Friday, November 30, 2012

I see the finish line (NaBloPoMo Day 30)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

It has been statistically proven that most New Year’s Resolutions are abandoned on the 12th of January. Strangely and coincidentally, I was able to stick to my NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) resolution of posting once every day only up to the 12th of November. As long as this period lasted, I was happy. The muse seemed to be favouring me.
The children went out of their way to oblige me. It was amazing the way they consented to sleep early, leaving me time to switch on the computer and write. Every morning I knew exactly what I was going to blog about. Ideas popped up from everywhere – newspapers, books, a chance conversation. It was all too good to be true.
It didn’t last. By Day 13, my mind was what they call a blank canvas. Nothing suggested itself. Books, magazines and newspapers started holding their ideas close to their chests. I was at the end of my tether. Time was running out. What would I blog about? Oh well, I thought. Once I put the kids to sleep and sat in front of the computer, something would come up.
The kids wouldn’t go to sleep that night. I don’t know what high-sugar goodie they were fuelled up on but they just refused to sleep. I was ready to tear my hair out. How would inspiration strike if I was too busy running after the kids?
The day went on and many others followed its example. I began to fall behind. I began to wonder how I would ever be able to catch up? What on earth had possessed me to sign up for this One-post-every-day business?
Having embarked on this exercise, I was determined to finish it. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t able to win. Finishing the race became important. But that posed another challenge, a variation on old mathematics problems. If one woman cannot complete one post in one day, then how can she complete 18 posts in a week?
It was tremendously stressful. But I was determined to fail gloriously, if at all. The ploy worked.
Slowly the muse began to smile on me. Inspiration began to knock on a regular basis. Putting the kids to bed is something that I haven’t got a handle on yet. But I gave it my best shot.
Thankfully Blogger allowed me to cheat. It offered me the facility of blogging and backdating my post, and helped boost my confidence. The sight of all those live posts did me good, even though my handful of readers probably realized what I was doing. Also, I dipped into my own writing, stuff that has never been seen by anyone but my closest friends, and put it on the page.
The exercise helped me. I am so excited at nearing the finishing mark, even though everyone else has probably packed up and gone home, that I am actually contemplating going through this NaBloPoMo business once again. The discipline has helped. I have learned something that writing gurus have always shouted themselves hoarse about. The more you write, the more you can write. In the end, there is no substitute for actual work. If you want to write, you have to roll up your sleeves and do it. In front of a computer, if that’s what works for you. Or on little scraps of paper with a pen or a pencil (the method that works for me). No amount of wishing or dreaming can help.
Before this month, I used to think that as a harried mother of two, I would never be able to find time to write. Now I know better.
There will always be things to do. Kids will need to be fed and looked after, menus will have to be planned and prepared. Deadlines at work will swoop down upon me with no less ferocity. But if writing matters to me, I will make time for it. Just as I make time for all the other things that matter to me.
If you’ve been with me on this journey so far, I’d appreciate it if you’d continue to drop by to check on me. And while you’re here, leave a comment. Or two. Or three. Or more.
If you like my posts, leave a long comment.
If you love them, make the comment longer.
If you hate it, better not saying anything. There is enough of hate in the world. Let’s not have any of it on this blog. If you leave a hateful comment, I will delete it. Ha!
If you can’t think of anything encouraging, laudatory and positive thing to say, just leave one of those “Kilroy was here” type of comments. I’ll understand that you are a man/woman of few words.
Having said that, I hereby declare NaBloPoMo 2012 to be a success.
Now to see if the resolutions I make at the beginning of Year 2013 fare any better.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Project Extermination (NaBloPoMo Day 29)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

Ogden Nash once said, “God in His wisdom made the fly, and then forgot to tell us why.”

Surely that can be said of the cockroaches too.

I have often wondered what induced the Creator to make the cockroach. Don’t tell me about the ecosystem. I’m sure something else could have been found to fill its place.

Cockroaches are never any good to the general public. They are just a nuisance, what with having to (although unwittingly) feed them and house them. And they do nothing to justify their keep. It seems strange then that they are allowed to exist in such large numbers when their absence would be so heartily welcomed. They aren’t even good to look at. The word eyesore would describe them to a T.

Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two categories. Those belonging to the former are strictly terrestrial. Unable to sever their relations with Mother Earth, they are seen scurrying about from place to place.

The latter of the aerodynamically stable breed are by far the more formidable. These have been known to fly at the remarkable speed of six-and-a-half feet every one and 3/4th seconds. The flight may not be the fastest in the insect kingdom but the landing does give the jitters.

The cockroach is universally recognised as a creature of the worst order. Call an opponent an oaf or a nincompoop or a rascal and you will find your expletives bounce back at you. Refer to him by any other word of abuse and your words might not have any effect. But call him a cockroach and you will see the rare spectacle of your enemy, quivering with rage and indignation, his self control shattered.

The above fact should suffice to impress upon you my feeling of utter disgust on seeing them. It should also convey my deep desire to witness the extermination of the entire race. I wait in hopeful anticipation of the day when the Ministry of the Conservation of Rare Species declares the cockroach as nearing extinction.

Meanwhile, let us use every weapon in our armoury. These guys may survive a nuclear blast, but they are powerless against poison and footwear. And if there are any people that enjoy eating weird foods, let us ship these creepy-crawlies to them. Hopefully, no one will speak up in their defence.

This article is also from the personal archive.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In defence of the Bombay local trains (NaBloPoMo Day 28)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

A famous American comedian once said, “Don’t knock the weather. Nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change it once in a while.” With sincere apologies to him, I would like to take the liberty to say, “Don’t knock our local trains. Nine-tenths of all amateur literary ‘geniuses’ in this part of the country wouldn’t be able to write a word if it weren’t for trains.”

This humble attempt at writing, for example, owes its existence to the Bombay local trains. I am of the opinion that our local trains are deserving of a little more respect than we have been accustomed to giving them.

For where else but here would you be regaled by a rendition of music ranging from Gandhiji’s favourite bhajan to the latest Hindi film rage, brought to you by a couple of urchins to the accompaniment of two little pebbles?

Where else but here would you be badgered by a whole crowd of little sales executives, graduates from Nature’s School of Business, marketing their wares which could be anything from hair clips to ribbons, from nighties to nail polishes, from fruits and vegetables to hair adornments of all kinds, all of them shouting at varying decibel levels, each trying to get to a higher crescendo?

Where else but here would you find ‘state-of-the-art’ technology fans that world only when you bring a slender object (preferably non-living) in contact with them?

Where else but here would you learn to balance on one foot for more than an hour or have someone stand on your foot and be able to do nothing about it except mutter under your breath simply because you don’t know who to yell at, thus learning the qualities of sublime patience and understanding, so very essential for success in today’s relationships?

Those people who have not had the opportunity of spending at least some time in a ladies compartment have been missing an opportunity which, for want of a better word, I shall term ‘interesting’. The ferocity with which they gobble bananas, guavas, idlis and other edibles would make them strong contenders for the eating records in the Guinness Book of World Records. One must be careful and see that one makes cautious manoeuvres with regard to locomotion if one wishes to avoid friction. When they fight for place to rest their tired limbs, it is like cocks fighting for a place to roost, though I am told the latter are more subtle.

The ladies compartment has often been compared to a fish market. I don’t see why the general compartment has been spared in this regard. In all fairness, I declare that the general compartment looks like a mass of buffaloes, quiet for most of the time, occasionally groaning when their horns butt into one another. The reason they don’t gossip is not because they don’t feel like it, but because they are too busy playing cards.

Trains, are thus, the very lifeline of Bombay. If the motormen ever went on strike, life in suburban Bombay would come to a standstill.

This last paragraph is for the reading pleasure (or pain) of those diehard critics of Bombay, who declare that Bombay is an unthinking, unfeeling city. They have only to spend a few minutes in one of our local trains to have their ideas refuted. For where else but here would you exchange tidbits about domestics, rising prices, recipes, working conditions and just about anything? Where else would you open your heart to a complete stranger? Where else would you live a fast life and yet have the time to stand and stare? Where else does the pulse of Bombay throb? Where would Bombay be without trains?

(Since I have been unable to write an original post, I have posted here my first piece of original writing, something I wrote in my second year of college. I showed it to a friend, who showed it to another, who showed it to her dad. Said dad was an editor at The Economic Times, and he gave me some valuable feedback that I still cherish. The piece was written when my lovely city was called Bombay. Sigh!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: THE EDGE OF THE MACHETE (NaBloPoMo Day 27)

Title: The Edge of the Machete
Author: Abhisar Sharma
Publisher: Westland
Pages: 333
My GoodReads Rating: 

The Edge of the Machete by noted journalist Abhisar Sharma is the second of The Taliban Conundrum trilogy, with The Eye of the Predator and The Dark Side of Me being Books 1 and 3.
CIA operative Jason Wilson has just been executed most brutally. His killer, Aamir Sherzai of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, a bloodthirsty jehadi, has the killing filmed and uploaded on YouTube.
Jason’s best friend and fellow agent Eduardo Gomez, Ed, for short, is eager to avenge his death and volunteers to be part of a secret mission to destroy, from the inside, a conglomeration of the most deadly terror organisations in the world, all of whom intend to kill in the name of religion.

Transforming into Sarfaraz Khan, he cleverly implants himself into the Beast, the heart of the most devious terror mission ever, located in Pakistan.

While there he meets the British-born white Shaun Marsh, now a converted Shahid Khan, who is led by circumstances and his own conflicting emotions to take up the jehadi cause.

The third outsider here is an Indian journalist, Rahul Sharma, who has been kidnapped and imprisoned in the Beast. All three are obstacles in the eyes of Sherzai, and it seems only a matter of time before they fall prey to the wiles of his machete.

With a plot like that, I was eager to see what the book would offer. The author has done a fantastic job of recreating the tensions and milieu of the hotbed of unrest and danger that is the AfPak region. His background as a seasoned journalist has helped him to make his fiction more realistic. There were many times when I got the impression that I was reading a most well-researched piece of non-fiction.
Sharma has been able to draw upon his 17 years of experience in broadcast journalism to create a backdrop that is fraught with peril for the infidel. Against this volatile backdrop, the author has created a fictional world that touches one with the sincerity of his intentions.

There were some things, however, that stuck out sorely, particularly the many typos and editing errors. Also, the tendency of so many of the characters to scratch their eyebrows with their fingernails is annoying. As is the author’s need to call attention to this habit.
One glaring inconsistency, Ed comes to learn of the events that led to Jason’s death when he reads Jason’s diary, handed to him by Sherzai. We do not get a glimpse of the contents of this diary, but we get to read a third-person account of the brutal killing. Since this entire section is preceded and followed by Ed’s response to the diary, one wonders if Jason’s ghost had returned to write down the gory details of how he was put to death, not to mention the gratuitous description of his sexual encounter.

Where the author slips up shoddily is when he tries to recreate the idiom of the Americans at the CIA headquarters in Langley. There is a world of difference between American English and British English, a fact that he does not seem to have taken into account. Sharma’s Americans get their slang wrong. They insist on peppering their conversations with words like ‘arse,’ when even the most cursory viewing of Hollywood films would have told Sharma that an American would have used the word ‘ass’ instead.
Also, a Senator’s repeated usage of the phrase, son of the soil, seems like a direct translation of our homegrown bhoomiputra concept. Similarly, the passages delineating the close friendship between Ed and Jason are annoying. ‘Brothers from different mothers’ is a cliché I would gladly have done without.

The book could have been made shorter, and tighter, had some sections been edited out. These include the Uzbeki torture scene, which do not necessarily propel the action onward, and could have been left out of the story without affecting it adversely.

The writing itself perks up remarkably once Ed dons the guise of Sarfaraz Khan, and stays that way even as it goes on to introduce us to Marsh, the second of three guys whose stories intersect and lead us on to the climax of this book.
Unfortunately, the back story, though interesting and remarkably well-written, just takes up too much paper, occupying more than two-thirds of the book, with Marsh’s story being the most detailed, followed by that of Ed. That might explain the short shrift given to Rahul Sharma, whose story starts in the here and now. We are told that he met his wife, Marsh’s ex, when he, and she, went to an ashram in Haridwar to exorcise themselves of their demons. At this point, the author mercifully realises that it is about time he tackled the main plot of the story and spares us the details of those demons.

Perhaps if there had been a little more of Sarfaraz and the psychological battle of wits that takes place between him and Ed, rather than the tired Bollywood technique of a talking reflection in the mirror and a slight swagger in the walk, it might have been more explosive. You feel a fair amount of sympathy for Rahul who is going to pay for his overeagerness for a good story with his life.

There were some parts of this book that were extremely well-written, and a few that stood out for all the wrong reasons, chiefly editing-related issues.

For me, this machete was dull in parts and sharp in others.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Later may be too late (NaBloPoMo Day 26)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

Our world is an intricate creation; the slightest loss
In this delicate balance will inevitably lead to chaos.

How paradoxical that looking after it, a task of importance
Is in the hands of man, a creature prone to greed and negligence.

Despite being dependent on Nature and her bounty
He little hesitates in rendering her resources scanty.

Whether one subscribes to Genesis of the Theory of Evolution
One admits to the scale on which Mother Earth has come to fruition.

Yet in ravaging her and reversing the earlier process
He has very soon carried his vices to an excess

The hills, valleys, forests, oceans and their wealth
Are steadily being depleted; openly, not in stealth.

It’s time to stand up and arrest these trends
If, for our past extravagances, we wish to make amends.

Heed this warning, rise to the challenge, or fate
Now is the time to act. Later may be too late.

This poem was written when I was in college. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Statue speaks (NaBLoPoMo Day 25)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

If you ask the average human being if he/she is happy, most will immediately think of it as a good opportunity to entertain you with a list of all the pains and worries that they suffer from.

Not I. My existence has its own problems, but I have learned to accept them stoically and to acknowledge that for me at least there will be no respite. I never complain. When I do, no one hears me anyway.

Most human beings have their happy moments and their unhappy moments. I just have an endless experience of the same kind of moments.

Scott Adams, the creator of the widely famous comic strip, Dilbert, said, “Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days the statue.”

Me? I’m always the statue. Figuratively. And literally.

I have a miserable existence. For the most part, I’m ignored. And that happens on my good days. People walk past me, an endless stream of men, women and children, old and young, hurrying, rushing, to get to work, to catch a train. Talking on the phone. Running.

On my not-so-good days, birds poop on me. Their droppings fall on my head, my shoulders, the folds of my granite clothes and the most on my right hand. I’m pooped upon all the time. The pigeons are the worst. I can’t react, much less fight back.

My arms ache but stretching my limbs is out of the question. Some days my nose feels tickled. And if all that isn’t enough, there is a homeless guy who lives around here (I suspect he isn’t all right in the head) who uses me as a clothesline to dry his dirty linen in public.

Thankfully, I was no great politician or statesman in my time. I shudder to think what might have happened had that been so. I recently read a newspaper. Actually a page from the newspaper got dislodged and hit me in the face). There were some food stains on it, as though it had been used to wrap something, possibly vada pav. I could actually smell the vada pav. It was that real to me. Memory is a strange thing.

The wind blew hard, trying to get the page to get away from my face. It obeyed, and settled down on my right hand. My right hand is always stretched out, you see, pointing at something out there on the distant horizon. A horizon I can no longer see, because your ugly buildings are everywhere.

The page was talking about the statue of some politician which had been desecrated. Smeared with goo, or dishonoured with a garland of shoes or something. I forget the details. The report said that a lot of people went crazy when that happened. They attacked some others, and a lot of people were injured. A curfew was announced. And some people couldn’t lay their hands on basic necessities.

Waste of energy, if you ask me. And all because a statue was insulted? Don’t they know that statues are beyond all this? Pigeon poop or garlands of shoes, they are both equally irrelevant in our scheme of things. Fretting over them is a waste of time and energy. Eventually the rain comes and washes it all off. The poop, that is. Not the shoes. The shoes just stink more. Thankfully, I can’t smell. Unlike human beings, I’m not stupid enough to choose to wallow in unpleasant memories.

Nor do I get any sycophants visiting me on my birth or death anniversaries. I’m one of those people in whose honour they erected a statue they forgot about. I have no followers, no disciples, no supporters. Not that I miss all that. How does it matter if you have a garland of fresh flowers one day and a coat of fresh paint on two days of the year? It won’t stop the pigeons from pooping.

I wish they hadn’t erected this statue to me though. For reasons that have nothing to do with the poop. I’d rather have had no statue and have people ask why not, than be burdened with this massive granite and iron body and have people ask why.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The age of internet explorers (NaBloPoMo Day 24)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

Technology has spoiled us rotten. It has made us slack.

In recent years, I have discovered within myself an increasing tendency to rely on technology even in situations where there is no technology to be relied upon.

For example, when we misplace our phones, we routinely call ourselves and allow the ringtone to lead us back to it. The trouble is that I expect this method to serve at all times. So when I can't find the TV remote or the newspaper or a set of keys, I am frustrated because the manufacturers of TV remotes and keys, and the publishers of newspapers don't equip them with ringtones or GPS technology to enable us to trace them.

Facebook has spoiled me too. Now whenever I like something, I wish there was a LIKE to click upon, to save me the trouble of committing myself to an actual verbal statement.

And when I make a mistake, I long to Undo it or go back to a previously saved version of things, when everything was to my satisfaction.

Who can remember telephone numbers anymore? And when was the last time you did any exploring outside the Internet?

This excessive reliance on the Internet, and I am supremely guilty of it (I use Google as a verb), is probably messing the neurons in our brain, causing parts of it to blink and shut down because they don’t feel so needed anymore.

We no longer remember information. We just don’t feel the need to, when any information in the world is just a Google-search away.

In a series of experiments, Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and her collaborators, Daniel M Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that people are more likely to remember things they do not think they can find using a computer and vice versa.

When I was in college, we didn’t have the Internet. So when we needed material for a presentation or paper, we would troop to our massive library and spend hours reading, making notes, trying to remember, forging connections between what we were reading right then and things that we remembered from a previous reading. I still remember how I gaped, with mouth open, no less, when I saw all the volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica ranged together in a row. The collective information within those pages seemed to be limitless.

When we participated in quizzes, we relied on extensive reading and our memory to help us sail through. Answers were not a click away.

Today, all we need to do is put in a string for a Google search, then copy-paste and save. If we don’t like the information we get, we can always revise the search string and try again. The next time we need the same information, we might remember the names of the websites and blogs where that information will be available. Or else we might remember the name of the file in which we have saved it, and the folder where the file resides. But the actual information itself? Now you’re asking for too much. We have Google to bail us out, don’t we?

What happens when a particular Google search takes us to a site with incorrect information? Let’s not think about that.

The advent of cellphones with their ability to store telephone numbers had a similar effect on our ability to remember numbers. There was a time when the average office employee could rattle off at least 20 telephone numbers, without thinking.

Today, we’re lucky if we can remember one number, and that our own. Why make the effort to remember, when we’ve got 100 numbers on Speed Dial, and our phones can ‘remember’ 500? I was forced to do a fair bit of recalling last year, when I lost the display on my phone suddenly. Most of the numbers had been saved on the phone itself, so moving the SIM card to another phone did not help. I had to dredge through my memory to retrieve almost forgotten numbers of friends and family members. It was a difficult task, and I was grateful for what memory threw up.

But what if memory hadn’t obliged? Just as muscles atrophy when not used regularly, so do synapses in the brain. Do we want our brains to dispose of our mental filing cabinets? What might happen to our memory banks then? Of course, memory banks themselves are quite suspect as those who are being cross-questioned in the witness box will be quick to tell you. As Austin O'Malley said, “Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food.”

Of course, it is entirely possible that we are worrying for nothing. Over the centuries, numerous people have worried that our memories might be adversely affected by inventions such as the gramophone, the printing press etc. Even the venerable Socrates had feared that the written word would cause humankind to lose its memories.

It’s certainly nice to have Google around. After all, it would be impossible to remember everything there is to know in an ever-changing world. But let’s not become too dependent on it. What would happen if the Internet were to vanish one day?

Friday, November 23, 2012

What's in a name? (NaBloPoMo Day 23)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

A woman in London has named her baby daughter, ‘Hashtag,’ in honour of Twitter. She is an ordinary woman, mind you, not a celebrity, so I don’t know what her excuse is. Celebrities, particularly of the Hollywood and popular music fraternity, have a history of giving their children names that are out of the ordinary.

Some examples: Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter is called Apple. Nicholas Cage named his son Kal-el, which was Superman’s name on his planet, Krypton. Singer Frank Zappa named two of his kids, Moon Unit and Diva Thin Muffin. Actress Alicia Silverstone named her son, Bear Blu. Sylvester Stallone named his son, Sage Moonblood. Gwen Stefani named her son, Zuma Nesta Rock.

I wonder why celebrities think their status makes them exempt from using their common sense when it comes to baby names. Joaquin Phoenix’s siblings all boast of dreamy, romantic names like Summer, Rain, Liberty and River. Even Joaquin changed his name to Leaf for some time because he didn’t feel as if he quite belonged to the family.

When Katie Holmes delivered a baby girl, Tom Cruise's spokesman announced that the baby would be named Suri, which meant princess in Hebrew and red rose in Persian. We would have told him that it means knife in some Indian languages.

Celebrities will be celebrities, with their feet high above the ground. What prompted the lady Jameson to pick up such a name is not known. Incidentally, Baby Hashtag’s mother, identified only by her last name, Jameson, chose to make the announcement on Facebook. She wrote, "Hashtag Jameson was born at 10 oclock last nite. She weys 8pounds and i luv her so much!!!!!!"

The twitterati were aghast at the choice of name and very quickly expressed their feelings with other trending hashtags like #Foolishparents, #YourParentsHateYou and #StupidestNameEver. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution poked fun at the name, joking that Hashtag’s sibling would be named “Retweet."

I shudder to think of the bullying and taunting that that little girl is going to face on the playground and at school. Unless this is one big elaborate joke or publicity stunt. What is increasingly more likely is that the child will fit in very well because she will be surrounded by other kids named Denim, Flying Rock and Chromosome.

In 2005, a Swedish couple named their baby boy, Oliver Google Kai. Another little baby in Sweden is called Lego. In 2011, an Israeli couple paid obeisance to Facebook, when they named their daughter, Like. Another gentleman from Egypt went further when he named his daughter, Facebook, apparently in honour of the website’s role in the Arab Spring that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power.

The search for the most unique baby name is sending parents to the weirdest sources. Baby name books and websites are not the only places of choice. Increasingly some parents, still the exception, thankfully, are looking up the dictionary, the shopping mall, the cinema and all around for inspiration.

In India, a lot of parents read up on Indian mythology to get the most unique name. Sometimes they try spelling a name differently. Sometimes, though, they just let their feelings and prejudices dictate their choice of name. In 2011, the district administration in Satara, Maharashtra, identified 222 girls under the age of 18, who had been named ‘Nakusha’ or ‘Nakushi,’ meaning "unwanted", without the traditional naming ceremony, because their families had hoped for boys. There is also a belief that if a girl is named Nakushi, the child born after her will be a boy.  These girls were subsequently either renamed by the district administration or asked to choose a name for themselves.

Weird names such as these have caused the governments of certain countries to take a keen interest in naming trends. New Zealand has banned names like Number 16 Bus Shelter, Fish and Chips (for twins), Lucifer, Duke, Messiah, Bishop, Baron, General, Judge, King, Mr, 89 C, D, I and T. Sweden has pronounced disfavour on names like IKEA, Metallica, Veranda, Q, Superman, Metallica and Elvis, and Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced “Albin”).

If you are in the UK, you may not name your child 4Real. And Chow Tow, meaning Smelly Head, is out in Malaysia.

So will baby Hashtag sign herself #? We will need to wait and watch.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Death shall not part (NaBloPoMo Day 22)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

This morning, I read the account of a woman, Shukria Barakzai who said, “When a mother is fighting for her children, there is no force in the universe that can silence her.”

As quotes go, it was tremendously inspiring. And true. Whether you are a mother or not.

We’ve all heard stories about women -- frail, helpless and pathetically wimpy creatures. Women who go through life like doormats, always suffering, always at the receiving end of humiliation, pain and debasement. Women who never think of questioning the treatment meted out to them, but accept their lot meekly, without protest. 

And yet these same women find the courage to fight back against the cruelties of spouses, inlaws and circumstances when their young are threatened. Bruised and battered women who will swallow blood, bile and tears, yet react violently when their children are in danger.

I have always been inspired by such stories, such women, who won’t give up, no matter how exhausted they are. They remind me of the uncommon strength that motherhood imbues us with. Their stories encourage us, mere mortals that we are.

And so, when I read of a woman, a mother, who did actually give up, and that in the most crushing way possible, I felt as though the loss was mine.

Today happens to be one month since the death of Kritika Patel, a 28-year-old housewife from Mumbai. No one knows what secret sorrow was crushing the woman.  She unburdened her heart to no one, and presented to all a picture of a woman in the throes of married bliss. And yet she took the unthinkable step of going up to the 18th floor of a 23-storey under-construction building at Kandivali, Mumbai, and leaping to her death. Even the note she inserted into the cover of her mobile phone offered no clue to the state of her mind.

The note, written in Gujarati, warned that her soul would find no peace if the cops “harassed” her husband and in-laws. It also said, “I’m to be blamed for the recent problems faced by my family, and I realise the family expenses have shot up because of me. I haven’t been able to make anyone happy. Nobody is responsible for the step I’m taking, certainly not my husband and in-laws, who took good care of me.” They say you can’t take anything with you. It seems to me that Kritika took some kind of fear with her.

The note also said that the jewellery which her parents had gifted to her at her wedding in 2009 should be returned to them.

A suicide raises so many questions which a note of a few lines simply cannot answer. I wonder why she chose that building. They had booked a flat on the 18th floor and would often visit the construction site. In fact, her husband worked as a contractor at the building. Was it just access? Or was she making a point in some confused, muddled way?

The workers at the site saw her enter the building with her daughter, who she must have picked up from her playschool just minutes before. The child had her schoolbag on her shoulders.

In her own way, Kritika said her goodbyes. Her mobile phone records indicate that she called her father and brother around 1 pm, when construction labourers saw her enter the building. It must have been a conversation filled with the ordinariness of life’s routines, the sweet things that Jaini had said and done, the meal she had prepared that day. Who knows? But it gave the elderly gentleman and his son no indication of the storm that must have taken hold of her heart, nor of the huge step she was planning to take.

At 2 pm, Kritika must have hugged the child tight. That is how I imagine it. She must have hugged her, as if it would break her heart to leave her, as if she’d never let go. But let go she did. They landed in a pool of blood on the 5th floor, which was meant to be the parking lot for the building.

Suicides always sadden me. But this one hurt me even more, because Kritika did not die alone. Of course, no death happens in isolation. Every person who dies takes with him/her the happiness, laughter and joy of many others. But in this case, Kritika died clasping her two-year-old daughter, Jaini. Her note had said, “I love Jaini the most, and have never left her alone, even for a day. Hence, I’m taking her with me.”

According to the newspapers, this is the sixth case, since March 2011, of a parent committing suicide along with children. The rationale for the death-suicide is almost always the same. One person has lost the desire to live, and does not know what will become of the child. In some cases, the parent feared for the child’s safety after his/her death. But in almost all cases, the parents took the drastic, irreversible step of cutting the slender hold of life, not only for themselves, but also for those they were duty-bound to protect.

I’m not going to pass judgment on these hapless people, but I often wonder how they could bring themselves to kill their own kids. Where a parent’s first instinct is to protect a child, even at the cost of life, how much despair must these people have felt before being compelled to take such a step?

I pray that you and I may never know such despair.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A T-shirt tale (NaBloPoMo Day 21)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

He was well-endowed around the middle and his bloodshot eyes indicated the remnants of a hangover; the hair on his head was patchy, and he had used the few strands he had to cover the bald pate as best as he could. With some days old stubble, he looked like something the cat might have dragged in, if she had nothing better to do, but you had to hand it to the guy. He was sky-high on confidence. The legend on his T-shirt read, “Every three seconds there is a girl falling in love with me.”

My friend and I were much younger then, so blame immaturity for the display of insensitivity on our part, but the truth is that we took one good look at his T-shirt, compared it with the rest of him, and giggled like schoolgirls. In our defence, I must say, that is exactly what we were. We said to each other, "Somebody's got to find this girl and stop her," all the while laughing and marveling at our own cleverness.

Was his confidence so strong that it could withstand the damage inflicted by his appearance? Or was he just a guy with a good sense of humour, someone who liked laughing at himself? Or was his confidence what it was because of the message on his T-shirt?

Suddenly he caught sight of us eyeing him. His body language perked up even more. He lifted up his T-shirt by the shoulder seam and let it fall, a gesture that said, Look at me.

At that moment we caught the faint whiff of a truth that we couldn’t quite articulate: The Message is the Massage.

Today T-shirts have come a long way from the “Make Love, Not War” messages they used to sport some decades ago. Today they are a popular mode of self-expression, the only item of clothing that is used to crack a joke, share a message, whether meaningful or offensive.

The message on T-shirts generally indicates the wearer’s state of mind, but we have all seen the odd wearer of a T-shirt who has no idea what the message on his Tee means, creating its own brand of irony. Like when a beggar is seen wearing a T-shirt that says, “My dad’s an ATM.” Or the tapori on the street corner declares on his much-too-tight-how-does-he-breathe tee, “I’m the handsome devil your mother warned you about.” Yeah, right.

After the birth of La Niña, my husband and I had gone shopping at a popular mall, and he was thrilled to find a T-shirt for her with “My Daddy is the Best” scrawled across it. Thankfully for my ego, they had another saying the same about Mommy Dearest. Of course, we bought both.

The T-shirt was the original mode of casual, spontaneous self-expression. Long before Facebook and Twitter and blogs and micro-blogs became a part of our lives, we had T-shirts. And the best thing: unlike the energy-intensive online modes of communication and self-expression, T-shirts are washable.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The pleasures of hide-and-seek (NaBloPoMo Day 20)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November
A simple game of hide-and-seek created a fair amount of drama for the police and heartache for the parents last month. Two eight-year-old boys in Rabale, Navi Mumbai, sneaked into a parked truck to hide. The truck driver, oblivious to the playful stowaways in his vegetable truck, put the vehicle into gear and sped off, not stopping until he reached Oshiwara, in Mumbai, two hours later.
Imagine his surprise when he peered into the rear of his truck and found more than the cauliflowers and cabbages that he had expected to be his sole passengers. The poor man, frightened of being accused of spiriting away the two boys, who were now in tears, marched them to the nearest police station, where the authorities jumped to conclusions, just as he had feared.
The story ended well for the boys, who were reunited with their parents, and for the blameless driver who was reunited with his vegetables.
The story reminded me of old, long-forgotten games of hide-and-seek. Back in the days when I was growing up, summers were a long, lazy period that coincided with the end of the academic year. Most families were SIMK (Single income Many kids), which left precious little disposable income for parents to buy toys or video games. Hide and seek was one game which was a sturdy favourite, with tremendous staying power, even as kaccha limbus became pucca limbus on the field.
We had strict rules in those days. The territory was carefully marked, so that nobody dared stray out of it. Anybody’s home was automatically ruled out as a hiding place. There had been instances of people going home to eat and rest, while the rest of us searched high and low for them.
There were two keys to succeeding at the game. You had to find a hiding place that no one would find, and you had to stay there. Both were challenging tasks. As a child, I used to try and tag along after older kids, choosing to hide with them. This act rendered me temporarily unpopular. Nobody likes a tagalong when they are hiding, and most people like a tagalong even less when he or she seems incapable of remaining still while in hiding.
Within a few minutes of hiding, I would begin to feel uncomfortable. I would want to stretch, whisper to the person who was my companion in hiding, peek and see what the situation was like outside. Hide and seek demands tremendous self-control. And little children clearly aren’t built for it.
Nor did good places to hide suggest themselves easily. Generally, my friends and I used to hide wherever our older siblings had been hiding, not realizing that it was the first place where we would be find out.
Hide-and-seek has now made a comeback in my life. My son, 18-month-old El Niño, happily hides behind curtains, not realizing that his fabric hiding place is not long enough to cover his fat, little baby toes. My daughter, La Niña, three years older than him, has the maturity to hide for slightly longer than he can and to choose better hiding places, but lacks the ability to refrain from giggling throughout.
For my part, I studiously try to ignore the sight of the chubby toes and the sound of the giggling, just so that the enjoyment that they, and I, derive from the game can be lengthened. Playing hide-and-seek with my kids offers me a fantastic opportunity to relive my childhood and share theirs.
Ready or not, here I come.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Lure of the Back Benches (NaBloPoMo Day 19)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November
What is the lure of the back benches? When we were kids, we were told to studiously avoid sitting at the back. That was where the students with the wrong attitude towards their studies sat.

Good students, the ones who wanted to do something with their lives, stayed far away from that lot. The philosophy was as intractable as Good girls go to heaven, and let’s not talk about where bad girls go.
In our school at least there was no fear of front benchers ever losing their way and ending up on the back benches, at least at the beginning of the school year. On the first day of school we used to be divided into four rows; the girls in each row would stand in order of their height. The shortest in front, the tallest behind. That was the method that served to handle the tricky subject of seat allocation. Of course occasionally there would be a tall student who would complain that she could not see what was written on the blackboard or parents might request the teacher to seat their daughter in the front so the teacher could closely supervise her work. When that happened, the delicate seating arrangement in the class would be seriously upset.
The short students, who had been dislodged by the tall ones sitting in their place, would look pathetically out of place on the front and middle benches. Since the tall ones up ahead would effectively obscure their vision, there would be constant bobbing up and down to the consternation of the middle benchers now forced to sit on the back benches.
One academic year, one of the teachers went overboard with an idea that must have seemed very revolutionary to her. She arranged us by order of height, but then decreed that students would spend a week on every bench, then move to the bench behind the following week. When you reached the last bench and spent a week there, you moved up to the front bench, a position described as “right beneath the teacher’s nose,” and started the cycle all over again. The method was meant to allay the anxiety of parents whose children were so tall that they had to sit on the back benches. While the move sought to introduce an aspect of equality, it only ensured confusion every Monday morning, not to mention the mandatory bobbing that continued throughout the year.
Back in those days, conscientious parents used to believe that the back benches were where the no-good students used to naturally gravitate. Much later when a certain APJ Abdul Kalam became one of India’s most respected presidents, we learned that he had been a backbencher in his day.
Of course, back then most parents would not have been fazed by this piece of information. They would persist in believing that the back benches were a hotbed of unrest where students dozed, read comics, played noughts and crosses, nibbled on snacks (with their elbows on the desk and their palms firmly covering their mouths), lobbed crumpled paper balls or paper rockets at the front and middle benchers, passed notes to each other in class (how grownups dreaded this one) etc. Today’s back benchers probably spend their time texting or surfing or chatting.
Generally teachers went through life with a deep suspicion of the back benchers. They always assumed that the back benchers were up to no good. In thinking so, the teachers were not always right, but of course, they were never totally wrong either.
The smartest teacher, however, was rarely able to catch a back bencher red-handed, in the act of doing any of the aforementioned activities. Sometimes she would make a vain attempt, but would have to cross so many hurdles, in the shape of school bags and umbrellas, on her way to the last bench, that it would give the culprit enough time to hide the crime and wipe away the traces.
In college, I came to know of people who would reach class 15 minutes before the lecture began, just so that they could grab a cosy seat at the back.
The funniest incident of migration between front and back benches was what I had a chance to see during my time in SCM at Sophia’s. I won’t name names but there was one particular male professor, not particularly good looking, but a renowned author and journalist and a proficient speaker, whose lectures used to see the class of all-girls struggling to get a place on the front benches. This professor’s class would be followed by a professor, a practicing lawyer, who took the Media and Law class. This man had an unfortunate tendency to eject squirts of spit when he became vociferous in class. Naturally, his classes saw all the girls tumbling over each other in their haste to catch a seat on the last bench.
This year, La Nina, my daughter, started her first year of kindergarten, and I found myself telling her to make sure she sat on the first bench, as close to the teacher as possible.
Ah, well, that proves I’m a parent. Some things will never change.
In case you’re wondering, I was always a middle bencher.


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