Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sounds of India

I am an Enid Blyton loyalist even though she is no longer trendy, overshadowed completely by the likes of J K Rowling and Eoin Colfer. But back in those days of the Five Find-Outers and Dog, I would fantasize about being born in Peterswood, the fictitious village where Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip, Bets and Buster regularly beat Mr Goon at solving the mysteries. I did not like India as a child. My mind was crowded with images of moors, thrushes, manorial structures and castles.

Trademark India
As a convent attending kid, I have memories of pastel shades, chintz fabrics and egg ball pudding. It was a time when the country was far from wearing her Indianness on the sleeve. The British hangover was still palpable, on the streets and in the movies. I remember distinctly when kolhapuri chappals first hit the fashion street, quickly to be followed by toe rings and anklets. Indian wear was until then quite risqué, liable to fetch the wearer that supercilious tag of a “behenji”. But slowly and surely, ethnic caught fire and all of a sudden, pink was happy to combine with purple and green joined up with yellow, lo and behold if Indians were not steadily getting comfortable in their own skins.

A shared sensory history
We tend to think of nationality as a sterile, distant concept, not likely to be called into use any time soon. But there is something called a cultural subconscious made up of sights, sounds and smells that people experience jointly and almost unknowingly. These seep into their collective memory, making them who they are. The shrill whistle of the pressure cooker for one; the smart and metallic tap of the chatwallah’s spatula on the tikki tawa; the melodious notes of the temple bell; the hypnotic pull of ancient Vedic chants; the Vivid Bharati broadcasts; the tinkle of bangles and anklets; the daybreak’s herald of the conch shell; the kabadiwallah’s clarion all; dogs barking at night; the mooing of the cows on roads; the beat of the dhol…..and there are more……

India, on the move.....


…the sound of  wholehearted, full chested clearing of the throats; the sharp hiss of open spitting; the public blowing of noses; the unfettered, ruthless traffic horns; cell phones ringing in the middle of live events; the choicest of abuses on the streets; a sloganeering noise of an active democracy; late night religious relays on public PA systems and the desperate siren of an approaching VIP cavalcade.

Ye mera India, I love my India…..

Monday, May 30, 2011

Just do it


Is it nature’s design that every person is born with an inbuilt defence mechanism that keeps up a whisper to him, “Not me, not me…” We all know immortality is a phantasm but there is an associated exclusivity, “Not me, not me…not yet, not yet…” Why else would we stumble through the days, missing opportunities, unseeing the significant and bent upon logging meaningless moments. We seem to live like we are here until eternity.  

On 12th June, 1993 ‘Beeji’ was murdered in the middle of the night, sleeping by herself, as she had done for some thirty years, in her 76, Idgah Colony home at Agra. The assailants tied her up with her own dusters and there were signs of struggle. Just the week before, Mom and Ruby had been there with her, getting the place done up and white washed. Between this event and the night of 12th June, I happened to pass through Agra by train. Every nerve told me to get off and look her up, there were practical issues. To this day, I regret not having the courage to listen to my heart. I was never to see her again.

On 30th April 2008, Aqseer lost her grandfather. He had fractured his leg and was not healing well. During one slot in that year’s NLSIU term, there was a crack of an opportunity to visit him at Hyderabad. She expressed a strong desire but we rationalized her out of it, suggesting a later, more convenient date. It was not to be.

I spoke with my senior school classmate and friend, Neeru Baijal a few times on the phone, while she was recovering from an eight year old lymphoma in 2005. I said I wanted to meet her. She thought I should come by when she is home from the hospital.  I should have heeded my own head. On 11 June of that year, I got an early morning sms from her sister Preeti, saying Neeru had passed away the night before.

I have learnt that the perfect moment does not exist. Now. Now. Now. Now is all we have. If the heart is bursting with love, say so. If you admire someone, let them know. If someone inspires you, acknowledge the fact. If you sense someone’s pain and loss, reach out. The moment may pass, never to come back again.

All too often, we expend ourselves just hovering over plans. Plan to buy x; plan to meet y; plan to learn z; plan to try m ; instead, if we just picked up the phone and  placed that dreaded call; punched that key in the ignition and fetched up at the intimidating door; chucked laziness out of the window and registered for the daunting class…….if only we agonized and weighed and debated a bit less and got on with it a bit more, we would be happier, better fulfilled, more useful.

It is simple maths. It is called the Law of averages. You have got to do a whole lot to build up an average much like the “sower” who has to sow first, to reap later. Sure, some seed will get swept away, some will be eaten up, and some will fall into thorns but a good number will also find fertile ground and bring forth a bounty.

Plain and simple therefore…..do not think too much,  just do it! 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rain

Life trundles by. The wrinkles, they come and crow’s feet steal up, unseen, unbeckoned. But some moments stay, stamped in the memory bank for as long as the blood runs warm.

I was all of nineteen. Dad and Mom were out, at the regular defence party. I don’t recall where Money and Ruby were…inside the house somewhere…..the front door was shut, I remember. It was raining hard and I stood leaning over the balcony railing of the ground floor flat at Ghorpadi, Pune.

It was a dark night, deserted too. The falling water hit the tar hard, shattering the drops into a hundred slivers that shot away to melt in the black. I still hear the steady and rhythmic beat of that particular rain rush, the gurgling of the storm drain, the invigorating nip in the air, the swaying greens and the goose pimples on my forearms.

I reached out to snap off the overhead light. I had a sense of being completely alone and totally ok. I had never felt so alive, so charged, so inviolable. I was awake. I felt wired and peaceful at the same time. There was not a soul, out in the pour. Just the wet shadows, the frigid metal under my arms and the patterned crossroad ahead, bang centre of the three blocks.

I stood out there, frozen for the longest time, afraid to move lest I lose that twinkling wink. The banana swayed and the neem shimmered as the torrent washed away all my young doubts, questions and conflicts. I felt there, in that charmed night, a powerful solitude, the roar of happiness.


Everything was right with the world and I was grateful to be alive. 

The man doth protest....

You ain't seen the cross bite yet..ooph 
On the rare occasions when he catches a post on way out to the gym or between fetching himself another bottle of aqua and answering the phone, there is a protest, “Your blog reads like I had nothing to do with the kids!”

Oops! Might that have been my subconscious idea?!

I began writing the blog out of an urge to filter the kaleidoscopic, whirlwind years so far. The blog was to have been my talk with yours truly. With more than half the excursion behind, there was this yen to step back and assess, like one does the cake being iced! Did I validate and authenticate myself? Did I state my terms? Did I get involved? Did I drive with a road map or has it been a meander? How much of the chunk I have lived was of my own choosing and where next? How do I trek ahead with a greater clarity of purpose?

As I wrote, multiple benefits began to stack up. Some entirely unexpected and new connections came into focus. Meeting old and loved friends on these pages gave our friendship a new zing.  There was suddenly this family record and forum growing out of nowhere. I felt more connected with the girls, courtesy this new age, digital story telling. The blog began to mean several more things. It became the thrill of seeing my ‘page view’ meter forge ahead. It meant that stab of delight at a new addition to the followers list. It was exciting to see a new comment from a surfer. There was relief that at least two of my loyal readers had checked the “like button”.

As the posts continue to spew today, it is becoming my catharsis, my connection, my corroboration, my certification. It is reaffirming my eternal awe for the power, the beauty and the vitality of words; the fact that words are to be treated with respect, using only what is necessary. When a particular post hits a nerve, it proves the abiding belief that underneath the diverse veneer, humans share the commonality of need, hurt, hope, happiness, despair. We all dream, we are all on a patrol.

This will be my 50th post. I don’t yet know where this is going. Ought I to segregate my blog into sections on primary education, armed forces culture, family/friends, Indianness?! 

For now, it seems enough to be inspired and to connect.

In throes over the machine


PS: While sifting through the albums, lightening has struck more than once. It hit me the other day that I had married an incredibly handsome man! 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Feminism revisited


Feminist 2011
I am revisiting feminism with Aqseer, a good twenty five odd years later.

The strange thing is that neither of us had an orthodox, conservative upbringing. My childhood was nearly as progressive as hers. I can think of only one difference. I grew up as three, two sisters and a brother while she had only Asawari for company. You would have thought the permutation alone might have kept her immune from shades of gender bias. Not that I suffered any at home. Truth be told, it was probably my brother who felt sisterly weight pinning him down when we were growing up, poor 'bhai'. Dad and Mom were equitable in their treatment of us three, if anything. They in fact, tried to even out the family adrenalin rush that comes on in typical Jat Sikh families at the birth of a son.  

 Money, Honey, Ruby
My brush with gender based favouritism would take place on our visits home to Moga during the summers. I would see the milk tumblers that went to the boys in the family, the larger portion of curd pushed their way, the fussing over them on their return from the farm while the girls in the clan worked round the clock, invisible and unacknowledged.  Try as I might, I cannot forget one particular night in my Dad’s maternal village called “Burj Harike”. Kamal was working on some Punjabi to English translations with my help around 7 pm or so. I remember the low voltage, the oppressive air over the turbid paddy fields and the cloud of moths hovering over the books. As we pored over the text in Gurumukhi, Amarjeet Taiji rudely snapped off the solo bulb over us, “Stop it girls, the boys are back and need to sleep.”

With the immediate home ruled out as a plausible cause therefore, where and why did Aqseer and I get coloured with feminism ?!

Feminist 1986
In retrospect now, feminism is not bad but it is reactionary in spirit and thereby a costly consumer of precious personal resources such as time, energy and emotion. Why should a gender feel the need to contest established norms? Why should half the human race have a gulp of bile forever lurking on the rim of their throats? Why should one lot be pre-occupied with placating, manipulating, acquiescing, pleasing the other? Even all those years ago there was that look on the streets, a tone on the radio and TV, a thought expressed in print that made women feel devalued, disrespected and disdained.  

There followed of course the marathon and mandatory circuit of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”, Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” and Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch”……

I feel Aqseer’s inner turbulence in short. I shudder when she insists on driving home alone at midnight because, “my male friend’s parents would be as worried over him as you are about me.” I wince when a colleague says her son is comfortable having the girl pay for the meal because "is he not giving her his company!" I double up with alarm when boys refuse to give up seats marked for girls because “are they not asking to be equals?” It scares me when two equally qualified young professionals, batch mates in some cases, decide to tie the knot and a month later the guy is beating up the girl. I don’t know what to make of girls wanting to do everything a boy seems to be able to do. This is your fault Freud !

Should I have factored in her gender while parenting her? Is feminism becoming defunct, seeing as there are generational leaps over mere two to three years today? Do girls feel any more valued, cherished, safe and filled with a sense of dignity and self-respect for the mere fact of having been born a human being today? Or is it the boys gearing up over “masculinism”…the new phenomenon in vitro ! 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A funda called sleep


Sleeping beauty Aqseer
I beg to differ on sleep.
Even as a teenager, I mostly slept long only to sleep the blues away.
Copious sessions of slumber always turn my head to sluggish precast. Shut eye seems such a waste of precious time alive.
I can sleep only as long as is biologically necessary.
Sleeping beauty Asawari
I love the Cinderella hour, the hush that blankets the dark, an hour of crystal thoughts, the clink and soft whoosh of spirits entering brief amnesia…..sleep, “a  little slice of death”…..a suspension of volition…..an immersion in the faraway……a seeming eternity from all that I love….and so it came to be, there is only one pillow I know and the name of that cushion is  honest-to-goodness exhaustion !

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A crisis and the contrast

Are the odds of your survival and welfare higher if you are a Princetonian rather than a Lawschoolite? I don’t know. I am just a parent interacting with two premier institutions because my daughters happen to be there; one the country’s top ranking law school and the other an Ivy League American university.
Andre, Asawari, Zach and Catherine in Serbia
Asawari hurt her knee playing soccer on a rocky terrain while participating in an environmental work camp (http://www.princeton.edu/bridgeyear/) in the mountains of Montenegro on this 13th. A prompt communication and follow up came forth from all three….the program director, the associate director and the on-site co-ordinator. Within hours of her injury we knew the name of the town she was taken to for treatment, the doctor’s prognosis and the follow up plan. While the co-ordinator in Montenegro called us up on phone, the associate director touched base with Asawari from Princeton. The doctor at the University Health Services had been informed as per protocol and we continued to receive updates. The tone and tenor all through was one of openness, regret at the incident and an acknowledgment of responsibility.

Aqseer in Teheran
In Aqseer’s four years of tenure at the NLSIU(http://www.nls.ac.in/)I am afraid; there have been a few incidents. Because they did not concern her directly, we heard of them through secondary and tertiary sources. To be fair, the only two times I contacted the staff, Dr V S Elizabeth, Faculty and Dr R Venkata Rao, Vice Chancellor in particular, I received prompt and considerate responses. But I suspect that in times of crisis it is the student body that closes ranks amongst themselves and huddles around their own. I would be beyond delighted to be contested on this but my fear is that the official student protection machinery at NLSIU is nothing radically different from most other institutions in India.

We operate in India on a need to know basis in organizations dealing with the young. Most institutions follow a predictable pattern when stuck with a hot potato: step one, go into denial mode; step two, try and hush it up; step three, look for a scapegoat; step four, fix the blame and step five, wash your hands with Dettol soap. This is not to say that institutions in other countries are citadels of altruism and brimming with the desire to confess and come clean. 

It is in the projection, in public communication, in what is conveyed through words and body language that we paint the odious picture of a hidebound establishment, mulish in denial and focused primarily on saving their own skins to the point of being offensive and insensitive.

At the school hostel I assisted the warden in for five and a half years; I got a ringside view of the official protocol on emergencies involving students. It would be safe to say and is in no manner any justification that be it an IIT, an elite high school or an MBA coaching centre in the suburbs, the abiding survival philosophy is that of the Mahatma’s three monkeys….see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. And while you are about this, do remember to keep your “backs covered”.

The following exchange would not qualify as unusual in a typical educational setup:

“Sir, I am feeling unwell.”
“How come, you were fine moments ago?”
“Sir, I am having trouble breathing.”
“Your parents never informed us in writing that you had asthma.”
“Sir..sir…sir…my chest hurts.’
“Wait! There is no ambulance and the doctor is on leave. Hold your breath a while, we will have to call your local guardian…we are not equipped here to handle this. Go get your LG’s number!”

No, we are not prepared to deal effectively with medical and other emergencies in schools and colleges. It is not impossible to work out the mechanics of training the staff, putting together a protocol in place, setting up an adequate infrastructure but where are we going to get the all important empathetic, non-judgemental and responsible attitude from? 


How much does it cost? What price would you put on it?!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Unclear on the concept


What is the role and mandate of a pair of gloves in India please? What are they supposed to accomplish when pulled onto a pair of brown hands? Who are the gloves supposed to protect? The wearer you would say, if the task at hand is dyeing of the hair or scrubbing of the sink. How about serving a meal or filling up a bad tooth? Will someone clear this fundamental confusion please? 

We are unclear on the concept in this part of the world. Waiters regularly and merrily dip their gloves in the best of Bukhara daals and roghan josh dishes. The hygiene project gets confounded further when those very serving gloves are used to give the dinner plates a final wipe over. What is it with us here in India, this uncontrollable urge to run the thumb and index finger over the steel scoop of the spoon before presenting it most respectfully to the hapless guest at home? Now fancy all those hospitable gestures with gloves on!

It is not uncommon to find medical assistants in dental centres opening doors, writing in the appointment diary, switching the TV on, adjusting the dental chair, handling the dental tools and waving a goodbye salute….all with the same pair of gloves on! As for the food sellers using those see through flimsy affairs, the less said the better.

At home is another story. We buy fancy and vibrant coloured gloves and hang them as show pieces in our baths and kitchens, going right ahead and using our bare hands for the job. In most homes the used gloves never get thrown out. They get relegated to more inferior tasks such as moving boxes, repairing a gadget or worse still stuffing a leaking pipe or tap.

It has something to do with the recycling DNA in our genes. Countries invent things; we in India invent their uses. Our humble lead pencil doubles up as a hair bun pin. Many Indian domestic gadgets are held together by a rubber band. The bob pin has functioned well as an ear bud for generations. I doubt the safety pin has found as versatile and wide ranging a use in any other nation; why, it holds together everything here from the saree pallu to our national pride.

Walk into a typical Indian home and voice the innocent query, “Wonder if you would have something here to put this stuff in ?” There will be an avalanche of used bags, wrappers, strings, ribbons, plastic containers and spoons……we simply cannot bring ourselves to throw away garbage. Something in our history has made us hoarders. We hang on to all kinds of domestic trash. What if we needed a shiny red button some day! What if the children got nostalgic for their yellow smiley ball in the distant future! What if tooth brushes were to suddenly go out of fashion!

And now gloves. We don’t know what to do with them. Does one take them off and wash them after use?! With bare hands?! What are the dos and don’ts of using these extremity covers? Disposable does not sit well with our psyche. How about we chuck this idea out of the door and stick to good old washing of hands. There is a school of thought however that says frequent washing erases the lines of “kismet” on the palm.

Any day preferable to what coats the pair of gloves I would say!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ladies' Club


The Rainbow Meet !
Ladies' Club. Two words that defy explanation of the emotional storm they unleash. Just saying them aloud brings forth a micro- pyrotechnic show. It does not matter who is spouting the words. The voice drags the first syllable, spitting out the second in a bullet flash. One may altogether miss the derisive edge, so well-disguised is it under the accompanying chuckle. 

The embedded connotations are a bit surprising. It is after all just a bunch of ladies getting together to play a round of Tambola, sing and dance some, eat food and go home. Ah! But nothing could be further from the truth. A typical ladies' club is the fair, featured and fascinating face of India’s armed forces. Symbolic of a plethora of its characteristics, the meet is a lesson in hierarchy, protocol, polite conversation and an esprit de corps. It is also a forum. Under the regular format of a paper game, an ice breaker or so and the invariable ramp waddle, the pink book gets a circulation, unseen and unnoticed.
The Garden Meet 
There is in fact no pink book. Voluntary in spirit, there is only a suggestion in practise, a strong one, to attend. As a matter of fact, nothing to do with the wives and the ladies is mandatory in the defence ethos. There are only suggestions and recommendations. Even these have begun to sound like distant echoes as this institution evolves to accommodate socio-demographic changes such as the intake of women officers, the growing strength of working wives and the new parental aspirations for their children’s education. Plagued by frequent moves, disrupted school education and associated separations, this quaint custom called ladies' club meet does bear today all the maladies of “the last man standing,”.
 Black Archer Gals ! Taporis all....
As a bride, I was disdainful of the mere notion of women getting together. I was sure they did not get beyond exchanging recipes and notes on maids. It began with my welcome meet. Over the years, I became a regular and the more I attended, the more I converted. The get togethers were invariably done well. I can’t recall attending a shabby meet ever. It was shocking......the quality output the station ladies were able to conjure with limited resources on out of civil radar, bases. Give them a dozen or so dupattas, some petals and colored paper; the rugs and brass curios went from home and hey presto, you had a theme meet materialize as though by magic.
The periodic circular intimating an impending meet would be received with some amount of dismay, to begin with. Eventually people would get there. There would be a quaint formality, a girl’s day out with a dash of ceremony. It has to be said that the husbands suffered at times. Their dinner would be lack lustre because the "mem sahibs" would be full to the gills with the ladies' meet fare
Come on Brut......
Like the custom of calling on, like the farewell and welcome meals, like the tradition of bouncing, like the collective spirit of a squadron….ladies' meets too are becoming the vanishing tail lights of a lumbering lorry called “ the dated”. Never mind that many a wife discovered her life’s vocation in these meets. That every time one began to feel jaded, another event would come along that showed you how much you did not know.  
A custom that kept divergent people connected. An unofficial forum for the better, brighter, bitter halves. A grape wine to rival the most authentic of official networks. A phenomenon called ladies' meet. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Steel Swan

Some precocious teenagers can be obnoxious.

I was all three.

A precocious, gogo goggles wearing teenager on the verge of being obnoxious.

I had opinions; I suspect I came on a bit strong and I suffered from tiddler phobia. I could not stand babies. Every time we visited as a family and the hosts took to staging their minors with their “Ba Ba Black Sheep”, I swore to myself I would never visit them again.

Killing with kindness
That was until I met Mala.

Mala was the first baby I registered. Perhaps she came along when I was at a nestling receptive stage of my life. More likely it was her innate appeal but I really liked this chubby. She was the first wriggling bundle I held for any reasonable length of time. She was small, she was cute and she was accessible.

Mala with Aqseer Asawari
Holi at Hyderabad
There was something gentle, something decent, and something very noble about this child. Over the years, our association waxed and waned a degree or two but my fondness for Mala remained a constant; in fact it grew to include a tremendous respect and admiration for the neat, capable young professional she was evolving into.

Home at Sundernagar
The first national champion in the family, the first girl to own and ride a mobike in the community and the first of her generation to strike out of home to study….Mala has been blazing a trail of sorts. She is a survivor and in the business of making her own luck. As a school going kid, she liked to get up at “dark subah” to study. She was also a marathon consumer of sweet lime. She has since kept up an unrelenting momentum and will bring it to a crescendo sooner or later, I am certain of that.

Mala is my niece; first cousin to Aqseer/ Asawari and most significantly, my synonym for a..... “steel swan”.
Mala and her city of dreams.....Mumbai skyline, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

The power of one


“What can one person do?”

This is the theme song of India, circa 2011. It is there in our airwaves, living, breathing and engulfing the citizenry in a convenient cloak of invisibility and irresponsibility. The system is bad. The British left behind a servile mess. Corruption is a given. What can one person do?

And yet I have never seen Indians look so good and potent! Is it Manmohanomics or the Cricketing empire come lately or Bollywood gone global? One has to just lean back and take in a critical eyeful. There is something new about the 'desis'. A degree of self-assuredness, a level of ease with their layered culture and ethos. Some kind of a balance has been struck between a world view and a provincial preoccupation. An international education and ancient traditions no longer seem mutually exclusive. Indians are better dressed, equipped and kitted than I remember.

But of course, in the truest of local spirit, we have not chucked any of our old habits. We continue to be plagued with that typical disrespect for each other. We are intimidated by money and power. We strive for contacts and connections. A man devoid of all of these is as good as Casper the ghost…cute but useless. As to this thing called development, who is to decide what its definition proposes to include. A large segment of India believes they are developed and have been so for long. Traditional lifestyles sans displacements have kept man alive in this part of the world for centuries. What brand of development does this country need to wear is a moot point.

Incredibly, under an evolving national self-belief and the race for power, peace and energy there still pulsate those fatalistic four words, “What can one do?” There is an abdication of personal responsibility in our cultural subconscious. We believe in our hearts and not too very deep down that we are truly powerless in the larger picture. So much is going on in the average citizen’s life, where is the time for some pointless civil affairs. What is one incident of civility going to achieve? The typical household in the country is seesawing between power outages, voltage fluctuations, menopausal cable connections and temperamental domestic help. Dry taps and poor service kills whatever spirit is left at the end of the daily rotor blade spin.

Then again, not everyone has reason enough to turn Citizen Journalist. It is the few and far between who have fires of reformation licking at their vitals. After all, one has got to be connected and at it to be a twitter activist. Blogging again needs time and application and engagement. The mere chore of getting through the day in this heat is enough to sap the edgiest home-grown. The popular mandate says that unless laws are implemented fairly and squarely, what can one person really do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Try being the only one to slow down at the minor zebra crossing red light. Magically enough, you will smell burning rubber as the vehicles following you sheepishly come screeching to a halt. Had you sailed through, the city grand prix would have gone on unabated. In a room full of windbags doling out ‘gyan’ on how the country stinks, hear a lone voice beg to disagree. Indians scramble in the face of dissent….the bluster dissolves like lipstick left on a sunny dashboard when challenged. Protest bad service over the shop counter and see the metamorphosis of indifference into supplication.

Every heartfelt gesture, every honest word spoken with conviction, every letter written from the heart has an incredible domino power.

When I look back, the events that stand out in my mind are those that had to do with lone rangers.

We all live our humdrum lives, gong to work, driving back, getting to bed, fighting sloth, making an effort and believing we are not in much of a position to influence all that much.  My memorable vignettes however, have all got to do with individual people who touched my life in special ways. 

A colleague who welcomed me warmly on my first day of work when the rest made it clear that I would have to make my place. A mere acquaintance that reached out and held my hand in a moment of crisis. A family member who did not judge but stood beside me when I was in a spot. A friend who kept her word and did not let me down. An email from a college mate that recharged my battery. A time when every adult present was grabbing from the table and a child stepped up to ask if he could help get them anything! A phone call from a parent saying their child loves my class.

One thought, one word, one person reaching out, one grand effort……the course of mankind’s progress or regress has always been determined by one person to begin with. The laws of motion, the discovery of zero, the fall of Rome, the invention of capacitor and the atomic bomb, the civil rights movement, the concept of human rights, the idea of evolution….the power of one.

It is always one! The one.....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

100% arranged !

The picture.....

......and thereafter !

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sister to sister


“They are really fond of each other,” was an oft quoted observation during their childhood and teen years. I was not surprised. They were together for a great part of the day on their trips to the Talkatora Pool, Russian Centre for Science and Culture, Kathak Kendra and the  Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. There were also the rounds of Danceworx at Sanskriti School and theatre workshops of the National School of Drama.   
One day meshed into the next. The PPT that comes to mind includes slide images of rushing out the front door, running back to grab the forgotten lemonade bottle, rummaging around the bursting sports bag for the ever elusive pass, of the two slumped over each other in the backseat of the non-AC car, of quick snacks grabbed on the way and lessons revised by the emergency light in the wings on stage….ever on the move; if we were not going somewhere it was because we were returning from someplace!
They kept at it for they did not know any better. In those few years when they probably thought that every young person like them was juggling between “ghunghroos”, music sheets and swimming goggles, there they were, rehearsing together, competing together, warming up together, and travelling together. There were some flaky patches with difficult dancers, irritable parents, disorganized functions, poorly set up stages, insensitive coaches but the two stuck it all out together.
It was around the senior school years that the drifting away began. Having struck two divergent paths that neither could follow the other on, they seemed to have gradually turned their strobe lights away. There has since been a period of solo and relatively silent travel. The two have been crafting their own lives in two different parts of the world. They communicate yes, they are in the know of each other’s updates of course but like Aqseer says, “We interact like men. We go: so what’s up boss?!”
It is not difficult to understand. It began with a sense of loss when Aqseer left the nest for college. Three years later, it was there again, that feeling of a vacuum coming on with Asawari’s exit from not just the home but the country as well.  Brought up to nurse a strong self-belief and take care of themselves, they seemed to also have taken care not to lean or cry or reach out for a bail. But really, what appears at first blush to be a growing apart is a critical phase of their personal growth when they explore deep friendships outside of the family. It is only with this experience of the exterior that they will come to appreciate the interior.
They may today be sensing a strange feeling of “being out of touch” with each other but they will realize soon that there is no getting away from one’s closest witnesses. That is what sisters are. They are people you never grow old to. They are your safety nets and identity keepers. In their bodies flows the same blood, they have lived the same lives as you. They know the scent of your childhood; they share memories of all the family feuds, the grief and joys. When Dad and Mom don’t understand, it is the sisters who do.
Most friends will come and go. But sisters are for keeps. I read somewhere, “In the cookie of life, sisters are your chocolate chips.” Chameleon like, they are also the tigeresses who spring up beside you, if ever you are in trouble.
Sister to sister you will always be
A couple of nuts off the family tree…

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Velvet gloves


Aqseer, ready to fight !
Aqseer’s run with boxing was a multilevel lesson for her and the family.

First off, it takes gall for Indian girls to take up boxing. There are the usual sexist, racist and cultural slurs when they enter the ring. It is a man’s sport. Who will marry them later?  It is dangerous. And more so in the west, please prove your sexuality?

On way to the ring
Aqseer did not fit the average profile of an Indian woman boxer. In the year she was born, there was a wave with boxing riding the crest of several professional women sports leagues. The Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier-Lyde fight of 2001 followed and then came the Academy Award winning Million Dollar Baby. This was the time bracket in which Aqseer entered the ring.

The evolution of Indian boxing was bringing a great roiling in the lives of ordinary Indian women. Were it not for boxing, many young friends of Aqseer’s would have been tending to the cows and buffaloes at home and sweating it out over the “chullah”.Instead  they were trooping in with her into the heavy, sweaty boxing hall at the Indira Gandhi stadium, where the only sound was the thud of glove against glove. It was to be their new temple of courage, ambition and independence.

They observed the quaint Indian practice of a quick dip to the floor with the right hand extended followed by a touch of the mother earth to the forehead as they entered. They called each other “Behen” and held Aqseer in some awe over her academic and English speaking skills. They also told her that she had a good “personality” in the ring.

The ring was sacrosanct. It was after all their chance to be somebody, their ticket to a middle-class life. They hoped that the Indian government would reward them with employment. There was also the notion that their new found independence would get them good homes and husbands. At the very least, they believed boxing would give them the confidence to go out into the mean streets without fear.

Fistic sisterhood
Their stories were inspirational. They came from families that began by discouraging them. They were coached in modest camps where they did their own chores and made do with an insufficient diet and a handicapped coaching. There was no trained therapist to handle their boxing related injuries. A pack of ice is all they and Aqseer could hope for on a rough day.

But come what may, women’s boxing in India was here to stay. The gender bar snapped completely the day International Olympic Committee declared that the 2012 London Games would include the event of women’s boxing. And ever since the International Boxing Association of India inaugurated the women’s world championship in 2001, Indian women pugilists have been right there, alongside the Chinese, Russians and the Americans, led most admirably by Mangte Chungneijang Merykom, better known as Mary Kom.

For Aqseer and the family, her engagement with boxing held up a mirror.

There were lessons there in the ring where anger and fear constantly punched at you. I knew that if she learnt to take a hit, keep her guard up even when dying to jump out, she would be ok. It was a workshop in courage, what Aristotle called the mean between fearlessness and excessive fearfulness. It was a lesson in pacing and leverage, in holding one’s reserve even when wanting to hit out. A lesson in hurting and getting hurt.

Strangely enough, the boxing gym had an air of peace, order and tranquillity. The boxers seemed lamb like outside the ring. Perhaps their inability to feel threatened made them less threatening. Aqseer found in her fistic family, a sense of discipline, a feeling of group attachment, mutual affection and respect.

Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club, asks, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

Well, Aqseer has been in some!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Electronic snarl


The sight of these sends our beloved NRIs into spasms. Many a brown Californian have I seen, dragging his engineering fingers through the peppered hair, trying to stave off an oncoming headache. There is terror in their neat and tidy, organized minds when faced with these dark tangles.

The Indian landscape is dotted with them. Across farms, over the village huts, in the bylanes…they are ominous and omnipresent. A living testament to the Indian faith in destiny, they co-exist peacefully with the populace, who fearlessly trip around them.

They stay that way because there is a deep seated acceptance of the shabby mess. One would expect some order inside homes. But rarely would you find a domestic electronic installation without the attendant mat of cables and wires. There they are, like a “nazar battu” in the otherwise tastefully done interiors, snaking in and out and around table legs, drooping down lamps, hugging stabilizers and adorning fancy modems.

A DJ night, school function or the Prime Minister’s address….the wires do not discriminate. They go snarling and embroiling as the PA system squeaks, screeches and hits all kinds of lethal decibel levels. It might kill the NRI but Indian ears do not seem to mind. What would shock them in fact would be a crystal clear, hiss free quality relay. That would hurt the ears all right.

It speaks of the canny, home grown brain that knows which wire to snatch up from the labyrinth. All the "bhaiyyas" know their connections, be they cable, VSNL or TV "bhaiyya". Their confidence is awe inspiring, as they nonchalantly whip one jack out and ram in the other, quickly doing the reverse within the second as the recipient enters its death throes. Stubborn and smug in their self-belief, they cut, snip, twist and wind, leaving behind a scarier maze. No amount of rubber bands, clips, beading, tacking, camouflaging thereafter seems to help.

An enterprising entrepreneur needs to enter the business of cleaning up all this electronic clutter. 

I would probably pay.