Saturday, December 22, 2012

An open letter to Sonia Gandhi

Dear Ms Gandhi,
I have a very basic question. Why am I so afraid for my safety in a country where the Head of State (in every practical way) is a woman?

Today the Government hid, you hid, while the people who voted for you, people who came with their children, teenagers, people who came to ask you to return the favour, to validate their vote, waited in vain. Bewildered youth were not only turned away, they were treated as terrorists.
I know you’re busy, very busy, also trying to make excuses for the nationwide rage you’re currently on the receiving end of. Let me make this easy.

Let me tell you exactly what happened today in Delhi.
When you look away from wrong-doing for too long, when you refuse to support the helpless, the underdogs, the down-trodden, victims, whatever you want to call it. When you ignore them for too long, you’re giving rise to a rebellion. When you shirk away from enforcing law, you’re giving way to lawlessness of a different sort.

What do you think gave rise to the Gulabi Gang in UP? Did this whole group of strong women, who take their rights by force spring to life overnight? No. Hundreds of women died, pleaded, begged for your attention while you looked away, and went on to make other “important policies”, before this group said, FUCK the law, we will take the law into our own hands.

Today, 5 boys died in Jharkhand because they molested a woman. They were brutally stoned to death. It is happening, you see? They’ve been calling for you, but you’ve neglected them. Now they’ll do you one better. They will do your job, but in the most violent way possible. Instead of one, you now have two problems on your hands.

Do you now understand what happened today? You looked away for years, while women suffered EVERY SINGLE DAY in this country. And today, when they came to you to make sense of what happened, you ordered an attack on them. They have now turned sullen, violent and completely intolerant of your disregard for them. They turned lawless. Because you refused to enforce law in the first place.

Don’t keep making this mistake, Ms Gandhi. Because women are losing patience. You already saw something today of their anger, their angst. But you have seen nothing yet. Make us safe, or God help us all if you leave us all to protect ourselves. We will shame you, and we will shame ourselves but we will get things done and not in the most ideal way.

I have a niece, Ms Gandhi. She is 5. I am deeply suspicious of ANY male attention that comes her way. I watch carefully while she plays, I watch the men around her, drivers, watchmen, relatives, passers-by, even people who know us well. I do not approve of men pulling her cheeks even. I want to protect her from everything. God forbid, if something happens to anyone I love this much, I am telling you now, I will create a wave of rage and fury that will take over everything.
I know I speak for every single woman reading this. They will show no mercy. And you will have to fight several fires at once.

Learn from today. Enforce the law. Make us safe. Or be prepared for lawlessness that will burn this country. And you. I voted for you, Ms Gandhi. I counted on you. You failed. It won't happen again.

Strike not three, but in thousands… You’re out.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


"Monsters are real. And ghosts are real too.
They live inside us, and sometimes, they win"
Stephen King.

I hope God will forgive my weakness today.
I hope God will respect how brave I was today.

I'd like to think this morning, when I woke up, He must have cringed a little at what was to come,
I'd like to think there's an extra star in the sky tonight, one He lit just for me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I wonder if you question what you did,
I wonder if you even know,
I wonder if it pinches you ever, the destruction you caused.

At some point, I will forgive you. It's the natural order of time.
But here's the thing, sonny boy.
The joke's on you.
Because one day I will be free.
But how will you ever wash the blood off your hands?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Aboard the Dhauladhar Express

Night time.
No confirmed tickets.
Waiting at Pathankot Station in a swarm of mosquitoes for the Dhauladhar Express.
Things are not looking good.

I wait with the bags, pursing my lips so none of the 1,000 bugs circling my head get to be my dinner, while P goes to check if our tickets have a hope in hell of getting confirmed. Now this is the beauty of travelling with P. She's a star. She works part-time as my rock, my problem-fixer, giver of laughs, source of my powers, all of that. She and SS both. But here's the truly wonderful thing. She can talk her way into almost anything. And you'll believe everything she says.

For one, she talked me into this trip, convinced me that it was a perfectly good idea to take the bus to Mcleod Ganj at night (it turned out to be a death bus driven by a maniac; I'd willed my bookshelf to Aarya) and to travel without confirmed return tickets (she'd told me they were confirmed. They weren't). To be fair, in her head, they were confirmed, she was that confident (it was WL 1 and 2, come on, of course, they'll get confirmed. They didn't). All this, despite knowing her extremely well. But here's the good part. I'm glad she did. I haven't laughed that hard in a while.

I shift into the waiting room, a tiny, bare room with chairs backed up against the walls and one round table, and pretty abysmal unisex bathrooms. But this is better than the bug fest outside. Also, we were two girls at a station where most people are assuming we're foreigners. I think it is my haircut (I have bangs now). So we're getting loads of eyeballs.

When P comes back, I know from her sheepish grin that we're travelling ticketless. "No no, it's confirmed, but..." I wait, grinning. "But only one ticket is confirmed." When I start laughing, she protests, "But Seju, that never happens! They don't confirm just one ticket!" True. We later find out it's a system error.

Anyway, I am not worried. I know P can talk herself through anything. The TC was just going to have his pants charmed off him. We eat dinner at a tiny dhaba, just outside Pathankot Station, waiting for the Dhauladhar Express back to Delhi. It's a weird night. We're wearing travel rags and we're still extremely overdressed for this place. But the food is brilliant. And the service, even more so. Our foreigner tag is sealed by the slight hesitation on my part to fully dive into the food and look around the place in apprehension. It's a proper Punjabi place, complete with that singer Gurdass Mann's photo up on the yellow-painted wall. It's delicious. Not just the food. And yes, this is P's favourite food in the world, dhaba food, not poncy hotel stuff, and she's blissful. Look.

We finally board the train. A couple of seats in this compartment, and the rest are small rooms, those coupes, closed ones, with doors and everything. We sit in our seat, the one on the left of the compartment, two seaters. P goes off in search of the TC after making sure I am seated in our seat. Now there're a couple of goofs in the system and various people are wondering which seats are theirs. This group of men, huddled in the compartment, loudly and firmly attempting to take ownership of SOME seat. We exchange our seat with a gentleman, who sweetly agrees and promptly finds out it's not his seat to give away. There's a fair bit of confusion. P dives right into the animated conversation.

In the middle of this madness, a scrawny boy, around 14, comes running into the compartment. "You're baithe here for 15 mins?" He asks breathlessly.
What? I blink stupidly at him.
"Charge phone, na, pliss?" He thrusts his phone at me.
I continue to look at him not understanding a word.
P comes over when she sees him.
"Kya hua? Kya problem hain?"
"Phone charge karna tha." He gestures to the socket behind me. "Bas 15 minutes".
P has no patience for this guy. She herds him off to the centre of the compartment.
"Yaar, tu waha kar le," she says. "Hamare seats ka kuch pata nahi, tera phone kya charge karenge."
He shuffles off.

We're laughing about him when P spies the TC a few seats away.
"So, I am going to tell him you HAVE to reach Mumbai day after and you need to get to the Delhi airport tomorrow. So he won't offload us."
"Does that happen?" I am slightly freaked.
"No no, never," she says confidently, "but you know, just in case. So look tense."

As the train starts to move, we sit in the one seat we have, thinking worst case scenario, we'll go to sleep sitting up. We laugh as we hear the men arguing and looking at our cramped seat. We laugh about the hapless boy who valiantly gave up his seat and the found it's not his at all. And the memory of the manic bus driver to Mcleod Ganj, and we're soon in hysterics, the kind that come with every remembered joke after a really fun trip.

The TC is now walking towards us.
P turns to me urgently and hisses, "He's here. Look EMOTIONALLY DISTRAUGHT!"
Emotionally distraught? I start to giggle.
He's at our seat now, and at P's meaningful glance, I attempt to visibly deflate and stare listlessly at the floor.

I need not have bothered. Then something happens that completely distracts the TC. The boy who'd left his phone to charge comes careening into the compartment, almost ramming into the TC.
"Mera phone!!" He cries into the man's face. "Mera phone kaha hain?"
The bewildered TC just stares at him. I suspect this is the effect this boy has on most people. 
P points it out at the socket next to the window.
He heaves a massive sigh of relief, staggers to his phone, unplugs it and sits down on the seat, breathing heavily. 
The TC, now galvanised into action, asks him where he's travelling to.
"Mein toh mata ke darshan ke liye jaa raha tha, Vaishnav Devi ko."
We take a minute for this to sink in. That is in the exact opposite direction to where we're headed.
"Toh tu yahaan kya kar raha hain?"
"Mein toh sirf apna phone charge karne train mein aaya tha. Mein station pe friends ke saath khana kha raha tha, socha charge kar du!"
Oh dear lord. He'd got on just to charge his phone. He didn't want to take this train. He jumped in when he discovered the train was pulling out of the station. With his phone.
We're all staring at him when his phone rings. It's his buddy from the station.
"Haan, mein train mein chad gaya hoon," he says nonchalantly into the phone, "Agle station pe utar ke wapas aa jaoonga. Bas 2 minute mein pahucha."
He was telling his friends he'll be back in two minutes? This boy has no idea what he's got himself into.
The rest of us are now starting to laugh. The TC too.
"Beta, tu phone charge karne chada, aur ab tujhe lagta hain tu do minute mein wapas jaayega?"
He looks very embarrassed but he's still not really got it.
"Mujhe laga yeh train subah niklegi," he says. We're all incredulous. P laughs, "Toh tumhe laga hum sab yaha subah ki train ke liye abhi se chade?" We're laughing now.
He's really flustered now and blurts out, "Arre mein toh Punjabi hoon, mujhe yeh sab kya pata?"
This is almost too much for all of us. We're all doubled over by now.
"Agle station pe utar jaaonga," he says weakly over the din.
The TC looks at him in between guffaws. The thing is, you couldn't get angry with this guy, it wasn't that he was trying to pull a fast one on anyone, or being cocky. He is just really really dumb. And that's hardly his fault.
"Tu ab Mata se prarthana kar ki train Delhi se pehle kahin ruk jaaye, varna tu chal raha hain Delhi tak." He shook his head at the restless boy. "Jaa, general mein jaa ke baith jaa."
The boy gets up and grinning, trots off towards the general compartment. We're all still reeling from this when the TC starts checking tickets again.
Except that now he's in such a good mood from all the laughing, P didn't have to try too hard. He immediately allots us another seat, clears the confusion of the remaining tickets, and leaves.

I drift off, grateful for this journey. Regular air travel had taken me away from this, the adventure of the absolute unknown, the possibilities of lunacy while travelling. This is the most fun I've had in commute for a while.

After that, we sleep like babies. After all, we both get one whole berth each to sleep in.
Ah, luxury.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad.

You would have been 67 today.

What would we have done, I wonder?
We'd have said, let's go out and eat!
Or  let's go out of town.
Let's do something, I'd have begged.

But I know how we'd have celebrated your birthday.

It would have happened in the way you loved most. With your family. Your brothers. And a visit to the temple. That is, if we weren't travelling to where Bapa was.

We'd have started the day by going to Dadar, early morning temple visit. And you'd have gone to work after that. No celebrations. The brothers might drop by. No biggie, you'd have said. We'd have protested the boring 60s and gone on to work.

You'd have returned at 6pm, rung the bell, one hand on the grill, with fingers wrapped around the metal bars as I'd open the door. As always.

I'd have helped carry your bag inside, wishing you again, grinning from ear to ear and wait patiently outside as you'd wash up, change immediately into "home clothes" a habit you've passed on to me, and then we'd sit for the one thing we both cannot do without. Evening chai.

We'd sit at the dining table, look down our noses, our similar, straight noses at mum's coffee, smile the same smile as we tease her about it. You'd ask about our day, and raise your eyebrows at my stories, wrinkling that lovely regal forehead. I love mine, because it's like yours. Your hair, a lovely mop that never did properly get to go a complete grey, would be neat, not out of place, like mine. No, I dodged your neatness and attention-to-detail gene. You should have tried harder. :)

We'd talk, as I loved to with you, I wouldn't probably be in the mess I am in now, because you wouldn't have let all those things that happened ever happen to me had you lived. So, we'd be discussing all sorts of wonderful things. We'd talk about my writing. You went before my first byline appeared in the paper. The Free Press Journal. I remember looking at my name in black and white and feeling that ache, and knowing that day, that nothing would make me whole again. I shouldn't have waited for a byline. I should have tried to make you proud of me every day. 

I'd have wished you probably a 100 times by now. And you'd have laughed, gosh that delightful laugh. And graced me with that smile, that smile that lit up the room. At least for me. No matter how dark that room was. Any room. Anywhere. Do you know that that's the first thing people remember about you now when they talk to me about you? How your smile made them feel that everything would be okay. No matter what they were facing. That when you sat and talked to them, they believed. In everything that you stood for. And why wouldn't they? You stood for God so much. And He lived in you, towards the end. I felt it. So everyone else must have.

By dinner time, the brothers and your sister would have started arriving. The "No biggie" would have turned into a massive gathering of 7 families, children included, and then some. There would have been around 40 people cramped into our house, and the cacophony that would usually annoy neighbours would have been met with indulgent knowing grins instead. The Mehtas have assembled they'd have said.

I'd have gone to mum in the kitchen, what about food, what will we do? But Mum would have known better. Of course, she would have. Make enough for 50 people, my mum would have had said to the cook that morning. She knew.

The house would have been full of laughter, and crying (some kid's going to fall on his head, of course) and so much food (it IS a Gujarati household). By 11pm, the stories would have begun, the legends of the brothers, the house they grew up in, the stories of Ganpati Visarjan when 5 engineers sat and designed Ganpati sets to rival professional art directors, complete with pulley systems for tiny toy wells. The stories of their legendary absent-mindedness, my father would win centre-stage here. Stories of him leaving without his shoes, of promising to pick people up, forgetting all about it the next minute and actually driving PAST them and WAVING at the hapless victim, of him forgetting to put the role in the camera on an epic family holiday. Stories of the deepest bond that they shared, never needing friends because they had each other.

I'd look over at you. Your face would have been alive with joy, with happiness, with the comfort of family. The sort of celebration you'd have loved the most.

Instead, today we go about our day. No special food in the kitchen. Maan wished me in the morning :) and I ache that Maan and Aarya never met you. You would have loved Maan. Did you know Vaibhav brought her to meet you the day before you left for Lonavala? And you weren't home. They thought of waiting. But then, as we all think, so so stupidly, there's always tomorrow. Little did they know.
You'd have been so proud of Aarya. She asks about you many times, about Dada. She cried once too, and said she's missing you. I suspect she saw her father missing you. He doesn't talk about you to me. Ever. I suspect he cannot. I miss you with everything I have, and yet, I suspect sometimes, that he misses you even more than that.

I dream about you often. But you are still as vivid in my dreams as you were when you left. I am not sure if I am happy or alarmed by that.

Dates are cruel things. They fuel memories and make them stronger. You can combat a memory on a normal day. But attach it to an important date, and there's no stopping it.

I concede. :) I miss you. Every day.

So yes. It would have been a lovely day. Because of nothing else but that you'd have still been here. With me.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Time Travel

If you could go back in time, would you change things? You would, of course you would. If you look at your life and think, wow, I wouldn't change a thing, not even the one teeny tiny bit of rearranging, I'd like to come shake your hand. And then slap you a little bit, just you know, so you'd have something different to say the next time.

What do you reckon you'd change, really? To find that one moment that set the ball rolling for the way a life shapes up. Kind of a challenge. I think I'd go through several attempts, seeing the sometimes misplaced sense of priorities I seem to persistently exhibit. Like in some movies, where the protagonist goes through a day again and again to get it exactly right, and in the end, someone dies anyway, because the moron was fixing the wrong moment.

Or maybe it's destiny and no matter how many times you adjust things, you're going to land up exactly where you were supposed to.

There's a film that sort of is about this and then some. Have you watched Sliding Doors? The movie starts with Gwyneth Paltrow having lost her job at a PR firm. She has a few drinks with her friends, goes home to a boyfriend who you realise is a bit of an ass right away. The next morning, she's running to make it in time for the train, and this is the moment the film splits into two. Two parallel tracks: one in which she makes it in time, chats with this lovely man, comes back home in time to find her boyfriend cheating on her, moves out, etc. And the other track, where she misses the train, the doors slide shut, and on her way back home, she gets mugged, goes to the hospital, remains oblivious to her cheating boyfriend for a large chunk of the movie, etc etc.

Now here's the thing. In both sequences, she ends up meeting the same people in different ways. And in one scenario, she dies in the end. And in the other one, she ends up talking to lovely man from the train much later, in the end. In an elevator.

It all depended on whether on not she caught the train in time. Scary stuff.

I watched three things about this in quick consequence, hence all this thought.

A rerun of an episode in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. where they all asked what if? What if Phoebe were a corporate lawyer, what if Monica was still fat, what if Chandler quit and became a cartoonist, etc.
The thing is, at the end of the show, they all were exactly where they would have otherwise been.

Last night, I watched an episode of Supernatural (who else wants to have Dean's babies? :)) which finally showed a scenario that the boys continue to ask in each episode. What if we'd never been ghost hunters, demon killers, vampire stakes, etc etc. They show Dean in a cool corporate job, madly rich and successful and Sam, tech support in the same company. And of course, they end up seeing a ghost and fight it, and maybe 5 years later than otherwise, they joined hands and became... well hunters. Hot hunters. Fully awesome, demon-killing, good looking, funny... okay. Back to the point.

I am a deeply impulsive being, which means I go through most things in life with the attitude of an elephant crashing through a jungle, not really thinking about how what I do or don't is shaping tomorrow. It's much later, when I reflect, I can see what I probably should have done differently. But then, what I didn't do differently also made me what I am today, yes? And if I do like that bit, then the rest becomes pointless.We're possibly meant to be just this. What we are today. Maybe when my father died, a part of me became so strong that it can take on the world. Maybe, the graveyard of my dead relationships made me so focused towards work that I soared professionally. Maybe, the hurt and the pain that every disappointment brought gave me newer stories to write. Without those, who would I have been today? Someone better? Happier? Maybe. With better stories? Unlikely, but who's to say?

What then, do I go back to change?

So, maybe some battle scars are there for a reason. Even if the reason is just to make you feel like a giant dufus.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I am like this, but then, I am also like that

(I'd written a slightly different version of this on FB. The last one, though, is from Grey's Anatomy).

I am highly prone to brief and intense addictions. It could be a TV show, a person, a song...

I love football. I used to play with the boys till I developed body parts that were no longer conducive.

For all my cautious talk, my life shows a persistent recklessness. I am alarmingly contradictory. I want, at all times, completely incompatible things.

I love sinking my teeth into a story. To turn it around, to tinker with the start, to pull things out and fit them somewhere else, and make it as beautiful as it was meant to be. I am a print editor, through and through.

I love video games, especially ones like Doom, where you’re handed a gun and an arsenal, and gross demons and soldiers ambush you from everywhere and you shoot everything in sight and all the blood splatters the walls and… what? Why’re you looking at me like that?

I am a sucker for happy endings. I get massively upset when fiction ends badly. Hello, if I want reality I have my life, no?

I don’t like all babies. Only cute ones. I live in fear that my own baby won’t be and then I won’t like my own child.

I am madly passionate about wildlife, the outdoors, and everything nature-related. I live in the (slightly deluded) belief that it feels the same way about me.

I cannot fathom how in the blistering barnacles have we reached a point where cockroaches (*shudder) are featuring in entertainment films. I could not enjoy Wal E as much as I could have (*gags). And Monster vs Aliens. The doctor's a roach?? What in the whole wide world is that about? Since when are these cute? This has to stop. Now. Yes, I am phobic. And if you're at all sympathetic to their cause, go read the Roach post in this blog. Bullies.

I think travel is the closest I've come to feeling at peace. And I think I am really good at it.

I have the gift of impossible relationships. Love is my Waterloo. 

I cannot hold my drink. And I do not sip. I gulp. One drink: (Loudly) talking about how the waaallsh are moovinng, how much I love my frandsh and my mommy, and how the tiger is going f***ing extinct. Second drink, I am horizontal on the floor… thank you ladies and gentlemen, end of day’s play. I quit when people started party conversations with a slightly nervous, ‘So what is Sej drinking?’ or ‘Who is mixing Sej’s drink?’

Dirty bathrooms depress me.

I've discovered that God takes sides. If you've hurt me, if I were you, I'd watch my back. No, no, really. It's scary.

My father’s death has left me a shadow of the person I used to be.

My mum is not as timid as she looks. If there ever was an example of looks being deceptive, my mum could run the campaign. This is me and mum in a fight when I want to do something she doesn't want me to:
Mum: Silent and appearing docile.
Mum: "No."
Me: "Okay." 

I get high on live performances… theatre, street plays, stand-up, concerts, anything that exudes live energy.

I think my niece is special. As babies go, she has spoilt me for life.

Contrary to popular belief, I love driving. I used to take long drives, before this city and its roads became what they are today.

Once you’re in my (very short) special people list, you can do no wrong. I mean, you will need to stab me in the back with a pretty sharp knife for me to see you’re a so-and-so. I have a few battle scars to show for this idiocy.

I adore desserts. If they put me in one of those ads where one is supposed to make those orgasmic sounds and ecstatic faces after a bite, I wouldn’t have to act at all.

I laugh at almost everything. I believe what Cyrus Sahukar once said in a Femina interview: Dude, funny is all around you, you just have to see it.

I can be painfully vicious in a fight. But I should care enough to be.

Finally, against all odds, against all logic, I believe…