Thursday, January 15, 2015

Friday Fiction: Loss Of Appetite

Because you're always in control of fiction. Or are you?

The appetizers had gone cold. It was the monthly Fab Five lunch. Agreed, the name was cheesier than the Cheese & Garlic Bread they had ordered for the table but over the years, the girls had developed a sentiment for the name that had led to its retention. ‘What were we thinking!’ had given way to a mellower ‘We were too young to come up with anything better’. Whether it was nostalgia or the lack of creativity, Madhu would never know but the name had stayed. So it was the monthly Fab Five lunch.

The girls had done this for the last ten years. Ten years since they had left college. Brought together in college more by their vulnerabilities than by anything they had in common, they had managed to stick together over the years…five girls drowning in the flowing river of time and holding on to each other for dear life. They had decided on graduation day that they would not become other people…people who gave excuses for drifting apart from friends. And if they were in the same city, they would meet every month, no matter what. Miraculously, it had worked. Of course, there were times when one or another of them would be missing…away pursuing a master’s degree or travelling for work. But they had managed to retain their base in the same city and there they were, the five of them at lunch again!

The ritual may have remained the same and even attained a sacred nature for the five over the years but other things had changed. Today, more than ever, Madhu was feeling restless. It had been slow, this change, but like most changes that happen ever so slowly and one day just hit you in the face, this change was staring Madhu in the face today.

So the appetizers had gone cold. As had the conversation. For Madhu anyway. Madhu had always managed to maintain interest at least until the end of the main course. Today she found herself noticing the taste of the appetizers (not at all worth their price) and the clatter of cutlery around the restaurant a whole lot more. She realized this and brought herself back to the table and the conversation. Nisha was talking about Football. Or how she didn’t like it. And how Sandeep was always watching Football while she either cooked them dinner or sat quietly by his side flipping a magazine.

Devika took over and said at least Nisha had the time to flip magazines. With a baby at home in her case and no help from Ajay, she barely found time to sit and breathe. She wished Ajay would help out more with the baby but he was either always on work calls at home or catching up on the news for work. Tara joined in and wished Devika good luck, trying to get her husband to help out with the baby. She lived with her in-laws and found out soon after her wedding that Vipul wasn’t much more than a baby himself, having everything served on a platter to him by his mother and now by Tara. Even if he were willing to help Tara at home, she doubted her in-laws would approve of it. She should have stuck to her decision of staying single and pursuing her career. With which Naina agreed wholeheartedly, having gone through the same experience and deciding to move out but the damage already being done and Naren not doing things much differently. She had given up on trying to change him or their life.

Madhu’s friends were gone. They had been replaced by women who only sought each other out to vent out their feelings and they weren't very good feelings from what she was hearing. They had been successful in not becoming like other people who found excuses and drifted apart from friends. But they had become the other people who constantly complained about their lives to their friends without doing anything about it. Madhu had no appetite for that. Or for this lunch.

At last, dessert was served, although Madhu wondered if it was sweet enough to wipe out the bitterness that was creeping into their lives. Bills paid and good-byes said, Madhu drove home through late afternoon traffic on the weekend and Rishi recognized her exhaustion soon as he opened the door. His words ‘Shall I make us some tea?’ sounded like magic as she stepped into the house. She could only manage to say ‘I’d love that!’ through her wide smile. She splashed some cold water on her face and joined Rishi in the kitchen to find vegetables chopped for the dinner that they had planned on cooking together. 

Rishi settled at the dining table with the tea and said, “So how did the Fab Five lunch go today?” and the contrast of her life with her friends’ dawned on her at that moment. She smiled and proceeded to join Rishi to tell him about her insight and just how much she loved him and their life together. It felt good to be back home.

Written for IndiSpire Edition 47

Monday, January 05, 2015

A Language Called Love

What is language?

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.

Yet, we have used it for everything but communication. Language is alternately defined as a system of communication used by a particular community or country. Language, in today’s world, and more so in multilingual countries is that – an ingroup/outgroup dynamic. A tool to include or exclude people from groups. An identity that feels threatened by the presence of other means of communication, other languages. Language, today, is more form and less substance. It is the choice of words rather than ideas being shared. It seeks to exist for the sake of itself rather than for reaching out to others. Language is a manipulative tool that comes with its own politics.

But language is also any nonverbal method of expression or communication. Language that goes beyond the words and connects two people, whether or not they are able to use the right words. The language called Love.

All children know this language. All adults know this language around them. It is only in the adult world that we pretend it matters what language we speak in, more than what it is that we are saying. And we shove our languages down each other’s throats.

I remember going to Hampi a few years ago – alone and with barely any knowledge of Kannada. And I remember meeting two most loving women during the time. One of them spoke halting English but from the moment she met me, she took me under her wing. My safety, my comfort, my food…she ensured that everything was taken care of and I had nothing to worry about. It was the time of a great flood in the region and there were torrential rains. I had to report to her every day in the interest of my safety and also to let her know what I had seen around Hampi the previous day. With broken sentences but full hearts, we talked and helped each other and language never became the reason our ideas couldn’t reach the other. It was a time when words mattered less, communication mattered more and love led the way.

I remember, too, fondly my white mother in Slovakia. English, as a language, was technically foreign to both of us and yet, her love for me and mine for her are not defined by whether we understand each other’s languages or are part of each other’s cultures. Love is the only thing that binds me to her, millions of miles away. I do not believe that external concerns like our language and our words ever come into the way when someone is willing to care so deeply and love so selflessly. Even complete strangers and foreigners can find ways to connect if there is a will.

Language politics have been at the forefront in small personal groups and large national groups for some time now. Everybody is scared that their language will die. Everybody is petrified that their culture will be wiped out. It is ironic that these concerns come from some of the oldest countries in the world. Culture has been evolving and languages have been dying or being born for thousands of years. What matters is whether they have helped us integrate or segregate. 

The bottomline of all human existence should be concern for another human and today, language stands as one of the barriers to that. When people of a state demand that others must learn their language or leave, they are putting a mode of communication above a human being. When people continue to talk in a common language in a group ignoring the single person who does not speak that language, they are putting a tool and the illusion of their identity above including another human in the group and making him or her part of the conversation to bring in more ideas. It is only the language of love that transcends any differences and really connects people, uniting them in understanding rather than bringing out their differences. And this New Year, my hope is for the entire world to adopt the language of love for the sake of fellow human beings.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Taste Of Nostalgia

Everyday-spices lined up on the kitchen platform. Myriad ingredients filling the kitchen cabinets. Vegetables that crowd the refrigerator trays.

Harmless. But potent.

Every once in a while you reach out for them but end up opening a bigger jar…of memories. And you land up right in the middle of a moment, tasting forgotten flavours.

The pepper grinder that smells like weekday dinners of Daddy’s favourite Pindimiriyam, the flavor hitting the back of your throat. And Charu-Annam with Kandi-Pacchadi, their distinct flavours blending together in a magical combination. A crate of eggs bringing back a Sunday lunch of Anda Curry that Mummy used to make for Daddy because he liked it so much…prohibited pleasures. Even the sad excuse available in the name of Okra takes you to summer afternoons, lunch plates filled with Bhindi ki Sabzi, Aamras and Phulka. Fresh bunches of cilantro resurrect the surprisingly rare Dosa with Hari Dhaniya Chutney. The ginger you are grating into the evening tea hints at Bamma’s Allam Pacchadi served with Pesarattu. And then her Rava Payasam. Special invitation dinners over Attaiya’s signature Dum Aaloo. Fun evenings involving homemade Bhel. Festival lunches with Mummy’s signature Sevvaiyya Payasam and Attaiya’s Tomato/Imli Pulihora and Shrikhand. The Pav Bhaji made for Sis’s birthday every single year. Mango milkshake. Aam Panha. Puranpoli. Avakai. Dosakai Pacchadi. Bengali Khichdi. Baingan Ki Sabzi. Masale Bhaat. Pulusu

Sweet. Sour. Bitter. Hot. And everything in between. The taste of nostalgia.

Food is memories.
- Hassan Kadam in The Hundred-Foot Journey. 

I now realize that food is also luxuries…having people who love you always be there to cook up their signatures and your favourites…having people who even remember your favourites or ask the simple question, “What do you want to eat?” And one must carry the burden of these memories and luxuries for ever after.

A kitchen of your own is a gain in many respects. It is also a loss of these memories and luxuries. No one is going to whip up favourites for you or ask that question again. It’s your turn to remember favourites and cook them up. As for your own, until you can go home and answer the question, “What do you want to eat?”, they must be relegated back to the big jar of memories.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dark Side Of The Moon: Stories From The Other Half

Chanda ko dhoondhne sabhi
Taare nikal pade...
Galiyon mein woh
Naseeb ke
Maare nikal pade…

(Left at the mercy of fate, all the stars set out in search of the moon...)

My father used to sing that song from the film Jeene Ki Raah sometimes while putting us to bed. It was a sad song for a lullaby, I now realize, but it used to sound beautiful in his tender and hesitant voice. 

This is an attempt at that. Finding. Not the moon but its dark side. The side that no one sees. The stories that no one knows because they are destined to be lost by fate’s design. Sometimes it's patience, sometimes, politeness. The lack of one, another or both. It's perennial eclipse...of the dark side by the bright.

The stories on the bright side are told and retold much like the returning phases of the moon. But stories from the other side remain hidden and are eventually forgotten.

But these are the stories that make two halves into one whole. Without the stories from the dark side, the moon is but a two dimensional disc in the sky. The dark side adds dimension. The stories keep the bright side from devouring the dark. If they are told. 

This is an attempt at telling those stories. At salvaging pasts. Forgotten faces, remembered feelings. An attempt at creating two equal halves in an unequal bargain. An attempt at adding a third dimension to life. 

These are stories from the other half. Better or worse.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Of Old Paint Tubes And New Lives

Have you ever found an old tube of toothpaste or water-colour paint lying around the house, in a forgotten corner? Discovered accidentally in a cleaning spree? And you know how the paint or the paste comes out of that tube when you squeeze to check if it can be used?
Crumbly. Crusty. 

That's what this is. This blog post. The first squeeze from a long-unused tube.
Crumbly and crusty. 
But as is the case with many long-unused tubes, I am hoping this will squeeze out just fine next time.

I recently threw myself way outside of what leadership literature warns us of getting stuck and stagnating in - the comfort zone. I have done it before, in bits and pieces. But this time it went too far, I think.

I quit my job of 7 and 1/2 years without knowing what it was that was next.
I finished the course of studies I was pursuing, something that kept me busy well for 2 and 1/2 years.
I gave away all my books, barely packed any stationery.
I dismantled base in a city I dearly love, vacated what I called home and gave away my set of two wheels, and my independence with it.
My old clothes went too. 
The family I grew up with went back to where we came from.

I gave away or left behind most everything. When I boarded the plane the night I travelled, all I had in my hand were two suitcases filled with new clothes and new shoes and the address of the person whose hand I will hold for life. The only thing familiar to me at that point was the clothes I had on. My excitement in that moment temporarily numbed me to the feeling of being stripped of everything that had defined me until then.

That Augustana song has always fascinated me, Boston.

I think I'll go to Boston...
I think I'll start a new life,
I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name,
I'll get out of California, I'm tired of the weather,
I think I'll get a lover and fly him out to Spain...
Oh yeah and I think I'll go to Boston,
I think that I'm just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind...
I think I need a sunrise, I'm tired of the sunset,
I hear it's nice in the Summer, some snow would be nice.

I used to hear that song and wonder in my low moments what it must feel like - to start over in a place where no one knew you and you had no history to define you. It's funny now I'm not far from Boston. It's funny that we dream of living in Spain some day. And the snow is actually nice.

But here I am where no one knows my name. Where I haven't seen a familiar face other than my husband's and best friend's in over a month. I haven't read or written a word. Haven't gone out on my own or explored the town. And although that's the whole purpose of being outside one's comfort zone, it was uncomfortable like I've never known before, this lack of any foundation, footing or familiarity...this floating from one day to another, just passively receiving information and stimuli.

I would have continued my state of float if I hadn't read this:

“People with interesting lives have no vanity. They swap cities. Invest in projects with no guarantees. Are interested in people who are their polar opposites. Resign without having another job in sight. Accept invitations to do things they have never done before. Are prepared to change their favorite color, their favorite dish. They start from zero countless times. They are not frightened about growing old. They climb on stage, shear their hair, do crazy things for love, and buy one way tickets.” – Gio Sguario (Translated from Portuguese)”

In the moment of reading that quote it hit me. The fact that it's not my possessions or what I do that defines me for myself. It's the reason I acquire those possessions or do those things. It's who I am deep inside, it's what makes me put myself in a situation like that in the first place. It's what gives me this optimism and faith to travel halfway across the world and begin building a new life, in partnership this time. It's what allows me to surrender a life and identity I built over 7 years and yet know that I can build it all over again. It's what helps me embrace this daily adventure of marriage and being in a new country without losing my wits. It's the realization that this is what I have always wished for and it has now been granted to me!! I may not be one of the people who would fit the description in that quote but I'd love to try and get there and that's what matters.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

I love that poem by Kipling, If. I now have the opportunity to live a part of it. I realize many would give a lot to be in my place right now. And if I didn't just say thank you and move on, it would be injustice to a lot if people's dreams, mine included.

So yes, I started out crusty and crumbly when I got here...like old unused paint tubes squeezed for the first time. But the paint tubes, pages and pens have been reclaimed and they will keep the fabric of life colourful and interesting for some time to come. Meanwhile,

I think I'll start a new life,
I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name.

Boston (Alternate) by Augustana on Grooveshark

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Seven Years In Bangalore

There is no Brad Pitt in this story and there is no Dalai Lama and this not as dramatic as an Austrian climber trying to take on Nanga Parbat. But it’s been very interesting to me personally…my seven years in Bangalore.

Yes, it’s been seven years since that first day of July in 2006 when I landed in this city called Bangalore. It was not my first time; it was the second and more lasting, thanks to that first 4-day visit back in 2003.

We were on an IEEE educational tour from college, back in 2003. I set foot in this city post a 30-hour train journey and loved it instantly. I don’t know what about it attracted me so much particularly back then. Today I know that it must have been the combination of all that defines this city. We visited institutions like IISc, CPRI, ISRO, Talisma by day and explored the city as evening fell. Many firsts marked that trip too…the first time I went bowling, the first time I went go-karting, my first visit to a discotheque. It was a great time, and it showed me the possibilities that life in the city held; I am sure the zeal of youth would had its own role to play in that fascination. But all in all, I decided then that this was the city that I wanted to work in and live in.

 And it was granted (another one of those dreams that came true!). I was one of the only 6 people in our batch of recruitment to get placed in Bangalore. And so began what has been a period of constant discovery, exploration, growth and learning. 

I have come to know Bangalore as a city that fosters experimentation, given the myriad things people do here in terms of their lifestyles as well as the institutions they build. And so I experimented too…with travel, writing, dancing, copywriting, theatre. And I have come to understand myself better, thanks to this experimentation. I am thankful to the city for these opportunities.

Of course the opportunities really come from the people of this place who run phenomenal institutions like Get Off Ur Ass, LRDA, iReboot, Evam (well technically Evam is Chennai but I discovered them in Bangalore), Rangashankara, BRTFF. For me, the best way to describe Bangalore and its people is

Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Arms

I have met some of the most wonderful people in this city, including my husband, and have some very fond memories of them all. They are what makes this place so great and I am glad to have moved here and met them all. It is downright inspirational, the things that some of them do.

If I have taken to travelling, to photography, to writing freelance, to oratory, to theatre, to cycling…it has all been encouraged and inspired by some well-meaning people in a city that is easily the cycling capital, Toastmasters capital (80 clubs), eco-living capital and what not of India. This city makes you grow. It couples possibility and pace in such a beautiful manner. It is a city of communities that foster…everything. Barcamps for startups, running communities, cycling communities, travel communities, riding communities, book clubs, theatre groups, film societies, music groups and live bands…you name it and you can find a community. Groups like Second To None can thrive only in Bangalore. There is a sense of togetherness that leaves no space for snobbery. Unlike societies that revel in exclusivity, I think Bangalore and its people revel in a shared connection.

Which brings me to the mind blowing shared network that Bangalore is. Of course this sense and realization has been heightened after joining Facebook but even earlier, I always found it exciting how every new person I met was somehow connected to other people I had met in the city. This city is like a village where most people know most people. I love that!

Strangely, in a city that is called the IT hub of India and is recognized even in the West for that USP, I find the people connection to be stronger. This is a city that loves having tweet-ups and zomathons…people who interact online for a while feel the need to congregate in person for no good reason… that’s how they become friends and form bonds that last. And that’s why this city is perfect for me…it brings balance to this Libran’s life… between the virtual and the real, between work and play, between dreams and opportunities.

Like I said, not much of a story here…small-town girl visits Bangalore and gets smitten, moves to Bangalore with big-city dreams, meets wonderful people, hears unforgettable stories, visits more places in seven years than in all the 21 years before that, discovers what’s without and discovers what’s within, experiences fun-failing-frustration but becomes the best version of herself that she could be, meets the love of her life, gets married and begins the journey to happily-ever-after.

It sounds pretty everyday when stated like that but only I know how much this city has meant to me every single day and every passing year. I am leaving in 5 month’s time and it is breaking my heart. I can’t imagine it, not being here, in this lovely city. But maybe going away will make us love it even more. And the consolation is that this is where we will return when we do. 

But no matter where I am in the world, I will remain a Bangalorean. This is the city I connect to. I grew up physically elsewhere but this is where I grew up in many other respects. This is where I lived, loved and laughed for seven years. This is the city of my heart…it always has been. And for that reason, I will always love it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dreams Come True...Yet Again!

It’s been a month and it still feels like a dream…being married. A dream nurtured all these years, guarded against the voices of those who said it would never come true. It was a dream held close and it has finally come true. It wasn’t easy waiting for this one but I am glad I waited. One sees the pieces fit only in retrospect.

I had always wanted to find my own person, ever since I started thinking about marriage. Someone who would be right for me. Someone I would be right for. Two people who wanted to be together willingly. People called it a pipe dream, too idealistic. They said I was losing time and it was too late to find that person. I will not deny that at some point I started believing them. It was stupid. Knowing how dreams always come true, I should have known better. I should have known that at the right time, that person would walk in to my life the pieces would fit like the jigsaw. No effort, no force, no friction. But I did get scared about chasing an impossible dream. The alternatives scared me too. And so I just waited around for a miracle. A long painful wait.

I had heard friends tell me that when the time is right, it moves so fast it makes your head spin. And that’s exactly what happened. It took one question to set things rolling and start the roller-coaster ride. The last few months have been some of the most exciting in my life, the run up to a traditional Iyengar wedding. And they seem like they went by in a breeze. The initial hesitation around the new family. Getting to know people and making them my own. All the shopping and the time spent over the details. All the discussions, the planning. The fun and the tension. The laughter. It is still ringing in my ears.

The wedding itself seems like a beautiful dream. Meeting my groom after months of virtual presence. The last few days, the anticipation. The house filling up with people and their love. The joy, the happy tears. The small and big rituals, the effort to make it all special for me. It was all over before I had absorbed it enough I think. And I had become a Mrs. already!

It’s been great being married so far. There are a million things about it that are beautiful. Becoming the keeper of a family’s prosperity, the Lakshmi of the house. Learning the layout of a new home, a new kitchen, trying to remember where the sugar and salt are, learning a new way of doing things, new recipes to cook, discovering more about your better half through all the stories told over dinner. It’s also heartwarming to see how the new family adjusts too…the extra chair at the dining table, the cosy squeeze in the car to seat a new family of five, the space created in the wardrobe. It is not easy but it’s beautiful, this process. And you know you are doing ok when you actually feel bad to see your parents-in-law leave back for home while you stay back in Bangalore to continue college…when you start missing them a little bit.

And that’s how yet another beloved dream has come true in my life, leading me to the start of a new dream called ‘The rest of my life’. I already know there will be ups and downs, good days and bad, easy days and tough but I also know that it is going to turn out beautiful when I look back on it many years hence.

Over the years, my pot of gratitude has filled and overflown for the way life has turned out. Sure there were the troughs but they were meant to teach me something, the foremost of which was to believe in my dreams and wait for them to come true. I have been more thankful by the day in the last few months, so much that tears well up in my eyes sometimes just thinking about how perfectly everything has come into place. It’s the start of a lifelong adventure with the culmination of this dream and I am looking forward to every minute of it!