Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The times I hate myself

I was standing by that golden car ready to head back to Patna when she came up the road. A vaccination worker, Anita had walked from the bus stop on the main road carrying her cooler of vaccines and assorted notebooks. She stopped to chat with the stranger in her town, and I covertly observed her while talking with her.

That foggy morning, she was clad in one of those synthetic shawls that are sold so cheaply on the streets in India-the ones that try to make up in glitter what they lack in warmth. I was doubly warm in a hand-woven wool shawl rich with woolen embroidery and a drab but highly effective fleece (one stolen from sis, and the other stolen from husband. But how was she to know that?). Next to her, I looked rich and pampered. Next to her, I was.

Perhaps this is what prompted her line of questioning. 'What department do you work in?' she asked. 'I don't work for a government department, actually.' I replied 'I work for a magazine that writes about water and publishes on the internet'
'What do they pay you?'
I named a figure that was roughly one-half of what I do earn, knowing even this to be more than her salary.
'This is yours?' she asked, pointing to that eyesore of a car.
No! I don't have a car, I hastened to explain. And then I went into how my office pays for travel, but how its mostly public transport, and how this was for lack of time and too many places to go, all with the excessive detail born of guilt.
'Get me a job in your organization' she said.

Now I field these requests all the time. And usually saying something like, we are a small team, no plans of growth, so sorry, is enough. But this time, it stung.
See, the question is not just one of an English education. Even if her daughter was studying in an English medium school, I think its unlikely that she would get a job where I work. A first generation English scholar from a school in rural Bihar will not have the fluency, the exposure to literature that the job requires. She will not have the 'water contacts' that make obtaining content possible. She will not have the deep enough pockets that serve as my Plan B in case travel goes awry. Accumulating all this requires generations of educated and relatively affluent people.

My job stinks of privilege- it is something I've inherited rather than earned. And I enjoy it, revel in the experiences it offers me, and would not exchange it for Anita's.

Times like these, I don't like myself very much

Monday, January 13, 2014

The times I hate my job

When I began working in the 'NGO sector', my then boss VP gave me a single bit of advice.'NGO wallahs should be like fakirs' he said 'You go to a place empty handed, stay there for a few years, and leave empty handed. And somehow, leave the place better for your being there.' I don't think he realised how it would stick to me. In all the years that followed, that was the parameter by which I judged a job.

And now I am in this one. I go to a place, escorted by the people working there. I see the work they show me, speak with the people they introduce me to. And while I speak with them, I am looking for stories, looking to create some heroes, to add drama to my article. All this I do within the span of a day or two. My job is speed-dating.

The only consolation is that as far as possible I use public transport. Sometimes I see more and converse more during my trips to and fro than during the visit itself.

Until this time. I was visiting North Bihar and the organisation I called up flatly refused to let me go gadding about by train, bus or tempo. It is not safe, not in winter, not during the fog. We don't want you stranded at some junction. If you come, they said, we will hire a car for you that we know and send a colleague along. I agreed.

When the car came, I recoiled in shock. It was a gleaming metallic beige tavera- about as discreet as a set of gold incisors. And in that huge, flamboyant vehicle sat I as we slowly rolled down impossibly narrow village lanes, brushing thatched roofs, scaring goats, crowding children. I got down, I spoke with some people, I got in, I drove off. Ugh. What a pompous, self-serving visit.
I hate speed dating. I hate this style of insulated interaction. And here I am expected to do both.

I need to defend the people I was with though..The little I interacted with them made me respect them immensely. And no, they don't do the car thing. They do local train and tempo. But they were understandably nervous of my being stuck at a junction in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The last dawn of the year

It had been a bitterly cold night, and it seemed to me that I'd just managed to get warm enough to fall asleep before Shona and Madhu woke me up with their partying. There were the bumps of Shona's jumping on furniture to escape her daughter, and there was the determined scrabbling of Madhu's paws as she raced around the living room.

But wait. I had dropped the dogs off at A&D's because I would be traveling for a while. I did what I always berate the heroines of horror movies for doing and went to investigate.

It was a storm.

A storm where it seemed the four winds were dancing around this house. The howling seemed animal and malign. The trees seemed to be trying to uproot themselves and leave. And so I did what was only natural. I stepped out into that fury.

And then I gasped,came back inside, grabbed my big ladakhi coat and a pair of shoes and stepped out again. I am so glad I did.

It was snowing. Big, fat, fluffy,feathery flakes of snow driven horizontally by the wind. I came back with a drenched head and stinging face, but then I slept very well indeed. And later, I woke up to this:
The dawn

Last flowers

The forest

The yard

I ruined the pristine beauty of this yard very shortly afer this snap. And that is because my neighbour is one of the most generous men I know. He called me today when he saw I was awake and pottering around- 'Wait and I will bring you hot water' he said. I couldnt allow that,and went down with a french press, overcome with his thoughtfulness. It's not the hot water itself, though bless him for that..but how many people would remember their neighbours' cooking arrangements and the gaps therein? I know I wouldn't- I need to work on that this year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Two-headed monster

The world's most adorable two-headed monster.

Shona and Madhu. Madhu is Shona's pup, and the one that Mian and I decided that we just cannot give away. And in a way, it's wonderful for Shona- she's turned into a pup again. On the other hand, Shona's turned into a pup again. 5 minutes after I clean the house, it looks asif a tornado went through it- and two little tornadoes have indeed gone through it.

But. They have perfected the art of snuggling with me. When I sit on the sofa, Madhu is draped across my shoulders, Shona has her head on my lap. At night, Shona tucks herself into the crook of my knees, and Madhu into my neck.

And so, here is a non-monstery photo.

Monday, December 23, 2013


When I was in college, I would pass the Shyam Ahuja store every day. And that is when I decided that full-length silk curtains would instantly make me all classy and posh. When I grew up, I understood that
a. No amount of a fabric would make me posh, and
b. I utterly hated the idea of boiling caterpillars alive to make shiny stuff
But there was something about the lustre..

And so when I needed curtains in Dehradun, I bought myself several metres of bottle-green, dark, dhoop-chav khadi silk, which is made using spent cocoons- after the butterflies fly away. This makes the material rough, but still beautiful. Now, I felt. Now, I had arrived.

Those curtains travelled about with me, and especially in our Chatola house, worked very hard to cover up the warts and all.

And now this:
 For the last year, they have been used as sofa protectors. It was okay when we only had the decorous Shona, but with the young one..the curtains only prove to me yet again that no amount of fabric is going to make me Posh.

And I am perfectly okay with that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mera Kuch Samaan

A couple of friends, Mian and I were having dinner together last week when the conversation turned around to the types of people on this planet.
 'Far more good than bad', I said. 'Think of any rail journey you've been to.'
'Do you really think so?' asked R
'I know so', replied I smugly

A little too smugly, as it turns out. I had cause to regret my statement just a few days later.

It happened on the way back from Delhi. We will soon be returning to our Chatola house, and so I had bought plumbing fittings when in the big city. Nothing 'designer', but reliable and sturdy. By Delhi standards, it was perhaps not much; for Mian and I that sack represented a major withdrawal on a bank account that had been added to several months 'for the house'. In addition, my rucksack was full of the foolish and vain purchases one tends to make.

Too much for me to carry, and so I said 'yes' to the first porter who approached me as I got down from the auto. I did bargain, but not much.

There was another train at the platform, and as we passed the goods compartment, the porter and I got separated. No matter, I thought, and continued on to where my compartment would be. He would be standing there and waiting for me.

I kept looking for him, but reached the end of the platform without finding him. I walked back to where I'd lost him, and again to the end of the platform. By the time I did this walk the second time, my heart was beating fast. Too many thoughts went through my mind- of how the cop asked to see the receipt for the fittings, of how the porter saw the value of the goods he was carryng for a very, very small fraction of their cost, of how terribly easy it is to walk across the dark platforms at the end and so come out into the goods yard with all its confusion. Of the foolish things I'd bought, of how I would go back empty handed.

I needed to ask for help, but my mouth was coated with something that did not allow me to speak. Swallowing was out of the question, my tongue was dry. I hooked a finger inside my mouth and cleaned it.

I was almost weeping by now.  I went up to a pair of porters standing on the platform.
'Help me. I've lost the porter who was carrying my luggage. I searched everywhere and couldn't find him'.

Something in my face told  them I was not upto conversation.

One of them indicated his shirt. I nodded. He pointed to the badge on his arm. I nodded again. He raised his hands and patted the air around him, I nodded and agreed to wait. Or maybe he was telling me to calm down.

He then told me- slowly and carefully- to go to platform 5 and he would come with me. As we turned, I saw a most glorious sight- high above the crowd, a blue rucksack and a white sack were bobbing towards me. In a scene reminiscent of a hindi romantic comedy, we ran towards each other.

'Where were you? I went to the bridge and back!'
'Where were you? I went to the end of the platform and back!'

Pretty soon, he realised what I had been afraid of. You should not worry, he said, your baggage is safe with us.

I agreed, and apologised again and again.

After he left, his colleagues admonished me further. They didn't need to, I was feeling rotten anyway.

The only thing bolstering me was the sure knowledge that I had been forgiven by the person I had wronged. As he left, he gave me a very quick, very shy, side hug.

Definitely more good people than bad, and I should remember this.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

oh,the places I'll go!

Doesn't get much more exotic than the last..