Thursday, February 26, 2015

Empowerment (Micro Fiction)

The presentation began to roll. Nice, understated music, pastel
colours and catchy taglines. ”Rise from home-makers to nation-makers”, Narendra Modi.  And, “The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women”, Charles Malik. There was more, “Can you better the condition of your women? Then there will be hope for your well-being. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now”, Swami Vivekananda.

 The smell of self-satisfaction overpowered the lemon grass room freshener.  A panellist of high achieving women sat on the red carpeted dais, their eyes skimming the heads of awe struck but just a wee bit intimidated audience. They avoided meeting anyone’s glance head on, one never knew what one might be asked to pitch in with. Mahima, a young, earnest woman, nearly driven into the ground with exhaustion and the burden of having taken on too much held the mike, “Ladies and Gentlemen, at the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, the challenge does not stop at empowering them, we have to ensure they are able to stay empowered.”

One after another, the women leaders nodded and spoke, sharing their stories of courage and grit. “This is a wonderful time to be a woman,” said the nation’s topmost woman CEO. “The sky is the limit,” came from the India Air Force’s first ever woman sky diver. Space scientists, best-selling authors, national activists, renowned artists, everyone was eager to contribute to the country’s feminine growth story.

Mahima was kept busy introducing the speakers, connecting with the hall full of audience, coordinating the digital communication and maintaining eye contact with the hospitality team. Her bosses looked on at her with an indulgent admiration, missing completely her compulsive vigil at the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime placed strategically under the lectern, but there was no message from Sarthak.

It had been two months. Mahima’s heart was sore, a yawning crevice splitting her down the middle. She half feared she was losing sight of herself in that dark hole. “Thank God for my work!” she often repeated to herself. “People like me in my company. They appreciate me. This is my home now. I cannot depend on anyone. I am alone, all by myself. I cannot burden anyone with my troubles. I have let my parents down. I hate whining. Everybody is dealing with their own issues,” her self-talk had become increasingly forced and obsessive.

To her numbing ears, it sounded like an explosion. Startled out of her brooding, it dawned that the cracking sound was that of several pairs of palms coming together in applause. “Mahima Dabhral… Mahima Dabhral,” her name was swelling out and over the hall. “And as a token of our appreciation of her outstanding performance, we award her the Star Employee Badge 2015,” the man at the mike looked faintly familiar! She shuffled up the two steps to receive the trophy, smiling vacantly at her startled employer. She had called her Dad the night before, “Baba, I am going to be on the Forbes list one day.” He had snorted dismissively, “You would still have to get married!”

“I walked out of my home. I am never going to call up Baba and Amma ever again. I only have my cat. I am alone”, intoned the voice in her head.

It was past 11 pm when she let herself into her silent apartment. “Jerry, Jerry,” she called out to her cat. There was no answer. The window was open. Jerry too had abandoned her. “I cannot trust anyone,” Mahima collapsed on the ledge and began to shut down, a faculty at a time. The red ants saw her from the tree overhanging the window. They began to pick their way to her, beginning with her forearms. 

Anxiety (Micro Fiction)

Driving home along the Sardar Patel Marg, Kunal decided to give his usual road rage a break. It was Saturday evening and there was the delicious prospect of an entire day ahead for him to do as he pleased. He turned up the car radio volume so as not to miss Bahua’s punchlines. ‘What a talent for spontaneity,” he chuckled to himself, scanning the traffic to see if other drivers were smiling as well.

“I am going to start my day with a bicycle ride. It would be a good day to go shopping for that barbecue grill. On the way home, I could pick up the non-veg from ‘Ham Aadmi Party’ at the Khanna market. It has been a while since I caught a play at the National School of Drama. Must check if a festival is currently on,” Kunal’s smile broadened at the multiple prospects.

The snarl showed no signs of fraying. From his vantage point on the flyover, the view was of an expanse of metallic roaches, sullen in their impatience to get home. You couldn’t even call it a crawl. The vehicle merely oscillated in their spots. Kunal swiped his Samsung smartphone, curling his right toes simultaneously to relieve the stiffness that came from manipulating car controls over extended drives. The newly installed “Hootsuite” on his Galaxy Tab gave him a stab of satisfaction, “Let me quickly manage my social network,” he sailed through his twitter, facebook and linkdIn feeds.

The red light ahead had come back on for the third cycle. “What a pretty young thing,”Kunal’s gaze halted briefly over the driver of a neighbouring Metallic Woodland Brown Renault Duster. “Tan! Nice colour. Well maintained,” he checked the car out first. “I wonder how she would be in bed,” Kunal caught himself visualizing the woman. He turned his face away to the black Scorpio on his left. “These defence guys really burn fuel on my money. China right there, wants to gulp down Tawang but our defence ministry will not end their pity party.”

At the end of an hour and a half of numbing negotiation running through the basement garage parking, a ride in the lift, when he let himself into his apartment he caught sight of the dinner invite on the corridor table. He had forgotten! The earlier enthusiasm at the week end dimmed somewhat at the thought of hauling his tired body in a nifty ceremonial to a fake social space where the jolly mask had to be kept firmly in place.

Kunal began his deliciously anticipated Sunday with a hangover. “I might as well complete my visa application online while I lounge in the bed,” he gathered all his paraphernalia before settling back with a double mug of hot tea. Two subheads down the format, his eye began to hover over the bright yellow Sticky Note taunting him from the upper corner of the laptop screen. “Dad and Mum’s anniversary, better order the cake and flowers while I am online,” he switched screens. While he was taking a call on the flower colours and the cake flavour, there was a pop-up with the Indo-Pak cricket score from Melbourne. He dived for the remote control, “How could I have forgotten? The whole country is out there, Rajdeep Sardesai calling cricket our religion and all…I can’t miss this match!”
The doorbell chimed. Kunal rose to answer in a state of mild irritation. “Sir, we are holding a welfare meet in the society park to discuss a cleanliness drive, please come down and join us.” 

Kunal’s free day had begun to make him really anxious!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Confessional (Micro Fiction)

Some people can give you both, a nick in the stomach and a stab in the heart. You are never
completely sure of the emotion they inspire.

Ira felt buffeted between sour jealousy and an admiring envy around Janice. “What is it about this woman? She enters a room in a cloud of music and leaves it in the debris of despair. It feels like the sun came in and then there is the cloud in her wake.”

The two shared history. Alumnae of the class of 1995 at the St. Mary’s Convent Allahabad, they had gone their ways in college. The sharpest image in Ira’s memory of her years with Janice was of their last day together at the Children’s Park, near their favourite concrete Elephant slide. Janice was twirling and shaking her ‘churmura cone’ in an effort to get the green peas up. Ira was silent with the effort of absorbing the news that Janice and family would be moving to another town on a transfer.

“I feel sick,” she remembered muttering to herself. They were moving out of the park gate towards the cycle stand. The evening was nearly upon them and there was an annoying anticipation of maternal stress at home, “You must come home before dark,” their mothers made a habit of worrying themselves to ill health. The two had mounted their black, lady’s Hero bicycles and were nearly out on the main road when Janice had braked abruptly, almost causing Ira to fall. Ira remembered them pulling over to the side. Janice had stood there on one foot, the other resting on the right pedal. The words would not come, only her eyes shone extra bright. “Are you feeling all right?” she had asked. She recalled the determined shake of Janice’s head and they were both off, soon enough, towards their respective homes.

Now, a decade and more later, they were back in the same space, two well-trained professionals at the TV 20, a news and entertainment channel. Ira was a writer-cum-production manager and Janice, a highly successful news anchor and analyst. What was missing was their old connection, that sweet sentiment of adolescence, bordering on the romantic. Ira pinched her forearm hard, “Idiot!”

“Hello, but how long is Janice going to take in the conference room, her computer has been blinking on and off with that floral screen saver,” Ira dragged her thoughts back to their office. She drew closer to Janice’s table in an absent minded flow, “I could put the machine into hibernation,” she tapped the cursor pad smartly, focused on the left corner bottom icon. But her peripheral vision caught the bold black letters right at the top of the screen: New Age Online Confessional! There was an incomplete note, “I confess to almighty God, and to you, dear brothers and sisters. I am told I have a disease and have sinned for I am consumed by a “degrading passion” for my childhood friend Ira. It is a lust that will destroy our physical bodies, ruin relationships and bring perpetual suffering to our souls. I honour your word, seek your salvation and ask for your forgiveness. I understand that I will never inherit the Kingdom of God. I am grateful for your respect and sensitivity. I do not wish to walk on hot sands under a rain of fire. My friend must not so much as guess or else…”

Ira moved back heavily, rubbing her eyes with violence. They had begun to smart with the grit of agonized emotions.                                                                                                                            

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Delhi World Book Fair Feb 2015

Naveen Valsakumar

Narinder Jit Kaur

Rohit Khilnani

Neeta Chaudhari and Deepshikha Khosla

Rajeev Mahajan

Deepa Basu

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

'Googly Gaathas' at the Delhi World Book Fair 2015

With Vandana Valsakumar of Notion Press
With Jana Pillay, Co-founder Notion Press

With Class X batchmate Sushila and kids (KV Pachmarhi)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Googly Gaathas come home

My copies came today

Hospitality (Micro Fiction)

Asmita was your typical Indian mother. Guests were gods and friends of her children avatars of God. The household pulled out all stops when the young people came visiting. Not only would all the domestic services be pressed into action, family members took time out to be social around the visitors. The best of snacks would be served in the fanciest of cutlery. The farthest nook of the pantry would be dredged up to rustle every possible snack. “Girija, pull out the dry fruits and slice some apple. Isn’t there something in the freezer, are the sausages over? Steam them quickly,” the help at home was used to the drill.

Smiti bustled around the dining table while her friend Saurabh flicked his phone screen. “Mum, why don’t you let the eats be, he will help himself if he wants to,” Smiti’s voice held a speck of exasperation.

“Come, come…try the chips Saurabh. Would you care for some fruit juice?” Asmita was unfazed by the lack of response from their guest. A lifetime of conditioning had rendered her incapable of registering anything but gratitude for hospitality. One corner of her mind did curl at a certain look that passed between her daughter and the boy but the generic focus on playing a role did not permit any great realization.

“How are your parents? Where do they live? What does your father do?” went her one way friendliness, articulated to put the guest at ease.  Saurabh had begun to shift, his chair scraping a few times. The smile was in place but his hair had begun to lose its shape. He lowered his head a little, the spectacle frames screening his gaze safely.

“Smiti, would your friend prefer lemonade? Ask him to stay back for dinner. Where is he going to go eating now, his roommate is out of station as it is.” A quick dash into the kitchen to brief the cook and Asmita was back with the guest, “Twenty minutes, the food will be on the table. Would you like to freshen up?”

Smiti led him away in the direction of the bathroom. There was the sound of urgent whispers, almost a verbal duel. “Are they arguing?” the mother knit her brows, quickly dismissing the thought , “Can’t be, they are such sweet kids. It is so wonderful to meet friends of our children, we must make them feel at home. It builds faith and trust and communication with the young people.”

“Auntie, I will be making a move. It is getting late and I have an exam to give tomorrow,” Saurabh had begun to edge towards the front door.

“You don’t 'give' an exam beta, you 'take' an exam,” Asmita smiled her indulgence. Two pairs of eyes met again over her happy head.  “Do come again!” she trailed after the pair to the lawn gate.

“Mum, I will just walk him to the bike,” Smiti forced a smile at her mother.  Asmita nodded encouragingly and held back a little, all the time staying in their line of vision. In a few moments, the mother daughter pair was strolling back into the house. “Mum, I need to get going, there is a workshop planned at college,” Smiti escaped into her room and within seconds, her ‘getting ready’ music had come on, audible through the door.

Asmita was still gathering up after Saurabh when an angry vibration startled her. Smiti’s phone was protesting. Just as she lifted it, the screen lit up, “Dude, your Mum is painful, too much formality man…not meeting you at home ever again!” 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Googly Gaathas

My  book "Googly Gaathas" by Neerja Sangha (my maiden second name) will be on display at the New Delhi World Book Fair taking place from the 14th February to the 22nd February in Hall No. 64 at Stall No. 11. There are heavy discounts and promotional activities planned. I will be there on the 16th Feb until the lunch hour.

Friday, February 6, 2015

It is coming!

The book I have been threatening to write