Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Hundred Mistakes

Shishupala's mother knew that her son was destined to die at the hands of Krishna. She begged him to please spare her son.

Krishna promised his aunt, "I will forgive a hundred errors..."

The mother was content, thinking she had bought her son redemption with that promise.

At Yudhishthira's Rajasuya Yajna, ignoring warnings from others, Shishupala insults Krishna and continues to do so till he reaches his quota of 100. At 101th insult, Krishna lets fly his discus and beheads Shishupala.

Devdutt Pattnaik, in the notes at the end of the chapter on Shishupala in his book 'Jaya' points out that the mother sought Krishna's promise not to harm her son, but did not caution her son not to give Krishna a reason.

So many times I see children running to their mothers with complaints and their mothers immediately taking up arms on their children's behalf. Never are they asked for the complete picture, nor helped to take responsibility for their actions. When they make a mistake, some mothers brush it aside, and expect other children to overlook it... They are not taught to forgive others and forget small oversights. When they feel slighted, they are not taught to rise above the situation.

As a mother, many of us take our role as protectors too seriously. But we are not going to be there all the time. Children will grow up to be adults, out in the world on their own. These very things that seem small and insignificant in childhood will lead to bigger and unpalatable personality traits that will be hard to overlook and forgive. They will not know how to handle being ignored or rejected. They will not know how to be accepted... As parents, we will be unable to help them at that stage.

Or, if that becomes the norm, will that cease to matter?

  

Friday, August 14, 2015

To Do As You Please

The car jolted through the roads, dipping into potholes and bumping over humps. Kani checked her watch. There was still time to reach the venue.

But as if on cue, the traffic slowed down near a main junction and the car came to a stop at the signal. She looked up at the timer as it ticked in a countdown from 45 to 0. She braced for the car to start, but the traffic didn't budge. Horns blared, to no avail. The traffic flowing from the other side had not stopped, despite it turning green. A third side entered the fray and within minutes, there was chaos, each trying to cut in and effectively. There was no traffic police and like the proverbial mice playing when the cat is away, the people jumped the signal as if they would be stuck on the road forever otherwise.

Kani grimaced, pained at this simple lack of discipline. Her driver switched the official beacon light on and forced her way through, a few people tailgating in her car's wake.

The roads were smooth till they entered the street. She had to close her nose. The sewage water was overflowing and the driver drove cautiously, for fear of getting stuck in a ditch. An SUV with a party flag drove past more confidently, brazenly, splashing slush generously all around. "Ugh!" she exclaimed.

She entered the apartment where the meeting was to be held. She was welcomed warmly, obsequiously by the residents. Her experienced eyes quickly assessed the situation. She could see people standing in loosely formed groups. Some were clearly the residents of the apartment. There were a few who looked like they had come from the nearby slum. They looked uneasy and militant. There should have been a third group, but hardly surprising that it was missing.

The secretary of the apartment association whispered in her ear, "The hospital management team that was supposed to meet got held up in a meeting and were unable to come..."

She pursed her lips and nodded as she walked towards the community hall.

The hall filled up as she took her place facing the crowd. The secretary stood up, welcomed her and introduced the topic - the overflowing sewage that had made living there and walking on the road impossible.

"Madam, after much investigation by your department, it has been found that the hospital's waste is getting into the drains and clogging them..." he submitted humbly.

The people in the audience started murmuring. "Such a large hospital, and they cannot control it?" "How are you going to stop this?" "It is an environment problem..." "How much are they paying in bribe?" demanded the educated.

"Children cannot play on the streets!" "The water enters our homes!" "The water mixes with our drinking water!" the slum people added their voice.

She got up and raised her hand to calm them. She had asked for a projector and connected her laptop. Images came up, of garbage being thrown near the drains by the slum people. One man had stuffed sack full of bricks in the manhole to stop the sewage from entering the slum area. The residents of the apartment looked shocked.

The slum people became quiet.

She silently played another set of slides. Sanitary napkins, used condoms, plastic covers in manholes clearly inside the apartment complex.

The residents fell silent.

"We provide the services. Do you want us to police its use also at all times?" she asked quietly.

She packed her laptop and left the hall, refusing the offer of coffee and snacks. The next day was Independence Day and she had to be early at the office for flag hoisting.



Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Engagement Ring

She was pretty but poor. He was attracted to her, he knew that. Her calm, efficient and friendly manner were added charms. But what pleased him most was the way she held herself with quiet dignity. Only her sense of dressing betrayed her poverty.

Poornima was a data entry operator in Suresh's office, but showed a willingness to learn and assume greater responsibilities. Her friendliness had won her many admirers in the office, not the least of them being Suresh. She was the only one who teased him despite the layers that separated them. Truth be told, she made him laugh like no one else did.

But he could not ignore the chasm that separated them; and he could not ignore how the more he thought of the chasm, the more he thought of her so that he was losing sleep.

When his mother placed photos of prospective brides, it was her face that stood before him. This was madness! He called her to his room one day on the pretext of some work and slowly extracted her story - he expected it would be abhorrent and it would cure him of this infatuation. It was just as he expected - drunk father, frequent fights between parents, wayward siblings. But she shone through it like gold treated in fire. Her maturity in realising the degradation her situation could bring and her courage in breaking free...

What was the chasm on the face of such vision? He would fill up the gap, he decided. He would make her worthy of his status in life.

When he proposed, he expected her to jump with joy. What he saw was surprise, hesitation, and withdrawal. He wooed her gently, persuaded her to consider the offer and when she accepted, treated her royally. When she resisted being pampered, he laughed, pitying her for having grown up in deprivation. She smiled, and he thought he detected pity there. He brushed it off.

Their engagement date was fixed and he assured her he meant business. He assumed her scepticism was because she did not believe her good luck to last.

"I want to get you a ring for the engagement," she said and took the measurement of his ring finger.

He chuckled. "It's okay darling. You select and send the bill to me," he told her, sure that he would have to change it. She merely smiled and left.

No bill came and he wondered what she was getting him. His friends' surprise at his choice of such a bride, his mother's silent protest, his father's open criticism... he wondered if he was making a mistake. All such doubts vanished when he saw her. But when away from her, he wondered if he should give a long gap before the wedding happened.

The engagement day dawned bright and sunny. He felt elated as he got ready for the event. The event was not as bad as he had expected - her family was uncouth but maybe for her sake, better behaved than he would have hoped for. Still, they were an embarrassment - loud and flashy.

When, after the religious rites, it was time for the rings to be exchanged as per modern diktat, Suresh took the one he had bought for her out. She demurely showed her finger and their colleagues clapped as the golden petal slipped easily on her finger.

He waited apprehensively as she took out his ring. His heart sank. Was it silver or some plain white metal? He covered her hand with his. She was surprised as she looked at him. He leaned towards her and whispered, "Take the ring I got just in case."

She was holding two rings now - a golden one and the white one she had got. She clutched the two in her hand and paused. Then slowly she slipped the golden one on his finger.

She fell silent after that.

When they met alone the next time, she was playing with the white ring. "Why did you not want this?" she asked.

He picked it up and laid it on the table, between them. "I didn't want people laughing at you, Poorni."

"I picked it up with great love, because you mean so much to me..."

"Then it is better that you leave this cheappiece out of the equation!" he snapped, pushing it away. The ring bounced and fell on the floor below the nearby table.

She looked shocked. She got up, picked it up and came back to the table. "This is my lifetime's savings. A platinum ring for the unique man who loved me despite my shortcomings, I thought." His jaw dropped. "Even if it was cheap, as you think it is, if you had treated it with respect, I would have believed you truly love me. But I think you only truly love yourself, the image you have built of yourself - a magnanimous man marrying a poor girl," she said coldly.

She removed the gold ring. "It is not the gold you gave that I care for, but that it was you who gave it."

She turned and walked away, spurning the gold and the riches. They were no price for her dignity and self-respect.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Amoeba Woman

The sun shone down Amoeba Town, Moe Street, Ba Resort.

Moe - not the same Moe as Moe the street, and no descendant of the said Moe either - floated by the water, waiting to take the plunge. She loved the warm soil, but needed to move into the water for her next mission.

She closed her eyes and drifted, and... bang! Her eyes snapped open at the sudden impact and she looked up in shock. "Watch where you are going, lady," said he and floated off, leaving her furious. She was wrong and she couldn't blame him. But his attitude had rubbed her the wrong way and instinct told her he was the upper crust, the ones that invaded the brain.

Suddenly she was surrounded by the amoeba of the third variety, the dumb ones who ate each other and she swiftly moved off to another side.

She enjoyed the time in the sun before she found the next home in some digestive tract. Maybe today was the day, instinct told her, and right enough, felt herself being lifted up and passing the lips into a woman's mouth and down and, "Yippeee!!!" she screamed, elated at sliding down. It never ceased to excite her.

"Shut up!" she heard someone say. It sounded like an echo and she looked around.

"Who are you?"

"Nigel. I am trying to get something done here, and you are disturbing me..."

She frowned. "Do I know you?"

"No. And you are not supposed to be here," he replied angrily.

"Who are you to say that?" she demanded.

There was a pause. "Nigel," he said, as if that was supposed to mean something.

"And...?"

"Ssh..." he shushed her.

She could feel her host's heart beat rise. "Don't shush me!" she snapped.

There was a pause. "Hello!" she called out and suddenly saw a form sliding towards her in high speed. It jettisoned her, pushed her down and she landed on soft tissue, with the form crushing her. Nigel jumped off and glared at her. "When I shush you, you remain shushed, get it?"

"How did you do that?" she asked in wonder, and apprehension.

"I told you, I am Nigel. Haven't you heard of me?" She shook her head. "Well, I can do both brains and stomach if I want to... Helps keep our species alive. And right now, I am on a mission. I don't see why you are here. You are not part of the mission, are you?"

She was trembling as she shook her head. "Well, this host we are living in - she is going to get us to someone who is trying destroying the planet. That guy is designing a bomb and planting it in Washington DC!"

But Moe wasn't listening. "How can you do both?" she asked.

He frowned. "That's immaterial."

"You are Jel's man..."

"Y-yes. So?"

She turned away. "No wonder."

"No wonder, what?"

"You are just like him! You chew people's brains, and have become just like them - full of yourself, feeling important, indifferent!"

"Hey! What nonsense! You can't speak like that about Jel! How do you even know him?"

Moe flipped over. "I...I...never mind how I know him."

"You are just a stomach bug... How can you know about Jel?" he demanded. When she did nor respond, he said, "You are Moe!"

She was shocked. "How do you know?"

"I know. No other stomach bug can know him... You left him!"

She nodded. "He was becoming too human," she whispered.

He was silent for a minute. "And you think I am becoming like him?"

She was silent. Then she glanced at him mischievously and nodded. "All that chewing of human brain - it is bound to rub off."

He chuckled. "It has more spice than other hosts. I love the human brain. And you? How do you deal with being only a stomach bug?"

"Even that is nice and spicy," she laughed.

She felt the blood flow increasing. She nudged Nigel.

"How do we save the planet?" she asked softly.

"If I can get into his system, I can stop his brain from working... I have to leave now." He started climbing up. He paused and looked back. "It was nice knowing you."

"I am not letting you go alone," she said and followed him.

"No! I work best when I am alone."

"I can't let you risk yourself. They send poison down to kill us. I can resist them," she said as she stubbornly climbed up and overtook him. She had been a brain chewer once upon a time, but quit when Jel turned into a slimy jelly. It hurt to remember him, but this mission had given her a purpose, even if it was not hers.

Together, they chewed the villain's brain and gave him dysentery, stopped him from pressing the button to detonate the bomb in Washington and saved the planet.

They returned for recuperation and debriefing. "How did it go?" Nigel asked when he met her on her way out.

She shrugged.

"So...?"

She looked at him, and felt herself splitting in two. Her heart would break if he remained single.

And then it happened. He split and their offspring swam into the pool... Moe and Nigel laughed as they moved towards each other.

(If there can be Ant Man, why not Amoeba Woman?)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Voices from the Past

"Hey! Aren't you Meera?"

How many times since I left Delhi I must have hoped to meet a friend, an acquaintance, a neighbour, a classmate who would say this to me. You can say that was the only one thing I longed for, but over the years, forgot.

Then suddenly, in 2001 or so, I was accosted by this question. The tall man in front of me looked like no one I knew, and yet something deeper connected and I knew he was a dear friend from school whom I last saw when we were 14. It was almost 15 years, and as expected of boys, he had shot up. But there is something about a person that never changes, does it?

Slowly a few more connections got renewed and the social media lived up to its promise.

But just how much, and how empty the pot still was, I realised when I was added to the whatsapp group of my batch. Initially started to connect the different groups from the different streams, it was suddenly merged. It could have stopped there and the group still would have been substantial. But even those who left in between were added, including me.

Yes, the messages flood the phone. Despite all resolutions, you end up getting caught to see who is saying what.

But the best part - they remember. In a group of 60 plus, not some one or two, but many remember and that is when the pot started feeling full. It meant being able to revive memories, of sharing snippets and laughing at nothing. It was like unraveling a thread and watching a knot come loose!

Whatever our age now (you figure it out), I feel like a teenager, nay, a child.

Sharing what a friend from another similar group sent:
Money cannot buy us our childhood. Only friends help to recreate those moments, from time to time, at no cost.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Joy in Small Things

All one needs is a friend, a few stones and a chalk to feel while away time
And if a granddaughter makes a board game, we are not too old to learn a new g
ame

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Meant to be Broken…

The recent tweet by Hema Malini has many of her readers shocked. She blamed the father of the child for his daughter’s death in the accident she was involved in. Seriously guys, you are shocked? Isn’t this par course?  The road is the jungle and your survival depends on your deftness and luck for that day. Why blame somebody, anybody, for the accidents that happen?

After all, might is right and it is the survival of the fittest. It is a jungle raj on every road in India, and blame cannot be lightly placed on one party. It could be one who is speeding, or another, who breaks a rule and pays mercilessly for it.

We see it day in and day out, this mindlessness. A few months ago, I was driving down a fairly free road at a comfortable pace. I saw a car hurtling down the road – from a spec in my rearview mirror, it filled it in no time. It was to my left, I was slightly towards the middle of the left. I kept an eye on my mirror as I switched the left indicator on. The car continued to hurtle unaffected by my indication. The turning neared and yet the car showed no signs of slowing. I paused, startled, for now the man had covered the distance without slowing even once. Only near the turning, the car slowed for the briefest of seconds. It hadn’t stopped and if I turned, we would crash without doubt. No such considerations deterred the man behind the wheel.  He crossed me from left. If he had turned left, I would still have been assuaged. But he took a right, right in front of me! If I had been hit and killed, even then it wouldn’t have made news because both of us – that driver and I – are ordinary people leading ordinary lives driving ordinary cars. Considering I escaped unscathed due to some surprising presence of mind, I can only say as the potential victim, I carried out my responsibility of being cautious. Any harm would have been my responsibility, right?

A friend, for instance, saw green (signal, dumbo, not money) and started crossing when a speeding van jumped signals. Her leg was nearly severed (nearly, not actually, severed) and she was in bed for six months. Sheer madness to think green is meant for crossing the junction. It should always be amber in your head, whatever the signal in the signal post.

Take another evening last week;  a sterling example of my negligent behavior.

I parked my two wheeler – a 2001 Scooty Pep, even more ordinary than my car – to the left of the road; looked to the left (traffic was not moving on the other side of the road), then right to look out for traffic – which was nil; and stepped out on the road. Now, you may say, ‘Wonderful, girl, just the way to cross!’ I stepped on the road, thinking only of what I have to purchase when something heavy banged against my leg. Two men on a bike on my side of the road, coming on the wrong side drove straight into me, the bulk of the metal hitting my left leg. They were slow, what a blessing, or else I would be in the hospital too. But I am no lean, negligible person. Even at night, couldn’t he see me on a well-lit street?

Now, tell me, who is at fault? Me, of course! I should have known that people will come from any side – right side, wrong side, upside, downside (we see it in action movies)…. It is my responsibility to keep my person safe! If I don’t, then how can I blame others if I get hurt?

Having said that, the reverse, unfortunately, is also true. If a Mercedes sees green light and takes off and a bike or an auto or a smaller car decides to ignore the red and cuts perpendicularly, can the Mercedes be blamed for the accident? If a biker chooses to suddenly jump lanes and is knocked down by a bigger vehicle coming in the correct lane, won’t the car get blamed for the accident? If a tempo suddenly shoots out of a side lane on to the main road, and an oncoming lorry crushes it, whose fault is it?

When it is a matter of life, it does not matter who takes the blame. Big or small, vehicles carry people. We seem to value life cheap – even our own. The new rule is – drive like a king and destroy anything that comes on the way; or get destroyed.


I have learnt to use the beautiful alapadma mudra even better than in dance. When in doubt while driving, just use this mudra and have the question, ‘What?’ on your face. It will confuse victims, potential or otherwise. And you can leave convinced you are not to blame.
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