Sunday, April 9, 2017

A world of make-believe

She tries too hard, poor child!
She tries hard to fit in; and fails.
She wants to join, but they call her
A square peg in a round hole.

She feels the rejection,
She knows she is different;
She hopes no one notices
How lonely she is.

She makes up stories
That astound her mates;
They crowd 'round her, asking
Her to tell them more.

She loves to see the shock,
The awe, amazement, and
What she thinks is admiration
On her friends' faces.

Soon they realise, her
Wonderful fairy tales are
Merely fantasies cooked up 
By her overworking brain.

And in their little world
Of make-believe and stories
Her fancy no longer has a place.
She's really all alone.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


The face jumped out at me while I was flicking channels. I froze and quickly returned to the news I had just passed, where two images were still displayed on the split screen. The reporter announced in an uninterested tone that the death had taken place that morning. It was sudden. Heart attack. “He was forty-eight.”

The image on the left showed a man with salt and pepper beard, pensive, looking outside the frame of the camera. The right hand photo was from a performance on stage, with the orchestra behind him, his eyes half-closed, his brow lined and lips parted in song. “Award winning singer and composer,” continued the dry voice of the newsreader. The images slid away and she came back on screen, talking about something else. But I didn’t hear another word.

Those were familiar pictures. I had seen them, even when not intending to. Even when I tried not to. These snaps always popped up. He was famous. But he was not, when I knew him.

That faraway look in his eyes in that salt and pepper photo always brought a pang of guilt. Was there a sign of something lost long ago? Was it the remnant of an unexplained, never-understood phase in life that had hardened over time?

At some point in time, should I have called and explained?

Through the years, I had always wondered. Maybe I should have. As time passed, it became difficult, and then impossible. Twenty years later, what guarantee was there that he even remembered?

Of course he remembered. Probably not word to word, probably not to the last tiny detail, and definitely not as vividly as I did. But oh yes, he remembered.

And I remembered because though it seemed the right thing to do at the time, it came back to me day after day, reminding me that I had not handled it well. My decision was justified, my action was not.

I should have explained. If not right away, later, when I came to my senses. Or much later, after things had cooled down. Or maybe, when the first wave of retrospective wisdom washed over me. Perhaps years later, when we met again briefly.

I never did. And now I never will.

Strange how the moment you think nothing is happening in your life, something completely unbelievable turns up. Strange how no matter how hard you try to foresee all possibilities that could happen in the next twenty-four hours, something comes up, totally unpredictable. Every day is unexpected, even when you’re prepared for all kinds of eventuality.

We all know death would come, by and by. We even imagine our lives without the important people of our life. A separation. Grief. Unbearable longing. But when it happens, every preparation seems inadequate. There is a void where a person was. A clean cut. There are no more conversations, no more laughter, nothing more. There are only memories. Everything that you had planned to do with them will not happen, ever.

I could have called.

I should have called.

And now it is too late.



Sunday, March 5, 2017


I know jealousy.
I have met her
long ago,
in the guise of Death.

she climbed all over,
clawed at my heart
and ate my brain
for breakfast.

I travelled far;
carried her across,
and returned
with her on my shoulder.

I let her roam,
I let her win.
I savoured the bitterness
she left behind.

She's come and gone
several times hence;
but we've never
become friends.

At the corner yonder
I've encountered her again.
She's climbed on
for another ride...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The gender equality debate

My article, published in The Hindu:

When I was younger, I thought I knew everything there was to know about gender equality. It seemed so straightforward: “If a man can do it, a woman can do it as well.”

Much later, I realised there were entirely different angles to the issue than I had imagined.

A story I recently heard (source forgotten) went like this: In an argument between a man and a woman about this world-famous question of equality, the man said, “If you want to do what a man does, go climb a coconut tree.” Without missing a beat, the woman retorted, “Why don't you go climb one and show me first?” The debate went no further, naturally.

Another incident, this time from my own life. A few years ago a colleague called me up on a Sunday morning and began discussing work. There was something urgent going on. There always is. I listened for a while and said, “Look, it’s a Sunday. I have so many chores to catch up. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Every household task I had left unattended during the previous week was glaring at me. The work week had already been quite hectic, and all I wanted to do was get some sleep.

My colleague replied, only half in jest, “Well, if you want gender equality, you got to work as hard as I do.”

Wait a minute. You mean all the household chores and mommy duties aren’t hard enough? Don't get me started, Mr. Colleague. You aren’t even married yet. He wasn’t worth the argument, anyway, so I left it at that, because if I get launched on the topic, not even I can stop myself. No doubt he gossiped with abandon about my reluctance (as well as his delightful willingness) to work on a Sunday.

When the mother of a five-month-old was eyed with sarcasm because she had to leave “early” (around 9 p.m.) while the entire team worked round-the-clock to manage a crisis, I was unclear how equality was supposed to work in the circumstances. The crisis was a crisis and it had to be resolved at all costs before the dirt hit the fan, but the technical lead could not stay to see it through because there was a different crisis brewing at her home.

“If there is equality,” asks one person, “why do women scientists or entrepreneurs get so much attention? They should be given just as much coverage as any man. Don’t run newspaper special reports on ‘the women behind the success.’”

“The answer is in your question,” I reply. “We aren’t there yet. We’re still on the way. Right now, we focus on the women who stand out, so that more and more are inspired. Then one day we will stop and complain that there are too many women on the scene.”

In my childhood, there were not many lady doctors or women drivers, so every time I met one, I was full of admiration for them. As time passed, we started referring to ‘lady doctors’ as ‘doctors’ — an important transition, because it was no longer necessary to specify whether it was a man or a woman. Drivers are still referred to as a ‘women drivers’ especially if she has parked the wrong way, or if she does not drive fast enough, or if she takes a wrong turn, or if she shows any other kind of incompetence on the road. If it’s a guy, he gets an obscene gesture, that’s all.

I had been too young or too naïve to understand that the roles of men and women are not always interchangeable. Women can do most of the things men do, but not all. And vice versa. I doubt if you would find a man getting pregnant or

giving birth to a child any time soon, equality or no equality. Nonetheless, there’s a middle ground where equal opportunities make sense.

Which is why, later in life, when I saw men being appreciated for “staying through the night at office” (with no mention of productivity) over women who had to leave every evening because they had a family, I knew it was unfair, but I did not know what the solution was.

We have come a long way, though. History tells us that barely half a century ago women were mere shadows, their duties confined to keeping the species from going extinct and keeping their men and children happy. Though there are still places in the world where things haven’t changed much, elsewhere, today, women can vote, and dare to have an opinion, and fly airplanes, and have the freedom to shout or dance in public, and dress as they please (on second thoughts, strike that; let's leave the dress topic for another time).

So far so good.

All this while, in my mind the abstract idea of “a woman can do what a man can” was translated to, “a woman can be as good as a man.”

Wise people have long, long ago figured out what occurred to me merely a few years back. As always, the unexpected wisdom came from a popular television medical drama. A family of five was brought to the hospital in very critical condition. The family members were either dead or unconscious or unable to recall what happened — in other words, apart from the fact that their car shot off a bridge and plunged to the river, no one knew anything. After an emergency surgery performed on one of the patients, one doctor says to another, “The dad was drunk. He must have driven them off the bridge.” The other doctor snaps indignantly. “Why? You don’t think a woman is capable of drunk-driving and killing her family?”

The laddoo finally burst in my mind. Of course! Women can be as bad — or evil, or crooked — as men too. That’s what equality was all about. Not just being “as good”.

One evening a few months ago, when my son and I were returning home in a cab through a bylane with no streetlights, we passed a woman driving a scooter, with one hand off the vehicle, talking on her mobile phone. Yes indeed, if they can break the law, we can too. Whoever said equality was confined to the good things?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Don't give me away, Social Media

You've been around
Enough to observe
The purpose behind
My every move.

Deeply you analyse
A frown or a wince
The length of my gaze
At the sight of a face

You've seen me pause
At meaningful words
But you can't tell the cause
Of a sigh or a curse.

You know the alleys I lurk
the ones I pass with a smirk
those I stare at longingly,
some that prick my envy.

You know me so well,
But don't give me away
The truth please don't tell
Let it die and decay...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Subtle, Confusing, Bewildering Art of Parenting

Everything is not black and white in parenting - that's the thing.

Of course I could be talking about anything at all in life, and not just about raising kids.

There are broad Do's and Don't do's but there is still such a grey area within the realm of Do's:

Where do we draw the line between letting him have his way and keeping him from losing his way?

Between ruining the the child and spoiling the child?

Between neglecting him and pampering him?

Between protecting him and letting him make mistakes?

Between concealing the tragedies of life from him and letting him face the world?

Where is the damn line?

How far do we provide the training wheels? When do we throw him into the water and say, "Swim!" ?

At what point do we say "Do whatever makes you happy!" and at what point do we say "Stop being a baby and do as you're told!"

How do we decide between "He is too young to know what's best for him" and "He should be allowed to do what he likes"?

Am I showering enough love so that he can open up to me when he needs? Am I ignoring him enough so that he learns to be strong inside without depending too much on me?

The answer is, We don't know. We never know.

As parents, pretending to have every answer right in our hands, we have absolutely no clue.

When they grow up, we begin to see signs (I suppose). If only I had cautioned him in time, we think, regretfully. Or, Thank God I thought of compelling him to do that. Or worse, God, what have I done???

To add to our misery, the old woman you despise says, You don't know anything about being a parent. Get as far away from her as possible.

So what do we do? With a million doubts clouding our minds, we take each day as it comes. We rely on our instinct. We fall back on lessons learned while we were growing up, and most importantly, from how we have seen our child grow.  Sometimes we ask others who might know. Their answer may not be the right one for us, but it may open our eyes to options.

Consciously or unconsciously we look ahead, weigh possible choices and take a step forward. Sometimes we get only a split second to make a decision, sometimes we are given days.

We make mistakes, tons of them, sometimes grave ones, sometimes minor. Then we try to retrace our steps or to find our way back to the highway on which we assumed we had been travelling.

And when mistakes do happen, we bang our heads against the wall. Is that going to affect my child?, we ask ourselves over and over. I have tried to fix it, but have I fixed it properly? Will that do? What is my child going to learn from this? 

The bottom line is, no one knows what is right and wrong. We only have opinions. Oh, yes, that we have truckloads of. Which we try to unload on others, but that is another story.

There is black and white in parenting, but that is a small region. It is important to remember that. The greys are all over the place.

And it's the greys that keep us awake at night.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

To fit in or to stand out – that’s the question

The hum of conversation greets me as I enter.
They are gathered in twos, threes, seated, standing, leaning against the wall, casually, comfortably, listening, discussing, deliberating about absolutely nothing important.
Some of them look up. I wave to some, nod, say ‘Hi’ to others, and ignore the rest. Bits and pieces of chatter reach me as I pass.
The children squeal as they call out to each other. A couple of girls dart past in their roller skates, almost colliding against an adult and dodging him just in time. Two little boys accuse each other of cheating and run to their mothers, crying. A third one displays a chocolate to his buddy and claims, “I have this new chocolate. You don’t have this chocolate.”
I place myself near a group that looks friendly. A few smiles and words are exchanged.
They’re conversing in a language I understand, a language I speak. I say the right things. I exclaim at the right places, insert a word or a nod at the right gaps, and roll my eyes or laugh at the right time. I sense no awkwardness.
But everything feels alien. I don’t fit in.
I know it; I have always known it.
Sometimes you try; sometimes you don’t.
The uneasiness grows. The chatter continues. I envy the participants. How easily they flow. How effortlessly they blend. How smoothly they connect. How comfortably they interact. I am the outsider, whether they are aware of it or not. Whether I admit it or not.
I detach myself from the group. I would return, but the disconnectedness would never go away. It would always cloud my being, except at very rare, very unexpected moments when the sun bursts forth, for a brief, miraculous interlude.
I am disappointed. I have tried, again, and failed. But I would venture out again, and again, until the mist thins or I surrender. Or a tunnel opens up to swallow me.
I walk back to the place where I know I am welcome, where I am among friends, where I am myself, where I do not have to pretend, where I do not have to meet expectations.
They wait, unmoving, expectant, as they have been for years. They don’t say a word, they don’t greet me, they don’t smile. But I know I am home. I relax.
I choose one at random, flip the pages, and lose myself in conversations I comprehend, in a world I traverse alone, with people I adore, in a place where I fit in. No awkwardness, no desire to please.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

I see you.

I see you.
A light in the crowd,
A picture of calm
Amidst the pandemonium,
As the world erupts
Like a marketplace.

I hear you.
Though no word is uttered
And the air between
fills with cacophony
Of everything that has
ever stood in our way.

I feel you.
I think I do.
A synchronisation of ideas;
A reverberation of thoughts;
A bizarre awareness
Of your invisible presence.

If ever our paths
Happen to cross again-
We could pick up where we left off
As though the ocean
We'd believed between us
Had never been.