Thursday, April 30, 2009

Neighbour's Envy

Voting is on in India . Almost 16 million people in Mumbai and it's suburbs will be voting today. I will be one of them.

I will have to drive 10 kms to cast my vote though. My name is registered where we used to stay earlier. Partly due to bureaucratic hassle and partly due to my own apathy, I was unable to change my address on my voter's ID.

My drive will be on an obstacle course. The roads have been dug up at various places for various purposes. There will be traffic jams because the authorities could not foresee a bustling city would need wider roads. Some parts of the road have caved in because of shoddy underground trenching work carried out by some telecom company.

Once I reach my destination I will have to choose between two utter nincompoops. Both of them, I have been told are graduates. They have been continuously running each others party down ever since campaigning began. I have not heard about any development work that they are planning to carry out in their constituencies. Neither of them is the right person for this job but I guess I will vote for the lesser of the two evils.

There has been a lot of talk in the media and the intelligentsia about how India has emerged a strong, progressive and democratic nation despite corruption and non-performance. Look at our neighbours. Each one of them is in turmoil, battling large scale instability. In comparison, we have achieved so much.

The beleaguered citizens of this nation however are not really convinced. Even after 60 years, our basic agenda has not changed from bijli, paani aur makan. There have to be more progressive issues if we have to make impact globally. Our public health system needs to improve if we want to uplift our nation out of poverty. We need to protect the secular forces of our country and battle extremism. We still lag behind in literacy rates compared to the developed countries.

However, our right to vote has certainly emerged as a power tool this election. 70% of the country's population is less than 35 years. So the youth icons are doing their best to motivate the young and the restless to shake off their apathy and report to the polling booths ASAP. Our MPs have the power to make our lives better and we have the power to send the right candidate to the right place seems to be the motto.

So I will be battling traffic and potholes to reach my polling booth. I will study the profile of the candidates and make an informed choice. I know I do not have much of an option. I know I am only one in a billion. I know I may or may not make much of a difference. But somehow, in spite of many challenges, I am optimistic about my future in my country. I am a citizen of a democratic nation and I am proud of it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Summer Of Joy

It's that time of the year again.

The school is finally over and we are all preparing for our annual break. Looking at the all the travel preparation, I can't help thinking about my own childhood. Summer holidays those days did not mean seeing a strange place. It meant going to Calcutta, to be with my extended family.It meant lazy idyllic days bonding with cousins, watching movies and playing football on the terrace of our ancestral home.

The journey to Calcutta itself was a big adventure. We would reach the station and the fun would start from there. After much haggling we would appoint a coolie to carry all our luggage to our compartment. The coupe would be our home for the next 24 hours. My brother and I would pretend to climb mountains. The top most berth would be our summit. We would camp there and eat roasted peanuts, puree-sabzi, potato cutlets and everything else the vendors sold. The snacks would be washed down with lukewarm Campa-Cola.

The next 24 hours would be spent chatting with our fellow travellers. We would exchange life stories and food. Play cards and antakshari. Tell jokes and discuss the latest Bengali flicks running in theaters.

My mother never thought any stranger would molest her girl in the train washroom. She never thought her son could get into the company of ruffians . She never hesitated to accept food from our fellow passengers. Never saw the danger of food poisoning or any other illness.
My brother would get off at every station to fill up ours and every body else's water bottles.Standing in a queue to fill up the bottles from a tap and then running back to get into the train itself was a huge adventure. I would anxiously wait for him and he would laugh at my silliness.

The temperature would soar beyond 40 degrees C. Hot dry wind would dry up our lips but two of us would still sit next to the windows almost devouring the passing scene. My mother would hang two big wet towels over the window grill and we would get some respite from that heat.
As Calcutta approached, the train would invariably stop between Liluah and Howrah junction.My father jokingly referred to it as Halwa. After an unbearable -so -near -yet- so -far wait, which could mean anything between five minutes to five hours, we would stare awestruck at the majestic Howrah bridge dwarfing the Calcutta skyline. The excitement then would change to anticipation. Who would be coming to receive us at the station? The joy of spotting a familiar face at the platform was so huge.

This summer, we are taking our children to Italy. We will reach the air conditioned comfort of the airport. We will wordlessly load our baggage to the trolleys and check in. My children will spend the next nine hours strapped in their cramped seats. They will eat the cardboard like airline food and try to keep quiet so the other passengers do no get disturbed. Like a paranoid mom, I will accompany them to washrooms. They will not be allowed to talk to any strangers and exchange life stories. There will not be any fight for the window seat as the view outside would hardly be enchanting. There certainly will not be any familiar faces to receive them at their destination.

They will see the famous ruins of a civilisation that shaped the world but there definitely will not be any football matches played on a terrace.

Do you think they will enjoy their summer break?

Friday, April 24, 2009

He Said She Said

He Said : And what was wrong with Agra? Why could n't we go there for our honeymoon?

She said : Because I am from Delhi and no one from Delhi goes honeymooning in Agra. We go there for school picnics , weekend trips or simply to show Taj Mahal to our relatives who visit us.

He said : What convoluted logic. The Taj is the symbol of love. Of course we could have gone there for our honeymoon.

She said : Moreover it is a congested town. You can't go on long walks.

He said : We are going for long walks on our honeymoon?

She said : Yes. Long walks and impromptu picnics.

He said : (Said nothing, just gave a " Women are from Venus "look).

He said : I have motion sickness. Mountainous roads make me throw up.

She said: Poor baby. You can have an Avomin before we start. We will take breaks on the way.

He said : But Chail? I didn't even know there was a place called that. I have to figure out the logistics...the train and bus connectivity.

She said : It's a beautiful place. The clouds come really down and envelop you completely. Very romantic. You will love it.

He said : It also rains? Good, we can stay in the room and order room service.

She said : ( Ignoring the second part of the statement ). Yes it does this time of the year. We will need the jackets when we go out for our walks.

He said : We will go for walks in the rain?

She said : (This time she didn't say anything, Just gave a "Men are from Mars" look).

He said : I am all done with my packing.

She said : Are you taking that sweater? That's way too big.

He said : Of course it's big. I borrowed it from Rahul who is at least a foot taller.

She said : You borrowed clothes from your friend? This is your honeymoon!

He said : Of course I borrowed a sweater. What will I do with this later? We are going to stay in Bombay. We will never need sweaters there. Don't tell me you bought brand new clothes for this trip?

She said : Of course I bought new clothes. This is my honeymoon!

He said : Whats all this stuff here?

She said : My shoes. And these are my bags.

He said : You are carrying four pairs of shoes. That's three pairs too many. You can just carry your sneakers you know.

She said : I am not going to wear sneakers with my skirts, that looks plain awful. These open toed sandals are for my skirts and these stilettos are for my salwar-kameez. This pair is extra, in case of an emergency.

He said : They didn't teach me all this in IIT.

She said : Do you have some some one rupee coins? I will need them to make STD calls.

He said : Here. Who are you going to call?

She said : My mom. She will worry otherwise.

He said : Why? You will be with me.

She said : That's precisely why she will worry. I have to let her know once in a while every thing's fine. Don't raise your eyebrows to the sky. I know you have plans to call up your boss very often.

He said : That's different. We are working on an important project. I have to keep in touch. He will start worrying otherwise. I guess we need more one rupee coins...

This conversation took place when Mumbai was still Bombay. There were no cell phones and laptops. Men were gallant and carried their wives luggage (hence the worry about extra weight) These days I have been told that women spend a long time scrutinizing the spreadsheets on their laptops on their honeymoon .(You go girl !) Men worry incessently about their appearances and frequently visit the best salons before their weddings. They also at times own more pairs of shoes than their wives. Men and women both call up their respective bosses regularly. Mothers, thank god, continue to worry about their daughters...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Land In Between

Children are truly inspirational. Everyday they astound me with their unique views and depth. Recently my friend's son, who is only six, said something that continue to inspire me every day.

My friend is a Sindhi. Her family migrated to India during partition and settled down in Mumbai. Here she met her husband who was from Kerala. Two diverse cultures. Two lands far apart. I am sure there have been adjustment hiccups but they are really happy together. Every day at the dinner table the talk revolves around food which are generally from both these places. While eating the parents share with their two sons stories about their homelands and try to educate them about these two different places. The culture. The cuisine. The myths and the legends.

Hearing his parents talk about their respective lands, little Rishi, wanted to know the location of these places. The parents sat down with him and pointed out Sindh in Pakistan and Kerala in India in an atlas. Rishi, looking at the map asked "To which land do I belong daddy? My friends say that I am neither a Sindhi nor a Keralite." His parents tried to console him by saying that he belonged to both these places but Rishi was not really happy. He wanted a separate homeland just like his parents. Thinking for a while he suddenly perked up and said " I know daddy, see this land? Between Sindh and Kerala? This whole land in between is mine. I will go to school tomorrow and tell my friends I found my homeland in my atlas."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Drama Queen

There is nothing as emotional as watching children perform on stage.

They are adorable in their honesty. Their innocence can simply reach out and squeeze your heart when you are most unaware. Even I, known to be a rather stone hearted woman at times, have shed a few tears surreptitiously into my tissue seeing my child on stage.

My elder daughter has been acting and dancing since she was four. At thirteen she has almost become jaded. She talks about costumes, props, rehearsals like they are everyday happenings. She has performed in Siri Fort in Delhi and Shanmukhanand in Mumbai. What else is there to conquer?

So when my second daughter was born, I secretly started dreaming of becoming the most sought after star mommy ever. But she turned out to be a different story. She would sit in a corner with a book and not resurface till she finished. It was her sheer misfortune that she was born to a mother who harboured a dream to be the most sought after star mommy .

When she was in kindergarten, her class teacher called me up to say that they were celebrating Independence Day and she had to go dressed in a saree. She was chosen to be Sarojini Naidu. All she had to do was to get up on stage and say "I am Sarojini Naidu". Very simple you thought?

Bribes in forms of chocolates, ice-cream and toys failed. She simply would n't open her mouth. With a lot of persuasion she finally managed "I am Sarojini Kaidu." After much effort and practice my daughter was finally ready for her first stage show.

Her father and I, on the appointed day, with spring on our steps went to the school premises. There, sitting amidst equally enthusiastic parents, we clapped like mad when our princess appeared on stage. Assisted by her teacher, wobbling in a saree, she came to the centre. I could see she was uncomfortable with her make-up on. She kept her mouth in a permanent pout lest she smeared her lipstick on her teeth. Taking a deep breath, holding the mic tight, she delivered her dialogue with applomb, "I am Sarojini Nagar market."

I swear I actually heard my 'star mommy' dreams shatter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another Day In Paradise

Bleary eyed , rubbing sleep
Managing to open my front door
And what do I find but that creep
Has again spilled the milk on the floor.
So many times in the past
Warned that guy with the pea-sized brain
That day would surely be his last ,
The day he spilled the milk again.
Fresh green veggies, some nuts to munch
And some fruits for their lunch
Chopping, cooking, stirrring and
Filling up the boxes with an expert hand.
Grumbling about the morning blues
Walking past the cluttered hall.
Stopping by the kids' room
Waking them up for their morning school.
Rise up and shine my little ones
The bus would be here. It's getting late.
Look at you , the sleepy heads
Sleeping still though it's half past eight.
Can't find my socks , and the book of prose,
Mom, sis just hit me on my nose.
Have you seen my lap-top cord?
Bless this home, oh my Lord.
Breakfast table the usual scene.
What? Fruits, milk and cereal 'gain?
Why can't you make us some nice snack;
To last us till we all come back?
Kids and husband now all gone
Peace and quiet and silence around.
Streching arms and heaving a sigh
Oh! for that blissful cup of chai !
Mother-in-law peeping to say,
The maid just called. Not coming today.
Looking at me with great despair,
Promising to help me in any which way.
Brushing aside her offer of help
Showing no pity on my poor self.
It's washing, wiping, cleaning time
Expressing anger on dust and grime.
Back from school after lunch.
Sharing with them the day of fun,
Listening to stories of books and play.
Wishing I could be so young and gay.
History , Civics and Environmental Science,
Checking for craft lessons online.
See the clock! It's almost nine.
C'mon everybody it's time to dine.
Aching body and tired feet
Sinking deeper and deeper in the sheet.
Sleeping till the next sunrise.
Another day in my paradise.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The lazy, hazy, crazy ways of the daughter

My mom was not exactly a hard task master but we were expected to do our bit around the house. So from my early childhood we were taught a few basic survival skills. That included learning how to keep the house clean. How to wash our own clothes and how to cook the simplest food. She also included some banking lessons, ignoring -unwanted -attention- lessons and standing -up- for- my- beliefs lessons.

Apart from the cooking, I enjoyed most of the stuff she taught me. Cooking was something I never liked and did not see the importance. What skills were needed to boil some Maggi anyway? Was n't that all I needed to survive? My mother did n't really agree with my conviction and proceeded to teach some basic fare. Rice, dal, egg-curry and some green veggies. But the lesson that I loved most was about multitasking. "A woman needs to multi-task if she has to succeed " was her motto and she encouraged me to do at least a couple of thing at a time. Needless to say this one really came in handy when I had my babies and needed to do a hundred things at the same time.

Armed with my mother's training, I thought I would raise my two kids and run my house with super efficiency. I went ahead at full throttle till I hit a major road block. My thirteen year old. Not that she stopped me from doing my work. She just expected me to do her share of tasks as well. I did gave in (though not exactly gracefully) a couple of times, but then I forcefully drew the line. Cleaning up her room was her task. Picking up the dirty laundry was mine. Keeping the study table organized was her task. Folding her clothes was mine. The list was endless.

I really thought I had the brilliant solution till I realised one more thing. My daughter thought just lifting her finger for something would reduce her energy level. She was simply not interested in increasing the expenditure.

So when a woman addicted to juggling tasks had a child who refused to even get up when the door bell rang, what did she do? Pulled her hair in frustration? Screamed like a banshee? Threatened with violence? In my case, it was all of the above. But no matter how much I screamed, coaxed and cajoled she remained unmoved. Work apparently was boring and was completely useless. Who worked when there was a better option like watching T.V. existed?

This was getting bad. I panicked thinking she would continue being lazy through out the foreseeable future. Time for Plan B. "So can you do something else while watching T.V? May be you can clean up your closet ? Or re-arrange the books on the shelf? See how much dust they have gathered? You can clean up that as well. Or may be fold some laundry? Can you do that for me? You prioritise the various tasks that need to be done. Then allocate some of your grey cells to certain work. The rest of your mental resources can do some other task. It is called multi-tasking. This way you increase your efficiency and also become an expert at time management. It is the catch phrase of the millennium. Your granny taught me this in the previous century. All women need to multi-task if they want to succeed.."

It was such a triumphant moment. Thinking I would have completely dazzled her with my motivational speech I looked at her expectantly.

She looked totally bored. " Mom, I am watching T.V. munching some chips, listening to some music on my i-pod, texting my friends and also listening to you. Not to say breathing as well. So if that's not multi-tasking, what is?"

Plan C any one?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Can't Cry Enough

The loss is irreversible.It also can not be expressed in words. But what hits you the hardest is the finality of the parting. A relationship has ended forever and you are left totally unprepared to handle the impact.

You turn your head to speak to the person and and are stunned to realise he is simply not there. For a moment there is denial. His presence is every come he is not around?The closet is full of his clothes. The bathroom shows his carelessly kept toiletries.. toothbrush, comb..the whole house is a heartache. His slippers. Books. Bags. Journals...

The grief seeps into you. There is a numbing pain and nothing seems to make it better.

The first night is the hardest, you wake up in the middle of the night and stare into darkness.How is it a person who was here just a few hours ago is gone forever?

Never will you hear his voice again. Never hear his foolish jokes. Never be taken aback with his startling laughter. There is something wedged deep in your throat and no amount of swallowing dislodges it.

Regret comes next. There are so many things you wish you had done. You wish you had recorded his voice. Captured more of his images. You wish you had taken that last walk together. Held his hand more often. Wish you could see him just one more time.

As days pass, you reluctantly accept the parting. You realise no matter how hard you pray, how hard you try, you can not bring him back. The part of you that was also a part of him no longer exists.

Mindless activities seem to help. Packing away his stuff. Giving away his possessions. Getting the paperwork done. Painful work that some how takes away a bit of your grief and helps pass the time. There is his big portrait on the wall and people come and tell you how serene he looks in it, how happy. You see it and think you would have preferred him in colour and three dimensions.

But you are polite to your well wishers and you nod without saying anything. You know that though they can never understand your grief, they also feel some pain. He was something to them too.

Life does not stop, and you also move on, picking up pieces. Slowly, ever so slowly, you build a life that no longer has him in it. It is tough but so are you.

Spring comes again. So does summer. Then autumn and winter. As years go by you may no longer think of him everyday. Your ache is no longer constant. You do know one thing deep in your heart though. No matter how many new relationships are now in your life, the precious one that you shared with him,can never be replaced. Ever.