Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sin in Skoplje

Niko 4 Safe Haven, Skoplje, Macedonia

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nothing is a given

If there is any lesson at all I have learnt, in these two score years and more, it is this: nothing in life is a given. In my dictionary, everything is to be earned. One’s peace, happiness, prosperity, none of this may be presumed as a given. Yes, there are people who do seem like they have all the luck in the world but really, who is to say what is really going on with these haloed folks.

Aqseer in Belgrade Central
Sadly, one of the human life’s most abused aspects, taken for granted and kicked around is that of personal relationships. Families are the worst culprits many a times. You wonder where, how and why the myth of nurturing and nourishing units started. Theoretically, a family ought to be an empowering and enabling dynamo of a fuselage. In reality, there is no dearth of bands that cripple and crush. Perhaps they assume that the common plasma running in their veins will keep their lives permanently sparkling with the silver dust of loyalty and love. Bonds are amazingly presumed to be a given, where there is a genetic flow chart in evidence.

Aqseer with Asawari and her home-stay Mom Nada
The fact is that like everything else in life, family joy needs work, planning and perseverance. There are focal points yes, the chief radiators of warmth and connection, cementing ties and holding it all; very often it is the mother who is the glue that keeps everyone together. She does this by reminding everyone of the significant family dates, nudging members towards each other with her carrot and the stick tango and by plugging into the emotional ether of the clan. Behind every close knit family, there is someone on the ball, patching, soothing, reassuring and appreciating.

Roman ruins in Nis
When Asawari left home on the international program, there was a real and genuine fear of a distance creeping in, of the sisters drifting apart, of the family and her losing out on each other. An effort had to be made to keep the connection pulsating and meaningful. This is not to say that children leaving home set out to break away for good but the lack of physical proximity does have the potential to drain the ties, if not guarded against.

A family is one of nature’s most beautiful gifts.

A family that has been invested in and is a life affirming kindred, in the true spirit of the word is a blessing indeed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Too much too soon

How soon is too soon? How much is too much? This relativity comes in when there is a forum for comparison. And there were such occasions, several of them in fact, when Asawari was thrown together with four other teenagers from different continents and varied cultures.

It may have come out a number of times during their time together, that Asawari had experienced pain, loss and tough emotions relatively earlier in life. There may have dawned upon her that she was already thrown into the deep end while the rest were still attending theory lessons on the ‘streamlined shape’. She may also have experienced the discomfiture of having to face the poignancy of her own wisdom, that only comes with personal struggles and drawn battles. Her sense of security may have appeared brittle. There may have been in her eyes, an awareness of having sprung from a country of conflicting and chequered progress.

Was she therefore, during her time in the Balkans, a child of too much and too soon?

It is true that children growing up in India lead existences that seamlessly mesh with life around them. There is no bubble wrap to protect them from the dust and heat of the humdrum around. They grow up as participants and witnesses to most of life’s grand moments including deaths, illnesses, family drama and celebrations. They put up with major and minor discomforts at times and are quite accustomed to their personal spaces being invaded to become humming beehives. They grow up in homes replete with stories of their ancestral thrift and hard work. 

Perhaps they are not emotionally wired for an unadulterated cheer and boundless happiness. I would imagine they grow up viewing life as something to be lived rather than a fresh fruit trifle cake that belongs to them by entitlement because they are they; please to top the icing with a cherry please.

This was the lesson number two in Serbia and not necessarily for Asawari alone. 

Monday, June 27, 2011


With a Montenegrin Sheepdog

An Indian born and educated teenager, representing an American University in a service program designed for an East European nation…Asawari said it did raise a few eyebrows in her months at Novi Sad and Nis and not in a deprecating way. The one word response invariably was, “Interesting!”

But if I were to describe the essence of her tenure in Serbia in one word, it would be ‘communication’. Communication had to be the engine, the driver and the maintainer of her Serbian experience. To convey, convince and cajole in an alien language would have taken some heart. Surrounded by a new family that did not speak English, Asawari would have been forced to draw upon non-verbal resources such as her body language, facial expressions and gestures until she acquired a reasonable degree of comfort with the Serbian language.  

More than anything else, this time away from familiar surroundings taught her the value of language and how it is the feeder of the human engine of prosperity and development. In an enviable position at the end of a year in a strange land, to be able to compare several international languages, there is a new found appreciation for what she calls the ‘density’ and ‘richness’ of the English language. The mode of verbal communication has to have appropriate and enough words to voice complex and sophisticated thoughts. A reduced language equals a reduced existence, in other words.

So then, how does one preserve and build upon the potency of a language? What steps do you take to keep a language from sliding into the lazy morass of an exclusive onomatopoeia? “Duh..uh..ah…wo…!”  The single word answer again is, “Effort”. It takes effort to note down unfamiliar words, follow up on their usage and meaning and crown it all off with actually putting the words to use. A vibrant language is the symptom of a flourishing culture and civilization. You take away their language from a people and you have a community of babblers lost without a compass.

Lesson one, Serbia.

Note: All pics in Montenegro

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back home

Asawari is home and the feeling is surreal. I had replayed her arrival back so often in my mind that when she came charging out of the T3 with Aqseer, I had to pinch myself. One of my first thoughts was, “Thank God, we had the sense to send Aqseer for the trip back home.” It made the transition easier for Asawari. Aqseer became the seamless bridge for her to return over; back into what was her world before she flew off to Serbia for a nine month stay with an entirely new family.

It has taken all of five days for her homecoming to sink in. Even now the heart does an effervescent flip every time she enters the room. She is the same and yet there is something new in every gesture, every word, and every look. In her being I catch glimpses of another country, a different people, new paths and strange journeys. Every place she visited, every person she met, every sight she savoured has obviously left an indelible mark on her. The sum total of a life lived by herself this past year is evident in her confident gait, her rich conversation and what I call a healthier appetite for life.

There are reams and reams of photos; she has obviously put her SLR to good use. But to begin with, I picked solo pictures, reflections that spoke of what was really going on with her. How did she relate with her four other program partners? Did she feel adequate enough in her nationality? Was there any sense of disadvantage at some point? How did she perceive Serbia and the Balkans? What did she learn from her homestay families? What were the impressions that she left behind about India? Was she thankful for the opportunity and did the experience leave her a better person?

With several interjections from Aqseer, some kind of a clear image has begun to emerge since her return on this 22nd. She consistently emits a sense of wellness. There is also this excitement about her future studies at Princeton. It does seem as though her bubbling cheer draws from the wholesome one to one she shared with her BYP group partners. What gladdens my heart most is the seeming cloak of wisdom she seems to sport, a realization that life indeed is a mixed bag and its ok, a whole lot is ok.

Like she puts it in her concluding update on eed, “In the Balkans, my beliefs were enhanced and made more voluminous in the generous experiences that this place had to offer. Has it changed my fundamental person or my identity? Not quite. Has it given me a wider frame of reference regarding multiculturalism? It has, especially since I have been third party in experiencing the aftermath of conflict based on ethnicity in a continent like Europe where borders seemed easily penetrable. Here, another country can be reached in two hours. It can take about twice as long, a strong heart and a sturdy stomach to lumber across to the nearest state from Delhi within India.”

Welcome back home Asja !

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Desi green

Indians leave a genetic trail in their wake, far more potent than any other nationality.

Ten minutes at a “Safal” vegetable shop should prove conclusive enough. Watch how they sniff, smell, scratch, tweak, rattle and knock the bio products before settling on a selection. It does not bother any that ten earlier compatriots would have stuck their noses into that very mango. Why, there is inland competitiveness at who has the smart shopper’s trick, down pat. The Hyderabadis would be hard put to share with a Delhite how they use their index finger to poke a melon and gauge its ripeness, just right. The color of the aubergine stalk has to be that precise, particular green. And woe betide the okra that does not snap at the tip with a sharp sound, there are greener buys.

Tomatoes get squeezed, spring onions are shaken and beets juggled in the air to estimate their woodiness. Shoppers spend awhile eliminating cracks, dents, scales and limpness. They are not averse to rubbing two specimens for that elusive squeak. Firm, smooth, tight, bright, crisp, compact and uniformly coloured is the mantra. There are highly individualistic, talismanic moves in unique permutations and combinations. Let’s see, two knocks and three turns…repeat this pattern six times and you have the best watermelon of the lot. Chuck the muskmelon in the air, up twelve and a quarter inch and if it lands back in the palm with a light thud that seems disproportionate to the size, ah…that’s the one!

There have been days when I have felt retarded in the face of this intense engagement with the farm produce. I may be veggie-selection-challenged, picking as I do, visually. But I envy the very ‘desi’ and sensual process of buying vegetables in India. Of course, the advent of the “Safal” chain has neutralized that other critical component of vegetable buying and selection, bargaining if you please. It used to be that some sellers would take umbrage if you did not bargain; it took the sting out of the sale for them.

A recent survey shows that Indian consumers are willing to pay more for green products that are labelled and readily available. There is a growing concern about the state of the environment. The question is, who will drive this green agenda? Will it be the government, the NGOs, the private sector or the civil rights activist?!

Meanwhile, smell on the mangoes...

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Guru

Malti Shyam
Malti Ji laughs when I tell her she is one of the main reasons the girls and I hung on in Delhi. I remember when Aqseer was filling up an application form towards an internship she was keen on; there was a column that asked the applicants to name two people who had influenced them the most. She wrote, “My Kathak Guru, Malti Shyam and my mother.”

I met Malti Ji at the Kathak Kendra New Delhi, during auditions for the First Year of their Diploma program. I was bemused that the institute expected some familiarity with the dance form from the applicants, even before they had joined the First Year. I had to remind myself of the parallel situation during Kindergarten admissions in schools, where the incoming pre-schoolers are expected to be current with the alphabet and numbers, as also with colours and fruits! Having cleared the audition nonetheless, Aqseer and Asawari entered India’s national institute of Kathak under the tutelage of Malti Shyam of the Lucknow gharana; herself a disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj and the late Reba Vidyarthi. It was to be the start of a long and intense association.

Malti Ji is known for the “lyrical grace and technical precision” of her dance. The sincerity and integrity of her stage effort invariably uplifted the audience. I remember being moved to tears during her rendition of ‘Shyamrang’. Asawari was up on her chair and threatening to bring the house down during another. Performer, choreographer and teacher, it was the last role that was to have an abiding influence on the girls.

Their good fortune: with Maharaj Ji and Malti Shyam
In their decade old association with her, I have to say that Malti Shyam has proved to be a guru par excellence. Herself, what is often known as a “non-gharana” dancer, she guided her students around and out of pitfalls that she herself struggled with. She taught a whole deal more than just Kathak. There was an entire world view, a philosophy, an ethic and one complete moral perspective that she gave her children. It is rare in India’s classical art forms, this good fortune to be learning from a teacher as generous as Malti Shyam. She gave without reservations to those who wanted to learn and grow.

It was proof of her openness and maturity that she accepted, even encouraged Asawari’s parallel training in Ballet. She in fact, took time out to attend her performances. One memorable evening, as I approached her class room to pick up the girls, what do I find:  Aqseer is fast asleep on the floor besides her guru, nice and cosy under her black shawl! “She was tired,” Malti Ji explained smilingly as the rest of the class spun to the vigorous beats of the tabla. In the initial years, it was quite an event to be visiting her at home for some rehearsal or the other. She liked to feed her students and I would whisper to myself, “Kalyug, kalyug…the guru is cooking for the shagirds!”

On Maharaj Ji's Birthday, 2010

Devoid of any affectations, committed and dedicated to her own gurus and the art form, more than happy to go the extra mile for her students, keeper of the remarkably affirmative tradition of the guru shishya tradition: that is for you, performer, choreographer, teacher and an inspiration, Malti Shyam.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Posing in peril

It is not for nothing that we call nature ‘mother’. Like Mom, it does seem that she is primarily preoccupied with the survival of the race.  One of her many wonderful gifts to us, is the ability of one part of our brain to keep ticking in cold clarity during times of peril.

Right up to that eventful day in the summer of 1995, I had read an entire Reader’s Digest Manual on “People in peril” and had watched several survival movies like ‘The Towering Inferno”, “The other side of the mountain”, “The Edge”, “The thin red line” and more. But it is only when the water came charging into our home, catching us sitting ducks, shell shocked, right in the middle of a Delhi cantonment, one regular, unusual morning that I fully realized the wonder of this gift.

Subroto Park is nowhere near the Yamuna banks. It did not boast a teaspoon of a water body sixteen years ago; the present swimming pool came much later. Its central location, adjacent to the Airport Highway and a few meters beyond Dhaula Kuan made it a candidate for dust at the most and a little bit of envy, if pushed. It is, let’s admit, one of the smartest, tightest and neatest cantonment pockets of the capital. But a flood, a rain water inflow some two feet high, into a carpeted, decorated, settled home, caught in a lazy morning stir five minutes to the maid’s appearance….

I had just gotten to the kitchen range, in the process of placing the lighter to the burner. There was a light swoosh! I turned around in the direction of the sound and stood stock still, rubbing my eyes. A growing film of muddy water was stealing up from under the pantry door leading out. I moved closer as though in a magnetized trance. A potted plant having overturned, the garden bucket springing a leak, the hose may have come unhinged…these were the possibilities blinking at me. I reached the handle and yanked open the door. Big mistake. Big big mistake!!

It was a race thereafter. A fight to save what we could, from the unholy barrage swirling into every corner of our home. Albums, oh God, albums ! The carpets. The curios. Before long, the extra gas cylinder was floating ‘dug,glug,dug’ in the water, like a catamaran. Our house slippers floated away. While the help calls were being placed, water was beginning to push through the car doors of the Ambassador parked outside. I frantically dialled a friend. The response, “Calm down. Just take a broom and sweep the water out!” It would have taken a particularly imaginative person to comprehend what I was trying to describe on the phone. In Subroto Park? No way!

The house was a mess, onions and potatoes were bobbing all over, some heavy duty pans had gone into sail, and kids were by now wide eyed and awake. With the man in uniform struggling to switch off the mains, and an outfit not equipped to deal with a surprise like this, my cold and clear cranial nerve kicked in. I picked up the camera and began clicking!

Of course we survived. It was not a high scale catastrophe to begin with. An evacuation to friends’ on the fifth floor of Arjan Vihar followed. There was a mission clean up and fumigation taken up. It turned out that a highway drain had cracked, diverting all the storm water into this particular house. Friends joked for years afterwards, about dropping food from helicopters.

Yes, the hydro dirge did taper off. Life resumed beyond that watery point. But my moment of disaster camera work made me think. Gracias Naturaleza !

Saturday, June 18, 2011


The other day, at a Chinese Restaurant, we came upon some friends as we were paying up to move out. In that one spur before I turned around and the couple registered our greeting, the lady’s mask slipped. No, it did not slip, in fact it took a moment to come on, just a lightening Nano of a second. But the original expression stayed with me, right through the ride home. Thank God for the mask, I told myself!

There are prospective events in my life I dread. I dread coming upon someone changing. I have paranoia of catching my maid unawares, what if she is drinking straight out of the milk pan?! I cautiously knock on all toilets. It makes me uncomfortable to keep bumping into an acquaintance over and over on the jogging track. There is this imaginary fear that my wallet may not have enough cash when I open it after a purchase. I am petrified of the husband dragging an obvious friend up to me and loudly announcing, “Remember him?” I dread an empty fuel tank, a run-down phone recharge as also a dying gas burner flame. But there is something I dread more.

I dread surprising another human before they have had the time to snap on the mask. It is awful.  There is something there in that fleeting and forced intimacy that I would rather not acknowledge. On the few occasions I have glimpsed this crack; it appeared achingly desolate on the other side. Every time it has happened, I have quickly broken the eye contact to look away, giving time and space for the curtain to come down.

Why do we wear this mask? Wither this need to hide? To pretend. Is the mask something decreed by social hygienists? Does it aid or hinder our authenticity and evolution? Where would we be without the mask; dancing in heaven or roasting in hell?

by: Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Friday, June 17, 2011

That thing called respect

Stanley ka dabba.

While I was watching this unselfconscious movie earlier this evening, it felt like there was a substitute for every character in my own school. Not in the literal sense of “Khadoos" gunning for the student’s dabbas but in a metaphyscial sense, yes. Adults like him, who have been put in charge of young lives with a clear cut mandate to guard and protect and nurture. Instead, they crush and devaluate and diminish the young spirits placed in their care.

The casual, dismissively brutal air of the canteen guy, the Science teacher and Khadoos himself is unfortunately an accurate representation of reality. Because the children are small and vulnerable, the school peons, the bus drivers and conductors as also the guards see nothing wrong with an abrasive tone and disrespectful language.

I will never forget that day. Aqseer, who was a senior student that year, had come to meet me in the Primary Wing. She had to change out of her rehearsal clothes into the school uniform. Without giving it too much thought, I waved her towards the Junior Wing washrooms, unaware of the disaster in store. She was probably still half way through when the school peon realized that a heinous crime was afoot! A senior student was using the junior room. He went into his characteristically ballistic form. Foaming at the mouth, he launched into the kind of door banging one would normally reserve for someone about to hang themselves by the fan. With nary a thought for an adolescent’s sensitivity and awkward placement at that moment, this man literally brought the house down. Aqseer came out quietly and was accepting of this misconduct in the discussion that followed but I could never forgive that man for an attitude that clearly screamed his predominant thought:  every child is a potential criminal.

I can’t stress this enough. There has to be an air of mutual respect in a school. And it has got to be visible in every direction, vertically, laterally and diagonally. Respect begets respect. In the movie, the Principal is perceptive, magnanimous and open. It is this attitude that helps along the eventual resolution. Stanley’s world is fortunately, also peopled by Miss Rosy and Mr Zutshi, teachers who are warm and supportive and compassionate and encouraging

The school is as nuanced and layered as this disarming movie. Several forces are at play, take any given time. But the acid test of this class of institution is: to what extent are they building a child’s self-esteem? CBSE may make a daily PT period mandatory. The Principal’s report on the annual day may wax eloquent on the number of toppers and sports awards. The government may push for the inclusion of Economically Weaker Section students. These are significant components of a country’s educational anthem but above all this din is our little Stanley. Does he feel happy to be alive? Does he look forward to school every morning? Does he feel safe and appreciated? Does he think he can?

Respect. It is the answer. In every form and flavor. Self-respect, mutual respect, respect for authority as well as for the students in their care. 
Respect !

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mamma Mia

There was a time when my lap was the best place to be! I only had to hold my arms out and they would begin to wriggle their legs with delight, falling over in their haste to get close. Before long, they were old enough to view cultural events. They sat on either side, taking their cues for applause from me. “Was that good?” they would peer up in the auditorium dark. To an affirmative nod, they would respond with vigorous assent accompanied by an enthusiastic clap. Those were the days, Mamma Mia. 

It was my lipstick, my handbag, my bindi and my bangles that they fooled around with. More often than not, Mamma was right. But unknown to us, the seasons were turning  and all of a sudden, in a rapid blur, it was my turn to peer at them in the auditorium dark, “What is your opinion of this performance?” From babes, they had evolved into aware, well informed young adolescents, not afraid to speak their minds. It was to be expected that this fearless, honest and fair approach to the world around them would also extend into their relationship with the mother.

Gradually, through an evolving interaction, I began to see their separateness, the individual minds, readying for journeys of their own. It was difficult at times to see the same impartial lens trained on me that they trained on everything else in their lives.   

I have wondered since their flight from home: Adam and Eve or the mother and child? Which really is the most primal, basic, original and first human relationship? If it is the latter, which is more empowering; mother and son or mother and daughter? From all accounts, I think it most certainly is the latter. I for instance, can talk about things with my mother that may even seem trivial to my brother. Mom is my platinum guarantee card, wired to assure, reassure and ensure. She knows me better than I know myself. Where else would you find another being so aligned alongside you and ever ready to give your own engine the thrust, for that all important lift off?! Mamma Mia is everything, the launch pad, the recovery pad as also the maintenance pad. 

But a realization of the power and influence of this relationship takes some time coming. It is when the daughter becomes a mother herself that she finally begins to see what Mom was saying all along. It is called the cycle of life, an eternal rite of passage. It begins with the arrival of a helplessly dependent bundle, goes through a stage of complete control over the small life so as to ensure its growth and survival and tapers to the cool off period when Mom must start to pull away, so that the daughter can be what she is meant to be. 

As I watch my own girls grow today, I am filled with gratitude towards my own Mom who is the reason I am what I would love them to be…. independent and strong willed but also filled with compassion and a generous understanding of others.

Mamma Mia, now I really know !

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A life less equal

Does an Indian girl spend her life trying to make up for not having been born a boy?
‘You are not my daughter, you are my son’….is this the highest compliment her father/grandfather can pay her?
Is there a sense of loss when she abdicates her family name to her brother?
Does she chafe against the social diktat that acknowledges the greater right of her husband’s family on her unit?

Is there some amount of humiliation in being viewed as a “responsibility”, to be offloaded by her parents onto her family-in-law?
Is there a dip in her family status if she is not able to “give” her husband a son?
Must she take care not to seem too close to her biological family lest her commitment to her acquired family become suspect?
Is an eternal gratitude expected of her towards a husband who lets her be?

Will her middle name continue to be “adjustment”, ever and mostly?
How long is the pussyfooting to stay her monopoly?
Would you say if food, shelter, clothing and security are a good enough price for a lifetime’s devotion to one man and his family?
Should the children go off track, would that primarily be her fault?

A global survey recently ranked countries most hazardous in which to be born a woman.
Top five were Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia.
An emerging super-power, India has female infanticide and sex trafficking to answer for.
The dangerous, gender stereotypes are too deeply ingrained.

When my second daughter came, someone offered condolences to my husband.
“Two Marutis down,” his colleagues told him.
I didn’t find it funny at all.
It is this terrible air that brings tears to the eyes of a new mother who is told, "You delivered a baby girl!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

To give or not to give

Pic by Aqseer
If you are a woman and a mother at that, you are never really and truly alone. Even when the man is busy and the children have flown the coop, you are not solo in your solitude. There is a constant companion nipping at the heels. Guilt! And the conspiracy is universal, not restricted to the familial alone. It is as though the world at large, with its social mores, the religious diktats, and incessant media commentary plus random elements from the environment share an on-going connivance to heighten that ever present sense of guilt.

Beggars are a major flag on this guilt ridden, emotional landscape. What can I really do about this? Having spent a lifetime, chauffeuring the kids to and from sundry classes, I have participated in this tense, threesome, roadside drama a whole lot, far more than I would have cared to….girls in the back seat, the beggar at my driving window and the byplay invading the car interiors. There were often shades of disapproval, unexpressed accusations of an unfeeling callousness, reproach for lack of sympathy and a youthful impatience with the jaded attitude of a woman past her prime washing up from the rear seat!

I don’t think my young and compassionate daughters have ever, really come to terms with my refusal to give alms. They would have suffered waves of frustration, even anger at the inhuman condition of the seeker, his needs and their mother’s stubborn resistance to alleviating it somewhat. 

Alas! That it were a policy that had been well thought through, aided by a rational and extensive debate. As a matter of fact, if pushed, I would be hard put to explain away the thoughts reeling in my head while I stared at the extended hand. A defensive wave would overpower my senses, a clamming up of any access to the self, a shame filled choking, a helplessness at being cornered, even a subdued anger at being shown up in the presence of Aqseer and Asawari. 

There was invariably loose change, lying within reach on the right of the dashboard. The mind would make feeble motions but my arm would stay glued to the steering. There was only one courtesy I allowed myself. I looked the beggar in the eye and slowly shook my head. It compounded my self-inflicted misery at not even acknowledging the person.

Yes, I know the sociological statistics. I am familiar with the arguments for and against encouraging beggars. I am aware of the NGOs working for them. Aqseer not only carried out a project study on the phenomenon, she did the route of gifting away her T-shirt parka on X-Mas to a shivering child, compelling me to buy pencils I did not need because of the size and condition of the seller, buying milk packets for an emaciated babe on Janpath and more……

I feel a sense of pride at their young and empathetic hearts. And there have been times I have suspected that nature conspired to punish me for my tight fistedness in this regard by arranging a clean sweep of my wallet or jewellery! 

But as a rule, there is something indefinable, an elemental instinct almost,that does not permit me the arrogance, of sparing my otiose coins for another human being. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Same to same

Three rows of anxiety ridden faces lined one side of the wall at the American Embassy Interview Lobby. Will they, won’t they, get their US Visa approval today? 

The ping of the token meters made rhythmic music. The usher staff nudged along, snaky files of nervous looking applicants. Despite the professional courtesy on display, Anne Frank’s diary stole into my head intermittently. We were the Jews and the Visa officers were the Aryans. They were the precipice that lay between us and our Everest.

There was every shade of humanity present; students, entrepreneurs, business men, artists, mendicants, professionals. And their stories were on display. The interview format being what it is, the applicant’s replies to questions posed by the Visa Officer bounced back into quivering ears of the waiting mass. When one of the officers broke into accented Hindi, there was a wave of community mirth. It was not difficult to predict the outcome of the interview in progress from the waiting gallery. The tone of the explanations, the tilt of the interviewer’s head and in one case, the two lethal words, “Take care!” were a dead giveaway.

We sat clutching our document and passport folders, knowing that if the curtain came down on this act, there was no parting the folds, no appealing, no one on the other side to listen. The power of a nation’s state machinery was there for anyone to see. There may have been a hundred myths about the said recovery of the US economy; a whole lot of people, nearly 800 or so, still wanted to go there in that instant and quite badly at that.

In those few hours inside the Chanakyapuri Embassy of the United States of America, with the bravado gone, the need all too clearly on display, the cracks showed. Under the dressed up exterior, there was the same concern, the same anxiety, the same insecurity and self-doubt. Will I get that strict looking officer to interview me? What if they reject my application? Have I covered everything so far as the documents are concerned? Where do I say I shall be staying? Might they ask to see the itinerary? I think I have it all but everyone says, you can never be sure. Why is this particular applicant walking away in dejection? Ought not they to be fingerprinting only the approved passport holders? Will they shut down for lunch?

When I was “young, merry and very very wise”, I used to feel unique, alone in my internal world. It was as though no one had experienced what I was going through , ever before. There was a sense of exclusivity that was not always and not entirely comfortable. A big part of growing up was the realization that 
we are all more similar than we give ourselves credit for!

Sitting today with the compatriots, it showed. Same to same! We are same to same......

Note: Pics by Aqseer