Thursday, February 28, 2013

Paralysis (Micro Fiction)

Pic by Aqseer
Simranjit Kaur scrunched her dupatta to the nose, widening her eyes to stave off the itchiness.

Paddy fields were deadly incubators. The pesticide combined with stagnant water making toxic fumes that rose over the railway tracks, curling into her second class compartment where she sat alone, numb and unmoving. She willed the train to move. “Sixty, fifty nine, fifty eight” went her ninth round of reverse counting.

Her mind was treading sluggishly, images fogging and swirling. She recalled her mother, distraught at the birth of a daughter and the harm it would do her social status. There she was again, waving at Simran to come help in the kitchen instead of riding the farm tractor. A steady stream of sepia shots permeated Simran’s throbbing head...memories of plucking gourd with her grandmother and trailing her feet in the tube well canal as the motor pumped rhythmically into the narrow canal wending farmwards.

“Was that the ghuggi bird trilling, the local dove?” she would wonder from under the dupatta covering her face, on many a meditative noon spent prone on a jute cot under the Kikar tree. The dull shuffling of buffalo hooves returning from the river invariably kept pace with the darkening sky. Twilight on the Sangha Farm was bleak, made sadder by the moans of the muttering hens, picking their way into the coop.

Just as the family women made busy over the makings of supper, her grandfather would stride in, holding aloft a brown paper bag of hot jalebis. Indulgent in the aftermath of a profitable day, he would rib her on her ambition “How can I set you up in a petrol pump? That now, is your brother’s privilege. He will bring us a plane in dowry at his wedding while I will have to gift you one, at yours.” 

She smiled thinly at the image of the hot clay oven that the family women used to singe their arm hair while sticking in the rotis, no waxing needed at the beauty parlour! Inhaling greedily on the cold air now, her thoughts wandered to the farm dogs that would be trotting in from the fields for their last meal of the day. Strangely enough, there was nothing in her mental rerun from her joint family married home.

The train belched, metal clatter jolting her back. She heaved up slowly, peering cautiously through the grimy window of her coupe. No sign yet! The horn wailed raucously, signalling departure. A movement caught her eye, right there near the entrance gate. Simran ducked swiftly, adrenalized out of her dark stupor. She hurried into the train toilet, her mind racing. Her brother-in-law would have found the body! Jaswinder had been her only support through all of her marital torment. He had finally put his foot down that morning at the family’s eternal denial mode, offering to visit them and counsel his older brother.”

“Too late!” she flinched dolefully, dropping her bloody kirpan through the rickety toilet bowl.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Transition

It is that time of the year when teachers sit shell shocked, gel pen poised over the final report cards. They shake their heads slowly, willing themselves to absorb the impending conclusion of the session. Any attempt to look back only brings forth a blur. It seems as though the year is getting over before it had a chance to begin.

It was no different the year before and the one that preceded it!

The school calendar is so choc-a-bloc that its sheer momentum numbs. There is a pattern. The year takes off well; there is the novelty of the class and teacher composition. But as the events come steam rolling, there is a Ferris Wheel syndrome. Students and teachers hang on to their seat arms, buffeting through tests, competitions, festivals, tournaments, workshops until their eyes begin to glaze over with the effort to keep up. And it isn't until December that they take their second look at each other.

It is the first time in the year that teachers will feel a pang. The students look dearer, now that they are ready to pass on to the next class. “There is so much more I could have done with them,” some are likely to tell themselves. Their eyes linger on the young faces, knowing fully well that most will be unrecognizable should their paths cross again.

The incoming class does not know it yet but the stage is being set up for the grand comparison. “My last class was so much brighter. You all are not a patch on them,” the pearls will spew forth over the first few months. Then like every other year, just as the familiarization gets underway, the Sports Day and the Annual Function will rear their heads. It is in the translucence of the dust settling on these frenzied celebrations that the new class will reach its peak. In that magic moment of complete synergy between the teacher and the taught, primed for take-off, just as they are slipping into some rhythm, the tail end of the school’s annual calendar will loop into view and they will be off again, hurtling and careening through the remaining year.

The word is transition; it is a time for mixed feelings. There is sadness to see off a batch and excitement at the first blank page with a new class in the new school year. Welcome 2013-14!

(Published in the Times of India Student Edition on 27 Feb 2013)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

At your age

Two things happened today.

A young lady half my age offered to carry my bag. On seeing me recoil, she reached out to grab it and we tugged a bit, my sense of independence rivalling her classy upbringing. She resolved the impasse by insisting her driver see me to the car.

The second event took place as I entered the British Council Creative Writing class room. Another young watched me set up my laptop before declaring solemnly, “I am very impressed with you!” My heart fluttered with delight, steadying itself in readiness for praises of my writing. She exclaimed, “It is wonderful that you have so much enthusiasm for learning at your age!”

At your age!
I have been hearing this phrase of late and have formulated a reason.

It has to do with my veering off the course, I am certain. There is a view of life stages we Indians cherish; the celibate student, the married family man, the hermit in retreat and the wandering ascetic. And even though social realities have transformed beyond recognition, the four stage view remains the bedrock of Hindu socio-religious tradition. Having seen my kids through for instance, I should by extension be throttling back to enjoy life’s hard earned siesta. I am being told in other words that there is a role cut out for me. Be aunty like, content and supportive of the status-quo around me!

Instead I have jumped off headlong into ever growing adventures. I have taken up new fields of study, am working at acquiring new skills, and am busy exploring new situations. There is so much more time to reach in that the radius of my capacity to reach out has been expanding. It in fact is oddly liberating to have this authentic world view that comes from living a full life to come back to rest where it started, with me! My reflection becomes sharper with every challenge I take up and the process puts me in ever greater touch with myself.

Is this not life, in the final analysis. After all, the familiar, non-threatening and limiting orbits are not getting anyone far; there is only so much that you will gain by driving the same path, sitting in the same chair and meeting the same people, over and over.  It is safe yes, but it is also numbing and stunting to be in a sanitized environment full of order and convenience.

You live so that you may know yourself. You breathe so you can shape yourself better. You engage for the permission to nurture yourself. You therefore need to continue growing and learning to the end of your life.

Oh yes, if you loved yourself enough, you would hear what life has to say: you owe yourself big time! 

Monday, February 18, 2013


The world is kinder today. It is expected to be at any rate. Witches burn, children starve, civilians perish in wars, women are raped but not without protest. There is a strong pretence at civil liberties; an educated progressiveness that is synonymous with a repugnant horror at inhumanity and injustice; to that extent we have evolved as a species.

Some beliefs persist nevertheless, unchallenged and unquestioned.

No one is indispensable! This is the golden one at the workplace. There isn’t an employee who has not had this unappetizing negation hurled at her or an employer for that matter, who has not flourished it with the swagger of Salman Khan at some time in their respective careers. I would say these infamous words reverberate across board rooms, offices and corridors of power. No one is special, we are told. One pair of hands is as good as another. An employee’s absence does not mean a hiccup to her company. Just about anyone can replace her at any given time. Her personality, her background, her ideas, her strengths, her convictions are as easily substituted as a pair of pencil cells in a torch.

This is the biggest ever bluff that needs calling.

How come in a world so full of talk about human rights, there is not a squeak about a good worker’s professional self-respect? Truth be told, every golden employee at a place of work is indispensable. How very regressive is it to speak of people in terms of holes that merely needed plugging! A company is the sum total of its employees and every solid piece in the puzzle adds value to the jigsaw. Take away one and there is sure to be disturbance to the group dynamics.

The world has long moved beyond the assembly line production days of initial industrialization. Job opportunities and requirements have metamorphosed to include a mind boggling skill set; it is no longer about just a pair of hands. Work involves personal integrity, value judgement, and risk evaluation, sense of loyalty, creative solution, professional investment, and willingness to learn and grow in addition to basic and relevant competency. Surely the range involved here begs the demeaning insistence that one is just as good as another. It even sounds callously inhumane!

People are unique. They bring a very special value to their work spaces. And companies stand to gain huge returns by acknowledging this immutable but long denied truth.The reluctance to acknowledge signature contribution has been a convenient mind-set that has saved employers bother and effort. Imagine what would happen if they were to admit people were indispensable! How would they dismiss and control in a culture that viewed employees as individuals, needing sensitive handling. It would involve acknowledging their exclusivity thus admitting their value to the company. Perhaps business heads are wary of losing negotiating strength thus.

It is time though! Is it not time leaders began to care more deeply? It is high time they thought more, applied more and took the trouble to keep pace with an employee’s growth. This destructive cliché has placed productivity in a self-fulfilling downward spiral. Bosses refuse to admit people are indispensable and so crushed does this make the employees feel that they begin to act dispensable.

In the complex and modern work place that we literally live out our lives in, every single worker stamps the company's growth story in her personal way. People are crucial, central, cardinal.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Execution

Like a plump seed, rich with promise
Of growth and flush branching
Springs the idea of a friendship
That will endure life and ravaging

There is hope shy, timorously tender
A twenty four carat witnessing?!
Of you that is more than their reflection
In that moment begins the dying

One day you do not water the bond
Then ease out on the weeding
A veto on mulch is bound to bring
Whispering wheeze from sapling

Rooted in that yawning pain
Bothered at the blighting
Combating blast and howl and canker
The cusp comes into sighting

And yet it weathers the life force hardy
Through night and day yet smiling
For ties do not make us
We execute the tying!