The Road Was A Rainbow

I am writing my note at the start of my post instead of at the end as usual. This is a slightly longer missive than usual. This short story is nearly 3,000 words long, but hopefully a breeze to read. Hope you like it.

On other fronts – I am on book number 12 in the Wheel of Time series (Update – I finished the series:)). In one of my earlier posts, I cribbed about the story being let down by the writing at times. But I was thinking about this later – how I am constantly pursuing this ‘perfect’ piece of writing and am petrified to share something for fear of it not measuring up to my inner writer/reader-police. Sometimes a writer just has to let go off the piece, so that the story can be shared, find a voice and a reader. Having thought that, I felt like an idiot my earlier criticism of Robert Jordan’s writing. He was a far braver writer, and I should learn from that.

Writing regularly is still a struggle as I try to balance our innumerable hospital visits with the time and space required for me to write. My mind needs to write and at the same time, it cannot sit still enough (physically, emotionally, or mentally) to write. But I am glad that I am able to send this one out. Do let me know what you think.


The road was strewn with rainbows in every direction. Pink, blue, and white stars glittered and danced on the tarred highway half-melting under the afternoon sun.

“Come fast!” Anjali shouted as she ran ahead. At eight-almost-nine she was the oldest. Anila, her younger sister, Mita and I, aged six, were the minions. But with my birthday around the corner, I considered myself more seven than six. A point I rubbed into Mita and Anila’s face at every opportunity.

The way to school from our working-class homes in the Woollen Mill Colony crossed a couple of groundnut fields, along a highway and ended at the gate and the stern guard at the Air Force TACDE compound. It was a walk that no self-respecting modern parent would have let their young child go on alone; but the world was safer then or maybe we were just ignorant. We were all defence kids, our fathers serving in various roles with the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment of the Indian Air Force. Every few years, the air force men and their families had to move out of the safe confines of the defence quarters and slum it in civilian zones. I didn’t mind.

The Woollen Mill Colony had once been home to mill workers and supervisors when the cotton mills had hummed with life. Now the mill loomed abandoned in the background, and defence personnel and farmers occupied the houses. Someone had even painted Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ across the mill’s walls, trying to justify the death of a way of life, and challenging fate and time that had crept into the mill’s deserted walls.

With its tired, working class, stand-alone houses, a gaggle of kids my age and huge backyards swollen with plantains, drumstick and mango trees, thorny shrubs that savagely grabbed us as we tried to rescue our makeshift cricket balls, the colony was magical. The heart of the colony was the sprawling banyan tree that had stepped out of the Jataka Tales, and which would be a haunted tree, or the magical Faraway Tree or a ship according to what took our fancy that day. If we did not create adventure, it came seeking us in the form of the beautiful grass green flying snake that we disturbed when we trampled a bush searching for a ball, or an angry neighbour driven to distraction by our loud, raucous games.

Every morning at 7.30 the four of us would step out of our homes for the half hour trudge to the Kendriya Vidyalaya Air Force School, located in the TACDE compound. The highlight of the otherwise boring, drudge of a walk was the stretch that hugged the farm’s edges as the approach road from our homes turned right into the highway. Hedges peeked through the fences, acting as an additional barrier against stray goats. Hedges laden with luscious blackberries that we plucked and feasted on as we walked to school. We felt wild, our hearts pounding, terrified that the farmer would cotton on to our thievery and chase us, or worse, tell our mothers. He never did notice.

On our way back home, with the farmer and his wife working closer to the hedges, the farm ceased to be something to look forward to. Despite our boastful goading of ‘today I am going to pluck one,’ none of us built up the courage to swipe even a single berry with him lurking a couple of meters away bent over his groundnut crop.

In the afternoons it was the road that was magical. The road itself was an ordinary road stretching into the horizon, bordered by groundnut farms, thorny scrub trees and the dusty barren plots that dotted the flatlands of Jamnagar. At times it would be a river in full spate that we rowed down battling crazed crocodiles, or a forest path overhung with creepers and with wild animals that tried to eat us up. The crocodiles and wild animals were soundly defeated by our ingenuity every single time. Once every couple of days, in a nod to reality, one of us would have to die. The dead person carried everyone’s water-bottles. Anjali, the oldest and smartest never died. Mita and Anila died quite often. If the dead person was lucky, the bottles would be empty, as we raced back home for some hot snack and the freedom of playtime. We had walked, trudged, dragged our feet, swum, climbed and trekked down this road, six days a week for the last nine months, and in all this time it had been a plain old road, never a field of tiny rainbows.

Photo by Ikaia Pal on Unsplash

The day we saw the rainbow field on the road, we were headed home, the farm another five minutes-walk away. Initial awe gave way to a mad scramble to the spot. And there they lay, on our side of the road. Hundreds and thousands, maybe millions of diamonds, twinkling gaily at us as they caught the sunlight. For a moment, the four of us stood and stared at the treasure lying in front of us. We looked at each other, the road and then the farm. The highway stretched lonely in both directions. In the distance we could see the TACDE gate in the direction we had come from and the farm to our left lay quiet in the swollen afternoon heat.

I squinted up at the sky. I had wanted a talking doll just like Mita’s, but my mother had forbidden me from asking my father for it. “He has enough to worry about, without having to find the money for talking dolls,” she had said. That night I had lain awake negotiating with God. I promise to be a good girl. I promise to study hard and get good marks. I promise… Sleep overtook me in the middle of my promises, and I slipped into a dream of Kapil Dev playing cricket with the colony kids, talking dolls and a flouncy Pomeranian.

Were these diamonds God’s answer to my prayers?

The stunned pause that had descended on the four of us was replaced by a sense of urgency. Following an unspoken accord, Anjali, Anila and I crouched to collect the diamonds. It was a moment before we realised that Mita was standing by, looking first at the road, and then the farm. A jittery bird poised to take flight even as it edged towards the breadcrumbs on the porch. She had never been any good with picking berries and she was no good with the diamonds either. But we had always shared our berries with her.

It was Anjali who let her know how things stood.

“Mita, we will not give you our diamonds, okay? You better collect your own.”

Hearing this Anila and I doubled down and renewed our efforts at collecting all the diamonds we could. We were stuffing them into our empty lunch boxes. At the back of my mind was the sour awareness that Anjali and Anila would have a lot more diamonds, because they are sisters, and they were going to combine their haul, whether they liked it or not. Their mother will make them. Most of me was okay with that, though I did wish my brother were old enough to be collecting diamonds with me.

Mita continued to stand to the side, looking rather forlorn. Maybe her family didn’t need diamonds. The memory of Mita’s mother swaying into Parul’s house for the Ganesh pooja came unbidden to my mind as I scrambled around for the precious stones. I had heard my mother and some other aunties sniff derisively and say something about necklaces and peacocks, and I remembered getting excited and looking around for one and being sorely disappointed. Sitting there, counting down to when the pooja would get over, the dots had connected. Mita’s mother was the peacock… the peacock with a shiny necklace. It must have been a diamond necklace. Her father, who owned two of the local businesses (Vasudev General Stores and Vasudev Flour Mill), was after all the only one in the colony with a car. An Ambassador that he unveiled every Sunday, when Mita’s family would drive away for a picnic on the palace grounds or a visit to the Bala Hanuman temple. Yet I couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for Mita as she stood aside with her lower lip trembling. Fool! Why can’t she collect some anyway?

It took us about 15 minutes to pick the diamonds strewn on the road. Stuffing the lunch boxes back into our bags, and dusting our hands, we half ran home, wanting to reach home before our mothers began to worry; because once they got over the worrying, there would be scolding for sure. We didn’t even look at the blackberries beckoning us as we rushed home. As I neared home, doubt began to set in, and the questions rushed in. Whose diamonds were these? Are diamonds like berries? Will anyone notice that they are no longer there on the road? Will they know we took them?

I didn’t have time to discuss these new worries with the much wiser Anjali, as I had reached home, and I could see my mother standing at the door. I waved bye and rushed in, sliding past my mother avoiding her questioning glare.

“Ma, I am hungry!” I said as I ran into the room I shared with my two-years-old brother.

“Wash up and come out. I have made upma.”

I grimaced. Upma. When will she learn that I couldn’t stand upma. I could not conceive a more boring dish than the clumpy, roasted semolina and vegetable porridge that my mother insisted on whipping up on a regular basis.

I stood for a minute, undecided about my next move. I heard the noise of the steel plate being taken out of the kitchen drawer. I pulled open the Godrej steel almirah and grabbed a top, poured my diamonds into it and tying it up into a potli, shoved it under my bed, into the dark recesses behind the rolled-up extra mattress. I was no longer sure about telling my mother about the diamonds. Seeing her waiting for me at the door had brought home the realisation that she would not see eye-to-eye with my ‘finders keepers’ ideology. She had after all walked all the way back to the pharmacy with my brother and me, when she had belatedly realised that they had given her back three rupees extra. “We don’t keep what doesn’t belong to us. We are not beggars or thieves,” she had told me as I had moaned about all the walking I had to do.

I sat down on the steps leading into the backyard from the kitchen with my plate of upma, feeling increasingly like a criminal. Diamonds were not the same as berries. What was I thinking! A part of me was now certain that I was going to end up in prison. Maybe I could throw the diamonds back on the road on my way to school tomorrow. Not throw. Scatter them, real natural like. I made my mind up to ask Anjali and Anila to do the same when we met in the evening to play. I didn’t want to be the one without any diamonds… though there was Mita. Smart girl. At least she was not a wanted criminal.

I was almost done with the upma when someone knocked at the front door. I heard my mother open the door.

“Sakshi!”

I sat frozen. How did they find us so quickly! Do they put handcuffs on children? I shot up and ran to the front door when my mother snapped my name out again. Mita stood at the door with her mother. For a moment I stood nonplussed. Why was my mother annoyed? These two were not cops. My relief did not last long as my mother fixed me with a glare.

“What is going on? Mita’s mother says that you are refusing to share…” and here my mother lost steam. She looked at me and then at Mita and then slowly back at Mita’s mother, “Did you say diamonds?”

I swallowed the upma still in my mouth. I looked at Mita and her mother, hating both with a clarity that stunned me. I was too young to have a word to describe what I saw in Mita’s mother’s eyes, but I could recognise the covetousness. I had felt the same ugly, grabby feeling for a moment when I had realised that Anjali and Anila could gather double the diamonds I could.

“Sakshi?”

She was tired. I could see that. It had been a long day of housework and taking care of a toddler who had no sense of self-preservation. And now here was this woman she did not like yapping about sharing diamonds.

“What diamonds is she talking about?”

I toyed with the idea of saying ‘I don’t know’ all innocent like; but remembered in time that Mita was standing right there. And what if they decided to drag Anjali and Anila into it! Anyway, there was no point lying to my mother. She always knew.

I ran to my room, pulled the potli out. It lay heavy in my hand as I dragged myself back to the front door and handed it over to my mother. My mother opened the knots and looked at the contents, lying flatly in the makeshift bag. They were no longer twinkling and glimmering. She then looked at Mita’s mother.

“Here, you can have them all if you want,” she said stretching her hand with the potli in it towards them.

Mita’s mother had also had a glimpse of my treasure trove. She spanked Mita on the back of her head and turned and walked away without a word, avoiding my mother’s eye, Mita trailing behind her.

My mother closed the door after them, handed me my potli, and took my plate of upma from me.

“Do you want some more?”

I shook my head – no. I stood there unsure as to what had happened. My mother didn’t look as mad as I had expected her to. In fact, I could have sworn that she was pleased. Did this mean that I got to keep the diamonds! She just shook her head in mild exasperation and turned back into the house to pull my brother away from the full plastic barrel of water stored in the kitchen that he was trying to climb into.

“Throw those glass pieces away. It is a wonder you did not get cut.”

Glass pieces!

I looked at the potli’s contents. They no longer glimmered, but lay flat, ugly, and shorn of life staring back at me. I tied the potli up again and walked to my room and pushed it back under the bed. Glass pieces. I did not want to go out to play that evening but staying back would have meant answering my mother’s questions.

Playtime was a shadow of its usual self. The sisters’ mother had made them throw the glass pieces away and given them an earful for bringing junk home. Mita did not even join us. When some of the kids decided to play hide-and-seek, my bad luck continued and I was the seeker and I could not find a single one, and then I lost interest and yelled that I was going back home. What a useless day! I wanted to cry but was too angry to. So many talking dolls.

Dinner was torture, as I had to sit through my mother’s retelling of the events.

“Can you imagine? She thought they were diamonds and she collected them all!”

“Not all,” I grumbled. “Anjali and Anila also collected the diamonds.”

“Most probably a truck’s broken window pieces!”

“Do you think we should take her to the clinic for a tetanus?”

My parent’s voice droned on in the background. A truck’s broken window. A hundred million pieces of rainbow! Who knew truck windows break into a million beautiful pieces!

The next day, the four of us walked to school as usual. We plucked a few berries more out of habit than any desire to eat them. Anila did not even bother; just slapped the prickly leaves away. None of us shared with Mita. As we reached the spot, we saw a few diamonds, that had escaped our eagle eyes, glimmering. I could not stop thinking of them as diamonds. But none of us stopped to pick them. Anila kicked one away into the bushes on the side of the road, as we walked on towards school.

It was another full day before we spoke to Mita. It was not her fault that the field of rainbows turned out to be a lie, but we needed to blame someone. Her unwillingness to be a part of our little clique and join in our games even as she craved the undeserved berries and glass pieces, made it easy to blame her. She also ended up dying in every single adventure we had on the road and carrying our water bottles for the next couple of weeks. But she never complained, and then one day we decided it was Anjali’s turn to die, and after a moment’s shock she agreed and carried our bottles. And just like that an unrecognised bitterness dissolved into laughter as we ran home.


A Return

It has been a while since I have blogged. I told myself that I am going to stay away from social media and any distractions of the online kind until I was done with my final draft. A year or so down the line, I have learnt that the final draft is never the final draft, especially when working on one’s first ‘proper’ novel. Suffice it to say tears of blood have been shed. I am now working on what I sincerely hope is the penultimate final draft. Laugh away you Gods of fate.

Staying away from social media has been the easy part. After the first few days of twitchy fingers, I have not once felt the need to get back on the social media bandwagon. That is until December 2019.

A sense of unease with the Indian government’s silence on many issues and the standard response of resorting to divisive religious talk had been building up over the years. The amendment to the CAA was the last straw for me. As an NRI, and one of the privileged folks, who is not impacted by the CAA, I move in circles that seemed disassociated with the harsh reality of life on the ground in India. I needed to talk to like-minded people, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I chose Twitter – maybe because it is the one platform that I rarely used except for the direct upload of blog links from my WordPress account. I knew I did not want to be pulled back into posting on a regular basis, so Twitter seemed apt.

It has been a learning – I have had a speed course in brief on Indian history (of which I knew a bit more than what our schools teach us), Kashmiri history (of which I knew next to nothing), political and legal implications of many laws, and above all, it has been an introduction into the world of online activism – an impassioned world fraught with hope, sincerity, righteousness, anger, sarcasm and biting wit. I had no clue that there were so many committed, passionate, politically aware people in our country, especially among the millennials. I sound like, no scratch that, am such a neophyte in this regard. But it is true – the trolling and ugly aspect of Twitter aside, it is really a great place to get a toe-hold into understanding pretty much any topic.

Three months down the line, I have begun to read Indian history in greater detail (not just the easily available official line), have begun to read more about what is happening in Kashmiri from various sources, and am reading up about socialism. It is overwhelming. My head hurts with all the information. It has also meant that my writing has taken a back seat.

Now as I sit here in the safety of my middle-class life in the Middle East, my heart still broken about what happened in NE Delhi, I know that I cannot do much except contribute to some funds, tweet my anger, hurt and affront. But what I can do is what I genuinely believe is my only true skill – write.

As always, when I stumble at my writing, I turn to my blog. It is the place where I work my writing muscles and tease the knots that tie me up open. However, there are many thoughts that I need to pen down that are more political in nature. I hope that setting the words down will free my mind to get back to my business of working on my novel in a more focused manner.

So please bear with me if my blog posts end up being political in nature more often than not. Even my poems are angry. I have realised that I cannot turn my back on politics. I am a woman living in deeply trying times. Existence, I have come to realise, is political. There is no escaping it.

This is a longish post, especially given that I have posted zilch here in so long. Thank you for sticking around.

S for Success. S for Suicide.

A 17-year-old from New Delhi, a 16-year-old swimming champion in the making from Ghaziabad, nursing students, IIT students, medical students, engineering students, students who went through the grind of SAT and GRE and GMATS to get admission in the premier educational establishments of the world – what do these young people have in common?

They have a similar sounding suicide note in common.

Invariably these deaths, result in the usual cacophony about a system that is failing all of us. Which I am sure it is. However, to place these deaths at the unheeding doorstep of the system is extremely short-sighted in my opinion.

In an interview to The Telegraph (http://rense.com/general67/sdui.htm) P. V. Sankaranarayanan, of Sneha, a charity that runs a helpline for students in Madras spoke about the questions that haunt these children. “The pressures are manifold,” Sankaranarayanan said. “Will I gain my required marks? Will I satisfy my parents? Will I get on my preferred course? And if they don’t, often the feeling is of overwhelming shame and guilt.”

depression-sutdent
Image courtesy: http://www.reappropriate.co

It is the beautiful Indian middle-class dream. Get an education and make something of yourself and help improve your own life and that of your family. This has been a dream that has survived with very few changes over the years. Sure, medicine and engineering are no longer the only way out of the daily mind-numbing grind of existence that life can be for a lot of people. (And, no you don’t have to be poor to be desperate to get out of your situation in life.) However, the dream lives on, fuelled by the midnight light being burnt by our kids and paid for by us.

As parents, almost every single one of us wants the best for our kids. A great career, a happy marriage, kids, success, a flat or two, a car or two in the garage, jewellery in the locker and money in the bank. That’s it. And we work for that. Boy, do we work hard for that dream!

So our kids grow up watching us chase the future – their future. Most never get to see their parents living in the present… except maybe when they are watching a TV serial or a cricket match… in which case, it is not even their lives they are living and celebrating! This is how it was when my parents were growing up. This was how it was when I was growing up. And shame on us, this is how it is when our kids are growing up. But the great middle-class dream is sacrosanct. It lives on.

And yet, too many of our kids are killing themselves, unable to bear the burden of our dreams.

 

help
Image Courtesy: http://www.patheos.com

 

I cannot begin to imagine what the family of a suicide victim must be going through. Truth be told, I don’t want to imagine or ever know those feelings. But the recent spike in student suicide rates reminded me of another death. A suicide, a few years ago, by a Grade 10 kid in a neighbouring emirate.

The parents realised something was amiss when the school called them up to find out why the boy had not appeared for his Grade 10 final board exam. The parents were shocked. He had left the house on time. But the kid had not gone to his school. He had gone to another building in the neighbourhood to hang himself. He took this final step because he was convinced he was going to fail his 10th math exam. You see, he didn’t even attempt to write the exam. He killed himself a few hours before he even appeared for the said math paper. It wasn’t failure, but the fear of failure that caused him to take such a drastic step.

It was a death that shook a lot of us parents and got many of us re-thinking our parenting style, our priorities and the lessons we were imparting to our children.

I honestly believe that the real malaise is not just with the education system – in that it insists on teaching fish to climb trees and birds to meow like a cat. The problem also lies in the fact that while we focus so much of our energy on teaching our kids how to succeed and keep reiterating how special they are; we don’t focus enough on teaching them how to handle failure.

Failure can be our best friend. It can teach us more than success ever will. It will also make us more capable of handling success when it comes our way. Our kids need to be taught that. Most of them grow up surrounded by stories of successful pop stars, sports stars and YouTubers. They may, quite often, believe that success is something that comes easily to everyone else. With age, we learn better.

The current generation has grown up with two things – depending on which side of the financial fence you are on. A sense of desperation and a sense of entitlement. Both demand success. For the child who has grown with a sense of entitlement, success is a habit – either because he or she never fought a battle that was not already rigged in their favour by a well-meaning society and/or lady luck, or because they have never met another who is equal to or better than them. These kids have no idea how to handle a setback in life.

For the child who is desperate, there is no other option but to succeed. Failure of any kind is not acceptable because they believe that they will not get another chance or shot at success. They may be right too! They may not get another shot at passing whatever exam it is they are appearing for… they may never get another shot at success within a limited canvas. But they are wrong in believing that this is the only way out. They are wrong in believing that success is only limited to what they imagined it to be.

We all need to know that oftentimes failure leads to greater successes, if not in the same field then in some other field. That proverb – “when one door closes, another opens” is true.

In a world that worships popularity, likes, hits and shares, we need to teach our kids that it is ok to be normal and ordinary. The definition of success has to extend beyond fame and acknowledgement by peers. In my 20s, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with world famous names. It was an opportunity that was a blessing. But it had another impact on me too. For a while, no matter how well I did in my life, I felt that my life was an ode to mediocrity. In my head, I had equated success with fame. It took me a while to get over that.

As we spend time carting our kids from one activity to another, as we drop them off to yet another tuition, as we motivate, encourage, nudge, push and chide our kids to greater accomplishments; maybe we need to spend a little time telling them that it is ok to trip and fall. They can always get back on their feet. Real failure is when we choose to stay down.

Maybe along with math, science, and an additional third or fourth language, we should teach them about grit – the quality that American researchers have identified as the prime quality and reason behind a well-balanced and successful life.

muchpain

Image courtesy: http://www.metanoia.org

This does not mean that we don’t demand the best for, and out of our children. It just means that we teach them to handle the ups and downs of life. Life is not going to be a series of ‘best moments’ captured on Facebook. It is also going to involve fear, loneliness, anger, regret and guilt.

This is not a commentary on a particular suicide. No parent rears their kid for this act. Sometimes we can do everything right and yet things go wrong. But too many kids have been killing themselves off late. And while we can blame the systems – caste, education, politics – I think that is a simplistic outlook. We can try and change the world. But we may or may not be able to. I don’t know. What we can do is to try and equip our children to handle this world and its vagaries… its beauty and disappointments. And let us not depend on our educational institutions to do that for us.

* This post has nothing to do with Rohith Vemula’s death or the suicides caused by other trigger factors, like depression, mental illness, unresolved childhood abuse, emotional anorexia, racism and loneliness. The focus of this blog post is only on suicides in India triggered by the fear of failure suffered by students.

** You can get more information about suicide prevention hotlines in India at http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/international/india-suicide-hotlines.html.

*** In Dubai, visit https://twitter.com/suicidedubai.

**** Featured Image Courtesy: http://www.theweeklyobserver.com

 

10 Reasons Why An NRI Misses India

I am a bit stuck today. Not a writer’s block, but I don’t feel like posting anything that I have written. Not good enough… too personal… not ready to share blah blah. Then as I was sitting in front of the TV and trying hard to not watch the IPL match between Delhi and Mumbai, I realized that I am dying for my daughter’s summer vacation to start. The two month long holidays meant that we spent a month to a month and half in India. Something that we look forward to as it allows us the chance to spend time with our families, and also to reconnect with a country that we call home.

Before long I was making this list.

10 Reasons Why An NRI Misses India… I am not mentioning family and friends – that is a given.

  1. The black ink on the index finger. I am an expat in a foreign land and cannot vote. So the act of exercising your right to vote holds special meaning for me.
  2. The cheerful, frantic buzz of the perfect amalgamation of at least 10 Indian languages that hit you as soon as you land in any Indian airport. You can be assured that you will hear some Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati and Tamil for sure. Guaranteed.
  3. Monsoon clouds… especially if you spend 11 months of the year in the Middle East, where if you are lucky it will drizzle twice for about 10 minutes maximum. And then you come to India in July and look up and see those thick, luscious clouds.
  4. Roadside dhabbas and chaat sellers. Sure if you are the owner of a sissy tummy you may end up in the hospital with a drip in your arm, but that is a risk most of us are willing to take.
  5. Secondhand book shops on the pavement, with a Mills&Boons steamy romance rubbing shoulders proudly with Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Discovery of India. Not to forget the ubiquitous tutorial and exam guide books.
  6. Movie posters! (I learnt to read Tamil thanks to all those posters I saw while travelling by bus.) And they are so colourful and over the top! The actor’s dramatic expression captured for posterity and for every passerby to gawk at. Some of them are hilarious and some are lewd.
  7. Freedom to criticize the powers that be – loudly and openly. Freedom to display religious icons – no matter what God you believe in. No one is going to persecute them for saying or thinking what they want to. Yes there have been occasions when these rights have been trampled upon. But most times, Indians exercise these rights without any sense of fear.
  8. A sense of belonging that I have not experienced anywhere else. I have travelled to a few countries – all of which were beautiful and well planned (or better planned than India) and seemed to function better. But my soul fires up and I am buzzing with energy when in India.
  9. Holi and Diwali on the streets. If you have not experienced it, you have missed out on something. It is not Mardi Gras. It is more visceral – a heady combination of religion, suspension of rules and masti (a Hindi word that could be translated to mean joy and fun).
  10. Signboards that promise way more than they will ever deliver or ever meant to deliver. “Potty’s Restaurant – Pure Vegetarian” anyone! It should have been Pothy’s. Or how about Anus Coaching Centre. That should have been Anu’s. I love these signboards. They make me laugh out and remind me again and again about what a colourfully eccentric I belong to. Another one was a garage in Goa that advertised its manual car wash services with – The Best Hand Job in Town.

Of course there is the other side to it too. So…

10 things about India that an NRI doesn’t miss…

  1. Nosy neighbours… I swear you don’t have them in the Middle East. And if you do, chances are they are originally from India.
  2. Road work that halts traffic for years.
  3. Flyovers to nowhere that are never completed.
  4. Crazy flooding. Monsoon in India is magical. It can also be scary and disruptive. If like me you like the rains, then you will be a lot more tolerant of all the hassles… but everyone cracks under the pressure – sooner or later.
  5. Inflation! I could buy the shop for Rs500 when I left… now I am lucky if I can get a bottle of milk and a tissue box.
  6. And those tiny four road junctions, where no one will let anyone else have the right of way. The motto is – Let’s all be stuck together!
  7. Your cousin’s husband’s aunt who is mad at you for missing her baby’s wedding. Doesn’t matter that you don’t remember the aunt or the baby.
  8. Lack of queues. I know! It is an Indian thing. We are sorry. I don’t know why we can’t stand in queues. It is a mystery or maybe it is in our DNA. Of course we behave when we are in a foreign land, but the minute we are back in India…
  9. Roadside Romeos – they sound romantic and cute don’t they? They are not. They are irritating idiots who think it is ok to heap unwanted attention on a female, just because she is a woman and he is a… well, man. And no – all women in India do not get raped!
  10. The humidity!!! Heat is one thing. Humidity is another. The icky sticky feeling – it may be good for your skin and it may flush out all the toxins, but a little less of the sweaty feeling would have been nice.

Do write in and tell me what you miss and don’t miss (or wouldn’t miss) about your country.

My Himalayan Odyssey Part 8 – Lil Brown Mouse and Some Unwelcome Rain

We just dumped our bags outside our respective tents and headed to the rickety plastic table and chair arrangement outside the dining tent for a few beers. The local beer that we had purchased in Solan from a local shop (the plan to buy it from the brewery had amounted to naught as it was closed on that day) is called Lion. I am not much of a beer drinker but according to the other three extremely knowledgeable parties the beer was strictly m-eh.

The view more than made up for the not so great beer we had bought in Solan.
The view more than made up for the not so great beer we had bought in Solan.

 

Perfect setting to swap ghost stories :)
Perfect setting to swap ghost stories 🙂

We also braved our way down in the gathering dusk to the port-a-loos. (Word of caution – at these heights toilet seats are cold, so prepare yourself mentally for the shock of sitting on it). The kids (including the baby) made their way to the kitchen tent and warmed themselves at the choola (brick stove that uses wood for fuel).

The tents looked very picturesque and romantic... from the outside.
The tents looked very picturesque and romantic… from the outside.

Warming Up By The Choolah. That was the dal (lentil) being cooked.
Warming Up By The Choolah. That was the dal (lentil) being cooked.

It was at this point that we were told the bad news – Thakur had not organized the chicken for dinner. Apparently we were supposed to pick it up along the way and bring it for him to cook. A minor detail lost in translation, which meant that dinner was again rajma-chawal… all of us being hard core non-vegetarians, we were getting a bit tired of the rajma by then. But given that there was no way we could get a chicken at this point of time, we trudged to the dining tents and ate our dinner rather glumly under those gloomily lit bulbs that remind you of Malayalam art movies from the 70s.

Reva had to hang on to Yugi to keep the spiders safe. That fellow is fearless!
Reva had to hang on to Yugi to keep the spiders safe. That fellow is fearless!

Dinner was quick as everyone was tired. It was at this time that we began to notice the bloody spiders. For some reason, Himachal Pradesh doesn’t have small spiders. They are big! Crazy big! The mountain air apparently suits them! The girls refused to touch the tent flaps or sit too close to the wooden tables. With Yugi we had the opposite problem. We had to stop him from grabbing anything and everything. I did not take any pictures of those spiders for obvious reasons but if you are the sorts that really wants to know how those spiders looked, click here… I would suggest you don’t but…

The next day Surya, Suresh and Reva told me that they had seen a huge black snail on the tent’s ceiling. They had wisely refrained from telling the same to the girls and me cause altitude sickness or not, mountains in the dark or not, the three of us may have just run down screaming all the way to Chandigarh.

Outside it was pitch dark. It was a new moon night, so we only had the stars and the silhouettes of the tall trees and the mountains for company. It is a sight that should strike terror, but while one did experience a frisson of fear the main emotion was awe! The silence interrupted only by the chirping and buzzing of some bugs partying away in the grass added another layer of depth to the overall awesomeness of the place.

The sun had set and instead of the moon and stars we got rain clouds...  After a while I quit wiping my camera lens.
The sun had set and instead of the moon and stars we got rain clouds… After a while I quit wiping my camera lens.

After dinner we all trooped to our tents. It was still drizzling. The interiors of the tent may never win any Good Housekeeping awards but it was clean if you disregard all the moths that were attracted to our lanterns. We dusted the bed and the blankets to make sure that no other creatures had settled in for the night.

Parisa was searching for bugs n spiders, I was trying to tempt Yugi away from the snack bag with a lip balm (don't ask!) and Sakshi decided that she had had enough of the great outdoors and wanted some TLC time with her iPad.
Parisa was searching for bugs n spiders, I was trying to tempt Yugi away from the snack bag with a lip balm (don’t ask!) and Sakshi decided that she had had enough of the great outdoors and wanted some TLC time with her iPad.

After Parisa and Yugi went to their tent, Sakshi managed to remove her hiking boots and crawled into the middle of the bed and was out cold in the blink of an eye. Surya called out from his tent and told us to hang the plastic bag with the chips and snacks on a coat stand just to keep any pests out. These are instructions that would have normally sent me in to shock but I guess it was a measure of how tired I was that, I didn’t give a fig. I just took the bag and hung it on the topmost hook in the stand.

Sakshi out cold! She was too tired to even bother with the spiders and bugs.
Sakshi out cold! She was too tired to even bother with the spiders and bugs. And yes, I know the picture quality sucks… sorry.

We got into bed and I turned out the lantern. By now the sporadic pitter-patter of the drizzle was replaced by the continuous rhythm of a steady rain. I began to worry about the mud road above… how will we drive the car out and get it to the top! I really did not fancy staying at the camp for one more night though that was an eventuality we were all warned about. Later on I learnt that this very thought of the difficulty of driving on that mud road had kept Surya awake most of the night too. The earlier experience of sitting in a car while it skidded around a bit was not something any of us wanted to re-live.

Suddenly there was another layer of sound added to the beat of the rain! My heightened senses could clearly hear something rustling around. I asked Suresh if he could hear it. He was almost asleep and muttered ‘must be a mouse’ and fell asleep. Nice! Very nice!

I decided that I would turn the lantern on to drive the pesky mouse away. I quietly reached across… a part of brain busy praying and hoping that no creepy crawlies were resting on the lantern for warmth… and turned the lantern on. The sight that greeted me must have inspired the creative brains behind Tom and Jerry. It must easily have been the cutest, little, light brown field mouse, in the world, sitting and nibbling on a piece of cheesy Cheetos. It was standing frozen in the sudden light – reminiscent of the Bajaj ‘meri chori pakdi jaati’ moment. It looked so adorable that I turned the light out thinking that something that cute deserved all the Cheetos in the world. I just made a mental note to throw the bag in the bin the next day.  It was with this background of a cute little mouse nibbling at Cheetos and worrying rhythm of rainfall that I finally managed to fall asleep.

This trip taught me that there is a very thin line between adventure and terror, as the recent horrendous death of 24 students and a tour guide reminded us again. Are these things fated? We went to Himachal Pradesh a month after large swathes of Uttarakhand were swept away by torrential rains, so there was a very real sense of fear that the rains could become a source of terror instead of just a minor inconvenience. However throughout the trip, except for one or two nights of heavy rains (in Jalori and Manali) we had lovely weather. We had prepared for the worst but at the end of the day, we were just lucky that we had such a smooth, adventurous, challenging yet uneventful road trip, despite ‘driving’ on the edge.

Edge of the road.
Edge of the road.

 

Prime Minister Numero 15

Today Narendra Modi, India’s PM elect is all set to be appointed India’s 15th Prime Minister (15th if you combine the two terms of Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh). That makes this the perfect time to take a look at all those leaders who preceded him. What they did after they became Prime Ministers has been recorded many times over in the nation’s history books. What I found interesting was their background before they became the supreme leader of India. Sure they were all members of their respective political parties, but you will note that some were ‘born into’ the top echelons of the party and therefore ‘inherited’ the top positions, while others soldiered on as foot soldiers before reaching the top position.

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PANDIT JAWAHARLAL NEHRU – Barrister, Freedom Fighter

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GULZARILAL NANDA – Scholar, Professor, Freedom Fighter

(He was the acting Prime Minister after the deaths of Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri)

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LAL BAHADUR SHASTRI – Scholar and Freedom Fighter

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INDIRA GANDHI – Assisted her father before becoming a minister

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MORARJI DESAI – Civil Service and Freedom Fighter

(Incidentally, Desai resigned as deputy collector of Godhra in May 1930 after being found guilty of going soft on Hindus during the riots of 1927-28 there! You draw the parallels… however I don’t see Mr Modi having to resign as he has a majority.)

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CHARAN SINGH – Civil Lawyer and Freedom Fighter

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INDIRA GANDHI (2nd Term) – Ex-PM

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RAJIV GANDHI – Pilot

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V P SINGH – Politician

(Not much information available about his beginnings except that he was born in the Rajput Zamindar family ruling the Kingdom of Manda. If you have some information about his background other than his zamindar beginnings please drop me a note. I will update this information.)

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CHANDRA SHEKHAR – Student Politician and activist for farmer’s rights

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P V NARASIMHA RAO – Writer, Editor and Freedom Fighter

(Random fact – PV could speak in Telugu, Hindi, Urdu, Oriya, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German and Persian!)

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ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE – Journalist, Editor and Freedom Fighter

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H D DEVE GOWDA – Activist and Politician

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I K GUJRAL – Freedom Fighter, Poet and Politician

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ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE (2nd Term) – Ex-PM

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MANMOHAN SINGH – Professor, Economist, RBI Governor and senior roles in   Planning Commission and Public Services Commission, Advisor to PM and Finance Minister

(Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister for two consecutive terms.)

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NARENDRA MODI – Tea seller, RSS volunteer, anti-emergency activist and politician

(He is the first Indian PM born after India gained independence. On a lighter note… in a nation of chai drinkers his beginnings counts for something. )

If you have any other interesting facts to add about these stalwarts please do drop me a note and I will add the information to the post.

MIA – The Empathetic Indian

 

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Image Courtesy http://www.indiatvnews.com

In Jaipur a father stood on the side of a highway with heavy traffic and begged for someone to stop and help his injured wife and 8 month old daughter, while having to console his young son. Someone had the time to take a picture and upload it. No one had the time to stop and help them. Not for 40 minutes. By the time a toll booth worker noticed the accident and informed the cops and they arrived, the mother and daughter were dead.

We should be shocked and disgusted. But India being India… we are so damn good at rolling with the bloody knocks! When we heard about how the Delhi rape victim and her friend had to lie surrounded by the general public and even cops for about 20 minutes before they were moved to a hospital, we wince and shake our heads and wonder ‘kaise log hain!’ – ‘What kind of people are these!’

All these months later we assuage our collective guilt by giving posthumous awards to the girl and her family, occasionally holding a placard and a candle asking for justice for the girl and death sentence for the monsters who can hurt another human being in this way. But not one of us has ever stopped to wonder – What is my hand in this? How am I responsible? Did I by turning a blind eye for decades, by mutely witnessing crime and bovine-ly accepting every bull shit that has been meted out to us as a community, help create a world where the monsters and demons that walk amongst us think they can get away with murder? You and I know the answers to these questions. We just don’t want to face the horrible truth that is screaming out silently to us.

There is a myth that has been doing the rounds for ever about India – that we are a country peopled by emotional people who know how to love. Love my foot! Love is more than just romancing the man or woman in your life. Love is being able to feel empathy and concern for the world around us. Love is being unable to drive by when you see a father begging for help for his injured family. Love is being able to reach out to a stranger in dire need of our help. 

I know what you are thinking – It is not safe? Who wants the headache of having to deal with the cops (incidentally this is no longer as much of a problem as before), the hospital? Will the blood stains come off our car seats? We will get delayed in reaching the airport or work or where ever it is that we are headed!

Maybe the all-important question we need to ask is – What if this was me and my family? What if this happened to someone I love? What if it was my child lying there?

I would hope to dear God that my family, loved ones and I would have better luck than the luckless family in Jaipur.