Friday, May 29, 2015

A pen

Je suis un stylo.
I am a pen.
Just that!
Of no potency.
Unless, put to paper.
It's then that the magic unfolds.
From deep within the soul
pour out emotions.
Feelings buried in the inner recesses of the heart,
find their way up!
Beliefs get worded.
Opinions get firmed. Minds are made.
Words find their way to the brim.
And......the voice is found.

I, an innocuous, banal, benign pen, have different forms.
I may be a painter's brush,
a caricaturist's charcoal,
a cartoonist's nib,
or I may be a blogger's keyboard.

In any form, all I do, is liberate, for
Finding a voice is therapeutic,
It's orgasmic, it's freedom.
Freedom to self-express.
Freedom to let loose into space the confined thought or belief.
Freedom to convey through words.
Words that exist only in language.
Words that are confined to language.
They are not arrows
They do not pierce.
They are not nooses
They do not strangle.
They are not knives
They do not stab.
They are not bullets
They do not kill.
They are just that, W...O...R...D....S, words.

Any harm they cause exists again-
only in language, only in W...O....R....D....S, words.
They are not set in stone.
They change with a changing individual.
They evolve with an evolving being.
They can be taken back, played around with, changed, negated, let loose again.
That's the fun. Enjoy them.

You play around with them too.
Let's debate, discuss, argue, fight a words war.
Let innocuous, banal, benign words
fly around, from all sides, if need be.
Let them move around freely.
Like little honey bees moving in and out of the hive.
Stinging when interfered with.
But harmless most of the time.
You don't kill honey bees with bullets.
It's foolhardy.

Je suis un stylo.
I can fight wars too.
Innocuous, banal, benign word wars.
Pick me up.
Let's fight an equal war.

Je suis Charlie Hebdo.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


My brother got married on this day, 25 years back.
Yes, it is the silver anniversary of my relationship with my 'Bhabhi'.
Simple, pretty, innocent. Those were my first impressions of her.
Back then, all that mattered to me was that I was getting a friend within the family, someone my own age who I, a newly-wed myself, could bond with, over common post-marital experiences.
Well, we did bond over that and over babies and over movies and clothes and what not.
25 years of togetherness has rubbed off on me in many welcome ways.
Whereas I, as dictated by my sun sign, always take the melancholic view of situations, she brings in a fresh and light perspective. I have learned to drop my serious facade once in a while and laugh my heart out, especially while watching movies. Whereas I wilt at any show of anger, she effortlessly cracks a joke and moves on. With Bhabhi around, there is no way that we two stuffy pretentious siblings can stay serious and unsmiling for long. There is always a light fluffy joke around the corner!
Bhabhi shows immense gentleness and patience around young children and around the sick. In the days when I was a young mom, I could be very demanding and exacting. But from her, I learned to give in and pamper my children, going to the extent of pressing their legs off and on. All sickness disgruntles me like nothing else.I become irritable and sullen. But Bhabhi has always been the best person to have around when one is sick. She is gentleness personified, a true Florence Nightingale.
Another area of my life where I try and model myself after her is in my role as a daughter-in-law. Bhabhi has been the most perfect daughter-in-law to my parents. Each set of parents have their own idiosyncrasies and mine had their entire gamut. But Bhabhi has always known how to be there for both of them, investing a lot of herself in their well-being. She was the daughter that my mom always wanted me to be. They both sat and chatted and joked like best pals. Bhabhi could talk to my mom about her husband's, i.e. my brother's shortcomings and my mom added 20 more to the list. When Bhabhi gave him an earful about something, my mom cheered for her. Absolutely smashing trend-setting 'mil-dil' relationship. Except that I hardly found space for myself between them. What I could take solace in was that each one of them confided in me when they had a tiff with each other. Thank God for tender mercies!
With a strong foundation for our relationship having been laid in the early years, we were able to weather the troubled waters of my parents' illnesses and their respective demise. Misunderstandings and insecurities surfaced but we were able to put them aside. My brother's home is now my 'maika' and I am welcome to stay in it even in their absence. What more can a sister ask for!
Today as my Bhaiya and Bhabhi celebrate 25 years of their love and togetherness, I only wish them lots and lots of love to go around. Well that is sort of selfish, because I know that some part of that love is going to come round and wrap me too in its cozy warmth.
Love you Bhabhi and Bhaiya.
Happy 25th Wedding Anniversary!



Respect and 'Lihaj'

The other day we had a few friends over for dinner. During the course of the evening, the discussion veered towards children showing respect to elders.
A phrase that came up was "Bade logon ka lihaj rakhna chahiye".
In a complete sense, the phrase does not mean 'respecting elders'. It actually means 'showing respect to elders without necessarily feeling it'. Kind of a veil of respect for elders.
Children of yore were brought up with a whole notion of how every adult had to be respected and that the respect had to be displayed in the established ways of 'saying namaste', 'touching feet' etc.
Those generations of children who were brought up like 'sheep and goats' (do not question, just follow), put up their best behaviour for every uncle or auntie who visited the household. The 'Parivar ki izzat' was at stake each time there was a visitor and the child was asked to recite a poem, or answer a question asked or fetch a glass of water for the visitor. In society, the respectability quotient of the parents depended on the shiny black shoes of their child's uniform, on the remark of 'good' received in the notebook and on the rank procured by him in the exams. A child who brought disgrace to the family by not doing any of these things was persona non grata when visitors came visiting. 
Or rather, if I may say so, a child who behaved just like a child by speaking his mind, or by making mistakes in exams, or who had yet to overcome his shyness in front of adults, such a child actually was considered to be disrespecting his elders. "Voh maa-baap ka lihaj nahi rakh raha tha".
Come to think of it, isn't the idea of 'lihaj', useless and pointless? Isn't all respect to be earned?
Even a young child is able to garner an emotion akin to 'respect' for an adult he feels safe with. He does not have to be told to show respect. In his own way he will express his love and affection for an adult who engages with him. He may not reply to their 'hello', but he may give a shy smile. He may not touch their feet, but he may listen intently when they talk to him individually on any topic. He may not fetch water for them or may refuse to answer their question, but he may share his favorite book with them when they are willing to listen.
We adults often get caught up in our set ideas of how 'respect' should be shown. It could be a product of our own upbringing and the expectations out of us; it could stem from our need to conform in society; it could also come from our insecurities as parents, our urge to produce 'trophy children'.
Whatever the reason, the business of showing 'respect' and 'lihaj' can safely be left in the hands of our young ones.
All parents and caregivers these days are tying themselves in knots about teaching their young ones about 'trusting and not trusting adults'. In addition to all that has surfaced in a 4-year old's life, he now has to also deal with 'good touch and bad touch'. So the scenario has now shifted to where he reprimands his angry mother for treating him with a 'bad touch'.
Wouldn't it be simpler for all of us if we let our children develop their own sixth sense about whom they wish to show respect to and who they want to shy away from. If we do not interfere with their in-born ability to sense who they feel safe with, will they not be more confident around strangers. They will be better able to trust their instincts without relying on cues from their parents. If we Indian parents stop thrusting upon our children the decadent ways of 'showing respect' and 'lihaj', will we not be able to bring down the episodes of child abuse, especially by those within the family. When we help our children develop their instincts and then respect the decisions taken by them, we are nurturing independent and confident individuals. And that could be the way forward.
So next time your child says that he does not like to go to Uncle X's house, do not insist and do not give him your spiel about 'It is bad manners. Do not be disrespectful. We can't leave you and go. But he gives you a chocolate every time'. Your child may not be able to give you the reasons, but his instincts may be guiding him in making a safe choice. Trust him.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


This post is dedicated to Dadiji.
Well actually, she is my husband's grandmother whom I have adopted as my own.
And today is her 95th birthday!
We wished her a very happy birthday on the phone this morning, and she managed to do what she does each time I get in touch with her..... she infused me with life.She laughed and accepted our wishes. She mentioned that these days she was enjoying the company of her newest great-grandson, "Main toh lalla khila rahi hoon".
Even before I got married and became a part of the family, Dadiji was someone whom I admired. White starched sari, silver white long hair, a friendly welcoming smile.
Once I got married, I heard from Sharad how Dadiji always spoke about getting a fair bride for her first grandson. But never did she let me feel that my dark skin came in her way of accepting me as a fitful bride for her precious grandson. She was forthright when the need arose and was loving at most other times.I remember the time when she visited us at the birth of our first-born and very plainly told me that she did not like the loose khadi kurtas that I wore. She evoked such respect in me that I started wearing something else, even though I was not entirely comfortable in it. At the same time, she aided me in preparing a simple meal of dal-chaval, just so that she could complete the ritual of 'roti-karai' and give me a token gift for it, two years after my marriage.
Dadiji came and stayed with us for a day or two whenever she was in Delhi. She made an instant connection with our two-year old son, making him laugh at the sound of 'Happoo'. He ended up calling her 'Happoo Dadi'. She often brought wooden toys for him which were very different from the gifts that he usually got. A small lattoo that she gave him was treasured right through his school and college years. When our daughter was born, Dadiji landed up at our doorstep unannounced, with her heavy steel 'baxa' and just a slip of paper with our address on it.
We got a peek into the life that Dadiji led when we visited her in Varanasi. She had made a life for herself in the Theosophical Society Of India campus. At age 80, she lived independently, a working woman who was in charge of a lot of things, including the kitchens, in the campus. She proudly took us around and introduced us to the people she had adopted as family. She lived frugally and simply but found contentment in her packed days.
Dadiji made a special effort to travel alone by train and visit us whenever we invited her. She came to the 'Griha Pravesh' ceremony of our new house and stayed with us for a couple of days once we had moved in. I was spending the whole day at my new job and felt uneasy about leaving Dadiji alone at home all day. But she reassured me that she would be fine and in fact took on the responsibility of preparing lunch for the children too. Being a working woman all her life, she could completely relate to my travails.
Dadiji came from a large well-educated family of Etawah. Her cousin brother had taken part in the freedom struggle and was closely associated with Gandhiji. Her father, contrary to the times, made sure to educate his daughters. Dadiji had learnt swimming and horse-riding in her growing up years. She got married to the educated son of a zamindar family. She was supported by her husband to study further,post-marriage and post-children. She home-schooled her children in the initial years, taking care to run the house with a tight hand to make both ends meet. She herself taught in a girl's intermediate college. After her retirement, she refused to settle down with either of her children, choosing to live independently in Varanasi. She stayed there for nearly 25 years, relenting to stay with Chachaji only when she broke her hip bone and needed to be looked after.
I have formed a strong bond with Dadiji over the years. She always inspires me to stretch myself and give my best to whatever I am doing. She motivates me to remain active, physically and mentally, so that I too can be such a "Cool great-grand-mom". Her quest for knowledge is addictive. She takes time to read and understand the news items, wanting to know more about things that are not a part of her reality. She discusses topics with passion. She shows child-like fascination for the present day mobile phones and their features. Technology amazes her and she often says, "Yeh hamare time main nahin tha. Nahin toh seekh lete". Each time I drive her around town,she tells me, "Hamare pitaji dekh kar khush hote ki parivar ki beti gaadi chala rahi hai. Woh hamesha kehte the ki ladkiyon ko sab kuch aana chahiye".She treats me like a daughter and is completely open to hearing about the shortfalls of her grandson. In fact, she goes a step further and reprimands him when he is being unfair to me. We talk on different topics and, despite her failing memory, she is able to give me another perspective to my thoughts and opinions.
Of late she has been keen on seeing her first great-grandson, our son, married. When we let her know that these days youngsters got married late in life, she told me two things. Firstly, that I should set a deadline, say around 30 years, by which time he should have made up his mind. Secondly that he should agree to marry a person even though he may like her only 80%, because there is no such thing as a perfect spouse.
Hats Off to you Dadiji.
What words of wisdom for the present generation.
You really are a treasure.
I love you Dadiji.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Loved ones or acquaintances

Loved ones. Oh those very special people in one's life. They are the ones who make our world go round. The reason for our days being bright and sunny. Their presence brings laughter and mirth, love and security. The feeling they evoke is akin to a warm snug blanket on a harsh winter day.Loved ones are generally our family members -parents, siblings, spouse, off-springs, cousins, uncles and aunts.They are the people who we keep close to our hearts, their well-being is our prime concern, their opinions sway our decisions and above all their love and acceptance is one thing that we can count on at all times. It is this safety net that keeps pull-me-down feelings like loneliness and depression at bay and helps us stay positive.
Acquaintances. People who we know fleetingly. Contacts that we have acquired through singular or repeated interactions. We know very little about them and reveal next to nothing of our true selves to them. There are zero expectations of any form of emotional give and take between acquaintances. Only when the concerned individuals decide to enter into a relationship does the play of emotions come in. Then the potential of an acquaintance turning into a loved one arises.
Friends. People who may not be family and mean a lot more than acquaintances.They hold rites of passage to our hearts by virtue of how they make us feel - positively buoyant and effervescent. Our emotional well-being is linked to their very presence.They get included in our circle of near and dear ones.
We are all aware of and deal with these basic relationships.
So where is this post leading to?
Well, the point I wish to make is that all our relationships are in fact 'make-believe'.
We are all only acquaintances to each other.
Shocking! Depressing!
If one were to delve into the mechanics of relationships, one may perceive some truth in this thought.
Is it not true that one can never really know another person. For example- I may be married for 2 years,20 years or 50 years. But I will know of my spouse only that which he chooses to reveal. I will fill the gaps of my knowledge about him with my own impressions and stories, thus creating in my head, my version of him. He may in fact be a very different person and choose to go with the convenient perception. A mythical creature has thus been created!
Each one of us is prone to keeping secrets about ourselves from our near and dear ones. We may have several reasons for doing so, the topmost being 'insecurity'. "What if I tell him that I pee in the shower and he starts hating me", "What if I tell my mom that I hate the way she cooks pasta and she feels offended". The 'what ifs' going on in our heads lead us into keeping a lot of secrets in our closest relationships. We reveal only that which we are comfortable with the other person knowing. Make-believe!
I find it almost hilarious when people proclaim, "Of course I know what he is thinking. I have been living with him for the last 10 years". Or when media uses time spent together as a measure of the strength of a relationship. "The couple had been in an intimate relationship for 8 years". The underlying meaning being that just because they have been together for a seemingly long time, they know each other well. According to me, there is no 'knowing very well' in any relationship.One is constantly learning new truths about the people around us and there is no ceiling to the amount of time it takes to know another person.
The tenacity of all our relationships depends on abstract notions of trust and security. For example- I trust my loved ones to be there for me in any danger. But truth be told, I am not sure how my husband is going to behave in the case of an unforeseen emergency. Is he going to scurry for cover and save his skin or is he going to brave the bullets. Or how am I going to behave if my daughter were to be mobbed by a group of  marauding hooligans?  So what then is the basis for the qualities of trust and security that we project on our near and dear ones? Are we not snowing them down with our expectations out of them, making life a little unreal for them? Who is to tell!
All relationships are worlds of make-believe. Do we not hear of couples who are exceedingly happy with each other, planning on starting a family and then ending up in divorce. They were on the verge of creating a circle of love, trust and security. What if they had continued together, wouldn't their family life have had trust and love. And yet they divorced, they chose to take a completely opposite path! So what is the truth about them, about their relationship?
What is the truth about all relationships?
A whole wide web of make-believe!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Homo Sapiens Moderna, Part 1

Homo Sapiens Moderna, the modern man, is an impatient being.
With each new generation, his level of intolerance for all things 'slow and steady'  is escalating. He has condensed his communication and discovered newer and faster ways of accomplishing tasks. The old and laborious procedures to tasks have faded from memory all together.
This post is not merely about all things old versus their new avatars.
This post stems from an anxious belief that the genetic makeup of our future generations is getting modified to include 'impatience' and 'restlessness' in its prototype.
The present generation, without even realizing it, has brought about changes in his environment through his inherent 'shortage of time'.
This is an attempt to list 100 different areas where the modern man has made his 'fast and furious' ways the norm. (Since it will be a long list, I will be covering 5 areas in each post.)
1. Medical care
In the olden days not so long ago, one went to a neighborhood doctor's clinic when one was sick. You waited patiently for your turn on a wooden bench in the waiting area.The doctor took his time in exchanging pleasantries and examining you. He had probably already built a rapport through previous visits and knew all about your school life and friends. He had a compounder who was equally friendly and caring and who helped you understand the dosage of the medicine that he had packed in a paper packet. The medication was always arranged by the doctor and it always made you better. We all know what the modern medical scene is. The friendly neighborhood doctor has morphed into a multi-specialty clinic where doctors come and go, prescribe medicines to be bought from the market and the question of a rapport developing between the patient and the doctor does not arise because the next time you visit, the doctor would have stopped coming to that clinic.
2. Diagnostics
If medical care has changed, so has diagnosis of illnesses. Where earlier one relied on the competence of the doctor to diagnose through his physical examination, the modern doctor does not exercise his expertise of physical examination due to time constraints. A battery of tests is what aid him in his diagnosis. The doctor outsources his work of diagnosis to the pathology lab so that he can attend to a larger number of patients. It is believed that diagnostic tests are a sure-fire way of ensuring quick diagnosis and treatment.
3. Medication
A doctor who can cure a patient quickly, is the best. Who cares if he prescribes strong medication or even recommends usage of steroids for young children. We begin to mistrust a doctor if he is unable to cure our patient quickly. This restlessness has led to a horde of wrongful medical practices which the patient remains unconcerned about.
4. Cooking
Our grannies spoke about cooking on the 'choola' and the 'angeethi', slow and cumbersome processes. Our parents hastened the cooking process by using stoves and cookers and then LPG gas. Our generation saw the advent of microwave cooking, a faster way of cooking. Foods like paranthas, pakoras, samosas were still cooked from scratch. Frozen pre-cooked foods are the future of modern cooking. Even cooking on the gas or in the microwave is considered time-consuming in a modern double-income household. So a modern mom earns brownie points from her family for serving market-bought 'dahi', reheated potato wedges, packet-made idlis, bottled 'chatnis' and pickles, ready-to-eat 'matter-paneer' and 'biryani'. The task of making 'mathris' and 'ladoos' for festivals now rests solely with the local 'halwai', what with the households now engaged in other festive recreations.
5. The way we eat
If what we eat has changed with the fast times, how we eat has also taken giant leaps. 'Grab-a-bite', 'working lunch' are the modern ways to eat. Meals chewed and mulled over friendly family banter have been replaced by TV dinners. Oh, it is so boring and old-fashioned to have a sit-in meal. Instant mood highs through food has led to an increased consumption of comfort foods like chips, chocolates, cookies etc.
Part 1 concludes with these 5 areas.
Please feel free to add your thoughts to the list.
Waiting patiently to share 5 new 'impatient' areas with you tomorrow. Ciao.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A day

A day.

Just that. 24 hours.

What makes a day memorable?

How is one set of 24 hours distinguishable from the other?

As I spend my days recouping from a surgery I am pained by the sameness of my days. They blend into one another, marked only by the slight shift in my physical well being. Groggy bye to daughter, waking up at 8, washroom, coffee, newspaper, bye to hubby, newspaper again, a long stretch of reading books and magazines, medicines and meals and meals and medicines till it is finally time for sleep again. End of day 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.....

This bored routine got me thinking about what is it that makes one day different from the other?

Our experiences through the day, the people we meet, our thoughts, feelings and insights through the said experiences can differentiate our days. But why are some days memorable while others are not? Is being present with your heart and soul to every moment of your life the key to relegating them to memory? If a spiritual being is always present to all his experiences every day, is it humanly possible to remember all those moments of every day, 24x7?

So, what are my most memorable days?

Age- nearly 46. Days on earth- roughly 16,790.

Which one of those days has been stored on the hard drive of my memory in its entirety?

Snatches of memorable moments are plenty. Some are revisited through sepia-tinted photographs. Others are stroked and caressed when they pop up aided by a trigger. Like the sight of white and pink periwinkle flowers brought on the smells and sounds of childhood visits to the Bardhan household, meeting ageing 'Mataji', her caretaker Savitri and eating the beautifully molded 'sandesh' offered by them each time.

School and college life, growing-up pangs, birthdays, friendships, the several firsts- first rank in class, first stage performance, first sari draped, first day at college, first crush, first night, first night of motherhood........ Oh God! All of them add up to a chest full of memories. Sweet, dear, irresistibly attractive and magnetic.

But a complete day confined to memory? Now that requires some thinking.

In fact there are two memorable days that skim to the top from the huge cauldron of stored data.

First, the day spent seeing the sights of Central London on foot.

Second, traversing Manhattan.

What really stands out about both these days is that I was visiting the places that I had read and seen in travelogues. There had been a longing to walk the streets, see the sights and feel the pulse of both these cities. Actually being there and setting eyes on those famous landmarks made the experience magical. And visiting them with my husband and children completed the picture for me.

Even after more than a decade I can feel the excitement of walking all the way from London aquarium, across the Thames Bridge, past Big Ben and Westminster Abbey all the way to Harrods. I remember standing for a moment in front of the Abbey to recall scenes from Prince Charles' and Lady Diana's wedding, reading famous addresses on the plaques outside houses on the way and peeping into the lit living rooms to catch a glimpse of the charmed 'English' life as witnessed in various British TV serials. Seeing Harrods from the outside (for we could make it there only after closing hours) and then taking a ride in the famous London cab were the final pegs that attached this day to memory forever. Two recalcitrant, grumpy and tired children included.

The day in Manhattan was similar in nature. Travelling in the century-old New York subway, being at Statue of Liberty, witnessing the World Trade Centre pit, looking wide-eyed at the news stations at Times Square, sitting under the trees of the famous Central Park seen in so many movies, spotting well-known hotels, walking past stores only read about in Vogue and Elle. I recall almost feeling a kind of pressure to take in all the sights and confine them to memory in order to be revisited time and again. Well it worked, didn't it! I even remember how that day began, the breakfast of bagels and jam, the hunt for a vegetarian lunch, the apples bought for a dollar each, the mementoes bought with the awesomely exhilarating feeling of being in the Big Apple. The tremendous capper to the day was a fleeting glimpse of Bill Clinton as he was leaving the store Barnes and Noble where he was reading from his recently released autobiography and where we were only 'being there'.

There is no deeply spiritual reason for these two days having turned out to be so memorable. I think the lead up to both these days has a big part to play. The anticipation of being there in person heightened the senses with which the two places were experienced and hence made the visits unique for me. Or it may be because I have the soul of a traveller. A soul seeking to connect with and attatch to memory all the interesting sights in this beautiful world.