Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once Replaced

It is not easy to get over the feeling that we had been discarded. 

Flowers will bloom and wither, leaves will fall, and many monsoons will come and go, but the memory would still sting.

As time passes, however, once we have learned to convincingly pretend that we have put the bad times behind us, it becomes easier to let our emotion roam without the fear of anyone connecting it to our past. That's very important - to not let our weakness show, to cloak it in indifference.

We may become old and frail, and have other achievements in the course of life, but this little pang would forever remind us that we were not perfect, we had fought hard battles and not always come out successful. The question 'what could I have done different?' would forever hang over us and torment us. 

Because none of us like to think that we have been replaced.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Road to Liberation: Why can't we?

Another Women's Day has come and gone. All the right words were tossed in the right places - liberation*, equality, feminism, empowerment and such glorious words that generate goosebumps all over the place. All the right questions were asked in the right forums -  including, Will women ever be really free? Wherefore art thou, Romeo? To be or not to be? and such pertinent ones. After the fun was over, everyone left: the people went to have dinner, the chickens went home to roost and the cows went home to probably catch up on their nap. Until the next women's day or the next time liberation is set on fire.

A few days ago, I read a tweet (unfortunately I lost its trace) which said that in Saudi, the laws that restrict women are typically upheld by older, traditional women themselves. Frankly, I don't find that surprising at all. It is not because the older women are jealous of the youngsters (or such rubbish). It is a very simple (and well-known) fact that if we grew up believing something, it is not easy to change it. Allow me to take a few detours.

One day, in the nineties, I was watching TV with a woman as old as my mother. Let's us just say that she had not quite caught up with the developments in the entertainment industry. After watching a song-and-dance sequence from a movie, she asked me if 'they were all really women, or if they were men dressed as women?' I replied that the dancers were really women. She didn't comment, but I believe she was wondering how women could actually wear such clothes and dance, in front of so many people. Today we have gotten used to the idea (and worse). The shock has since worn off. But on that day, I don't think the lady approved of what she saw. I don't think the notions of 'liberty' or 'equality' or 'empowerment' were at the top of her mind; she merely found the sight distasteful. Given a chance, she might have suggested that these dances be banned. Of course, I am speculating now. She had not said a word.

Another scene. There was a cultural program in our college. As the evening wore on and the latest hit songs were being played, boys began dancing in the auditorium and some of the excitement caught on to us girls, too. We don't need booze to get high, we just need the appropriate music and an incessant pounding in our ears. Some of us got up from our seats and began dancing. Needless to say, there were many eyes on us but we did not care. We had to dance. There would never be another chance. Naturally, some people thought we were doing it to attract attention. To their cramped minds, any other possibility does not exist.

The next day, we had an audience with the Principal -  a few of us who were 'responsible' for the rest of the ladies were summoned. He asked us about the previous night and informed us that it was very irresponsible behaviour. He did not know who the 'culprits' were, he said, as he looked at me pointedly. I did not blink. He wasn't harsh or anything (and I now wonder if his mind was completely in it), but warned us of the consequences, should it happen again. Yes, I apologised on behalf of the girls (though I was not one bit sorry for having a little fun), and of course, it never happened again. I wonder if he went and said the same things to the boys too. Maybe a general warning was issued, which, he knew, will never be followed. After all, boys will be boys.

Truth is, there never was another chance and there never will be. I don't think I ever had (or will have) the guts to get up and break into a dance, anywhere else. What would people think? I would rather squash all thoughts of 'having fun'.

Those who have watched The Namesake might not remember a fleeting scene in which Tabu peeks over the crowd to see the first ceremony (probably naming) of her infant son. Her son! And she, the most important person in the baby's life, is standing a few feet away, straining herself to catch what's going on. She does not look sad, she is happy for him, but anyone who could really see through the mother's eyes would know how much she would have liked to be right there, holding her son.

It seems strange that for a long time we never even thought about questioning anything, because that is how things have been. That was tradition. That was how it was done. We get used to the idea.

I grew up hearing that girls had better keep a low profile and dress properly and stay out of sight, for their own safety. And if anyone was a little too 'forward' (however exciting it appeared to me), I saw that she was frowned upon. No, I did not grow up in a 'repressed society' or anything. My generation will know what I am talking about.

Somewhere between then and now, the idea began to seep in: Why can't we? It's our right.

What? We have rights?
You mean, we can actually do what we like? Dress the way we like? Go to places we like, when we like? We can actually dance in an auditorium, without having to explain afterwards? 

It was new and it was huge. It was difficult to believe it; but once we wrapped our minds around it, it became like an addictive book - you can't put it down, and you are hungry for more. But not everyone can get adjusted to the idea. It goes against everything we have been taught and believed since we were born.

Cue, the tweet on Saudi. We blame the older women for wanting to 'uphold values'. But that's what they have been brought up on. It is not easy to suddenly shift from a lesson that has been etched in, for centuries, to a more 'liberal' view. Change is not easy for anybody. It is easier and simpler to cling to what we were taught for generations. We were brought up right; and we were safe. We hid behind the numerous constraints and we did not mind. Why can't you do the same? You make changes, and you are going to regret it.

It's not only about right and wrong. It is about trying to change mindsets that have become as hard as granite. I too find myself occasionally struggling to check the urge to say, "Be careful. Don't do anything that will get you into trouble."

Things will change, but we have to struggle through many more such layers of inertia and resistance, and many more phases of unlearning and re-learning. There are many battles to be endured and many damages to be borne and many barriers to be broken and many mindsets to be changed.

Things will change, for better or for worse, because they must. 

* Is anyone else reminded of Nithya Menon in Kerala Café when they hear the word 'liberation', or is it just me?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Temple of Time

In the days of Doordarshan and DD-2 (for those who remember the era), my sister and I watched a movie which left a huge impression on both our minds. It was an Australian film titled Picnic at Hanging Rock. About ten or twelve years old at the time, I knew precious little English and the accent was beyond us in many ways. My sister explained the story to me, as much as she could follow. The ending was too mysterious and intriguing. We spoke of (and in all likelihood, argued about) nothing else for weeks, perhaps months. We - at least, I - thought our limited grasp of the language was to blame for our confusion.

I never got a chance to see the movie afterwards.

But its impact on me was such that, over twenty years later, it led me to consider writing a short story titled "Temple of Time" where a couple of children vanish inside a mysterious temple in Kerala. Soon I realised that it was not a concept I could shrink into and contain within a short story. It dawned on me for the first time - I had a novel in my hands.

Temple of Time took two years to write. I had to pause writing as life took me through its ups and downs and shifting of priorities. Occasionally I had to give in when short-stories took precedence over the novel. Nevertheless, I came back to it every time, when the plot became much clearer and the characters developed themselves in my mind.

I finished writing Temple of Time in 2011, but it still had a long way to go. I punished a handful of people by making them read the first draft. Their feedback brought me to the unhappy conclusion that a major chunk of the plot had to be removed. Anyone who has rewritten their own work would know how gruelling a task it is.

Finally in 2013, it was ready (sort of). After a year and a half of futile attempts at finding a publisher for the book (as well as doing a million rounds of editing) and hopes rising moon-high several times only to dash back to the ground, I decided to put it up on Amazon and see how it fares.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to the world my first novel, Temple of Time.

Abstract of Temple of Time
Abhijeet was ten years old when his elder brother was lost, believed dead, during a college tour in the hills of Northern Kerala. Twelve years later, Abhijeet is knocked out of his dull and mundane life by an eerie dream in which his brother calls out to him.

Soon afterwards, Abhijeet finds to his shock that his brother is still alive, but in a horrifying condition and on the verge of death, at the very same place he was last seen. Abhijeet is left with a curious last message that he tries to decipher, for he feels the answer to his brother's disappearance lies in it.

He embarks on a journey to the past, to piece together the events that led to the fateful day years ago, seeking to discover his brother's footprints and finding himself in the process.
Read Temple of Time.

I know many of us prefer print books (I do too), but as of now, it is beyond my capability to offer Temple of Time in print. I hope you will all download and read the book, and I hope some of you will like it, and I hope you will all let me know about it.

Click here to purchase Temple of Time from Amazon

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Don't call me, sunshine...

Don't call me, sunshine,
I have chores to do;
We're near, though apart,
And my heart is with you.

Don't tempt me, bright day,
I can't come to you;
My days are hollow
But I've no time for you.

Don't prod me, rain clouds,
When I try to forget;
I can see you there,
And I'll catch you yet.

Don't seek me, cool wind,
I'm out of your reach;
I yearn your caress,
I long for your touch.

Don't lure me, blue sky,
I've no time for regret;
Your vastness, your freedom,
The colours you spread.

Don't smile at me, moon,
I know what you think;
You and I, we're destined
To live on the brink.

Don't miss me, my friends,
Our dreams seem futile;
Don't wait up for me,
It'll take me a while.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Washing machines have feelings too.

Did you know? I sure didn't. I wonder why I didn't notice it all these years. We completely miss the obvious things hanging right before our eyes, don't we?

From the machine point of view, the blog I posted on laundry was callous and insensitive and inhuman. For an appliance that has served faithfully for close to twelve years and was like a member of the family (despite being left out in the sun and rain all day and night), that must have been a little too much.

I must confess that I had not been kind to it all these years. Thankful for its services and even polite at times, but not exactly affectionate or kind.

The blog was the final straw. I was making an attempt at being a little funny and philosophical and introspective, but if we look at it through the machine's eyes, the laundry bag got all the credit; the machine got but a small mention. So thoughtless of me.

No wonder, one week later, it ground to a halt. Protest. Strike. Bandh. Inquilab-! No amount of cajoling could make it change its mind. I tried sweet talk, and I tried indifference, I tried anger, and I tried all tactics I normally reserve for my son. None worked.

The thing with these home appliances is that they have the customer care executives on their side. Yes, I don't know how many calls I had to make and beg and plead and threaten and frighten and everything to try to make the technician come to take a look at my problem. The technician, I understand, feels the machine's pain. In all its intensity. They are a team - like Krishna and Arjun, perhaps. One giving the other courage. For, today, ten days after I lodged a complaint, apart from two phone calls from two guys who expressed concern as though my laundry pile was keeping them awake at night, nothing has happened. (Their phone calls were not spontaneous, they were the result of my continuous nagging of the call centre people and their supervisor.)

My washing machine is headed towards its longest break ever. The tech guys, if I repent enough and apologize thoroughly enough, may come in sometime next week, and take the thingy to the hospital. (Who knows how many phone calls from my side it's going to take before they turn up at my door.) And then, they tell me, they may have to replace some part, and it is going to cost much.

Long, long days of pain ahead.

Between the words of the tech-guy-on-phone, I pretty much heard these: 'Lady, you asked for it! Now learn a lesson.'

Punishment enough for a blog, I hope. I repent! I repent!

Meanwhile, a couple of days ago, this person caught up with me on Twitter. What, has the entire country heard of my laundry troubles??

Don't say I didn't warn you. Make sure you take good care of your appliances and let them know you care. If washing machines have such feelings, who knows what pains your fridge might be harbouring? Or your iron box?
Or - God forbid! - your television?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Her Life is Passing, too.

You walk out the door, knowing fully well
She'll be home when you're back.

You waste no time on Thank Yous, Sorrys,
But you spot the stains she missed.

You walk in, walk out, you don't see
No time she has for herself.

She's wound tight, is it her fault?
She worries of you, day n' night.

Mother is tired, she needs rest,
She's been toiling while you were gone.

Her life is passing, did you know,
She too won't get back lost time.

Locked in the endless circle of life
She battles each passing day.

She tries to ensure you get no blame;
But, do you try to do the same?

Does she fall behind in chores,
Do you see her race against time?

Do you say, It's okay to be tired? Or
Offer a shoulder to rest her head?

Do you see what she's become, confined to her life?
Do you at all see what she's giving up?

Your life goes on, you waste no while,
Do you heed her cries for help?

She crams 48 hours into her twenty-four
To be as close to perfect as she can.

Mother's had a long day; for once, see her needs:
Learn to say a kind word, offer her some peace.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Here's looking at you, bag.

People who know me would be aware that I am in a constant race against my laundry bag(s). The concept of the laundry bag, incorrigible and sophisticated as it is, was not familiar to me until a decade ago; those days, clothes did not know how to pile up so much. Or else, they were someone else's problem.

As a wife and mother and house-maintainer, I am conscious of the goings-on in the different laundry bags around the house. They have a way of attracting clothes to them when I am not looking. Just when I think I have half-emptied one, it shows me that it is half-full. And when I think I have finished washing, the washed pile sits there, waiting to be folded.

And if, on an exceptionally busy or sick or otherwise-engaged week, I fail to track their status, they fill, overflow and the family is left without good socks, good shirts or even bedsheets.

You would wonder what the big deal is, when the entire washing is done by a machine which works tirelessly without complaining, every single day. But I would gently point out to you that even those with a dish-washer in the house find it tiresome to pile up the dishes into it. Every effort, however minuscule, is an effort. When everything becomes machine, we find joy in whining about the tiniest exertion.

As time passes, I realise painfully that this is not a task that is ever going to end; of all the projects I have undertaken in life (and career), this is one of those assignments that come under the title of “ongoing support” which translates to “NEVER-ending” work. However much you work on them, however well you meet your deadlines, however brilliantly you manage your time, however appreciable you consider your results, tomorrow the bag is going to be full again. That part of your life becomes a constant, whirring Pile-Wash-Fold-Reload cycle.

In that endless race, I find that my laundry bag and I are equals trying to inch forward towards the chequered flag that does not even exist. I might fall by the wayside, but the darn laundry bag would continue to go on.

And on a grey, dreary day, I wonder what I would do if it were not for this laundry bag and its annoying desire to keep me engaged.

Here’s to my laundry bag. And to our everlasting friendship, rivalry, race, love.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The ten-year-old

The ten year old was unusually quiet during dinner that Dad had to ask. Ten-year-olds, especially those like her, did not sit quiet during dinner until they were yelled at.
“Anything exciting happen today?” he asked.
“No,” she said, thoughtfully examining a piece of roti before allowing it to vanish in her mouth.
“Tell me about your day.”
She paused for a long time and said, “It was as usual.”
“All the actors and extras behave themselves?” he tried to prod her. She nodded.
This was curious – it was evident that something was occupying her mind, but she was not willing to share it with him. For as long as he could remember, there was nothing she did not share the moment it happened, in excruciating detail. His little girl was growing older, and learning to keep secrets. In a few years, she would be so good at it that he’d not even notice she was concealing something. He rambled on for a while about other matters, about his work and about the people he met, pretending not to notice her silence. It was at bed time that she finally decided to disclose her thoughts. He was sitting by her side with an unopened story-book.
“I saw a child while we were shooting,” she said. “This girl was peeking out from between the crowd while I was saying my lines. I almost forgot a couple of words when I saw her. She had the largest eyes I have seen, and she was staring at me as if I were some… some…”
“Well, you are a celebrity,” said the Dad, trying not to let his pride show. 
“We had to take that shot five times before I got it right, I was so shaken by the apparition,” she continued as if he had not said anything. She had a way of gesturing and raising her eyebrows while she spoke and using words too big for her that reminded him dreadfully of the characters she played in her movies. “Anyway, after it was done, I looked around and did not see her. I was just asking Geeta for a juice-”
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