obama can win the Nobel, what why could not Gandhi? Was his contribution to world peace less?

(My brother-in -law to all his Facebook friends, after the Nobel Peace Prize was declared this year))

If Einstein was so intelligent, then how come did he not know his hair looked like Mt Etna on a bad  day?

( The owner of a salon to me, when I told her I wanted a hair cut that would make me look intelligent.)

If money grew on trees, would we have cut them down? And would we have put our apples in the bank?

( My daughter Ayushi, on being told she had to eat some fruits every day.)

Why do you have to throw your sense of humour at me while I am driving?

(My husband to me , when I asked him why the  slowest traffic at office time was called rush hour.)

Why didn't you invite me to your wedding?

(My daughter Ishita, while looking at my wedding snaps, when she was 3)

Do you like to cook, clean, sew and solve mathematical problems?

( My mother-in-law to me, when she came to 'see' me for her son)

If god does exist, then does that mean that I do not?

(One of my husband's cousin to us, who was an atheist)

If I go away on a 15 day break, will you all miss me? And will you guess the place I am going if I tell you there is a beautiful temple there?

( Aparna to all her readers, just before going off to her vacation)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Those Speechless Moments

She was just two and a half.
For a school programme, she was asked to dress up in a saree and mouth a really long dialogue.
The conversation went like this.

Me : Baby, can you say '' I am Sarojini Naidu?"

Baby : I am Sarojini Kaidu.

Me : Sweetie, it is not Kaidu. Say I am Sarojini Naidu.

Baby : I am Sarojini.

Me : Ok, will do....

The day of the programme daddy and mommy went to see Baby perform.

Teacher : Now comes Ayushi, dressed as ...who are you honey?

Baby : I am Sarojini Nagar market.

Me :

Then she turned three. And the conversation went like this.

Baby: Mama, why is Krishna always standing like this?

Me : Like what baby?

Baby : With one leg crossed?

Me : That's his pose for playing the flute.

Baby : I think he needs to go to susu and he is trying to control himself because there is no bathroom.

Me :

And this happened when she was 5.

Me : Baby,come here. I will take your photograph.

Baby: Can I paint my teeth with your glitter nail polish first?

Me: Whatever for?

Baby: I want my teeth to sparkle and shine when I smile at the camera.


And then she turned really intelligent when she was 6.

Baby: Mama, who are these men?

Me : This is Ratan Tata. And this one is Adi Godrej.

Baby : What kind of parents did they have?

Me : I think pretty good. Why do you ask?

Baby: They were cruel to name their children after trucks and almirahs. Do you think their friends teased them in school because of their names?

Me :

And this conversation happened just two weeks back.

Baby: Do you think I can celebrate my birthday in the place that opened recently?

Me : I don't think so. That is a place for grown ups.

Baby :Why do you say that?

Me: Because what they serve is not meant for children. They serve what adults like.

Baby: Oh! you mean they serve drugs and alcohol?

Me :

Exactly 8 years ago, more or less at this time, I had looked up and seen the beaming face of my doctor." Congratulations," she had said.
Then she had tried to look sombre. " Did you want a boy?"
I had looked around and seen the anaesthetist taking off her gloves. She had smiled and winked at me. The paediatrician was still holding the baby and she had seemed completely enamored with the new born. I had also seen the two nurses who had tirelessly helped the doctors.
Through out the process, the doctors had discussed amongst themselves the most comfortable yet fashionable shoes to wear in the hospitals. They had discussed the challenges of working mothers. Their parents and their special needs. And had cracked jokes. I did not know whether they did all this it to keep my mind off my anxiety. Or that was how they always worked.
Incidentally, I was also vaguely aware of the presence of two males during my ordeal. One had become so nervous that he almost destroyed the corridors of the hospital with his pacing. The other one was the orderly who had wheeled me in. Did I want a boy?

That was my best speechless moment as a mother.

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.....