Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Making peace with myself

Yesterday, while I was sweating it out on the treadmill, trying to push myself to go a little faster than I normally do, for a little longer than the body was willing to, a friend got on the treadmill next to mine.
“Do you normally just do the treadmill, or do you also do the other things?”, she asked.
“On a good week, I run two days a week, and do weights for four days”, I panted. “But then, so few weeks are good weeks – something always seems to turn up every week.”
“I was thinking of starting some light weight training too”, she told me sweetly. “Normally, I do ten minutes of treadmill and some stretching, but the body seems to have got used to it, and there is no difference any longer.”

Ten minutes of walking, and some light stretches!!! I don’t even count the twenty minutes of running I do to warm-up everytime I step into the gym, and the cooling down stretches I take for granted. And yet, she is slimmer than I can ever hope to be, and I have never seen her bursting out of her jeans as I often do.

I could and should have been insanely jealous. I could and should have minded terribly that she was unhappy with so much, while I had to work so much harder to maintain so much less. But, strangely, I was quite unaffected.
There were those three years, when the T-shirt I did not have would have read – ‘Sure I am in shape. Round is a shape too.’ But that is, thankfully, now a thing of the past. Through hard work and persistence, I am at a shape I am reasonably comfortable with. Sure I could be a little slimmer- like Wally Simpson famously said, you can never be too rich or too thin - but it is not something I stress about any longer. I have made peace with my body, and if I exercise as much as I do, it is not because I want to shed inches, but because I am a happier person when I am exercising regularly.
Which is why I was merely amused at my friend moaning about how ten minutes of moderately brisk walking did not seem to have any effect on her.

Am I blogging about this today because it happened yesterday, and is fresh in my memory? Or is there a point to my blogging about this today in particular?

The latter.

When I look back on the year that is going to get over in a couple of hours, I realise that 2008 has in fact been a great year for me. People who care for me may think that my life is a little bit of a mess, but I know that it is not so. This is the year when things fell into place for me, and I have made peace with life as it is.
Sure, there are days when I am super stressed. There are days when the only thing I want to do is to run away and start afresh. And, no, those days are not as rare as my normally upbeat blog posts may suggest.
BUT, as far as the big picture goes, I am happy and content. And the only thing that I want from 2009 is that I continue being at peace with myself.
Though I would not say no to a solo holiday in Venice either.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Periwinkle .... red!

The Periwinkle was never a plant I was particularly fond of. The faded voilet/mauve colour was not exactly what I would call attractive, and a plant that flowers as profusely as the periwinkle does tend to be taken for granted.

At the Nursery a couple of days before my son's birthday, I saw a tiny plant with vivid crimson flowers. It looked not unlike an annual, which I normally steer clear of, but this particular colour was so attractive, I had to ask what it was. The attendent muttered something I could not catch, then told me that the same plant came in other colours too (something like clothes, I guess - choose a pattern, then pick the colour). It was only when I saw the tell-tale periwinkle coloured flowers, that I managed to identify the flower.

Ever since the plant came home about a month back, there hasn't been a single day without at least one flower. Whether I am there to see it or not, the plant dutifully pushes out a couple of flowers every day - and most days, I make it a point to steal at least one glance at the blooms.

One of my favourite flowers in the garden, I can't but wonder at how much the colour of a flower determines its perceived beauty.
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Monday, December 29, 2008

The real giants

"Mamma, tell me the story of Tiger Bravo", my older one asked.

"Who?"

"Tiger Bravo. The giant, Tiger Bravo. The one with the golden nose."

Ah, that 'Tiger Bravo'!!!

I launched into a story of Tycho Brahe, the giant of science, who lost his nose in a fight, before realising that fighting did not solve any problems, and who then devoted himself to studying the stars and so became a very powerful giant.

Stretching the truth, I know, but the kids were impressed to know that you did not have to do exercises to become a giant - you could do that by solving number problems too.

Tiger Bravo led to Johannas Kepler, and today I am committed to telling them the story about the third giant - Issac Newton.

Kids these days adore their superheros, and even three-year olds know everything there is to know about every one of them. Why then, has nobody thought to make real life heros into comic book superheros. I am sure they would really take off.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Of winter and Santa Hats

This was written for the Advent Calendar we created at The Burrow.


I slide behind the wheels of the Merc. I love this car, as I dislike the drunken lout it belongs to.
There he is, arms wrapped around a gorgeous girl- he can afford a new one every night. This one is younger than the others, prettier too. How long before she too gets cynical?
My eyes lock with hers, she looks away. Tugs his sleeve as I hand over the car-keys- “Give him a decent tip, yaar. He looks so cute in that Santa hat.”
Does she even realise that valets wear Santa hats to protect themselves from the cold?

___
Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

One month and one day later

And I purposely did not blog about 26/11 yesterday, because I knew that to do so would have been a purely symbolic gesture, and we have had enough of symbolic gestures to last us more than a couple of months.
As expected, nothing has happened in the past one month. A few ministers have tended in their resignations and been replaced, some token sound bytes have been provided by assorted people who do not matter, various agencies are questioning the sole surviving terrorist and everyone is getting on with their lives.
Nobody is asking what steps the government is taking to ensure such incidents do not recur, and if they are, they are not being heard. Pakistani journalists have located the family of the terrorist and got them to admit that he is their son, but still the posturing on both sides of the border continues. Had we been serious about wiping out terror camps, we would have taken the Pakistani government into confidence and done what needed to be done jointly. True, the Pakistani government has not done much in the past to inspire confidence, but could we not have taken a chance on the new government – a government headed by a man who lost his own wife to terrorist attacks less than a year ago. Too much water has now flown down the bridge, too much time has elapsed since the Terror Attacks. There is no way we are now going to nail down the culprits.
Closer home, our borders have still not been secured. Our fishermen can act as our eyes and ears, and are willing to do so, but nobody chooses to listen to them. A fisherlady saw the terrorists arrive and even questioned them, but the police is yet to record her statement. The various police departments seem more interested in trying to take credit for injuring the sole surviving terrorist than with doing anything concrete. Does it really matter whether it was Savalkar, Kamte or Date that put a bullet into the terrorist? If the departments are really that segregated, why is nobody telling us why three such senior police officers, from three different departments, rode in the same vehicle to take on the terrorists? Did they think it was a lathi charge that they were supervising – did they not know that they could have been a lot more effective if they used three different vehicles and tried to surround the terrorists.
And what about us? Are we doing our bit towards ensuring that the probability of such incidents happening in future is averted. I think not – after a few days of having security being beefed up, even malls belonging to the Tata group have gone back to the old days of perfunctory checking of vehicles coming into their car parks. My handbag continues to be opened, but only the main compartment – I could smuggle anything in the side pockets and nobody would be the wiser.
Bombay, and India, is as vulnerable to Terror Attacks today as it was a month back. The only thing that seems to be proliferating is the number of Facebook groups that want to ‘do something concrete’. If only even one of them had a real plan, instead of empty phases that even I can dish out.
The time is ripe for a Leader. Will anyone (other than Rahul Gandhi) step forward, please?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The True Spirit of X-mas

It has virtually become a standing joke in my house – when the advertisements begin on TV, I grin and start saying, “I want this” even before either of my sons can. If the idea is to shame them into shunning avarice, it is not working – the moment my back is turned, they start pestering their father with their never-ending list of – “I want this” – everything from robot toys, to chocolates, to pizzas to the paints they already have three sets of ! The only thing I could be slightly happy about was purely semantic – at least they merely want things now, instead of needing them as they did till about a month back.

Their incessant demands have been grating even more since I heard that the kids of two of my friends decided to forego X-mas gifts this year because there are so many poor children who just can’t afford any. If kids the same age (or slightly older) than my older one can be so considerate and compassionate, why not mine? To make matters much worse, those kids stay in California where grinding poverty would be much less visible than in Bombay. Have I done something totally wrong with my kids to have them turn out this way?

Today, when my son told me he was utterly bored, I sat him down and gave him a lecture. Told him that he had a cupboard full of toys, and if he could not find even one toy that could amuse him, he could help me pack them up so we could give them to other kids who did not have any toys at all. Naturally, he did not like the idea – “but these are my toys”, he said.

“They may be, but you do not play with them, so we may as well give it to someone who will play with them”, I countered.

He did not like that too much, but after a long session, he agreed that he would only ask for the next toy after he gave away two of his existing toys to a kid who would play with them. Whether it is out of a feeling of charity, or because he would rather have new toys than old, I do not know, but I do hope it is a beginning.

But why are Indian kids growing up in India so demanding, and Indian kids in the States so generous? The only answer I can think of is peer pressure. Recession is new to the States, so perhaps the spirit of giving is being special importance in schools. Kids told by their teachers to shun gifts are more likely to do so than those told the same by their parents. And if a class-full of kids all decide not to ask for gifts, they are more likely to keep that promise than a single kid who sees all his friends flaunting the latest toys.

Is it too late to ask the school authorities to teach the kids a few lessons in caring for those less privileged than themselves? Or would that work only if all the schools do it at the same time? Maybe if we start now, before next X-mas, our kids would learn that it could be much more fun not to have as many gifts as they do have.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A White Christmas in Bombay?

Snowmen that don't melt, and a tree with a light dusting of artificial snow are a slightly incongruous sight in hot, muggy Bombay. But this particular Christmas display was so tastefully done, I stopped in my tracks to take a second look, and then a third.


And once I was done, I stepped back a few feet, and saw this man trying to tighten the blade of his shovel with primitive tools fashioned out of nothing.


Wonder what the whole thing means to him - if it means anything at all.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A footnote of History

In a way, I witnessed the unfolding of a minor footnote of history on Sunday. Both the Taj and the Trident re-opened to public on the same day. And since we happened to be in town that day, we decided to drive by the Taj, and so heavy was the security around the hotel, we merely managed to get ourselves stuck in yet another traffic jam.
According to the newspapers, people thronged to both hotels on the first day itself – the restaurants had enough patrons to justify a discrete waiting list, room occupancy was about 60%, and many survivors made it a point to re-visit the place to try and put the past behind them.
To the world, Bombay has bounced back.
But I am not too sure about it.
To me, the more important landmark I drove past on Sunday was the erstwhile Victoria Terminus. Arguably the most majestic building in the city, she has evidently had a make over since I last saw her at night many years back. Bathed in the bright light cast by dozens of concealed lamps, she looked much more beautiful than I remembered her as being. Even on a Sunday evening, the station was as busy as ever, with passengers hurrying about oblivious equally to the grandeur around them, and to the fact that the station had been the scene of a gruesome carnage not four weeks back.
To me, the people at the station summed up the real resident of Bombay – the man who knows he can be killed any day, but who doesn’t dare think about it, because thinking about it doesn’t change anything, or the woman who knows nothing is certain except the fact that no matter what, she will have to continue waking up long before day-break and struggling to the day merely to survive.
The average resident of Bombay doesn’t overcome, transcend, or challenge fear - she merely co-exists with it, and ignores it the way she would the lady who’s smelly armpits are thrust beneath her nose all the way from Borivili to Churchgate. It is not resilience that makes the average resident of the city bounce back, it is the knowledge that there is no option but to carry on regardless.
It is the privileged minority that dared think they were immune to the attacks that ordinary mortals were exposed to. It is the people who travelled in chauffer driven BMWs and Mercs that believed that terrorists hit out only at the people who travelled by public transport. It is the people who frequented five-star hotels who thought that you could get blown up only while consuming a vada pav at the roadside thelagadi.
This time round, those people were also targetted, and because they have never known what it is to live with fear, they crumbled like the others could never afford to.
Which is why such a big deal is being made of the re-opening of the Taj and the Trident. But nobody even took note of the fact that there passengers were using Victoria Terminus even before the bloodstains were washed away from the floors.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Year Resolutions - a short story

[I wrote this story a couple of years back when I was writing regularly - still like it a lot. Enjoy!!!

And Seasons Greetings, everyone.]


New Year Resolutions - a short story

She sat at the window, her pert chin perched on her upturned palms, staring idly at the polar bear fishing in the nearby lake. She watched as the bear knocked a hole in the ice, and sat patiently waiting for the fish to swim by. Watching polar bears go about their daily activities had always been a favourite pass-time of hers – after all, the North Pole did not exactly offer much by way of entertainment – but never had she admired the bear’s sense of purpose as much as she now did.
It was, after all, that time of the year! The time when the adrenaline pumping hurly-burly of Christmas had given way to the reality that yet another year had gone by without her having accomplished anything of note. A time when she would look back on the barren wasteland that was the old year, and sigh with the realisation that the next year was going to be no better.
Twenty-nine!!! That is how old she was! She would be celebrating her thirtieth birthday in less than three months. Three decades on this planet, and what did she have to show for it? Nothing! An entire lifetime spent in pandering to that marketing myth called Santa Claus.
At the North Pole, it was almost impossible to escape the shadow of Santa Claus – even that polar bear must, at some time or the other, been accosted by tourists asking for directions to Santa’s Grotto – but her case was exceptionally bad. Like the elves that worked round the clock in the large factories and warehouses – making, packing and dispatching presents, she could not recall a single moment of her life when she had been free of Santa Claus.
“Santa Claus!!!,” she snorted. That was the greatest joke of all! Did any of the people who hung out stockings every Christmas even know that, had the corporate colours of the Coca Cola company not been red and white, the jolly old man who climbed down chimneys may well have been wearing a navy-blue suit? And how many of the people who dropped off a letter addressed to Santa Claus, Santa Claus Village, Finland –96930, Arctic Circle even guessed that the letters reached, not Santa Claus, but a postal worker who replied (allegedly) on Santa’s behalf.
A reindeer ambled past her window looking for a something against which to rub off the red ribbons decorating his majestic horns. Poor Prancer! He should have been with a flock of reindeer, prancing across the grasslands, instead, he was forced to spend his lifetime here at the North Pole, just in case somebody wanted to get photographed petting Santa’s reindeer.
Honestly, how could otherwise sane people even start to believe the myth of Santa circumnavigating the globe on a sledge drawn by reindeer delivering presents. Did they never question how the same man could be in thousands of houses at the stroke of midnight? But ever since that poet wrote that stupid story, Santa was stuck with eight reindeer, each with a name sillier than the other – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen! And now to be saddled with a ninth reindeer – poor Rudolph. If being forced to roam the North Pole wasn’t bad enough, he even had to endure a daily ritual of having red-paint dabbed on his nose!
The polar bear saw the reindeer coming towards it, and shifted slightly to make way for him. The two animals stood in companionable silence, contemplating the water, waiting for a fish to swim by. The reindeer had no use for fish, but this was as good a way to pass the time as any other. After all, what else could the reindeer do? The polar bears could, perhaps, be trained to stick labels on cartons and stack them for easy dispatch, but all the reindeer could do was grace the background while the Santa Claus look-alike posed for photographs.
Yes, Santa Claus look-alikes! Were people foolish enough to actually believe that the same Santa Claus had been delivering presents to kids around the world for centuries? Or did they merely choose to pretend that they believed in the whole Santa myth?
After staying with the polar bear for some minutes, Prancer wandered off to join the reindeer herd, but the polar bear stayed rooted to his spot. Watching him from her vantage point at the window, she couldn’t but admire the polar bear’s tenacity. The bear knew that he could always ask the humans for a fish or two, but he still chose to hunt his own food. Polar bears had been around long before the first human even set foot on the North Pole, and they were not going to change the habits of lifetimes merely because the situation had changed somewhat.
Not unlike Santa Claus Incorporated. A few years ago, if anybody at the North Pole distribution hub had voiced the sentiment that Santa Claus would continue to be relevant in the Age of the Internet, they would have been laughed at. Yet, Santa had transitioned easily to the cyber-world, and she knew for a fact that, for once the official web-site was not exaggerating. To Santa, the virtual world was as familiar as the reindeer grazing grounds of his own home mountain or the chimneys of Manchester. Every time there had been a fresh challenge, the concept of Santa had undergone a metamorphosis to meet it. Santa Claus had changed, as had his way of doing business, but she had never quite been able to pull herself out from the rut into which she been forced into.
The polar bear suddenly bent down, then straightened up and held up the paw in which he held his squirming, shining trophy. His pride intact, he ambled off with his prize dinner.
At the window, Nicola Claus pulled herself to her full height. If a polar bear could exist with dignity, so could she. It was time she took control of her life. She pulled out a piece of parchment and, dipping her quill in ink, started writing.
Nicola’s New Year Resolutions
1) Resign as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Santa Claus Incorporated, and force the Board of Directors to appoint a professional manager in my place.
2) Find a compassionate housekeeper to look after Mum, and move out of the North Pole, preferably to a place where I can grow chrysanthemums in window boxes.
3) Find a job in supply chain management – since I don’t need the job for the money, I can afford to wait till I get a good offer.
4) Acquire a new wardrobe, socialise, meet people my own age, learn to tango, cook gourmet meals at home – in short, get a life.
5) Stay far away from men in red suits with curly white beards

Nicola signed the parchment with a flourish, before putting it away in the drawer. Let overweight fathers and out-of-work actors have their fun – the only child of the last in the line of Jolly Ol’ Men was free at last.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Black Power Ranger


I took this picture at Mahim station last week, because I liked the contrast between her attire and the picture of the Power Rangers on the back cover of the book she was clutching. The photograph stayed on my camera phone till today, when my younger one saw one of his Daycare 'didis' in a burqua and asked, 'Why is Didi dressed up as Black Power Ranger?'

Check out the pictures and decide for yourself if that little kid did not make a connection that is so obvious after being spelt out!

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Slapstick no more

Yesterday, my five-year old asked me what Krishna's brother's name was.
"Balaram", I told him.
"Badam", he repeated.
"Not Badam, Balaram", I told him patiently. He tried it out, but he just couldn't get the name right.

Ten minutes later, "Krishna's brother's name is Badam", he told nobody in particular.
"Not Badam, Balaram", I corrected.
"No, his name is Badam", he said with a gleam in his eye. "And another brother of Krishna is called Moongfali." He declared with a huge grin.

Am I glad my son is developing a sense of humour beyond slapstick!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Underwater creatures

Not yet three, my son brought home from school this underwater scene.
"Who are these people", I asked, pretty sure he would not know the names.
"Octopus, Starfish, Fish, Dolphin", he answered, pointing correctly.
I pointed to the last creature, "And this?", I asked, quite sure he would not know.
"Sea horse", he said, his voice making amply clear what he throught of people who could not even identify that really familiar creature.
None of this I ever knew till I was in my pre-teens, but my numbers and alphabets I knew much better than either of my sons do.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

No adversary is too powerful...

Earlier this year, I had a progression of maids ranging from bad to worse to worst, to 'it really cannot get worse than this' to 'you bet it can'.
The life mission of one of them (it was either 'worst', or 'it really cannot get worse than this') was to surreptitiously overwater the plants she has specifically been told not to go anywhere near to determine how long it took her to successfully finish them off. My brand new powderpuff plant was the worst affected - all her pretty raspberry like buds withered and fell, and her glossy leaves were good only for starting a bonfire.


I watered her faithfully, aerated her roots, chased away the pigeons that tried to make a nest at her feet, and gave her space. Gradually, she sprouted new leaves and even gained a few inches. No buds though, not even the hint of any. Her cousins in the building compound flashed their beautiful blossoms, but not her. 'Maybe she's not yet recovered from the trauma', I told myself. 'Give her time to settle down, and even if she never flowers again, her foliage is pretty enough to gladden anyone's heart.'

Today, in one of my rare cleaning moods (well, let me as well admit it - it is my mother's birthday today, and in my mis-whatever way, I thought cleaning up would be a good substitute for the gift I did not get her), I washed down all my plants.

And guess what I found -

Yes, two powderpuff flowers and a bud.


I have seen prettier flowers, but the sight of these bedraggled flowers filled me with joy.

No adversary is too powerful, if you have the will to conquer it. If this fragile little plant knows that, why do we find it so hard to articulate it to ourselves?





Happy Birthday, Amma!!!

The Sun will Shine!!!!





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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Of Names and Surnames

“What is the surname of an auto?”, my older one piped up suddenly from the back seat of the car the other day.
“Autos don’t have surnames”, I wanted to reply, but something made me say, “I don’t know. You tell me.”
“Rickshaw!”, he announced triumphantly.

I am not sure exactly when and how he learnt about surnames, but the five-year old is obsessed with them now.
“Mamma, what is my surname?”
“Talwar.”
“What is my brother’s surname?”
“Talwar.”
“What is Papa’s surname?”
“Talwar.”
“What is your surname?”
“Ramarathnam.”
“But why is your surname different?”
I knew he was not going to understand if I tried to explain why I chose not to change my surname after marriage, specially since the class teacher seemed to have drilled it into her kids that all members of a family have the same surname. I could tell him that my Papa and Mamma were my family, and that I shared my surname with them, but that would probably have led him to ask if I was not a member of his family.
Time for half-truths. “Because I am a girl. Girls have different surnames.”
This should buy a bit of time, but I wonder if the next time he asks the same question he would be ready for a more accurate answer.
Is that why women change their surnames– because it is just so much simpler. Or have I made a tactical mistake by not giving both my kids double barreled surnames?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Trauma counseling - part two

Ever since I mentioned on my Facebook profile that I need counseling to cope with the trauma inflicted on me by all the trauma counseling I am forced to inflict on my kids, I have been deluged by people who have been telling me they are just as tired with it all as I am.
In fact, I seem to have got off easily. All I had to do was to get my son to draw a picture- and activity he enjoys and looks forward to. Since his ‘fears’ are quite different from those of the other children, he would not be getting much counseling at school, and I am sure I can safely ignore the directive to provide him personalized counseling at home.
Older kids seem to be the worst sufferers- they are having to write essays on terrorism and how to deal with it, being made to enact role-plays of the 60 hours, forced to participate in candle-light marches, and to draw about the attacks to understand their latent fears. I see the consequences of all this being quite grim – kids who were relatively unaffected by the attacks will now realise that there is something that they have to fear, kids will start developing an unhealthy fascination for terrorism and counter-terrorism, and a few sensitive kids may even start feeling sympathetic towards the poor terrorist who has the entire system against him. Mothers are seeing all three things happening in their kids.
Why then, this need to focus so much on something that has happened in the past, and which is as relevant to the child as the cartoon episode that ended yesterday?
Are we projecting our fears and insecurities onto our kids? The last couple of months, we have learnt to live with fear – we knew a bomb could go off anytime, anywhere, but that could not really deter us from living our lives could it? This time it was much worse for two reasons – there is something impersonal about a bomb going off in a crowded marketplace, but not about young men taking aim and firing at individuals, and more importantly, perhaps, this time places we thought inviolable, places we aspired to reach, were targeted. That the siege went on for as long as it did, only made things worse for us. But, we too have put that behind us, and are getting on with our life – after all, where can we hide, even if we want to. But maybe some among ourselves need help in conquering their own demons, and they are the ones responsible for this overkill.
Whatever it is, I hope they end this fa├žade soon – it has really gone on too long, and is not even snigger-worthy any more. The winter holidays start next week – I am sure the schools will find something new to do when they reopen. But how do we get through the next few days of trauma counseling?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trauma counseling

Maybe I am a minority of one, but I am getting totally fed up of the so called ‘trauma counseling’ that is being forced on kids by well-meaning-but-totally-out-of-touch schools.
The first day he went to school after the November Terror Attacks, my older one came home with a long letter detailing exactly how we as parents can help our kids come to terms with the trauma of the attacks. Neither of my sons seemed particularly disturbed by what they witnessed on T.V. so I just balled the letter and chucked it into the dustbin.
I thought I had heard the last of it, but I was just being too optimistic. Last week, the school urged us to get the children to talk about their fears following the attack, and to try and put the fears in context so they would not be traumatized by it. To my kids, those three days had been a holiday– no school, no office, no Mamma yelling at them not to do things – the only trauma associated with those days would have been the fact that the adults just did not let them watch as much T.V. as they would have liked to.
I did the best thing possible and just ignored the second directive too. But apparently, the school is not willing to let things be – they are trying to get the children to draw about those days, so they can pinpoint the exact fears and address them. While some kids co-operated and drew buildings on fire and commandos or terrorists with guns, my son apparently drew a couple of superheros. What could the child be thinking of, the school asked me.
“Maybe he is trying to say that only Superheros can save the city?”, I volunteered tentatively. I intended to be sarcastic, but they took me seriously. I am now supposed to spend at least an hour everyday reassuring my son that the police would take care of him, and there will be no repeat of the attacks.
I have assured the school that I will definitely do so, but I know fully well I will not. For one, I do not believe in lying to my kids, and since I am not at all convinced that the police or the intelligence or the army or the paramilitary forces would be able to protect the city in case of a second attack, I am not going to tell my kids that.
But more to the point, we live in a society where anything can happen anytime. You can hide from the fear, or you can deny it to yourself, or you can accept that the reason for the fear exists and put it behind you as you get on with your life. I choose to do the third, as do most people I know – why should I want my kids to be any different?
And yes, I do need trauma counseling, but the trauma I need counseling from is the trauma inflicted by this so called trauma counseling.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Product numbers

In a queue at the supermarket yesterday, I barely noticed the store attendant standing next to the person weighing out fruits and veggies. All he seemed to be doing, besides whispering something in the other persons’ ears, was picking the packets from the weighing machine and putting them on the counter. But one is so used to seeing surplus staff loitering around, I did not really take any notice till I got close enough to hear what he was saying.
Two sixty-nine, one thirty-seven, forty-eight – it was a series of disconnected numbers that he was muttering, each corresponding to one lot of produce stuffed into eco-unfriendly packs. It did not take a genius to figure out that he was telling the other person the product code, so it could be punched in, and the price tag generated. He never seemed to falter even once, and the names that came up on the screen were exactly what they were meant to be.
‘Do you know the numbers of all the stuff here,’ I could not help asking.
‘No, only of the fruits and veggies,’ he told me, as thought any one could be expected to know the product codes of all the stuff on sale in the supermarket.
‘How do you remember it all?’, I couldn’t help asking, but all I got in reply was a quick shrug of the shoulders.
True, that is his job, and knowing product codes is probably the most important thing he is expected to know, but I couldn’t but be impressed by his memory. Though capable of absorbing all kinds of silly information, I am sure I would never be able to train my brain to remember that the green apples were 268, the yellow apples 347 and the cooking apples 168.
With a prodigious memory like that, the man had the potential to do anything, be anybody. But here he was working extremely long and uncomfortable hours in a job which, though making perfect use of his skills, was not exactly worthy of his brains. With greater opportunity, what could the man have become. Or, would he still manage to become that?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Competitiveness

Last week, my younger one took part in his school's Sports' Day. Despite being a very fast runner, he stumbled a bit and was one of the last to finish. He didn't seem to mind too much, but his brother kept asking him why he hadn't come first.
The older one is now practicing for his Sports' Day. When I asked him if he was going to come first, he instantly replied "I don't know. The other children can run really fast."
His competitiveness is only as far as the bother is concerned- it doesn't seem to extend to himself.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Putting up the Christmas tree

And today we put up the Christmas tree!!!

Growing up in an erstwhile British colony as I did, Christmas was always a festival we celebrated at home. But it was mostly about Santa coming with gifts and individually iced cup-cakes for tea. Somewhere along the line, the festival petered out, except for that one time in b-school when I attended midnight mass with friends.

Five years back, my, then, month old son had a very bad attack of colic on Christmas Day, and had to be rushed to the Casualty ward of the hospital where he had been born. Being a good Catholic hospital, there was a nativity scene in the lobby, and I promised myself that if we were able to tide over the crisis, I’d get a Christmas tree for my son the next year.

We did.

At 25 months, Christmas was an adventure for my son. He loved Santa, he loved the tiny Christmas tree that I got him, and which graced the dining table for two weeks. He loved everything. Post Christmas, we put the tree away for the following year.

The next year, we got him a real tree, which he helped pick out at the nursery. We also got him a Santa hat that he loved donning. But when we tried to show him a real Santa, he was old enough to get scared and start crying. A couple of days after the New Year, the Christmas tree was taken out of its pot and put in the ground.

The next year, there were two kids celebrating Christmas. We got a new real tree, but since it did not look too good, we also got a huge artificial tree that could be lit up. We cut paper snowflakes to stick on the glass doors, we got lots of new decorations, and new Christmas stockings. Most evenings, I strolled outdoors, just so I could look at the sparking tree and imagine I was anywhere but in India.

The artificial trees traveled with us to Mumbai, and last year, graced the living room for just over a fortnight. Unfortunately, the lights did not work any longer, but in any case, they would not have looked as effective in a well lit room as they did in a dark room that was seldom used. All the activity took place around the tree, and surprisingly, most of the ornaments survived nearly intact to be put away for use the next year.

My older one is now five years old. He is a big boy, and likes to think he is very independent. He decided to decorate the tree himself, and did a fairly good job of it. The decorations are slightly bottom heavy, but I know they are only going to get better as my son grows taller.

And now for the big question – should I, or should I not buy some better ornaments. The plastic made in China angels, stars, reindeers and drums have served us well, as have the cardboard and glitterly paper presents and baubles, but if the kids have realized that they should stay away from the tree, maybe it is time for better ornaments?

Or maybe I should not push my luck too far!


.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reliving memories

It is that time of the year again– the time when you look back at the year gone by and make plans for the next year. For me, it is also the time when I go through folders and folders of photographs to pick the ones I want on next year’s calendar.
Last year, the layout I selected allowed only one photograph per month, so I restricted myself to pictures that tracked how the two boys met each other and grew up together. This year, I was able to find a layout where I can have two photographs per page, so I went exploring in folders that have been unvisited for so long, the paths have nearly got obstructed with weeds.

Was my older one really that chubby a baby? How could I forget so many of the things that he loved doing and which the younger one never tried out? And the younger one – how could I not have recognized that straining of his facial features when the camera had no difficulty in capturing it – even as a baby, he showed how competitive he was to grow up to be.
Fun too to see how they still do all the things they did as a baby – the younger one is older now and capable of pushing back, so their fights have got more violent, but they were always rather physical with each other.

Picking just 24 photographs out of eight years of photographs is not a task I am ever going to take up ever again. Next year, I am sticking to picking twelve pictures from the current year.

But, again, would I want to miss the joy of browsing through those albums?

And here are photographs of the four-month olds that the kids once were.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Life around the cross


The cross marks the grave of a long forgotten inhabitant. Candles often flicker at the foot of the cross, stringy garlands of lilies sometimes adorn the neck. People visit on All Saints' Day- relatives or congregation, I never found out.
The family that lives around the cross is Hindu. Their life revolves around the cross. Their women scrape off the molten wax that drips onto the pedestal, and removes the garlands when they become dry and dusty. Their festivals are celebrated around it. It is an intrinsic part of their daily life.
This is my Bombay. This is my India.

_____
Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Running

Somedays, you struggle to run even two kilometers. Your breath is fine, no muscles are hurting, but you just cannot bring yourself put one foot in-front of the other, and to keep doing it.
The very next day, you are in the groove. You ignore the sharp pang of pain in your knee, the eyes nearly closing with sleep. The only thing that can stop you is the clock.
It is not the legs or the lungs that determine how far or how fast you can run. It is the heart, and only the heart.
Isn't Life like that too?

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Who is the real enemy?

A couple of days back, a glamorous actress of yesteryears proclaimed on national TV that she’s seen Pakistani flags fluttering with impunity in Mumbai and nobody seems to want to do anything about it. What she had really seen were the flags of the Muslim League, an Indian political party much older than Pakistan itself.
She can be excused – even a gnat would be insulted if her IQ is compared to his – but what was appalling was that she was allowed to make a statement like that on prime time, and the TV channel did not deem it fit to either correct her, or tender an apology immediately.
But then, for most of us, Pakistan is the enemy. And all Muslims are Pakistani sympathizers, so regardless of whether the colour of their passport is blue or green, they are the enemy.

Indian Muslims are Indians first, Muslims later. Over the last few years, they have gone out of their way to prove it – being the first to burst crackers when India defeats Pakistan in a cricket match, toning down Eid festivities after the recent bomb blasts, raising the tricolour whenever they can – but that somehow still doesn’t seem enough.
People still seem to equate Indian Muslims with the enemy, and others who know better do not see it fit to correct them.

And yet, the proportion of Muslim casualties in the recent terror attacks in Bombay was far greater than their proportion in the total population.
Muslim clerics have refused to allow the bodies of the slain terrorists from being buried in our cemeteries.
Today, Indian Muslims are celebrating Bakri-id today not with biryani, but with black arm bands.
Muslims in India and elsewhere have taken out candle-light processions to protest against the terror attacks.

It is high time we stopped asking Muslims to prove their patriotism again and again. It is time Indians realized that the real enemy is not the Muslim, or even a Pakistani.

The real enemy is the terrorist, and it is against terrorists that the war has to be waged. And that war can only be won if we stand united and fight united.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lady on a Scooter

This picture intrigues me in several ways -
- in a city where you see so few women on two-wheelers, it is always a slight bit of a shock to see a lady in a purdah on a scooter
- the scooter has a red cross on it - is the lady a doctor? If she is, is there a story behind why she is buying milk from a booth rather than having it delivered to her home? If the scooter belongs to someone else, why is she riding it, rather than riding her own?
- why is she so well dressed, but her child is not wearing shoes?
- and the question I do not want to ask, but can't help asking - would she have intrigued me as much if she were not wearing a burqua?

The answer to the last question is perhaps the easiest - had she not had on a burqua over her salwar kameez, I would probably not have given her a second look, but had she been in a nine yards saree, or with a pallav over her head, I would have been asking just the same questions. Perhaps.



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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Balloons

Yesterday, both the boys wanted helium-filled balloons.
The younger one’s broke minutes after buying it. He took awhile to realise it, but when he did, didn’t seem unduly perturbed.
Back home, the older one uncharacteristically shared his balloon with the younger brother. He soon lost interest in it, but the younger one continued to play with it.
I watched in horror as the balloon floated up and hit the ceiling fan. Waited for hysterics, but got a cheerful “I broke my brother’s balloon” instead.
Was that his way of cheering himself up, or had that been his intention all along?

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why do we complain?


I took this picture the day before my son turned five. When he was born, he had a cot (with its own mattress), a pram, and soon got a car seat. All that this baby has a portion of a saree strung between two wooden staffs.
Why do we complain when we have so much?

Friday, December 5, 2008

What really can be done, and who does it?

Like a friend put it, it is now ‘time to put down the pointing finger, cork the backseat driving, and deliver constructive suggestions only..’

We have expressed solidarity with the victims of the terror attack, we have sent the message out that at least for the moment we are concerned about the need for things to get done. What next?

The fear psychosis that had gripped us over the weekend is now receding, life is slowly getting back to normal. Do we put the events of the past week behind us and get on with life as we have always done in the past, or do we do something more. And if so, what?

In the short term, there is very little that we can do. We are stuck with the politicians that we have through action or inaction elected to high office. We have a political system which never seems to have heard the words accountability or apology. We seem more interested in playing the blame game than in ensuring that there is no further need for casting blame. And to deflect attention elsewhere, we play school-bully with our nearest neighbour when we could achieve much more by just appealing to the good sense that we choose to believe they do not possess. All we can do is to keep asking questions, in the hope that politicians eventually feel compelled to provide a few answers.

But there is much we can do in the medium and long term. Each of us can do our best to ensure that better candidates contest elections and get elected.

For starters, we can register to vote in the constituencies of which we are residents and encourage others to do so too. Once the educated professionals make it clear that they are going to cast their vote in the elections, parties may be forced to field candidates who appeal to the intellect rather than to petty divisions of creed, caste, region or religion

We can scrutinize documents and mandates of candidates, we can use RTI to find out how many electoral promises our politicians have kept, and we can dissipate such information to ensure that voters do not vote in a vacuum. The events of the past few days have convinced a number of people to enter politics so they can work towards a better society – we can and need to support such candidates. After all, if we want change, we need to provide an alternative, and that alternative is present among ourselves.

But the one thing each of us can do, and should do is to change ourselves. Everytime we talk into a mobile phone while driving, or jump a traffic light, or pay a bribe, we are breaking the law, and if we break the law, we do not have the right to question others. To quote the Father of the Nation, ‘we need to be the change we want to see’.

____

Incidentally, I logged onto www.jaagore.com and registered to vote in the constituency of which I am a resident. You can do so too.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Right to Not Vote

We have had it ingrained in our conscience that every citizen of India has the Right to Vote. Few among exercise that Right, and even when we do, we almost always either vote for the candidate most likely to defeat a candidate we do not want elected or for a candidate who is the best of the lot, even if not good in an absolute.

What practically none of us knew is that, in addition to the Right to Vote, we also have the Right Not to Vote. Under section 49-O of the Constitution, a voter can go to a polling booth, confirm his identity, get his finger marked and inform the presiding officer that he does not want to vote for any of the candidates in the fray. If the number of “49-O” votes cast in a particular constituency exceeds the margin of victory, polling is cancelled and there would be a re-poll in that particular constituency. Also, the candidates who had contested that particular election would be ineligible from contesting in the re-poll because the electorate has already voted against them.

The power that this Right confers on us is immense. Over the last few days, we have all been talking about the need to bring about change in politics. We’ve been getting ourselves registered to vote in the constituency where we live in, and convincing others to do the same too. But, even while doing so, most of us must have wondered if there was any point in it at all – after all, unless decent candidates come forward, we would merely be casting our votes in favour of the candidate we feel would do the least damage. A situation much better than not voting at all, but only just.

But with the Right to Not Vote, we can vote AGAINST candidates that we do not think deserve to be elected. And if enough number of people do so, we could perhaps make a difference.

More importantly, being aware of this Right and letting people know that we are aware of this Right and that we are willing to exercise this Right would put a certain amount of pressure on parties to field better candidates.

We each need each to spread the message about this Right that we have, so that we can start making a difference.

More than twenty thousand people turned up at the Gateway of India yesterday, brought there solely through messages spread using SMSes, e-mails and social networking channels. If the same channels can be used to create awareness about section 49-O, we may be just be able to bring about a real change.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sheep



They should have been issued raincoats to cope with the Bombay monsoons, but ended up with fleece jackets instead. They spent several generations trying to peel the jackets off, but didn’t succeed even in dislodging the hoods.
They could give up their sheepdom and become goats, but that they would never want. This is their city after all- even the humans here follow blindly even if there is nobody leading them. What is a little discomfort when you feel so much at home?
And hot or not, woolly coats do keep you dry if you are caught in a downpour.
_______
Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Each doing our bit...

Somehow, this sudden outpouring of solidarity and protest we have been witnessing over the last few days scares me- wear white on Monday, light a candle at 7:30 pm, assemble at the Gateway on December 3rd, change your facebook profile to an Indian flag on December 10th, sign an online petition, wear a black armband, display the word E.N.O.U.G.H. on your person for an entire day, forward SMSes lampooning politicians in general or one particular politician in particular- the list is seemingly endless . .
.

On Saturday, I was so angry at myself for allowing politicians to take me for granted, that I would have cheerfully done all of them, but on saner reflection, I realise none of it is going to make any difference at all. Today people are angry, they are scared, they are disgusted, and they are asking questions. The questions they ask are all sensible ones. The partial solutions they are coming up with are good ones that can be acted upon.

But nobody seems to be taking them seriously, nobody seems to be taking us seriously. Nobody feels obliged to provide answers, or even to aplogise for mistakes made in the past. Why?

Because the people in power know how short public memory really is. Today, the images of the fires in the heritage wing of the Taj Mahal Hotel are fresh in our eyes, we can almost hear gunshots when we shut our ears to extraneous noise, we can smell the fear we felt for those 60 hours. We do not want to relive an experience similar to that ever again, and we are willing to take time off to express our fears and our hopes.

But how long will we continue to feel that way? How long before real life catches up with us, and we find these memories being pushed to the back of our mind?

Two weeks down the line, would we continue to ask questions? One month down the line, would we demand to know what has been done in the previous weeks? Three months down the line, would we want to see concrete steps put in place to ensure that such attacks do not repeat themselves? Six months down the line, would we expect to see gradual changes in the way the political system functions? On the first anniversary of the attack, would we expect to see greater transparency and accountability?

Most unlikely!!!

We would like to deny it. We would like to believe that this time, the anger is for real. We would like to think of this as a watershed event in our nation’s collective fight against terror. But, our elected leaders know that national security is unlikely to remain one of our prime concerns for more than a couple of weeks. They know that by Republic Day, we would return to being the apathetic citizens we have been for the past six decades. And since they know it, the politicians do not see any point in taking us seriously.

Which is why I would rather all these symbolic protests be deferred by a few weeks. If two weeks later, we wear black armbands in protest, the impact would be much greater than if we do so today. If, one month after the blast, we take out a candle-light procession and hand over a list of questions to the Prime Minister, he would be forced to read them. If on the eve of Republic Day, we demand that the President dedicate her entire Address to the Nation to telling us the plan that is being implemented to ensure such incidents do not recur, she may devote a couple of minutes to the issue.

We do have the power to catalyse change, but we need to convince the people who would actually be implementing the change that we really mean business.

And till then, we can each register to vote in the constituencies we are actually residing in, we can join the civil defense army if we are able to commit that kind of time, and most important, we can try teaching our kids that just because we do not agree with a person that person doesn’t become an enemy.

That is quite a bit in itself!!!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bombay is my home

Bombay was the city I knew from summer holidays spent at my grandparents’ house, but it was to Mumbai that I came as a newly-married executive to set up home.

Mumbaikar or Bombayite- it didn’t matter what you called me. After all, the reason I fell in love with the city was because it did not have time to waste on inessentials. If politicians thought they could change history by changing signboards, so be it.

But no more.

I pay their salary. They are answerable to me. Politicians cannot take advantage of my apathy any more.

Bombay is my home.




Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

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