Hello Laila, it was nice getting to know you!

It’s been exactly a month since Margarita with a straw opened to Indian audience and to raving reviews. No sooner than it hit the screens, my editor, who knew of my inclination to write on issues related to disability, called me. “I think we could offer our readers a new and much valuable perspective if you could actually watch the movie with a person who has cerebral palsy,” she said. While others, including film critics, would take the conventional path in reviewing the movie, I was extremely enthused by the possible narrative of my story. “Let us not confine it to a mere Q&A session. Make it more of a conversational and up-close account,” I was instructed.

However, despite identifying an individual, I had to temporarily postpone my movie plans because I was occupied with other tasks. Journalism, or rather news as a commodity in itself, has a extremely short shell life. One is not afforded the luxury of time and hence if there is a story (unless a developing one) waiting to be told to the public, it needed to be done so expressly. You just can’t react to stories late for the novelty factor wanes by every passing day. Ultimately, the story, as suggested by my editor, didn’t happen.

Weeks passed, and, yesterday at office while finishing a story, a small part of my mind was contemplating possible plans for Sunday, my weekly off. Watching a movie seemed to be an attractive option. I would have probably spent 27 seconds deciding on ‘which one’, when Margarita (or should I say, Laila) called.

Considering our initial date was postponed, I couldn’t have held off Laila any longer. I think, she was little expectant. After all, she is like the rest of us, complete with innate emotions and feelings, isn’t she? I have been a Journalist for a little over a year now, and during the ensuing period I have interacted with several individuals with disability. The general impression I have of them is that, while the physically challenged may require personal assistance, they are nevertheless strong and strive to be independent. Once the initial hesitance is out of the way, the intellectually impaired don’t need any prodding to speak up for themselves and speak out on contemporary issues. It led me to believe the disabled don’t necessarily require sympathy, but seek recognition and understanding. Not of their incapabilities, but of their inner most desires which, shouldn’t come as a surprise, is very much shared by all of us. They have as much right as the rest of us to dream big or dream obscure. So, why think of the disabled any ‘differently’ than you would of the rest.

personal diary

We miss you Kai pati!

It’s been six days since my grand mother passed away and we have missed her since then. But, make no mistake she led a near complete life that it just falls short of a perfect century. She was 96 when she left us. Married off at a tender age of 12, she had the god given opportunity to see the birth of three great-grandchildren.

I still remember the other night on Monday, which turned out to be her last night, when I had the urge to write about her. I didn’t, because writing is tiresome when you have the momentary option to pay an oral tribute instead. But at this moment, when I am at my office with my editor expecting my story to be in her inbox within the next one hour, I need to fulfill the unstated promise that I have made to myself.

Whenever a person leaves earth, it should always be the case when their good qualities are spoken about and very highly too. I firmly believe that. My grandmother had a lot of good qualities.

It was ten years ago, when my grandmother came to live with us. Fondly called ‘Kai pati’, by my sister and me, there are many personal memories of her that we shall cherish forever.

‘Kai’ in Tamil means vegetable. She knows how to cook and that simple statement is understated. All of us in the family relish well cooked delicacies and she was a wonderful chef. With my mother off to work, it was often left to my grandmother to prepare the ‘kai’ for me. She would always prepare just before I come to house after attending undergrad college (it got over by 1.30 in the noon), and ensure it was kept hot. Furthermore, my mother’s cooking improved, however marginal, because she was always offered guidance. Mother’s recipe they say, but on this occasion, let’s prefix the word ‘Grand’ before mother.

Among her standout qualities is her strict adherence to cleanliness and orderliness. Not one to be disorganized, she made sure our house was well run and well kept. She would regularly clean the dust that settled on appliances, especially on the television, with she used to say ensured her sanity. A day back, her big Godrej was searched. With her love for sarees well known (She could well give Nalli’s a run for their money), we found all of them pressed and arranged neatly in an order. Just today, my school ID cards (believed to be long lost), was found safely preserved in one of her packages.

On top of it all, it was her determination to be independent and be courageous, even when in frailty, that stands out. In her nineties, she washed her own clothes, walked without support, helped mother in arranging utensils. Maybe, she derived that strength from her husband, who happened to be a proud military man. Just as I am writing this, a friend and a colleague walks in and by chance, talks about his grand mother. “She lives by her own and swears by her right to be independent,” he says. Guess, all grandmothers are the same.


personal diary

Can you smell what the rock is cooking? Coz, I can’t!

If, perhaps, we consider our capacity to smell, or Olfaction, to be among the least significant sensory perception endowed in us, human beings, then trust me when I say that we couldn’t be more wrong. For, waking up these days, I only have one wish. That I regain my sense of smell.

It so happened that I somehow contracted flu with related ailments like cold and cough promptly setting in. My mother, who usually would say, “Well, you asked for it. How many times have I told you to resist ice creams…?”, on this particular occasion was very much on my side. But then, like never before, I couldn’t smell the odors of everyday life. Couldn’t be worse, right? You can only imagine my plight.

We aren’t short of people who absolutely relish fish delicacies, but I also know there are those who can’t stand the odor emanating from dried fish. While in the past, I have had to hold my nose as tightly as I possibly could while crossing a fish vendor, this Monday though, I didn’t even flinch when faced with the prospect of walking past an entire fish market! There were others who tied kerchiefs over their noses but I wasn’t, for I could smell nothing.

Forget dried fish, even the aroma of freshly grounded coffee eludes me. No perfume fragrance and more importantly, considering my appetite, not even the smell of spicy dishes. On Tuesday, remembering the popular Gujarati Mandal in Broadway that my father used to take me to for a sumptuous meal, I covered quite a distance on foot to have my lunch there. My exhaustion for the day required a lip smacking meal, but sadly though I couldn’t relish any of the dishes served.

A mild burp (also heard by those sitting in adjacent chairs) indicated that I had eaten to my stomach’s content, but only I knew that the food was tasteless. I dared not to mention it to the chef, who looked every bit a guy who could throw a punch or two.

So, maybe, come tomorrow, I will wake up with the same wish yet again.

Nothing But Fiction

The Three Amigos

There was once an Argentine, a Uruguayan and a Brazilian; the three of them brilliant students. Though they weren’t to know then, they would soon find themselves in each other’s company at a same school in Spain.

And, the following is their brief tale!

The Argentinean was the most diminutive among the three, yet his talent and ability remained nearly unsurpassed. Even as a youngster, he used to play with a crowd, all of whom well above his height. Taking advantage of his tiny structure and blessed technique, he sneaked past opponents at tremendous speeds. A scout for a famous school in Spain spotted him and offered the chance to visit the European country. Never one to cross a river, let alone an ocean, he jumped at the invitation. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Uruguayan, on the other hand, always fancied Zoology. Legend holds that, once during childhood, his tutor asked him, “From which species did Humans evolve? Almost instantaneously came the response, “rats.” The tutor flinched. On yet another occasion, the Uruguayan, distinguished from the rest by his sharp teeth, while playing with one of his friends fell down clutching his mouth. Upon closer examination, a bite mark was allegedly found on the shoulder of his friend. “I lost my balance, and accidentally fell… tooth first on him,” the Uruguayan would later sheepishly say.

Unlike the Uruguayan who stood out from his compatriots, the Brazilian had to contend with comparisons with a long list of illustrious students produced by the land of Samba. Even at a tender age, he carried hopes of the entire school on his tiny back. It was during one such moment, when in the cusp of achieving nobility, an opponent decided to piggyback on him. The exertion left the Brazilian “nearly paralyzed”.

Cutting a long story short, the three took different routes to the same school in Barcelona, Spain. Their would-be teacher at Barca, himself, new to the job didn’t quite know how to handle them. Countless questions raged in his mind. What if the three couldn’t co-exist? What if the Uruguayan reverted to biting an opponent or worse his own mates? What if the Brazilian, again, got his back spine bumped against? More importantly, what if the Argentine was starved off service?

Nevertheless, the teacher hoped, earnestly, that his three new students would help restore lost glory of the school after a year spent in wilderness.

PS: Meanwhile, somewhere in a tropical beach, a certain Portuguese was sulking. But then, that’s because he can’t stand the Argentinean.

personal diary

The ‘unspoken’ conversation with an auto-driver

Even as the train slowly chugged into the platform, I couldn’t wait to see the city. Had the city’s landscape changed since my last visit? What happened to that construction in my neighborhood? Is it the latest upscale restaurant or is it Amma’s restaurant? No matter what I did to constrain it, the excitement and suspense kept building up all the time and, not to forget, I made a mental note to drop in by the mall that’s got everybody talking.

With the train finally screeching to a halt, I got down spiritedly. Upon recognizing my dutiful father, who had been waiting patiently for the past half-hour, I walked towards him, towards the city that I have always looked out. Making our way out of the crowded station, we crossed the road and flagged down an auto. “Annanagar West, Thirumangalam.” “Yes sir, 250.” “Meter?” and to my immense surprise, the auto-wallah acceded. Wow, what a change over mama! With the luggage firmly in tow, I managed to get one fleeting glimpse of the regal Chennai Central building. “Appa, it’s good to be home.”

It so happens that the just- retuned person has much to talk about, and the driver who ferries him home, invariably, becomes party to the conversation. This blog post is dedicated to that chap, who listened into the conversation with my father, and though he didn’t utter a word throughout the fare, I felt he would have been compelled to offer his piece of mind…

As we went past the Ripon Building, the seat of the city’s Corporation, huge machines and cranes dotted the stretch. “Appa, I tell you… these guys are taking ages to complete the metro. Back from where I just came, five phases are operational and the city (Delhi) just can’t survive without it.” My dad was only willing to offer his take on the subject. “Yes, I am yearning for the day when the Metro is up and running, for I can ditch these autos and travel on them. If everyone takes the metro, the autowallahs will buckle up.” (No sooner than my dad said this, the autodriver, whose name for the convenience of this post will be Raju, glanced at us through the mirror, and mockingly said, “Oh yeah? I am pretty sure the metro won’t drop you at your doorstep. We are here to stay, after all!”)

Flying past the Harrington road subway, I whipped out a hankie to wipe out the sweat. “Appa, you know, it was raining in my place and not so long ago, we had a hailstorm. Hail storm! Can you imagine that?!” “First things first, what on earth is a Hailstorm?” “It is heavy; no monstrous rainfall accompanied by ice pellets the size of a small pebble.” (The astonished Raju stopped by the wayside and turned back with incredulous eyes. “Are those the ones we get to experience in Abhirami Snow World?” “No, those guys are deceiving you Raju.” He turned back grudgingly, and started the ride, while uttering curses that are only too pleasant to recall.)

After few minutes, I again raise the topic of the weather. “Appa, how has been the temperature like, here?” “So far, bearable but the dog days are not far away.” “Phew, I don’t want to think about it!” (Raju, negotiating a signal countdown, was at it in an instant. “Switzerland returnee, are you?”)

With the house merely blocks away, I saw the unfinished construction nearby. “Appa, are they ever going to finish it? It seems that ‘under-construction signage’ has been there forever.”

(“Are you ever going to finish your conversation? Tell me, when was the last time you were here? I mumbled, ‘four months.’ ‘Four months?’ you sound as if you were away for a long time!”) 


The Great Lungi/Dhoti Divide

(How do you pass off a veshti, alternatively called dhoti, in a laundry which doesn’t have the traditional attire in its list of washable garments? Well, that’s a million dollar question I had often been confronted with, here at Jindal. Left with little choice, I include it under the ‘Bed sheets’ column. Bed Sheets. To all the Dhoti patrons and ‘staunchists’, I concede you might not be impressed, but can’t help it!)

Now, having confessed to my ‘unearthly’ deed, I shall shift the focus of this blog post towards a raging debate that warrants my personal interdiction. It’s what I refer to as the Great Lungi/Dhoti divide.

Last summer, I returned to the university with a crisp new dhoti. Truth to be told, I knew I was in for quite a reception from friends and hostel mates, as and when they ever caught me in one. After few weeks, freshly emboldened with desire, I wore it with a sattai (shirt). Venturing out of the room, I immediately ran into a neighbour. “Arey.. Kya baat! Lungi huh?” “Dei, Dei (with a exasperated groan), this is, for your information, not a Lungi. It is called A DHOTI!”

Been in this situation before, I engaged him in an conversation aimed solely at his enlightenment. The fundamental distinguishing factor between the two, I painstakingly clarified, is the presence of a partition in the Dhoti, unlike in the Lungi for which one would need to ‘step in’. Then, there are other less significant differences like; Dhoti comes predominantly in white, whereas the Lungi, is what one would call, a bit more extravagant with its colourful patterns. While the latter is primarily a domestic garment, for common usage within home confines, the Dhoti is seen as an symbol of propriety and virtue. Having listened patiently, his impassive face soon broke into a wide grin. “Ayee, I was just pulling your leg.” “Of course, you were.”

This particular incident happened many months back and lest I forget, the then newly released Chennai Express certainly didn’t help matters. If Yo-Yo Honey Singh wasn’t famous enough, his crooning of “Lungi dancu” firmly entrenched the name in my mind. If “Why this Kolaveri” had people, in IIMC, badgering me to do a karaoke, now, worse still, I had to ward of a substantial number of them pestering me to do a Lungi dancu!

On Monday evening, travelling in the metro after office, a colleague at The Caravan enquired, “Hey. You said that you were writing a article on Lungi, right? What’s up with it?” It came across as an genuine query. “Oh yeah, I am. Hoping to post it anytime soon.” Slightly encouraged, I sheepishly asked whether he knew the Lungi/Dhoti difference. “Yes. I did see Chennai Express, didn’t I!” (Face Palm)    

personal diary

Metro Travails

I travel by the Metro on a daily basis (Well, so do others), and I happen to get these sudden blog ideas (Well, so…), this post is one such manifestation.

(They say in Mumbai local trains, you don’t need to enter or exit the compartment. The maddening crowd pushes you in and out with un-patronising force. In Delhi Metro, I witness scuffles and heated exchanges between X and Y, all in the surrounding hustle and bustle. l keep count of the familiar Gaali shabd. However, my thoughts go to Chennai. My city too is scheduled to have a metro in a year or two and I can only imagine the chaotic crowd and the slurs in the local dialect.)

Here, I am at Rajiv Chowk and this is where it all begins. The trick is to enter the compartment unharmed, verbally and physically (May I add ‘extensively’).  As anticipated, the mob crowd behind pushes me inside and I manage to hold onto the overhead handle. Before the doors firmly shut, I see one of the glittering advertising spaces proclaiming, “Want to advertise? With footfall of more than 6 lakhs, indisputably the busiest metro station in all of Delhi, this is the best spot for you.” (I have taken the liberty to paraphrase the ad)

I couldn’t agree more, but my immediate concern is to find a seat to rest my ***. “You have just got in and want a seat right away?” asks the incredulous inner voice. That rests my case.

The train approaches the next station. Patel Chowk. Hmm. I don’t think these people would want to visit the Metro Museum. Pass.

Central Secretariat is one station which is worth looking forward to. Government employees! The violet line to Badarpur originates from there, as well. The station arrives and I see a silver lining but unfortunately so did another person. We both stared at each other, I indicated him to sit, he proved equally hospitable. In the ensuing stand-off, a middle aged man walks in calmly and takes the seat. Worse still, he stretches his leg. I relapse into my grumbling state.

Udyog Bhavan? Nothing to say. Pass.

The announcer bellows Race Course and I am extremely optimistic. This station is bound to be popular with commuters! I mean, who would want to pass up on an opportunity to visit 7 RCR and take selfies in front of the official residence of the Indian PM? Certainly not me, alas, my destination is elsewhere. To my dismay, however, not a single soul exits the compartment. That was disappointing.

AIMS next up and I casually throw a glance at my co-commuters. No offense, but here is the best hospital in India. It is only natural that ailing people get down. I make my way through the crowd and position myself directly in front of an elderly couple. The station arrives and the couple duly walks out through the doors. I take the cue and sit down with a sense of worldly achievement and a strange glee in my face. Whoo! I have atlast got a seat. But that exhilarating feel is about to end momentarily. A young lady with an infant in her arms walks in, followed by her husband carrying the luggage. She looks beseechingly and I, well versed with the drill, promptly made way.

INA is fast approaching. My friend once quizzed me; “what does INA stand for?” Indian National Army! He was silenced. (My familiarity with this station largely centres around Dilli Haat, and the nearby markets.) So, there is a scope after all.

I also noticed that INA was frequented by our friends from Africa and so, when I see one such guy about to disembark, I make my move. Just then, he receives a call. “What? You want me to come to Saket? Okay..”

Green Park. Pass.

The next station is fast approaching. Haus Khas. I see a couple of young students (presumably belonging to IIT or JNU, a little further up), not to mention the odd working professional (undoubtedly living in one of the sarais- Ber, Katwaria, Jia etc) getting to the exits. I have a split second decision to make. But then, never mind, this is where I get down.