Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Short Story published on Siya Woman: No Distance As Far Away As Yesterday by Payal Mukherjee

 It takes ten minutes to reach Anwar Shah Road from my house in Tollygunj even now. Since 1992 very little has changed on this stretch of road. From Bangur Hospital, behind which I used to stay, I would walk down to the Tipu Sultan Mosque, my 14 year old trusty legs carrying me there in no time. There you could turn right into Anwar Shah Road and walk along till you reached Nabina Cinema. That is where my friend Mahjabeen used to meet me. The Strong One, Mahjabeen stayed in one of the run-down buildings in the colony in that area with her parents.
They were not very well to do, her folks. Her father was a stenographer and her mother used to sew clothes for a living. She had an older brother but he had already passed out of school and had moved to Mumbai, probably with dreams of becoming a film hero, but instead ended up working for a cloth merchant, in a place I’d not heard of at that time. And yet she used to study in the quintessential middle class Bengali medium school with enough respectability in that era. They managed that for her.
The school bus of Kamala Girls would drop her first, since her stop came before min. But my mother was a working woman, and I an only child. So though I could not get down with Mahjabeen because the bus Dada would rat on me- I knew, I would get down at Bangur Hospital, my stop, and run all the way back to her stop where she would be waiting for me. Then, knowing we were breaking a thousand rules, we would giggle all the way to the phuchka stall, cutting through narrow lanes, huffing and puffing as we gobbled those spicy, tangy, watery globes of delight- our day was made.
I would, of course, have less than two hours for such mischief, but I was the school athlete at that age, and had unending energy. I would run all the way back and reach home before 5 pm, well before my mother rang the door-bell and started asking me about school. My parents were hard working, well educated folk. My father was a civil engineer with one of those companies which was doing very well building roads in the city at that time. My mother was a telephone operator with one of the bigger Marwari companies in central Calcutta. My parents were the good moralistic Bengali Brahmin couple, who brought up their daughter to be independent, with the right amount of stress on music and art, like every good Bengali girl. My parents were very religious, and they held Lakshmi Puja and Saraswati Puja in the house, with the mantras chanted by my own father, the local kids and myself sitting in a semi circle as the fragrant smoke from the dhup dhuno made us heady and sleepy at the same time.
My parents did not know about Mahjabeen.

School was a different kind of place though. No one cared what kind of names we had or what community it made one belong to. No one cared what our parents did. We all wore the same uniforms. Purdah among Muslim women and girls was not common in Calcutta in that time. We all looked the same. All brown limbs and white socks and black Cherry Blossom shined shoes. Hair neatly parted at the center with two pony tails or plaits. There is a certain strength in the innocent equality of the school uniform which makes the wearers invincible to the twisted power of the political mind. We truly were the incorruptibles.
December was pretty mild that year. All sunshiny cool. One spends December afternoons sprawled on sunny verandahs, dozing off as the warmth envelopes the body ever so subtly, like a coy lover. Not for Calcutta December the bite of the cold or the pinch of the sun. Our school afternoons didn’t provide us the luxury of a nap, of course, but we would lounge during our tiffin break in the molten sunshine on our school field and talk.
Younger girls play, 14 year old girls talk.
We sat around this particular afternoon, and talked amongst other things- like where to get good scrunchies for our hair in Gariahat and our impending second terminal exams- about Ayodhya. We lazily moved from one topic to another and gently landed on this one, with the easy camaraderie of childhood, without a thought about what religion meant to the adults. That did not matter in our little slice of Utopia. Little did I know then, in the safe warm hands of authority and schoolgirl-hood, that this would be one of the last days of life as we would know it, as I would know it.
Those days, a lot of us were not allowed to watch TV at home, but we had read in the morning newspapers of the Kar Sevaks who had entered that city in thousands, hundreds of thousands. Most of them did not know why they were there. But trouble was brewing, and even we knew that this kind of trouble was like a long line of dominoes lined all across the country, north to south, east to west, poised, ready for that one little push. Mahjabeen never talked much in company, she preferred to stay in the shadows but that day she repeated hearsay from her neighbourhood. People were afraid she said. She said “people” but what she really meant was the Muslims.
Was she starting to get afraid as well? Even while being surrounded by us, her closest friends, was she beginning to feel the strain? Had she started seeing us differently already?
That afternoon, on the way back home, I got down with her at her stop. Bus dada shouted at me but I said I had work and my mom was informed. He shouted ‘I’ll ask her’. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘you do that, dada’. Laughter bubbled out of us even as we tried to be serious. Then we ran off giggling into the lane which led to the phuchka stall. Down the road, close to the phuchka stand, was a straggly grass plot which went by the name of “park”. We had time to kill that afternoon. I had saved almost half an hour by getting down at her stop. We sat there and talked. I don’t remember now what we talked about. She had always known how to make me laugh, but that day I laughed so much, I almost rolled over from the bench to the ground. She looked radiant, a glorious smile on her face, the kind of smile of a friend who knows what makes friendship work, and is successful in doing just that.
It was Saturday, the 5th of December, 1992.
Sunday dawned like any other day, but it was a day which would be marked down in the history of a nation. It was the day when a handful of men would start something horrific, something which would spew so much hatred, for so many days, in every corner of the country, that it seemed unbelievable till that moment. From 6 am, madness reigned supreme in the city which was supposedly the birthplace of one of our most revered immortals known for his righteousness. By 5 pm, the dust finally settled on the rubble of what was previously an obscure mosque, to loud cries of “Mandir Yahin Banaenge”. And thus started a cycle of destruction around the country which would take lives, which would break families and friendships and hearts. All for a few piles of bricks and stones.
Lives lost have no religion.
In distant Mumbai, one day later, a young boy of 17 was trying to reach his workplace in Bhendi Bazar when he found himself suddenly surrounded by a large group of people. He got carried by the crowd for some distance and then slowly started to move away. He wanted nothing to do with the mobs. He was there to work and he wanted to just reach the shop and start his day. As he started to get some distance between him and them, he suddenly felt as if his skin had caught on fire. He screamed. He clawed at the left side of his face where something came out in his hands. It took him a few excruciating seconds to realise he was pulling out his own flesh. The fire spread down his neck and on to his left arm and stomach and groin. He had been drenched in acid thrown from some distance- an acid bomb which had gone haywire, which hit him, just as he was about to get into his shop. He collapsed screaming in pain on to the pavement, writhing in agony. People were screaming all around him, running in all directions, he could hear everything, he could feel feet pounding the pavement by his ear, even his acid burnt ear. The sounds seemed to recede slowly, much too slowly, into the horizon of his consciousness. He had passed out.

Later someone had brought him to a hospital. He was alive but severely burnt on one side of the body. Gangrene had set in on his left arm. As the doctors argued whether to amputate, the 17 years of son, brother, collage of dreams, collection of hopes, just ceased to be.
I learnt some new terms in the winter of 1992. “Curfew” was one of them. “Section 144” was another. The latter meant I couldn’t meet friends. The former meant school was closed. It also meant being home bound, an uncalled for holiday, I couldn’t decide whether to dislike it or love it. We didn’t have a phone in the house yet. And even if we had, Mahjabeen would definitely not. So it hardly mattered. How I missed phuchka, I was addicted to the sourbomb in a way only a 14 year old could be. But things were bound to get back to normal sooner or later.
When school restarted in January, I couldn’t wait to go back to our old routine. Curfew had been lifted during the day, life around us was limping to normal. So when I didn’t see Mahjabeen on the bus the first day I thought, perhaps she was ill. Or maybe her parents were the over cautious sort. By the third day I was worried. When curfew lifted completely and still she didn’t come, I knew something had to be very wrong.
What could I do though? I had never been to her house. I didn’t know her address. It never came up, the need to know each other’s houses. We already had our meeting places, our clandestine rendezvous point. I went there after school, waited there many a day. Desperate for some news, I finally ended up at our phuchka stall, asked the man if he knew where my friend lived. He pointed toward a cluster of homes; he had seen her walk that way. With that information I went snooping. Finally someone pointed out her house to me.
The one storied yellow building was nudged between two similar houses. Its tiny front door opened right on to the road, no gardens for the poorer sort. It was green once upon a time, now it was just blistered and brownish with green paint flaking at the edges. There was no doorbell. Instead, a large round iron ring hung on the double doors. I held on to it and tried to shake it so it would make a sound, but it just ended up creating a dull thud which didn’t even match up to the way my heart was beating. But someone was moving inside scuffling towards the door. The door opened and standing there was Mahjabeen.
What can I say about how she looked? She was wearing a salwar kameez, her long hair open but straggly as if she hadn’t found the time to wash it for weeks. She looked grown, her face drawn, like a woman who had had her share of fights with life and it had defeated her. Her eyes had dark circles. Her skin which used to be so flawless and the envy of all her friends was blotchy, and looked so akin to sand paper that I reached my fingers up to touch her cheek. She flinched.
Why are you here, she asked me.
You’re not coming to school, I said.
How did you find the house.
You know how much I like Tintin, I did some detective work- I tried to make a joke. My laughter died on my lips even before it had started. Her dry chapped lips did not move a bit into the smile I had anticipated.
What happened Mahjabeen, are you not well? I asked then. 
She came out and closed the door behind her. Let’s walk to the park she said. We sat on the bench, our bench. Or she sat, and asked me to sit. The shy girl, who would be led into everything, was now doing the leading. I could not believe it.
My brother is dead, she flatly said.
The phuchkas stopped. I would make it to her house when I could. The silences between us were unbearable. I would go. She would come out. We would walk to the park and sit. I would try to tell her about school. She did not even feign interest.
I would come home and cry. She was my best friend. She had shut me out completely from her life. It was like I didn’t exist for her anymore. Yes I was selfish in feeling left out of her mind, but I was a child then and what did I know. Now I wish I could have done things differently.
I wish I had listened to her more, spoke a little less. I probably would not have lost a friend then. Or maybe I would have, no matter what I did. Perhaps, by then, she had already removed herself from me.
If ever I could go back and stop to turn a moment into eternity, it would be the day I defied my parents to spend some extra time with her. The day she made me laugh so much that my stomach hurt. I wish I could freeze time right there, me doubling over with laughter, looking up at her, she looking down on me, with that satisfied, angelic smile on her face, knowing she had just given her best friend a memory to cherish her whole life long.
There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday.

The last time I met her, I asked her when she would come back to school, she finally told me she would not. And she said she could not meet me anymore.
Why I asked.
I cant do this anymore she said.
Why why why, I shouted at her. I did not kill your brother. Why are you punishing me, I cried.
This whole world killed by brother, Gauri. She said. And you are part of this world.
Then she got up and walked away.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Pokemon Birthday Party for Eight Year Old

This year I had hoped to skip the birthday party thing altogether but NOOOO, the little monkey not only wanted a party, she wanted a "POKEMON" party, which I realised in a few short moments, was one of the most difficult to plan for. There is very little on the net on Pokemon parties, and even less in the market. So no party theme decor, or plates or even return gifts. 
Even worse was, she wanted a PINATA.
Pikachu Pinata:
Now pinata is not an Indian thing and is not available cheap in India. Online one can get it at exorbitant prices. However, there are tutorials on both youtoube.com and on the web one can follow and even if one is not crafty (I am not, believe me), and you are desperate enough to make one, you can make it quite easily. I will post a full tutorial on the pinata soon but here I am giving a brief on how to prepare a Pikachu Pinata which looks (almost like!!) Pikachu. 
  • You need- A balloon or inflatable ball, newspaper, flour and water for glue, yellow crepe paper, black red and white chart paper. Plenty of candy and knick knacks for fillers. 
  • I used a balloon, but for either Pikachu or for a Pokeball Pinata, it is better to use an inflatable beach ball or a cheap plastic inflatable ball to get a round shape and because the balloon may burst before the casing dries. 
  • The first thing is to prepare home made gum from atta/ plain flour and water. Just mix at 1:1 proportion and heat it up to mix well. Then cool it down. Change consistency if required adding more water. Make sure it comes to a glue consistency. 
  • Tear newspaper into strips. On the balloon/ ball, paste the strips lengthwise from the tied end to the round end, after dipping them in paste. Make sure the strips overlie on one another, there should be no gaps. It is a messy affair so make sure you are sitting on the floor or in a place you can clean easily and on plenty of newspapers. Put two-three layers of strips. Let it harden overnight. My balloon burst twice. The first time the strips were all wet and the casing didnt stay, but second time, it was almost dry and I just put another balloon inside and blew it up to keep the shape. 
  • Once the casing is dry just burst the balloon and take it out.Where there were gaps I put sellotape. It wont be seen so you need not be worried about looks at this point. 
  • Then I cut yellow crepe paper into strips and cut fringes. The fringes went around the casing. Then just stick eyes and mouth and ears, according to Pikachu pictures on the net. 
  • String ropes or strong string on top to hang. Our Pinata did not survive the pulling by the children and no one got to beat it up, so make sure you have at least 3 layers of paper, if not more and make the holes for the string extra strong with tape. Dont worry about looks, it wont be seen and it will be down in no time anyway.

The Invite: 

Came from an online printable. There are a few good one available on the net and this one had the means for me to print out the name and address etc directly on the laptop.
The Decor: 
was very generic. Plain or polka dotted yellow and red paper plates and glasses, and napkins. An old black bed sheet used as a table cloth and red, yellow and black balloons. I didnt want to waste too much printer ink on the banner so I bought a general colourful birthday banner. I also prepared some cut out pokemon characters from chart paper, after printing them. The little stuffed Pikachu was bought for the "Pass the Pikachu" game.

The Games: 
Count the Pokeballs: At the entrance I had a case with pokeballs which the children and to count. I made note of their number on a paper. During dinner I announced the winner (there were two who counted correctly and made an exact guess). I made the pokeballs by buying small plastic balls in the market and making the pokeball symbol on it by black permanent marker. It looks better if one does it with ping pong balls. I did not get ping pong balls. You will get tutorials to make pokeballs with ping pong balls on the net.

Colouring pages: I had put out some Pokemon colouring pages, prints I had taken from freely available printables on the net. What I didnt foresee what that some of the colouring pages would be a hit and there would quite a demand for them. So have a variety ready. This works to fill the time when all the kids are not there for the party yet. Keep crayons and colour pencils handy. For smaller children this is also a very good way to start off. They usually enjoy colouring and some of them are quite knowledgeable about Pokemon characters. Keep extra to stuff into their goody bags. Makes for cheap (free actually if you dont count the paper and the ink) return gifts.

Pin the tail on Pikachu: This is a very fun game for children of all ages. I pasted yellow chart paper on black in the shape of Pikachu and added eyes and other details. Cut out tails for all kids and wrote the names on each tail. The kids were then blindfolded and asked to pin the tail. Closest tail won and farthest tail got a consolation prize!

Pass the Pikachu: Required- a small stuff toy Pikachu. The children sat in a circle and I played music on my phone for this game. With rowdy kids one needs to keep a bit of discipline, but otherwise this game is a lot of fun for kids of all ages.

By this time it was time to cut the cake, and the pizzas had arrived. The cake was also Pokemon themed of course.
After dinner, it was time for some active games which would have the kids up and expending their energy. So we had the Pikachu Stomp, where we filled the floor area with balloons and the kids had to stomp on them to burst them. This will not only get the children to jump around, something they do best, it is also one of the favourite games and tried and tested last year too. Get ready for a lot of noise and shouting, especially if you live in an apartment. Best to have some music and keep doors closed.
Pokemon Bowling: I have a longish corridor in the house and I also have an old toy bowling set of my daughters, which served as a perfect tool for a bowling game. Which child does not like bowling. Just to make it relevant to the theme, I printed and stuck the evil Pokemon on them. What was supposed to be two rounds of bowling, turned out to be never ending, until I had to stop them because it was getting late and the Pinata was still left.

We ended with the Pinata. As mentioned earlier, the moment it was hung up the children started pulling and pushing at it and before even one child could raise a bat, it was down and torn. When you have a pinata, be ready for the rush when it breaks. Have enough candy and dont keep anything segregated inside the pinata. Keep things anyone can grab and everyone can get some of.

Gift Bags/ Goody Bags/ Party Favors: I didnt get any paper bags in the market, so I got plastic bags and painted them with permanent marker.
In it went

  • All the candy and toys from the pinata as well as prizes from the games (fun stationery, badges, etc)
  • Some stationery, stickers, home printed and laminated bookmarks, home printed coloring pages 
  • Sketch pen sets  
  • Water bottles (frozen and spiderman, children could choose). This was of course because I didnt get any Pokemon theme bottles, but then who does not love Frozen or superheroes.

Cost in Rupees for 12 children:
Food and cake: 6000 (Pizza, drinks, chips, garlic bread, ice cream) We had adult guests too, so ordered extra food.
Return gifts and prizes: 5000
Candy and decor: 4000

Total cost: Rupees 15000 (approx, maybe a thousand or so more)

Friday, July 10, 2015

7th Birthday Pirate Princess Party Treasure Hunt: Indoor Treasure Hunt (in Apartment)

As the dreaded time to plan for another birthday party approaches (monster is turning 8 next week) I dip into my resources and realise I have not written about the Treasure Hunt I had planned on monster's 7th Princess Pirate Birthday Bash!!
And I did promise to put it out there, more so because it was ingenious (if I may say so myself), held in a small apartment (in fact, perfect for a small apartment and 8-10 guests), and the kids enjoyed and remember it to this day! (Its true, on this year's invitation, one child actually asked me if I would arrange another treasure hunt like last year. God Bless you kiddo!)
The first step to creating an indoor (or outdoor) Treasure Hunt is to determine your clue hiding places. Mine went like this:
The kids were not divided into groups since there were only 8. They were to work as one team, and the TREASURE CHEST held all their goodie bag treasure!

  • Here is the list of hiding places in order: Bookcase- fridge- cupboard- mirror image- sink- shoebox- microwave- bathroom- stairs- map to treasure chest hidden by the bed!
  • The first clue was one half (THE RIGHT SIDE which had no real graphics to speak of) of the TREASURE MAP and a Clue Card hidden inside a book on monster's book shelf. It was only one book shelf, so I left it to them to find the right book. The book shelf was a mess afterwards but it was worth it. More time spent and less time to plan other games in.

Clue 1:
"The map is incomplete, just half
  Lets see if you are that smart
  Where it is very very cold inside, is CLUE 2
  This is only just the start."

Clue 1 from BOOK SHELF led to the FRIDGE of course!

  • Inside the fridge I had kept the key to the clothes cupboard in the bedroom tied to a clue card. They had to try the key in all the locks to see which cupboard would open!
Clue 2:
"You have found the key
To the secret place
To give CLUE 3
So off you race!"

  • The CUPBOARD had the chocolate coins for their goody bags and Clue Card 3 which was a mirror image and had to be read through a MIRROR. 
Clue 3:
"Mirror on the wall
Will give to  you
The hiding place
Of your next clue"

The text below read "under the KITCHEN SINK." (Of course the clue cards were much better made. This is just the planning page and one year old at that. Do excuse the poor photo quality due to the crumpled pages.)

  • The KITCHEN SINK which also had a bag of chocolates, led to the SHOE RACK. It had a small picture puzzle.

Clue 4:

"Solve the puzzle if you dare
Your next clue is hidden there"

  • The SHOE RACK had temporary pirate tattoos for their goody bags and 
Clue 5:
"To get to your next clue
You have to work a bit
Cross all the 'X' and the 'U'
And see what is left"

The clue card had a word puzzle with 'X's and 'U's to be crossed out to reveal the word MICROWAVE

  • In the MICROWAVE along with bookmarks for their goodybag had a code to work out. Numbers were given to alphabets and they had to work out the word.
Clue 6:
"Use the code
Dont be slow
This is where
The waters flow"

The code spelled out BATHROOM of course, and the brighter kids got it even without working out the clue, so I should have made it a little less obvious.
  • The next clue under the BATHROOM SINK led outside the apartment to the STAIRCASE
Clue 7:
"The treasure map is still incomplete
The second half has to be found
Go OUT and look in the place
Where people walk UP AND DOWN"

This clue had no graphics since it was self explanatory!

  • The STAIRCASE banister had SECOND HALF of the TREASURE MAP tied to it

  • The kids had to read the map and reach the hiding place of the TREASURE CHEST (a simple basket with goodies inside) on one corner of the bedroom, hidden cleverly by the bed!
There, my masterpiece of planning!! Hope you enjoyed it as much as the kids. Whew!!!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: The Book of Fate

This is what I look for when I read a book from an alien culture. An insider look into the culture, the people, the politics, the daily struggles of the common man (or woman), the pawns in the hands of the politicians.
Massoumeh is the common Everywoman. All the men in her life, unfortunately are decision makers who are on a higher moral ground by dint of not just being her father, or brothers, husband or sons, but because they are representatives of the forces of "Government". While the realm itself is a force to reckon with, playing with her loved ones, playing with her life at every step, at every turn.
Westerners are appalled at the treatment the teen Massoum receives at the hands of her brothers. They perhaps do not know that in many countries, Muslim or Hindu or otherwise, girls are still property, held in the fathers house under the protection of father and brothers to be transferred to the husband on marriage. At least Massoum's father was on her side. Many girls do not have that. Honour killings are still heard of (and maybe some not heard of) in many outlying areas in this part of the world.
While she marries into a household which encourages her to study and become independent, her husband, so modern, so enlightened, is still a representative of another type of government, maybe a revolutionary with ideals, but ideals which would not change anything once they come to power. At the end Massoum feels what is true for every common person, it does not matteer who comes to power- the ground reality remains the same. And even with vaulted ideals, one group would not stop from decimating the other group. This is what massoum does not understand. Hers is the understanding of a bright young mind, unaccustomed to politics.
While the book is gripping till the end, the last few chapters is a let down. It becomes too predictable and then the conflict between mother and sons are not well etched out. At least the son who has been exposed to western cultures should have said something different. But he still says the same thing as the traditional son does. Also, why does Massoud, the sensitive, kind hearted son, not understand his mother more? It is not quite fathomable. It is as if after building all the characters for 9 tenth of the book, in the last tenth part Sainee lets go of what they stand for. Massoum however, does not disappoint. I would be more satisfied if she took the decision on her own accord, rather than be bullied into it by her sons. She ends up being the pawn even at a personal level and not just on a metaphorical level.
However, it is a book which everyone interested in different countries and cultures should read. And this cover does not suit the book... a different cover showing a landscape or rebellion or even a painting should have sufficed. Massoum is not a face, especially not this face.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I am India's Daughter and this is MY story

Today I read a blog with the same title and thought, why not continue this like a chain. Let every India's daughter have a say... good or bad. We all have experiences that count to make it the country that it is. I also read today about how an Indian student was not accepted to a research course because he comes from the "Indian rape culture". I also read today about some money exchange between Leslee Udwin, the Ford Foundation, the rapist on death row etc. I have been reading for some days stories from both sides of the coin- the people who believe the documentary is all well and those who think it is, even if in part, unfair to Indians to be portrayed thus to the world. 
Cant say I care about the ban. The ban means anyone with access to social media can watch the documentary, but the man (or woman) who, may be, needs a mirror put up in front of his/her soul, will not be able to watch it and be shamed. The victims parents deserve to have their story told. The victim deserves to be known as a symbol  of the modern Indian woman stepping out of boundaries to face the world with head held high. The growing tree cut down too soon, brutally. The ban is totally misplaced.
What is required is a balanced counter view, to say to the world that the documentary is one sided. Very one sided. The story of the friend who got beaten up, and stood by the victim till help arrived... who tried everything he could till the end, that didnt catch the world's imagination. He is an Indian Man too.
So this is my story.
I am the elder of two sisters. My grandmother, a double MA, taught me there was science behind every tradition, whether it is fasting, or not entering the puja room during ones periods. Only we make a tradition into a hard and fast rule, is what I learnt. Once one sees the base science behind it, one can make a decision about following a rule or not. My grandfather was the one who told me, an idol is a doll till it is worshipped and life is breathed into it. Again, this gave us sisters the freedom to choose to follow our own spiritual paths; even though our family is very religious, we both turned out to be black sheep in this respect. Not that all was rosy, my grandparents were huge traditionalists. But they gave us enough brain fodder to question those traditions ourselves.
My parents were not trying to bring us up like sons. And neither were they trying to bring us up like daughters. We were just children, and not once did I feel otherwise. We were taught to play sports AND to sing. To cycle AND to draw. It did not enter our minds till puberty that we were girls and should or should not behave in a certain way. We were groomed to become engineers, only neither of us wanted that.
I had cousin brothers with whom I played rough and tumble from childhood. My elder cousin taught me to ride a bike... in secret, so he wouldnt be scolded. When I fell and scraped my knee and his bike was dented, we cooked up stories and laughed about them.  My younger cousin brother knew I was better than him in writing and knew he was better than me in chess. My elder brother who joined the army is still my hero, who always told me the world was my oyster and I should never 'settle'! There was never any sense of privilege in any brother or sister as we grew up. We were all equal in each others eyes. At least I never felt otherwise. 
Growing up in a coeducation environment, I have had friends who were boys, from my childhood and I still do. Never once did I feel unequal to them. The competition was fierce during exams between close friends. If one got better marks at one subject I had to get better in another. And no, math or literature was not part of that equation. 
My college friends were as much there to smoke together in the common room, as they were to protect us returning very late at night from the college fest. My boss right now runs a company overridden by women, and has always championed equality in the workplace.
Today I have a daughter of my own and I feel hurt when I see her surroundings so full of sexism and chavinism. We strive to tell her every day that she can do whatever she puts her mind to, NOT whatever a boy can. We dont want her to realise she is a girl till she attains puberty. She should play football as well as with her barbie dolls. Maths is her favourtie subject.
Today I just work part time to take care of our child in an alien city. My husband would be happiest if I were the bread earner and he could play a more inclusive role in his daughters upbringing. By the way, he would never enter the kitchen, but he never asks me to, either. He does not wash his clothes but he does not want me washing clothes either. It is not my JOB to do the housekeeping or the laundry. Its just the roles we have assumed because his career went way better than mine. He would suck at housework, I do very well in it thank you. And in our long time together, there has been no discussions about what clothes I wear, where I go for work or to unwind, or about changing my surname. Not once, not ever.
Only when I am late, he wants me to call and tell him how i am returning, give him the taxi number and details. In school, my dad threw a fit if I returned after 9 pm. As a young woman, my male friends I would be out with, wanted every girl to inform them of the taxi or auto registration number and sometimes the drivers name. Every male friend would walk me to the bus stop and see me safely inside the metro. My boss would never allow me to go home in an unregistered cab even if it meant I would have to wait till midnight till someone was available to drop me.
Which brings me to the point of the documentary. There are people out there who we have to stay safe from. Any woman who travels by public transport would have at least one horror story to relate, as have I. They are there in every country, every city. In a male dominated society, where most men see their women being mistreated from their childhood, economic hardships mean they become hardened criminals with inhuman, twisted, abnormal mindsets. Maybe this country has hundreds of men like that.
But there are also hundreds of men who protest in the street shoulder to shoulder with their female counterparts in Delhi or Mumbai. There are those men who wear skirts to show solidarity with women in Bangalore. There are students in Kolkata who overthrow deans in protest against their friend being molested. There are those men living in slums who work double shifts to educate their daughters in English medium schools (yes, my maid's husband does). For every man who beats his wife there are five who encourage them to finish their education.
It is not that we should not weed out the scum. Shame the wrong doers, the wrong thinkers, punish them. Hang the monsters out there twice over. But for the sake of my father, brothers, male friends, husband and thousands like them in this country, dont create propaganda that says, even covertly, every man is like THIS or like THAT. This country does not need another ban. This country needs to change  mindsets, one chauvinist-misogynist at a time. This country needs to weed out the thought that a daughter is ill fate, that a woman not in the house is a threat to their manhood and power, and that requires not just education... that needs upliftment of a whole section of society from the degrading poverty they are living in.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Letting go

It is easy to go on
Just place one foot in front of the other
Walk on by
The stars shine more brightly tonight
My work here is done.

You may think you are broken but you are whole
You are the eagle soaring high above every living soul
You are above, you are below and all around, encompassing everything
You are the laughter of a child, the tear of a bride, the wrinkle on old skin
You are beauty, you are truth, you are light
You are love. There was nothing ever more bright.

It is easy to carry on
A kind word should not bring tears to the eye, but that will take time
Curling up into a ball feels just so right
Get up from the bed, look in the mirror and actually see yourself
Are you hiding your cry? Oh you do that perfectly
So what if your eyes betray your pain after a few hours
The sun will shine tomorrow but now it brings rain showers
The flowers have wilted, those flowers which were supposed to bloom
On that abandoned tree which survived anyway.

I had come to bring you home
Lead you through a path strewn with petals and dreams
My feet, they have bled from treading on thorns
But they look as beautifully red as the flowers I have walked on.
I had come to make you whole
You, who had led your life in parts all along
I held your hands even when you let go
And now I see you are getting ready to fly.
The stars shine more brightly tonight
My work here is done.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thoughts on Depression

So I was reading out the first chapter of my supposed novel out to my husband and he says that I am very negative. I cant write happy stuff. I had a look at my poetry posted on this blog and I find them all dark. In the very first job interview, the HR head of a company had asked me what I write... I had told him two of my short stories and he said- you write very sad stories. Someone who does not like me might even comment that I seem to be perpetually depressed.
Well I do seem so, dont I. But truth is, I am basically a very happy person. Very pessimistic but happy. I am happy in my own company, which very few people can say of themselves. I am a thinker. I used to be a brooder, but with age, I have less reasons to brood and more reasons to worry. So the things I think about are mostly like- what would be my Booker acceptance speech. Which is to say, I am ambitious in my thoughts if not in my actions. And that I am not even always pessimistic.
Being pessimistic also gives me an unique advantage. If good things happen, I have given myself the leverage to be pleasantly surprised. If bad  things happen, I am always in a position to say I knew it!!
Truth is, I have stayed with depression almost all my life. However, every time, I think of depression as some kind of maze which I have to find a way out of. It is a challenge but I keep trying. Maybe that has been possible because I have never been acutely or severely depressed,  It is more of a sense of extreme sadness and hopelessness when I tend to let go of my perfectionist nature for a bit and sleep all round the clock. But there had come a time in my life when I had needed medical intervention. The pills the shrink gave me, which I took for 3 months, I call them my 'happy pills', did a lot to accelerate the process of coming out of my maze. Then I decided to stop taking the anti depressants and I have not needed them since.
I have often wondered about how people commit suicide. What is that darkness which makes them think that it is better to head towards the absolute unknown, to cease to exist, to jump into a chasm with no end in sight. It is like standing on a 1000 foot tall chimney ledge, with just enough standing room and strong winds, where you cant see the ground. Your situation is unenviable, no doubt. On the outer side you have a ladder. You can climb down in precarious conditions. It is hard, but the ladder will take you to the ground you cant yet see. On the other side you have a jump into darkness. You know nothing of whats inside the chimney. It is pitch black, it may take you infinitely down once you jump. But you prefer to jump anyway because you dont want to take the trouble to climb down into the light?? I dont understand that.
I have often wondered if killing themselves, for some, are not about their ego. I know of someone who had tried swallowing pills once. She was taking professional help dealing with her schizophrenia, but she was a student who was doing well, had friends and was not in a stage of life where it poses big problems. She survived, but it set me wondering why she would do it, other than to gain attention. That I suppose is also a big reason. Like you hear of Lady Diana throwing herself off stairs, cutting her wrists etc, and surviving at the precipice every time. It is a call for help, it is a call for attention. It is a sign for worse things to come unless help is given or taken.
I am glad to say writing... and reading... helps. Even googling 'depression' and reading about it helps. We should try that more. We should help ourselves when we feel the world is not helping. One thing is clear. We must never never ever waste the light to choose jumping into the darkness. The light is too dear, too joyful, too hopeful, to give it a miss for the one last time... every time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

There it is.
In the white glittering skin of twisted emaciated bodies.
Hanging from silvery trees
Swaying gently in an icy breeze
As it came to me in my dream that night.

And then in the cold feet of the old man
As I touched one last time unable to find
The man I knew just half a day ago.

In the life that went before it arrived
Known only by me, felt only in me
Left. And left devastation in its wake.

Death. Black Death. Absence of all light. All around me now.
Every child taken is mine
If not mine, seen through these eyes, become mine.
Cant escape anymore the swaying ashen bodies of my dream
Keep running into me whichever turn I take
Following me faster than I can flee
I can feel its cold white hand almost upon my shoulder.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Toss a coin in the fountain of wishes
Put a lock on the bridge of love and drop the key into the Seine
Watch it sink slowly, to find its place with hundreds of lovers’ prayers
I didn’t love you like that.
Hold hands as we walk on the streets
Steal a kiss behind a tree, a sly snuggle by the lake
Immersed in each other as the world goes on in this mad rushing city
I didn’t love you like that.
I gasped for air when you left my side, gasped, for I drowned without you
Lost in a crowd, lost in the desert, lost among a million faces, searching searching for one
Dreaming with eyes wide open, smiling, laughing at memories, maddened by memories
I loved you like that.
Shouting screaming hair wild eyes wild hitting out in the air
Passion in my anger jealousy love love passion in my kisses on your face on your lips in your mouth
I will leave you I will never call you I want you need you desperate without you I will die without you
I loved you like that
That is how I loved you
Till you went away, till you decided that my way of loving did not count, till you told me so
Till you bared me to the world, stripped me naked and made me stand out in the cold rain
When you left you killed me
When you left
You made me not fear death anymore.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to (and how NOT to) throw a Princess Pirates Party for a 7 year old, within Rs 11,000/-

Dont plan a birthday party for a would-be 7 year old and you might have to deal with a grumpy face for the next 365 days. And while I would run at the idea of a party, leave aside throwing one in MY house, 7 is the age when they start to become mini adults, and hence starts the tantrums, the grumpiness, the expectations. And the judgements! My god! Cant we just leave the "you are the worst mom ever" to the teenage years!? But really, after all these years of just cake and a dinner, I think she deserved a small party at home.
Glad to say, apart from a couple of small hitches (excusable, this was my first time), I did it. And it was even proclaimed by one child as "The best birthday party I have ever been to." I kid you not! My chest just swelled 10 times in pride and utter triumph at this comment!
Here goes... what I did, and more important, what I didnt do, and should have done. Learning for next time.
  • Forget about months in advance, unless you want a whole lot of kids attending. If you have a list of about 7-8 kids or less like I had, you can start 2 weeks prior.
  • I asked my daughter to name her good friends in the building. It was a weekday anyway and it did not make sense to call any school friends at this age. The school is far away, the friends are scattered all over the city of Mumbai in the rainy season. Indians dont believe in RSVPs and moreover, I didnt want frayed egos in school. Neither did I want to call 20 children. So building friends it was. She named about 8 one day and probably had a fight with a couple of them in the next few days, so about 10 days prior, we settled on 6 friends. Two boys and 4 girls.
  • Monkey wanted a princess party, but with two 7-8 year old boys coming in, I suggested we make it Princess-Pirate, which she was very happy with. Also, children are particularly partial to popular cartoon themes, so Jake and the Neverland Pirates seem to be a current winner right now.
  • A home party planners best friend and worst friend? Pinterest. While it gives you amazing ideas on themes, decor, food and gifts, the alpha moms there can set the bar just a teeny bit high. My plan was to take ideas though, and do it in my own scaled down version. Still I ended up doing a lot and it cost me sleepless nights and a back breaking day!
  • Lots of free printables on the net. Any google search with "pirate princess party free printables" threw up scores of options. I made the invitation cards from two printables, one princess and one Jake and the Neverland pirates, taken from the Disney page. 

  • These are some of the resources I downloaded from various sites. Disney free downloads are very useful. Many come in PDF files which I cant paste. All you need is a printer and ink cartridges, I spent Rs 2000 on the printer ink alone.
  • I racked my brains on the return gifts. Since this was her special core batch of friends and just 6 kids, I decided to go all out. 

    • One home printed notebook. Pages are free printables from various sites.

    • Along with that I also added printable colouring pages, available dime a dozen on the net.
    • Also added small printed thank you notes, 5 stars (which were gold bars) and chocolate gold coins, which were part of the pirates loot.
    • I got small Rs 8 bottles from a shop in Dadar, and wrote on them 'Pirates Ink' with permanent marker. This was filled with lemon juice, their "Invisible Ink". Everyone got to take home one bottle.

  • I spent maximum amount of money on the take home return gifts. Anyone looking to cut their budget can easily do home made printable crowns, tiaras, wands, pirate hats and card board swords. Thats a savings of straight Rs 4000 odd.
  • Food was home made fruit skewers with cheese and juice for snacks, Pizza, Garlic Bread, Juice, Coca Cola for dinner, and ice cream for dessert. I had planned to get mini dough nuts which kids love, but couldnt get it in time. 
    • For fruit skewers I got pineapple, cherry and cheese cubes (cut into 4 pieces each). On toothpicks skewer the fruits and a cheese. Some kids just loved this. 
    • I made my big mistake in the ordering of the pizza. With children this age it is always safe to just go with plain cheese pizza maybe with a topping of tomato. I ordered only one cheese pizza and two large chicken pizzas (since the group was predominantly non vegetarian). However they became picky about the chicken pizza, all wanted the cheese pizza and I ran out of it soon. One kid left her chicken pizza untouched. I had to call her mom and say that she hadnt had dinner!
    • Second mistake. Less garlic bread. I ordered two servings. But kids just love garlic bread and I should have got one more. I ran out of garlic bread while they were still asking. 
    • Third mistake- dont listen when a kid says I will eat nothing. Once everyone eats, they will too. I would have ordered one more cheese pizza only if this one girl had not come and specifically told me she had a stomach upset and would not eat anything at all.
    • I got Amul vanilla ice cream and Hersheys chocolate sauce and the kids loved it. No need for fancy ice creams. Simple works best. I could have topped it with nuts and Gems and sprinkles or raisins, but who had the time. Learning: keep these things handy! However, they loved it with the chocolate syrup which is anyway tasty.
    • Chocolate cake always works for most kids, but some will be picky and it is best to keep some cup cake or dough nut options handy. Thats my fourth mistake in foods. Learning: Get cup cakes and doughnuts one day early. 
  • I had planned plenty of games. Two hours were divided into 10-15 mins slots (keeping 30 mins for food and cake cutting) with games in each slot.
  • Kids nowadays are used to professionally managed birthday parties with games planned and arranged. I had some kids ASKING for games constantly. I had made a poster of Jake the pirate, and the kids played blindfolded- put the eye-patch on the pirate.
  • I had a childhood set of 9 pins of my daughters. A narrow corridor in front of the rooms got converted into a bowling alley.
  • We made Invisible Ink with lemon juice. I had already pressed some lemons and kept, and some were left for the kids. They had fun squeezing the lemons and getting the juice out. They wrote their messages with a paint brush. 
  • I had arranged for "walk the plank" with cardboard strips, but there was no time to play.
  • With lots of balloons, the kids went crazy playing balloon volleyball. This was unplanned but they had such fun, I started fearing the neighbours would complain!
  • I planned a Treasure Hunt. Now this is what the kids were super excited about. I am so proud of my treasure hunt. They played in one team and the treasure was all their goody bags. This was a roaring success and the kids went mad running from one clue to another. More about the treasure hunt in my next blog.
  • I had bought face paints and tattoos but they didnt get used.
  • I bought black cloth for Rs 80/mt, 2 mts and cut them to make bandannas for each child. Home made eye patches with ribbons also were a huge success.
  • Cost: 
    • Erasers and Stickers- Rs 500
    • Pirate set (2)- Rs 598
    • Tiara-wand-jewellery princess set (5) - Rs 3300
    • Bottles- Rs 50
    • Lamination of bookmarks- Rs 160 for 16
    • Books- Rs 1183
    • Bandana cloth- Rs 150
    • Cake- Rs 1700
    • Pizza and garlic bread- Rs 1500
    • Juice and Cheese- Rs 300
    • Ice cream- Rs 200
    • Cherries- Rs 100
    • Chocolates- Rs 400
    • Decorations, balloons, streamers, ribbons etc- Less than Rs 900
    • Total: Rs 11,000 or less.
  • I am leaving out the printer ink- That was Rs 2000.
  • I am also leaving out the face paint since it wasnt used. That was Rs 1500.
  • Dont buy the princess and pirate sets (Rs 4000 approx) and straight away the total amount goes down to Rs 7,000.
  • Shopping areas- 
    • Dadar for small items like erasers, stickers, cloth, bottles, fruits.
    • Crawford market for all party decorations
    • Hamleys for the girls return gifts, face paint and tattoos
    • Online for the boys return gifts, books. (babyoye and amazon)

Friday, May 2, 2014


You promised me a brave new world
Here I am
With a heart wide open
Wide as my arms, when I asked you to hold me
My mind wide eyed
Only waiting for a sign
To believe.

You promise me, my love wont be unfounded
Here I am
Loving you with my finger tips
Feeling your beauty seep into my skin
As you reject my touch
Only smiling as my heart suddenly withered inside me

It took you a withered heart to realise
That I have starved for rain.
It took you my lifeless body, to see
How I tried in vain to breathe you in.
It took you a broken soul
To start to want to mend
While I had started to look away into the unknown
Reaching out my hand to the heavens even as you mourned over me
Wondering if only the darkness held my dark lord.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland

Booker short-listed 'The Lowland' by Jhumpa Lahiri is another one of her Kolkata-USA transitional novels, the kind she specialises in. Two brothers born in pre-Independence Kolkata, through the troubled naxal revolution times. Then one brother (Udayan) becomes a Naxalite, and the older brother (Shubhash) moves to study in USA and hence, their heretofore joined-at-the-hips lives develop in completely different ways. 
Obviously, tragedy strikes when the younger brother is killed and then starts the journey of Subhash with his brothers pregnant wife, who he marries to save her from an uncertain future. 
But it does not stop here. Bela is born and raised, and then she has a child and it goes on and on. And on.
Which brings me to my problem with Jhumpa Lahiri novels. They dont seem to end. Her short stories are works of genius. Pithy, hard hitting, and perfectly simple, they are a joy to read. But her novels tend to meander along heavy slow routes, leaving their original course, getting into unrelated territory, never seeming to end. So goes this story. Bela's mother is an intelligent woman but cannot love her daughter. It is never clear exactly why- because she loved Udayan too much? Or because of what Udayan did before he died? Why did she leave? Bela turns into a hippie of sorts, has a child out of wedlock, but comes 'back on track' and gets a boyfriend in the end. While Shubhash's life goes on, with and without his parents, with and without his wife, with and without his daughter (not really, his brothers daughter), with and without his friends and colleagues.
Now to what the novel started with, the Naxal revolution in Bengal and Kolkata, the first part of the novel, the part which actually is interesting, heart wrenching and close to home. I have been brought up in Tollygunj, where in my growing up years, the Naxal revolution was still clearly remembered, deeply felt. There were still parents left who had lost their children. Trees under which someone was murdered by the police, fields where someones son or brother had been asked to flee, escape and then gunned down mercilessly. Just like Udayan. Ive met people who have seen such things. I lived by the Tolly Club, and we, as kids used to enter the club through a hole in the wall, and play inside. My mother had done the same when she was a child... and she and her rowdy group had been caught by a guard and given a couple of hidings. I basically lived in the Lowlands. The Technicians studio is close to my house, and the mosque, the lanes, are just as Lahiri describes them. It was so close to home that I was a bit angry to read her, it was as if she had entered MY territory, "I" am the one who is supposed to describe it, "I" live there. I have studied in Presidency, my closest friends were in Jadavpur University, College Street where Udayan and

Gauri's love blossoms, was second home for 3 years.
"I" know the people, the stories... and yet, she is a Booker nominee for having told my story! 
But I wish she would stay with the Naxalites, not go into so much detail about Shubhash's life, Bela's life, 4 generations... why? How does Udayan's death affect the fourth generation? I didnt get that. It affected Bela's childhood, and that's it.
So much possibility... its a piity.
My verdict... or my bet, however you put it- the Booker for Lahiri? Not this time.

Also see: http://kolkatacitydiaries.blogspot.in/2013/10/my-kolkata-in-jhumpa-lahiris-lowland.html

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Salvation of a Saint

From the wonderful 'The Devotion of Suspect X' to the intriguing but bland-ending 'Naoko', the fall was quite wide. 
However, I was excited about the second English translation of this Detective Galileo series, as it is called. Keigo Higashino is Japanese and allowing for some loss in translation, this is still my favourite detective series currently. 
Salvation of a Saint has an amazingly tricky plot, and with new additions to the main plot in between, one is left guessing till the very end. 
What I loved about this book is, the murderer is announced at the very beginning, yet the reader is second guessing throughout, not just about the murderer, but the motive and the method. Ultimately the detective work is about the method, but the motive itself is in question till the end. 
When you get to the point where you can guess things, it becomes so exciting, so intriguing, that the pace of the book itself seems too slow. Your brain will work much faster than the climax of the book, and that is the only thing that can be complained about. 
For any detective fiction lover, I suggest this book as a not-to-miss.