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..

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The omelet that never was

Sounds like an Enid Blyton story, does it not? This story isn't quite that fluffy

Omelettes have been a big part of my childhood memories for some reason. I have written before about Susha mama teaching me to make an omelet; eggs are also part of my other childhood moments. And of course,  omelette memories of my mum predominate.

I think I first realised the magic of sharing 'special' food when my mum made me a 'sunny side up' omelet. I still remember Amma bringing her prize in from the kitchen, beaming all over,. The white was nicely set, flecked with the vivid green of finely chopped chillies and coriander; the yolk sat proudly intact in the exact centre. My younger self looked at it with superstitious awe. I could not for the life of me figure out how she did that. Today, three decades down the line, I have a fair idea of how that might be managed, but I still do not have the guts to attempt it.

Later, I began to make omelettes myself. I make them well enough, but my triumph always lay in making them the way mum liked them. And this was a moving target to aim for. Turmeric and fluffiness were the two constants. The first is now an ingrained habit; the second I learnt to achieve by beating the yolks and whites separately before folding them together. Other things varied with my mum's state of health. Her pleasure in finely chopped chillies gave way to an insistence on chilli powder, moved to large chopped chillies (all the better to pick out), and then back to the merest hint of chilli powder. Onions would be loved, or detested. But I tried; most of the time I achieved. Even when she was at her most ill it was the omelette that I could still do right, the only source of approval for my hungry self.

And today mum told me she 'never liked omelettes'.

I protested, saying that she would tell me to make them all the time. 'Yes, but because you liked them. I never did. I always wanted boiled eggs.' When I tried to protest further she became angry.

Now, I do know better. Mum always had a strong reluctance to admit that her tastes could change. This trait is a whole different discussion, but I think it centres around thinking that admitting her taste can change implies that it is not The Absolute Perfect. Far easier to deny.  Then, her memory might be failing, something that this strong woman is very disturbed about. Three, anything other than absolute assent is seen either as a threat or as insubordination in the ranks, depending on current level of vulnerability. I know all this as surely as I love her.

But knowing is one thing, accepting in my heart is another. This very trivial conversation shattered me. I am now trying to understand why. Is it for me, because it is not enough that these memories are mine, because the sharing of the memories is important? Do I question the reality of those memories, my ability to remember?

 Or is it not about the memories at all, but a terror that my sister and I are now- already- the only survivors of that little family who once lived in a rambling house in Sawantwadi?

Mum and I on the beach the three of us went to every summer. Wish my sis was in this snap too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Missing her Mian

Not me. Well, of course me. But this post is about his little puplet.
It started when I ran out of coffee, pulled out the bag in stock, and discovered that it was full of beans instead of grounds.
Now I do know that beans are better freshly ground and all that, but I do not like the process of grinding. At all. I do not like the whirr in the morning, I don't like balancing the grinder, and I always cut my knuckles while grinding. And so, Mian does it for us. When he is not here, I use grounds.
Today however, I didn't have a choice. I dusted off the grinder, measured in the beans and started cranking.
There was an almighty THUMP! from the bedroom and Shona ran out, her tail wagging furiously. The poor, darling pup- she thought Mian was here. Looked for him, and contented herself with licking the coffee grinder.
Those two turn me into a puddle.He returns in a week. Happy times.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bhaloo Badmash and the Martens

Shona Bhaloo gets to play with her best-friend-in-all-the-world on three occasions. When her human family decides to visit Jhumroo's human family, when her humans decide to go out of town and offload her onto Jhumroo's humans, and when Shona decides that she misses Jhumroo.
Sho and Jhum, legs intertwined and giddy with joy

Most days she is my faithful shadow as I go about my day. Sometimes though, a sudden urge to meet Jhumroo enters that adorable head and she's gone. If I don't catch sight of her for 10 mins, I call G at Chatola. 'Oh yes', he says 'she was here. She met me and now has gone to Sonapani.

And then I grumble, put on my shoes, and trudge off to bring her back. I won't grumble now; the last time I went to collect my little runaway, something magical happened.

I was on the last stretch- a concrete road. I crested a small slope and in front of me were two yellow-throated martens. They were maybe about 20 feet away, and in the middle of the road. I froze of course, but one of them immediately dropped off the road into the forest. The other stayed where it was.For nearly a minute we stayed that way. Then incredibly, the marten began to walk towards me. Hesitatingly, slowly, with many stops, it came till it had cut the distance between us by more than half. I was not carrying my camera. But even if I was, I could not have taken a snap- I could barely remember to breathe.

Soon, I saw what it was approaching me for. A few feet away was a dead snake. The marten reached it, picked up the snake so that it wouldn't drag and walked off- not into the forest, but along the road. I gave it a couple of minutes head start and walked on myself.

Incredibly, that was not the end of my marten experience. A little further on, a stonewall runs past the road. For nearly 50 metres, the marten walked on the top of the wall while I walked along the road. Every now and then, we would stop and look at each other, then walk on.I can't explain this behaviour. It wasn't defensive, wasn't scared- just curious.

Magic. That's what it was.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Of young men

My last post spoke about the difficulty of being the guest of people whose philosophy I don't agree with. Since then, I have been on an extended trip with this group. And yes, it was as hard as I expected to walk the balance between being a good enough host to be invited again, and not condoning hate speech by my silence.

The thing that kept me sane and civil was the fact that the hate was not directed. If it was against a particular group, I would have found the paranoia unbearable. As it is, my host was deeply suspicious and resentful towards the British, the Americans, urban people, Marwaris, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, women, multi-national corporations, young women in love, non-vegetarians, English speakers, Buddhists, researchers who use quantitative methods, environmentalists, hydro-geologists, and researchers with external funding. I discovered that I can live comfortably with such democratic xenophobia.

A little soul-searching revealed that I am not that different either. I have my own bigotry towards people who claim their god is better than everyone else's. And I cannot, absolutely cannot, stand gutkha eaters (This incidentally means ALL young men in North India, which might explain why Mian is so blissfully jealousy-free when I go gallivanting about the Himalayas). But even there, the djinns that look after such things do not allow me to be relaxed and righteously affronted.

Yesterday, for example, I wanted to neutralise the Brahman 'holiness' of the last three days and so took myself up to the old Chowk area of Lucknow. In a six-seater. There were 4 young Hindu men, of varying levels of obnoxiousness. There was a young Muslim woman sitting opposite me, and there was I- antsy about the whole setup. The young men made my hackles rise in every possible way, one more than the others. This one ate several packs of gutkha and threw the wrappers on the vehicle floor. He sat with his legs splayed and  slowly, thoughtfully, adjusted his crotch. Leaning against the backrest, he surveyed me up and down. The air was full of the sickly-sweet, nauseating smell of gutkha.

And then it began to rain. The young woman was next to the door on the windward side, and began to get drenched. Quietly, she tried to make herself even smaller and continued to sit pressed against the door rather than move into the men's space.

 Mr.Obnoxious got up and offered his seat to the young woman, and sat in the rain instead.

I am ashamed of myself.

But going back to my trip. My host- a chap around my age- was the type of person whose response to searching questions or to dissent was to raise his voice louder and louder. I am proud to report that after two days of travelling with me, he needed to request herbal tea at the houses we halted at for the night- his throat was hoarse.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Saffron and Green

So I am shamelessly stealing the title of this post from Mukul Sharma's book. Well yes. But it is very nearly on the same topic. And I am planning to read the  book! so this is almost a review! So I am entitled to steal the name.

I have clearly been hanging around with the sort of people who believe in entitlement.

The problem is that Mr.Sharma has analysed the manner in which hindu nationalism has permeated (and practically hijacked) the environmental movement in India. But he has not provided us with an users' guide to the phenomenon and that is what I sorely  need.

I am currently with, and will be spending the next week with, a group of most warm and friendly people. On hearing of my interest in the River Gomti, they have happily shifted around their already busy schedules and accommodated me and my questions.

All of yesterday, we spent touring the Gomti, her 26 tributaries within the city, and Lucknow's two sewage treatment plants. We also visited several ghats. The photo at the top of this post is from one such ghat- the only private bathing space on the Gomti. It  is a Hindu dharamsala- a place to stay for poor pilgrims. It was built by Lalla Bhagwandas in the memory of his father about a  hundred years ago, and the family still manages it. The structure, especially the colours in the first photo, was the most beautiful thing I saw all day. I would not have dreamed of the existence of this place if it were not for my hosts. With them, I got entry into a world I had not know existed.

I ate pakoras made by a sadhu, and the conversation I was privy to helped me understand how these kindly men become pawns for land grabbers. I watched squirrels run across a brick-paved courtyard and tried to hide my disbelief when I was told stories of yogis who can perform miracles. 'It's all documented' I was told. I nodded politely.

I could not however 'nod politely' when the conversation veered off into the sickeningly inevitable direction of nationalism. The 'persecution of hindus' was spoken of. 'We are ignoring our culture' was a lamented topic. I commented about how different life is in the south..I mentioned that in places beyond the Gangetic belt, people do not speak hindi (gasp!). I hinted that while Ayurveda is excellent, Unani medicine is not to be sneered at either. I suggested that eating of meat may be more of an ecological choice rather than a moral one. I reminisced of my childhood along the coast where for 4 months of the year, the monsoons flood fields and roughen seas. The only food available then is rice and dried fish- both carefully stocked in the summer. I spoke about the high himalaya, where meat is an essential-and ecologically sound- source of protein and fat in the winter. I spoke and spoke..and never got heard.

Today I am off for a week with this group. A trip I would not be able to make without their hospitality. A trip that will be all the richer for the people they will introduce me to, for the places that they will show me.

And yet, and yet..I will also lose out on some things..I am fairly sure that this is going to be a saffron trip. It will be churlish of me to push the comfort zone of my hosts. This pushing will not help either..they are much respected leaders, firmly convinced of the rightness of their philosophy.

Mr. Sharma, I need a workbook.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The reasons why

The 25th of this month was a momentous day for me.

I walked up to Mukteshwar and back in record time- just a little over two hours, including a stop for chai. I bought enough maize to satisfy all my bhutta cravings. Shona behaved herself. On the uphill climb, I did not need to make either one of my scheduled rest stops.

But all this paled in comparison to the fact that I was making it  up to the Post Office on that particular day. You see, despite relying almost entirely on technology, my workplace is old-fashioned when it comes to finances- digital signatures are looked on with suspicion. Every month, I am given three days notice to post my invoices and bills. I never make the deadline.

My long-suffering boss then calls up, and we engage in a conversation worthy of a comedy.
'why haven't I received the tracking number?'
'because I haven't sent it.'
'why haven't you sent it?'
'Because the PO didn't give it to me'
'Why didn't the PO give it to you?'
'Because I didn't go there'
'Why didn't you go there?'
and here my answers end. 'Tomorrow' I reply
'But why' he asks
'TOM-orrow' I say

It's not that I don't have a reason. I usually have a very good reason- and a different one each month. The trouble is,  these are not very acceptable by Accounts. Here are a sampling:
  • Its winter and the path is slippery with ice. You can not pay me to risk a broken knee.
  • Its summer and I get a migraine walking in the sun.
  • Its the monsoon and there are leeches on the path.
  • Mian is not here, and I spent all morning chatting with him.
  • Mian is here and I've better things to do than trudge 3km uphill.
  • Mukteshwar has a chicken shop, Bhowali has pork. I felt like the latter, but missed the bus. 
  • I wanted to go to Bhowali, and woke in time for the bus, but Shona refused to erm 'do her business' and I could not leave her alone.
  • It's..well..it's that time of the month, and my back feels like it's made of fragile glass. 
  • It's that time of the month and even if I could teleport myself there, I wouldn't, because I am damned if I make anyone an iota happier when I am grouchy. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Not a quiet life

Most of my friends think that I lead the peaceful, almost meditative, kind of life here.

They could not be more wrong. Life at home is full of high drama- with nearly equal parts of comedy and tragedy.

Don't believe me? Watch.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Honorary Pahari

It has always been a sore point with me that I am still considered an outsider in the area. When people ask me if I feel accepted, I always reply 'well..it's been two years and I haven't been invited to a wedding yet'. And its true.
But now I think there might be other indicators of acceptance.
I was returning home from the railway station with a young friend who's visiting. K had taken me there in his taxi and was bringing us back.
'Are you planning to show her around' he asked.
'yes!' I replied. 'We will walk up to Mukteshwar by the trekking route and walk down by the road'
'That's about 10-12 kms' he said.
He paused and looked at the fit and radiantly healthy young one and at my blobby greying self. I braced myself for the fitness lecture that was sure to follow
'That's far' he began 'We are used to such things. Do you think she'll be able to do it?'

'We'. Acceptance is sweet.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Where have I been?

I wonder that myself. Actually, it seems sometimes that I am living in the equivalent of a writer's retreat, where I have nothing to do but churn out the stuff. The truth is that I AM churning out the stuff, but it's all work related. Once I am done with that, I am tired of the keyboard.

And yet, I cannot bring myself to declare 'finis' or even a pause for this blog. It has too much of me in it. On the other hand, it's dishonest of me to keep it up and post once a month- and even that is when my sis calls up and tells me the date of the last post.

What to do, I wonder. For now atleast, I will fall back on the usual- Shona photos!
A sleepy, very sleepy bhaloo

Slightly more wide awake- Shona's friends came visiting. From L to R, Devrani, Pascha, Shona

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

After the storm

It was an epic storm and we didn't know it.
True, it was raining as if it would never stop. It began raining on the weekend, and all of Monday. We couldn't go out, but we didn't much want to either. So Mian and I cancelled our appointments and pulled out the scrabble board. Shona got cabin fever, so Mian rolled about on the floor with her. The lack of electricity meant cooking was a challenge, but we had plenty of bread and we don't get tired of 'bread+' meals. And so we were mystified when the worried phone calls started coming in.
The evening before Mian left was dismal. There was no electricity, our computers were long dead, and he was leaving. Shona caught our mood, and three glum people sat slumped on the sofa.
The next morning, we woke up to this.
The rain had stopped. After 3 days of pouring down without a break, the rain had stopped. The sky could be seen in parts. The sun backlit the clouds and caused the mist to rise from the forests. We were glad, Mian and I , that he was leaving in the middle of such great beauty, that this view is what he would carry back with him.
The bijli will come soon, he said. On his way down to the train station, he messaged me updates about the road and checked on whether power was back. And then the messages stopped. Not that he wasn't worried any more, but 3 days after the power went out, my phone died on me. It would take another 24 hours and two false starts before it came back on.
It is only now that I know the extent of the damage in the state. And once again, I am humbled by how lucky I am..In the middle of this crisis, our problems were inability to work, lack of a cooked meal, wet clothes.How silly it all seems.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The paidal marg to Mukteshwar

It is where I go for the ATM, for the post office, for chicken and veg.
And it is an extremely pretty road. From where we live now, there and back is an easy six km walk. From Chatola, we need to add a steep climb of another km or so.

This is where the path starts - a right turn from the handpump.

And this  is what it  looks like, more or less. Part of it is paved like the photo below, part if  it is a series of steps formed by tree roots.

The views are lovely- this is the sun shining through maple

And this is a massive rhododendron tree

Coming out of the forest is a bit of a shock , but  still pretty

On to the tarred road, a left turn, and another 3/4th of a km to the church..and I can stop here, or go on to buy veggies.
I am lucky to have such a pretty walk- I need to do it more often

Friday, May 3, 2013

Preserving Padam, or the wild Himalayan Cherry

I am miserly enough that I cannot let fruit spoil on the trees. And the sour cherries (Padam, as they are known locally) were definitely spoiling. They are bitter-sour enough that even the birds are not too fond of them, let alone the humans. And so Shona and I have taken it upon ourselves to harvest and use as many of the cherries as possible.

I don't have very good luck with preserving things though; my pickles invariably mould. Freezing is an option, and I know Mian is clamouring for frozen sour cherries. But we had tried that last time with mulberries. The day we found two mulberry trees in Chatola, Shona and I gorged ourselves. The next day though, my wifely instincts took over. While I still let Shona-Bhaloo eat all the mulberries that fell on the ground, I carefully picked over, cleaned, and froze the 'good' ones. After a week of patience and self-restraint, I collected two cups full. And then the electricity went out for 3 straight days. The mulberries turned to slime and my enthusiasm for freezing died.

This time, I am relying on old, appropriate-technology methods. I came across 'Bachelor's Jam' which seems to be a very laid-back process which relies on the principle that everything is better with sugar and alcohol added. Clearly,  it was tailored for me. It's been 3 days of collecting and pitting. There's no rum or brandy in the house, so I am using whisky. But fruit, sugar, alcohol- just how wrong can it be?  And now I have a jam-jar full.

The paper clip in front of the jar? That's my cherry-pitting tool.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Home after far too long

Ox-eye daisies
I haven't  been home since the end of winter. Actually, since mid-feb to the day before yesterday, I have only been home for a week.

And it has been hard.

True, I was with mum and sis for a bit, with Mian for a bit, with colleagues and friends for another bit. But I realised this  time just how much I love and miss our physical home.

Sour cherries
It was a joy to be back. I called a cab for the last leg of my journey back, and in that one hour received enough gossip to put me up-to-date with the village. I drank in the landscape. I made bread. I swept, dusted, mopped, laundered. I went and collected a pup who was ecstatic to see me. I met one of her daughters, who incredibly remembered me.

All the folks I met on the way were glad to see me and were not too shy to see it. I messaged a friend that I was back, and within 30 seconds received a call telling me to come over. More relaxed conversation, more coffee, more joy. 

dry, but fragrant roses
But while walking around, I realised I had missed most of the markers of spring that I look forward to. The fruit blossoms were over and the fruit had already set. The daffodils and the 'aprilia' were long withered. The dandelion greens were now too tough to eat. The roses had withered. All this in the one-and-half months that I was away. 

Irises (irii?)
And this made me think of Mian. Of how much he misses when he leaves to come back after months. Of the gaps that are always present in his  life. Of how difficult it must be to always feel that things are unfinished. Not earth-shattering, this revelation. And there's nothing I can do about it.

But hopefully, I will learn to be a little more gentle, a little more tender the next time he leaves. I do hope so.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The non-immortal superheroes of this country

Last month, I was in a little village in the heart of UP, the state that is the butt of nearly half of the jokes related to corruption and feudalism (Bihar is the butt of the rest of those jokes). And I met a group of people who inspired in me a profound respect.

One of them in particular fired my imagination. You see, he is a person who explains his profession as 'works in a bank'. You know the type- those faceless men and women who sit at cluttered desks in windowless rooms. The rooms are lit by flickering tubelights. The stuffing is poking out of the chairs, the formica is peeling off the desks. We tend to be rather impersonal with these people. There are banks I have had accounts with for years. I have not spoken, really spoken, to any of the people who update my books, give me my cheques, take  my cash. I do not know their names. For all I care, they are automatons that switch on at 9am and off at 5pm.

I have missed out on so much.

This particular man leads a life worthy of a fantasy super-hero. 9 to 5, he 'works in a bank'. 5pm to 9am, he fights against injustice. In the evenings and during holidays, Sanjay is a leader in a battle against a modern-day Goliath. He does not belong by birth to the village he is fighting for, he and the village have now adopted each other. He takes what he knows best- numbers- and and teaches the villagers how they can be weapons. And mighty effective weapons they are. If it were not for him, the protest at Mehdiganj would have not have had the impact that it does today.

The last time I went to UP, I met a rickshaw-puller who built a temple so that he could rid his family of the discrimination they were subject to for generations. This time, I met a superhero. What will happen next, I wonder.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Why the Immortals of Meluha is evil

Strong words? Perhaps, but the only ones that would suit.

The nightmare that many Indians of my generation wake trembling from is dominated by a single image. This is that of a hundred, a thousand, 'kar sevaks' tearing down the Babri Masjid. A teeming mass of men, clad in saffron and waving trishuls, screaming 'Har har Mahadev' and 'Jai Shri Ram'. The cries which were one merely praise for God, now forever twisted into slogans of hate. The reek of self-righteousness that oozed from them as they sought to 'rescue' a supposed birthplace. The exultation in them, the fear in the rest of the country. An archaeological monument was destroyed. A town once known for its peace remains a conflict zone decades after the event. People died. People are dying still because of the hate that this event created. The Ram Janmabhoomi issue is directly responsible for the Godhra massacre.
Babri Masjid, 2002
And now let us consider the climatic event in The Immortals of Meluha.

An army of men, all devotees of Ram, are fighting to reclaim their 'Ram JanmaBhoomi' (yes, Amish Tripathi uses the same politically-charged term) from the enemy kingdom. The heroes of the novel are guided by Shiva, who designs and mass-manufactures tridents. He also gives them a war-cry- Har Har Mahadev! This phrase occurs repeatedly throughout the chapter. 'Jai Shri Ram!' is insistently repeated throughout the entire novel till it resonates in your head.

Criminal exulting in a massacre/Melhuan: Gujarat 2002

The heroes are saffron-clad. The emblem of this enemy kingdom is a white crescent.
I wish I was making this up. I am not.

The book is nothing more, and nothing less than rabid hate-filled propaganda.
It is  layered in a veneer of gender-equality (the prime minister is a woman! Sati is a warrior!), and of the exploration of myths (Shiva as a cool-dude-tibetan!). But  those layers are too flimsy to cover the hate.

And so it disturbs me profoundly that the book is a best-seller. Over one million copies sold! screams the cover. So one million people read it, and thought it was good?

I bought it because of the hype and because of a review  I read in either Frontline or Tehelka- I don't remember which. Both are magazines I trust, with journalists I respect.The article lamented the quality of writing, as well it should. But what about the most important part? Did the reviewer not see the hate? Is it not dishonest for a journalist not to point it out? And what about the other reviewers? did not one person see anything at all? Or are we at that point in our history where hate is normal?

How in the world did we allow this to happen?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Early mornings and love

A lonely bus stand in a little town. It is about 4am, when the dawn is just planning to arrive. It was a request stop for the bus that just passed; except for the woman who got off, the stand seems empty. It is cold and dark everywhere except for one solitary point of brightness. This glow comes from a chai stall run by another woman, maybe in her late fifties. There is a rickshaw next to that stall, the passenger rushes to it only to discover that like the stand, it too is empty.

'Do you want the rickshaw?' calls the chai-walli. 'Wait, I will wake him.' She bustles over to a figure sleeping in the shadows, bends over, lays a hand on his shoulder and wakes the driver. He is instantly semi-awake and takes the passenger to her destination.

A simple incident that would have ended there, had I not heard their story.

They were in love once. Then something happened-maybe parental pressure, maybe a fight that looks minor in retrospect but was a dealbreaker then- but she married someone else. He did not. After many years, she found herself a widow, and began the chai stall to make ends meet. They both chose the night shift- he watching over her safety and livelihood, and she over his.

It is not a poor substitute. Think of the utter pleasure there is in sharing a space with the one you love. Those long nights with the two of them together must be full of a companionable peace. And it is pleasurable to work knowing that the one you love is next to you, that he has chosen to be there so that he can watch out for you. And how wonderful it is to know that you can help him too, that you can keep an eye out for passengers.

And of course, there is the actual waking up. It is not for nothing that I prize my mornings with Mian. It is splendid, true, to slowly wake up next to your love..but there is also something to be said for waking him or her up. She too must enjoy it- to bustle up to the sleeping one, to lean over him, inhale the warm and sleepy child-like smell, lay a caring hand on his shoulder and know that rather than an alarm clock, he is waking up to her voice. And for the one being woken up too- what better thing to wake up to than the voice and face of your sweetheart. And then to set off on work knowing that you will return to a cup of chai, to the exchange of a few quiet words.

No, not a poor substitute at all

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A landmark in the village

There isn't one. Of the conventional type atleast. And that led to this story.
I finally went up and opened me a local savings account- step 1 towards establishing one's residence and all.
But the thing is that the banks now insist on delivering their documents to your home. And that had me worried. My address is just short of the Mark Twain style- instead of 'god knows where', mine says 'Chatola'.
'The post man won't know who I am' I fretted to Mian 'And no one will be able to help him, because while people know my face, they don't know my name.'
'Don't worry', he soothed me 'Everyone knows everyone here. The mail will reach just fine. Trust me.'
And of course I trust him. Utterly, and absolutely.
But you see, that is such an important letter..

And so when Shona and I had gone up to Mukteshwar to get the passbook, I stopped to introduce myself to the postman.
'Hello, I am Chicu. I just opened an account, and I was not sure if you know where I live or who I am, so I thought I'd come up and say hello'
He looked up at me and down at Shona  and beamed sunnily.
' I know you!' he said. 'You live with Shona-Bhaloo! Mian lives with her too!'

' Ah. Yes' I said. 'That's us. The ones who live with Shona-Bhaloo'

There are landmarks in the village- they just happen to be furry and charming.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More pupdates!

Clearly, I think that there is nothing you'd like more than photos of Sho and her babies.
Or baby, I should say. All but one have gone to their 'real' homes now. The black one has gone to a teacher's family, with two small boys. The grey one has gone off to the lady who refers to Mian as her Panditji. His name sadly, is Tiger.

The red is still here..and every day that she remains, I fall in love with her more. Keeping her is not an option for far too many reasons. And so I continue to look for a home for her. In the meantime, here are photos
posing for the camera

cuddling on the sofa

Sphinx and trainee sphinx-let

Watching for langurs

the moon last evening

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rainy days and cold pups

Two days of incessant rainfall. Great beauty, yes. And I took some sadly inadequate photos..

But with this great beauty came great cold. We were all miserable despite multiple layers, but the pups even more so. When we realised that they were shivering uncontrollably and whimpering with the cold, we allowed them to sleep with us.
That they loved this privilege is clear from the snap. It's difficult to see, but I have a husband somewhere under the pups.

Friday, January 4, 2013


It was in Pune. I was riding my scooter back home from work, via the railway station. When I was standing at a traffic light, I saw them. A mother, a teenaged daughter, a young son. And I saw the man as he walked by the girl and pinched her buttocks. The girl started, her mother glared, the man moved away. The traffic light changed, I drove on. End of incident. Or not. This was atleast 7 years ago, and I still remember that scene with guilt.

And more recently, in the Delhi metro. It was late in the evening- I had come in by the train, and was going to my hotel. There were about half a dozen women in the women's coach- and 4 men. The type you probably know- tight tees stretched over paunches, expensive jeans, lots of bling, sunglasses after sundown, lots of cologne. 'This is a ladies' coach, Bhaisaab' I said ' general coach is over there.' They smirked. I persisted, 'there's plenty of space there too..This is a ladies coach 24 hours.' One of them looked at me and rolled his eyes. I shut up, cheeks blazing with embarrassment. The woman sitting opposite me gave me two thumbs-up..hiding her hands behind her purse.

Now a nation is struggling to answer the question,' how could this happen?' Some are baying for blood. Some want to change the culture in India, in the world. I am part of the group that thinks that every single one of us is responsible. Don't think so?  Read Peter Griffin's sobering post 'the problem is us'

The incidents I wrote about are a small fraction of the many times I averted my glance. Even when I was the victim. In the bus incident, why did I keep quiet? Why did I shield that man? It would have been easy enough to call the conductor, 'Bhaisaab, please give this gentleman another seat..he seems to be getting a little too close.' Why did I not do that?

It was the commentary in my head..He will stop now. Why do you want to make a noise? People will think you are making a tamasha. The bus reaches early. He might 'do something' after you get down. You don't want publicity. Keep quiet.

Those voices have made me an accomplice. Enough. It is difficult for me to argue, to confront, to talk to people. But yell like a banshee I can. That should be enough, no?