Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dubai diaries: The first meeting

Dubai, 2016.

"Mere Sapnon ki Rani kab ayegi tu" , the delightful voice of Kishore Kumar greeted me as we got into a taxi in Dubai. I was taken in by a pleasant surprise because it was after an extremely long time that I was hearing Kumar's melodies, more so in a place hundreds of miles away from home..
Soon the track changed, giving way to more songs from Sharabi and Padosan. "You have a great collection of songs sir, I could have never imagined getting to hear these outside India",  I said to the driver, naturally assuming him to be from India.

He inferred I was an Indian from this comment and said in Hindi, "Maam hum Pakistan se hain lekin Bollywood ki toh baat hi kuch aur hai" (I am a Pakistani and love Bollywood).

"Oh wow! From where in Pakistan?" , We asked him visibly surprised. "Multan", he replied.

This was the first time I met anyone from Pakistan and I had tonnes of questions for him.
We talked everything right from his hometown to cricket, food and even Shahrukh Khan. He suggested several dishes to try while we were in Dubai; but sigh it was our last day in the city.

The conversations seemed so natural that one could never feel talking to anyone different; he just felt like someone of our own, someone from a place whose description you can easily relate to, who shares the passions of cricket and food — just another simple guy from a humble background who was here in Dubai with lots of aspirations, who wished to earn for a few years in UAE before going back to his family.

We were now at the airport and disembarked the taxi, exchanged pleasantries and bade our new friend goodbye. Our short visit to Dubai had come to an end but the songs of Kishore Kumar and the memories of this conversation continued to chime in my head for a long time.

I don't know what was so special about this conversation that I am penning it down. Maybe it was just the simplicity of it that makes it apart. Maybe it was how naturally the conversations flew with a stranger, having a warm talk with someone across the border and not feeling the slightest of aberrations that the national relations are marred with. Maybe it was just the feeling that how effortlessly all of us humans fit and connect to each other.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Swimming through the tides

I took a deep breath as I stood in front of the little black door vexing at the thought of what awaited me on the other side. Deep down somewhere, I knew there was a giant kraken was about to be unleashed, but deferring was not an option — certainly not today; so I took another breath and flicked the keys and the door swung open.

Inside, almost mockingly smiling at me was a colossal dump of paper mail that had accumulated over the course of past month while I was on vacation. It was so huge I could barely even keep half of it in my hands at one time. From catalogs of furniture stores that I have never visited to credit card offers from each and every bank, it was almost comical how everybody just seems to be relentlessly trying to onboard a menial me onto their services. And, boy, aren't they so much committed to this goal that they print out an army of glossy pages every week to send out my way only to spend a few seconds in my hands before being tossed into the bin.

I remember the days in India when my mail boxes would be empty and I used to yearn for someone to pen a letter down to me; how times change: now I yearn for the day when I find that junk box empty. I sometimes imagine how much money, time and millions of precious paper that go down to carry on this ritual; an unfortunate wasted effort which comes knocking everyday at your mailbox unabashedly.

There may be a flurry of sites where you can register and maybe get some respite from the daily churn in your mailboxes, but why have this unwanted clutter being posted in the first place. I am sure we can do something better with the paper that travels all the way to my mailbox only to be discarded the next moment. There several trees turned in their graves.

Of course, I can go on ranting and ranting without doing any good, but maybe I will just leave it for another day. For now, I need to go back to my mail sorting.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Funny Signboards

Its fun, especially if you come across gems like 'coat paint, blazzer' . Will keep adding more to this collection going ahead.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

The rain jacket

“I am not going to school today”, Ruhi whined stomping her feet as her face continued to turn red.

“Yes, you are. You just cannot miss school for random reasons”, I sternly retorted while bundling up her lunch case.

“Mom! Have a look outside, it’s raining heavily. My clothes and shoes will get all wet and dirty”, she tried to point me towards the heavy downpour outside, standing on her toes to reach the window

I sighed. Unlike most kids her age, Ruhi was extremely punctilious to ensure her clothes didn’t have even the tiniest bit of dirt.
“The monsoon season has started, Ruhi. The weather will be like this for months; and I am not letting you miss school anymore. Now, why don’t you make it easy for both of us and wear your rain jacket and get ready to go. Come on, I know how much love your new red polka dot raincoat, don’t you? And since you are so particular about getting dirty, I will also keep your old jacket in your bag as a spare. Now, Is it okay?” I said as I motioned her to come near me.

She at first shot a grumpy look at me, but nevertheless trudged ahead and took her bag. She slipped into her new jacket and said , “I wish we had a car so that you can drive me down to school like Tara’s mom. Then I won’t have to slog through the messy rainwater.”

I felt a little stirred at her remark; I knew I will never be able match the lifestyles of her affluent friends, but with time, her comparisons with others were getting more recurrent. I eschewed my gush of thoughts, wondering that she is still a kid and will take some time to understand that life isn’t fair and grasp those complicated nuances.

"Ok, lets go", I said and held her hand in mine, opening my umbrella as we walked out. By now, the sky was all covered in woolly grey clouds and the rain had started to make plinking sounds on the roof. As my eyes traced the streets for signs of an autorickshaw, Ruhi suddenly let go of my hand exclaiming, “Mom, I will be back in a jiffy”.

Startled, I turned around to find her running back towards the gate while making her way through the puddles of water. “What! What are you upto, Ruhi? We will get late.”.

“Just a moment mom!” She cried out as she hopped to avoid the puddles and reached the fruit vendor who sells grapes on his cart next to our home. She took out the spare jacket from her bag and handed it to the man’s little son who was sheltering under the cart. The shivering young lad was taken aback by the sudden gesture. He gingerly stepped out of the cart and took the jacket and mumbled something in return flashing a happy toothy smile.

My little girl turned and made her way back to me, muttering as she re-held my hand, “What would I do keeping so many jackets, when Golu can’t even have one. It was so unfair. I can very well manage even if my red raincoat has a spot or two. Right, mom?” I nodded my head in appreciation, too awestruck to utter any words. A smile appeared across my face and I bent down to kiss her, shirking off the thought that a moment back I was thinking a 6 year old cannot be mature enough to understand things.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Elements

I recently made a series of acrylic works around the basic elements that make up the world around us. My intent was to capture each in monochrome with a solid background while infusing in a little artistic touch and keeping the subject abstract and easy.






If you didnt guess already, the paintings represent air, water and land.


Masala Chai

Warm mornings,
Or breezy evenings,

Whether simmered slowly with a hint of ginger,
Or coupled with a dash of elaichi and pepper.

When there are showers outside,
Or when there is a chill inside.

Whether its at home or the nukkad shop at the far end,
But definitely never at a CCD or Starbucks, friend.

While in a train as it chugs ahead,
Or when the bus comes to a halt at end.

During conversations that stretch long,
Or even when someone is alone and forlorn.

When the first rays of the sun light up the floor,
Or when the clock strikes a nightly four.

Whether you'r paired with Samose fresh out of the skillet,
Or frugal on your own with a Parle G packet.

When in office and your eyes start drooping,
Or by the smirk on the colleague's face you know a chai-break is coming.

Whether you come steaming with a lot of milk
Or with loads of mom's love blended in.

Whether the mood is jubilant, furious, sullen or just fine.
A first sip of your hot cup is something that sets up the mood right everytime.

Your alluring aroma fills up the house,
Sometimes its sharp,sometimes sweet.
But what are you?Just a concoction of milk water and leaves
Or a bronzed elixir,Ah, that magic you weave!

As the first rays of the morning bask into my room through the blinds,
I turn into the warmth of my blanket looking forward to a new day,
A day that starts with you,
a cup packed with that warm sweet gingery goodness of you.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Thoughts on the freedom eve


Its 68 years since India was freed of colonial rule. You would argue that 68 years is a small time frame for a growing nation of a billion people; but if you look at it from another perspective, its long.
Long enough for a generation to pass, long enough for a generation worth of oral history to be ebbed away, long enough for us to forget some of our unsung heroes who only remain in the memoirs of our previous generation.

I am someone who is fascinated by stories, not just the ones we read in textbooks or those which come fore into the spotlight; but the stories of the real people, stories of the ladies who came out and picketed silk and liquor stores, stories of the teacher who made sure he instilled the right beliefs in his students during times of turmoil, stories of the men and women who went to prison for the dream of freedom, stories of the people who barely made the cut of glory but made a significant contribution to what was a revolution of an unprecedented epic proportion.


I am looking for that undocumented treasure trove of accounts which only live in memories and passed down orally in family dinners and now very much endangered to be lost in time. I am sure many people would have heard about how their grand parents or someone else in their family contributed to the freedom struggle in his/her own way. Lets not let that generation worth of memories disappear; they may not have made into history books, but they are precious nonetheless.

P.S. I have tried doing some online searches but the only sites I get are the likes of http://parliamentmuseum.org/indextry.html which have a clear dearth of the kind of stories I am looking for.

Please ping me on the blog or on facebook, I would be grateful if anyone is willing to share an account of their family with pictures, if possible. I also plan to start a page of such stories if I get a good response. Also let me know if something like this already exists that I am unaware of.





Monday, May 11, 2015

Post Disaster Thoughts

It is a human virtue to help those in need. And when you see that some people are in dire need, many of us go about either directly volunteering to go the place where the disaster struck or collecting blankets, clothes and toys to donate. Their intentions are noble but what we need to understand is that the execution may not always be.

When amateur volunteers just get on the plane in a quest to help, they instead end up interfering with the plans of professionals who are already there. I read about how the Kathmandu airport got super congested due to incoming goods and people that the actual movement of victims and help for them got affected. Such untrained people swarming there would only add up on those who have to be housed and fed, and this could disorient the efforts of the actual humanitarian societies for those who are in an actual need.

I also read about how certain packages with clothes were rejected and I think it makes sense. Someone who is bleeding would not do much out of a blanket or a cloth, he needs medical attention. And he needs such attention to reach unobstructed to him without being diverted due to another airplane carrying unwanted stuff.

So donate money as much as you can and do it right. Refrain from sending blankets, clothes and other physical goods, or the urge to go there by yourself.

Some useful links and references:
- http://time.com/money/3836879/nepal-earthquake-donations/
- http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2015/04/how_to_help_nepal_s_survivors_stay_home_and_send_money_to_aid_organizations.html



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Looking at the mirror


When the question of sexual harassment and violence against women comes up, many of us believe that such acts happen due to some estranged and perverted extremists out there. We shirk it off by saying 'They are a bunch of psychopathic weirdos.' But are 'they' different? Do 'they' differ in terms of ideologies towards women?

The point that many of us miss is that such people only represent a surface of a much larger issue which looms, or should I say engrained deep into our societal fabric which we all happen to subconsciously endorse. That such people share mindsets like us.

Losing Honor
Take for instance our colloquial language, the act of rape is manyatimes referred to as 'izzat lootna' (In English this translates to losing ones honor). The victim did not commit any crime; she did not venture forcedly into someone else's personal space. How, then, could she be desecrated because some feral man decided to impose himself on her? What does this mean? We should probably change our Hindi? No! This is an indication to what our innate attitude is like, that somewhere deep down under there exists a problem. And a big one at that.

The Problem 
The interview of the Nirbhaya case's victim is in the news these days. What the interview pictured was not surprising, no-one expected the rapist to spit out adulation for women. But it was chilling and painful to watch. 
What the interview showcased was not merely the ramblings of a man convicted in a rape case. This was a mirror showcasing the beliefs of thousands of people in our society who share a similar ideology. What do you think of the literate defence lawyer who brazenly says that he would burn off his daughter if he finds her going out. Is there any difference between him and his client?

Mukesh represents just the surface of a balloon; the air in the balloon which gives shape and foundation to the surface is actually attributed to the mindset of the society. It is this mindset which subliminally sanctions such acts that even today Mukesh believes that he did no wrong by committing a seemingly disciplinarian action on a wayward girl. The balloon can only exist as long as the air in it does.

 Let us understand that we do not need to commit the act in order to be a rapist.
- I act like a rapist if I celebrate the birth of my son but not my daughter.
- I act like a rapist if I get totally outraged to find my daughter smoking when its okay if my son does it.
- I act like a rapist if I think I need to save for my daughter's wedding not her higher education.
- I act like a rapist if I think I am superior and deserve to get dowry from the girl I am marrying.
- I act like a rapist if I think my son deserves to get dowry or endorse the system.
- I act like a rapist if I think women are suited for only certain roles within the four walls.
- I act like a rapist if I think that a woman is profane/promiscous if she comes out of her shell or speaks her mind.
- I act like a rapist if I think that a girl lost her honour if she got raped.
- I act like a rapist if I believe that the victim of the crime deserved it some way.

Sometimes it is important to bring yourself under the magnifying glass to see if we are inside or outside the balloon.

What can be done? 

  1. Understand the attitude: We need to understand that we have all the makings of a rapist if we believe in any of the above points. Awareness is the key and it is for this reason that documentaries like Indias Daughter should be shown so that people know how much of their own ideology matches to that of a rapist. You just cannot brush things away under the carpet in the hope that your home gets cleaned. Acknowledging that a mindset like that exists and is very much prevalent in the society is the first step.
  2. Understand the psychology behind this: We need to understand how do people learn such ideas? Thats when we can do something about it. Right from childhood to adolescence there could be several factors that could affect someone's mind:
    - the neighbourhood man battering his wife everyday and the woman silently bottling her emotions,
    parents being more obsessed to the son than his sister, the incessant objectification of women in movies and TV shows,  the list is endless, sigh. Even little observations  taken during the course of a long time can condition a child's brain and plant the thought that women  are objects to be used and meant to be kept under your toes.
  3. Address the mindset: Just like the factors above which interplay in our society cater to the somewhat misogynistic thoughts in a growing mind; it is definitely not impossible to condition the mind in an opposite way. Note that this conditioning is much harder to bring about in adults compared to the growing minds of youngsters and kids. So we know we need our kids to be more tolerant and understand the meaning of equality. But who is going to do teach them this? An erudite family may do this to its younger generation but what about a kid who is born into that section of the society where women are looked upon in a lower light. His mindset is predisposed to pick up the grime he sees around it in its formative years. It is here that education needs to step in.
  4. Role of education: We know our current education miserably fails at it today (especially after listening to the comments by the convict's lawyer in the Nirbhaya case), but it doesnt mean that education cant help. It is possible to bring about a positive conditioning to a kid by exposing him to the importance of gender equality, and sensitising about concepts like consensual sex (Indian education system does not even talk about the three letter word). This is a daunting task though. Because you are trying to plant ideas which are very different from what the society showcases. It may not have the desired results always too. But we atleast have a way of tackling problems, albeit not foolproof. The education system is not just about reading and writing, it can become much more than that.

    Children should know about women achievers from different walks of life; this is to make them realize that women are not weak and subjugated; they are as much capable and strong as a man, they just need the right avenues.
  5. Welcoming a victim into the society: Most hospitals and medical staff are not trained to handle a rape victim properly. Since this is also a matter of a criminal case, care should be taken to both ensure the well-being of the victim and documenting/collecting evidence.
    Its just not about treating some wounds but there should also be options available for psychiatric counselling and addressing Post Traumatic stress disorder. It should be mandatory for the medical staff to understand the implications and the process involved in handling a sensitive case like this.


On a end note, if the sanctity of the image is at stake, we should remember that we cannot improve that image of ours by hiding non-pretty things, we do it by accepting the truth about ourselves in a mature way. Its time we understand what we represent and deflate the balloon.


Another important thing that we all should remember is that in the course of our fight for equality, its good to be feminists but don't turn into mis-andrists. The society may have many men with a skewed vision but there are many many others who support the fight against discrimination.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Those dimples

I love her. She is the only one I have in the whole wide world.

I can do anything for her. Anything. Even the agony of the long days when I sit at the window waiting for her to return, melts away in seconds at the sight of her getting down the car and a precious dimpled smile appearing on her face as she looks up and spots me.

She would run towards me, calling out my name loud and hug me tight. I love the feeling when she tightens her grip around me, her fingers tickling my back.

No matter how hectic a day she had in office, she ensures we go out for a stroll outside every night. Those 30 minutes constitute the best time of the day for me. Sometimes we run, or walk or play. Manyatimes we would just sit beneath the shade of the large mahogany tree as she relates the proceedings of her day to me. Sometimes she would be sullen, probably pissed off at her work but her way of narration in a chirpy tone and with full gestures always takes my heart.

It was another such day. The sun was going down in a resplendent vermillion hue on the other end of the horizon as I sat perched at the edge of the window, my eyes fixated on the walkaway beneath. She would be home anytime. I sat and waited. And waited. The orange shades of the sky first turned into grey and soon into a pitch black, but there weren't any signs of her.

I took a deep breath and went inside to drink some water. I noticed that she had prepared dinner for me before she left in the morning, a darling that she always was. But food was the last thought I had in my mind. I heard a sound outside and raced back to the window only to find deserted dark roads beneath, not a soul lingering anywhere as light showers begin to pour down. The distant street lights flickered and the pitty patter of rain drops echoed in the otherwise silent neighbourhood. I nestled at the edge staring blankly at the small puddle of water that was taking shape in the lawn. As more time elapsed, I noticed nearby lights being switched off, the whole community was embracing sleep one after another. But what about Samantha? She was never this late from office. My anxiety peaked.

I got up and kept pacing inside the home in circles from one room to the other unsure of what to do. Occasionally I would go to the window with a slight hope and come back in more dismay.

It was almost daybreak and I was still sitting at the window when I heard a car screeching to a halt beneath the house. I frantically peered outside to find Samantha coming out of the car. She didnt look at me in her usual smiling demeanor, instead her eyes were fixed on the man in the car who got out and hugged her. She returned a kiss in return and they stood there bathing in the dawn's white rays for a while in each other's tight embrace. I stood there, still at my window, totally dumbfounded as I saw someone else share Samantha's warm hug, my eyes wailing for her to atleast look at me.

After a few minutes, I heard a click of the latch and saw her entering the room. She dropped her purse on the couch on seeing me and called out as her eyes flickered, 'Oh honey, you aren't asleep yet! Were you waiting for me all this while? I am so sorry, I had a meeting that got extended and I went to Ethan's place after it.'

She paused for a second to check the clock. 'Did you miss me?" She cried out as she raced towards me with her arms outstretched. 'I love you so much. Come and give me a nice hug', she said, the dimples deepening as the familiar smile appeared across her immaculate face. And once again, yet again, I lose myself. My agony melts again as she takes me in her arms, lifting me off the ground and her fingers move through my golden fur. I let out a small woof in return and cuddle my head between her arms.