Category Archives: life

Wanting to be saved

A Coldplay kind of day today, and when Death and All His Friends come to your rescue, you listen. It was not all​ Yellow not by a long stretch but​ blue and no one will bleed for you or die trying except perhaps your family (their job description since the day you were born) and a few close friends (if you are lucky).  So what are you cribbing about, you ungrateful wretch. Get over yourself. Live, thrive, survive (whatever suits you). No one can Fix You except you.

No I don’t want to battle from beginning to end
I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge

It’s like I ​heard the song for the first time. For a long time the song was misnamed in my playlist as Lovers in Japan. Isn’t it amazing how a song will be whatever you want it to be in that moment – romantic, cathartic, healing, inspiring and so much more.

Sometimes a song saves you. The memories associated with it, the lyrics or the music itself (words become superfluous and it is the rhythm which carries you through).

​Watching This is Us brought Mandy Moore back into my life. For me Mandy Moores’s Cry is not about the lyrics but about nostalgia for me. It is about a bygone era when me and my friends used to read Nicholas Sparks (oh the horror). Now if I see A Walk to Remember (a fate comparable to being inside an MRI machine) I will definitely sob but it will be due to laughing hard and snorting at the dialogues. Thank god we grew up. Idealism has no place in the life of old people. (No, don’t tell me 30 is the new 20!) Youth and idealism go together just fine, complementing each other in envisioning a better future full of realized dreams, lost opportunities nowhere on the horizon and the harsh truth yet to dawn. The blinders come off eventually, either voluntarily or forcefully.

Sometimes humour saves you. Satire, sarcasm, nonsense, black – all shades of humour. Your sense of humour is the most important thing about you, so keep it close and try your best not to lose it in the chaos that is everyday life, unless you live on one of many moons of Jupiter. It might desert you and vanish from time to time but prepare a grand welcome when it reappears. Continue reading Wanting to be saved

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A Christmas miracle

Christmas holds a warm place in my heart because of the tradition from the school days. I went to a Christian school (people’s words not mine) and every year students take part in the Christmas play which is basically staging the nativity scene. It was followed a long Christmas vacation. One time I essayed the role of a sheep and boy wasn’t I happy to be an animal on stage. Happiness didn’t cost much then. Those were good times.

One never has to go too far to look for a miracle. A stranger helped me to meet Ruskin Bond which was my very own Christmas miracle. I could never have imagined meeting him in my wildest dreams that too here in my hometown.  It was  a few days before Christmas and just like any other cold winter day. Somehow even old crusty me can’t call what happened a coincidence.

When I found out Mr Bond would be gracing a literary festival in the city I asked my sister to ask her friend who studied in the institution which was organizing it to inquire about the system of entry of non-school students. Her friend told her to tell me to gatecrash the event because it isn’t that big a deal. Let me tell you it was a big deal. Clearly her friend doesn’t read many books. The guard at the door wasn’t budging if you weren’t in a uniform or didn’t have a pass. I asked on the festival’s online page and wrote an email asking if there’s a way for people like us to meet and greet Ruskin Bond but there was no response so I just decided to land at the venue which was quite unlike me. It was at the other end of the city but I was told to give it a try in spite of my illness and I did just that.

Why would a stranger, who has never seen you before in her life, cared if you meet (or didn’t meet) the one and only Ruskin Bond. And what are the odds that the stranger was dressed like you and lived in the same locality as you. And someone who wore the adjective bookish like a badge of honour. It was like at first sight. She was wearing a kurti in the same shade of green I was, it was the same length as mine and we had the same hair style even. Had I been plump like I’m now and not leaner like I was then, we really would have looked like two peas in a pod. (I just wanted to use the phrase.) Not believable? But then truth is stranger than fiction. The similarities end here. Unlike garrulous me she prefers silence.

She helped me realize my lifelong dream of seeing Ruskin Bond in flesh and blood with my very own eyes. I could meet and greet Ruskin bond because of her. Had I reached a minute before or a minute later, our paths wouldn’t have crossed. Should I call it destiny, fate, coincidence, serendipity or just my luck? I could have been a serial bomber for all she knew, wanting to go inside the venue to blow it up into smithereens but didn’t have a pass (obviously). Perhaps she could see in me the same thing which had brought her there, a love for the written word and the worlds created by Mr Bond and a fervent desire to hear the man whose words were synonymous with our childhood. Any interaction was the cherry on top of a richly iced cake. Mr. Ruskin Bond exudes warmth and generosity. He actually had twinkling eyes that we read about in books. Larger than life yet down to earth. Yes I’m gushing.

This holiday season spread good cheer, it is infectious. And when you feel too lonely, remember solitude and loneliness are two sides of the same coin.

Not goodbye

As we grow older the number of friends we make decreases and sadly so do the number that stay. When I was in school in each corner lurked a potential friend where now lurks a frenemy (Okay acquaintance. I shouldn’t be so quick to judge!). If you can spot it right from the outset, it will save you from a ton of drama.

Friends of convenience aren’t really friends. I can’t make a sweeping statement that they are no one’s friends. May be they are. The fact of the matter is I am too old for this. Being genuine can’t possibly be so hard. One doesn’t always have to put up an act and play stupid games or be peaceable to stop someone from leaving or worse guilt trip someone into staying. Nearly half my life is gone and my energy reserves are pretty limited. I don’t want to put up with negativity which has no basis in reality and only conspires to bring me down.

People who only look after their agendas, and if your agenda doesn’t match with them, they won’t think twice before dropping you like hot coals, aren’t your friends. In fact they will cross your name from their friend list (=people who always help them and put them first) when they know you are not so handy as you used to be or will not relent because the truth has dawned on you (cliched but true). People change as they grow and I too have changed, but in some ways I remain the same. I am less stubborn than I used to be but in some cases I refuse to budge come hell or high-water.

I am not a fan of simpering smiles and false compliments. I’d rather we had a real conversation or you told me what you really thought of me to my face instead of tearing me to shreds behind my back but smiling benignly when I am in front of you. I might burst into tears or I might enter into a shouting match with you but I will never hate you for telling me your truth. (One of the many perks of growing up is realizing that truth has multiple versions.) People who say what they don’t mean and hide under snide comments are not your friends either. The worst of the lot are the ones who try to gloss over things when they really should be talked about in the open. Continue reading Not goodbye

Book review – I Quit! What Now?

Meet Nimisha, the protagonist of Zarreen Khan’s I Quit! What Now? She is a corporate drone (think Ranbir’s character in Tamasha except wittier) and works so hard at her job that she hasn’t had a weekend to herself in a long time. Sounds familiar? She hates her job and the daily grind that comes with the territory. She desperately needs some time off to recharge her batteries and the idea of a sabbatical is planted in her head when her colleague takes one because of her pregnancy. She thinks a sabbatical is the answer to all her problems. But life rarely works as per our plan. She is forced to quit when she isn’t granted a few months off. So she starts off with the list of options typed in her excel sheet, ready to dive in. And we journey with her as she goes through the list, trying things, with hilarious consequences.

Nimisha, fondly called Nimi, lives with her mother and maid. With a distinct personality of her own her maid is one of my favourite characters. Nimi has an elder sister and her nieces adore her. They love the stories she tells them. She has a bunch of friends who keep in touch in spite of their busy lives. Her relationships with friends, family, and office colleagues is portrayed in a real manner and there isn’t a single false note.

Nimi is afraid to make a fool of herself like the rest of us.  But she is a diligent worker who hasn’t more or less caught a break in 8 years and feels unappreciated. No wonder the burnout happened.

Nimisha is a likable protagonist but more than that she is flawed and real, like you and me. Initially I couldn’t connect with the corporate droning but I suspect most  people would identify with it. After that the pace picked up and I couldn’t stop reading. I haven’t worked in a corporate set up so for me it was looking in from the outside. A fresh perspective, and a scary one at that. I cackled at her jokes in the middle of a wintry night. There was a very real chance of waking people up and making them think I was a lunatic. Continue reading Book review – I Quit! What Now?

Lessons in life from a little girl (real and fictional)

Unexpected intrusions of beauty. That is what life is. – Saul Bellow

There are no words to express the way you feel when you hold the hand of an eleven year old, let her take charge and be your guide. For a few moments I felt like the schoolgirl I had once been, carefree, innocent and oblivious to what the world looked like to grownups. I thought I had left that self far behind but it was hiding in the open underneath the veneer of adulthood. I desperately hope (in spite of knowing that it will) growing up doesn’t rob her of her curiosity.

This child was knowledgeable about the technicalities of photography and that impressed me, I am still an amateur photographer years after professing interest in photography as a hobby. There lies the difference. It is more than a hobby for her. She is passionate about it.

I took to her immediately. Our vibes matched. It would appear strange when I say that because I am a world weary adult (even though I cringe while saying it) and she’s a bright kid. My inner child connected with her and perhaps in her I could see a glimpse of the happy-go-lucky child I used to be.

I have always connected well with children. At the same time, I have been told by my older friends that I am far too mature for my age. I am an old soul with a young heart. And only with a Gemini it won’t be a conundrum.

She was cheerful, restless and bubbling with enthusiasm like children are. It was something I could not have asked for but got in spades interacting with her that day. I was not supposed to meet her but she had come with my friend and how funny it was her that made my day.

The same night I found a book  I had been looking for ages, Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle. I don’t have to tell you that the illustrations are beautiful because it’s a book by Oliver Jeffers. It talks about a girl shutting herself away from the world because something bad happened to her. To live and to just exist are two different things. She allowed grief to overwhelm her and forgot to live until a little girl shows her what she was missing, just by being herself, full of life and not being afraid of the future (the great unknown for most of us unless you are a seer). I was that little girl but I don’t want to be that adult. Finding the way to yourself, and discovering who you are, isn’t that the purpose of life?

Life mirrors art. Art mirrors life. And we continue to live on trying to find meaning in the things we do.

Yesterday I read an insightful interview about Oliver Jeffers’ new book Here We Are which comes out today. The cover looks stunning and I cannot wait to read it.

Rains Ridiculous

Like a typical Aries one day I was returning after experiencing something practically life altering (to someone else it would be lunacy not path breaking), I decided to take a chance and get wet in the rain. My God it was a scary experience. So much for new experiences. It’s so not true what they show in movies. It’s the opposite. And highly impractical might I add.

It was humid, the clouds were mongering and I was waiting for the bus for what seemed like an eternity. I was so busy writing I missed two buses. I people watched when I felt tired and fatigued (Man watching is the term). Finally got on one when I waved my hands madly and the bus that was moving away screeched to a halt.

Getting wet in the rains is overrated. (God help me if I am ever stuck in the Mumbai rains.) You soil your clothes and shoes, which take forever to dry if you live in a humid place like I do. Cleaning them is a task, and then there is the imminent threat of a raging cold. I felt nothing but tedious. Where was the magic I wondered, when I was dragging myself home.

Rainy season is the least favourite of all the seasons though I love the accompaniments – clouds being formed, the colour of skies darkening and the streaks of lightning, sudden and unexpected. The dreamer in me cannot ever reconcile with the realist that shows up from time to time.

I will never say rain demands to be felt. Big fat drops hitting you with all their might making the short stretch leading home seem like an long endless road. Shudder! Continue reading Rains Ridiculous

Book review – Have a Safe Journey

If walking on the roads wasn’t scary enough with increasing traffic, people following their own rules and the dismal law and order situation should be enough to scare you. It is the ugly truth. I think it is very commendable that such a book has been published. Nitin Gadkari played an integral role in bringing out the book. He has also written the foreward for Have A Safe Journey. The book is divided into two sections. The first section has stories by established writers and the second section contains stories by people who participated in the Have A Safe Journey (HASJ) contest.

Anand Neelakantan’s story Hit and Run was disappointing, an old fashioned fable on truth and morality. It was followed by Ashwin Sanghi’s story Something About Mary which is an account of the first accident. The way the story was presented makes the reader care about the character and the outcome. I really enjoyed it and wouldn’t have minded reading more about her. Kiran Manral’s story Sudden Break will speak to you and leave you thinking long after the story ends.

In Car Pool by Pankaj Dubey easygoing  Avni with a disregard for rules and Suryash, a stickler for rules, carpool to Goa. Opposites attract and they bond with each other to the extent of falling for each other. I really enjoyed the story. Written in lucid prose and very believable, you are in for the ride with them. It effectively makes a point about wearing seat belts without an ounce of preachiness.

Priyanka Sinha Jha’s Rush Hour is interesting because the victim is rescued by the one who caused the accident. He got her admitted, checked her progress and later on told her the truth. But left the decision to go to the police entirely to her. She got a new lease of life because of him. What would you have done?

I felt Why We Don’t Talk by Shinie Anthony didn’t quite belong in the collection. It was murky and a bit spooky. But the unexpected makes the story enjoyable.

The Level Crossing by Vikram Kapur is about a driver who hasn’t  slept three nights in a row and continues to be on the road. He is working round the clock because he needs the money for his sister’s wedding. Without sleep he’s a sitting duck. A disaster waiting to happen. As passengers all we care about is our comfort and reaching our destination on time. Do we ever care or think about the driver’s comfort? After reading this story you will think about your driver and be more alert on the road.

Now moving on to the amateurs’ stories. Most stories are good as quick reads which has to do with the format of the short story contest (1500 was the upper word limit). These stories present themselves completely, mostly. Some of these stories are predictable because you know someone will die or be gravely injured in a road mishap of some kind. But having said that many stories are unpredictable and those are the ones I enjoyed.

In Ambalika’s An End I Did Not See competitions are being held on the occasion of Road Safety Week at NEHU. In a debate for Safety Ideation Contest, a literature student talks about creating a mobile signal jammer for vehicles to reduce the number of road accidents. One of the panelists is eager to turn her idea into reality. Talking and driving has become more common than drinking and driving.The story is well narrated and the surprising twist will break your heart.

In Anukriti Verma’s Safety First Alex and Rick were inseparable like Jai and Veeru from Sholay until death played spoilsport. The story gives a strong message about drinking and driving is strong but it gets preachy towards the end.

In Arvind Passey’s The Street Photographer a street photographer who captures gritty images meets a grisly end. The way things played out was unexpected yet real.

In The Perilous Eve by Aritri Chatterjee the life of carefree youngsters drinking and speeding on a bike to celebrate the New Year’s eve collides with death. I don’t understand parents gifting their underage offspring bikes and cars. They have had so many years of practice but they still don’t know how to adult.

Misplaced Dreams written by Barnali Ray Shukla was one of my favourites.  Bus driver is casually drinking and risking so many lives. And there is no one to stop him. Three old friends are on a pleasure trip but they don’t know it would their last trip together. It is gut wrenching listening to their thoughts as they hurtle towards death. Even Gods can’t save you, if you drink and drive. Another clear message it delivers is that life is lived in the moment and does not come with any guarantees. Continue reading Book review – Have a Safe Journey

Book review – A State of Freedom

The first thing that struck me about A State of  Freedom is it’s cover. The book jacket has a large bear on the cover, which is unusual and arresting but surprisingly aesthetically pleasing. When I began reading A State of Freedom, it reminded me of Lahiri’s oeuvre because of the way it started and the themes it deals with. But I soon realized Neel Mukherjee’s book is quite different.

The book is edgy and each section ends with a cliffhanger. You want to gallop ahead and connect the dots, and at the same time, you want to take your time to savour the way it’s written.

A State of Freedom has a large canvas and deals with many issues in only 275 pages. The book is divided into 5 sections and the events that unfold are in different geographical locations. The way the stories of these characters are narrated gives them depth, and makes them appear real.

In the first section a man wants to familiarize his increasingly Americanized son with his roots. So they visit Mughal monuments like Fatehpur Sikhri and Taj Mahal. Originally from Calcutta, he has been living abroad for two decades, and now feels like “a tourist in his own country”. He wants his son to see India, and understand the culture he was born into. But they are like aliens from another planet.

I felt disoriented as the first section ended and wanted to stop but I urge you to read on (and not be put off by big words).

The second section flows more easily. A Bengali couple, the Sens, live in Mumbai and their son, a young writer, lives in London. He returns to India periodically to visit them. He is working on a cookbook which will contain authentic recipes from India as cooked in Indian households. The cooking at their home is done by Renu, who works as a cook in many households in Mumbai. Their son is curious about Renu because of her surly manner and tries to draw her into conversations but she doesn’t respond.

Treating the domestic help as a lesser human being is perhaps a relic of the Zamindari system. The son now straddles both worlds, old and new, and finds it  increasingly difficult to deal with the way things continue to be done in India.

The love of food intersperses this section. If you pay attention, many a recipe can be mined out from these pages. While exploring India for recipes, he also visits Renu’s home at her insistence. It is here he witnesses the divide between the classes.

Another woman, Milly, comes to clean the Sens’ house. She reappears as a major character in another section of the book.

The third section is the longest, and is the soul of the book. Motherless twins brought up by a father, who dies in a forest fire. One brother leaves home to find work. This section follows the other brother, Lakshman, as he attempts to eke out a living. He finds a bear cub and keeps it to save it from being killed. He names it Raju. With his brother gone, the responsibility of feeding his wife and children along with his own family now falls squarely on his shoulders.

The way the bear cub is handled, in an attempt to tame it, is barbaric. This, in a country where cows are ‘worshipped’. It makes you question who is really savage, man or beast?

They are animals their pain doesn’t last. All these animals that live in the wild, in the forest, on the streets, you have never known them to need a doctor, have you? They heal quickly, they are strong. It’s we, humans, who are weak.

With hunger gnawing their insides, their lives are foremost about survival. They are largely unaware of the world outside of their existence. They have no time to understand the rights of animals. Lakshman has trouble believing bear dancing is a crime one could be sent to jail for.

Lakshman tries to train Raju to be a performing bear and wanders from place to place living like a nomad, trying to earn money by making him dance. Though Lakshman is cruel to Raju, he is aware that he is at the mercy of the ‘helpless’ animal. Lakshman depends on Raju; the bear can forage for food and fend for itself. It makes you think about freedom, who is actually free.

The book shows how leaving home in search of a better quality of life works out differently for people, and the price they pay for it.  (Warning – Animal sacrifice is described in this section.)  Continue reading Book review – A State of Freedom

Stillness

In life there are few moments when you experience a kind of stillness which changes something in you, a perceptible shift occurs. Without being aware of it the conscious has changed. I hadn’t recorded my experience in any form then. It was days later I thought about that dusk inching closer to an inky night, in the wee hours of the morning in another kind of stillness, of dawn breaking and banishing darkness. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was but feeling centered and belonging to the moment as it unfolded was a big part of it.

The winding village road was bereft of street lights. The stars looked so bright without light pollution that I wondered why we were crammed in the city. The path through green meadows where a lighthouse like light moved on both sides made it all the more surreal. I remember there was a waning moon and it looked ethereal. Was it my imagination or the quality of light was different than the one in the city?

I wonder what would travelling alone on a bike, moving with the wind and experiencing it with every fibre of my being feel like. I guess that is why people travel. To live out their unlived lives.

The moment was fleeting (aren’t moments like these always fleeting yet so much is contained in that moment) and even though I was surrounded by people it was as if no one existed. In the silence my mind was completely still. In these rare moments of stillness I feel something I can’t quite explain. Is it what feeling one with the universe and acutely being in the present moment feels like? I intend to find out.

Have you experienced such moments of stillness?

Tagore’s The Post Office and the living

I lay on the bed
for the better part of the day 
looking listlessly  out of the window
the wire mesh blocking the view
partitioning the sky into small squares.
Sleep eluded me
pain overpowered me
I longed to die.
I felt my heart thudding
hanging on to dear life.
Death laughing sardonically
watching with cold glee
whispering in a thin voice

your time is yet to come.

Continue reading Tagore’s The Post Office and the living