Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Slow and Sure

"Madam, your brother and you shared a close bond?" the police inspector spoke with due respect.

Meena nodded, wiping tears from her red eyes. "Even after I married, he continued to live with me. He was like my son," she said, her voice breaking.

"He came into a lot of money, which he has bequeathed to you...?" he asked, his eyes keener.

She nodded. "Yes, he told me that. I had fallen in hard times a few years ago. A year or two later, he said he made money from some deal that had gone well. That is many years ago. Then, when his health started failing, he told me he had willed it all to me."

"And that was...when?"

"Oh, maybe five years ago..."

"By then your husband had passed away? You didn't move in with your brother?"

She shook her head. "I have fond memories of this place."

"Your brother's house was more comfortable..." the policeman lead her on.

She shook her head firmly. "I have too many things I am attached to here. I didn't care for his wealth."

"So what do you plan to do with what you have inherited?"

"Charity. I have something of my own that will see me through life."

The policeman looked at her sceptically, and yet, seeing her simple dignity, he could not suspect her for long. He got up finally, inclining his head respectfully, and left. No motive here. The neighbours vouched for the close relationship the siblings shared. The night before the brother, Mangesh, had died, she had come as usual, made him comfortable, cooked his dinner and left. He had even limped to the balcony and waved to her. "Life is a cycle, di," he had said and laughed. She had smiled back. "Yes, everything comes back full circle."

It was as usual. But he had died. Of poisoning. No trace of anything anywhere except in his stomach. Who administered it? This loving sister? Some passerby? He had no enemies, his sister vouched. No ghosts from the past, and no one other than the sister had been around him. Even if she was a suspect, there was nothing to prove anything... Maybe suicide. One fatal dose and end of story...

Meena had really given all the money away. She had told him even when he wrote the will. But when a week before Mangesh' death he mentioned he had already written the will, she had again demurred.

Now, she wanted nothing to do with it. It was not meant for her. It was money that would leave her bitter. Money that her husband and she should have enjoyed, that she should have had in her account, that would have been used to treat her husband. But Mangesh had cheated her of what should have come to her. "Folly of the youth," he had said watching her. "At that time, I needed money badly. Your husband told me about the big commission he had got for a deal he had clinched. You both would have put it in FD and watched it grow slowly. I promised him bigger returns and tempted him. He told me not to tell you."

She had tensed as he narrated the incident from so many years ago, when her husband had told her a good deal had turned sour. She had smiled and borne. "You couldn't make good your promise?" she asked, ready to forgive her brother the overconfidence.

He smiled, but continued to watch her. "How do you think I became rich?"

She breathed hard but her smile remained intact. "Why tell me now?"

"What I am giving you is yours. Don't refuse it..."

"What about what you should get?" she had asked after a long pause when she struggled with the feeling of shock that wouldn't go.

He touched her hand and said softly, "I have enjoyed all that I could. Now I am confined to my chair, my home... What can I do with the money?"

She shook her head. Yes, what can you do with obscene money when your body let you down? She nodded, "You are right. You can't do much. But that's not what I meant." She smiled reassuringly. He smiled, relieved to be her little brother again.

Her baby, the one she couldn't forgive... And now, she could never forget.

The poison, mixed with his food. For once, she cleaned the vessels and plates after he finished his meal to wash away all traces of poison. Slow but sure, she was assured by the Internet.

It had turned out to be right.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Tough Decision

Madan sat staring at the two reports lying on his table - he hadn't intended placing them like that, but subconsciously he had placed them on either side, as if weighing them. One was not a surprise, but delightful still.

Nikesh, his marketing manager - marketing, had pulled off the impossible - what was impossible for others but nothing to him. He had single-handedly signed up four major clients for the products they manufactured. It was a coup, four coups in fact, of sorts. But that was expected of Nikesh - he was a brilliant communicator, a great marketing guy who had risen up the hierarchy very fast and a great charmer who could charm the poison off a snake.

The revenues as a result of bagging these contracts would take the company to the next level. The down the line sales people would be challenged and motivated to achieve more. The production would go up and it was a win-win for all.

Madan had known Nikesh for long, and he knew his Sr. MM was brilliant. He had been planning how to reward this high achiever when the other report - or rather, the note - had been brought in.

In one moment, he felt as if the rug under him had been pulled. Since then, he had been unable to focus on anything, shuffling and unshuffling the two reports. Placing one on top of the other and then pushing them both away.

The success story tasted bitter. For along with it came an accusation that he could not ignore. One of the marketing executives who had helped Nikesh in signing up one of the clients accused Nikesh of not just taking all the credit, but also of gender discrimination and sexual exploitation.

She had clipped together the interactions with the senior management in the client company to prove that she was already pursuing that deal. For the other two, it was only her word against his.

Madan's head reeled. Unable to decide on a course of action, he quietly left for the day and avoided taking any calls. Finally, at night, he called Nikesh - to congratulate him on the sales and then gradually bring up the matter of the complaint.

"Shit!" Nikesh blurted. Madan's heart sank. He was left in no doubt of Nikesh's guilt. Nikesh was pleading, blaming the drinks, the high of achieving the deal closure, the ambiance and all other irrelevant reasons for his unforgivable behaviour.

Suddenly Nikesh stopped speaking. "Madan... I am sorry yaar. I even apologised to that girl and told her not to bring it up to you. I promised to make good..."

"Please, will you stop it?" Madan snapped.

There was a brief silence before Nikesh said, "By the way, remember the multinational you wanted to tap for the niche product we are developing?"

Madan's interest was piqued. "Yes?"

"I am in touch with the Indian head. His boss from the HO is coming next month and he promised to get me a meeting. Of course, that was before..."

Madan sighed. "We will talk about it tomorrow."

As he ended the call, he started seeing dollars and how Nikesh would be able to pull this one too. In less than six months, his company would be a global company.

Next morning, there was only one report on his table. The other one had been shredded and the writer promoted to head her own sales office in a city of her choice.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The hero

"Your dad looks so handsome!" whispered Niharika in her friend Sangeeta's ears. The two giggled.

Sangeeta felt justifiable pride. Even young men paled in front of her middle-aged father. He was tall, trim, smart, his salt and pepper hair kept short. But what made him most attractive was the confidence he oozed. People hung on his words, seeking his views on economic trends; they watched him for fashion trends; they imitated his high-profile lifestyle.

Niharika grinned and said, "I know where I am going to apply for work," and rushed towards her friend's father. "Uncle!"

Sangeeta shook her head, laughing. The two had just completed MBA in finance from a reputed institution. Even she did not think of seeking her father's help for a job - but then, she also had to prove her mettle to him, that she could keep her head over water without his help. Niharika had no such compulsions.

"Is Niharika good?" her father asked her at dinner.

"You mean in her subjects? Yes, she is a rank holder."

"That does not mean much," Shekhar said dismissively. "Anyway, she asked me for a job and I have asked her to apply. I will ask the HR to test her before committing anything."

Sangeeta's heart swelled. Yes, she expected no less; definitely no sentimental nonsense about Niharika being his daughter's friend. She nodded noncommittally. And so, when her friend was selected, she was even more thrilled, glad that her friend had proved herself worthy of it. Now her father need never be ashamed of recommending Niharika for a job.

As a management trainee, Niharika seemed to shine. But she seemed too busy for Sangeeta, who was still hanging around, waiting for an opportunity. And then, she met her friend in a restaurant one evening, her face belying her quick growth at work, from trainee to assistant manager in a matter of months.

"Congrats! I called you, but you never returned my call!" she said accusingly. Niharika smiled but seemed uncomfortable. She got up abruptly and said, "You are meeting someone here? How sad I can't stop to chat! I am in a rush," she excused herself. Sangeeta found it strange, and even felt resentful. After all, Niharika's busy-ness was thanks to her dad!

She sat in a corner and was surprised to see her father walk in through the doors, his eyes scanning the restaurant. He didn't notice her and stared intently at the mobile. Sangeeta called out to him.

He turned, with something akin to shock, but quickly recovered. He walked up to her and after the briefest of conversations, excused himself and left. Sangeeta shrugged. Maybe she was poor company.

She asked her dad that evening how Niharika was. "Your friend?" he asked, sipping whiskey and soda. "How should I know?"

She laughed. "Isn't she still working in your company? Don't act so hoity-toity, dad!" she rebuked him affectionately.

His eyes twinkled. "My managers keep the young girls hidden from me."

But Niharika had a different story to tell. She called Sangeeta the early next morning, asking to meet urgently. She wanted to meet in her house. No one else was there.

Sangeeta was stunned to find her friend in tears. "I am sorry!" Niharika sobbed.

"It's okay... Is it about last evening?" Sangeeta asked.

"About last evening, about all the evenings."

"Hey, no issues! I know you have been busy at work."

"Not so much at work," Niharika said after a brief pause. "But other things."

"Other things?" Sangeeta asked, surprised.

Niharika avoided looking at her. Sangeeta wished she had avoided telling her too.

Initially, it all seemed like fun - being favoured, getting special treatment, even the light flirtation; then it gave her a sense of power, that she was privileged; and then it scared her, the price she had to pay. All the growth and trust came at a cost that she had missed reading in fine print. Flirting had been with the intention of baiting, not the harmless time pass she had imagined it to be. The most powerful man in the organisation did not dole out favours lightly. And when he did, pay up time followed soon after, relentlessly.

But what killed her was not the betrayal of trust, but the hurt she would cause in revealing it to her friend. She had delayed, agonised over it and even decided to slink out of her friend's life forever, till they happened to meet in the very restaurant where she had a rendezvous with the father. It was a moment of truth - of knowing the truth would come out one day as sleaze.

There was no gently way of pulling the mask off the most admired man, of telling his daughter that he could not be trusted within a mile of a pretty girl but to be direct...

Sangeeta slapped her friend and ran from her house. What a bitch! It was Niharika who had admired her father and probably thrown herself on him shamelessly. And now, when her father must have dissuaded her and put her in place, it was all coming out as venom, maligning a respectable man.

She ran into her mother's arms and sobbed. With great difficulty, fearing hurting her mother, she narrated what Niharika had told her, expecting her mother to pooh-pooh it all. She watched her mother's bright eyes dimming and then the glow dying altogether. Her mother pulled Sangeeta to her bosom and held her tightly. "I wished to protect you from this!" Then, moving her back and looking into Sangeeta's eyes, her mother said, "It will be hard at first, but you will learn to live with it."

Sangeeta stared at her mother in disbelief. She felt something die within her.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Rozabal Line

Ashwin Sanghi's 'Chanakya's Chant' disappointed me in the end. His historical reconstruction was amazing, but the current day political drama lacked something - maybe, a larger purpose.

So I picked up this book - The Rozabal Line - with apprehension. He proved me wrong. With amazing cross linking of events culled from research across online and library sources, he reconstructs a wonderfully plausible story. He links events, words and philosophies across multiple religions with ease and weaves it into a thrilling story of the hunt for proof.

From the word go, this book was unputdownable. But what I loved the most in the end was the answer to the question, are religions bad?

"There is something good to be found in all faiths, Vincent. The problem has never been belief but the deliberate misinterpretation and misuse of it."

I don't remember any controversies surrounding this book, and I am surprised.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Light Up The Mind

Through the dark winter nights
When gloom and despair weaken our minds
Oh delicate lady of prosperity
May your light burn a path so bright

The black silence rouses our fears
Demons mock our very weakness
Oh brave lord of courage
Destroy them so we may see the way

Lights and sounds fill the air
Should we shouldn't we, the debate rages
And yet lights and crackers ablaze
The festive season of joy arrives

The bright lights, the crackers say
Have fun, share the joy
Destroy the darkness of your mind
Let the mind light up from within.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Wail

"Sorry, I just couldn't get away earlier," Suparna apologised as she entered Radha's home, sighing and breathless.

"I don't know why you kill yourself like this!" Radha replied smugly. She handed her two-year-old boy to the nanny.

Suparna eyed the neat-looking woman and felt a pang of jealousy. "Where did you find her?"

"A friend referred. She has been here a week now, and what a relief!" Radha exaggerated dramatically.

Suparna reclined on the diva watching Sameer resist being carried in. "Mama," he said plaintively, but Radha just rolled her eyes and faced Suparna blocking her son off. "He has to get used to her, of course... But I think he will in a few days." Suparna looked sceptical. Radha looked at her pityingly. "Who is taking care of your girl?"

"Manoj... He finally managed to find the time. Of course, he cribbed. He wanted us to spend time together, but our evening-out had been so long pending... Don't you think you should check on Sameer?" she asked, unable to bear the wail from the other room.

Radha got up and picked up her hand bag. "Let's move. Teething trouble, but I am sure he will settle more easily if I am not around."

Suparna frowned uncertainly, hesitant to follow her friend out. "Are you sure? Maybe you should wait for him to settle down, sleep or something?"

"You know what your problem is?" Radha affectionately put an arm around her friend and dragged her out. "You fret too much and your hubby puts too many ideas into your head! What's wrong with employing a nanny if it makes your life easier? You don't have to kill yourself just because you are a mother, you know? Get a life man! We have been planning this for weeks!"

"Well," Suparna's eyes glittered with resentment. "It is not as if you were free either! If I remember right, you found the previous one stealing money!"

"Well, there are bound to be risks! You walk on the road, you may die. But you don't stop walking, do you?"

Suparna shrugged. "It is a matter of another year and a half at the most..."

"18 months! I would die if all I had to do was watch my baby, much as I love him!"

"Sigh! Yes, sometimes I do lose my cool. But I am also quite apprehensive. What if the woman is not trustworthy? Girl children are so vulnerable, aren't they?"

Radha burst out laughing as she started the car. "I am so relieved I don't have to worry about that, though I don't what you are worried about! You are after all going to employ a female... So...?" She raised an eyebrow.

Suparna shrugged, wondering why she tended to nod her head when Manoj pointed out the drawbacks of a nanny. Maybe, deep within, she really didn't want someone else playing with her child's life. She looked at Radha and admired her cool. What an obsessive mother she herself was! Even when leaving her daughter with Manoj, she had started writing so many instructions and then given up, hoping Manoj would know what to do.

The wailing, though far behind, bothered her. She really must stop obsessing.

"Hi Suparna! Want to go out for lunch? My mom is here and I can do with an afternoon off..." Radha called Suparna a month later, sounding very light hearted.

"Oh! I didn't know your mother was coming!" Suparna replied, genuinely surprised.

"Sameer has been acting strangely. He refuses to use the toilet, and you know he was potty trained. He is giving the nanny hell, and oh, he is giving me hell! I haven't slept in a week. My mom came a couple of days ago, and what a relief! She is helping me settle Sameer again."

Suparna remembered the same dramatic tone she had heard from Radha a month ago. She remembered the wailing child and her own misgivings. But before she could say anything, she heard someone call Radha urgently. Must be her mother. "One sec," Radha told her and holding the received away, called back to her mom. "What ma?"

"Come here! Look at this!" her mother sounded very scared.

"Suparna, will call you in a minute," Radha said, worried and scared at her mother's expression.

She followed her mother quickly to where Sameer was whimpering. "Come baby," the granny crouched and opened her arms. The boy toddled up to her slowly. Radha frowned. "Has he polio?" she whispered in fear.

Her mother did not reply but just hugged the boy to her. "You are hurt?" she asked gently. "Show mama..."

The boy lay down obediently and the grandmother gently parted his legs. Radha was shocked to see a weal screaming at her in red. "How did it happen?"

The boy's eyes looked at her in panic. The grandmother raised a hand to silence her daughter and said softly to the child. "How did this happen, baba?"

"Aunty..." the boy said and covered his organ with his fist.

Radha sat down devastated. How had she not known. The wail, the wail... it had become so part of routine, every time the damn woman changed his dress. She frowned - she changed his dress almost five to six times a day. He refused to let that woman take him to the toilet! He fought hard every time that woman carried the boy in her arms. He wailed in his dreams, in fact, almost throughout the day.

And she, Radha, the mother, had gritted the teeth and riled at the wailing. Where had she been? What had she been doing?

She had trusted another woman, a mother of two, to bring up her child too. While she sat back to get some me time.

She dissolved in tears when her mother's sharp voice pulled her short. "Get hold of yourself. Wash your face, smile and pick up that child. He needs you more than anyone else right now."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dream Lover

My head on your lap
Your hand on my head
You take me gently
To the world of oblivion

My eyes closed
My breath even
My limbs loose
My mind on leave

Drifting, floating
Safe in your arms
In a world of our own
Untouched by harm

You remain true
Till I surrender to you
Angry when anxiety
Claims me for its own

Don't desert me
When worries beset me
For in you I find
True love that affects me

Love me, kiss me
Heal me, cure me
Sleep, my dream lover
Embrace me, forever and ever.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Conversation: Part IV

Meeting the Groom - Part II

The Arranged Marriage - Part I

What does a rock feel like? Just as she felt right now? When the breeze failed to cool you? When the blood froze? When you forgot to breathe and stood stock still like this? When the gaze was fixed on a pinpoint between his two eyes and just along the nose?

“I am sorry,” a voice whispered. Was it he or she? His eyes held hers captive and she felt the solid thawing. “Then why?”

He shrugged and looked away. She felt cold and shivered, though the night was warm. “I told my father you deserved better, but he thinks I am the best around, naturally. So I tried talking to your father and he wanted to know if you were not good enough for me.”

Something pricked her heart, but she didn’t know what. Maybe it was the ‘great catch’ bit.

“I will tell my father I don’t want to marry you,” she said with determination.

He looked at her sharply. “You don’t?”

She bit her lower lip in agony. “I don’t want you to be unhappy,” she said finally, unable to bear the pain. She was mortified to feel tears running down her cheek and hoped that he wouldn’t notice in the darkness.

“Why would I be unhappy marrying you! It is you I fear hurting,” he said energetically.

“Why then…? Hurt me… how?” Her voice trembled. Nothing he said could hurt her. “Neelam?”

“Neelam?” he asked then shook his head. Sighing deeply, he said, “No, of course not.” She waited silently, not wanting to disturb his thoughts. “I don’t know how to say it… Only last year I discovered I have a four-year-old son.”

“What!” she couldn’t help exclaiming.

He didn’t look at her. “Deepa and I had been going steady in college but we broke up sometime soon after finishing because she went abroad to study. We met a couple of times but long distance didn’t work for me. We lost touch after we broke up. Last year, I happened to meet a girl when returning from London. She was very young, maybe in college, and had a small boy with her. I helped her with her luggage and completing the travel formalities. We ended up in seats next to each other and easily slipped into conversation, telling us little insignificant details about each other. When I mentioned my college, she got curious and asked me if I knew Deepa – that was her sister’s name. I am ashamed to think that I didn’t have to courage to say I knew her well – but that we were batchmates. She wanted to know if I knew who Deepa went around with, because this child was that man’s, born soon after our break up. I was stunned, speechless and a coward. I didn’t have the courage to admit I was the man, that that child was mine. I evaded answering, shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep. When we got off, I just rushed as if I had another plane to catch. She thrust a paper in my hand, her address… But I dropped it somewhere without a thought.”

A heavy silence lay between them. She stood uncertainly, a part of her wanting to reach out and touch him and the other part, turn around and run away. Where was this headed?

“I became distracted, that boy’s face bothering me. I had carried him, talked to him and try as hard as I could, it wouldn’t go away. Neelam and I started having problems, and finally we broke up. But even that did not bother me as much as losing that boy did.”

Kirti stepped closer and whispered. “You are trying to locate that boy now?”

He stood still. “Yes… I remembered where she lived in London and also the college she had studied in. I made several false starts…” He turned to her. “The last time we met… I had just returned from one such futile trip. I was frustrated and tired. I am sorry, I know it didn’t go off well.”
She looked down, avoiding his eyes. A dull ache hurt her chest. He touched her chin and gently lifted her face. “My parents don’t know about this. I wish I had had the time to talk to you properly. But I returned only last night, after finally meeting Deepa’s sister and…my son.”

A drop rolled down her cheek and fell on his index finger.

“What do you plan to do now,” she managed to ask, before he could pity her.

“Bring the child, be his father.”

“Oh!” she said flatly.

“Tell me now,” he asked when she did not say anything more, “do you still wish to marry me?”

The dull ache turned to anger. “No,” she said, turned and walked away, trembling. She felt his eyes on her back. But he had left her with little choice.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Getting Engaged - Part III

Meeting the Groom - Part II

The Arranged Marriage - Part I

Of course, she did not expect him to call her in the interim, and yet, isn’t hope what everyone lives by?

Her friend Ritu helped her dress up for the occasion, teasing her all the while. Kirti tried to grin and bear, but her friend knew her better.  “What is this! The bride to be looking so pensive! Where is the glow?” she asked bluntly at one point, contradicting others who streamed in and claimed Kirti had the ‘bridal look’.

“Just tensed,” Kirti evaded.

“You must be too. What a great catch!”

Kirti’s eyes flashed as she asked tartly, “Why, am I not one?”

Ritu looked surprised. “I didn’t mean that.”

“Then stop saying it as if getting married to Sanjeev is a stroke of luck I don’t deserve.”

Ritu placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder and said, “Is everything alright? I have never heard you so angry all my life.”

Kirti took a deep breath in. “Sorry, no, I didn’t mean to lose my temper. But the way people go on… As if Sanjeev is some god and I should be eternally grateful.”

Ritu’s eyebrows knitted. “Well… aren’t you?” Catching a sharp look from Kirti, she said quickly, “I mean, if you were in love with him, that’s how it would be.”

Kirti was silent, pensive. “I was,” she whispered.

She would be called away any second, but Ritu pushed her against the wall and asked softly, “Was? Why was?”

Kirti told Ritu about the dinner, the absence of calls…

Ritu laughed. “Stupid you. That’s all!”

“What do you mean, that’s all?”

Ritu pushed her in front of the mirror and went about straightening Kirti’s lehenga and dupatta. “It is to be expected, of course. You have seen Neelam, right? Not easy, is it, to forget her.”

Kirti found nothing reassuring in that. “And what are you smiling for?”

“I am sure it is only to be expected that he still may have some feelings for her. The question is, are you going to let him off so lightly?” Her eyes twinkled and she winked at Kirti through the mirror. Kirti blushed and despite the tears glistening in her eyes, smiled.

As she stood next to Sanjeev a while later, she looked so radiant that a little bit of her lustre reflected off Sanjeev’s face too. The sharp angles of his grave face were blunted by an inexplicable softness. When she looked at him with uncertain eagerness as he slipped the ring through her slender finger, he looked just a bit startled, as if confused by the question they gently posed.

It was hard for her – as if trying to get a response from the wall. Womanly wiles were not her way, but she was learning fast. In the rush of the evening, she felt compelled to win him over.

But as the guests left one by one, she realised slowly that battling for his attention was not the purpose of her life. That she wanted some reciprocation, some effort from his side too. Was an evening too short a time to expect it? But it wasn’t just an evening, right?

She felt tired and confused. She drifted to the balcony, hoping for some quiet time.

“Quite an evening,” a voice broke through her reverie. Startled, she turned and made out the figure of Sanjeev leaning on the far side of the balcony. He was in the shadows, and she wondered if he had been hiding from people. There had been too much ribbing, as was usual, and it had got overwhelming as some bawdy numbers were belted out after the ceremony. A bit filmy, but to be expected from the actor-father of the bride-to-be.

She giggled uncomfortably. “Yes… Tiring…”

He looked towards the lawn and remained silent. Her heart beat fast. “Sanjeev,” the name rushed out of her mouth. “You… you don’t seem very happy.”

He looked at her quickly and glanced away. “Really? I am sorry if I seem preoccupied…” She waited and almost gave up hope of his saying anything more when he chuckled and said, “I am sorry to disappoint you. You would have liked to be wooed…”

“Well… a little bit of conversation would have been nice, yes,” she said weighing her words carefully, watching his face keenly.

“I am sorry to disappoint,” he said again.

“Sanjeev… Can I ask you something?” she asked, her voice tight.

“Do I have the freedom not to answer?” he asked trying to sound light-hearted. But deep down, he hoped he had that freedom.

“Are you really happy about… us?” she asked in a rush, not even pausing to hear his question.

He turned to look at her. He opened his mouth and closed it again. The silence weighed heavily on her. She desperately wished he would answer.

And then, when she heard his answer, she wished he had not.

“No,” his voice was soft but cut through the soft night like a knife.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Meeting the Groom - Part II

"Papa, aren't Sanjeev and I going to meet each other?" she asked her father that evening.

"Why beta, if you want to, you can, of course! Don't you trust your father?"

She shook her head and smiled. Mistaking it for shyness, he laughed. "Of course, you want to meet your future husband? He is a nice boy, well-behaved. I will invite them home, don't worry," her father assured her.

"No! I mean... I..." 

He relished watching his daughter squirm as she struggled for words. "You want to meet him alone?" he asked gently, finally relenting. She nodded glad that she had inherited some acting talent from him. "And, can I call?" Her father raised an eyebrow but nodded.

Her fingers trembled as she dialled his number. "Hello?" she heard his deep voice and felt her heart flip.

"Hi Sanjeev, this is Kirti." Please don't ask Kirti who, she prayed as she noticed the pause.

"Yes, Kirti, how are you?" he asked pleasantly but the doubt in his voice was evident.

"Mmm... Sanjeev," was it this Sanjeev her wedding had been fixed with? "I was just wondering... since we are to marry, could we meet?"

This time, the silence was painful. "I am sorr..." she started when he said simultaneously, "Sure. You had a place in mind?"

"Porch," she said and heard the quick intake of his breath.

"Why?" he asked finally, after yet another long pause.

"Nice place, I heard... But if you prefer something else..."

"No, it's okay." A finality. I will face it kind of an attitude. She felt cheap and admired his fortitude. "When?"

They agreed on Saturday, 7 pm.

She sat in front of the mirror, debating between dressing up or toning down. Finally, she decided to keep it simple. She wanted to marry him, but only at any cost.

He was there, in a black full sleeve shirt on light blue jeans, his eyes fixed on the menu card. He smiled pleasantly as she walked up to him. She looked around, wondering if Neelam Sikand would be there - as she was said to be on Saturdays around this time. What was this death wish, perversion?

As she scanned the menu, her heart beating fast at the proximity to Sanjeev, he waited silently. Say something, she begged. "Hello Neelam," he said, and Kirti became aware of another presence.

"Unexpected visit, Sanjeev?" Neelam said as she glanced at Kirti and their eyes met. Neelam looked stunning despite her professional attire.

"My fiancée wanted to try this place out. And since you have been asking me to make a visit," he said coolly and shrugged. There was no challenge in his voice, and yet he seemed to be daring her to something.

Neelam looked at him steadily, then turned to Kirti and said, "Have you decided yet?"

Kirti frowned. "About marrying Sanjeev?" she asked, perplexed, eliciting a laugh from Neelam and a stunned look from Sanjeev.

"I meant the menu. But looks like the two of you are not of one mind about the marriage!" Then she said smoothly, ignoring the embarrassment on Kirti's face. "Try our sizzlers. And, the welcome drinks are on the house." She left them abruptly and yet not seeming rude.

Kirti looked at Sanjeev stricken. "I am sorry, I misunderstood.”

“Was that intentional?”

Kirti shook her head. “Just the context… I misunderstood… Who was she?”

Sanjeev raised an eyebrow as they sat down. “You don’t know?”

Kirti looked at him with her eyes wide and shook her head slightly, as if wondering if she should.

He was silent for a minute. “She is the owner of this restaurant.”

“Oh, and a good friend of yours? You mentioned she had been inviting you…”

“Not a good friend.” Then he clamped shut.

“I am sorry if this was not the right place…”

“Please decide your order, Kirti. Neelam… or this place… doesn’t merit a discussion.”

“What does?” she made bold to ask.

He looked at her sharply. “Meaning?”

“What merits a discussion?” she asked, riled now. He glared at her silently. She felt nervous now, unhappy about the anger that had cropped up between them so unexpectedly. She took a few deep breaths. “Sorry,” she said, not trusting her voice.

He shrugged.

The evening seemed to drag. His ill-humour continued and she gave up her feeble efforts, defeated.

That night, she was sure the wedding would be called off, but surprisingly, there were no developments – not that day, not in the days to come. Preparations for the engagement went on as usual.

Continued: Getting Engaged - Part III

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Arranged Marriage- Part I

Kirti closed the door behind her as she entered her room and smiled, joy lighting up her face. Her marriage had been fixed with Sanjeev - a dream she had never dared dream.

Daughter of a popular movie star, her life had been confined to the shadows. Her overprotective father did not want his private life sullied with prying eyes and so Kirti and her younger brother had grown up in a boarding school.

She had met Sanjeev, son of a businessman who financed her father's movies, a few times in all the years she had come home on vacation. She had gone abroad to study and returned just a year ago. She had got a job in a financial institution. There was a function at home, and that was when Sanjeev and she had met each other. He had grown into a handsome and charming man. Their interaction had been minimum, since she was busy helping her mother in playing the hostess.

The next time they had met was at a lunch Sanjeev’s parents had hosted for her family. This time, they had more time together, and Sanjeev had slowly taken over her heart with his wit, intelligence and quiet attention, putting her at ease. She wondered how she had ever considered herself shy and retiring. She had found herself opening up and telling him things some of which she didn’t even know she remembered!

How could she not think of him after that?

But after that, their paths never crossed and she did not seek him out. She was disappointed that nor had he. Sometimes, some word about him trickled in, but was barely enough to quench the thirst. She feared that thirst wouldn’t be quenched even if she had ocean of information. She needed something more, much more.

And now this proposal. Had he initiated it? How her heart fluttered at the thought!

There was to be a formal engagement soon, her father didn’t say when. Kirti waited impatiently for Sanjeev’s call, expecting a teasing tone that wove out dreams of their togetherness.

But the next few days brought only silence. Sanjeev’s mother spoke. His father spoke. He himself remained strangely silent, except for the first call when he spoke to her father and formally told her he looked forward to it.

No… this was not the man she had met the other day. Or this was his way? Was he the conventional, orthodox kinds?

She told her friend Ritu about the engagement hesitantly. It all felt surreal.
"Congrats! What a good catch! And, definitely, he should be glad that it is you and not Neelam."

Kirti frowned. "Neelam?"

Ritu paused, surprised. "You knew, didn't you? Your families are so close!"

Kirti shook her head.

Ritu flicked her wrist dismissively. "Never mind. Neelam is now married, wife of Sikand." Kirti’s frowned deepened. "Owner of the Porch group of hotels."

"Oh!" Kirti said. Was this the reason why Sanjeev had not even got in touch with her? Was he marrying for convenience, to prove a point to Neelam, because he must marry someone? And she was convenient, a catch (too), a good way to score a point?

Her stomach seemed to settle heavily; dreams seemed to float away into nothingness.

Continued: Meeting the Groom - Part II

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Other Side

Miss America is of Indian origin; and this has kicked up a row where some Americans have expressed shock, displaying deep racist attitude. And others have condemned them.

Amidst all this, there was a report that said America leads the way in celebrating Indian beauty.

I feel deeply offended. I know the fetish with fair skin exists in our country. I know girls, and these days boys, also seek remedies to turn their dark skin to fair. But I think it is totally uncalled for to judge the general Indian psyche as being colour obsessed. We have had dusky skin Ms. Indias. We have heroines and people in the public sphere who are not fair. And Rahul Gandhi is not very popular despite his fair skin and half-foreign parentage. If he has any standing, it is because of his Indian ancestry. Okay, that just slipped in.

Why do we forget that foreigners have a fetish for the tanned skin too? For that matter, what about anti-aging!

This is not just about the skin tone. We believe that the recent sex-related crimes have happened because Indian society is repressive and so men give vent to their fantasies by attacking the nearest available, vulnerable women. And if a white skin is within reach, then why not. The implication being, in liberal societies, such crimes are not committed because there is no repression.

Read the Millennium Series, based entirely in Sweden, considered one of the more liberal societies. It is all about sex crimes. I read one very disturbing article about a 16-year-old American girl who had committed suicide because her friends had done graffiti all over her body when she was drunk, taken photographs and spread it on the Internet. Then, of course, there is the case of the girl raped by a football team. And, surprise surprise, these societies too blame the victims!

It happening there does not cancel out what happens here. What I am upset about is the way we think more liberal and open societies do not have such crimes and that somehow India is a potboiler for every evil happening in the world. We oversimplify the issue and so lose perspective. No corrective action works because we are barking up the wrong tree. The intelligentsia is self-critical to the point where only the bad is highlighted.

Everything is not right, I agree, but where did we lose the way? How did the externals become more important than developing the mind and the soul? Why have we lost respect for our work, our education, our elders?

Introspection, connecting with the self - simple practices that will keep us rooted... Can we bring these back in to our lives? Will that be the way forward?

Friday, September 13, 2013

I am a savage, you have a problem?

Death sentence is a mark of barbaric society, say some thinkers. Yes, true. But, we live in a barbaric society. We live in a society where six men not only rape a woman but also brutally maim her internal organs! We live in a society where women think twice before stepping out in the dark in lonely streets, lonely buses, lonely shops, watching their backs forever. We live in a society where even young children of five and below are not spared.

Will death sentence really deter the perpetrators of such crimes, you ask. Right. When the woman was helplessly screaming, were her thoughts about how to reform these men? Do you think such men can be reformed?

When the judge tries the case of Nirbhaya's rape, his duty is to first deal with that. And anything less than death would be unfair for it is not only rape but attempted murder too.

Take the case of the serial rapist in Karnataka who managed to escape from jail despite conviction. he was caught, fine. But may not have been too. Do we want that to happen again with these four men - I wish it were five, for the fifth's age makes no impression on me and the courts have proved they are 'civilised' enough by treating him as a juvenile despite the severity of his crime.

We need reforms. We need to strengthen the legal system. We need to ensure safety for women. We need to teach men to respect women from the time they are young. But all this will take a generation to implement, and that too, only if we continue to remain sincere and diligent.

The ones who are already hardened with time need to know that justice will be swift and merciless. The women need to know that they can go to court and they will not be held responsible for what happens to them. They will need to know that they can shout from the rooftops that they have been violated without being blamed for it.

And that the men will not go scotfree.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A New Cap to Don

My forays into teaching dance have been entirely due to others' efforts. A neighbour wants her daughter to learn; another is my mother's friend and looking for a teacher; a third - here for a short while... Nothing serious, no long commitments. My own work commitments prevented me from considering teaching seriously - I didn't think I would be able to train others for the long term.

Then, a few years ago, a few of my friends and neighbours requested me again. They overcame my resistance saying - Do it it till you can, share what you will.

A few more joined, but I have kept it to bare minimum due to paucity of time and space. Better to train a few well than spread myself thin.

Then suddenly, another opening, again, not for long term, but more formal. An honour to be part of this. Vazhuvoor style of dance is one of the leading forms, with several famous dancers including Vyjayanthimala Bali, Dr. Padma Subramaniam, Kumari Kamala and her sister and my Guru Rhadha coming from this background. All trained under the legendary, Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai.

Now, Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai's grandchildren are starting a dance school to further his legacy, and my guru deemed it fit to recommend my name along with another of her student's to train the students. Check out: http://www.vazhuvoorars.com/ About us page even has a brief bio
about me!

Keep your doors and windows open. You never know when opportunity will take you by surprise.

And, if you know anyone seeking to learn dance, you are welcome. Classes will be held on weekends, in the mornings.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Whimsical

Soft and smooth
As a balm it soothes
Turning inside out
Cutting like a double-edged sword

Like a chick it falls
Bald and four syllables long
It sprouts the wings of a lore
Slipping from tongue to tongue

Meanings change
Intentions mistaken
A film of confusion
Covers the words spoken

Read the lines
And between them too
Find meanings
Even when not meant so

Sometimes rock solid
Like hammer on nail
Or hard to grasp
Slippery like the eel

Words, elusive words
With your many faces
Your many whims and fancies
Cause many to suffer.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Eternal Search

From a seed hidden under ground
A tiny shoot shot out
Tentative, unsure
Promise of something new

Will it wither or survive
As it seeks water and light
Reaching out to another branch nearby
Hoping for friendship and some sunshine

The many paths they can take
Their desire forever unslaked
Intertwined like inseparable vines
Sometimes just the touch so benign

Or will it be harshly rejected
To be left alone, dejected
To culminate in a point nowhere
Hanging loose forever and ever

Perhaps another one more kind
Will wrap its fingers warmly from behind
Embracing the little one in its fold
To save it from miseries untold

The path of relationships so uncertain
Sometimes taking one up to heavens
Sometimes showing one infernal hell
Knotted, with many stories to tell

And yet the little branch seeks
All its life for one who speaks
The language of love, oh so sweet
To walk hand in hand till the eternal sleep.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Loving the Image

"East or west, mommy is the best" declared my daughter. Touched, I smiled. "West or east, mommy is a beast," she added, quite anticlimactically. Then she hastened to correct it but got stuck when the younger one piped in, "West or east, mommy is cheese!"

I notice a sudden sprout in demonstrativeness in an otherwise self-contained child. "Mommy, my head is aching," she rushed into my arms. I held her and kissed her forehead. She chimed, "Mother's hug is a medicine; mother's kiss is a medicine..."

I wondered... I am as small or limited as always. I am as susceptible to the vagaries of physical and emotional swings as before. Patience is in short supply, but suddenly there are vast hidden sources of anger that come within reach at the drop of a hat. I am not so lavish on the 'cuddle' or 'showering love' department. I am 'too busy' to join them in their games, and prefer a book at other times to their nonsensical babble. I am on the lookout for their lazy disobedience and try to keep them on their toes (unsuccessfully, of course) so that they turn out to be 'fine, well-rounded, helpful individuals'.

I try to see from her eyes and all I see is this larger-than-life image she creates of me in her mind. The image that she projects on me, making me more loving and lovable. I see myself in her, and my mother in me.

I know this image may take a beating as she enters her teens, and then grow large again as she faces the world alone. She will see the original for what it is, one day. But if even then she can say, 'East or west...' I may not have done such a bad job after all.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Caregiver

"I want my mother!" cried out the 13-year-old trapped in the body of an 80-year-old.
Raji's senility was a cause for concern for all around her. Suddenly she seemed to have forgotten she was an old woman, a grandmother, even a great-grandmother for some of the younger children who played around her without a care. Her morose expression made her daughter Janaki - herself 63 now - worried.

Janaki had got married when she herself was just 16, and so the presence of her parents Raji and Shekar along with their son Mahesh had been comforting. Janaki's new home had been big enough, and her husband's heart generous enough for everybody to live under the same roof. This is where Raji's youngest daughter Parvathi was born. In fact, Janaki's first born - Lakshmi, and Parvathi were born just a few days apart. Janaki loved Parvathi like her own child. But she also knew that Lakshmi was the household pet - being the eldest granddaughter, niece and daughter. What Janaki did for Parvathi hardly compensated for the neglect by the others.

And yet, strangely, it was to Parvathi that people turned now for strength and comfort. Janaki was no exception as she called Parvathi across cities. "Mother is very unwell, and forgetful."

That was enough for Parvathi. "You want me to come over and watch her?" she asked.

"It will be a relief, yes." Janaki could take the liberty. Parvathi's two children were studying in a hostel and her husband traveled often. Parvathy had her own commitments, working in a home for the aged. If she were unable to make it, she would say so frankly. And if she could, she would fly across without hesitation.

Though Mahesh lived very close by and had been his mother's pet as the only son, asking him for help or even take their mother to his house was not an option. Janaki herself had been so dependent on her mother for so long that now doing anything on her own - especially care for the woman who had cared for her - seemed a task she was incapable of performing.

Parvathi arrived as promised. She was appalled to see the state her mother was in - Janaki had not given her a clear picture on the phone. "Did you take her to the doctor?" she asked.

"The family doctor said we can't do much."

Parvathi tut-tutted. She took the matter in her hands, her vast experience in dealing with the aged giving her the skill to deal with such matters. Of course, the senility was irreversible, but at least the care better now. Raji refused to get up from the bed and Parvathi stayed put, cleaning, wiping and feeding this helpless woman as if she were a child.

Over the years, her mother had been dutiful towards her; where Raji was concerned, Parvathi was just that - a duty to be discharged. She was not unkind, but just not the mother Parvathi would have liked.

So, Parvathi was hardly surprised when, despite days of untiring care, her mother responded to the names of the elder two children with recognition - Janaki, because of the long years of association, and Mahesh because he was a son. But when Parvathi's name was mentioned, Raji seemed totally blank and said, "I want my mother."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Full Circle

Fifteen year old Roshni tapped her younger brother, ten year old Rohit lightly on the head. Rohit let out a cry. The middle sister, Reshma peeped out. As did granny Kamala. "What's happening?"

"Roshni di hit me on the head!"

"Roshni?" granny asked severely.

"I didn't dadi! He is lying as usual!"

"No, it hurts..." the boy said dissolving in tears.

"Don't lie Rohit!" Roshni warned.

He ran to his grandmother and tried to land her a punch. She ran around her grandmother and managed to cuff him. The grandmother futilely tried to stop her but on catching her, slapped Roshni's wrist. "Why do you do this everytime? Why can't you leave the boy in peace!"

"Oh he is a cry baby!" Roshni taunted her brother, making him cry more and making Reshma laughed. Grandmother glared at the two girls. "You should be ashamed of yourself."

"Why! I didn't even do anything! He is just playacting and you fall for it everytime! See how he is grinning from behind you?"

Rohit indeed was, but expecting his grandmother to turn to look at him, he changed it to a droopy expression. Kamala hugged the boy and said, "Leave these bad girls. I will give you a chocolate, my poor darling..."

Roshni shook her head. "He can never do any wrong, the brat!"

A while later, Rohit snatched the book she was reading and she pounced on him, pinning the boy under him. "Dadi!" the boy cried out and got Roshni into trouble.

"Why are you always scolding me? You never say anything to him! He snatched my book!"

"He is just playing!"

"But he made such a fuss when I tapped him on his head playfully!"

"He is a small boy!"

"Granny, I think you are giving him too much room!"

"He is a boy, you have to accommodate for his playfulness."

Roshni stared at her granny stunned.


Reshma remembered this incident as she saw a similar scene unfold in front of her eyes fifty years later. Roshni and her granddaughter locking horns about her grandson. "He is a boy, he will be mischievous! It is you who must adjust, you are a girl!"


"Because adjusting comes more easily to girls," Roshni gave her infallible logic drilled into her over the years.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

On Parents' Day

Contestants, judges and the anchor in a reality show shed tears remembering their parents and how the parents were their gods. Many of them are young children, so I can well believe it. But as I watched the elders, not that I suspect their sincerity, but I couldn't help remembering two incidents - one which I witnessed just a day before, and another, several years ago.
I was in the library, picking up books when one old lady walked up and asked the librarian, "Any new novels have come?"
"No, nothing new, all the same old titles are there."
"But why don't you get some?"
"Nobody reads Telugu novels except you."
"Okay, give me some books. I get bored at home."
The librarian turned to his assistant who said, "But her membership has been cancelled."
"Sorry lady, you can't take books."
The old lady took out a Rs 100 note. "Since you will anyway throw them away, give me those books. I will buy them from you."
"I can't, your son will shout at me," the librarian said. "Give me his number, I will talk to him."
"No, they are all busy at home. You give me those books, I will pay you, I am such an old member of yours. I have been coming here since you started so many years ago!"
"Give me your son's number," the librarian persisted.
"No, they will shout at me if you call," the lady said and left in resignation.
What could have made the son cancel her membership? She was probably in her late 70s but was mobile. She seemed sharp and her faculties still acute. Then why would her son deny her the pleasure of reading?

Years, ago, when I lived in a working women's hostel, a lady was brought to the only house-like building there. She was in her 70s or 80s. Her son and daughter in law were working and they thought this was a safe place for her.
It was. But it was filled with strangers. Though one or two of us dropped in out of pity, her repetitive conversations and whining and complaining kept us away after a while.
Yes, I could understand how she would be boring her son and daughter in law. But, wasn't she his mother? Hadn't she tolerated his repetitive babble when he was a child and a toddler? While her heart would have brimmed with pride at the gurgling nonsense, his son probably found it embarrassing.

Can we pass judgement on such children? Increasingly, I find myself wondering about vanaprastham and its significance in our lives. Elderly couple would often voluntarily leave the worldly life after their children had their own families to pursue higher knowledge giving up all material pleasures. Was this why this had been introduced as one of the four stages of our lives - because our ancestors had seen that not all children and their parents can live in harmony beyond a point. And so, instead of becoming a burden and in turn feeling neglected, they find their way out of this illusory lives when their faculties are still functional and then take up sanyasa when the time is right?

Otherwise, maybe we too need to go the Chinese way - legally binding children to visit their aging parents!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Always a Child

Kajal got off her friend's car and saw her daughter Keya getting off from a bike and the bike zoom away. She frowned. "Who was that? Do I know him?"

"Yes, of course," Keya said patronisingly. "That was Amrit."

"What are you wearing?" Kajal eyed her daughter.

"My friend's clothes? Aren't they cool?"

Kajal didn't think so. "What happened to yours?"

Keya waved the bag she had in her hand. "Here. We went out for lunch impromptu, and my t-shirt and jeans seemed woefully unsuitable. Ritu gave me this to wear."

"Why didn't you tell me that you were going out, or...changing? Didn't you tell me you will be back home for lunch?"

Keya rolled her eyes, shrugged and walked into the house without a word, leaving Kajal fuming.

As soon as Kajal entered the house. Her mother Geetha came out looking displeased.

"I thought you were going to be back home for lunch..." Geetha complained, looking at the clock pointedly.

"We got delayed and had lunch outside, don't worry. Did you eat?" Kajal replied.

"You at least thought of asking," her mother was at her sarcastic best. "What did you buy?"

Hesitantly, Kajal placed the clothes on display and saw the disapproving look on her mother Geetha's face and waited for the inevitable comment.

"Are these for you or Keya?" Geetha asked. "It will not suit you," she passed judgement on the capri, leggings and kurtis that Kajal had bought.

Kajal just chuckled and said, "That's what you will say! Nowadays women your age are wearing stylish clothes, looking smart and trim. This is how women my age dress, so stop complaining."

Geetha snorted in an unladylike way, adjusting her sari pallu. "Yes, and they look obscene. Many have their tummies spilling out and they look more like ducks than women!" As Kajal laughed, Geetha continued bitingly, "Don't think you look any better!"

"Oh stop taking off like that!"Kajal snapped, hurt to the quick. She placed her stylish leather bag on the table and heard her mother quip, "No doubt you spent a bomb on that one?"

Kajal threw her hands up in frustration, not deigning a reply. And then she heard her daughter's tinkling laughter. Keya had been watching the scene unfold and running up to her granny, hugged her. "I know where mom gets her training from!"

Kajal pursed her lips tightly. At 45, she did not need to be pulled up like a teenager by her 70 year old mother.

(Note: Some such story had been on my mind for a while. But when my mom and I had a very similar conversation yesterday, the story was bound to become a reality!) 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Airing the Room Upstairs

One of the two doors shrank to become the window. A window with the doors wide open.

The other door led to a path that grew and grew. And then, it seemed as if that too would have to be partly closed. But strangely, having opened the door, it was now not a question of whether it was a door or a window. For the path led me on, curving, undulating, zig-zagging, but always moving further and further - sometimes through dry patches, sometimes through lush green vistas, always exciting and wonderful.

The window? That I thought I could peep at the other world from, seemed to be shuttering up and as the day grew into mid morning and afternoon. It seemed that before night fell, the curtains would have to be drawn with not even a hint of light coming in through there.

There were many reasons to close that window forever. The light was weak, the breeze mild. And yet, those were reasons enough to keep it open - light still streamed in, breeze was refreshing still.

How children love to enter a house through unbarred windows! Opportunities find their way in just like that, taking me by surprise. They invigorate me, tease me with endless possibilities and add variety. The window may now not expand now to become a door. But the path takes a life of its own. It may be short or long, but it is there, for me to see, relish and cherish.

I am glad that I kept that window open.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Protect It Like Wealth

One Earth: Protect It Like Wealth:

Protect It Like Wealth

There was a time when 'wasting money like water' was a commonly understood maxim. Commonly accepted in fact. But today, the consequences of taking water for granted is hitting us badly. Globally there is a shortage of drinking water. Water resources are drying up. And rain flays us or fails us but does not do much to fulfill our water needs.

Because, we use more than we need... more than nature designed for us. We flush water down the drain, we flush waste into water bodies and think that somehow, money is going to find us water all the time.

Having got used to this system, it came as a shock when one retired IAS officer pointed out to me - we shit in water which is considered holy, pour more water to flush it across the city thus adding volume and then try to remove the waste and make that polluted water usable in some form. It has become fashionable to say 'recycle' but not 'stop polluting'.

Ecosan toilets has been tried successfully in some of the regions with high water table and a retired IAS official who had worked with it wanted a book written. After I met her to ghost write the book for her, the comforting sound of a full flush tank emptying itself in my toilet makes me feel guilty. These toilets work on the principle of liquid separation, letting the waste dry hygienically and use it as compost at the end of a period of time. Like in the traditional system, but with hygiene and privacy, it helps maintain the ecological balance and puts less stress on water. As I did some research to add supporting data, other consequences of the sewage system also came to the fore, as also the increasing demand for potable water.

Yes, it needs a huge mindset change. But it is either that, or running out of water sometime soon. Instead of grappling with more and more expensive technology that only addresses water purification after it has been polluted, it is important to look for ways to curtail the polluting habit.

We can no longer afford to waste water. The sooner we realise this, the better.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

But... I Don't!

Namita dressed eagerly.
"Where are you off to?" asked her husband Hrithik.
"I told you, Rustom is down on work and I am meeting him for dinner!" she replied adding a dash of lipstick to her lips.
She saw him frown and felt irritated. But she didn't want to spoil her mood just now. She was bursting to the seams and only Rustom could understand.
"Is it necessary?" he asked in the tone reserved to show his displeasure.
"Is what necessary?" Namita retorted in a tone she wanted to avoid just now.
"This meeting with your friend, whatever his name is..."
"It is Rustom and you know it because you have met him. And yes, it is necessary. He wants to discuss something with me," she replied, adding that little lie.
"You could have called him home."
"Of course, and watched you making him uncomfortable."
"I make him uncomfortable! He makes me uncomfortable, dropping names, showing off..."
"You have a complex," she replied coldly as she draped the dupatta over her shoulder. "He made it in life, you didn't."
"And you like winners," he said coldly.
She shrugged. "Is that not normal?" She picked up her handbag, checked herself in the mirror one last time and started heading for the door when he said, "Aren't you over dressed?"
She rolled her eyes and walked away.
She was early. She found a seat from where she could watch the entrance. Finally he entered 20 minutes later and waved to her as their eyes met.
He was much the same, smarter than she remembered, dressed as men did these days in tight fitting clothes, his hair jet black (dyed?), perfume surrounding them as he took his seat, his after shave adding a lemony tang to the air.
She smiled, hoping she looked just as smart as he did. Now that he was here, her earlier irritation at having to wait vanished. She was eager to tell him her news but didn't want to drop it on him when his attention was still away from her. He was caught up in telling her about his day and she wanted him to get it out of his system.
As he calmed, his eyes met hers searchingly. "You were always so easy to talk to..."
She smiled modestly. "That's what friends are for... Even I have something to tell you."
"Tell me? Yes...?"
He beckoned the waiter as Namita told him of the milestone she achieved unexpectedly. "I am so excited, Rustom! I was nominated for a journalist award at the state level, and I am one of the finalists! I am so excited."
He smiled and then turned to the waiter saying, "We are celebrating. Give us the best food and drinks."
What a thrill shot through her! What a contrast to Hrithik's lukewarm response! There had been no celebrations, just congratulations, some sweets and then life went on as usual.
"I always knew you had it within you," Rustom said, sending a thrill through her. He reached out and clasped her hands. The warmth was comforting.
"Thanks, Russi... It is because of friends like you that I still am able to do what I wanted to... Otherwise, sometimes it all becomes very... you know, overwhelming."
He frowned. "What crap. I am just a gtalk away! How can you get lonely!"
She laughed. "You are a great friend to have around... I wish we lived in the same city," she said.
His eyes softened. His voice softened as he said, "I wish so too..." He continued after a pause, "Sometimes I long to hear your voice..."
She moved back slightly, unconsciously. "You can, anytime you feel like," she said, as a friend should to another.
He leaned forward. "You can't imagine, Namu, how sometimes things become difficult and you look for that someone who will understand you..."
"Yes..." she said. Yes, that's what she had sought when coming to meet Rustom. They had gone to college together, and of the gang of five, only these two were in India. Though they mostly chatted on the net, this was one of the very few times they were meeting. Over a period of time, their confidences to each other had grown. She found Hrithik very unwilling to talk shop at home and Rustom was a good vent. Especially since he understood better where she came from. From the time her name had made it to the shortlist, she had been eager to share it with Rustom, but the moment she heard he was traveling, she thought it would be best to tell it personally, to see him reflect her joy.
"You know how we dreamed, of how we had plans, ambitions... Of other things, life...love..." His voice dipped.
"Yes," she replied, transported back to those days. She felt his grip tighten around her hands. It brought her back uncomfortably to the present. She slowly withdrew her hand, relieved that the food was being served.
But the conversation kept swinging uncomfortably to what could have been. This was not what she was looking for.
When they got up, she was surprised at how relieved she felt. But there was more to come and completely unexpected. At the gate, he turned to her. "A nightcap?"
She looked at her watch and exclaimed. "I really must go now."
He slid an arm around her waist. "For old times' sake?" he asked huskily.
Her heart beat fast. This was not how she thought of Rustom. A good friend, a great friend, a handsome friend. Nothing more.
She smiled. "Yes, let me leave now, for old times' sake." And made good her escape leaving him to figure that one out.
She reached home to find the house plunged in darkness. She silently let herself in, feeling very disturbed. She stepped into her bedroom and could make out the outline of Hrithik lying on the bed. She changed groping in the darkness, her instinct telling her that there was volcano seething under the bed covers.
She silently slipped in, caught in the conflicting emotions of wanting to be left alone to deal with the evening's developments, and to pour out tears of disappointment on Hrithik's shoulders.
It was an aberration, it will be fine, Rustom will not persist, she told herself. But suddenly there was a message. 'Wish you were here for the nightcap...'
And it continued though she did not respond.
"Switch the bloody thing off," Hrithik exploded.
She quickly did.
"Is it not enough that you had dinner out? Do you have to bring that fellow into our bedroom too?"
She squeaked weakly, "Stop it, Hrithik! I am not responding. If he wants to message, how can I help it?" And she wondered how he knew it was Hrithik! What did he know or suspect? She added lamely, "And why should you think this was Rustom?"
He snorted and turned away. She placed a tentative hand on him. She couldn't bear to have the wrong man paying her attentions, and the Mr. Right mistaking her.
He shook it off and said, "Somethings don't need telling."
She sat up. "You are being unfair!"
"Was it him or not?"
She was silent for a second. "Yes. But I didn't even respond."
"He wouldn't have messaged without you encouraging him," he said bluntly. "Otherwise who messages so late in the night without getting a response."
She felt tears wetting her cheeks as she knew he had reasons to suppose so though she had done nothing to encourage this man.
As if hearing the silent complaint in her voice, he sat up. "Tell him not to message you."
She looked up sharply. "That's not fair! It is embarrassing."
"Why? Do you like it?"
"No, but..."
"Yes, or no?"
"This is not court to answer in yes or no," she said sharply.
"I don't like his messaging you like this."
"But you know him! You know he does not matter to us..."
Hrithik raised a hand. "Does he matter to you?"
"As a friend, yes..."
Hrithik shook his head. "No, you may think he is just a friend. But no... he does not think so, does he?"
She lowered her head. "He has never done anything like this before."
"But he has now." As she remained silent, he lay back and turned away. "I know how guys' minds work."
She turned to him. "Do you also...?" she asked surprised.
"Tch! No! But I move with them."
"How do you know you are right?"
"Your silence was enough." His voice was gentler.
She leaned against him. "But I thought a friend."
Hrithik's arm slipped under her and held her to him. He was silent, but she felt more at peace now.
She didn't know when the equations changed, how the balance tipped. But suddenly she felt that she needed to explore the possibility of making a friend of the man next to her.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Going Into Denial

I made it a habit of talking to plants first thing in the morning. The were lush green, flowering and gave joy to the heart.

Is it the summer? Is it the end of their lifetimes? Is it some negligence on my part?

My rose that bloomed non stop for three months is now leafless and its stem is becoming brown.

My tulsi dried, the next one never took off and the third is on probation.

One strain of money-plant is drying up.

My crotons have dried up. One set of plants I got from my brother died in a day, but the seeds are buried there, and I dread to do anything in a hurry lest I don't give it the chance that it deserves.

Yes, there are some healthy, flourishing plants too in the balcony. But somehow, I hesitate to go to them, to talk to them, feeling overwhelmed and guilty. Do I give them hope of fresh life as the season changes, or do I have to root them out and look for fresh plants?

Is this decision easy? It brings with it the weight of responsibility of caring for another life, of taking a decision on whether it is truly dead or if life is dormant, needing just the right circumstances to spring back to life. It seems easier to step back and wait, not go one way or the other.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Holding My Little Finger

He would return from work and fill every bucket, every mug with water before it stopped after freshening up and before having his evening tea.
And then he would settle down with the newspaper, immersed in the crossword.
Once in a while, I would need some drawing done and he would help me out with that - drawing the entire thing as I went about my other activities, like playing, play acting, watching TV.
He would tell me bedtime stories - he would be reclining and I would be up vertical and I would have to shake him awake to continue with the story.
He would ask me to sing - his only expectation of me - and I would howl in reply, singing through tears.
And then, we shifted cities, shifted homes. I grew up from a child to an adolescent.
I was shaken from my comfort zone - having known only one home for 10 years, suddenly I was taken to a city my family was familiar with but I wasn't. I left behind my school, my colony and my friends. From wide streets, I was looking at rooftops from my 8th floor balcony and unable to make out any trace of even lanes between the congested houses. I felt friendless and alone.
My first entrance exam in one school came to naught and I panicked, fearing his disapproval. He just smiled. "There are other schools, don't worry."
I made it in the next (and ironically, I would go back to the first school to complete my senior school). I struggled with the new school, passing only provisionally to the next class. Strangely, no fire and brimstone rained on me. Life seemed placid with just gentle cautioning. But despite having two brothers in IIT (one, in fact, doing his IIM by then), my poor performance in 9th went almost without remark.
And I discovered other sides to the man I called father. His broad mindedness, his easy going nature, and his Taurean temper that flared up once in a while, but never at me.
As I grew, he became less of my father and more a friend - a person I could tell my deepest secrets to without being judged.
And, even living away from home several times and now for several years, that bond remains - father remains friend, with whom I share my secrets, my joys and troubles. He is the listener every woman dreams of (he is not that with my mom, I know...), who shares my interests, and encourages me with his childlike wonder at what he considers my achievements.
I can be me with him.
Love you dad, though I often don't say it.
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