Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dance Doctor

Class V was doing a lesson on “Healthy Body” today and we were listing out all the medical specialists. I found one glaring blank. Where was the Performing Arts Medicine Specialist? I had to stop and take a deep breath. Memories began to rush in of fruitless and frustrating medical sessions with doctors who did not understand performing arts related injuries. And I remembered the essay Asawari wrote for a proposed conference project in her application to Sarah Lawrence College where she was offered a Presidential scholarship.

I recalled her research and thought process during the writing of the essay.
Her basic premise was that an elite performer is quite akin to a champion athlete. Both fields call for years of consistent training and constant practise. But they are treated differently when it comes to their healthcare. While sports are viewed as a necessity, the arts are considered a luxury.

At a time when Asawari was both a national sports medallist as also a pre-professional inter-disciplinary performing artist, her body was taking a beating and despite being injury free for the most part, there were the occasional medical visits. The doctor’s reaction depended on whether she said a State Championship was coming up or it was a Recital that stood endangered by her ailment.

It was a given that there would be a lot of explaining to do. On one such visit I remember, she had to carry her Pointe shoes along to show how exactly the foot was positioned in one. The doctor had no clue whatsoever as to the kind of injuries a ballet dancer could sustain and how to treat them without injuring her further.As a matter of fact, I have not heard of a Performing Arts Medical Specialist. The common refrain to an artist seeking medical attention is, ‘Rest it or give it up!' Nothing could be more disastrous and impractical to an artist who has poured hours and hours of herself in pushing the creative envelope. Asking them to rest or give up is like suggesting professional suicide. 

There is a real need for an accessible, affordable and professional performing arts science.

A performer needs to be at the peak of fitness, both physically and psychologically. Her art depends entirely on physical dexterity and mental acuity. Why then is performing arts not seen as a needy profession? Unlike sports medicine, why is there no formal training available in performing arts medicine? What is the reason for this undervaluation?

So much hoopla over life and none over what makes it worth living?!

Caramel bask

They are brave little things, those shafts of yellow, breaking through the heavy, frigid air. They are courageous to retain their warmth despite the chill they penetrate. They are invaluable for their transient and fleeting presence. They are heartbreakingly beautiful, shimmery, twinkling paths for merry little specks of earth. They are faithful in their assured, daily appearance. They are carriers of energy, of soothing warmth and a hope for the next session of the mellow yellow.

No radiator, no convector, no blower can match the flaxen warmth of a wintery sun. The sunbeams are delicious in how they toast and warm, stealing up the limbs in thin waves, defrosting and freeing up the numbed cells. The incandescence can be mesmeric, hypnotic in its pull, dragging people along as it shadows around a backyard patch or a sunny front lawn.

The waves of radiance teach and remind in as much as they lull and tranquilize. 

In that brief, tawny blaze is the truth that “this too shall pass”, like everything else in life. It can be safely construed from the flickering caramel bake that “life flows and changes and nothing will last” The dusty straws of glow radiate the words, “only you can bring peace to yourself”.The honeyed flash takes the edge off humdrum fatigue, hinting at “a source of vitality somewhere in the world that man can connect to.” The sparkling scintilla console as though reiterating that, “a single life can make a huge difference.”

If I were to choose one thing I would wish to do more of in 2012, it would be this: a bask in the glimmering freeze!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The younger

They are both home and I am on high alert. When I am hugging one, I am watching the other in the peripheral vision. They appear nonchalant, not to have noticed, even deliberate in their concentration on what they are doing that very moment but my biological radar picks up emotional tremors. There is a fleeting, deceptive dip in the facial tone. Many a times, I imagine that I have imagined it. What strengthens my belief is that I have experienced it too, growing up with a younger sister who more often than not, wore the halo.

It is in our culture that the older will love and the younger will obey. Right or wrong, we burden the senior sibling with the magnanimous role and the junior with an obedient position. They struggle with the onuses at a time when they are at their vulnerable most. Out of these dynamics, perceptions evolve over which of the two is the favoured one. And nothing can be more unsettling for a parent.

I have often wondered if there is any creature other than a mother or father who faces as many occasions for self-abasement. The act of parenting is like a reality check. It is a lesson, a long and deliberate one. Saddled with a disproportionate amount of power over growing lives, mothers and fathers raise their children with nil training in the art. The role models that define their parenting are not always exemplary themselves. And so they bumble along, overdoing it at times, underplaying on other days. One hopes that at the end of all these zealous mistakes, the child survives with at least a dusting of “well-meaning love”.

The care of another life on a daily basis is heavily loaded in favour of the child who is easier to rear! The one, who rises on time, comes to the table quickly, clears up after herself, and contributes to the routine wear and tear with thoughtfully alert plugging. By default, and I don’t know why, this invariably happens to be the younger one.

A parent’s challenge is therefore, to strike a balance within this daily scramble in which, each feels free to be herself and loved and appreciated. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Delhi cold

With Asawari at Princeton, the cold there was a constant concern until she arrived two days ago to say, “It is reeaally coold in Delhi!” 

She has since, barely moved from her spot next to the radiator while back in New Jersey where she was comfortable enough, the temperature is touching sub-zero on the low.

The Delhi cold slices. It peels, stings and reflects off the bones with a metallic zing. There is something paralyzing about the dark, foggy mornings. Every Delhite knows what it is to peek out the tightly drawn curtains and dive back into the bed, “Five more minutes!”  The daily bath is an exercise in self-discipline; one’s will lasting only so long as the hot water does. It is that time of the year when home leavers take more time getting ready. There is the body lotion ritual, the additional articles to be donned on person, the vehicle takes a while kicking in from the night’s freeze. And come destination, the icy air is waiting again to gash at you as you emerge and scurry into safe space.

It is the great snuggle up month. A time for the piping hot happiness; searing soups, boiling tea and stewing food. The crackling corn beckons, the steaming momos invite, and the mink blanket spurs all attempts to fling it off. All this layering and oral intake is rivalled only by the omnipresent thermoregulation as people work to stamp, rub and blow the cold out. Around now, bonfires in all shapes and sizes spring up to dot the urban, suburban nooks. And there is on the Capital roads, a population in a tearing hurry to get indoors.

Along with the dense fog and breaking news of dipping mercury, this season also brings a paradox. The more you stay home, the colder you feel. The harder you follow the weather forecast, the more restricted you get. The keener you are about winter bashing everyday talk, the more unbearable will the air seem. Auto-suggestion is what fuels this season buzz.  It is also what makes the winter afternoon such a magical chunk of warm, drowsy moments, stolen from the swiftly dipping sun. 

Oh for that third degree of icy sheets when you first slip into the comforter! Oh for the heart-warming feel of the hot water bottle in bed! Oh for the masala, ginger tea five times a day!  Oh for the chikki and the revadi and the peanuts! Oh for the sparks rising over the fires! Oh for Delhi and all the life, throbbing in the still dark night. Oh for all things toasty on a dead, frigid day! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Protest please

The junior wing Science Exhibition is one of my school babies. Two days prior is usually when we finish up since it is mounted the day before the final event and some of us happened to be hard at it that day.

We make a good team; there is Asha with her ideas and vivid visualization, Chhaya with her terrifically neat and spirited handiwork and Sulekha with her calm, consistent execution. 

While we fixed panels, pored over the projects with the children and worked out the peripherals, a senior student appeared at the door, trailing a Class IV child, quite obviously a sibling. It is true that I took time to register her and did not at first understand the words. We were a terribly pre-occupied bunch of teachers with an eye on the clock and the usual din in the background. All I saw was a mouth opening and closing, no sound emanating. She had begun speaking from the door without waiting to come in or be prompted. It did sink that she had come to canvass for her baby brother's inclusion in the event.

I shook my head. The exhibition traditionally drew upon Class V resources, although under a wider, looser format, the occasional Class IV student had exhibited in the past. But just a day short and in a theme specific presentation with a flaky in-house rehearsal nipping at us, there was no way. I turned back to my group of reciting students. But we were interrupted this time by a loud and demanding, "Why?" I remember turning to Asha for help. I also recall the sharpness in that, "Why?" It was forceful. I had expected the pair to walk off; they stood their ground instead. And even though I chafed a bit at the whiff of insolence, we dealt with their enthusiasm and went back to building the exhibits.

Later, driving home from work, over lunch, even while huffing over the treadmill, the sister's miffed face and belligerent voice nagged at me. Protest is such an anti-Indian emotion. We are brought up to revere, to acquiesce, and to count our blessings. It is in our legacy to put ourselves after the group and community. So we grow up neither knowing how to object nor knowing how to deal with one when it strikes. And here was this young person asking a simple, "Why?" The more I thought about it, the more I saw her courage and openness. It suddenly sounded like a great word. Why didn't we use it a bit more?

Why is India's growth story slowing down, for instance? Why have I found it so difficult to get a voter's card all these years? Why does the VIP cavalcade security, all but push me off the road in the rudest ever manner? Why are India's best and brightest so dissociated and distant from her Parliament? Why is there so much govt. contempt for the country's educated middle class? Why do you not get good service despite full payment in our nation? Why does the opposition hold up work under the barest of excuses? Why do we continue to tolerate the 'chalta hai' attitude? Why don't we speak up more? Why don't we protest a bit more? 

Why this, why that, why not Kolaaveri jeee.....

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Clay! Brown, chocolaty, glistening with promise; inviting, beckoning, begging to be kneaded, pummelled, and egged into that one specific form of fantasy. There is something sensuous about clay; it incites sensations a mere whisker short of lust. 

I have never been able to stop myself poking it, patting it, rolling it. Break a bit off, squeeze it down, push it up, turn it around and voila, a beauty. Deceptively easy looking and seemingly fun filled, pottery requires tremendous dexterity and skill. Those gleaming, baked, finished curvatures, soothing to the eye and sedating to the heart, call forth a very personal strife from the potter. Every piece is like a signature in fired clayware, a culmination of painstaking, persistent and optimistic application.

The potter’s wheel has always stood for an earthly, manly appeal….close to the fulcrum, elemental in nature, reminiscent of simpler times when in all probability, it sat emanating a radius of security, settlement, domesticity. A wheel meant progress, industry, plenty; it meant life and leisure. With the wheel began the story of storage, cartage, homage. But for the wheel, we would still be hunters and desperados, rootless and roving. The wheel stabilized mankind, gave it a loci around which to grow and evolve and forge ahead.

My personal addiction to these pottery products began after the conjugal. It had to have been the domestic space that I suddenly found myself in, crying to be filled and adorned. Every drive, every amble past a ceramics warehouse would have me limp with desire. How I coveted and caressed those pots and pans with my eyes and hands, an impatient husband barely holding on to a hoot in the background. I couldn’t tear my gaze away. Those vessels held and hypnotized, quite akin to fire flames and water waves. The brightly muted colours, the forcefully subdued gloss, the cleverly translucent patterns…I would want to bring them all home for my own. 

So there I was on the 13th Dec, a distant fan and a potential fanatic walking into an exhibition of paintings and ceramics, hosted by a sister brother pair: Manisha Kumar and Rahul Kumar, curiously and interestingly titled “Parallel Intersection”.

I was struck by the name. A mathematical improbability disproved through multiple forces at play. The intersection had to be the veneer of professional business receding in an artist’s quest for self-expression. And of course, the rigidity of a man-made exterior offset by the soul’s flight towards liberty. Right there, before me were laid out the landmarks of Rahul Kumar's journey from a “craft to an art”. 

I stood at the centre of the gallery, registering the studio potter and ceramist’s push and persistence in creating the contemporary, tasteful and classy pieces of ceramic art on display. An hour and a half later, I was tripping away, sated and light with an echo in my mind and heart of affirmation and a sense of life.

Note: All pictures feature Rahul Kumar's work.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Manu Smriti to Madonna

We are a culture suffering schizophrenia, in our journey from Manu Smriti to Madonna! There has been a triple jump, literally; a hop, skip and leap of values in the short span of one generation. Our kids are increasingly returning home from colleges in the west. They are bringing with them the ethos of an individualistic world. An entire civilization seems a-sway under the onslaught of what is being celebrated as a global outlook. The omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence of the media are by now a cliché. And look at us; we have found ourselves two very convenient scapegoats, the west and the media. It is quite de rigueur to bemoan the idyllic past and blame it’s oblivion on these two bogeys.

The truth is that our “Ram Rajya” was a long, very long time ago and there has since been a very slippery slide downhill. In living memory, we have always struggled with a horrendous number of socio-economic issues. And to these, have been added cultural concerns now. While liberalization did douse some of the socio-economic fires, there is the growing challenge of maintaining and sustaining a national identity in the face of huge divides within. It is a marvel how Indians forget their Punjabihood, Gujaratihood, Tamilhood and Nagahood when abroad, thumping their chests over how richly diverse their country is; when in fact they cannot stand each other back home. Sample  and this is an atom on the iceberg, forget the tip.

A Delhi girl living among Kannadigas, a Punjabi in Pune, a Tamilian in Mohali, a Manipuri in Mumbai, a Hyderabadi in Gandhinagar…these are all the check points of potential hernia. There is such fierce regional pride and resistance to the “intra-foreign”, one wants to scoff on hearing the platitude of unity in diversity. There is no unity, only heart- burn and bitterness at perceived slights, unhealthy stereotypes and provincial insecurities. From this choleric pot comes forth the magic spell and solution of blaming the outsider. It is a national fetish. Blame the regional for the state’s ills, the international for the national shortcomings and the planetary for the world’s woes. Anything to avoid assuming responsibility for ourselves.

It is dispiriting to live with so much of regional chauvinism. Perhaps, the time has come to begin teaching cultural class in our Primary Schools. This challenge of appreciating our own unique nuances will have to be met. Forget multicultural studies across nations, how about our inland identities and attendant hues? Stop negating and begin affirming our famed diversity, shall we?! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I doubt there is any creature as scared as a middle class parent in India. The reason?! This species has a lot to lose, a whole lot at stake.

Now let’s see. They do not own any great physical assets. One home or two, a singular car and ten year old consumer durables. But their children! Their children are their heaviest investments, the focus of their daily lives, and their reason for being. They pour their energies, their money, and their concern into bringing up their kids. They dream for them, plan for them, save for them. Their sense of pride, their feeling of accomplishment, their will to keep going comes from their offspring.

It used to be customary for my Dad to push all the high protein food at us, he would take the most unappetising portion of the chicken roast and that too after the kids had thrown in the towel. Mom would put our comfort first, always and without fail. We did the same for our children. Their needs were met on a priority. Their time was more significant; we adjusted our lives around their calendars. Nothing else mattered so long as they were cared for and progressing.

So there you had them: regular, humdrum, law abiding, god fearing Uncles and Aunties, making a mission of getting their progeny the best possible education, equipping them with all the requisite gear and keeping them in the pink of health and wealth, to the extent it could all be stretched, never mind the personal price they would need to pay. Life moved forward on an even keel, until the kids grew up. Now began the nightmare. The spectre of them being out on streets alone, driving home from college or work, travelling in public transport, at the mercy of not just goons and thugs but also the law enforcement authorities.

It became scary to have those heavy duty investments of theirs out on the ruthless roads, adrift in an environment of corruption and physical violence. What do you tell them apart from sending you “reached safely” messages all the time? Do you tell them to live like cockroaches, scuttling home in the dark for fear of eve teasing or a mugging? Do you warn them of the pitfalls of being in any limelight? Do you advise them to shut down all their faculties like Bapu’s monkeys?

It is a dilemma? After all that went into making them, you want them to live unafraid and fully. But their engagement with the environment is paralyzing you with fear. Foremost is fear for their well-being. There could be fear of losing face, fear of losing a prospective job, fear of losing in kind or cash. So you tell the young to stay focused on themselves, the injustice around be damned.

I am having a tough time doing this. I am afraid. I am conflicted. I am torn. What is a parent’s moral responsibility? Safety or autonomy for their child? What do we owe her to help her be, a soaring eaglet or a safe sparrow?!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gejje Hejje

Aqseer was taken into custody yesterday. Preventive custody but custody all right. When she called me up around 12.30 pm last noon while her Dad and I were at the German Christmas fair, German House, New Delhi, she was at pains to explain that no charges had been pressed nor an FIR lodged. My antenna quivered for any tone of distress. Her voice sounded leashed and taut; she spoke with deliberation, choosing crisp, economical words but there was also an undercurrent of excitement.

I was more concerned with the fact that I did not feel concerned in the “sick with worry” way. There was confidence in her ability to handle it, although it did make me wonder at us as parents! Here was our girl, calling us up to say she had been bundled into a van by the Bangalore Police with eight others, to be driven off on a city darshan, lurching from one police station to another, in an attempt to shake off the trail and all we had to say was, “Take care. Keep us informed! Let us know when you are out.”

After years of facilitating her study of ethics, history, empowerment, social development, justice, could we possibly tell Aqseer to back off and play safe at the first sight of a speed breaker ? Did we have the moral ground to ask her not to get involved and to lie low? Would we have been right in extolling her to mind her own business in the interest of her personal future and security? Ought we to stick our heads in the sand, now that she is in the line of fire and pretend nothing unusual is happening.

I wish to reclaim her instead. Yes Aqseer, we know you have taken up cudgels for a cause you believe in. You are confused and dazed and jolted and wrung dry at times but you are at it. You are dealing with a whole lot. Keep your faith up. We believe in you and your judgement. We are so very proud that you are out there with other courageous young people, placing your statement on record. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Daily vitamin

This quality is very dear to me. The grace of appreciation, the ability to always remember a good turn and ever be thankful for a path eased, a doubt erased, a conflict resolved. More than any other trait, I wish this upon Aqseer and Asawari. Let them, dear God, never forget all that they have received from others. And more important, please give them the words and the ability to express their gratitude.

The girls are tough. They can handle a whole lot alone. But in all these years of frenetic activity, they have had people touch their lives in a hundred and score ways. There have been instructors who taught them a whole lot more than mere skill. There have been friends who have looked out for them. There have been strangers who’ve thumped their backs. There have been the role models who inspired and drove them.  There have been those in the family who encouraged and supported their decisions. There were experiences that taught them what to stay clear of. They most certainly have a lot, a whole lot to be thankful for!

I feel a great sense of pride when they remember to call a teacher therefore, when they take time out to look up an instructor or when they are thoughtful enough to drop an email to someone who contributed to their area of work. I want them to understand that adults who have had something to do with their upbringing did so by investing in them of their person. I want them to appreciate that this nurture is something you can never validate with a straightforward cost benefit analysis. How can you calculate the value of a guru’s vision of your future? Can you possibly assess the worth of an instructor’s ambitious estimate of your ability? Would you be able to quantify the confidence placed in you by a coach who fields you against his name?

There are things and more to be indebted for girls! So send a little ‘owe you’ to Rey sir when in pool, to Galina ma’am and Fernando sir when you extend in dance, to Dey sir and D’Mello sir when following a music sheet, to Shaira, to Singh sir, to Malti Ji, to Nisha ma’am, Padma ma’am, Urvashi ma’am…… many more of them. 

Say thank you. It is the one prayer I would wish upon you. It is the one vitamin I would want you both to imbibe daily!