Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dear Readers,

My first "professional" blog has just been published on the Business Standard website. Please click on the following link to read it. Your valuable comments on the website are welcome as always.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Treasure Trove of Memories

I am blessed with a good memory. So I am told and so I have come to realise. For I tend to remember the most mundane details that seem insignificant to a lot of people but which soothe my invisible hurting wounds on a less than mirthful day.

I may not remember the date, the time or what exactly was spoken in words. But the connections made as I exchanged glances with that special someone, the tingly and pleasurable current spreading through me that made me anxious, curious, daring and shy all the same time all come back to me in a rush that takes over me in a paroxysm of an unnamed bittersweet emotion.

Is this a curse then? Getting over failures is difficult. Getting over heartbreaks is tougher. Every song I listen to has a history. Every literary piece I read has a reference. Every movie is reminiscent of clandestine hand-holding. The direction which the story my life is taking now is invariably connected to the past that has made me.

Is it a boon? For it makes me smile on a tough day to remember the shared "wisdom". For my urge to cry in anger is subdued by the calming reassurances once given to me. For whenever I feel weak, the strength that was seen by others comes springing back to life. For every failure now seems insignificant. For every joy is now more precious. For every moment is now laced with the nothingness of the sweet nothings we shared.

Tenacity is a trait I have always had. I do not know if it's a virtue or a bane. I cling to memories and I am told I need to move on. Move on from what? Where? From these lamentably lost moments that have given me the strength to love more deeply, care more warmly and fight for my expressions more ferociously?

I may have lost a piece of me. I feel incomplete. But if reflections of that past are all I have to give me a vague feel of how it is to be unbroken, why should I let them go? 

If memories are all I have, how can I let them fade away?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freedom in Fool's Paradise

I dare to listen to my heart
I dare to dream
I dare to strive to make those dreams a reality
I dare to fight my way through inane obstacles

I dare to defy
I dare to stand up for my rights
I dare to make my own tules
I dare to voice my opinion

I dare to be honest
I dare to be loud and uninhibited
I dare to maintain a dignified silence 
I dare to laugh in the face of trying times
I dare to be me

I dare to shed tears when I am sad
I dare to share my mirth with those who stand by me
I dare to love myself when no one else does

I dare to fall in love
I dare to give my heart away
I dare to relive memories that warm my heart
I dare to relive memories that singe me

Like a moth to the flame I dare to stare doom in the eyes
With some longing, some lust and that slowly awakening passion
Does this make me stupid, cowardly, unrealistic, emotionally weak, crazy?
Am I anti-social, promiscuous, insolent, obstinate, narcissist, hedonistic?
Would you call me stubborn, arrogant, abnormal, cold, immature?
If you think I am living in a fool's paradise for being who I am, then so be it. 


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mumbai Mojo

It is often said that nothing, not even a series of bomb blasts can break Mumbai city's mojo. Wrong. Rains can. They did. Just last evening.

I was coming back from work, taking the usual route, wanting to catch up with a friend on the way and then going home, when I saw the skies above Dadar station turn purple in fury and lightning make its 'blink and you miss' appearance. That alone was enough to drive the crowds into a frenzy, whereby everyone was trying to get into any train and any compartment possible. I, for one, managed to find a comfortable corner where the likelihood of getting crushed by heavy, screaming and aggressive women and their heavier and bulkier bags was minimal. I promptly called my friend and cancelled our plans for the evening.

Three minutes into chugging along to the next station, all the screaming and shouting each of these women to every other woman in the compartment was drowned by a loud crack of thunder and the loud sound of torrential rain hitting the roof of the train. Windows were shut and the doors were slid shut to avoid the water from coming inside. The inside of the compartment soon started to feel like a pressure cooker. The air got stuffy and smelly from the combination of sweaty odours claiming my nostrils with a vengeance, and I was starting to feel faint. The local train authorities and the signals were at their sadistic best, making the trains move at a speed that could make a bullock cart ride feel like one in the Concorde.

I managed to stand comfortably in my tiny corner till the time the train reached the station before the one I had to alight at. And thankfully I managed to get off at the right station without much trouble. Oh! Did I mention trouble?  How could it leave me alone?Trouble did happen to me. Now.

To get out of the station from the platform at the farthest end took me more than 20 minutes. The crowd looked like a mass of bees swarming around an invisible target. If I thought I had been about to faint from the overwhelming odour of sweat in the train, I had become a zombie now. I cringe to recall all the elbowing, pushing, shoving and name calling that happened around me, while I tried to navigate my way out of the human mess with a phony sense of calm that I just looked, but didn't feel. Amazing as it was, I did pull myself up together long enough to reach the exit and sprint to the auto stand. I didn't care about the rain, the slush, or the mud staining my feet, slippers or clothes.

And now, like in very other city in the rain, the auto walas started acting up; refusing to go anywhere they didn't want to. No matter how much I said I'd pay them. I asked a lady to guide me to the bus that would take me home. She sternly directed me to a queue that was snaking its way into one of the BEST buses of Mumbai I had heard so much about. After having got in, and gone some way ahead, I asked a co-passenger how far my bus stop was. To his amusement and my consternation, it was the wrong bus. It didn't take that route at all!

As soon as the bus stopped due to a traffic jam, I got off and waited for an empty auto rickshaw to grant me respite as I felt the cold rain water drench me. Finally, an old man in a rickety rickshaw decided he could earn brownie points with the Almighty force up there by helping the poor girl in extreme distress (he said that to me). Thankfully I hadn't gotten too far away because I reached home soon enough. If two and a half hours for the whole commute from work can qualify as "soon enough" for a route that generally takes me an hour and forty-five minutes to traverse.

Now that I am writing about this particular "fright night", I am finding it difficult not to smile to myself. It is not like I haven't encountered crowds in public transport systems or rains that mar the mood of the day. It's just that when you expect a city to be on the move all the time, when you have so much about it, it appears invincible. To know that is just an illusion and maybe not the forces of man, but the forces of nature can reduce it to any other ordinary city in India is a humbling thought. As much as I have come to love Mumbai, I have to admit, it needs to manage its rainy days better.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

That One Lucky Charm

It was a day where things couldn't possibly have gotten worse. The excitement of getting to work on the first day at a new job was marred by the rains which are dreaded in a city like Mumbai. I am also completely new to the rush of the Mumbai locals, and the maddening traffic jams that take me about 30 minutes to go a distance of roughly 2 kilometres in an auto rickshaw that I share with complete strangers. After being squished to my bones, I got off the train at the station closest to work, and walked in the direction opposite to work for a good 10 minutes before realising that I was going the wrong way.

At work, the website I am working with refused to be functional. Some joker had decided it would be funny to hack the site and introduce a malware into it. So I was left with doing nothing much except lurk around my regular cyber space hangouts - facebook, gtalk and my blog. It kept raining throughout the day. I almost skipped lunch till I started feeling faint. A huge sum of money I was to receive from someone sitting in London had not reached me. I was on the verge of being broke. I stepped out of office early, as there was nothing to work on - the site was still being restored - and discovered that the taxis were having a ball saying "no" to every bystander asking for a ride to hie or her preferred destination. I walked the entire route to the station, getting soaked in the rain, and splashed in slush by inconsiderate cabs that thought nothing of slowing down when nearing a puddle.

Partly in haste, and mostly because of ignorance I got on to a train that was likely to carry more passengers to a destination way father than where I had to get off. I was placed between aunties so cheerfully plump that for maybe the first time in my life I realised I am actually not quite as fat as I believe. Needless to say, I couldn't get off at my station and was forced to stay in the train till I could push my way out of the thronging lady dynamos, three stations later. The train that took me back to my destination took its own time, stopping between stations, and sauntering merrily. Finally, I reached home, changed into fresh clothes, took of my shoes that had montrously bitten into my tired feet and sat down to write this.

As I write about an unusually drab day full of the best examples of situations that usually ruin your mood completely, making you a banshee of sorts, I realised I was still very happy. I was smiling. There was a contentment in my heart that I had not felt in a long time. I was finally at a job I had always wanted. I was finally free, which was letting me breathe and be calm. And there's something else...

I had been mulling on my way to work about how my life has turned out. About what I want, where I want to go, whom I want to be with and who I want to be. It had made me a little pensive to think that often these directions we set for ourselves in our mind don't work out that way. Life has a strange way of playing games with you. It was a thought worth pondering over and I was doing exactly that. Till... a phone call changed my pattern of thought for the rest of the day; from morose and gloomy to bright, beautiful and absolutely like warm liquid fire flowing through my veins the whole day long. That it was unexpected and gave me a pleasant shock made it more welcome. Oh! If only I could put the feeling into words.

I am now poised with all kinds of courage and a "chin-up-in-the-face-of-death" attitude to confront whatever lies ahead. Don't get me wrong. I have managed myself everywhere. This hasn't been scary for me at all. Only that I have a challenge in front of me. To prove to a certain person who told me that I'll be sick of the hectic and severely professional lifestyle in Mumbai and head home within a month. This has been rubbed into my face so snidely that I have forgotten everything, but the will to succeed at this job and in this city at any cost. To know that I have with me people who care makes the whole deal worthwhile.

That one lucky charm worked in my favour, turning what could have been a horrible day into a perfect day I'd label more as adventurous and exciting. Thank you God.... You do show your love in strange ways.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Mad Trip Into The Mad World of My Mad Family - Part VI

So, I had had a dream-worthy two months in one of my favourite places - Pune. And then came the torture - stabbed in the back by someone I considered my best friend, losing another best friend to a Sidney Sheldon-esque series of suspense ridden circumstances, career issues, problems with my parents not having faith in me and understanding me, and being grounded in a city where I barely have friends (save two people). I was constantly under pressure from myself to find a way out of everything at once. It is no secret for the people who know me that I follow my heart, at the cost of losing out on some "wonderful" looking opportunity (as judged by others, who are apparently concerned for me). I agree I may not always have succeeded in ending up with the dream job, the dream paycheck, the dream city or my dream man. But I am glad I took those risks (horribly cliched, but true beyond imagination). No wonder then that I was looking forward to meeting my cousins, my relatives and my grandparents after 3 long years. I could find new reasons to exercise my vocal chords after having restricted my conversations to typing on the keyboard till late at nights... and all of them brimming with despair, hopelessness and cynicism. That'd explain my unusual quietness and my very frequent spurts of moodiness.

To let you all know, I have a huge family. My father has three brothers and three sisters. My mother has seven brothers and two sisters. If I were to count only my first cousins, I have 20 of them on my mother's side and 16 on my father's side. Just memorising who was whose child and what his / her name is, used to be a demanding activity when I was a child. I confused people with their names, called my mama my kaka and so on and so forth. Amazingly, I was still considered a brilliant child. Now, most of these cousins are settled outside of Orissa, with jobs and their own family. The younger ones are still here. A majority of my uncles and aunts live in Bhubaneswar though, where we were headed towards right now, in torrential rains, where it was impossible to drive over 80 kmph even on the smooth highway and visibility was near zero.There was no way we could reach Bhubaneswar before 8 pm.

Sometime during the drive I got a call from a number in Delhi. It was about a letter of offer of employment with Business Standard - an interview I had almost no hope of cracking, because I had screwed in the written test horribly, confusing Sunil Mittal for LN Mittal (which so-called MBA does that?) and not being able to identify key people who are important  nuts and bolts that keep India's financial system running. What the hell was I thinking when I went to write that test. Oh wait! I was crabby and cribby then because I was suffering a terrible heartbreak. It's a wonder I wrote anything in the test at all! But coming back to the point... I FINALLY HAD A JOB!! Mom and dad didn't seem to excited that I'd be moving out of Calcutta yet again (to Mumbai) and for a journo's job that'd pay me less than an HR job (I had consciously made the switch, against their wishes and advice). But I was on the top of the world. There was no way I was letting this job go.

I have go off track now. I am often asked to carry back rosogolla for my friends whenever I visit my parents in Calcutta. What not many people know is that the best rosogollas in the world come from the suburbs of Bhubaneswar, from a place called Pahala. They're made in front of your eyes and served hot. Each is the size of a ping-pong ball, and when you place it in your mouth, it's softness melts into the texture of your tongue, making you feel like you've died peacefully and gone to heaven. Why I am saying this is because I am sure I will die of some diabetes related ailment. I am way too fond of sweets and I am never sorry for it. This is just an attempt to rub it into the faces of all sweet-loving people that I have had these little pieces of heaven.

Back to the drive to Bhubaneswar; we reached Pahala at about 7:30pm. We halted there. And despite the numb backsides, sore backs and cramped legs, I jumped out of the car as soon as dad parked it outside one of the numerous stalls lined along the highway. I was about to taste heaven after so long! We ate some chhena poda (another very popular Oriya sweet) and gorged on the rosogollas before packing lots of it for our stay in the Temple Town.

We reached home at 8pm, as estimated, and after unloading the boot of the car, we rushed to see my grandparents. The bear hugs and the tears of joy when we met after so long was beyond words. It is an indescribable feeling to be so loved and to be able to feel that love just like that, without any effort, without words and sometimes, even without a physical touch. My cousins were all wide-eyed and thrilled, as was I. For I used to carry them around, play with them, sometimes teach them, and when they were really small, change their diapers. To see them as fully grown people, who are so smart in the head and good looking, it filled me with a strange kind of pride. I couldn't stop hugging them and patting their backs (yes! I was behaving like an over-affectionate and possibly overbearing aunt)

I was filled in with details of what they were doing at school, whom they were friends with, how they messed with each other, who their crushes are, what they like, whom they are no more friends with. I wanted to scream with joy. I wanted to hug everyone really long. I wanted to jump about in excitement. I wanted to sleep a peaceful sleep, holding on these good feelings.There was chatter, and evil grins, and conspiratorial whispers and lots of heart warming laughter. As I stepped back from myself and viewed the gathering of people there, I thanked God for giving me a chance to regain my sanity among the people who knew nothing about my ordeals, for they could be happy and make me happy without having to worry about my state of mind then. That's exactly what I needed. I was getting another shot at being me. I grabbed it instantly. There has not been any looking back ever since.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Mad Trip Into The Mad World of my Mad Family - Part V

It was unusually warm that night, very humid and the low voltage refused to let the fan run at a speed good enough to put the air in motion. I remember sleeping very fitfully. But I was looking forward to the morning. It came, but it was pouring then, and the rain-lover in me was ecstatic. I wanted to go to the courtyard and hop-skip-and-play with the big fat raindrops.


Getting ready for the trip back was easy. There was no rush. People were lazy and while we were supposed to have started by 8am, the rain had put out a stopper there. The route was not going to be easy. The narrow mud paths would be slippery and the visibility was bad. Yes! It was raining that hard. We sat in Guruji's study, talking in loud voices to be heard over the pitter-patter on the tin roof of the house. So reminiscent of Javed Akhtar's innocently amorous poetry from 1942-A Love Story... bajta hai jaltarang teen ki chhat pe jab motiyon jaisa jal barse. It was romantic. It was beautiful. And I am sure all of it was laced with a tiny tinge of a treasured but distant poignant memory, for me.

When the rain did stop at around 11am, we were all ready, stuffed to our throats with some fantastic breakfast. Prahlad and I helped dad redo the jigsaw puzzle in the car trunk. It was a mellow goodbye. Guruji's wife gave me some flowers from the temple, blessing me and saying that she had not imagined in her wildest dreams that a city bred girl like me would be able to manage so well and mix with everyone in the village. Although that was a nice compliment, I felt a little let-down wondering what it is about me that Guruji had perceived? I do make an impression sometimes. But I'd have expected someone who has talked to me numerous times to know me just that little bit better. I let it pass. Thanked her. took her blessings and settled into the familiar feeling of being packed into an already stuffed suitcase. We were all back in the car, and raring to get "home". Uncle and aunty had been away from their home for over two weeks now and were getting a little restless.

Dad managed the unpaved roads with his usual agility and in an hour's time, we were on NH5. I was again listening to songs while the elders yapped. We stopped a short way into Orissa border and had some coffee. We stopped at another dhaba for lunch (which was a bad idea). Mom even made dad and me get our own hand wash from among one of the many bags in the car because she did not trust the hygiene quotient of the soap at the sink in the dhaba. And then we stopped at a hotel in Bhadrak for a loo break and another coffee.

While were in the hotel, it started raining cats and dogs. We stood in the porch, trying to figure out a way to get to the car parked about 15 feet away without getting soaked. Mom was most concerned about it. She hates the rains. She also got aunty concerned by saying that the sarees she had purchased to gift to relatives at the wedding could get ruined by the rain water seeping into the trunk. Now it was dad's turn to get annoyed. There was no way water could seep into the car. And mom's finickiness annoyed all of us most of the time. Dad rushed to the car shielding himself with an umbrella borrowed from an attendant in the hotel, drove the car to the porch, and we realised with shock that the trunk of the car was actually open! We were worried that some of our luggage might have fallen off without our knowledge. And we were also afraid something might fall out now in the rain and make a mess of the whole already messy situation.

Dad couldn't hear us call out to him, so I ran to the car, and closed the trunk door. Getting drenched to the bone in those two minutes. And my mother found another reason to crib. "Why wasn't the boot closed?" "Why did you have to get wet in the rain?" "What if you catch a cold now in the AC?" It looked like the havan had worked for me but had made my mother more prone to losing her temper. Mom and dad know me as an insolent child. So I made use of that image and went back to my songs while she continued to nag me, not caring if I caught a cold. Actually, even dad had to ask mom to stop pinning me for every small reason. It was a silent ride for everyone else while I stared out of the window breaking the raindrops into a million little droplets and scattering around. James Blunt's 1973 couldn't have pulled me into it any more
 on this that that was so blue.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

A Mad Trip Into The Mad World of my Mad Family - Part IV

Lost in my world, I hardly took in the flurry of activity around me as the preparations for the evening puja were done. The past has an interesting way of sucking you into it. And the more you resist, the more difficult it is to not think about it. Suddenly, an elderly looking brahmin came to my father and without saying anything prostrated before him. The rest of us looked at the scene agog, while dad kept sitting back complacently, saying, "the moon's rising behind me. He's praying to chandra." We still didn't know what to make out of it. And then the brahmin got up, and bowed low doing a namaskar clearly to my father this time, who choked on the tea he was drinking. And before dad could regain his composure enough to ask what this was all about, the brahmin had walked away. All of us except dad burst out in perplexed laughter, not knowing what just transpired. 

Later, we were called to watch as a trio of singers took charge of entertaining us with retelling certain excerpts from the Ramayana. It was a group of husband, wife and daughter, who were so good at what they were doing. It was quite like the jatra form of storytelling, with the harmonium and the dhol as accompaniments to the lady's sing-song manner of narration of how Shabari offered berries to her dear lord Rama. They were like rock stars, handling the microphone with elan, engaging the audience and having them participate by clapping ans swaying to the beat. We, sitting right at the back, were enraptured in the magic the trio wove with their act. I call them The Bard Trio.

And then came the time for the havan. There were two kunds made. Uncle and aunty sat around one; mom, dad and me around the other, and guruji sat in the middle, reciting the mantras into the microphone for the entire gathering to hear. I did not understand why the whole village was present there if the puja was to quieten my mercurial temper. And then it struck me. Free dinner after the havan... the prasad. Well, some may have been there to genuinely be a part of the puja, but free food never hurt anyone. More so, guruji is a very respected man there, so all were around as a mark of respect.

There was Geeta paath between the mantras and as we poured ghee keep the fire blazing, guruj explained to us parts of the Bhagvad Geeta. It was quite interesting because I like dabbling into spheres of spirituality every now and then (religion is not as appealing). Now was good because of the mood set by the bard, her husband and her daughter.

After the havan was done, the five of us - the main participants - of the puja were asked to walk the parikrama (the boundary) of the temple with small cane-woven baskets full of batasha (coin sized sugar tablets offered to Gods during aarti or puja), while the kirtan singers began their melodious chants of Hare Rama Hare Krishna again. And then we had to throw handfuls of batasha at the two hundred odd people watching the puja. What happened next startled me, for these same people, standing with their palms joined and eyes closed in search for oneness with their Almighty, suddenly scampered and scrambled about on the floor, trying to pick up as many batasha as possible. They called out to us, asking us to throw more batasha in their direction. The chaos was funny. It was a ritual I had never even heard of. I have to ask about its significance the next time I meet guruji.

Dinner was served to the people as they assembled in the courtyard, seated in serpentine lines with the banana leaves spread out n front of them. Aunty, mom and I helped serve the food. After that was done, I was waiting outside the bathroom. It had been long since I had had the opportunity to err... em... okay... take a leak. (have absolutely no subtler way to put it).  Just then the daughter of The Bard Trio came up to me, all flustered and shy and struck up a conversation with me.

In between losing my turn to go to the loo, swaying madly from side to side to try and forget about my bursting bladder and trying to turn my cringes into a warm smile, I managed to talk to the girl - Sonali - for about 5 minutes. And when I could no longer wait, and the bathroom was finally vacant,  I excused myself as politely as I could and sprinted the distance to the loo, just 5 feet away. Sonali was a nice and warm girl. She thought I was still in high school / college (I think I liked her more because she said that). When I told her I am 28, she was shocked and exclaimed, "That's how old my mother is! You definitely don't look your age." I was predictably shocked too. I looked younger than my age! Yaay! To be 28, and have a daughter who's 14 and would appear for her madhyamik (Class X) exams later that year meant her mother was married when she was less than 13. Wow! These things about rural India are known to all of us. But they hit you harder when you  meet someone who has been through it.What is worse is, they have accepted it as a way of life and still go about performing these 'traditions" nonchalantly. I wonder if guruji has expressed a stand against it.

Some pleasant "chit-chat with the villagers" later, people started coming in to pay their respects to guruji and take his leave. I noticed that while everyone respects guruji, it is not just blind faith. They love him because he has been a helpful soul and a philantropist despite his modest means; helping the village folk in whatsoever ways possible. And guruji treats them all like children, sometimes scolding them, sometimes their friend and sometimes just cracking a joke and chuckling enjoyably. Something about him makes me like him despite the fact that I am not much of a religious person myself.

After everyone left, guruji's family and we had dinner too, again amidst lots of laughter and jokes. By the time we went to bed, it was well past 2 am. We were to leave for Bhubaneswar the next morning. I said my "thank you" to the force up there for helping me through the day without making it look like a hassle. I switched on the playlist in my phone and fell asleep to the tune of Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd.

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