Featured

Independence through the eyes of a child

The independence day, 75th year, reinvigorated the spirit of patriotism, joy and pride across the country. Most of us proudly hung our Tricolour from our windows, balconies, patios, or wherever we could, to join in the festivities.

The Independence Day, 75 years back, had a very different atmosphere in our country, specially in the north-west and north-east frontiers, though. For people of that era, young or old, the word independence is synonymous with the word partition. While the first word brings in a sense of joy and pride, the other brings a shiver down the spine. For them, partition and the calamities that they faced far outstrips any joy they would have felt at that time. Children born into the homes, specially of Punjab and Bengal, have been told stories of horror and hardship along with tales of ingenuity and survival amongst the turmoil.

My parents’ families were not in these two provinces but the ripple effect were felt in the lands in between, and as very young kids at that time, my parents, specially my mother, has some stories and scenes, indelibly marked in her memories.

My mother was very young, just nearing school going age, when the country started trembling with the horrors from the two fronts. Being in Delhi, her family were in the midst of the storm. Refugees kept pouring in from the frontiers and bringing in stories of utmost horror, betrayal and hopelessness. Stories of neighbours stabbing each other, of looting and burning, of stealing and forcibly evicting properties, of humiliation, depravation and viciousness.

Not everything were reported in newspapers, but someone living through this time, remembers everything, even now. And so does my mother.

She was old enough to understand that things were horribly wrong, but too young to understand why or what. She did not understand why her mother would not allow her to play outside anymore or go to some homes which she frequented earlier. She and her siblings could not fathom why they couldn’t switch on any lights during the evening or be locked indoors during the day time.

Her memory is scarce about the sequence of events but she remembers what she saw and sensed and the palpable fear all around.

One morning she and her siblings woke up to a stench which they did not fully understand of what. There was black smoke bellowing from round the corner, right where the vegetable seller lived and had his vegetable stall outside his shack. My mother never saw the vegetable seller and his family ever again.

During the evenings, my mother would see her father getting ready to patrol the neighbourhood. He was no policeman, but it was the call of the hour. Every able-bodied men, would do that in turns. They would swath stoles or bedsheets around their heads and bellies, carry a stick and a lantern, dimmed just enough to see the ground in front, but not bright enough to attract any miscreants. These men would walk in groups of 2s and 3s as neighbourhood watch for a couple of hours and then turn in for the next set of men. If they heard any clamouring sounds nearing the area or sights and smells of burning, they would quickly alert the families to take shelter.

The shelter meant scurrying to another house which was surrounded by a huge boundary wall and thus was considered safer and where all the ladies and children would hurdle till all was clear.

There were many nights where families would have to rush for shelter and my mother remembers one very vividly, because of what she encountered.

My granny had just got the message of a rowdy mob headed their way and she hurriedly picked up the youngest and asked my mother to follow her and run with her to the shelter house.

My mother, half asleep, was doing just that. Running a step behind granny, she suddenly remembered that she had not locked the front door. She called out, but my granny, in that din and panic, did not hear her. My mother turned back, came back to her house and locked the door and then started running as fast as she could to catch up with granny. The mob was close by now and she almost ran into one man. She remembers a huge man, with a blood dripping knife and bloodthirsty eyes. That image is etched in her mind. She was momentarily stunned. The man didn’t stop, he had his own mission. My mother quickly came back to her senses and ran towards her mother, who was frantically looking for her. My mother was too shocked, and it would be days before she could talk to granny of what had happened. 

At one time, my grandparents were sheltering wife and daughters of a colleague, as they were preparing to leave the country. As dusk fell, there was a knock on the door. The colleague’s wife blanched visibly with fear and fell to my granny’s knees, beseeching her not to open the door. She feared it was a mob and my granny would give them away perhaps. My granny was moved to tears and assured her that it was my grandfather returning from work.

There were many families who crossed the chaotic borders from the other side too and had moved in with relatives or were put up in refugee camps. One such family came to stay in the neighbourhood.  

Stories of such depravity were told left everyone shocked. Families, who for centuries were neighbours and had taken part in each other’s celebrations, had not flinched a bit in stabbing, looting or evicting and seizing properties. It did not end there, there were stories of rape and other heinous crimes. On the other hand, there were stories of bravery and sacrifice as well, where neighbours would risk their lives to protect their friends. And stories of some families who walked hundreds of kilometres over rocky mountains, treacherous springs, swam through rivers, through rain, heat and cold, with little or no food or water, in search for safety.

The family, who moved in, had also travelled through such tortuous path, until they were escorted by a friendly military convoy and had finally boarded a train. But were stopped at many places and every time were questioned about their religion. They were held up in one remote place for 2 days and news came in that an earlier train was stopped, every passenger murdered, and the bogies set on fire. The family was lucky to have escaped and reach safety. The matriarch talked about how she hid gold in her mouth every time they were stopped. The younger females and kids were hid under the bunk and what used to be a two days journey took seven days. Each minute filled with anxiety and terror.

I have heard these stories often from my mother and now they are etched in my mind.

As that generation, who withstood this appalling horror, move towards their twilight years, I felt that such stories should perpetuate, through generations, not to rekindle the horror or hatred, but to keep the pages of history ripe, lest we fall for such depravity and moral destruction again.

Featured

O’ Google

“How did you ever do your projects?!!”

This question came from bewildered twins from my neighbourhood who had decided to tap on my generosity to help them complete their school project due tomorrow. Ostensibly, to avoid the wrath of their parents who would have blasted them off for procrastinating for so long.

So it was affectionate Aunty M, with a laptop and a printer and time to spare!

As I was navigating through Google identifying suitable pictures to add to the now almost completed 10-page project, I was telling them, that during our time, we had to cut pictures from glossy magazines. We would also trade pictures amongst classmates because not all of us had magazines delivered to our homes or with the pictures we need.

That had astounded them!

Responding to their question, I said we went to the school library to gather data for our projects and sifted through large volumes of books to get what we needed. And then wrote our own essays.

“Library?”

“But how would you know which book to choose?”

“Well, if it was a History project we would go to the History aisle and start looking for books for the period we are interested in, likewise for Geography, it would be another aisle with books lined according to regions and so on.”

“Yes, but didn’t that take like the whole day or several days to figure out which book, which page, which para to get the information from?? I mean, you had to read many books to figure out what you need, right?”

“Yes it did. That is why in our times, we couldn’t afford to keep our projects pending till the last moment.” I said with as much severity as is appropriate from an affectionate neighbourhood Aunt. “We had to spend a lot of days and hours gathering the information we need. We were lucky if we got the material we want from the library or the pictures from magazines. If not, we would have to talk to the elders at home or our teachers and take copious notes. If we didn’t find apt pictures, we would have to draw diagrams and graphics on our own.”

“Well, you could have simply Googled and saved all that time?”

“Yes, dearies, but we didn’t have Google that time.”

“Oh no! how did you all survive?”

“How did you get answers to your questions??”

The questions started coming fast and furious.

“As I said, library, elders and teachers.” I responded

“Well, how did they know the answers? They couldn’t have known everything?!”

“Well, in those days, they did.” That’s the best answer I could manage. Well, actually Google wasn’t there to validate the answers, but I didn’t say that out loud.

“HMMMM”

“With no Google, how did you all cook?”

Change of track now.

“What do you mean? We cooked food like the way we do now, over cooktops or ovens. No change there.”

“Well, what about recipe? How did you all know what ingredients and condiments to put?”

“We had cookbooks?”  Trying not to alarm them now.

“Cookbooks? You mean you had to read books to cook?”

“Yes, I mean, you didn’t always have to read to cook. The elders knew the recipe by heart. And even now you do read the recipe off Google to cook, right? Same, but from books, if need be.”

“Yes, but how did you all know what the ingredients looked like or how to wave the skillet and shake the pan and toss the condiments to get the perfect mix, without the cooking videos?”

“We didn’t have that and it didn’t matter. Most of the time, folks shared recipes amongst friends or were passed down from one generation to another and that is how most cooking were done.”

Ohhhhhh!

“How did you all figure out what to buy, at what price, which is the cheapest but the best quality and durable and long lasting?”

“We went to the market, visited several shops, and then selected what we need?”

Those were day long trips, going from one shop to another, looking at metres and metres of fabric and bargaining for the best price. Walking or mainly being dragged by the parent, from one end of the market to the other, in the quest of that perfect fabric, with no end in sight. If we did get that perfect fabric with the choicest blend of color and pattern, it was followed by getting measured by the tailor and then mother haggling with him to get the dress ready before the impending festival. These were not so happy memories for me. There was never ever a promise of ice-cream and very seldom would we get one. But here I seemed to be in a competition to show that we had a good life too, so I didn’t get into the details.

“Well, how did you all go anywhere?”

This time I knew what they were getting at.

“Just like you all do now, walk, bike or drive.”

“Yes, but how did you all navigate without Google Maps?”

“We had paper maps.” This didn’t sound so remarkable, so I actually showed them the small folded booklet which opened up to show the map of Delhi. They seemed very unimpressed, I presumed because the paper, once glossy, now looked yellow and tattered.

“Paper Maps will not tell you the Estimated Time of Arrival or the traffic congestions.”

“Also, you cannot possibly be looking at these paper maps while driving?”

“That is unsafe driving, just like texting and calling”, chirped the other one.

“Well actually, if we drove intercity, we did carry such maps around to help us navigate. Within the city, we managed by asking passers-by or bystanders, hawkers and the like, the direction.”

“How would these people know the direction without Google?”

“Because people actually looked around and noticed things more, and knew their neighbourhood, I guess. We have reached destinations never visited before, guided by so many of them. Never got lost”.

A pause. But I could see the whirring inside their little heads, as I braced myself for the next barrage of questions. What could that be?

“How did you know the weather forecast?”

This part was tricky.

“We didn’t. We got up each morning, looked at the sky to figure out how the day would be. Again, the elders in the family would sense the direction of the wind, and let everyone know, very accurately, whether it would rain.”

“But there was no way of knowing the weather if you were flying to a different city?”

“Well, no. But the seasons were not so erratic those days. So, in winters we would pack woollens and in monsoon, the umbrella.”

I could see from their questions and from their expressions, that I am not impressing them at all.

For them, a world without Google was incomprehensible.

I mean to do school projects, you have to go to the library and search for the most appropriate book and read and understand and then write with your own hands, the whole thing in your notebook? Isn’t it just easier to ask Google and then copy and paste relevant parts and paraphrase somewhat, to avoid plagiarism?

You have to read books to cook? And come on, you have to stop the car, wind down the window, and ask the hawker for the direction and even trust that they know?

Oh! mankind has come such a long way!

They didn’t say it, but their faces did.

In the Lap of Nature

One of the good things of residing near the capital city is that there are many getaways close by providing a drastic change in the sights and sounds, apt to calm the frayed nerves of a harried city dweller, burnt-out office goer.

So off I am, 8:20 am of a sunny, wintery, Thursday morning, cruising at 100kmph on the Delhi Meerut expressway. It was an impromptu decision to travel to Rishikesh, solo. Ah well, hired a driver so that I don’t have to keep using my wit and anticipate the whims of other daredevil travellers, who cared not of lives but bent upon experimenting how fast their vehicles can swoop and swerve through the bends.

But the road conditions were indeed good and within a couple of hours the landscape changed and I could see the sub-Himalayan ranges raising their lofty heads at the horizons, still hazy with dust and smog but not an illusion. That is where I am headed, to nestle in the valleys by our holy river.

Two more hours and a radical change in scenery. This is what I wanted, this is what I wanted to wake up to, and this is what I needed, a break from my real world, to dwell in some sublime bubble, at least for a couple of days.

View of River Ganga from my hotel room at Ganga Kinare

The scene was a treat to the eyes. The mountains in various hues of blue, grey and green. The farthest in light shades of greyish blue, the ones in between, a grade or two darker, and the closer ones wore an outfit of greens and browns. The river, happily gurgled along, sometimes taking on the hues of the mountains and changing its colour from green to blue to steely grey. I sat down at the bank and just regaled at the views.

For a city dweller who could only see buildings of various tones and whose ears were filled with cacophony of machinery and vehicles, my eyes soaked in the colours and my ears discovered the natural sounds around. The river, as if aware of a spectator, entertained merrily by adorning different colours. Near the opposite bank, it wore a teal and olive green colour, as it reflected the mountains towering over. In the middle, where it was most energetic, it was turquoise with the waves forming white trims, and closer to me, it was celadon.

The sound of the river as it caressed against the bank, was like a soft chuckle, and it flowed steadily along, not a beat to be missed, not a minute to pause.

But what is your rush? While you head towards the city, I am here escaping from one. While you, gurgling and splashing, drift towards the city, do you not know what is in store for you?

I did not have the heart to reveal. I am here to absorb the glorious nature, and carry my memory back, till I return for another break.

I was in harmony with the melodious twitters of birds of different colours, shapes and sizes, frolicking over the water and swooping in for their prey. My untrained eyes couldn’t name most of the birds, but I noticed the crows, kites, starlings, and sparrows, the common ones, the ones I recognized from my childhood, but who have become almost extinct from the cities. They looked merry, they looked healthy and robust. But there were many more I couldn’t recognize and they were too quick for me to click a photo or position Google lens. So I let them be. Not using electronics was also one of my ideas of purging.

If you focussed on the river, a natural way of meditation, rather than closing your eyes and forcing yourself not to be distracted by the city chaos, you could spot flying fish. They were too quick, gone like a flash. To give me company were some ducks, and some of them came quite close to me.

My gaze left the river as I looked at the mountains which seemed to cradle the river, which was still in its infancy. The sun’s rays played hide and seek in their crevices and protruding rocks. I could see some rooftops in the distance and evidence of modernity with electric transformers, perched high. But still the nature outdid these intrusions. The mountains were far for me to discern the types of trees but none of them were bare, the flora was dense.

I hadn’t noticed, the river water was almost touching my feet now. It was far away when I had sat down. Was it to draw my attention back? I figured the tides were changing and soon the steps I am sitting on, would submerge. The minutes my mind had been elsewhere, were enough for the river to adorn a different tint. The sun was going down and the colour was turning darker, almost viridian bordering on midnight blue. The last of the sun’s rays splashed on the water like pearls of red and yellow. The wind was becoming chillier, and I watched the sun dip behind the ranges. I drew my jacket tightly around me and bowed my head thanking mighty nature for the show it put up for me.

Back to my hotel room, to plan for the next day.

I woke up with the larks. I am glad I could say this in my lifetime. I did not wake up to the sound of my alarm but that of one of the unknown birds chirping outside of my window. As I drew the curtains away, I could see the mountains behind a drape of early morning fog. One side of the sky had a splash of crimson and that is where the sun will rise, so I got ready to find my spot and watch.

It was a long wait. While I waited, I saw the priests busily preparing for Sunrise rituals. Soon they stood at the bank and offered their prayers and sang their hymns. The aura was stunning, and the river gurgled happily like a baby with this renewed attention as it continued its drift.

Our Ganga, for zillions of years, has held a very special place in the hearts of the teeming millions residing in the northern part of India. When a child is born, it is customary to have the baby dip in the holy water, within the first few years of its life as a way of being blessed. When one leaves the earthly abode, the mortal remains are immersed in the river. It is said that three dips in the river will cleanse one off their sins and sprinkling its water at home is considered to bring in good omen. Our Ganga is revered like a mother and cherished like a child.

The sun peeped from behind the mountains, noting everything is as it should be, and then it came out with full vim and fire, and splashed a drape of golden trinkets on the river. My eyes, unused at this gilded splendour, wanted to gape in awe, but I was blinded as the blaze was so intense. I vowed to return another day to recap this wonder.

Sunrise on the banks of River Ganga

The day was to take a trip to the highest peaks in the neighbourhood. I have been promised a scenic beauty from atop. Can anything get better than what I have already witnessed?

The drive was risky and dangerous with serpentine mountainous roads, sharp bends, undulating paths, mostly uphill and sometimes sudden downhills. I clung to my seat and forgot to look at the view outside.  The road condition was good, and that is what makes Indian drivers carefree, and cars and jeeps hurtled mightily up and down the two lane road. I was back in my city mode mentality of driving with utmost caution mixed with intense horror. The driver used to mountain roads was calm, unlike me, and managed very well.

Reached the top and was told, I had to climb 300 stairs to reach the peak. Woe beset me, but if I have dared the treacherous road, what is 300 steps on foot? I started climbing. This time I stopped a few times to notice the surrounding. We were surrounded by tall fir and pine trees. It was serene and silent except for unseen insects buzzing, and playing amidst them all were langurs, families of them. A distracted moment and you risk being snatched of your possessions. I trudged up the mountain and reached the top. And it was worth it.

From atop Kunjapuri Devi Temple top. Snow clad Himalayas in the distance

The sky was azure with specks of clouds here and there. The mountains surrounding were higher than the ones I had seen before, and in the horizon, I was startled to see snow capped ranges. They were the Himalayan ranges of Gangotri, Swarg Rohini, and Chaukhambha, frigid boundary of the terrain which will change again drastically. The wind was in full force and very cold and howling in the Bhagirathi valley below. I stood there in awe and soaked in as long as I could and then began my trek downwards, mindful of langur babies, who were keen to know what I held so dearly on my arms.

Having experienced the perilous upward trek, I was calmer and braver while going down. This time I captured everything I saw with my camera and my eyes. As we were neared the base, I again heard the now familiar sound of gushing water. Stopped to see what it was and saw my river as it came down the mountains dashing with full vim and vigour, now wearing a hint of cyan and turquoise. The current was strong and as it rushed and lashed through the rocks, mighty white waves arose. In between, there were river rafters. Daring I might say. I watched in awe and then gave way to nature to continue its merry making.

The River Ganga flowing through the valley, majestically in its cyanic hue

My time with nature was coming to an end. So, I nestled down at my familiar site to take one last look of a glorious sunset and store it to my eternal memory.

Sunset over River Ganga at Triveni Ghat

My impromptu visit to Rishikesh was worth it and I would recommend this to anyone in need of a short and quick unplanned break. I stayed at a boutique resort called Ganga Kinare (an unoriginal name which means on the banks of Ganga), a very comfortable stay. I put up in one of their suites overlooking the Ganga and the mountains.

Rishikesh city was overcrowded with vacationers like me, gazing at the Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula. Built in the early parts of the last century, these are sturdy ropeway bridges connecting both sides of the cities. But an hour or two drive will take you to the midst of nature away from the bustling city, which is what I did in my two day stay. I visited a peak which had Neelkanth Mahadev temple. Legend has it that Lord Shiva swallowed the poison which came out from the churning of the ocean by Gods and Asuras, and his throat turned blue. My other stop was at Kunjapuri Devi temple where legend says part of Sati, wife of Shiva, had fallen.

There are many more picturesque spots and I left without seeing many of them, for I plan to return soon and often, to be in the lap of nature.

Unseen Heroes

The sudden sound of the mobile ringing seemed like it will shatter everything around. I hastily grabbed the phone and answered it, so that the sleeping household isn’t disturbed.

It was the cab driver confirming pickup.

I checked my clock … 2:30 AM!

Still an hour from pickup time.

Felt a pang of guilt, on his having to wait for me, at this unearthly hour, so I mumbled that I will be ready to go in half hour.

Honestly, I was lying awake, worried about the cab not turning up. And then spiraling into a dread about having to book an Uber and hoping to get one and reaching airport on time.

That worry evaporated, a sigh of relief.

I could have tossed and dozed for a few more minutes but remembering my promise to the driver, I got up and got ready and was ready to board in half an hour.

Outside, it was drizzling steadily, overcast skies, clouds looked like white shrouds floating eerily. The pitter patter of the rain, which would otherwise arouse the poets to break into rhymes, felt different at this hour. The greyish, dreadful, silent and cold night, hours away from dawn, brought in a melancholic start of my day.

As we neared our condominium exit gate, the security guard, stopped us and peered inside. On seeing me, activated the barrier to let us pass. The guard was alert and fast, in spite of the dreariness around him, he was duty bound.

I expected the roads to be free of traffic, and so did Google Maps, which intimated me that I should reach my destination in 40 minutes.

When I board a ride at night or late hours, my senses are on high alert. And so I was today, scanning everything as we passed by.  

And I noticed things, which I wouldn’t have usually during my day drives. The streetlights, standing in straight rows, were bright and glowing although there was a halo around them. And around the halo the rain drops fell and looked like sparkling gold trinkets. The trees and shrubbery, stood too, in grim submission to this bleak weather, knowing well, that the sun will be out and there will be brightness around.

The car was doing good on speed but suddenly slowed down and the scene outside changed. There was a shop where I saw many two-wheelers parked and there was a hustle bustle of activity. There were many young men standing about. Some with raincoats or wind-cheaters and some without any cover from the rain. They all were very busy as if racing against a clock. I realized those were the milk/grocery delivery vendors reporting for their duty and collecting their wares for distribution. Just next to this shop, the newspapers, wrapped under swathes of plastic cover, were being unloaded from a vehicle, and there too, were two-wheelers parked with vendors ready to load.

Not more than an hour ago, when I had woken up, I was feeling upset at having to catch this early morning flight, to travel for work. This was just one day, or maybe a few in a month.

But these vendors, they report to duty on this ungodly hours, come what may—storm, rain, fog or cold—to get the milk and bread and newspaper at our doorsteps. Mostly, even before we are out of our bed.

I felt a sense of awe. Many times, when I haven’t found the milk packet or the newspaper at its place, I had called up and complained heartily. Never realizing what goes behind, bringing those daily essentials to our reach daily.

As we kept going, I saw the municipality sanitary vans lining up in various parts of the city, to keep the city clean and free from water logging.

The traffic was less, but I saw several vehicles carrying goods and wares, groceries and other essentials, snaking across the city, ensuring that the households have the bare necessities, to fill the tummies  of kids and office goers.

We were close to the airport, and as we crossed the city limits, we saw a police picket, checking on vehicles exiting and entering. Wearing heavy trench coats, they were alert and brisk.

A forty minute ride that morning gave me a new perspective.

For me to do even a single day’s job well, there are many unseen heroes who are behind me, who until then, I have never known or acknowledged.

The security guards at our gates, the city police, and our soldiers at our borders, ensure I sleep peacefully each day.

The street I would use for my morning jog, would already be swept by the sanitary workers, long before, I step out.

The cab drivers ensure I reach my destinations.

The vendors move like shadowy figures, long before I am up, to place the milk, egg, and bread and newspapers at my doorstep, for a smooth start of my day.

I may be missing out on many other unseen heroes. But I know now that if on some days any of them would just like to sleep in for a bit more, I will understand. I will wait patiently.

As we prepare for our 75th Year of Independence celebration, my salute goes to these unseen heroes, who keep our household running.

Revolt by the Sandwich Generation

Soham and Snehal were utterly exhausted, tired to their bones. Their life was the proverbial “hectic and a mad rush”, typical of their generation.

Getting up daily at sunrise at the sound of the alarm, without a moment to spare or snooze. This is followed by an hour of jogging and Pilates at the gym. The monstrous membership fee alone pushed them to be there every day.

And then managing the madness within the multi-generation household.

Rushing back from the gym, they would nudge their two daughters out of their beds and get them ready for school. Every day a different form of theatricals evolved around this process. However hard Soham or Snehal tried to keep everything ready the night before, still there would be a missing sock or a hair band. Do these things have limbs to walk away? Or there would be a stain on the uniform. Not to mention the extreme slow-motion on the part of Riya and Halley, showing no inclination or interest whatsoever in getting ready. This would be interspersed with tears and howls and occasional fights breaking out between them. Soham would be fussing over them and imploring them to keep moving and keep getting ready.

Snehal would rush into the kitchen and start preparing their breakfast. The kids never agreed on the same things which meant preparing two different menu. Soham and Snehal tried their very best to maintain their calm, biting their lips a thousand times to stop from screaming at their children. If they do, then their grandparents would barge in and take the kids’ side and that would just stretch the morning drama a bit more. No time for that.

Once Snehal had really lost patience on Riya, and had yelled at her. Later, she got a condescending lecture from the mother-in-law (MIL), which she did her best to ignore but the event had another unexpected turn.  She got a letter from the school’s principal, a very patronizing one, which talked of how the kids should be allowed to grow in an environment full of love and tenderness; that they should not be afraid to express their thoughts and feelings, and that they should not be traumatized by the elders in the family. Snehal slapped her forehead hard. Her first instinct was to go and yell at Riya some more, but that wouldn’t have helped, so she just gritted her teeth. For the peace of the household, and for a morning free of yelling and screaming, just grit your teeth and get on with it. That had become Snehal’s and Soham’s morning mantra.

For Snehal, it is managing two sets of parents. While she had to look after the well-being of her in-laws who were staying with them for a long-term basis, she had her parents living in the sub-urban area who needed attention too.

Multi-tasking in the morning, Snehal would manage the kitchen, get several cups of tea ready for the in-laws, get breakfast of choices and lunch ready and packed, at the same time lending a hand or shoulder to Soham, as he continued to grit his teeth and struggle to get the kids ready for school.

The patriarch of the house would drink endless cups of tea, with milk and sugar, buried behind the newspaper, oblivious of the drama going on in the other room, but with his own yelps and expletives thrown in at the news. Whatever happened during those hours, natural calamity or human disaster, failed to grab his attention or budge him from his armchair in the balcony.

Next to him the matriarch sat, with her green tea, humming a devotional song, and urging the gods to give some peace and sensibility to her daughter-in-law, who apparently is totally struggling to manage a small household. She too, ignored the kids’ tantrums, and never would get up to help, except on those days when she would hear Soham or Snehal yelling at her beloved grandkids. Oh, her third cup of green tea is long due!

Really, Snehal has become so inept at managing the household. In a moment, she will dump the half-finished cooking on to her, and race off to office, the matriarch grimaced. She always knew Snehal will not cut it, and had said so to Soham, several years ago, but no one had listened to her!

On the other side, Soham and Snehal felt that they work for 48 hours in a day to keep the household and their career running.

The grand list of shopping, as the parents/in-laws did not like to shop online. The vegetables were not fresh and the groceries were overpriced according to them. Soham would have to take his mother to the local vendors for vegetable and grocery shopping. There his mother would spend several happy hours haggling with the vendors, meeting many of her friends doing the same thing and then compare prices. Grocery done, next would be the temple’s turn or maybe doctor’s clinic or just anything else.

Some days, he would have to drive his father to the banks and then wait in the car while his father pottered around the bank, and then settle down to chat with some friend or the other.

There was the driving the kids to school, ensuring their homework are done, attending parents-teachers’ meetings, taking them to extra-curricular activities during the weekends, nursing their fever, cold and tantrums. And then the two sets of parents—repeatedly teaching them the use of smartphones or laptops, meeting their demands of taking them for buying groceries, to temples, banks, post offices, doctors, friends get to gather, wherever they would prefer to be.

Thus Soham and Snehal were tired to their bones. Day in and day out. All seven days. No respite from their tedious routine. They had to cut short their last vacation as one set of parents had fallen ill. The humdrum of the house would always fall apart if one or both of them were not at the rudder.

For days, Snehal had been eyeing the Gucci vanity bag she had seen through the window, but always felt a pang of guilt and never could get herself to buy it, which she could afford easily. She earned very well but was always stricken by guilt when she bought anything for herself. She felt she was unjustly indulging on herself and then would end up spending more and buying for her daughters and also for the mother and MIL. The latter two, to keep them appeased and avoid the raised eyebrows on her expensive purchase for herself. She was vacillating about the Gucci; it would be such a nice accessory to her evening gown!

Both of them felt sandwiched between the two generations. They couldn’t express their true feelings or frustrations as that was considered to be bad, irreverential, uncool and just not the way they had been brought up.

Their office life was demanding with long and unpredictable hours as well. Pressure and demand of deliverable deadlines, the annual reviews and the rat race to the top! But there too, they had to gulp down any sense of despair or frustration and keep their feelings to themselves. Any display of emotions and they would be counselled to join a Yoga class and practice deep breathing and meditation.

Then suddenly one day, a switch flipped.

Halley did not like her cereals today. She pointed out to her Mom and then to Dad but none of them responded. She was ignored. That has never happened before. Her immediate instinct was to lie down on the floor and start pumping her fists and yell at the top of her lungs. That always yielded what she wanted. But she hesitated. Just yesterday, when she was at it, for something else, she had been bitten by a tiny ant, and thus was scared to try that feat. She gave a questioning look at her older sister, Riya. She was troubled to see a puzzled look on her sister’s face. Something seemed to be off.

His father was hiding behind the newspaper, when on other days he would be helping Halley and Riya with their breakfast and fussing over them and beseeching them to finish their food. It would start by gently nudging them out of their beds, helping them with their bath, ironing their school uniform, braiding their hair. Mom would be making lunch boxes and getting breakfast and lunch ready for the rest of the family and in between help Dad manage them. During this time, the world revolved around Halley and Riya. Just to make their exit to school smooth, they got whatever they wanted from their parents.

Actually, today, no one had woken them up or helped them get ready. Halley was too sleepy to think why so, and thus had gone through the motions of getting ready mechanically, but at the breakfast table she was now wide awake. And she felt something was amiss.

Mom was furiously peeling potatoes and not paying attention to anyone either. Not anyone at all. Gramps asked for a cup refill and was cordially ignored by both Mom and Dad. Granny seemed worried too and scuttled away to her prayer room.

Things seemed very ominous.

Halley didn’t finish her cereals neither did Riya. Her mother snatched the half-eaten bowls, dumped them in the dishwasher, and almost shoved them out of the door and into the car. The car ride to school was dreadfully silent, with both Halley and Riya trying to figure out as to what could have happened that their parents are not all over them as they used to be. The car ride would always be a fun ride for them with either of them trying ruffle each other’s hair or crumpling the uniform or just punch or pinch or tease each other.   Mom or Dad, whoever would be driving them, would keep pleading them to be quiet and behave, but between the traffic on the road and the chaos at the back seat, they would always choose to (helplessly) focus on the former. But … bewildering today!

In school, Ms Mathews asked Halley for her English homework. Halley had not done it. She instantly turned on her tried and tested little girl innocence, clutched her forehead, and whimpered to her Ms Mathews, that she had a bad headache the evening before and thus had gone to bed early. She expected full sympathy from Ms Mathews and may be also a hug. But she was startled to see a big frown on Miss’s face. Ms Mathews ordered Halley for the school diary and scribbled a complaint for her parents. Not only that, she ordered Halley to stand outside the classroom. Halley was shocked. This has never happened to her ever. She sometimes had skipped her homework and always got away easily, in the past. Not just her but everyone else in the class got full empathy when one was too sick to do a homework. But the class full of little girls and boys sat perplexed today, as they were looking at a very different Ms Mathews. Demanding and checking homework, giving surprise tests and sending students out of the classroom otherwise. The classroom, too, just like the car ride to school was deafeningly silent today.

Halley did not want to take a complaint today for her parents to sign, given what she saw in the morning, she felt it would not go well. Last time, when this had happened, after she had quarrelled with a boy in the class, her mother had gone and complained to the principal that the teacher was being unjust to Halley. Today, Halley wasn’t sure, how her Mom would react to this note.

Back at home, when the patriarch asked Halley’s father for the newspaper as it was always his unspoken fundamental right to read the paper first; he was ignored. Next, he asked his son how to Transfer Funds but was snapped at. He felt he was asking for the first time, maybe he has asked once or twice before, but was aghast to be told that he keeps asking the same questions over and over again! Not to be cornered or dismissed, as that was not what his generation tolerated, he then asked his son to take him to the Bank and was again told very curtly that it will not be possible.

Like his grandkids, he was bewildered. He always faced problems with his laptop, and Soham had always helped him patiently. He just had to say it and he would be taken to the Bank or the Post Office. Although it was always for some important work he had, he would meet so many of his friends there and stop and talk to them about how appalling the world has become. Soham wouldn’t mind and he would either sit in his car and continue with his office work on phone or would run some errands for the house, which his mother would have given. Never complaining. What has happened today?

He racked his brain to understand whether he or his wife have had any arguments of sorts or has he said something to Soham or Snehal, his daughter-in-law, which hasn’t gone well. He couldn’t think of any. His son looked very different today and so was his daughter-in-law. He didn’t get his tea refilled and had asked for sandwich for breakfast but just got buttered bread dumped in front of him.

The matriarch fervently ran her fingers through her prayer beads but continued to worry about the situation at home. The grandkids were neglected today and did not get proper food in their tummy. They will be starving the whole day. She usually takes her cups of tea in the balcony which is already laid out for her, but today she had to fetch it from the kitchen and actually pour the tea for herself and her husband. After her prayers, when she sat down to have her breakfast, she found there was none! She had to get up and toast a bread for herself because nothing else was there to eat. When she pointed out to her son, Soham, that Snehal seems to be too caught up with her office work and not paying attention to the household or her children, she was told to leave her alone! She was too stunned to respond. Her son had never talked back like that. She was an elder and she had to be respected and everybody and everything in the house should be handled the way she wanted. That was the order of the day always. After commanding everyone in the household, she would then sit in the foyer area with her crochet or knitting and soon would be joined by other ladies in the condominium. They would pass many happy hours talking of life, past and current, blaming their daughter in laws cooking skills, boasting of their sons’ growth and prosperity. There were no dearth of topics. But today she seemed to be losing control and her mind kept drifting to the very erratic behavior of her son and daughter-in-law?

She had then asked her son to take her to the vegetable market. She relished haggling with the vendors. She met many of her friends there and they would always try to outdo each other in buying vegetables in the cheapest rate. But his son ignored her, picked his bag and left for his office.

The oligarchs of the family looked at each in utter disbelief. They just had to say and it was a command for their son and daughter-in-law, but today the world seemed to have taken a different axis.

After dropping the kids, Snehal drove to her office and arrived 10 minutes late. She completely ignored her ancient boss’s frown and the look of censure and went straight to her workstation.

Snehal’s parents had called twice already when she was in a meeting. Seeing the phone beep for the third time, she was worried, and she excused herself from the meeting to take the call. Her mother wanted to know what her YouTube password was as she wanted to watch a recipe and try to it for lunch today. Exasperated, Snehal had disconnected the phone and returned to her meeting.  Her mother probably had thought the network was bad and had tried several times more, but now Snehal didn’t answer. Her mother was worried and bewildered too. At her daughter’s behavior and then how to cook lunch without knowing the recipe!

Snehal made up her mind, she will leave early today from work and get the Gucci bag, for herself, and nothing for anyone else. No guilt, she deserved to pamper herself.

In his office, Soham had walked out of a very boring meeting, amidst raised eyebrows and frowns, and was now busy booking a trekking expedition in the Andes for himself and Snehal, just for themselves. They deserved it.

A day in the life of a newspaper!

Last week the way my family reacted, meaning losing it all, when the internet went down for a few hours, made me lament on how utterly dependent on the web we are. Our life is controlled by this mesh from everything such as news, to quenching our sudden curiosities, studies, office, banks, entertainment, and every other activity of daily living.

Well, with everything at our fingertips (literally) now, how did we ever manage when the internet was not so encompassing a decade or two back, and non-existent before that. When the phrase world wide web conjured a completely different sci fi imagery.

My mind goes back to the years I was growing up without the internet.

Let’s start with the news of the day.

There was no system of instant news reporting (like now, sometimes even before it happened!!). There were no random video clicks of important events by a random passer-by who happened to be there with a cell phone poised, like someone filming the first plane hitting the first of the twin towers. (I often wondered as to how that can be a coincidence but more on that later!). Photographs, in black and white, were taken by professional cameramen who positioned themselves in designated areas during an event. News were meant to be written by professional reporters. And yes, newspapers were a vital part of every family.

The person who woke up first in the household had the responsibility of opening the main door and picking up the newspaper. It was a custom of opening the door, bending and scooping it up, and cursorily reading the Headline. Newspapers were not covered in full page advertisements those days in glossy papers, and the topmost headline meant something, and it carried its stately importance throughout the day, oft referred over and over in many conversations.

But the person, picking up the newspaper, daily, was not to open the folded pages, but the custom was to keep it in a designated area marked for the day’s newspaper. No written rule, but usually the person picking up the newspaper, was much below the pecking order which was followed to read the newspapers.

 Ah yes, there was a pecking order.

The highest rung was reserved for the patriarch of the family. He would read the newspaper, page by page, probably sipping the morning cuppa, and while doing so, read out loud some portions to the matriarch of the family, who is too busy preparing lunch bags and getting the kids ready for school, and will not get to the newspaper until noon. But worth getting to hear some of the news in advance.

Once the patriarch leaves for work, the person next in the pecking order gets the chance, and then the next and the next. Each person had their favourite place in the house where to read the newspaper and which page to go to first. The sports page or the international page, the fashion page or just the job advertisement. Once done, one had to carefully fold the newspaper and keep it neatly in the same designated space for the next reader.

I have never seen this pecking order being disturbed much and the newspaper always found itself back to its designated spot after each reader.

If some kids got their grimy hands on the newspaper, disturbing the pecking order, they were certain to be reprimanded and accused of crumbling the paper, staining it or keeping the pages out of order. It was best to wait till we returned from school, by when everyone would have read the paper and it would still be found in the same place. We would then be allowed to leaf through the pages, cut some items out for our scrapbook, or if it is raining outside, furtively, tear a page out to make a paper boat. And then swear loudly, if caught, that the page was not from today’s newspaper.

Because after the newspaper had its glorious day, it would have to be kept away in the store area. That responsibility usually belonged to the last in the pecking order and mostly to the children. And if anyone needed a sheet of paper to either wrap a book, or use it as a layer in a cupboard, or in this case make a paper boat, one needed to take the newspaper which was at the bottom of the pile. And days later, when the shelf in the store would be groaning under the weight of the daily newspapers piling up, scrap dealer would be called to take them away but not after a zealous bargain with the matriarch, on how much it actually weighs. The gains from the sale were used to buy something for the house.

So that was the life of the newspaper of the day and its reverence in our lives.

The only other form of news would be the 9 o’clock news in the radio. Now that was another significant object till it was displaced by the television, few years later. The radio claimed its revered spot during dinner time which also coincided with the nightly news. The responsibility of tuning the radio to get to the desired bandwidth rested on the important shoulders of the patriarch, and then over the years, passed on to the most responsible child, mostly the oldest. There had to be a hush silence as the elders listened to the news. No dinner conversation but listening to the crackling voice doling out the day’s news, the only source of what is happening in the world. Years later, this place was claimed by the television, and dinner was around it, everyone glued to it, and not much paying attention to each other, but to the riveting moving pictures on the screen.

And what do we have now?

Some of us do still take the newspaper. While the bending and scooping is still there, we cannot get to the headlines, as you know, we would have to leaf through several glossy pages, and there is no time in the morning rush for such a luxury. And even if we do get to the headline, isn’t it outdated already? As we have already seen it, heard it, read it, over TV, social media, and the ubiquitous chat channels, oh so many times, already!

The news and the headlines of yesteryears were something our folks ardently relied on and swore by.

Now, we are not sure. Fake and real live side by side and it is for us to decide what to believe.   

Oh what a day!!

All of a sudden, there were shrieks of agony and screams of despair emanating from everywhere. Accusations and angry snarls followed soon. From every room of our house. It seemed that an all out war bugle has been sounded and all means of assault will follow soon.

From one room there were roars of blasphemy and from another one a song which was playing a tad too loudly stopped and a howl so loud filled the air that our furry companion looked alarmed but dismayed that he now has to do better. There were shouts, confusion, ruckus in others, sounds of things being flung and hurled.

The members of the family started to pour out of their rooms, which is where they are found all the time these days, squealing in high pitch of anguish and despair, something about doomsday coming too soon in their lives.

The family was eyeing each other in a hateful accusatory manner and were taking those aggressive stances, which you see in a battlefield, ready to attack each other at the slightest provocation or if they get an idea who is the reason behind their appalling state.

Before you think, we are an ancient clan or savages, that is not true. The reason for this became quite apparent in a minute and it  could be summed up in three simple words

The internet is down.

Pathetically dependent are we on the internet, and if it goes down, the world around us seems to break into tiny pieces of calamity, hopelessness, despair, chaos, and life comes to a complete standstill.

For me, it gave me a sense of peace, when I looked at all my family members, aged 6 to 70, standing around, although ready to pounce on the perpetrator or just anybody.

I have never seen them all together before at one place, at the same time, never even on the dining table together!!

It was a treat to me and I was misty eyed.

I too was, hunched on the kitchen board,  watching a Youtube, learning how to cook an entrée, and was following directions, on how exactly to cut the onion slices.

Yeah you got it, seeing the family together was not what got me misty-eyed but the onions had. But it also meant that now I don’t know, what to do next, and how to get the lunch ready, for the family to continue to be together.

I have to improvise and fast, if I would like them to dine at the table, in a less hostile manner of course, and come have lunch together. I cannot order in. Ooops!! The internet is down, the apps will not work … hmmm…!! If I call the local diner directly, they will be confused and not know what to do, perhaps.

But age old mother’s recipe comes to my rescue and I quickly got the family to help me out.

Sometimes, internet being down, can be counted to bring families together. To actually look at each other and just talk and do family chores together.

In the modern world, it is not love which brings a family together, it is the malfunction of internet which does.

My book is live on Amazon!

My book is live on Amazon!

http://www.amazon.in/dp/B09NYHJW32/ref=cm_sw_r_oth_tai_DSD3GY3MHC4XZM0SBRA4 

It is also available in other countries, both in Kindle and Paperback editions, too. Please do read, and if you like, place your comments on the websites.

Nightmare turned true!

Isha cursed herself as she looked around for shelter from the fierce thunderstorm around her. She should have packed and left too, when all her colleagues decided to shut their laptops and head home before the impending storm. But she was nearing a deadline and she had thought she had time to quickly wrap things up and then leave.

How wrong she was …!!

The thunderstorm was nothing like she had seen before, and definitely not caught outdoors with one, raging wildly. The rain fell hard on her body like pelting stones. She was completely drenched in seconds, her umbrella no match to the wind which snapped its bars.

There was a flash and a ears splitting crack of thunder boomed all around her. It was like the sound of thousand drums which suddenly beat in unison and seemed to crack her heart and bones into pieces. Quite afraid now, she ran and took cover under a large Ficus tree as more lightning streaks appeared in the dark ominous sky and the deafening sounds followed.

Her mother’s word echoed into her ears! Never take shelter under a tree during a thunderstorm.

She looked up at the majestic tree, planted by a wise man several decades back, to provide shelter to the pavement, for resting travellers, to stop and ponder over what next. The tree, however, looked far from majestic now. It was caught in a frenzy trying to defend itself from the thundering storm. Its branches clamouring wildly, and the sounds which emanated where far from the rhyme or rhythm which the wandering travellers would have heard. It was a howl of terror, something which Isha wanted to do too. The madly swaying branches looked like a dervish swooning and flapping his arms and legs wildly in meek submission to the effects of an uncontrolled power.

Isha looked around and could not see any souls around. No birds, no beasts and no humans around. Only that man in a black attire, across the street. She looked towards him and could see the eyes glistening, probably the glasses reflecting light. She seemed to remember seeing him when she had stepped out of office, but had not given much thought.

She contemplated moving away from this tree but the next huge Ficus tree was closeby too. Standing in between the two trees will not be a good idea either. Through the haze of hard pouring rain, she spotted a bus stand few hundred meters away and decided to jog towards that. She was drenched anyway and how wetter can she be.

She carefully started jogging towards it, avoiding puddles which have formed over the pavement covering treacherous holes perhaps. Few cars whizzed past with high beams. But other than the sound of howling winds and crack of thunders, her footsteps was the only evidence of another living soul …

She reached the bus stand, not much cover but she didn’t care. As she started wringing her dress and her hair to rinse the excess water, her eyes fell across the street. She saw the man in the black attire, his eyes still glistening. Has he been stalking her? Did he also run while she was?

A foreboding fear streaked across Isha’s body just like the lightening in the sky.

This man, if he had some sinister motive, could easily bound across the street and get her.

Isha choked with fear.

She looked around wildly for help … but from where, from whom?

She saw the familiar figure of a yellow green cab with unoccupied lights on, and started waving frantically at it. She kept looking fearfully at the dreadful figure across the street, afraid that, he might, seeing his prey can escape can quickly cross the street in two leaps and get her. There was no traffic at all to stop his movement.

Isha, now beyond any sense of wisdom or judgement, started waving and shouting at the cab, knowing that her sound is muted with all the cacophony around.

The cab was moving too slowly. Is it that the driver is unable to see her? Is the car having some technical problem? Then it is of no use. But at least it seemed to be coming her way, albeit slowly, too slowly. At least another human being!

What seemed like ages, the cab finally reached the bus stand and Isha grabbed the rear door and plunged inside, shutting the door hard, and heaving a sigh of relief.

The driver was in a black attire and he turned, with eyes glistening, he asked “Where to, madam?”

Isha’s hand flew over her mouth as she let out a piercing scream …

And sat up in bed …

Oh!!

Are you a tea leaf?

As I sipped my morning cup of tea, in the serene, autumn/winter is coming weather, with my mind far, far away, I was jarred to the present moment, when I tasted a tea leaf.

The immediate action was to remove it, but it also made me think, philosophically. Yes, the ambience helped!! 😊

That same tea leaf, which 10 minutes ago was the most important factor of my tea making process, without which I would not have had my steaming cup, that tea leaf which gives the beautiful color and taste to the cup which has become staple for my mornings, that tea leaf which stimulates me for my day to come, that tea leaf which fetches hefty sums basis where it has been plucked from, is now being rejected and ejected?!

How easy it is for all of us to become a tea leaf? Sadly, very much.

After we have served our purpose, if we do not #reinvent#upskill#reenergize#definethenextpurpose#takeupthenextchallenge, we will all become a tea leaf!

(Oh, by the way, I have found a purpose for the tea leaf, to turn it and its siblings into a compost for my balcony garden!)

%d bloggers like this: