Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pretty in Pink

Haven't I come a long way from stuffing newspaper into my mother's brassier and preening sneakily in front of the mirror.
"Dreaming of taking them off?", winked the shop-assistant when she caught me fingering the wisps of satin and lace that one time my sister took me lingerie shopping.
I shook my head. Even then, I never dreamt of taking bras off, only of putting them on.

It has been a long journey. Of realising I was a woman trapped in a man's body. Of accepting it.

My first bra. My favourite bra. Tonight someone special will take it off.


Painting by Simon Claridge coutrsey Castle Galleries


_________________
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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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Football Woman Power

Though not the best of photographs, I love these two photographs I took at a Corporate Football Tournament a fortnight back.


Football is supposed to be a man's game, but the sole female participant more than held her own even against men a foot taller than her!

She was fast, fierce and sexy - everything a woman should be! She even played a major role in her team lifting the Runners Up trophy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Greatness

He is the Chairman of the power company that supplies more than 75% of the power to Hong Kong, and of the company that owns hotels that have been voted the best hotel in the world. He’s been awarded knighthood by Queen Elizabeth !!, and been made an officer of the Legion of Honour by the government of France. A fixture on the Forbes list of the world’s 200 richest men, the foundation that carries his family name gives away huge sums of money to charity. Whichever way you look at it, the man is a legend.

She is a twenty something lady working for a non-profit. Bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, she introduced herself to him before a conference where he was scheduled to speak. Their conversation was interrupted by someone, but she was more than happy to have just shaken his hand.

Two hours later, she was standing near the exit, saying her goodbyes. He had shaken all the hands he was required to shake, and was on the way out. He caught sight of her and walked across to her, “Lady”, he said. “I am sorry I cut our conversation short so abruptly. Pray continue.”

She launched into a passionate description of her organisation and her work, he listened patiently to her spiel, nodding at the right places, and asking the right questions.

I finally understood the meaning of the word “Great”.

Is it any wonder he is lauded more for his values than for his wealth.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One year down

November 26, 2008. A dozen youth trained in Pakistan held the city hostage for what seemed like weeks. Bombay is no stranger to violence. I grew up reading about the anti-Muslim riots, and remember being shaken up for days after the synchronous bomb attacks that targeted many of the prominent landmarks of the city. After we moved to the city in the late 1990s, we’d lived through countless bomb blasts, many of which happened somewhere close to where me, my husband, or one of our friends, had been or was going to be.
But 26/11 was something quite different. Pavement dwellers were victims, as were business honchos and Page Three personalities. For three days, terrorists were holed up on two iconic 5-star hotels. It was only fast thinking on the part of bystanders that prevented the same fate befalling one of the busiest railway stations in the country.
The city came together in an outpouring of grief and solidarity. People took out candle light marches and demanded answers. The political head of the state was replaced, and token assurances made.
One year down, nothing has changed. The city still doesn’t have a rapid action force that can deal with similar calamities. The police force continues to wield outdated weapons and wear protection gear that offers limited protection. People are more vigilant than they were earlier, but there is only so much that individuals can do without political will.
Today, the City Remembers, the Nation Remembers. People have dressed in white in memory of the slain martyrs, and in black in protest against terror. A prominent wall in the city is going to be painted in white, black and red – the city standing up against terror.We remember today. Is that enough? Can it ever be?
This picture I took today on the way to work, sums it up- slogans on the walls, but life as usual.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

To my first born, the day he turns six

Looking at you now, I can hardly believe you were a baby. Those memories are still as precious today as they were all those years back, but that gorgeous baby seems so far removed from you.

Your head almost comes up to my chest, your legs are much longer than my arms. Was there really a time not so long ago when all of you fitted into one hand?

Your questions challenge my intellect. Your knowledge catches me by surprise. You have already acquired skills that are alien to me.

You came from within me, but you are so much bigger than I could ever be.

Fly my little baby. Fly high. Your mother will always be around when you want to come back home to roost.

 
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sleep deprivation

Thursday, October 22, was one of those days when I just didn’t want to haul myself out of bed when the alarm clock went off. It was the last week of the school holidays, and I could have easily slept an hour longer, but I sternly told myself that nobody ever died from lack of sleep and dragged myself out of bed.
An hour later, when I returned from the gym sweaty and happy but still sleepy, my eyes were lead to a tiny news item on the front page of the newspaper – “SAP India MD Ranjan Das dies of heart attack”. Yet another case of a high flying executive who ate the wrong foods and exercised not at all, I generalized, even before reading the news item. The brief obituary proved me wrong.
According to industry sources, the man was scrupulous in his food habits, and never missed a gym routine. He had even completed a full-marathon a few months earlier. One line caught my eye – the man survived on 4 to 5 hours of sleep a day.
People did die of lack of sleep, I told myself.

In the days that followed, everyone was talking about how he pushed himself too hard in the gym. Too hard is not quantifiable, I told myself. And even if the body is pushed too hard, it does have the ability to adapt itself to the higher level of pushing.

Though I rarely spoke about it, I stuck to my theory that it was lack of sleep that had killed the man, and decided that on days when I did not want to get up early, I would skip going to the gym and sleep an hour longer.

Today, I got a forward that argued, in technical language I could barely follow, that it was lack of sleep that did the man in. some facts –
- Short sleep duration (<5 or 5-6 hours) increased risk for high BP by 350% to 500% compared to those who slept longer than 6 hours per night. Paper published in 2009.
- Young people (25-49 years of age) are twice as likely to get high BP if they sleep less. Paper published in 2006.
- Individuals who slept less than 5 hours a night had a 3-fold increased risk of heart attacks. Paper published in 1999.
- Complete and partial lack of sleep increased the blood concentrations of High sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-cRP), the strongest predictor of heart attacks. Even after getting adequate sleep later, the levels stayed high!!
- Just one night of sleep loss increases very toxic substances in body such as Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Tumour Necrosis Factor-Alpha (TNF-alpha) and C-reactive protein (cRP). They increase risks of many medical conditions, including cancer, arthritis andheart disease. Paper published in 2004.
- Sleeping for <=5 hours per night leads to 39% increase in heart disease. Sleeping for <=6 hours per night leads to 18% increase in heart disease. Paper published in 2006.
I haven’t checked the sources of any of these facts, but, even if only a few of them are true, it is obvious that lack of sleep is something one should be concerned about.

I know most of us push ourselves to the extreme. Spend a couple of minutes taking the Epworth Sleepiness Test –


 



A score of 0-9 is considered normal. Anything above that, and you may want to take a relook at your life.

Did you pass? Surprisingly (and reassuringly), I did!
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Spreading the smiles

The other day, a colleague was, with much animation, discussing her recent culinary exploits. An indifferent cook at best, I was fascinated by the amount of enthusiasm that a person could dredge up for something as insipid as putting together a daily meal.
“I wish I shared your enthusiasm”, I remarked. “To me, a kitchen is something you enter when you absolutely cannot put it off any longer.”
“Didi, for me, just having a kitchen where you can cook whatever you want for yourself is a dream come true”, she answered sincerely.

I knew Bhavani’s (name changed) story. Her father abandoned her pregnant mother, and when she was still a baby, her mother took up with another man. When she couldn’t’ cope with the advances of her step father any longer, she ran away to Bombay to live with an older sister. She was found in a Bombay railway platform, and taken to an institution where she lived for nine years till she turned 18 and joined the NGO I am with.
For her, a kitchen is the ultimate luxury, cooking the ultimate pleasure.

Speaking to her made me realize, anew, how much we take for granted.

Not so her. She used to attend our programmes as a participant, and credits our organisation with teaching her how to smile. So when she was old enough to choose, she decided to work for us and spread the smiles further. People like her make the world the wonderful place that it is.

I am proud to know her. And entering the kitchen will never be the same again for me.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Come Rain or Shine

This is a work of fiction. The characters and situations are purely imaginary, and any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended.

You always caught me when I fell, kissed my grazed knees, made it better. We were best friends, but just friends.

You took me to the prom when I couldn’t find another date. I never told you how much I loved you – I couldn’t risk losing my best friend.

All those unsuitable men I met – you always put together the broken pieces of my heart.

I married, had children. They married, had children. You were there for me, though never mine.

I have only a few years left, I want to spend them with you. Together, come rain or shine.


______
Drabble(n) - an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lipsticks in the Conference Room - an extract

Since NaNoWriMo is the primary reason I have been neglecting my blog (work is the primary reason, but NaNo is what is sucking up the little available time I have), I guess it makes sense to share an extract here.

This is the foreword, and to all of you who do not know Hindi, I apologise in advance for the sprinkling of Hindi words I have used- the words may be unintelligible, but the context gives the meaning.

Lipsticks in the Conference Room - Prologue

“Ridiculous, isn’t it? We work in the same office, have lunch together in the cafeteria almost every day, yet find it so difficult to schedule a girlie afternoon out!” Udisha’s striking green eyes glared at each of the other three women in turn as if each of them was personally responsible for ensuring the delay.
“Well, Revathi has been travelling almost constantly. Sonia had to take a couple of days off when her kids were unwell, and I ….”
“Yes, you Malathi”, interrupted Udisha brushing back a stray curl that had worked itself loose from her ponytail. “What about you? Why have you been so grouchy and distant lately?”
Malathi frowned, deep lines creasing her once smooth forehead. “You have no idea what Rohan puts me through. He just gets more and more demanding every day, and nothing I do seems to have any impact on him. I never thought being a single parent would be so difficult.” She buried her face into her palms for a few moments, then looked up. “Frankly, I have no idea how much longer I can take this strain. I feel like I am walking on the edge, and the slightest push will send me tumbling down the cliff.” The dark circles under her eyes were darker than usual, and her nails were bitten short.
Sonia put her hand on Malathi’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Rohan’s at a funny age, Malathi. He’s starting to discover himself as a person, and the way he can do that is by testing the limits. Don’t let him bug you. And even if he does, don’t show it. This phase too will pass.” Serenity seemed to ooze out of those huge brown eyes, and Malathi gradually felt her confidence returning.
“I really don’t know how you do it, Sonia”, she said, running her fingers through her short, home coloured hair. “Just listening to you makes me feel better.”
A blush crept up Sonia’s fair cheeks. She gave a nervous laugh, “don’t be silly, Malathi. And it’s always easier to give advice than to follow it. Are we going to sit chatting all day, or does anyone even want to order?”
“Yes, let’s order. I am famished.”
“Revathi, looking at you, anybody would think you starve yourself. And yet, you eat more than all of us put together.”
Nazar mat laga, yaar[1]”, drawled Revathi. “I’m just blessed with great metabolism. When I was younger, I actually had spoonful of ghee[2] every morning, just so I would fill out a little and look less stick like. Now… ”
“And now, if you were just a couple of inches taller, with your figure and all that gorgeous hair, you could pass for a supermodel any day.”
Revathi coloured slightly. “Oh come on. I haven’t seen any supermodels who wears spectacles. Now, can we order? I’m dying for butter chicken and garlic naan. As long as you order that, I am indifferent about everything else.”
“Poke vindaloo?”, asked Malathi with a grin.
“You know I don’t consume anything that has four legs. Stick to the creatures that swim or fly.”
“Come to think of it, I feel like having butter chicken too”, said Udisha after scanning the entire menu. “How about a butter chicken full and Amritsari fish curry? Reckon that would be enough for the four of us?”
“Order something veg for me, please. Maybe a tadka dal or a paneer dish.”
“And since when did you turn vegetarian, Ms. Sonia Bhasin? Have you suddenly turned religious, or is it a new diet?”
“Neither, Malathi dear”, smiled Sonia. “Just that, after their latest bout of jaundice, the kids are only allowed to have steamed or grilled stuff, and it seems selfish of me to hog when they can’t eat any of their favourite stuff.”
“How will they ever come to know?”, asked Udisha. “What they don’t know doesn’t count.”
“They may not know, but I will”, insisted Sonia. “And that is something I can’t live with. Food’s not all that important, is it?”
“It is to me”, said Udisha. “Though I wish it wasn’t. Don’t think I enjoy struggling to control my weight as I now have to?”
“Be like me, Udi. Give up”, said Malathi with a wry laugh. “Things are easier for you after you accept that you are overweight and there is nothing that you can do about it.”
“You may have given up, Sweetie. But I can’t. When I take the saath pheras[3], I want to walk around the fire, not roll around it.”
“I don’t roll”, protested Malathi, but the timely arrival of the waiter prevented the conversation from degenerating into a minor disagreement.

“I’m seeing someone tomorrow.” Revathi’s voice was almost a whisper.
“How do you expect us to hear you if you mumble?”, demanded Udisha. “What was it you said? Sounded like you said you were going to see someone.”
“I am going to be seeing someone tomorrow”, replied Revathi. “Rather, someone’s parents and brother are coming to see me.”
“What?! Seeing as in meeting someone with thoughts of marriage?”, asked Udisha. “I didn’t even know you were in the market.”
“I’m not exactly ‘in’ the market”, said Revathi, emphasizing the word with her fingers. “It’s just that I am not getting any younger, and I don’t exactly have anyone in mind, so I did not disagree when my parents suggested meeting this boy’s parents.”
“But how can you ever go in for an arranged marriage? I mean, how?”
“Nothing wrong with arranged marriages, Udisha”, said Sonia softly. “For all practical purposes, mine was an arranged marriage too. I may have known Hemang and his family for years, but we would never have got married if someone else hadn’t taken the trouble to fix the match.”
“And mine was not an arranged marriage, and we all know how it turned out”, said Malathi.
“Okay, I give up”, said Udisha rolling her eyes. “So, Revathi, when is the wedding?”
“Don’t be silly, yaar. I’m just meeting the family informally tomorrow. It’s not as though anything has been fixed up.”
‘Say whatever you like, Revs. But I know you’ll be married by the end of the year”, predicted Udisha. “Unless someone is both mad and blind, they would snap you up in an instant.”
Revathi hugged her friend, and teased. “Let’s then have a double wedding in December. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“For you maybe, not for me. I have no intention of getting married so soon.”
“But Udisha, you know Rohit would marry you in a jiffy and you too love him. Why are you being so stubborn about not marrying him?”
“Because I know Rohit better than any of you. If I marry him now, he will insist I move to the US to be with him, and before I know it, he’ll take up a job and settle down there. Now that he knows I will marry him only after he comes back to Bombay, he will take up a job in India after he finishes his course.”
“You may have something there”, admitted Sonia. “Equations do tend to change for the worse after marriage. But are you sure the strange arrangement you have reached is conducive to your relationship?”
“What’s so strange about our arrangement?”, demanded Udisha. “It is extremely practical if you ask me. We are both young and attractive, and it is ridiculous to expect that either of us would lead a monastic existence for two years. Might as well agree that we will each go out with other people if we want to, without getting emotionally involved with them.”
“You are having a good time, Udisha. But is Rohit?”
“That, Revathi, is not the point. The point is that Rohit could have a good time too, if he wanted to. If he chooses not to, that is his problem, not mine.”
“I’m not sure if I would be too happy to know that my partner is screwing around, even if he claims to be emotionally loyal to me”, said Malathi.
“With due respect, Malathi, this is not about you. This is about me”, said Udisha huffly.
“In case you have forgotten, I have been through something very similar. And I can tell you it is not sustainable in the long term.”
Udisha made to answer, but Sonia put a restraining hand on her. “Udisha, whether you want to accept it or not, you are playing with fire. Relationships are fragile things, and anything can happen in a situation like the one you have got the two of you into. Just take care, that’s all we’ll say.”
“Thank you, Sonia Aunty”, said Udisha stiffly.
“Most welcome, Udisha beti”, replied Sonia with a smile. “Bhagwan tujhe sad buddhi de.[4]”
Malathi grinned. “A more un-Aunty looking Aunty I have yet to see”, she said. “With that gorgeous figure and the flawless complexion, who’d say you are a mother of two almost grown up kids?”
“Start coming for a run with me in the morning. I guarantee the years will drop off in no time at all.”
“No way!”, the other three chorused. “I value my sleep far too much to ever put myself through the torture of getting up a minute before I need to.”

[1] - Litrerally, 'don't cast the evil eye on me."
[2] - clarified butter, needless to say, incredibly fattening and addictive
[3] - Hindu marriages are sanctified when the couple goes around the sacred fire seven times- term used for the act of marriage
[4] - literally, "may god grant you sense."

Friday, November 20, 2009

A little bit of appreciation

There was this lady on the train the other day. A perfectly good lady. A lady who had a solution to every problem. A lady who had advice for everyone.

"That fan is not working. Do you want a pencil so you can start it. If you press it with a pencil, it starts."
"If you want to start the fan, do it yourself."
"I don't want the fan. I was just telling you how to do it."

"Are you going to eat that orange on the train? I have a polythene bag in which you can dump the peel."

"You mustn't discuss financial details, or make holiday plans in public places. It can be very dangerous". This was to a college going girl who was talking to a friend on the mobile, and who only looked irritated at being disturbed.


She wasn't nasty. Only pushy. Nobody really likes having someone tell them what to do, and yet she just didn't get it.

There was one way and one way alone to stop her. "That's a really beautiful saree you are wearing. You look positively radiant in it", I said. The first part was true, the second was stretching the truth just a little bit.

She beamed. Her smile transformed her face into something really beautiful. And she shut up after that.

A little bit of appreciation is all anyone really wants.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing can be dangerous

I could kill whoever got me hooked onto NaNoWriMo (I could also kiss them, and once the thing is finally done, I probably will, but that is a different story). My day is more tightly back than a can of sardines (though I have never personally encountered a can of sardines so would go by what the others say), at least in this month, and it is near impossible to find time to write. The one time that does work for me is the 40 minute train commute to and from office.

And there I was today, sitting in my favourite window seat, scribbling the scene leading up to the first kiss of one of my four protagonists. All my life I have had the ability to relive imaginary scenes involving the people who inhabit my head. So it was today. I could picture beautiful Revathi sitting in a cab wondering how to react to the very obvious advances of her colleague. I have no idea when or how it happened, but at some stage, my face started mirroring the expressions I knew were flitting across Revathi's face. When I looked up to lock my eyes into those of Revathi's colleague, I noticed the person sitting across staring at me. A quick look around showed half the compartment suddenly showing an inordinate amount of interest in something just behind my head.

Why did nobody warn me that writing could be this dangerous!

Or does this happen only to me?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Portrait # 2


This picture was taken on the day state elections were held in Bombay. The man saw me with my camera and insisted I take his picture. Have yet to figure out what exactly it was that he was trying to show off - definitely not the lack of election mark on his finger.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Borrowing from life

The story I am writing as a part of NaNoWriMo has four rather different women interacting with each other in an office. None of them is me, in looks, temperament or situation, and yet, when I write them, I find episodes from my life working their way into each of their stories.

Is that at all normal? Will they continue to be so different if all of them end up borrowing so generously from my life?

Sorry about the brevity of the post - have been staring at an Excel worksheet for the past five hours, and not only am I cross-eyed, I am also cross brained!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sports Photography

I’ve always been fascinated by Sports Photography, and ever since I acquired my new SLR, I have been itching to try my hand at it. My dream finally came true this weekend, at a Corporate Football Tournament organized by my organization to generate revenue and publicity.

Of the thousand plus frames that I shot, barely a dozen captured a decisive moment, but given the fact that it was my first attempt, I was more than happy that I managed to capture even that many.


Here’s a sequence of a foiled attempt at a penalty kick.

Here’s another of a successful attempt at the goal.

And here’s me capturing all the action-
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tango

This is a work of fiction. The characters and situations are purely imaginary, and any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended.

Our bodies belong together, our rhythm is one.
You touch me, the air sizzles. You pull me towards yourself, the mercury soars. My legs slide up your body, electricity is generated. We twirl, the world gasps.
Since our first dance, I have never been able to dance with anyone else. On the dance floor, we are pure unadulterated passion.

Looking at us, can anyone tell that you abandoned me when I was carrying your child? That if not for the money we make through our dancing, I would cheerfully stick a knife into your back and tango at your funeral?

______
Drabble(n) - an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.



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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Chirstmas Play

When I first saw the script for the X-mas play that my not yet four year old was supposed to act in, I was not at all sure if he would be able to do it. In itself, the lines were not too long- my son, for one, can cheerfully rattle off stories much longer without missing a single work. But the words were new, and a teeny bit complicated, and performing on stage was a new experience.

One evening was all it took to teach my son the lines "An Angel told us a Saviour is born. And I have come to see Baby Jesus." But even after two long rehersals, he hadn't figured out the cues, and was refusing to raise his voice louder than a mumble.

The other Moms were pushing their kids to do enact the lines and to say them with emotion, but that I was reluctant to do. After all, my son was not a puppet who would perform when the right strings were pulled.

Two days before the play, the mothers pushed for one last rehersal. I refused. I was not going to take a day off to ferry my kid to a practice which I knew was not going to have the slightest impact on my son's performance.

On the day of the play, my son lived up to my expectations - he refused to say the lines, and just stood there looking sulky till I took pity on his and wisked him off the stage.

Was I disappointed? Well, I'll be kidding if I say I was not. But I am not as disappointed as I would have been had I expected him to deliver his lines, even if quite hesitantly.

As for the other kids- individually, and collectively, they looked lovely. But I would be exaggerating if I say that any of them performed to their true potential. Exposure is a great thing to have, but is it absolutely necessary to set our kids up for failure?

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Progress on NaNoWriMo-No

At the start of the month, I had blogged about why I was not taking up the NaNoWriMo challenge. What I implied, but failed to mention explicitly was the fact that I was going to write as much as I could during the month, and to continue to do so till something was finished.

There had been this vague idea for a chick-lit novel which I was pretty sure I could develop further. One character I was sure about, the rest I started thinking about in the last days of November. Since November 1 was a Sunday, I managed to get about a thousand words written. I wrote on the train while commuting to work, I wrote myself to sleep instead of reading as I normally do. By the end of the week, I had managed to touch the magical 5 k mark (nothing I have written before came anywhere near that).

Geek that I am, I decided to celebrate by treating myself to a couple of graphs that tracked my progress.


I had two PTMs to attend yesterday, so took the day off. Managed to get a fair bit of writing done, and hit the 25% mark. By NaNoWriMo standards, not good at all - half the month gone, and only a quarter of the way to the 50k mark - but it is much more than I ever thought I would write. As per my current projections (current rate of writing, extrapolated to estimated size of work - I did tell you I was a geek, didn't I?) I'll finish between end-December and early-January. I know those projections are meaningless, because if I manage to keep up with my blog posts for the rest of the month, I would be pleasantly surprised.

BUT, finish the novel I am now determined to do, and isn't that wonderful in itself? Once I do, I can finally start calling myself a Writer!

And as of five minutes back, the story even has a tentative name - Lipsticks in the Board Room - takes no imagination to figure out where the story is set.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Portrait # 1


The start of a series on portraits of the ordinary people you encounter on the streets of Bombay everyday. This is a vendor selling lanterns made of glittery paper.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I too had a Dream

The story of the White Revolution is rather well known in India. The story about how a nation which was dependent on imports for the bulk of its dairy requirement attained self-sufficiency in milk and milk production. When you talk of the co-operative movement in the country, the story invariably begins with the story of Amul- a co-operative of milk producers from one tiny district in Western India organizing themselves not just to produce, but to procure, market and distribute their products.

I have always admired Dr. Verghese Kurien, the brain, heart and body behind the movement, because he is one of those rare individuals who is at the same time a visionary, a leader and a professional manager. And yet, I always hesitated to pick up his authorized biography “I too have a Dream”, because of my natural distrust of authorized biographies and autobiographies. These books often tend to be self congratulatory, and this one was no different.

Dr. Kurien has achieved a lot in his professional life, he has surmounted obstacles that most people would have hesitated to even take on. He is one person who combines the best qualities of a visionary, a leader and a professional manager. He has changed the paradigm of how the diary industry operates in the country, has been responsible for ensuring an alternate/ supplementary source of livelihood to millions of farmers and has set up several institutions that continue to serve a vital role in the country.

Every page of the book oozed sincerity. The man is genuinely concerned with social and economic upliftment in rural India. For someone like me who continues to focus her energy on urban poverty and industry led development, reading about rural India was an eye-opener. The book had huge insights for anyone who wanted to read between the lines.While urban poverty is more visible, the real solution to urban poverty is to keep people from having to migrate to the cities. Rural poverty alleviation is what would lead to overall poverty alleviation. Dr. Kurien made me think along lines I have never been challenged to think before, and I loved the intellectual stimulation of having to do that.

But, there were too many moments in the book where ‘so-and-so threatened to do such-and-such to the movement’, and Dr. Kurien called up ‘so-and-so and had the threat removed’. Too many of his battles seem to have been won by making a call to the Prime Minister’s office, or by one Minister intervening when another was causing trouble. Nothing wrong with that – in cases such as this, the ends definitely justify the means – but is that all there is to the man? Couldn’t the story have been as strong without his having to pull so many strings? If he was willing to go to any extent to achieve what he thought had to be achieved, were all his quests as noble as the ones he highlights?

The reality of modern India, unfortunately, is one where you need to know someone to get something done. I would have liked that Dr. Kurien’s story have been slightly different. But a book I would definitely recommend, because it does challenge you to think of issues you may otherwise just avoid.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On pulling up my socks

Though it has been four months since my older one started primary school, the school enforced the footwear component of the school uniform only after the recent term break. The week before the three-week long holidays began, they had sent out a reminder asking us to purchase the socks from the administrative office, but one thing led to the other, and I was not able to do so.
We bought black leather lace-up shoes for my son the day before school started, but he had to go to school on the first day in plain white socks. I was expecting a reprimand, and knew I deserved one. I could only hope that they did not punish my son for something that was clearly his mother’s fault.
“I am sorry I had to send him to school today without the regulation socks”, I apologized. “I hope you wouldn’t punish him.”
“We NEVER punish the child for something that is not his fault”, the head said indignantly.
Not many schools in India think that way – the schools I went to never did.
My heart soared with pleasure. I had chosen the right school for my child.
And I will pull up my socks in future, and not miss things like this.
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Monday, November 9, 2009

My girlie gang

We did one of our girlie lunches the other day. Four ‘knocking on the gates of 40’ mothers who had gone to school together all those years ago. We had half an hour to wait before the fifth turned up, and since we did not want to test our friendship to the extent of going into a restaurant and restraining ourselves from falling over the food, we had to find other ways of killing time.

We strolled into a boutique next to the restaurant we were going to have lunch in. Some of the stuff was extremely wearable, and one of us tried it on before deciding it made her look like a balloon.

When and how we graduated to clothes we would not be caught dead in, I am not sure, but pretty soon, we were in and out of the changing room trying on the most unsuitable and impractical clothes. Halter neck blouses, tube tops, mini dresses. Dresses cut low and dresses cut hit.

We could barely squeeze ourselves into many of the clothes, but we had a lot of giggles while trying to do so. We were obviously not going to buy anything, but it was fun.

“At our age, I’d rather wear clothes I look good in, than clothes that look good”, one of us muttered as we strolled out. Even the owner had to smile at our spirit.

It is nice to have friends you can have pointless fun with, isn’t it? Would my life have been as full if I hadn’t signed up for a Facebook account?
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Light & Shade

The slideshow of her photographs is on indefinite repeat. She smiles prettily on a horse. She laughs with a smut of ice-cream on her nose. She pouts and strikes a glamorous pose. She grins cheekily, hibiscus tucked behind her ear. Even the pictures during chemotherapy don’t betray her pain.

My gal!

And now she is gone.

I know I should be glad we had the years together that we did have. I know we lived more in those years than most people do in a lifetime.

And yet, somehow it doesn’t seem enough. Why couldn't we have grown old together?



______
Drabble(n) - an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.

This is a work of fiction. The characters and situations are purely imaginary, and any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Butterfly


You notice the beauty of their multicoloured wings, admire the grace with which they alight on the prettiest flowers. Butterflies could spend their days preening in the Sun–their beauty is enough to justify their existence.

But they work extremely hard too. They fly long distances to collect nectar for their supper. While we are busy admiring them, they are actually gathering food to feed more than just their soul.

Generous creatures. They hop from flower to flower, transferring pollen. Creating life.

I would love to be called a butterfly.

Why then does the name carry connotations of being flighty?
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Patience

“Patience”, my grandmother warned me, when after my n-th unsuccessful attempt at pushing the needle through the stitch, wrapping the wool around the needle, drawing the wool in and slipping the old stitch off, I was ready to throw the pair of knitting needles out of the window. “Knitting is a skill you learn for life. You can’t rush it.”
To be honest, she didn’t exactly use those words, but there was no ambiguity in the tone of her voice.
“Patience”, I muttered to myself, while I tried again. And since this is not a story, I did not succeed that time either. But I did, a couple of days later. And a couple of days after that, I was making knit stitches almost effortlessly. Learning to ‘purl’ was much easier than it had been to learn to ‘knit’, and before I knew it, a whole world of patterns had been laid open for me.

And my grandmother was right. Knitting is a skill I never forgot. My tension would remain inconsistent – sometimes my stitches were so tight, I could barely push the needle through, other times they would be so loose, sunlight could stream through the gaps – reflecting my current mood. But there was no pattern I could not tackle, no garment I could not do.
And yet, none of it would have happened had my grandmother not whispered that magic word in my ear- Patience. In life, as in knitting, patience is all we really need. Genuine patience.

Painting - Francoise Duparc (1726-78) Woman Knitting, n.d.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Mystery

Rushing home from work the other day, I nearly banged into something that had no business perching itself where normally I should be. Looked like a pair of coffins, but of course I was hallucinating.

Took a closer look, and yes, it was a pair of coffins. Made of finely polished wood, with brass crossed embedded on them.

Ours is a fully-commercial building. There are printing presses, gem traders, advertising agencies and even our non-profit, but no residences. Who then was being carried off to their final place of rest? Was it a pair of long dead employees who were discovered hunched over their desks only that day? Was it someone trying to smuggle out drugs or gemstones in coffins? Were they to be used as quirky office furniture?

Nobody seemed to own the coffins - they were just standing there, waiting patiently, like coffins are trained to wait. I was in a hurry, so couldn't stay to find out more.
The Mystery remains. What were the coffins doing there?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two States - not the story of my marriage

I bought the first book that Chetan Bhagat published mainly because I wanted to see what the guy I vaguely knew in b-school came up with. I loved the book. ‘Five Point Somebody’ was at the same time funny and serious. You identified with the characters and chuckled at the undertone of wit. It spawned a whole generation of ‘campus novels’, each worse than the other. It remained a class apart.

Bhagat’s second book started off well, but lost the plot completely long before the end. The climax was ridiculous even by the standards of a Bollywood movie, but enough people loved the book for there to be a third. After the third, I swore never to read another of Bhagat’s books. But when I read the teaser of ‘Two States – the story of my marriage’, I knew I had to give the book a try.

The blurb promised much -
Love marriages around the world are simple:
Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy.
They get married.

In India, there are a few more steps:
Boy loves Girl. Girl loves Boy.
Girl’s family has to love boy. Boy’s family has to love girl.
Girl’s Family has to love Boy’s Family. Boy’s family has to love girl’s family.
Girl and Boy still love each other. They get married.

Welcome to 2 States, a story about Krish and Ananya. They are from two different states of India, deeply in love and want to get married. Of course, their parents don’t agree. To convert their love story into a love marriage, the couple have a tough battle in front of them. For it is easy to fight and rebel, but it is much harder to convince. Will they make it?


Chetan Bhagat is a Punjabi, married to a Tamilian, Anusha Suryanarayan, they have two sons. My family exactly mirrors his - I am a Tamilian, the hubby is a Punjabi and we have two sons. How could I not read a book that promised to affectionately poke fun at both communities and on how they interact when they know they have to be joined in the bounds of holy matrimony?

The storyline was simplistic to say the least - boy and girl meet at b-school, fall in love, and live together for two years. Girl gets a job in Chennai, boy asks for a posting in the same city. Boy goes all out to convince girl's family that he would make a suitable husband for their only son. Mission accomplished, boy and girl together try to get his family to accept her. Uneasy truce, mis-understandings, break-ups, unexplained patch-up, Big Fat (South) Indian wedding. But the very simplicity of the story had potential€, which unfortunately never materialised.

The book started with clich├ęs. Girls who got admission in the Indian Institute of Management- Ahmedabad, according to the author, were selected for their ability to solve mathematical problems than the rest of the population, they were not selected for their looks, or their attitudes towards clothes and accessorizing. The girls on campus were individually and collectively some of the smartest girls I have ever met, but many of them were also extremely pretty, and almost everyone knew how to dress to kill on days when they were going out. That people didn’t bother to dress up on campus was because of the prevailing sartorial culture than because of a personal disinclination to do so.

Once the protagonists graduated from b-school, the stereotyping only became worse. Sure individual members of certain communities dress, talk and behave in a certain way, but to imply that everyone is created from the same mould is to ask people to stretch their imaginations beyond credible limits.

Any Indian, regardless of which part of the country they come from, knows that traditional meals in South India are served on banana leaves. They may not know the rituals associated with it, but nobody, however dumb, would make a statement like “are we supposed to eat these?”, except in jest. And yet, Bhagat has one of his characters say just that.

Sure the book had its moments. There were times when the author provided quirky insights of the kind only a benevolent insider can provide. But those moments, rare though they were, only made the experience of reading the book more torturous. Because they reminded you of the wonderful story that could have been woven, had the author been serious about writing a book rather than stringing together a set of stereotypical moments.

That the book was written with one eye on movie rights is apparent- I can almost predict which pretty Tamilian actress, and cute half-Punjabi actor will play the roles of the main protagonists. That there are people who would enjoy the book is a fact. I am just not one of them.

And after this experience, I am definitely not reading any more books written by Chetan Bhagat.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Guys at Traffic Lights

The other day, I was talking to one of the youth from our programme. He lives on the street, and makes a living by selling books and magazines at traffic lights.
Magazines are sure shot sellers, he informed me. He buys them on credit, and always manages to sell them all. Books, by which he means pirated copies of books, are quite another story, he told me. There was a time when he could make a killing on them, but sales have been down ever since the pavement booksellers who also double up as circulating libraries started stocking them.
“How can we compete with them”, he asked me. “I sell a book for fifty rupees. They sell a book at sixty rupees, but give back forty rupees when you return the book after reading it. Why would anyone want to buy the book from me when they can read it so much cheaper otherwise?”
I had to nod in agreement. This aspect of book piracy was one that had never thought of before.
“But I still stock some books”, he continued. “People still buy Brinda, the Secret, Chicken Soup and that Ferrari book (The Monk who Sold his Ferrari). It is these new books that I cannot sell anymore.”
After chatting a little longer, he wandered off.

An hour later, he came to my desk and offered me sweets.
“What is the occasion?”, I asked.
“Have the sweets and I’ll tell you”, he said with a grin.
“If you won’t tell me, I won’t have your sweets”, I bargained with a smile.
He grinned. “Assume it’s my birthday.” After I broke off a piece and popped it in my mouth, he continued, “Well, it’s not exactly my birthday. I don’t even know how old I am. But I have decided to celebrate today as my birthday.”
I couldn’t even start to comprehend a life so different from mine. Even at 38, I have only to ask, and my mother and father-in-law drop everything and rush to help. And here is someone who has never known anyone who could even tell anything about himself. If he ever lived in a house, he doesn’t remember it, and he calls the wide open streets of the city home.

I am still ethically as opposed to book piracy as I always was. But if trading in pirated books is the only thing that stands between starvation and survival, I find it difficult to condemn it outright.
Which brings me to a possible solution. The discounts that some book stores offer their customers proves that the margins in distribution could be as high as 35%. Why, then, can’t book publishers directly use the boys who sell books at traffic lights to distribute their books? Lower margins would mean lower book prices, and any reduction in the price gap between genuine and pirated books can only bring down the demand for pirated books. Or it is too simplistic a solution?

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMoNo

Since practivally everyone I know is blogging about why they signed up for the NaNoWriMo, I feel I need to write about why I did not.

Can't say I was not tempted because I was, and sorely so. I've been writing for almost half a decade, but have always shyed away from attempting anything longer than a short story. The last two years have been devoted almost exclusively to that most wonderful invention of all - the Drabble- a story told in exactly 100 words. I thought I was content, but....

.... no matter what one says, there is that extra something about attempting and completing a novel. Even if nobody except my closest friends (writing buddies all of them) reads it, even if nobody comments on it (good or bad), I would still like to write a full-length novel someday (I would also like to run a marathon, spend a month bumming around Europe, and trek to the Mansarovar Lake - but I digress).

And if signing up for NaNoWriMo hadn't catalysed my novel, it is unlikely anything else would have. I had a plot loosely defined, three of my four characters were almsot completely fleshed out, there was really nothing coming between me adn my novel, except myself.

Then why not NaNoWriMo?

Because November shows every sign of being one of the most stressful months in my calendar. The non-profit I work for has committed funds that would run out in February. We need to raise money, and raise money fast. At least three grant proposals are due this month - if even two of them come good, we'd be safe for another year. If all of them come through, we can impact the lives of 200,000 children from marginalise backgrounds next year. I know I would be writing much more than just 50,000 words this month- not sure if I can double that load and still survive.

Plus I need to get my not yet four year old to learn his lines for a school play, and plan the birthday party for my soon to be six year old. If I forfit sleep completely, I may just be able to write 1,667 words a day. But I am not sure if I would be able to sustain that for a month.

So, no NaNoWriMo for me. At least not in November 2009. Maybe I could cheat and do it in December?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Will she still want me?

This is a work of fiction. The characters and situations are purely imaginary, and any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended.

My love was not the adolescent crush that she dismissed it as.

“Teacher and student, never works”, she said.
“Says who?”, I countered.“I am much older than you”, she said.
“I don’t care”, said I.
“But I do. I am twenty-seven, you are not yet fifteen.”
“In twelve years, I will be twenty-seven.”
“By then I will be almost forty. This gap can never be bridged.”
“I’ll think of a way”, I boasted. I couldn’t, but leukaemia did.

I turned seventy-five today, she is still thirty-two. When I join her in a few years, will she still want me?

______
Drabble(n) - an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.

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