Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Great Coffee Detox

Day 6 at Nisargopchar Ashram

The strains of an old Bob Dylan song play in my mind: “One more cup of coffee before I go…”. For years that has been pretty much what I say through the day, irrespective of whether I am going anywhere or not. My love for coffee is well known- at home and in the office. I simply relish that aromatic brew. I adore its tantalising aroma. I savour its flavour. So fanatic I am about my coffee that I don’t even want it with any flavours or additives. No just plain coffee for me, thank you, with maybe a spot of milk?

Addicted to coffee? No way! I can have as much or as little as I want.
So when SS told me right in the beginning that there was going to be no tea or coffee served at the ashram, I just looked sagely at her and said, “No problem. I can do without coffee!” Like I said earlier, they were famous last words.
Our first day at the Ashram went uneventfully. Especially since I had tanked up on coffee before going there. Our last stop at the Mall in Pune gave me an opportunity to have one more cup of coffee! I had it without knowing it was going to be my last… for some time at least.

The first day went off fairly well. The second morning I got up with a slight heaviness in the head. By midday that ‘heaviness’ had become several kilos heavier. It was now a throbbing headache. By late afternoon the kilos became tonne, I needed a crane to carry my head around, and I sank under the burden of an all-consuming epic headache. I knew it was lack of coffee. Funnily I was not missing the coffee. But the headache kept reminding me that I had not had it now for over 24 hours.
The second day I went back to the doctor with my headache problem. She nodded understandingly and said that it happens to most people who are used to drinking tea or coffee and it goes away in about 2 days. But she also prescribed some acupressure and foot massages as well as hot foot baths in the night before retiring to bed. I quickly jumped at all those remedies – anything to get rid of a headache in a natural manner.

Did the headache go? No way. Even after a night’s rest, I woke up with a heavy head on the third morning. I had now realised that the headache was not going to go in a hurry. And with a hurting head I did some serious thinking (believe me, it’s very difficult to even think when your head aches like this!)

As I writhed in agony with my head in my hands I cursed myself for my foolishness. My foolhardiness. My bravado. I had been warned well in advance about not getting coffee at the ashram. In retrospect I realise I should have started tapering down my coffee drinking before leaving. But no! I was so sure that I was not dependent on coffee. So foot-thumpingly positive that I could do without it at any given point of time. Strangely, even now, I did not crave a cup of coffee. Which meant, mentally I was there. This time, it was my body that was rebelling. And how! And with a pounding head I came to the conclusion that, sure enough, I had become quite habituated to my favourite brew and could not do without it.

There was a time when NF and SS really looked concerned. My whole head was so tender there was never a time, I think, when I did not have an oppressed expression on my face. More than that, any sound that was half a decibel above a whisper seemed to grate on my nerves. On one particular morning while I was getting a massage, the cantankerous maalishwali bais decided to get into an argument. Their shrill voices, their pointless arguments and their infighting got to a point where I could hear no voices but just pounding in my head. I really suffered that day.

But after two days the headaches relented a bit. On the third day, even though I woke up with a headache, the headache finally disappeared by evening. On the fourth day, I had a headache only in the afternoon. And on the fifth day it was barely there. It was the sixth day on which (much to SS’s and NF’s relief) I declared myself headache-free! Read that as caffeine-free. But my head was tender with so much pounding and I verged on the brink of a headache all day carefully mentally tiptoeing around loud noises, maalishwali bais, or anything that could set off my headache again!

Phew! Six days of coffee withdrawal. If my head was not hurting so much I would have done more introspection on coffee-drinking. And on various forms of withdrawal that I would never have to go through, thank God! Drugs. Smoking, But finally, with the painful realisation that the body had been habituated to the caffeine consumption, I decided that this was one of the best things that I had gained out of our trip.
I had had my last cup of coffee on the morning of 18th September. It’s the 8th of October as I write this. I am proud to say that I have not had coffee since then! The current goal is to stay off it for a month. I’ve replaced it with kaadha at home and herbal tea in the office. And you know what? It’s just fine. Does that mean I will never have coffee? Not necessarily. I still love that drink. But the word is “occasionally”!

And till the ‘occasion’ demands I will continue to enjoy Bob Dylan’s ‘One more cup of coffee…”

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Return to Our Nature

DAYS 3, 4 & 5 – 20th September - 22nd September 2009

By the third day at the Ashram, we had all slipped into a routine – we knew what do when, what to pack for the various treatments, when to fix our massage appointments - before or after mud therapy, when to have our various juices and when to reconvene for lunch.
Our mornings, once we had our kaadha, went in a blur. Each of us did our own little individual routine and our paths crossed at frequent intervals. The treatment centre was a few yards away from the dining hall and we took every chance between treatments to go back there and have the juice of the hour. By the time we finished we were rushing to have lunch or fruit or fruit juice – whatever our choice and we then co-ordinated and met up for lunch.

Over these few days, we discovered that whatever we did our juices were important.

We knew how to time our visits to the doctor so that we could minimise waiting time to the least.

We figured out how to buy our fruit and even get it peeled, cut or shelled (in case of pomegranates) by the fruit sellers.

We explored and found a larger, greener circuit for our morning walks.

And last but not the least, austerity drive notwithstanding, we figured out how to make the most of our evenings! But more about that later.

Over the second and third days, each of us made an individual visit to the doctor. The doctors here are of the firm belief that a fruit diet would be good. On the third day, I agreed. The next 2 and half days I would have only fruit. NF had already started it the evening before. SS decided to do fruit once a day. We’d plot and plan our fruit meals – the main meals and the in-between ones! What Naturopathy recommends is that you eat only one fruit at a time. So we would decide our fruit array for the day, make a trip to the fruit sellers at the gate and pick the choicest of what we wanted. The good thing was that all three of us loved fruit. So we’d make plans at lunch about what fruit we’d have for dinner only to go there and discover that only that particular fruit was not available. We’d quickly revise our plans and continue. No musk melon? Ok… papaya will do. We managed to make quite a feast of our fruit meals: going through the whole gamut of fruit options: papayas, pineapples, pears, guavas, chikoos, custard apples, pomegranates – all these hit our dining lists!

The evenings became the high point of our day. Having finished virtually every activity by about 6:30 pm, we had an evening stretching out before us. We’d go back, shower and change, pack our stuff for the next morning’s hectic activity and then regroup in my room for “the evening entertainment”! With a handy laptop, some DVDs, and some downloaded videos, we were all set to have one memorable evening after another! After all, seeking entertainment was in our nature!

To top that SS had carried a pack of UNO – the fun playing card game. Thanks SS. While I had played UNO earlier, we did one trial run before we actually started playing. Once we did that, I got extra smart and decided to teach SS and NF some clever strategies on winning the game. I must modestly admit, although my innate humility does not allow me, that both my students were quick on the uptake. It is entirely to my credit that, by the next day I could not win a single game. So much did this combination of pride in successful teaching and humiliation of getting defeated rankle, that one evening I told them that we would not stop playing till I won. I think out of sheer respect for my L’Oreal-ed white hair, NF and SS sportingly gave in and we played bleary-eyed late into the night. When I won, I am not sure which one of us was the happiest. I sure was.

The cottages and room complexes in the Ashram had thematic names. Where we stayed the theme was seasons. So there was Vasant and Shishir and Hemant. We were in Sharad 4 and 5. In the Ashram we were identified by our rooms. Sharad Char (four) was mine. Later on, it was to get a higher title: Sharad Char – the Entertainment Centre! By the third or fourth day we had made this pretty much one. Except for Dolby Surround Sound, I think we had everything! Well, sound was an issue on a laptop and we could barely hear the movies. Also because laptops have an LCD screen we had to position it just so, for all three of us to see the video without any dark shadows. Which meant the laptop had to be pretty close for us to hear well, but far enough for us to see clearly. Over three days, NF had it mastered to theatre perfection. For rest of our stay there, that was the hi-fi arrangement that we stayed with. And enjoyed. Thanks NF!

When NF and SS trooped into my room in the evening, they brought with them their own pillows as backrests. The evening entertainment began with a few games of UNO. Then came movie time. SS managed the lighting. NF the rest. On my part I artfully pressed the ‘Enter’ button on the laptop. The laptop itself was placed on a plastic chair thoughtfully provided by the Ashram for that purpose (or so we thought).

If someone were to chance into our room, their reaction would have been appropriately dramatic. There we were, three of us, comfortably cushioned, sitting in a single row, on two single beds joined together, watching a movie on a laptop – the laptop placed on a chair – the chair perched on the bed!
Well, entertainment ke liye kuch bhi karega!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Return to Nature

DAY 2 – 19th September 2009

Our treatments prescribed the previous day, we were all set for the next morning to get them underway. Much of the previous evening went in figuring out how one would go about drinking the various juices and brews advised and manage to squeeze in the number of different treatments. We were laden with terminology alien to us but excited all the same. We were finally here and we were going to go ahead with the predefined 7 days, salt free food notwithstanding.
So what is Naturopathy?
A leaflet provided to us while we checked in describes it as thus: Nature cure is a drugless approach for the management of diseases. It does not advocate use of medicine.
This particular ashram in Uruli Kanchan, Nisargopchar Ashram, was actually set up by Mahatma Gandhi. His belief was that if you are in tune with the elements of nature then there is no cause for illness or disorder to set into your body. Nature cure takes its cures from the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. Each of these is used in therapies to bring back the balance in the body.
Our day at the Ashram began at 5 am. 5:15 we started the first yoga class. Over 2 days, NF figured out that we could do the 6:15 am class as well. So within 2 days we had started doing 90 minutes of yoga, the first class more of stretching and breathing exercises, the second one more energetic and challenging.
We got out of the class, all ready for our morning refresher. No no, no tea or coffee. It was kaadha – a herbal tea brewed from lemon grass, tulsi (basil) leaves and ginger with a bit of jaggery added to it. Post that, we went to a terrace to get our dose of the sun and the earth. A mud pack (mittilep) was applied to the stomach and we had to lie in the sun with it. The mud is supposed to be therapeutic and helps relieves many ailments like constipation, digestive disorders and urinary tract ailments. For people with skin disorders a complete mud bath is recommended. Sun bathing in the early hours gives you your dose of Vitamin D and also brings in the elements of air and fire into your therapy.
After the mud pack, we returned to a series of hydrotherapy treatments. Of the common ones prescribed were tub bath, hip bath, steam bath and spinal bath – each depending on your problems and indications.
This was followed by an (optional) massage. But you kind of waited for this. The maalishwali bais (masseuses) were each very good and characters unto themselves. The code of conduct here was that you got a masseuse assigned to you on the very first day, who then was your ‘bai’ till you left the country, figuratively speaking. So strong is this unwritten code of conduct that if you wish to change your assigned maalishwali to another one, no other woman will agree to do her job. However, if your assignee is busy and she is free to send you a substitute and you are to accept that unquestioningly, almost gratefully. Well, with their kneading and pummelling skills, you better go by what they say.
The massage no doubt is the best part of the deal. If only it could have been less noisy. But get these women together and they are bound to talk, nay, argue. Though whether they talk or argue, with their high-pitched voices, it all sounds like one big fight.
The massage having done, you proceeded to have a bath and then, feeling cleansed and rejuvenated, wended your way to the dining hall. It’s well into 10:30 am by now and the lunch gong has rung. Lunch consists of the virtually the same things we ate for dinner the night before except that the vegetable is different this time. But yes, the food is still devoid of oil, spices and even salt!
Post lunch you hurried your room for ‘quiet time’ a.k.a. afternoon nap. At 1 pm, a mitti patti was kept outside your room. This was mud, wrapped in a piece of cloth and folded into a flat band. You were to keep this on your eyes and forehead for its cooling and soothing effect.
3 pm brought us back the dining hall for our second round of kaadha. Then back to some more treatments. Local steam was one of them. A jet of steam was aimed at ailing parts – like knees, back and so on. For some patients, this warmed part was then bandaged in a linen cloth soaked in warm water then wrung out. This was then further bandaged with a woollen cloth to retain the heat inside. This was kept on for an hour.
The early evening was reserved for a brisk walk around the Ashram premises. Which then worked up your appetite for dinner. The dinner gong went at 5:30 pm. Yes, 5:30! Dinner had most of the stuff in the morning but with the addition of khichdi. It’s funny how the simplest of food suddenly take a place of importance when there is nothing else on offer.
Time and again, as we ate our sattvik food we wondered how we did not miss all those things back home. But in the Ashram it was easy to stick to the regimen because your pat h was not strewn with temptations. A bhel puri counter round the corner. A dosawala two signals away. Pav bhaji smells wafting tantalisingly into your nostrils. The Ashram had none of these. No wonder you had people not straying from the chosen path and knocking off quite a few kilos. 5 kilos, 7 kilos lost, was considered to be the norm.
As the day ended and we went back to our rooms, we wondered how we would fare on our return to nature.

Link to website:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Checking in and checking out

A seven day sojourn at Nisargpocharashram, Urli Kanchan
DAY 1 – 18th September 2009

On the 18th of September 2009, a Honda city drives into the hallowed ashram. Out walk three of us in appropriately impressive sunglasses. And step into the office. Three reasonably simple women stare at us with a combination of surprise and amusement. Surprise because we are (by the standards here) too thin to be here. And amused because they don’t think we can last out here.

Getting here was a story in itself. We left Mumbai at 8 am – pretty early by our standards – or so we thought on 18th of September. (Now we are in the realms of 5 am!) Knowing that we are now going on an ‘austerity drive’ we quickly stopped an hour later for a McDonald’s breakfast. And of course, yes, of course, my virtually last cup of coffee.

Coffee! That fuel that kept me going in Mumbai. “Oh” I said, nonchalantly, “I won’t need coffee out there. I’ll just sleep it off”. (Famous last words! But that’s another story, oops, blogpost, altogether.)
NF tucked in on waffles and maple syrup, we had a bit of hash browns and both of us had burgers and coffee. At 9 am, it seemed the right thing to do. We drove on to the Expressway to meet up with SS in Pune. Directions were given. Getting to a particular left turn after a toll naka was easy. Then we had to go on to the next landmark.
If you’ve been to any place in India and asked for directions, you’ll know that all roads lead to where you want to go. Most people usually tell you to go straight ahead no matter where it is that you want to go. You could be in Mumbai and ask for directions to Texas and you’d be told the same thing… “Straight ahead”. Not one person will admit that they don’t know the place. Not one soul will tell you how far it is. I am impressed at the way this nation has evolved in terms of relativity. If you ask someone how close your destination is, they’ll tell you it’s very close. No one talks in terms of distances as in kilometres, blocks or streets. Everything is “straight ahead”.
As today’s smart women, we were without a map but with explicit directions. Also being women, it was easy asking for directions. What was difficult was getting them. Our next landmark was Sancheti Hospital. Obviously, as you would have guessed it, the first person we asked told us it was straight ahead! “Poodhe ja”, he said. Go straight ahead. Yeah right. At this point we were at least 20 kms away from the desired landmark. On the ‘straight ahead’ route, we asked an auto driver thinking he would be more conversant with distances. “Saat-aath kilomeeter” (7-8 kilometres), he said with authority, much to our relief. Seven kilometres later we realised, he was one of the ‘straight ahead’ types. There was no sign of Sancheti hospital. We did see a lot many other hospitals though. Two more stops later we reached a signal where we could see Sancheti on our right. The idea unfortunately was to ‘see' it. We realised later we need not have turned right towards it but having ‘seen’ it gone on ahead. The ‘straight ahead’ bit? We went wrong there. And plunged into a proper ‘Pune traffic snarl’.
So a few traffic snarls later we continued asking for directions. Our next destination was Central Mall where SS was waiting for us. We did reach the Mall. Only it was the wrong mall! Backtracking, we finally made it and were we thrilled?! The car boot space came in handy again as one more yoga mat got loaded in. We stopped at the Mall to pick up some bottles of water and have … yes… coffee. SS packed in a Chettinad Chicken Wrap! Oh! Would she remember it at mealtimes a day later!
Uruli Kanchan is only 30 kilometres away from Pune. SS carefully directed us out of the city and soon and we reached pretty much without incident.
And there we were. Sliding through the large gates of the Ashram, being directed by the security guard to the office.
Once in the office the key was to decide how the three of us would room in. There were no cottages or rooms of threes available. Our option was to take a double and a single room. Of course, we would not consider the options without seeing them. So the better part of 45 minutes went in one solitary and unwilling guy taking us through various rooms. Finally we selected two double rooms, one would have single occupancy.
The teen deviyaan at the reception were sufficiently relieved that we had come to a decision. The look of amusement had still not gone from their faces. We went through a rigmarole of files, signing registers and paying cashiers - at Window No. 2 which was not numbered! I told NF it was a secret. But finally we had registered and we were now dying to go to our rooms. But wait… it was almost 4 and we had to see the doctors before we did anything. So there we went to the assigned place where we weighed ourselves and waited for the doctor.
We were not to know that time, but in retrospect this place is about weight! And wait! The time spent in waiting is amazing. For those who read, one could finish 'Gone with the Wind', or in today’s day, 'Shantaram' (all the thousand pages) in a week while you wait. Okay, okay, it’s not so bad but it’s annoying when a laidback attitude keeps you waiting. Guess we have become too much of city buffs to even “wait and watch”.
We filled the file with personal history, met the doctor who then prescribed various ‘treatments’ for each of us depending on our complaints. With that was prescribed a diet which on the face of it looked pretty doable. It consisted of roti or rice, soup, salad, vegetable, chatni, and buttermilk.
By the time we finished with paperwork, it was time for dinner. 5:30 pm. The dinner bell went off. Since none of us had had lunch we were quite eager for dinner. And there it was. A princely meal of gourd (ahem!) mung soup, chutney, khichdi and a choice of rotis – bajri, jowar and wheat!
The portions were generous; we paid with food coupons and sat to eat our sumptuous meal! Eeeks! What was this! The food was salt free. Phew! There we were – our very first introduction to natural food – no oil, no spices, no salt in our food. Oh well, we thought, we’d be fine. And finally finishing dinner we wended our way to our rooms to unpack and start another – the real thing!
The treatments, the meals and more… coming up tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In our nature

A seven day sojourn at Nisargpocharashram, Uruli Kanchan

The Plans
It started with a casual conversation.
“So what do you plan to do when you are on your sabbatical?” I asked SS. She had planned to quit and take some time off… very smart thing to do, considering the high-pressured life we lead in advertising.
SS’s eyes glazed. Right there on her desk she got a faraway look. “Oh, I want to do so many things…travel, I plan to visit my cousins and I am planning a visit to Uruli Kanchan”
My ears perked up. Uruli Kanchan I knew was a naturopathy farm near Pune – a place I would have been interested in visiting provided I had the right kind of people to go with. There’s much that goes for naturopathy – a form of alternative healing – and I had read up enough to know that there was merit in most forms of natural cures rather than drugs and therapies.
“Oh wow” I said,”I’d love to come along”. I don’t know who was more excited at this suggestion. SS or me. Our eyes lit up and suddenly we had a plan. A little while later I mention this to friend NF., another advocate of alternative healing. She too jumped at the thought and soon we were three people ready to go … only question was when.
If you try to coordinate routines – with a busy work schedule, home responsibilities and birthdays of close family members (even your own) getting three people to go somewhere together can be quite a task. We managed.
A date was set. SS was to do the booking and we were excited. Word got round and others seem to be getting excited too! We’d discuss it off and on through our busy week in the office. SS offered to call and find out more details. All of us were excited and looking forward to a “detox-destress break”. Somewhere along the line Uruli Kanchan got shortened to UK!
And it sounded even more like a plan!
We actually made a foolproof, comprehensive packing list. Much of the essentials that we carried were bits of wisdom derived from friends, family and colleagues. “You better carry your own sheets. It’s clean but…”, said a close friend. When we called to ask for information we were curtly told to bring our own glasses, a knife and a spoon. Apparently the knife was to cut fruit in your own room if you wanted. (I, with my infinite wisdom, added a plate to the list!) Yoga mats suddenly seemed like a must-carry. Mosquito repellent was a must-use. And of course, there was important stuff like books and music. Oh! The things we need when we travel! By the time we finished the list, no one would believe we were going to an Ashram – but then in our minds we were clearly going to “UK”!
As we did our final packing, a stream of smses crossed cyberspace! And finally we were packed and ready. By the time we finished I was glad we were going in a larger car. NF had tanked up the Honda City – but more importantly the boot space was at a premium!
And thus began our journey to and sojourn at NisargopcharAshram, Uruli Kanchan. Starting 18th September 2009. After all, it was in our nature to be there!
Stay tuned to read a meal by meal account of how the three of us fared at the Nature Cure farm, set up by none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Hole in the Heart

Every person over time gets a hole in the heart.
You may have it too.
That one little empty place, that no matter how much you try, you cannot fill.
It may happen because it’s a gap that someone left behind. Or some place that no one or nothing filled. Or it was just a tiny little crack that became a yawning gap with neglect.
You don’t notice it at first. You are so caught up in the inconsequential things that fill your life. You are so hell bent on head ruling over your heart. Oh yes… no holes there in your head. And the heart is pushed aside as you charge through your day triumphing over every challenge that comes your way, bravely vanquishing mountains of opposition as you reach the end victorious. Oh yes… your head helped you win. So did your heart… by just stepping aside. By not being there.
And soon it becomes a habit.
Head over heart.
Head over heart.
Head over heart.

Till like a train thundering towards its destination the rhythm sets in, the fast motion, the speedily changing landscape and you feel you are moving forward with a purpose.
And while you do, you drop things by the wayside. That relationship. That opportunity to help. That chance to bend backwards for someone. That reason to go out of the way for someone. No way. You are on the right track and nothing, no one, is going to derail you.
Till you derail yourself.
And on a lonesome evening with much time for thought you realise you have reached your destination. Only there’s no one there. It’s just you on an empty platform with no address to go to. And you look inside your head for answers but there are none. And then your heart comes forward. It’s bleeding from that hole you neglected. It’s empty out there. And you can’t fill it. You can never ever fill it.
And you do your best. You lie, you blatantly lie: all is well. But the gap will not fill. You imagine, another time, another place where all is whole again, but the heart knows only the truth – not imagination. And then you try to fill the gap with things, more things, but the more you put in to that black hole the bigger it seems to get. And you realise that nothing can fill that gap you created. Nothing can stop that bleeding. Nothing that you put in there will bridge the gap.
And you crumble on the platform on your knees. Your suitcase of things you have collected over time by your side. And you realise that you’ve packed the wrong things for this journey. And you realise through unshed tears that what you should have been carrying was just one thing: Love. And there would have been no gaping void. No emptiness. No hole in the heart.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A constraint about the restraint

With horror I read in the newspapers the other day that they were going to implement some measures to manage the growing traffic menace in the city.
And I quote:
Under the TRS(Traffic Restraint System), which would be applicable during peak hours, vehicles with number plates ending with numbers 1 and 2 would be barred entry into the island city on Mondays, number plates ending with numbers 3 and 4 will be restricted entry on Tuesdays, 5 and 6 on Wednesdays, 7 and 8 on Thursdays and 9 and 0 on Fridays.
Simple enough you will say. Simple enough, say some Government officials too, asking the city to experiment. I too, am all for change, but this one, this time, kind of worries me personally. You see, between work and home, my car scuttles around various parts of the city in a day. Then there are social engagements (not too many but…) and of course the “friends & family” bit. And then there are certain contingencies. All unplanned, of course. Such is the life we lead.
So here’s the deal.
You are one smart person. (Quite unlike me.) You have it all planned in life. (Very much unlike me.) And you have charted your day for what is called the ‘island city’ on the day that the city’s administrative services allows your vehicle in. (That is so not me!) Simple, isn’t it? It’s smooth. There is less traffic because of the new restraint system and all is well with the world. Well, you know what? Lucky you, you smart person, because I have a whole lot of questions for the powers that be.
In the first place I am horrified. I have a constraint about the restraint. I am dyslexic about numbers. I can’t for the life of me remember my car number. Forget ( yes, forget!) the alphabets preceding it… the numbers alone do a salsa in my head. Is it 1261? 1621? 1126? 1612? Every time I have been asked for my car number I have politely got out of my car and looked at the number plate and spoken the truth and nothing but the absolute truth. If I am at home, I’ve actually gone down to where my car is parked to check that. Any other way and I am liable to be arrested for cheating the law. Which brings me to the question: how do I know which part of the city I can drive into this morning? I can’t remember what my licence plate ends in when I am at home? So maybe I start planning my day as soon as I reach my parking spot? Maybe?
Okay. Park that thought for a moment.
Now think about this. I go for a late night movie into a designated ‘1 & 2 area’. Having checked that my car number plate ends with 3 the happy cop gallantly whistles me through. The late late show ends at 1 am. Oops! It’s now tomorrow. And it’s no longer Monday. It’s Tuesday. And Tuesday number plates ending with 3 are barred! What do we do now? Change cars? Or places? Or cops? Or simply hide the car under a bush and crouch in the darkness till the designated days pass by?
Then there’s this happy event in Mumbai’s most loved five star hotel. A grand anniversary celebration. On a Monday. My car number ends in 1. Wrong number for the wrong day. Uh-oh. I quickly fill in the RSVP card stating the reason. I am sure my dear friends will understand. The law is after all, the law. Silver anniversaries, notwithstanding.
More number crunching. While vehicles with 1 & 2 will be debarred entry what about the ones that are exiting? What about vehicles that actually belong to residents in that area? What about people staying overnight? Working late? Catching that late night concert? Or going for an after-dinner icecream jaunt to town?
My head is spinning with numbers. 1 & 2 means I can’t go to town on Monday. And Tuesday to Friday I am all tied up in this part of town. So does that mean I can’t go to town till next week? Can things in this maximum city be postponed even by a day? Leave alone a week? Just because you were unfortunately endowed with a number plate that was all wrong? They say that for every system that is proposed, there is a way to beat it. Someone talked about people using their second car to beat the system. I think I am way smarter. I am investing in a second number plate!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The colour of pain

Seen the humble moth? Plain brown with a few specks here and there. Would you ever call it beautiful? And then you see a butterfly. And you exclaim at its colours, its dazzling beauty. Yellow specks on a bed of green. Stripes of gold on black. Red streaks on a purple ground. Patches of vibrant green on white tipped wings. An endless world of fascinating colour. And yet, each butterfly was a moth first, a plain-Jane moth – with just specks of brown on a ground of more brown. How dull.
I believe, that is what we are when we come into this world. Untouched, plain brown little moths.
Leading sheltered lives, protected from the outside world by our doting parents and we grow. We grow wings, we learn to fly and still we are dull, plain brown.
Then reality strikes. In all its fury. The death of close one. A relationship torn asunder. The loss of a partner. The untimely death of a child. A debilitating accident. An unquenched thirst. A near-death struggle. The loss of everything you hold dear.
And you feel pain. Pain that reaches into the depth of your being. Gouges out neat red streaks that will never stop bleeding. Cuts open your person and exposes what you really are. And then in that bareness of pain, there’s no one but you. No one but you. And you look around the barren landscape and you have only yourself to help. And as you struggle more and more, the gashes bleed. The old wounds turn to yellow brown scars. New gashes bring out the brilliant red again. And pain strikes in new ways, with new patches and specks of colour and each episode leaves behind a mark. A line in your face. A wrench in your heart. A spasm that cramps the very core of your being.
And you change.
You are no longer that plain brown being. Because the pain has coloured you. It has painted brilliant yellow patches and edged your wings with white. It’s given you bright red streaks and a purple ground to add to the effect. And bits of yellow. And you walk with that pain with pride because now the pain does not own you, you own the pain. And the pain has only made you what you are – unique and truly beautiful. And suddenly you have added colour to the barren brown landscape.
And you are transformed.
From dull and dowdy to vibrant and colourful. But only you know that the red comes from bleeding scars. Only you know the purple comes from old bruises that never cease to hurt. And only you know that the yellow shines when you reach a point where you forgive all those who caused you pain because that has made you what you are. (Those yellow patches are worth their weight in gold.) Not many have them. And you can now walk with your head held high.
And you come out stronger.
And your weakness becomes your strength. And you spread your wings and fly. Only this time everyone exclaims how beautiful those wings are. And you smile. And they see it in your eyes. And they say it’s beautiful. But it’s not beauty. It’s pain. And it’s the colour of pain that’s so beautiful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The world in 4 x 6

The excitement is unbearable. As I step into the house I look forward to one little desktop where my mail is kept. And yes, it’s there! Yet another picture postcard. Expected. Yet unexpected. The suspense is thrilling. The reveal equally exhilarating. I am now an official postcrossing addict.
I stumbled upon the postcrossing concept through a message and a link on Twitter. Life has not been the same again.
While a colleague and I checked what it was, it took about 10 minutes for us to get hooked. 10 minutes and I am hooked for life.
So what IS postcrossing?
Let the site help me with this. And I quote:
The goal of this project is to allow people to receive postcards from all over the world, for free. Well, almost free! The main idea is that: if you send a postcard, you will receive at least one back from a random Postcrosser from somewhere in the world.
Why? Why would you want to do this?
To me it’s very simple. Emails are fun. Quick. In a snap. But receiving physical mail (other than credit card bills and pathetic bank statements) has a joy all its own.
It takes me back to lazy summer vacations of my childhood.
After a brief holiday which usually included a visit to my maternal grandfather, I’d be back home getting into my mother’s hair. Having finished reading all the books that I had managed to garner as gifts during my holiday my mother had no option but to tell me to re-read them. Finally she’d give up and say if I had finished reading, the next best thing to do in the afternoon was to write.
So write I did. To my maternal grandfather in Ahmedabad. My mother was indeed clever. This one letter kept me occupied for several days and she had to think of less entertaining things to do. First it meant I was occupied writing it. Then she would suggest I draw a little thing specially for my grandfather. Then I would move on to the envelope and decorate it.
A lot of work got done because the next thing to do was to go to the post office to post it. That took up a whole morning (and I can almost hear my mother heaving a sigh of relief because it meant I was gainfully employed all morning) and she could finish several other errands on the way to the post office without me complaining.
After untidily pasting the stamps on the envelope with sticky white post office glue, I’d already start waiting for my grandfather’s reply.
Impatiently I would look at the postman as he came twice a day and ask him if he had a letter for me. He’d smile indulgently but shake his head in a no. Disappointed I’d pace around the hall much to the amusement of my grandmother. (Remember the Carpenters’ song, Please Mr. Postman?)
And then finally then it would arrive. A small envelope, barely 3 by 7 inches, a dull brown 20 paisa stamp, tiny ruled A5 size note pad plain letter paper and it meant the world to me. A letter from my grandfather!
The envelope itself would be breathtaking. He always painted on the envelope. It was either a beautiful landscape or a sunset scene. Painted in glorious watercolours, I’d treasure the envelope as much as the letter. I’d jump around with joy then retreat to a corner to finally open and read a letter that my grandfather wrote only to me. The letter would be about two pages long but even the letter had a watercolour painted at the bottom in strokes that (I’d realise later of course) only a fine artist could have painted. The letter contained words of wisdom and little bits of humour. But the letters meant a whole different world to me. They brought with them a sense of importance - they were addressed to me and me alone – not even a note for my mother. For a person who was a freedom fighter, who gave up salt and sugar during the two wars and who wore only khadi, not to utilise the envelope for a dual purpose must have been a very heroic thing to do. But then he was my hero! Secondly the letters came painted, in colours, in words, in emotion. They brought with them unconditional love and the belief that as a unique individual that I was, I deserved that letter and it was only for me. The letter reinforced my belief in myself as an individual and my belief in me.
As I grew into a teenager, moved cities, I continued writing letters, to friends, even classmates when I was ill and recuperating at home, to my aunts and uncles, cousins, girlfriends and yes, boyfriends. Till life took over and the only writing you did was work related and you did not have time. And then the internet came in and one marvelled at these in-a-snap kind of mails, bulletin boards and the instant emails and now of course, it’s the age of the Instant Messenger and Skype.
And yet, something in you yearns for something small and colourful in your hand that tells you that someone took time out for you, someone made a trip to the post office and someone brought it to your doorstep, to tell you, Hey, you are still an individual and here is the physical proof.
Each post crossing card that I get evokes in me that joy, that sense of wonder. I ‘m just beginning, am 9 post cards old – but suddenly Finland and Estonia are part of my world, Germany and the US are part of every day and I already have a post crossing pen pal in Texas! Like millions of others in the world, I’m addicted.
Welcome to

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ever been a fool?

Remember the time? You had your first crush? And you thought this was forever?
And you bent backwards for that person, whoever he or she was. And you did everything there was to do to make it last? And yet, that person walked away? Without so much as turning back to see you weep your heart out? And you felt like… like a fool?
Remember the time? You had an exam or an important presentation?
And you thought you had it all pat? And there was lots of time to do whatever was left of it? Till the night before you struggled bleary-eyed to complete page after page, and with a sinking heart and sweaty palms and you realised you had been… a fool?
And remember the time you were out celebrating?
And the celebration got a bit too, well, celebratory. And you had one too many. And then you had two too many. And soon you had so many you could not even count. And then you had so many you could not even remember. And you had to trust your friends to tell you what happened the rest of the evening. And you felt miserable the next morning. And holding your head in your hands you kept wondering what you were thinking the night before. And you were so sure this time… you had been a fool!
Happy Fools' Day.
The First of April. A day that has immense significance in the lives of people like us. Because somewhere or the other, sometime or the other, we’ve all been fools. We’ve done foolish things. We’ve talked foolishly. We’ve looked like fools. Acted like fools. And finally… felt like fools. And we’ve kicked ourselves for it. But take heart. Acknowledge this: there is one day in the day designated for fools! Like a day for mothers and fathers, for cancer, aid, smoking, diabetes, friendship and what have you. So being a fool is just as important.
In all of Shakespeare’s plays, the character known as the Fool, often said the wisest things. With extraordinary wit and contradictory statements, the Fool displayed plain truth in the face of confusion. Feste in Twelfth Night, Touchstone in As You Like It, and the Fool in King Lear all make sense once you see through their nonsense. In the Fool’s insanity lay seeds of sanity.
In the Major Arcana of Tarot cards, an important card to show up in reading is once again The Fool. In fact, some interpreters consider this card to be the central card to the whole deck. And the whole of the Major Arcana represents The Fool’s journey, ending with The World, which is about successful completion, accomplishment and fulfilment.
Some say The Fool represents ‘The Zen of Folly’. I couldn’t agree more.
Look at the picture of The Fool. With his possessions in a small bundle at the end of a stick, the fool travels to places unknown. But he is so busy with daydreaming, he may just fall over the cliff. A small dog is either warning him or jaunting along with him. The card of infinite possibilities, The Fool represents a free spirit with a lust for life, knowledge, and adventure, who has little fear of taking risks.
All of it, to my mind, positive. All of it telling you and me, it’s ok to be a fool.
So give in to foolishness.
Play the fool.
Be the fool.
Bring back that childlike innocence.
Be naïve. Be trusting. Be daring.
Take the plunge. Take that leap of faith.
Because at the end of all that shaking head in disbelief, forehead-slapping, foot-stamping, punching the air in frustration and kicking yourself, dawns infinite learning and wisdom. And you tell yourself, you will be more careful, more prepared, more sensible in the future or at least more prepared for the consequences of your foolishness. And you find yourself new ways of being a fool all over again. And sure enough, next year, the first of April will come again to honour all the wisdom you have acquired in the past year.
Happy Fools’ Day. Again.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

To Lavasa and back for a cause

The alarm clock going off at 5 am on a Sunday morning was not a mistake. It was all for a cause. It was Sunday, March 29th 2009, the day slated for the The Lavasa Women’s Car Drive, as it was titled, a car rally, exclusively for women, to raise awareness for Breast Cancer.
They came in droves. (Okay, bad pun, but it was irresistible!) 250 cars. More than 500 women. 2, 3, 4 per car. All shapes, sizes and ages, in white T shirts and caps. All sizes of cars! From Innovas to Wagon Rs. Some decorated (with even coordinated outfits!). Nothing was stopping these women from getting behind the wheel on a Sunday.
We were part of it. I was a designated co-passenger – happy to be that since this was the first time I was participating in a rally like this. With an efficient driver and an experienced navigator, we were confident, excited and …set!
The organising committee had done, to my mind, a fairly well-thought out job. While a Tetley promotion offered hot tea in the early morning to women who had just flung together their things and come in at 6:30 am (like us), what was the logical next step was also provided for! Portable loos! I am sure some women were part of this kind of thinking.
Ajay Devgan and other celebs waved off some cars. Missed ours by 2. Their loss, we believe.
Each car was well numbered and stickered and waved off pretty much on time. We were flagged off, armed with what was called a Tulip chart. Honestly, I believe the organisers were very brave. Alternatively, they were very smart. But I’ll come to that later. Let me talk about bravery first.
Imagine unleashing 250 women drivers into the so-called wilderness of Mumbai and Pune without a map – only a chart with navigation symbols and speed limits! Requires an act of courage. Then again, they were smart. Look at it this way, no woman is afraid of getting lost, and having got lost, stopping and asking for directions. If they had given us a map, it would have probably not been even the slight challenge it was!
The drive was largely a test of navigational skills and disciplined driving. At some points, impatient as we are, going at 60 kmph was really really slow. Climbing at 20 was even more frustrating. And going on an open road at 40 must have caused quite some hair pulling with other women, besides us. But the beauty of it was, that it was an unhurried drive and I think that accounted for the lack of mishaps on the way up.
The entire route was well manned by Safety Marshalls. We stopped at each of these and got clocked in from point to point. For the steep climb nearing Lavasa, there were even more yellow flagbearers egging us on and watching out for us.
We reached Lavasa in about 5 and a half hours with a timed 20 minute break in between. While Lavasa is beautiful, it was way too hot and someone thoughtful had organised a ‘golawala’! Crushed ice with kala khatta… that was a brilliant way to cool off in the 2 pm sun! Lunch was well organised too and with adequate facilities to accommodate the numbers.
A quick lunch, a quick look around without suffering the heat, and we decided we would wend our way back to Mumbai in good time. I took the wheel this time (there were no speed limits now!) and drove all the way back to Mumbai in about four and a half hours (accounting for Mumbai traffic on a Sunday evening).
On the way down, we were still meeting cars going up, the drivers cheerfully waving to us. We, on our part, waved back, wished them luck and prayed for their safety.
What was beautiful in all this was the spirit in which the whole event was conducted and the way in which it was taken. There was general goodwill around from the start to well after the finish. The spirit was one of camaraderie rather than competitiveness, which was so nice. Our number was 39. As we slid into a parking slot when we reached Lavasa, Car No. 12 (which technically should have been way before us) cheerfully welcomes us and says “Thank you for keeping us company throughout the way!”
This was an event for a cause. And the best part is all the participants got it. The winners are still to be announced. But for those who were there that day, participation and the spirit in which it took place was a victory in itself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reverse Psychology

The drive has been pretty uneventful to the office and as I slide into the basement parking, I deftly manoeuvre the car into a parking slot closest to the elevator exit. I get off, lock the car with a flourish and smile with satisfaction. The car, once again, has not been parked straight. It’s at an angle… after all, I cannot for the life of me reverse straight into a parking slot.
I learnt driving over 20 years ago. In the lunch break. That allowed you 45 minutes of driving, in peak hour traffic in South Bombay. 20 days and you got your licence. I did get my licence because during my driving test all I had to do was drive forward. Easy. And there I was, no mean thing on the road, because I drove well, I drove fast and drove adeptly, what if it was only forwards.
Several books and authors will tell you, women were not born to reverse cars. (Reverse fortunes, maybe, cars, no). I do have close friends and sisters who could reverse with their eyes closed (a bit of an exaggeration there, but then what are sisters for!). But me? No way. I just cannot reverse straight.
I have tried everything, while parking. Making that perfect Y turn to get into a pint-sized parking slot. By the time I go back and forth with the car, I have finished making an N, an M and maybe an X or evenan S! But I will not have succeeded making a perfect Y and parking the car straight into the slot.
See a woman struggling with parking and most men, like knights in shining armour, come to the rescue. By the time I have reversed into a parking slot, I have everybody’s driver and his uncle, helping me with, “Madam, aise ghumao, phir fullll turn maro, phir left, ab thoda seedha, ab pooora ghumao”. At the end of this the only thing ghumoing is my head. It’s spinning and after all this when I come out of the car, I see dejected faces accepting their failure, I smile and look. My car is still at an angle after so much of Chandu Deriver Coaching Kilass.
There was a time when reversing was not so much of a problem: the time when I had a driver. But once in a way even a driver needs a day off and on those days, reversing into my parking place when I came home in the evening was solely my job. After one such day off, my driver came up fuming the next morning when he saw the car. As possessive about the car, as if it was his, he told me in an unmistakably accusatory tone: the car has been scratched. And it was obvious to his keen driver eye that that had happened on a pillar in the building. Bad reversing, he must have thought. Almost feeling guilty about not taking care of his car while he was off duty, I promptly denied the charge and said I had nothing to do with it. But through the day the scratch weighed on my mind.
I tried to think of the day before. I knew for a fact that the car had been parked on the road outside the office. It could have been an errant vehicle. But then it should have been a dent, I reasoned. This was clearly the scratch mark scraping a pillar would give you. And with two pillars to manoeuvre through while getting in to my building, that would have been the perfect explanation. Only it had not happened when I was driving the car because that was forward driving and I could do it with relative ease with just an inch to spare on either side.

And yet the car was scratched. Till it struck me! And I smiled. I asked the driver only one question. And when he replied, I told him what had happened. He nodded in complete agreement. When I reached home, I asked my son if he had secretly taken the car for a spin at night. He blushed. “Yes,” he hesitated, “I meant to tell you about that scratch on the pillar, I couldn’t get it quite right.” Then it struck him. “But wait… how did you guess it was me?”
I smiled. I didn’t tell him how. That was a mother’s secret.
The car had been reversed into the parking space, perfectly straight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Breed Apart : The Parsis

I wrote this four years ago. But seems that it holds true for an eternity. I know I promised a series... time to write Part Two... but till then here's my post on the Parsis.


My first contact with the Parsi community was in fact not really a contact at all. It was with Adi Marzban, his plays with his troupe of extremely talented actors. As a family who laughed together, my parents always made it a point to take us for Adi Marzban’s hilarious comedies in Parsi Gujarati. As children, my siblings and I looked forward to these shows. It meant an evening of endless laughter. But we knew that when we came home it would be even more fun as we imitated some of the punch lines and collapsed laughing. I think the term ROTFL in the internet parlance must have struck someone who had just witnessed an Adi Marzban play. The humour was priceless, the actors meticulous in their timing, the plots as interwoven as a Shakespeare’s comedy of errors.

Over time, my contact with the community grew with history and historical figures.
In school one of my favourite teachers in English was a Parsi. My love and respect for the language grew with my love and respect for her. Thanks Mrs. Ginwalla.

In college, studying literature in my final year, Shakespeare’s plays went on to quite another level, thanks again to Ms. Patel, our professor of English. She was as English as… as the Queen, as I was to later discover. She believed one assimilated literature at its best in the midst of nature. So off we would go to the lawns for the 8 am class, sit in the dewy grass in the gentle early morning sun. When I looked around there was one student for her class besides me, but that did not seem to deter Ms. Patel. She taught with as much fervor and passion as if she had an entire audience of a concert hall. With her teaching, everything came alive. Spenser and Chaucer even with their antiquated English became less mysterious, and Shakespeare grew in stature not just as a playwright but as someone whose wisdom would last us a lifetime. (So far it has lasted me!)

As we neared our graduation, we were invited for English High Tea at Ms. Patel’s house, an annual ritual for her graduating students. It was wonderful to see her without her book in hand as we gaped in awe in her typical Parsi home. The High Tea was as English as you got, bite-sized cucumber sandwiches and mild English service tea served in the finest of china. But what took the cake (literally) was a beautifully framed photograph of the Queen on her mantelpiece. I looked closer, and gasped. It was Ms. Patel herself, replete with crown and bejeweled collar and an expression no less royal than the Queen’s!

Ms. Patel took on a regal stature for all of us that day. To this day, if I do see a Shakespeare performance, I silently thank Ms. Patel for inculcating that love for fine literature in me with her unmatched passion for the English and their literature. Once again, Ms. Patel, thank you!

Then I entered my first job and, (you guessed it,) my boss was a Parsi. To this date, I attribute my not having ulcers, in spite of being so long in the advertising industry, to him. Thanks, Bahadur. Bahadur was your quintessential Parsi. Fun, fun-loving, but righteous, creative but rooted to the ground, a boss and a wonderful friend at the same time. Every time you were tense, he had something light hearted to say to ease the tension. And when the servicing team came attacking, he had something funny to say to defuse the tension. One group laugh later, everything was in its place. Bahadur regaled us with stories of his mother, his family and his quintessential Parsi-ness! He started every explanation with, “See, we Parsis….”

His positive attitude to life, took a lighthearted look at pain, even at death. Once he was hospitalized for a barium enema test. Very painful would have been anyone else’s verdict. But Bahadur came back with an unmistakably graphic version, “Basket!” (that was Bahadur’s version of Bas_ _ _ _ !) “The pain was so much, I could see the vultures circling above!”

As time wore on and I went on to meet more and more Parsis, I grew to appreciate some characteristics that they were born with. Righteousness was one. If you see a street fight, and a Parsi involved, you can take it with your eyes closed that he is not part of the warring faction but is justly on the side of the right, no matter who that is.

Parsis have a fierce sense of fairness, and coupled with their outspoken attitude it almost seems rude to a point. But to date, I still have to find a rude Parsi! Chances are you’ve not met one either.
Then there’s the Parsi love for food. It’s almost infectious, so much so that, even as a vegetarian, you start appreciating patra ni machchi and marghi na farcha! Time permitting, a Parsi will go to any lengths for good food, like from Goregaon to Britannia (Ballard Estate) for the famous Berry Pulao!
And bringing all these and more qualities together was a colleague and art partner who I worked extensively with. Thank you, Nilufer. Nilufer was so lovably Parsi, in her passionate love for her work, her fierce attention to detail, her innate sense of right and wrong, her fair sense of justice, and her soft heartedness for anyone or any creature who was suffering. But combine all these qualities, and she got on to the wrong side of someone or the other in a working day. Either it was the studio operator who had to redo a paragraph about 13 times because it was not up to the mark. (No chalta hai for Nilufer). Or it was the production person who had not managed the right shade of colour. (Nai Nai Kulkarni, yeh unnis bees nahin chalega) But no one could argue with her. Mainly because she was right.

So it would all come to me, being her copy partner. “Why don’t you explain to her?” they would plead with me urgently. And for that I had a ready answer, which no one ever debated. I’d simply shake my head, smile angelically and say, “I can’t. You see, she’s a Parsi.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Déjà vu. Have you been there before?

No I had not seen it before. (But I could have had.)
I watched the film Déjà vu last night and it kind of blew me away.
The plot synopsis goes like this. A ferry taking soldiers of USS Nimitz and their families blows up just a little after it sets sail. Investigations reveal it was a terror attack. And while it is great to be wiser after the event, ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) thinks better. With the help of the FBI and what is known as spacefolding technology, they go back in time to reconstruct the event. Till Doug realizes that they could use the same technology to send him back in time to change the course of events.
Simple enough in principle.
We’ve always talked about time changing the course of history. Here’s history changing the course of time. Imagine now going back in time (into a parallel universe) after an event has occurred and changing it to a better or at least a less horrific one.
The whole concept of time being perceived as linear, but not necessarily being so, was not really alien to me. But the way it was portrayed in the film was an absolute stunner.
The beginning is just a collage of shots of the people getting on to the ferry. As you watch it you feel the treatment is to give you an idea of what is happening in and around the ship. But when time comes back a full circle, with Doug Carlin having time-travelled back, the very same collage flashes before your eyes. Déjà vu? Well yes, big time and eerily now you are part of it.
The film moves at a rapid pace between past, recent past and present. Somewhere the present is the future and somewhere it is the past and you get caught in the time warp as much as the characters in the film are till the edge-of-the-seat experience ends with once again an explosion. As a sort of anti-climax there is another déjà vu shot of anxious relatives at the pier. The aged mother. A pair of white knuckles clutching the railing. Weeping relatives. You’ve been there before you think, and sure enough you have.
Denzel Washington is his understated best. Though I can say (and my women friends will agree) that the understatement in the film is when his colleague is asked by Claire to describe him and he says: 6’3. Black. Not bad-looking!
Paula Patton as Claire Kutchever puts in a convincing performance. Wonder why we haven’t seen her too often after this film. The rest of the cast is also convincing.
On a lazy Sunday, I’d like to see the film again. But I am wondering...
Would that give me a feeling of Déjà vu?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Music for the mind

A familiar song plays in the distance and instead of the words coming to my mind, what hovers large is the memory of a friend. And it’s not as if it’s a song that the friend and I have shared. It’s some random association with the friend. Sometimes it’s a word. A sentence. A tune. Sometimes even an accent.

For instance, for that friend in the UK, it’s a song that has a nasal twang. It’s not as if the song or the words have any significance. But every time I hear that song I think of this particular friend.

Then there’s a CD I bought on one of my memorable holidays. As soon the first notes of the first song play I am transported there… my mind is on a holiday… Happy days!

And of course who does not associate at least one Hindi movie song with a friend. Years ago in school, my friend and I were given a task by her mother: to take her younger brother for a popular Hindi movie running full houses at that time. Pseudo-intellectuals that we were at that time, we decided that since we did not want to watch the movie but it was mandatory, we’d have our fun by singing the chorus in the songs aloud. That we embarrassed little brother was one thing, but somehow the song stuck in my head and being one of those eternally hit songs of the Hindi filmdom, every time I hear the strains of that song being played I think of my friend and her brother.

Then there is this song which reminds me of my son. Funny story there. I heard it on a cd he had recorded for himself and played in the car while I was driving. I asked him to record it for me too. He stubbornly refused. Why? I asked. The reason was somewhat logical in its eccentricity. He said that he and I were not supposed to like the same music, because then where was the generation gap! Well, really! (I now call it the Generation Gap song!)

I once wrote about a song that I heard similarly on my car CD player. My daughter was so proud I actually wrote about an alternative rock song that it gave her bragging rights in her peer group. Her friends looked at me with renewed interest and greater respect and bemoaned the fact that their mothers would not even think of hearing that song. I smiled. That song, you are right, is now inextricably linked to my daughter.

And so it goes on. One never knows when a new association will crop up. And then, song, note, tune, language, accent, meaning… all get inextricably entwined with memories, feelings, people – still around and long gone. And even when the last note of the song dies down and I can’t hear it anymore, that music continues playing on the chords of my mind.
Isn’t music as much for the heart as it is for the mind?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Traffic Offenders and other roadies (3)

I knew it.
I knew it from the time I was a little child, that three was an unlucky number. How was I to know that that number would come to haunt me day in and night out, when I was out driving on the roads?!
Three wheelers! Auto rickshaws. Autos. Whatever you choose to call them.
They scuttle across the Northern part of Mumbai like they own it. As a matter of fact, they think they do. That part of the city is largely infested by them and as they increase in epidemic proportions, the lesser population can do nothing but give in. Give in to the noise, the indiscipline and the sheer incorrigibility of the auto rickshaws (and their drivers) of Mumbai.
I’ve seen them in other cities and I am sure they are worse. But in a city where I am myself behind the wheel, these three-wheelers take gross (or maybe pestilential) proportions.
Cockroach! I say with venom as one scuttles right across me cutting into my flight path.
If there was an evolution of species in the automobile world, autorickshaws would be the equivalent of cockroaches. Darwin, God bless his soul, would have heartily agreed with me, if he sat with me in my passenger seat, that they do behave like cockroaches.
For one, they have this amazing capacity to scuttle infuriatingly slowly in front of you. Then, again like cockroaches, they can turn around and face you and look you squarely in the eye in a blink. And the pestilence does not end there. They have this amazing capacity, like their creepy-crawly lookalikes to weasel themselves into the smallest of places and add to the mayhem that already exists on the roads.
What’s really uncanny about this resemblance, (and believe me, guys, I am sort of getting a doctorate in this area of research now!), is their fragile quality – a push here, a shove there, or a decent-sized pothole and they’ve upturned themselves very much like the insect upended with flailing limbs and antennae.
I was once in an autorickshaw that was knocked down by a bus! The bus just gave a gentle nudge and the vehicle toppled sideways, went skidding around in circles till it came to a complete stop. When the spinning stopped, from being seated vertically, my friend and I were now sideways, almost in a crouch-like position in contact with the road. We emerged from the autorickshaw in full view of a very helpful crowd, like Goddesses emerging out a lotus. If I was not involved in the accident myself, it would have been funny. Needless to say, if you’ve ever seen an auto toppled sideways and the driver emerging with great agility out of the side entrance of the auto, you’ll know what I mean.
It is said that in case of a nuclear holocaust the only species likely to survive is the cockroach.
I would add to that, it will be the cockroach and the auto rickshaw driver. Let me explain. Have you ever had an anxious moment when your car indicator is not working and you have to either resort to hand signals or worse still, no signals till you get quick help from a mechanic? The auto driver never has that anxious moment. In the first place, he’s unlikely to use any indicators (or even headlights in pitch darkness) at all. Secondly he is unlikely to give signals… he just likes to keep that surprise element going in your life. But, in case, just in case, one fine day, he does decide he wants to signal a right or a left turn, he doesn’t depend on indicator or hand signals. Driving behind an auto while you are concentrating on his next move, oops! What’s this? Voila! Here’ a leg! Out pops a foot from the side! You blink. It’s either bare or shoddily clad in footwear that has seen better days, precariously dangling from the toes. And its gracelessness is somehow telling you that our fellow traveler is likely to turn right. Talk about being footloose and fancy-free.
So what’s the solution for these road cockroaches? A good pest control spray. If you ask me my choice, I would pass over Baygon Spray and choose HIT!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Back from a Hiatus

On 26th November at 10 pm, my son had casually switched on the television. Suddenly all hell broke loose as news of some firings were reported. Soon more came pouring in. Like most other people thoughts of gang wars at Leopold Café (with Shantaram being a recent read) crossed my mind. But things seemed to get much worse. V.T. Cama Hospital. The Taj. The Oberoi. Riveted, we sat glued to the television.
As the painful drama unfolded over the next three days, I sat, ate and had countless cups of coffee in front of the TV screen (and I don’t watch television otherwise!) I even slept with the TV on in the vain hope that my keeping it on would result in this whole nightmare ending quickly.
The agony I suffered, like most Mumbaikars, cannot be described in words. It was a simultaneous assault on our city, our people, our guests and most of all, on our national pride. It stirred nationalistic feelings in us that were probably last experienced by our parents or grandparents before 1947. Suddenly a violent streak emerged in the best of us. Even I was now ready for war.
In those few days of terror, my blog dried up. Went kaput. Bust! A writer's blog had become a writer's block!
I just could not bring myself to write. Everything seemed so trivial in the face of such immense tragedy. Over the next few days heart-rending stories of loss and survival were told and retold. Some people we knew. Some we knew about. Some were people who knew people we knew. In any case we were connected and the collective sorrow became ours alone.
Can anything be greater, more important than the senseless loss of human life? Can anything be worth writing about than what was already being written by the hand of Fate? Can anything be worth reading than what was so tragically occurring in and around us?
I couldn’t find anything. I was silent.
But the silence has not been well tolerated.
It was heartening to know that people had been reading my blog.
So having been spurred on with some friendly ‘nudges’ (and a knuckle rap, thanks NF!) I decided to explain my absence as a ‘hiatus’.
I even checked out the word on, guess what, Facebook. And helpful friends returned with helpful definitions. A break. A pause they said. I agreed with the meaning but was wondering if it was appropriate in these circumstances.
Till I looked it up in Wikipedia. The first obvious definition was
: A period of time where one is on a break
But as I read on it gave me the exact meaning of the word:
a period in which one is injured or hurt.Kind of sums it up, doesn’t it? Do I need to say more?

Except that I am back.