Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stringing lights

I wrote this drabble for the Advent Calendar at the Burrow.

Winter does that to you. When you can no longer ignore the nip in the air, along with your winter clothes, you also take down your memories from the attic.
All those illnesses you thought were never going to end, but which you survived and forgot. Those minor issues which seemed almost catastrophic, and which you barely remember. Those good times- the lunches with friends, the plays the kids put up, the hours on the slides, the flowers that bloomed.
The time to look back, the time to leap forward. The time to string lights on the year that was.
Wishing you all happiness in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nowhere but in India

The marker made of black marble is a road sign that proudly proclaims that the junction it is on is named after a Chandraprabhu Bhagawan. I doubt if anyone has ever read the sign - I for one never did till I posted the picture on the blog - but the great Indian spirit of enterprise has found a use for it. String a nylon rope between the two pillars, and you have a perfect display window for evening dresses. Can any other spot grant greater visibility?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009



One word that seems so inadequate, but ends up conveying so much.
When 2009 began, 'Start work on my book' was not even a resolution I considered making. I was going to take up full time employment after nearly 5 years, my older one was going to start primary school, and I doubted if I would have enough time to read, let alone write.

The latter half of the year, I toyed with the idea of starting a book, but was just not able to get myself to start. Then NaNoWriMo fever struck almost all my writing buddies, and I found myself being the only one not to register for the madness. November is a horrible month, I told myself. There's no way I will be able to get any non-work related writing done. I even blogged about why I was not NaNoWriMo-ing.

But peer pressure is something I counted without. You don't have to finish, I told myself. You only have to start. I started writing, hesitently at first, then with greater confidence. A little over a week into it, I found I had written a lot more than I ever thought I would. I registered on NaNoWriMo. That graph kept me going - I loved being able to add just a little bit more to it every day.

End of the month, and while I was nowhere near striking distance of the 50k mark, I knew I would eventually finish the story. Kept pegging away at the book whenever I could. Last week, I did an audit, and figured out exactly how many chapters I needed to write to finish. Christmas was an extended weekend, and between playing Mommy, I managed to write over 11 k words, and FINISH.

The story is DONE!

I did it! I finished an entire book. It is yet to sink in completely. But I know it will, eventually.

The journey's been grand so far. Now for the most fun part of it - editing, and continuity management!!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

A politically correct Christmas

The other day, Sonia of Gutsy Writer had written about how in her part of the world, people could get offended if you wished them a 'Merry Christmas'.

Luckily, it is not the case in India. While what the world hears about are the religions riots that periodically erupt in my country (and I would like to believe we have now matured enough as a nation for there to not be any more of them), what gets forgotten is that centuries old reality of India is one of religious amity and co-existence.

Blame it on my convent school eduction, and a childhood spent reading Enid Blyton if you wish, but I don't remember a time when I did not have a Christmas tree in my house. And my mother always baked a cake for Christmas. You could, perhaps, say that mine was a slightly elitist upbringing, and not representative of the nation as a whole, and I would agree.

But the fact is that Christmas, like most other festivals, has become a secular celebration in the country. On Thursday, dozens of people in office wished me a Merry Christmas; nobody wished me a Happy Holidays. None of the people I saw shopping for Christmas decorations looked Christian. There were women who's green glass bangles branded them as Maharashtrian Hindus, there were women who's headdress proclaimed them as Muslims. They were all buying ornaments for Christmas trees!

In India, wishing someone a Merry Christmas is the politically correct thing to do.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009


A drabble to remind us that even while we celebrate, there are people who are unable to join in.
[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.]

Christmas comes but once a year.
Lights strung on houses. Brightly lit stars on every porch. Gaily decorated X-mas trees visible through open windows. Evergreen wreathes on every door.
Santas bearing sacks of gifts. Shop windows done up in red, green and gold. Piped music inducing you to buy things nobody'll ever use.
Christmas specials on television. Families gathered around loaded dining tables. Christmas puddings surrounded by flames. Gifts to give, and receive.
I watch them celebrate and feel good for them. But I can't join in. I lost my daughter today seventeen years back. I still mourn her passing.
Drabble(n) -
an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.

This was a part of the annual Advent Calendar at the Burrow.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Christmas posy

I don't remember a time when I haven't been fond of flowers. And while I normally prefer flowers on a plant, vases of cut-flowers have always marked celebrations.

Even after I had my kids, I've bought flowers whenever I could. The three things I remember about all their birthday celebrations are the clothes they wore, the cake we cut, and the flowers in the house. But after we moved back to Bombay two and a half years back, I've never really indulged in flowers.

On the afternoon of Chirstmas Eve, I was in a really foul mood. One of those moods where I needed a hug almost as much as the body needs oxygen. I knew that drastic steps had to be taken if I was to survive the X-mas weekend.

Since a spontaneous hug didn't seem forthcoming, I decided to pamper myself with cut-flowers.

I wanted to get something bright and yellow, but the only flowers available in the flower market were rather straggly looking asters. I bought two bunches of mixed pink and white flowers, and my spirits automatically perked up.

It is a measure of how long I have been without flowers that I could not find a single vase anywhere in the house. But I did find a teapot which could serve the purpose.

I have seen better flowers, much better flowers. But few things have cheered me up as much as these flowers have.

Flowers! How do people who cannot appreciate them, survive without the touch of beauty in their lives?
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Hard-wired for Happiness

The other day, I was with one of the Programme Delivery girls, and she was telling me about a success she had with one of the children she works with. It wasn't something big enough even to be mentioned in the quarterly evaluation, but she was really excited about it, because even a tiny breakthough is a breakthrough.

I shared her excitement - it was so contagious, it would have been difficult for anyone not to - and that only encouraged her to talk more. After about ten minutes, she said, "I really don't know why I am telling you all this. I am sure you are not as interested in it as I am."

I assured her that I wasn't the tiny bit disinterested, but she didn't believe me. "Didi, I am sure you are only being polite", she said. "But I can't help myself. I get excited about small things, and when anyone listens to me, I bore them completely."

"But that is exactly what I like so much about you", I assured her. "The fact that you get excited about things." She beamed, which encouraged me to continue, "You are the sort of person who will always be happy. No matter what life throws at you, you will manage to squeeze your personal happiness out of it."

And that is exactly the sort of person she is. One who is hard-wired for happiness and will claim her share of happiness no matter what. There are quite a few people like her, and I love surrounding myself with them, because without even intending to, they cheer me up when I am down.

There is also the other kind of person. The person hard-wired for lack of happiness. I know one of them too. She is better qualified professionally than 95% of the people in the country. She's married to a man who pampers her in a way I would love to be pampered. She has two well behaved kids, a nice house, a high end car and driver, and full-time household help. She's tall, and pretty, and can look really stunning when she decides to dress up. But she is permanently disgrunteled with life.

I see her taking an evening walk when I am rushing home from work. I am dead tired, but still need to pick up the kids, fix dinner, help with homework, give baths, mediate a dozen fights, and tuck the kids in for the night. She's looking fresh and well groomed, her maid is looking after the kid, and the same maid will feed the kids dinner, wash the dishes and leave the house leaving spick and span before leaving. All she has to do is to look pretty and fresh, and spend a few pleasant hours with her husband before going to bed.

I should be envious of her, but I never am. Because what is the point of physical comforts if you aren't happy?

Which brings me to my current WIP. All my characters are like me - reasonably content with their lot. They get upset, scream, shout, and sulk, but they bounce back. They are the only characters I can write, because I am just not happy with writing any other kind. Does that make my book one sided?

Thursday, December 24, 2009


[I wrote this story a couple of years back when I was writing regularly, and posted it exactly a year and a day back - still like it a lot. Enjoy!!!
And Seasons Greetings, everyone.]

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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Questions never cease

The idea came from Elizabeth Spann Craig, who mentioned she is taking a blogging break for the rest of the year. I think it is a fabulous idea, because when I go back to the time when I was blogging without even knowing if I had an audience, I find a lot of posts that make me sit up.

So, for the next few days, I am going to repost some of my older posts- the really nice ones that got no comments at all. And who knows, I may just make it a regular feature.

Here is the first post I ever posted. On July 8, 2008, if you want to know

With the four-year old, questions never cease.

On the way to school – “Why do people make so many buildings?”

Watching TV – “Are zebras and tigers the same? Both have stripes.”

In the playground – “Why do swings go up and slides come down?”

In the kitchen fixing a sandwich –“Why do pigeons not have bathrooms?”

While being bathed – “Lions use which shampoo?”

At midnight when you are trying to get him to sleep – “Why do dolphins not have ears?”

You can answer some of them, but some leave you totally speechless - “Why do birds poo, but not pee?” – how on earth did he even notice that?


Sometimes, the questions start off being factual – “Is Hanuman a God or a Superhero?”…

… then get slightly combative – “But Hanuman can fly – why do you say he is not a Superhero?” …

… before settling for the purely philosophical – “But why does Hanuman not want to be a Superhero?


They say two years is too young an age to start asking meaningful questions. Not!

Your two-year old isn’t too far behind his brother – “Why is the moon so thin?”

Before you can say anything, the older brother pipes up – “Because the moon goes to the gym.”

Not good enough for the two-year old – “but why is the moon sometimes thin and sometimes fat?”

The brother explains with all the patience of a four-year old – “The moon sometimes eats KitKat and becomes fat, and then it goes to the gym and becomes thin again.”

You realize that you really should be more careful what you say in front of these kids!


You can never shut them up with generalities –

“Why are elephants so big?

“Because God made them that way.”

“But why did God make elephants so big?”

He would prefer you tell him, “Elephants are big because all animals cannot be the same size. Some animals should be small and some big. Elephants are big.”, but he is willing to settle for a “I really don’t know. Can I look it up and tell you?”


You know you should not be encouraging him to ask so many questions. You know you are just setting him up for future disappointment. How many teachers will have the patience not to snap at him when he comes up with a “Why do cheetahs run so fast?”, and follows it up with a “But then, why do the deer run so fast?” because the answer to the first questions begets another? Or would a teacher really be able to answer him when he asks, "Why to birds have feathers and not hair?"


You know you can’t win either way – encourage him now and he will be in for a disappointment later, curb him now and he may forget what it is to be inquisitive.

He comes up to you with a variegated leaf - “Why is this leaf not green?”

You remember last week’s question - “Why are leaves green?”, and an answer that included something about leaves being the kitchen of the plant, and the green colour the gas-stove on which food was cooked. You sigh and try to decide whether to tell him about chlorophyll and chromophyll, or whether to just ask him to shut up. You know you have decide fast, but before you can say something to buy time, he triumphantly pipes up, “this leaf is not green because the plant orders takeaway and heats it on the microwave.”

You look into his gleaming eyes, and hug him. Perhaps he will survive even in this big bad world that discourages independent thought.


The then four year old is now six, but he hasn't really changed all that much. The only significant difference is that the younger one (who is now 'nearly four') has joined him, so I have two sets of questions coming at me from different directions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Creating an identity

Update on the boy I had blogged about on Saturday - the one who narrowly escaped being picked up by the police and being bumped off. One of the girls from the programme took him to a shelter today, and while he is not too happy about swapping the street for a shelter, he has promised to give it a try. He's so shaken up right now, he will stay - the challenge would be to make sure he remains there.

We've been talking about little else at work this week. And apparently this incident is not as uncommon in my country as I would like to believe. Such stories rarely get reported, and get buried or killed even if they do appear, so the vast majority of us who lead rather sheltered lives never get to hear of it. But the people who actually work with marginalised children insist there are horrors worse than this - if worse than this, I don't think I can even stomach it.

The issue is not poverty per se, at least not current, personal poverty. The boys who sell books at traffic lights make a decent living - their earnings are almost double that of a person who is just above the official poverty line, and all the money they earn is theirs to spend.

But the root cause of the problem is poverty. Rural and semi-urban poverty. The dearth of employment opportunities that forces boys such as him to catch a train to Bombay in the hope of earning a livelihood in the 'City of Dreams'. The poverty that forces mothers to encourage their boys to leave their homes, so there would be one less mouth to feed.

In the city, they earn a living but they do not leave a trace. Their names get recorded nowhere. It is like they never existed. So when they cease to exist, there is no trace of their having existed at all. Which is why the boys with uncles and cousins were spared- their families would ask questions, could create a stink. But one boy looking for another can be easily dismissed.

What we would try to do is to document these boys. Capture their identity, comment on their existence. That is not much security - if people make the kids disappear, they can also tell us that the kids have gone back home without leaving an address - but is it better than nothing at all. After all, there is little else anyone can do.

And my boy?
He was in office yesterday, and to distract him, even if only momentarily, I commented on the wrist bands that he was wearing.
"Didi, they glow in the dark", he informed me.
"Really?", I said.
"Yes, didi", he replied, slipping a bright pink bracelet off his wrist. "Take this. You will see how nicely it glows in the night."
Maybe if I keep the bracelet on, he will be safe.

The bracelet has 'PRIDE' inscribed on it. He can't read it, but I can. After hearing his story, I am proud to know him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blogging Writer Award

The wonderful Elizabeth Spann Craig has instituted the Blogging Writer Award, which she awarded to all her old and new blogging friends, including me.

She instituted the Award nearly two weeks back, but since I have taken a self imposed sabbatical from reading blogs, I found out only this weekend.

Thank you, Elizabeth. I really appreciate it. Yours is one of the best blogs I frequent, and you are one blogger who never fails to leave a comment when a post interests you. Getting an award from you is an honour indeed.

Here's the award,
and here are the rules-
You can post this image to your blog…or not.
may share this award with others…if you like.
may adapt or alter this image in any way.

Since I do not like not passing on an award, it goes out to all those people who read my blog frequently, but rarely leave a comment. You know who you are, even if I don't. I love you all, and it would be nice to hear from you once in awhile.

Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two Stars

[This is a work of fiction. All characters are imaginary, though any resemblence to people living or dead is purely intended.]

"I'm not coming to church," I said. "I don't believe in religions that divide."
"Religion doesn't divide," Grandma reasoned. "It is people who turn on other people. Religion is but their excuse."
"I'm not coming. There is so much communal hatred everywhere. I'm boycotting all organized religion."
Grandma shrugged. "You don't have to come in. Just take me to church and bring me back. Wait in the car if you wish."

Outside the church, was a Star of Bethlehem. Inscribed on it, an Aum, a Crescent, a Cross and a Dove. Religions can unite if they try.
I walked in.
This drabble features on the Advent Calendar at the Burrow. The Advent Calendar is an annual feature, where you get a drabble a day, everyday in the period leading upto Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Need a dead body? Kill someone.

Some months back, I had blogged about one of the youth from our programme who made a living selling books at traffic lights. I hadn't seen him around office for a long time, but hadn't thought much about it - it is rarely that you notice the prolonged absence of a not frequent visitor.

He came down to office yesterday, and while he walked across to speak to me, I could see he wasn't his usual chirpy self. But I was preoccupied with something else, and put it down to my vagueness rather than his. A little later, I head a story that chilled me to my bones.

Last week, the police needed a couple of dead bodies of terrorists killed in a police encounter. They swooped down on the street where this youth lives, picked up four youth, took them away and killed them in cold blood. The police knew just who to pick- none of the boys who were picked up had family members who might look for them. They were all Muslim, so even if they had any religious signs on them, they would be of the right religion.

I made the person telling me the story three times before I was willing to admit that my ears were hearing what my brain refused to accept. You know that people murder other people, and that sometimes the wrong person gets killed by mistake. You are willing to accept that innocent bystanders get killed by terrorists. But how do you ever accept the fact that you are killed in cold blood by the people who are meant to protect you?

I have heard about fake 'encounter killings' where suspects are killed in staged battles. I know that the police often use brutal techniques to get information out of people. But I never suspected they could stoop to the level of killing innocents in cold blood only to boost their targets. And I can think of nothing worse!

And the boy I know? Last week, he had a providential escape. He's Muslim and doesn't have any relatives who even know where he stays. He could have been one of the four to be picked up, he wasn't. We are trying to convince him to move into an institution for youth like him. He would be able to ply his trade during the day, but would have to return to the institution at night. He is not sure he wants to swap the freedom of the streets for the regimentation of an institution, but even more, he doesn't want to die.

Naseer is a wonderful boy. I wish I could do more for him than just listen to his stories. But even more, I wish there were something I could do, we could do, to stop this.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My online friends

Sarah and I met four and a half years back on a Harry Potter fan site. She was Professora Blake, I was Lily Lives On. We didn't have faces, we had avatars- I'm not sure what mine was, but her's was a painting of a lady.
We discussed all things Harry Potter, then graduated to writing and discussing fan-fiction, and somewhere along the way started sharing and discovering more personal things about each other. We did a lot of crazy stuff, like being invovled in the online trial of a fictional character, and creating complicated theories about how the Harry Potter series would end.

About three years back, some of us started an online forum for writers, with the intention of motivating each other to keep writing. That met with limited success (only book has come out of the community, and only one other person has completed a book), but somewhere along the line, we became really good friends.

It wasn't just Sarah - it was a whole lot of others, who I first encoutered as an avatar, then got to know as a person, and over time started trusting as a friend. But Sarah was the first of them that I got to meet.

She finally made it to India for a series of lectures, and we met for lunch. Strangely, I wasn't at all apprehensive about meeting her. I knew that the problem would not be what to talk about, but how to stop and pull away. And it was just that- the hours melted away, and if I didn't have to get back to work, I am not sure I would have wanted the afternoon to end.

Someday, I know I will meet all the friends I have made online, but even if I don't, I'm not going to fret. If Sarah's any indication, the people I know online are exactly the same people they are in real life, so knowing them online is enough too.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Portrait # 3

She is the lady I normally buy my vegetables from. In the lead-up to Diwali, her shop transforms into one selling earthen lamps (diyas).
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 8:57 Local

[This was something I wrote a couple of years back when I was in Delhi, and feeling homesick for Bombay. Tweaked it a bit and submitted it to a short story contest, where it was accepted. Ended up not picking up the souvenir book where it was published, but knowing it was printed is good enough for me.

Fiction, but based totally on experience.]

Though she had been living in the city for nearly four years, Shireen hated Mumbai with the same intensity as she had when she had first arrived. At that time, her colleagues had assured her that it was just a matter of time before she fell in love with the city –“Mumbai grows on you”, they’d told her. Sure it did– in exactly the same way an unwelcome fungal infection.

As if the obscenely late hours she kept, and the hour long commute each way was not bad enough, the place she lived in only made things worse. The Queen of the Suburbs, Bandra was called. The only address worthy of a young, single, ambitious professional, she was told. Almost half her salary went in paying the rent for her 1BHK accommodation, smaller by far than the servants’ quarters in her father’s government bungalow in Delhi. And she had nothing to show for it!

Bandra had the restaurants and the movie theaters, but what use were either when there was nobody she could go out with? All her ex-classmates and colleagues were either married with kids, or lived elsewhere. And she knew nobody else. A small town girl at heart, Shireen initially thought she would soon make new friends. But nobody had time for anything more than a quick hello.

Take the ladies on the 8:57 local. She had traveled with them every morning for nearly three years, but never once had they as much as acknowledged her existence. Without meaning to, she heard enough of their conversations to find out that they had all graduated from the same school and sang on the same church choir. Sure she did not have anything in common with them, but would it kill them to smile at her once in awhile?

When she was still new to the city, she had tried to make eye contact with them, but they had always pretended to have been looking past her, while in fact, she knew perfectly well that they had been sizing her up.

It got to a point where Shireen stopped taking the train to work so she could avoid being snubbed by them. The alternative was the Borivili fast- she hated being squeezed from all directions, but it was preferable to being treated like she was invisible.

The only saving grace about Mumbai was the opportunity for professional growth. The city was the financial nerve-centre, and Shireen loved being where the action was. But gradually, she was starting to wonder if it was all worth it. Working seventy-hour weeks as she did, she did not have a social life to speak of, and the total lack of human contact was getting to her. Perhaps it was time to start thinking seriously about moving to another city – a city where she could lead a normal life.

She sneaked a glance at her watch– six o’ clock – where had the last nine hours gone? She hadn’t completed even half the work she had been intending to do. She really couldn’t leave so early. But she had promised her mother that she would look her school friend up, and the friend was leaving for the States tonight. Reluctantly, she turned off her laptop and picked up her handbag.

“Leaving early, are we?”, asked a colleague.

‘Sod off”, Shireen wanted to say. Instead, she retorted, “Yup, I’ve taken the day off and just came for a couple of hours to finish something.”

“Hee hee hee. Joke. Have fun with your boyfriend, if you have got yourself one.”

Shireen was still fuming when she boarded the Bandra local. ‘So this is what it feels like to leave on time’, she thought to herself as she asked the people to move in so she could squeeze herself into the tiny space. She closed her eyes and tried to relax– she barely knew her mother’s friend, but it would be nice to talk to someone who was genuinely interested in her.

“Hey, haven’t I seen you before?”, the voice on her right enquired. “You were a regular on the 8:57 local, weren’t you?”

The voice sounded familiar. One of the ‘8:57 local’ women! She nodded.

“I thought you looked familiar. Where did you go? We were wondering what had happened to you? Did you move away, or something?”

“I started taking the fast.”

“The fast! I could never take the fast. Too crowded!”

“The 8:57 local was too slow.” Shireen was defensive. “Ever since I started taking the fast, I have been able to sleep an additional fifteen minutes.”

“You are brave. I would not dream of taking the fast. In any case, the 8:57 is a part of my life. I have been taking it ever since I started working.”

Shireen nodded mutely. No words seemed required.

“Anyway, enough of that. I have news for you. My daughter is getting married next month, and I am throwing a celebratory party on the train on Friday. Do come, if you can. We’d love to catch up with you.”

“Me?” But…”

“Come off it. Can’t you forego fifteen minutes of sleep?”

“But… but… We don’t even know each other.”

“So what? We’ve travelled together for months haven’t we?”

“But we’ve never even spoken to each other. I don’t even know your name.”

“Is that important? We’ve been a part of each other’s lives. That is all that matters.”

“But why did you never attempt to talk to me?” Shireen’s tone was almost accusatory.

“Well, we never thought you would want to mix with us. You come from a very different background, don’t you? But all that is the past. You will come for the party, wouldn’t you?”

Things were moving too fast. Was this the real Mumbai? The real Bandra? Had she finally come home? Those people had been right– Mumbai did have a heart, even if it was buried deep under layers of ambition and efficiency.

‘Say Home. Say it softly. It is a prayer.’

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Carry over addition

As someone who never remembers a time when she did not love mathematics, I could never understand the utter distaste with which my older one treated the subject. Try as I would, I could never seem to interest him in the subject. The groupings and patterns that I saw without even trying, remained invisible to him even after I described them to him.
Needless to say, his understanding of the subject matched his enthusiasm for it. Forget addition and subtraction, even counting up and counting down were huge tasks which he was normally unsuccessful at. Then came the phase when he started mechanically doing his sums- without enjoyment, but with reasonable success. About a month back, he actually finished his homework without any help. He was elated about getting the answers right, but that was about it.
And this weekend, he had to do addition with carry over. I broke my head trying to teach him to understand the concept of 10s and 1s, but got nowhere. Then suddenly, he got it- he just got it. He figured out how to group the 1s to get sets of 10, and learnt to ‘carry over’ the 1 to the 10s column. What he did not get was to add that extra 1, while totaling the numbers in the 10s column. But, he had fun doing it, and after showing me the workbook full of answers that were 10 less than they should be, he told me “Mamma, this is lots of fun.”
I couldn’t care that he got all the answers wrong- I was glad that he was having fun getting there. I can only hope that he continues to love numbers – the answers will sort themselves out in time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Zingiber officinale

There are storms, and there are typhoons. Two weeks back, I contracted a typhoon of a head cold. With deadlines to meet, and two sick kids in my hands, logic dictatated that I kill it with antibiotics. But something made me refrain.
I've already had two courses of rather heavy antibiotics this year following two seperate surgeries, and I was not sure I wanted to go through another.

Since my recent experiences with asprin have not been the best, I decided to follow the grandmothers' remedies that have been handed down to me from grandmother other than mine.

Ginger tea, I started out with, before graduating to concoctions of my own making - ginger, cinnamon and cloves; ginger, pepper and tulsi leaves; ginger crushed into honey. By the third day, I was feeling almost as good as I would have had I trusted antibiotics, and by the end of the week, I was running 5 k on the treadmill.

Whether alternate medicine always works, I do not know. All I know is that in this particular case, it worked for me.

Ginger, the wonder 'drug'!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


[This is a work of fiction. All characters are imaginary, though any resemblence to people living or dead is purely intended.]
There should be snow on the ground, Christmas in the air. The trees should be real trees shedding their pesky needles on the carpet, not artificial ones in ugly plastic stands. Plum cakes are not plum cakes unless you lovingly pour brandy into them for a month. Turkey is meant to be stuffed with fragrant rice and baked in an oven, not chopped up and thrown into a generic gravy.
I catch sight of the poinsettias on my window sill. They are more beautiful than the ones I knew growing up in England. Christmas comes alive again.
Christmas in India.

Photograph of Poinsettias

I did this piece for the annual Advent Calendar at the Burrow.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When Knowledge?

Six-years old, and my older one knows how to spell ‘cornea’, ‘sclera’, and other parts of organs that I am not sure I have even heard of.
Not yet four, and my younger one is going to learn all about dinosaurs next month – Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, and other names I heard of only after Jurassic Park was released.
They learnt that spiders are not insects, and even knew why.

I don’t deny that Knowledge is great. But sometimes I wonder if kids really need to learn all this, this early? Shouldn’t this time be spent in teaching them basic values?

Friday, December 11, 2009


The kids use him as a punching bag- left hooks, karate kicks, head butts, he’s known them all.

When they outgrow their clothes, their mother gives it to him. He wears them without grumbling- better than being naked any day.

Sometimes, the kids snuggle into him, shower him with kisses and hug him tight.

Many a tear has been shed on his shoulder, he’s given more comfort than most his age.

But sometimes, just sometimes, he wishes he had a companion who was consistent. Someone with whom to swap secrets and sit companionably enjoying the silence.

Teddies need friends too.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The case of the missing mouse

The other day, a colleague came into office and found the mouse of his laptop missing. He looked all over for it, accused almost all of us of having ‘borrowed’ it (though that was not the word he used), and when he wasn’t able to locate it anywhere, reported it as stolen. It was treated as a serious breach of security, and a mail was sent out to all staff members to take care of their belongings since there were ‘several instances of pilferage being reported’.

The mouse was referred to by name, seeing which, our CEO remembered the mouse that he had borrowed but forgotten to return. My colleague got his mouse back, and the status of the office returned to being a no-thefts zone. As a security measure, we were, however, asked to lock up our belongings before leaving the office.

When he left for home that weekend, the same colleague left his laptop unguarded on his workstation, but took the precaution of locking up his mouse.

Even after we pointed out the obvious error in his reasoning, he just didn’t get it. And this an otherwise sensible and reasonable man.

If you read something like this in a book, you would dismiss it outright as being unrealistic. But when you really think about it, aren’t we all prone to do similarly stupid stuff. Things that happen in real life, cannot always be put into a story, can they?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Running your fastest

My son is a couple of months too young for his class, and is tiny even by the standards of kids his age. Which makes him a full head shorter than some of the bigger boys in his Kindergarden class. So when I heard about the Sports Day in his school, I knew he was going to place somewhere near the bottom in the running races.He suffered from no such inhibitions. "Mamma, I am going to run very fast and come first", he informed me.
I knew there was absolutely no hope of his ever doing so, but foolishly played along, "If you come first, you will become Mamma's favourite."
I was hoping he would ask if he would be my favourite even if he did not win, so I could tell him that what mattered to me was how fast he ran, not how fast he ran in comparison to the other kids, but it never got to that.
"I will come first", he assured me, and that was it.
I did not want his Sports Day to come. I did not want my little one to fail, as I knew he would.
And yet, I saw no way in which I could prevent his failure.
His class ran the 'Reindeer Race" - the kids all wore reindeer headgear, and had to pick up a present which was placed halfway up the track. My son lined up next to two of the tallest kids in his class. I couldn't even bear to look. There was absolutely no way he could compete against all those boys and win. But he didn't seem to have any such misgivings.
He lined up with the rest of the boys, and took off the instant the whistle ran. He ran better than he has ever run before, but was still 11th in a field of 12.
I didn't even want to face my son, but he rushed up to me after the race saying, "Mamma, I won!!!"
"Did you?", I was genuinely happy. If he was going to distort truth to suit his needs, I was okay with that.
"Yes, I won. I ran very fast. More fast that I have run before. I won."
My son was not shying away from the truth as I'd thought he was. He was facing the world on his terms, and winning. I was proud of him, still am.
Two months shy of his fourth birthday, my son has more wisdom than most people my age.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Twenty-nine years back, a random gunman (okay, we all know his name, but he was a random guy all the same) shot down one of the most popular voices of the 20th century.

Whether you love John Lennon, or hate him (and few people who have heard of him do not fall into either category), you have to admit the relevance of his words.

The day George Bush Sr. sent his missiles into Iraq, I was with a bunch of undergrads who sat in the lobby of the University main building singing Imagine and Blowin' in the Wind. He wrote the words the year I was born, and the words are as relevant today as they ever were. And they will continue to be so till the world he imagines does become a reality.

To me, each word of the song is a prayer-
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon
(9 October, 1940 to  8 December, 1980)
Requiescat in Pace

Monday, December 7, 2009

Musk melon

My garden, or what is of it, seems to thrive on neglect. When I spend hours tending my plants, they reward me with a few stray flowers, but when I am so stressed, I often forget even to water them, they give me fruits!

The melon seeds that we threw in a pot a few months back germinated and flowered. So often has it happened in the past that I am used to it now. What came as a surprise was finding that one of those flowers got itself fertilized, and a tiny fruit to be is now making its presence felt.

It may grow into a melon, it may not. But I love the idea of having a fruit garden on my window sill.
Here's a picture of the flowers- aren't they rather pretty too?

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Sunday, December 6, 2009


My phone beeps every fifteen minutes reminding me of something I dare not forget.
‘no school bus today. pick up kids from school’
‘buy sports shoes for thing 2’
‘extra karate classes today’
‘call neighbor to fix play-date’
‘cornflakes running out’
‘think of costume for x-mas play’
‘mend tear on shorts’
‘buy thermal underwear’

‘iron school uniform’
‘iron school uniform’
‘iron school uniform’
That one set to repeat every hour till done.

I could remember things when I had a full-time job that paid me. Not so any more.

And people ask me when I intend going back to work.

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 5, 2009

Serendipitous Harvest

On Mother's Day, my 'buttercup' plant flowered for the first time. The butterflies were on holiday that day, so the flowers just dried up and fell. In the months to follow, there were a few more flowers, one of which even got to the fruiting stage, but the one day when I did not check on their progress was the day the fruits chose burst and scatter the seeds where I could not find them.

The last month has been chaotic to say the least, and though I did see the two buttercup flowers, I didn't really take them in. Without my even being aware of it, the flowers fertilized, the fruit grew, and the seeds matured. On Wednesday, I was at home nursing a cold, and thought meeting my plants would be a good way to cheer myself up.

Guess what I found- two fruit, with the seeds exposed, but the seeds still intact.

I paused only long enough to take a picture before harvesting the seeds.

I hope at least some of them germinate - these false buttercups are my one of my favourite flowers after all!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Advent Calendar

When I was a kid, I was never the one who slid into class just after the teacher, clutching half finished homework with the ink still wet on the page. I made up for lost time now.

The Advent Calendar at the Burrow has been up since Tuesday, and I visited it for the first time yesterday. And horrors!!! A picture I was supposed to write to was scheduled to open on Saturday!

With a proposal to send off today, there was no way I could have done anything about it yesterday. And the first thing I did after dumping the proposal on my boss’ desk for review was to take a look at the picture again. Luckily, the drabble just flowed, and when I checked the word count, I found it was exactly 100 words.

Must be a sign that- though a sign of what, I have absolutely no clue about.

Do check the Advent Calendar out.
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jumping Balloons

When my older one suddenly decided that he wanted his birthday party to be either at Pizza Hut, or at Dominos' Pizza, we were thrown into a tizzy. Pizza Hut is a known devil- the kids and I have attended several birthday parties there, and they always run smoothly (till the time the pizzas are served, when of course, chaos reigns). But they were booked till the middle of December, we did not see any point in celebrating a November birthday that late.

Dominos Pizza was an unknown quantity. Nobody I knew as much as knew it was a party venue, and the amount of space at their disposal was much less than that at Pizza Hut. Before booking the place, the two of us really grilled he Manager of the restaurant- how many parties had they done, did they have experience in handling kids as young as the ones at this party would be, what games would they be conducting, and on and on and on.

We were not exactly reassured by the answers we got - the Manager appeared confident, but didn't seem to have any answers to specific questions - but we really didn't have much choice but to do the party there.

When we landed up at the venue on the day of the party, we found half a dozen employees blowing balloons and putting up streamers. Will they ever finish on time, we wondered. As usual, I stressed too much- the first guests started arriving before the decorations were up, but seeing the balloons on the floor, the kids invented a game of their own.

Jumping on Balloons, they would have called it, if they could take time off to think of a name.The rules of the game were simple - you jumped on a balloon and tried to break it, the one who did break a balloon had the satisfaction of knowing they did it.

It took him awhile to figure out the rules, but soon enough, even my not yet four year old had joined in the fun.

The game lasted as long as the balloons lasted- which was actually a pretty long time, since the had secreted away many of the balloons and released them only in batches. By the time the last balloon was burst, the party was in full swing, and things only got better from there. It turned out to be one of the best birthday parties I had witnessed.

The guys at Dominos and the children at the party taught me something that day.

No matter how much you try to control things, there are always things that you just do not have any control over. Times like that, it makes sense to just go with the flow. Things may not be quite as you expected them to be, but they could be fun.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The difference a button makes

I was shopping for a formal blouse the other day, and just couldn't choose between two of them. In basic design they looked similar- but one had white collar and cuffs, and the other had a rounded collar instead of the conventional pointy one. I just couldn't choose between the two, and was deciding to buy the cheaper of the two, when I noticed that the more expensive one had a strategically placed invisble button fastening inwards.

Any one who has worn fitted blouses would know that they have the nasty habit of occasionally gaping open at the wrong place- that invisible button was to prevent that. I did not think any more- I took the shirt to the check-out counter and pulled out my credit card to pay for it.

I had paid 20% more for the shirt than I would have for the other one, and all for the sake of one button that costs much less than the packaging the shirt would have come in. But the button wasn't just a button- it was proof that the shirt was designed by someone who understood the issues women face while wearing a similar shirt. I could see the button, but anyone who had put in that button would also have incorporated a lot of other things I didn't even know I needed. The premium I paid was for that assurance.

Isn't it the same with books. You are enjoying a story, flowing with the events, getting to know the people, and then suddenly one tiny, almost invisible, detail hits you, and makes you pull the book from the catagory of good story and push it into great book. Almost every book I have re-read in my adult life has at least one of those details.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


A couple of months back, I had blogged about creating the attitude that accepts that things will go wrong and to be prepared for them.

Most people do not really get it when I try to tell them about it. They accuse me of being pessimistic or defeatist. It is actually neither. It is simply a case of accepting that many things are not under your control, and that they could go wrong. It doesn’t mean not doing your best, or about giving up even before starting. It is only a question of being prepared, so you can deal with disappointments with equanimity.

That I missed posting on my blog yesterday, without getting unduly perturbed about it, proves I have internalized the lesson.

When I started blogging on July 8, 2008, I intended posting every day till such time as I was able to do so. In a couple of weeks, posting daily became a habit, and I would get really worked up on days when the internet connection played up, or the words just refused to come. 26/11 was one of those days- the Internet was down, and try as I did, I just wasn’t able to post. As the clock ticked closer to midnight, I got more and more agitated about missing a day, and when I found out about the Terror Attacks, one of my earliest thoughts was ‘at least, I now have an excuse for not posting on time.’

A few months later I discovered scheduled posting, and life became much simpler. When I was in hospital, I wrote my posts in advance, and had the post appear promptly every day till I was able to take charge of posting them in real time.

But the last couple of weeks have been so chaotic, I haven’t been able to build up my bank of posts. And yesterday, when the internet decided to play up, I realized I was going to miss a day. The original me would have fretted and fumed. Tried all sorts of tricks with the modem, and would perhaps only have stopped at throwing it on the floor and jumping on it.

The new me did none of those. She accepted that the world would not end if she missed posting for a day. And she forgot about it till the next morning.

This, therefore, is the post that should have appeared yesterday, but which is appearing today, because the world is imperfect, and the only sensible thing to do is to accept the imperfection and embrace it.

And if you think I have attained nirvana and am perfectly calm and composed all the time, you couldn’t be further from the truth. I still lose my temper a lot, but it is much less than it used to be, and for reasons that justify it a lot more.


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