Storms ruled the first thousand years of life.
By the time I claimed my room, I turned into a zombie...
Suspended somewhere between the worlds within and outside...
Vaguely aware of either...
But then, existence needs more meaning, and spectacles need a windowpane...
Right here, I found mine…

Who am I? An average woman - trying to work on my share of maze through layers of haze...

Monday, September 18, 2017

Zombie on the Podium: The Prelude




“Thump… thump… thump… drump… DUMB… DUMB…”

My heart was lambasting me. I was standing alone on a podium. My school, sorted height wise into neat lines, stood staring at me.  I was supposed to say the ‘Message of the Day’ – ‘A sleeping fox catches no hen’, as assigned to me by Mrs. Kunar, our class teacher. What did it mean? What was so remarkable about someone not being able to sleep and catch someone else in parallel that it had to be announced to half and a quarter thousand boys and girls in the morning assembly? I wasn’t sure. What really mattered was that I had muttered the sentence under my breath all morning, and not once did it sound right. The accent sounded vernacular, the articulation crude. This was clearly not my job. And yet here I was, on my way to make a mockery of myself.

My heart was lambasting me. I ignored it, and uttered the words in haste. My school stood silent. I couldn’t look them in the eye, so I couldn’t gauge their expression. Did they hear it well? Should I repeat myself? Should I proceed straight to the school anthem? Did I remember the school anthem?

My heart was lambasting me audibly. I could’ve faked a stomach ache in the morning and missed school today. I could’ve collapsed on my way to the podium – acted unconscious for the next half an hour. I had wasted golden chances to escape this ignominy, and random words from the school anthem were now escaping my memory. The principal and the teachers stood behind the podium; I could hear them breathing. Their collective breaths pronounced their growing unhappiness with me, the class topper. I started singing the first line of the anthem and then lip-synced the rest of it along with the singing crowd. At the end of the assembly, Mrs. Kunar asked me whether my microphone had stopped working. I avoided her gaze and mumbled vague words.

I was in Class V then. In the next two decades of my academic and professional life, I would avoid almost every opportunity to face an audience. Exceptions would be few, far between and nauseous. My parents had me trained in music, and yet none of my school mates or colleagues would ever hear me singing solo. In chorus performances, I would position myself away from the microphone so that if any individual voice were to become too conspicuous, it would surely not be mine. Off periods in school would make my classmates cheerful and me wary, lest a replacement teacher should choose to pass his/her time by asking us to sing or recite. Knowledge transfer sessions in office where I was required to present would have me looking stiff and struggling to frame my sentences, and not because of lack of knowledge or experience. All these years, life and I have fancifully taken each other close to and away from triumphs and failures, love and betrayal; but my fear of public speaking has always hung around my neck – like a rock I’m married to for life.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to break this obnoxious bond. However the world I inhabited till some twenty days back was that of corporate professionals; and that’s a world where you often share your coffee break with smiling vampires. Would you want vampires hovering around your bed while your wounds get opened and operated upon? Nay!

For some time now, I’ve also wanted to reclaim my piece of the sky, where I could quietly work on myself, away from vampires and the unentertaining melee of regular cockfights. My current joblessness has helped me achieve that space.

Earlier this week, I called up some of the local Toastmasters’ clubs with an intention to join one of them. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Toastmasters is ‘a USA headquartered nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communicationpublic speaking, and leadership skills.’ (Source: Wikipedia). You could read more about them here.

You see, I’m finally ready to put myself out there, on the dreaded podium, and allow myself to stutter and mutter and forget my vocabulary in front of a live audience and bore them to death! I, a lost class topper of a long lost era, bring to myself the ignominy of failure so that I may try and take a step beyond it. Dear reader, would you wish me luck?


“And the only way to get rid of a shadow is to turn off the light. To stop running from the darkness and face what you fear, head on.” – Grey’s Anatomy 

Originally published in The Ascent

Friday, September 01, 2017

Red

Do you like me?

“Who are you? And why on earth should I like you?” – You may ask.

Well, I am red.

“Red?!  That too with a small ‘r’? Didn’t they teach you grammar at school? Are you prone to typo-s? Is this the new trend of writing one’s name? Are you a redhead? No? You must be red in anger then; or in shame or embarrassment; or…”

Come on, I’m the color red. Is it that hard to guess? I’m also the color she despises the most. And before you can drown me in another deluge of questions, let me tell you who ‘she’ is; I’m referring to the idiot who is writing this piece.

She has just let her heart triumph over her ever-cautious brain and quit from her stable job of seven years. To put it mildly, it wasn’t an easy victory. Her heart now wants to raise a toast to her new freedom and write; her brain, still seething, has chosen me as her write-up topic out of sheer spite. Do you now see why I call her the idiot?

At first, she thought of writing about child rapes. She contemplated imagining the unimaginable agony of the countless victims she reads about in the daily newspaper; the helpless, senseless, universe-drowning pain of those little girls whose tender body they rip apart; the inescapable thrusts, each of which push them closer to a death they don’t deserve. I shuddered and closed my eyes.

“It’s relevant.” – She said. “And it’s a matter that has been haunting me for some time now.”

She kept rambling about the topic in her attempt to win me over. Apparently, she wanted sociologists, psychologists, economists, criminologists, political scientists and every other ‘ist’ she could recall to come forward and examine the society with their magnifying glasses and find out where it’s going all wrong. “It’s brutally urgent!” - She claimed. “We need to stop all the brouhaha about outrageously small and fast gadgets, driver-less cars, fancy space tourism and what not, and focus on the critical aspects of human advancement.”

All that’s fine, I thought, but how could I let her write a piece that would have the blood of the purest souls dripping from it and call it ‘Red’? I cannot let my name be maligned so! Why, am I not the color of the Gulmohar’s elegance? Am I not the tint of the sunrise and the sunset? Am I not the hue of the throbbing life force that flows to and from every cell of your body all your life? Think, red is your core color, the truest of your many shades. I was there with you in the earliest days of your existence, when you were a tiny ball curled up in your mother’s womb, much before you acquired that amber, green or hazel of your enchanting iris or the black of your hair!

The idiot was visibly dejected at my noisy, and as per her, nosy intervention. She started thinking about a large, large sky colored in the rich red hues of sunset, and tried to set it as a backdrop for a pair of parting lovers saying their final adieu to each other. In an hour, she found the story-line juvenile and raised a melodramatic ruckus to which I was the sole hapless audience. When I tried to cheer her up, she pretended not to know me and went on with some banking and investment tasks with a look of stoic resignation.

On the next day, of course, she was back with her mouse hovering on the haggard looking MS Word draft. This time, she was shaping her fantasies around a not-so-young artist who had taken up his paintbrush after a cursed slumber of years. The artist had reasons to be angry with the world, but anger is an emotion he had not mastered well. So he wanted to unleash his aggression on his paper; he wanted to paint a picture in red, only red, and the most assaulting version of it – the scarlet red! But deep inside, our artist was essentially a soul who loved peace, rain, croaking frogs and the smell of sodden grass. Every picture he tried to create in his mind-canvas took the shape of a woman with uncombed hair and eyes of moist lily, or a landscape with soothing breeze and serene huts and trees and ponds with ducks in them, while his hand created ugly blotches of discordant red on his sheet of fine handmade paper. He wanted to die, at least for a moment.

There I intervened again. You see, your friend can’t see any good in me. Green reminds her not of jealousy but of playful squirrels chasing each other along the branches of large trees in the park where she goes for her morning jog. Melancholy is the literal synonym for blue, and yet the color reminds her of deep, somber depths of the ocean in a strangely respectful way. And red brings to her mind loud, attention-craving, garish, pompous folks who can’t but be at the center of the world. She would rather have them wiped out from the face of the earth.

“What can you do, being a mere color?” – You’re probably trying to reason with me by now. “Colors are helpless beings… without free will. Colors don’t chime, clink or jingle either in pain or protest. All you can do is beautify the world as per others’ whims. To take control of your fate is not a power the Almighty has bestowed on your lot, you see.”

Says who? For one, colors can hypnotize idiots and take control of keyboards and mice.  Who do you think wrote this piece, that morbid, miserable friend of yours?

And what do you think of the social media post she made the other day, with photos showing the entire family dressed in red? Why do you think she scanned two supermarkets looking for a tiny red bucket all through the last weekend? Clueless you are? Now listen me out; I’ve found my way into that twenty month old mushy brain of her son, you see, to the point that the kid keeps blabbering about objects being red, or ‘not red’! Catch ‘em young, they say!

Finally, did you see that half-read book laid by her side right now? Come on, look closer… see its name… “Orhan Pamuk?”… Na, that’s not the novel’s name…. look again… “My Name is Red”!!! Tadaaaa…!

Puny human, remember, hell hath no fury like a color scorned! And a color ALWAYS has its way!

Do you like me now?

...

Also published on Medium.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On a Quest for Treasure

"Drag that block to the right!" "Nah, this tree is not fitting in."
Droplets of Carnatic music piggybacked freshly emitted oxygen molecules to reach my eardrums. I looked at the surrounding green, baffled. “It’s the Band Stand”, said Ratna, looking intently at her mobile screen where the results of a Google image search on ‘structures in Cubbon Park’ neatly arranged themselves. A girl, aged eight or nine, performed Bharatnatyam on the roofed octagonal platform at some distance. The electric blue of her elaborate attire stood at odds with the many shades of green around, while her braid, interlaced with threads of Zari, danced to its very own rhythm. “The bandstand was built in the early part of the 1900s. Before India’s Independence, the British Royal Air Force used to play western band music at the bandstand every Saturday evening.” - The God of information chose to enlighten us, while three pairs of bespectacled eyes scanned the nooks and corners of the landscape in an attempt to solve a jigsaw puzzle!
One of the many beauties of Cubbon

We were on a mobile app-based treasure hunt. And our quest for treasure made us achieve an unthinkable feat – it had us drag ourselves out of the beloved mess of bedsheets, blankets and pillows on an early Sunday morning, head for the Cubbon Park and cover some six and a half thousand steps individually in the next ninety minutes. To put it to perspective, we look pretty much like the laziest of sloths on usual weekends.

"Cracked it!"
But boy, you might’ve taken us for school kids had you seen us jump, grinning from ear to ear, at cracking a clue, or put up the grumpiest of faces at having narrowly missed one. We brainstormed as if our next pay increment depended on it, we wore our weirdest expressions in the selfies that the game required us to check in, and threats were hurled at me for my occasional diversion to photograph crows! ‘Sparrowz Quest @ Cubbon Park’, as they call the game, made the three hundred acres island of green open up in layers before our otherwise green-starved eyes. It made us take a close, curious look at its historical buildings and monuments, the many artefacts of art strewn across, the natural arrangement of its age-old rocks, the gardens in full bloom, and those with tiny saplings sprouting their first tender leaves.

Fun moments!
The world of virtual gaming, from its very inception, has holed up our kind within the confines of walls. Frantic tugs on joysticks and wheels, anxious taps on touchscreens have set our adrenaline rushing. Sweating it out under the morning sun has been rendered unexciting, much like force-feeding yourself with karela-beetroot juice the first thing in the morning. From Pong to Snake to Super Mario to Angry Birds to League of Legends, electronic device based games have advanced and diversified by leaps and bounds, while our traditional outdoor games fell behind. Unless played in professional circuits, the latter has long ceased to be the talk of the town.


Of course, good deeds deserve good coffee!
In a very welcome move, innovative souls have begun to wonder if grass and sun, fitness and fun can be made to shake hands with technology. Sparrowz is one such venture. Cut down on a couple of trips to the movie theatres in the next few weekends (Netflix is anyways there, yeah?) and take your pick among the galore of options offered by Sparrowz. There’s a ‘Kopatty Trek’ for the trekkers, a ‘Lalbagh Trail’ for the nature-lovers, a ‘Basavanagudi Food Trail’ for the foodies, a ‘Discover Battle Tanks’ for the history-enthusiasts, a ‘Bengaluru Selfie Challenge’ for those who’d have their next social media DP earn 500 likes, and more! Walk. See. Think. Hunt. Tag your kid(s) along if possible. Offer feedback. Spread the word. Make this revolution big!

Why? ‘Coz it’s fresh...
And it’s fun…
And it’s just the push that we, the famed couch potatoes, needed to step out

And out is GOOD!

Notes: And here's the buzz around Sparrowz:

Some more pics:
The crows that I ended up shooting anyways
More crows, more bamboo
Hypotheses and debates on the next clue

The Rock Garden







Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Next to nothing about a Jan 2017 morning

A black cow, endowed with menacing enormity, grazed amid concrete and sand interspersed with a handful of dusty grass. My son followed her minutest moves with the keenness of a seasoned criminal investigator. My watch ticked away; I was getting late for office, yet again.
Two scuffling white puppies entered the scene and escaped _uneaten_. Sonny's eyes widened. He was ready for a closer exploration and Mommy's arms were a barrier. He put up a good fight. I trespassed into a neighboring house with caged parakeets to distract him.
A good long look at the chirping birds, and sonny uttered 'Pepe' (Bengali for papaya). He had apparently hit upon his first significant clue of the day, and was happy to let Mommy go while he pondered deeper to tie up the loose ends.
I set out for a typical workday with the lingering freshness of an atypical morning. And I was late for office, yet again. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Brooms, Mops and the World Beyond: Ganga’s Story

Didi, I noticed some cobwebs along the walls today. I’ll come early tomorrow and dust them off. You’ll be home all morning, right?”
I: “Huh! What cobwebs? Which walls?” 
….
….

Didi, umm… is bhaiyya too busy? Emmm … I was wondering if he could help me push this box cot. You see, the floor below hasn’t been swept or mopped for quite some time, and this cot is a bit heavy for me...  Just a few inches would do...”
I (post cot-shifting): “Ow, that’s a lot of dust! How the heck did it get there?”
….
….

I: “Ganga, there’s a huge pile of soiled utensils today. We had guests last night. Can you somehow do the heavy utensils? Sourav and I will wash the rest later.”
Ganga: “Oh, don’t bother yourself at all didi! Any household will have its share of guests. What good is a kaamwali (maid) who can’t wash a few extra utensils once in a while?”
….
….

Meet Ganga, our domestic help. To say the truth, I’ve often been just a wee bit jealous of quite a few things about her – say, her effervescent smile, and how she strikes up a warm conversation with all our guests without ever overstepping her boundaries, or her inherent proactiveness, or her apparent lack of complaints about the monotony of her job (or life, or anything in general), or the featherweight dignity with which she carries herself. In a discrimination free world, she’d probably be considered a better professional than me on any given day.  

Ganga’s kids never fail to me amaze me either. Aged eight and six, Karan and Arjun are friends with this entire ‘brigade’ of neighborhood kids. Children of IT employees and management executives shriek with them in ecstasy as they run behind each other to catch the ‘thief’ or roll in the sand together. On some mornings, the two wail in unison at the top of their voice – “Why do we have to go the school each and every day? Hadn’t we been good boys yesterday, Ma, and the day before that? Let us stay home and play today, pleeeeeeease.” Otherwise, they go to a small English medium school close by in tip-top dress, and Arjun even managed to top his class last year.

Ganga works from dawn to dusk as maid and/or cook in several households in the locality. Bahadur, her husband, serves as the security guard of our building and washes cars for some extra bucks. A small single room at the heart of our car parking zone, a rope charpoy laid outside it, and a toilet close to our boundary wall are what they call their home, sweet home.

A few weeks back, around 1-30 am, shrill, helpless shrieks of Karan and Arjun pierced through the night. “Uncle… uncle… save us… bnachaao… somebody… please help… ”. The sense of panic in their pleading voice intensified with clanging of metals, smashing of glass and random thuds. We rushed downstairs. And there we saw Ganga – an angry, distraught, complaining Ganga - with her eyes red and her face puffy, her cheeks laden with streams of tears.

“See how this monster has been beating up the kids, didi! He kicked me hard in my belly while I was sound asleep, and kept on kicking till I fell out of the cot. When I protested, didi, he turned his rage on the poor boys!”  

Ganga’s tolerance was spilt out on the floor amid flung out utensils and splattered rice grains. The trembling kids stood huddled in a corner, seeking safety in each other’s tightly-held palm.  A badly drunk Bahadur hurled the choicest of expletives at the small crowd that had gathered there.  Most of them were from the neighboring buildings and had been jolted out of sleep by the chaos. While some tried to pacify Bahadur or threaten him back to sobriety, others turned on us – “Why do you guys keep this drunkard as your security guard? We’ve complained on this issue before. You should talk to your association and get him replaced straightaway.” If Bahadur lost his job, it would cost his family their current shelter and much more. That night, I stopped being jealous of Ganga.

What does Ganga do if her husband turns rogue? – I found myself mulling over the question for the next couple of days, when she let her guards down and shared the darker pieces of her life with me.

Bahadur, when drunk, sometimes contemplated deserting her for a better wife; a wife who’d drink along with him and bring masti to his life. His friends told him that his wife spoke way too much, and that he beat her up way too less than he ought to. It was not Bahadur’s fault that he was swayed by their advice, believed Ganga. He was orphaned early and grew up awaara (like a vagrant) among these spoilt bewra-s (boozers). It was not her family’s fault either that they had married her off at a tender age to a drunkard twenty years older to her. Her father was run over to death by a car when she was just seven, and the family lost its only source of income. The girls could not be educated and had to be married off early so that the meager left-behind savings could be utilized for the education of the sons.

Apparently, it was nobody’s fault that Ganga was stuck where she was stuck. Apparently, there was no respite. Apparently, as it dawned on her when her sense of hurt subsided, she could rather do without complaining – for she was much better off as compared to the rest of her lot. They got thrashed daily; she got thrashed once in a couple of months.

Other than the poisons of deep-rooted patriarchy and wealth disparity that afflicts the entire sub-continent, is there any other factor that contributes to Ganga’s vulnerability to abuse?

Is she capable of working hard enough to provide independently for her sons and herself? May be.

Does she have a minimal job security? If she were to be bedridden for a couple of weeks and irregular to work for another month or so, say due to a relapse of the severe anemia she had last year, how many jobs would she retain? How would she cover the regular expenses for the period of her joblessness in the absence of a paid notice period and a fallback bank balance? Does her salary allow her to save for rainy days? And what about the rising healthcare costs? Can the Gangas of our country afford health insurance coverage for themselves and their family?

Is it justified that the profession of a domestic help should squeeze away her time and energy as long she is healthy and capable, and in turn guarantee her almost nothing beyond two square meals a day? How much disadvantage would it put us in if our maids were legally entitled to formal employment contracts with minimum wage policies to be adhered to, in addition to a weekly day off and a certain number of sick leaves per year? How much would it benefit the country to have its huge sector of domestic workforce formalized? 

Bahadur has been sober for the past three weeks, and Ganga smiles a lot. But Ganga’s smile is fragile. And now I know the sparkle in Karan and Arjun’s eyes to be less perennial than it seems to be. So let us take a peek at the alien world from which numerous alien hands emerge every morning to sweep our floors, dust our furniture, cook our meals and keep our happy households running. What do our eyes see? What do our hearts say?

Acknowledge. Share. Raise a mass concern if you feel so. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mosses, Tombstones and a Lingering Morning, May 26, 2014

Lt Col. Miss Violet David “Sunbeam” rose from her grave and beamed at me with the quiet radiance of the springtime sun. I smiled back gratefully. The last couple of minutes had had me wondering about the curious title engraved next to her name on her epitaph. Now I knew.

It was the morning of May 26, 2014, our third and final day in Ooty, and Sourav and I had sauntered to the cemetery behind St. Stephen’s Church in search of some good photographic subjects. The dead didn’t approve. With my lens aimed at the nooks and crevices of their mossy tombstones and broken crosses, we were unwelcome intruders. The tall trees that spread out their hundred and one arms to form the wall that holds the churchyard a world apart from the rest of Ooty conveyed to us that we had stepped into a sacred place. So did the birds and the crickets that chirped in a rather measured tone, and the sun that shone sparingly through the foliage. We packed our gadgets away.

The cemetery, with its many decrepit colonial era tombs covered with layers of fallen leaves, mosses and wild flowers, teemed with a silent consciousness. Fragments of a long-lost Ooty stay trapped here, in the collective memory of all who lay here. A Major General William Pitt Macdonald, Madras Staff Corps, sat stone-faced at a lonely corner of his grave. It was the 12th of March, 1867 when he had passed away – says his epitaph. His face, with its innumerable lines and wrinkles, had witnessed the rolling of decades with the deepest impassivity. A Victor David “Sunbeam” strolled past us, hand in hand with Violet. They had died as recently as 2007 and 2011 respectively, and their distinctively unscathed black marble tombstones stood out rather as misfits amid the surrounding unkemptness. A few ill-fated Brit kids, who had succumbed to various epidemics more than a century ago, loosely gathered around us. Their eyes for sure had stories to tell. Their ears thirsted for tales of all the newness that continually unfolded in the world beyond the church and the trees – and was yet beyond their reach.

We couldn’t speak to each other. I wish we could. Their voice is too subtle for us, and ours, disturbingly loud for them. They are creatures made of thin air, and when they were more than air, they had treaded the same lanes of Ooty that we tread today.  They belonged to families that founded, planned, built Ooty and served in its armies.

That afternoon, we started back for Bangalore, thus concluding my third trip to Ooty. The ethereal morning spent at St. Stephen’s, of course, is destined to remain etched in my memory as a precious takeaway for years to come.



How to Drive a Driver, May 25, 2014


Telescope House, Doddabetta Peak
Ooty, on Day 2 of our stay, thrust upon us this driver who'd get cold feet at the very sight of a traffic congestion! He'd grumble and whine, and look as sad and miserable as a forlorn puppy, only to get us out of his car. He'd prod us to walk 3 kilometers uphill to visit a point of interest, while he'd park his car somewhere downhill and enjoy a sweet nap. Sourav would consider obliging, I would turn defiant, my osteo-arthritis afflicted MIL would get into panic and my DIL would diligently try to play the referee in the ensuing chaos. 

"Let's arrive at a decision.", he'd say. "Do we, or do we not, want to see this place? Is it, or is it not, worth an hour of uphill walk? In case it is, does that leave us enough time to cover the rest of the sightseeing points by evening? And in case it is not, is it feasible for him to turn his car back?" His questions would have the precision to invoke a clear-cut majority rule, and yet we'd debate on hopelessly and haplessly to the point of a deadlock. The driver would be pestered a few more times to line up behind the stagnant queue of cars, and he'd nod like a stubborn mule, looking sadder and sadder with each passing minute. Finally we'd budge and decide to give the place a miss, and voila, the traffic ahead of us would suddenly start moving! We'd unanimously cheer, only to land up in the same soup, or loop, in the next 10 minutes - the takeaway lesson being, NEVER visit Ooty in the peak of the tourist season!!!

The view from Telescope House

Anyways, if I manage to ignore the element of unentertaining 'loopiness' that prevailed throughout the day, and one particular episode of our driver running into serious trouble with the policemen, and yet another all-the-more-inexplicable episode of us actually having to walk 3 km through mostly traffic-less roads and fields to discover the parked vehicle, the day turned out to be good. We visited the Doddabetta Peak, the highest point in Ooty, and caught a lovely glimpse of the surrounding hill slopes through one of the telescopes maintained in the Telescope House. We also enjoyed a demonstration of the tea-making process and machinery, along with a complimentary cup of Nilgiri Tea, at the Doddabetta Tea Factory. By the time we left Doddabetta to travel to Coonoor, our car dickey was filled with boxes of many sizes and shapes, all holding Nilgiri Tea in its many available flavors. 

While Coonoor itself offers some splendid viewpoints - Dolphon's Nose, Lamb's Rock and Lady Canning’s Seat - that provide breathtaking panoramic views of the lush Nilgiris, the journey to and fro Coonoor turned out to be no less visually fulfilling. As we meandered from one slope to another along the serpentine hillside paths, each turn brought forth a yet new look of the layered Nilgiri greenery - be it in the form of its untamed forests, grass-covered valleys or wide tea and coffeee plantations. 

Ensuing Dusk
On our way back to Maruthi Cottages, we briefly touched a very happening Ooty Lake brimming with adults and kids alike, with hundreds of people lined up at the Boat House to avail the paddle and motor boating facilities. The day wrapped up with Sourav and I taking a long semi-aimless stroll to the serene St. Stephen's Church, and along the busy streets of Charring Cross, and we ended up buying more handmade chocolates, 'Varkees' and aromatic spices for ourselves and our friends back in Bangalore and Kolkata.