Monday, June 10, 2013

The Rains

I'll never understand the hold that Bombay has over me. Having had my own share of 'Mumbai experiences', I'm no stranger to the way she works. And yet, every time I'm here, it's like my first time.

Each of my trips to Bombay have been monumental. And still, it's the non-monumental things that make it special.

I'll tell you about my life-changing moments in a bit. But before that, let me begin with this time's trip.

Wedding shopping. That in itself should be self explanatory. From my ivory coloured wedding dress to the yellow n orange confetti--everything that'll be making my wedding day special begins from here: Mumbai.

Walking from Metro Cinema across Lady Willington Building, we made our first stop at Cross Maidan at 8.30am. By then, one of the first monsoon showers had already made its presence.

Now, knowing me, I took every step on the cobbled street with a cringe and lifting my jeans so as not to let even a spot of muck get on my jeans. But, and I've said this before, if I ever have to like the rains, it'll be in Mumbai. Those who live here and battle floods, traffic jams, power cuts and just plain shut down, must be raising their brow and thinking: Sure. She spends one rainy day on Marine Drive and falls in love with Mumbai rains. And I agree with them. But then again, I don't have to live here so why not focus only on the good.

So any way. Its drizzling here and I love it. I love the smells. And I love that crazy shaped cloud hovering over the Bombay Stock Exchange. And the kitten taking shelter under the grotto isn't too bad either. And for the first time, I don't mind my frizzy hair that refuses to be tamed in the humid Bombay weather.

So, where was I? Right. The rains in Mumbai. Where I sit right now typing out this post on my phone, it has stopped raining and we're waiting for Crawford market to open and for my future in-laws to come from Kandivali. Sitting on the sidewalk, I see a man in his DHL uniform light a candle and another guy putting away his big rainbow coloured umbrella. The sights, sounds and the smells remind me of the last time I was here in the rains. It was a month after I'd joined ToI and I'd been sent on a 3-day induction programme to Mumbai. And put up at the Babulnath guesthouse near Girghaum Chowpatti, I thought I could spend hours watching it rain over the sea. And that was the first time I'd ever loved the rains.

You that I think about it, I know why I hate the monsoon so much. Apart from the obvious reasons, I think it makes me nostalgic. People call me unromantic because I dislike the rains. But I ain't. No one could be more romantic at heart than me. Its just that I've never had a 'romantic' moment in the rain...Not to say I've never imagined or hoped for one. But the rains remind me of happier times. Of moments that seem to be of another lifetime. And of relationships gone sour. It reminds me that I used to be happy once. And I crave for that every day. And may be that's why I hate the rains. Because they remind me of who I used to be.

But I have to be honest with my self, I love it...I love the rains...There's this feeling that you get when it's dark and gloomy outside--the kind that matches your mood--and there isn't a better time to spend time indoors. Reading a book, writing, listening to songs that make you cry...Last monsoon I spent one of the best days with my roommates at my old flat. There was a sort of heavy drizzle at about 3 am, and we sat on the terrace for nearly two hours in the rain, sipping chilled beer, talking about life and love, and getting happily drenched... those people have gone now..and so has that place..But that's the way I'll always remember our time together.

I digress. Yet again.

I'm not sure what I was talking about any more. But let me just say this: I may never want to spend my life in Mumbai. But every now and then, I'd like to go there to find my self, and Be my self.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


She sat at her desk and stared at the pristine white screen of her computer. Still not speckled with even a single word as she'd not been able to sort her thoughts. She had to submit her story in an hour--1,500 words on the death of a well-known, much-loved local artist. She'd met the family just hours ago; seen his mother weep and heard the pride in his father's choking voice. Just the thing she needed to move her readers to tears. A tear-jerker, her boss had instructed her when she sat down to write. After keeping her own tears bottled up for so long, she didn't know how to make someone else cry.

No. Scratch that. She definitely knew how to. The question was, did she Want to? Did she want to go to that place that she'd been avoiding for so long?

She'd read somewhere that actors would keep their emotions right below the surface where they could reach within and use it whenever a scene demanded a stirring performance.

She'd always felt that actors and writers were somewhat similar. They could be whoever they chose to be and could be someone different each day. A king today, a beggar tomorrow. Someone in love, or someone about to end his life. People saw only that side of an actor or a writer that they were shown, and more often than not, associated them with the person they were used to seeing or reading. Play the role of a happily married woman, and people see just that. Write about a little girl who's been given the Christmas gift she'd asked for, and readers visualize only that. Never mind the actor, never mind the writer. YOU remain hidden. YOU don't exist. Your role does. Your character does. Your protagonist does. YOU don't.

Her thoughts going back to the dead artist, she wondered for probably the hundredth time: Here she sat, writing about someone else's loss. There were possibly seven other journalists typing away at their desks at that very moment, plotting how to deliver a sob story that contained as much melodrama as possible to make the most stone-hearted reader shed a few tears. But what about Her pain? Who'd care to even write, let alone read Her story? And if what she'd read about actors was true, why should she use Her pain to make readers cry for someone Else? It seemed unfair. To use her own private memories to strengthen the memories of somebody whom she didn’t even know. All the while keeping hidden everything that enabled her to write this emotional saga she was meant to deliver in less than an hour.

She thought about where her life was, and realised something with slight annoyance. The fact that she sat alone in her dimly lit one bedroom flat—trying to overcome the silence that engulfed her previously ‘loud’ and cheerful life—did not actually bother her so much. She was getting used to this silence, this quiet existence that had become her life. Keeping herself occupied with as much work as she could physically manage, so much so that people began to call her a workaholic, was working really well for her. She didn’t really have any one to spend her free time with, and she realised that sleep was just as great a companion as a human being. Probably even better. And That annoyed her. This meaningless, hushed, private passing away of time that she didn’t even regret any more. She remembered everything that she had given up to get to where she was today, only it hadn’t worked out exactly the way she’d thought. Exchanging a life where people didn't know she existed, for a life where people pretended she didn't exist, was by far the most foolish deal she’d ever made. And for what? Those few stolen memories that only brought a pang of guilt every time she thought about it? Guilt, followed by sudden rage, and eventually replaced by the urge to cry. All of that replaced by a straight face the next morning, as she woke up in a dull mood, but picked herself up with a cheerful smile as she dragged herself to work each day. A strange way to live your life, one might think. Pretending to be someone you’re not, yet slowly becoming that person until one day, you can’t separate the real from the phoney.

She glanced at the time and saw she had only half hour to go, and the only thing that broke the whiteness of the screen were the red blurry shapes that had formed in front of her eyes from staring at the bright screen for too long. She had to get her act together if she wanted to complete her story on time. Her story, but someone else’s life. Exactly what her own existence had become.

She shook her head, straightened her shoulders and began typing. One word after another kept flooding her mind and spilling out onto the page. Words formed paragraphs that formed page after page. The artist came alive to tell his story one final time. His story, her pain. His life, her words. The black and white print gave birth to yet another character that the world would remember, not for the writer who told the story, but for the man whose story was told.

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts for his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
that he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
--Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, February 13, 2012

10 years after madness...sanity has long since sunk in

She’s been reading the papers daily now. It’s a routine: Areeba wakes up before the sun, listens for the creaking of the gate outside her door and the thump of the rolled-up newspaper, gets it in and opens it with absolutely no expression on her aging face. She begins reading: line after line, story after story. So similar to hers, and yet different in ways only she can understand.

‘10 years after madness’ reads the logo placed strategically in the midst of the story. 10 years since the 2002 post-Godhra carnage riots. Had it been only 10 years, Areeba wonders.

She goes back to reading that day’s article. It tells of a man who lost his entire family during the riots, like many others. She doesn’t know the person who has written the piece. She imagines it’s someone devoid of any emotions. Because only he could move people by his words. She tries to put her story into words, and they come out dry and dead. No one who’s lived through the riots can put into words exactly how he or she feels. But this story sounded as though it would move many readers to tears. Not her though. She’s past all that.

Areeba tries to remember what had happened that day, 10 years ago.

A happy bride: her face said it all. People all around kept fussing over her, with their ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s and ‘you’re the prettiest bride I’ve ever seen’. She knew they said that to every woman about to get married. But she wanted to believe them any way. She looked at her reflection in the mirror: she did feel beautiful. The sea green lehnga choli with its gold zari work somehow made her look even fairer than what she was. The dark kohl lining her light brown eyes made them come alive. But it was the excitement of getting married that added the twinkle in those eyes.

Finally, after all these years of waiting, she somehow couldn’t wait any longer. Her day was here. Her nikah, and her prince was just outside waiting to take his vows. She walked out of the dressing room towards the partitioned hall and took her place, face down and covered, as any demure Muslim bride should be.

Somewhere during the rituals, there were loud shouts of ‘kubul hai, kubul hai’ and before Areeba knew what had happened, they were married. Just like that.

Suddenly she was surrounded by hushed murmurings which gained momentum in a matter of minutes and after that everything seemed to happen in slow motion and in a rush at the same time.

Areeba remembered being taken inside in absolute panic, picking up her skirt and rushing past people, her jewellery strewn everywhere but not being allowed to collect them as every one tried to get inside their homes, trampling over anything or anyone that came in their way. She heard children wailing and people shouting. But in the distance she heard something even more disturbing. Screams of people in pain, cries of help, and men swearing.

It was just the beginning of the mayhem that was to follow, Areeba was told much later. Had she known better, she would have seen the signs. Seen that day as an omen of years to come. All that bloodshed, the violence, the pandemonium: symbolic of everything her life would become in a few months from her supposed blissful day.

Areeba hadn’t lost anyone during the riots. No one but herself. In just a couple of months, she learnt that she was carrying a child, and her joy knew no bounds. But she hadn’t expected the rage her husband felt when the news reached him.

That’s when everything began to go downhill.

Her husband's rejection towards her and their unborn child; the constant anger about nothing in particular but aimed, always, at her; the hitting — that was the worst. Not just before their son was born, but even after. And not just her, but their son too. It got worse with every passing month. She hid the bruises on her face and arms behind the burkha whenever she went out. At other times, her excuses for the black and blue marks got better day by day. She had fallen in the bathroom, hit her face while opening the door, or had had an accident. It was the kind of things she'd always seen in movies. But somehow she was living all of that.

After suffering in silence for almost 2 years, she had finally had enough. She knew that her decision for a divorce would have grave repercussions, in her family and the society, but she didn't see a way out. She didn't want her son to grow up amidst the violence and wrath.

And so she decided to leave her husband and go back home; to her parents and her brother's wife who lived with them while her husband was working in the gulf. It was difficult for them to accept that their daughter's marriage was broken and fear of what the rest of the family and community would say led to many arguments for the first few months Areeba was at home. But eventually the happiness and safety of her and her son meant more to them than the jibes and taunts they would face from people.

Even then, at her parents' home, Areeba found no solace for a long time. First her husband would visit them often in a drunken state, create a ruckus and demand to see his son. Her old father couldn't fight back againts her angry husband and was often caught in the middle of his blows.

When that stopped, came papers demanding for custody of thei son. Areeba would murder him if she had to, but there was no way she was giving up her son to that mad man.

After many trips to the court, endless ugly arguments and her son being a witness of all of this, she finally won. Not only did she get to keep her son, her husband was forbidden to ever set foot in her parent's house, or even see or speak to his son. People may say that was extremely cruel and selfish of her. But she had stopped caring what other people said for a long time now. Her family had been supportive enough thoughout the trial and they would always be there by her.

Back to the day's paper, the writing had become blurred and she heard the sound of her son stiring. She looked at the clock, 6.45. It was time to wake him up for school. She gave the article logo one last glance and got up from the chair.

10 years after madness, sanity, for her, had finally sunk in.

(This is a true story. The names, however, have been changed to protect the identity of the people in it)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love


For those who've known me, for an hour, a day, months, years or a lifetime, would probably smile and think to themselves, "Typical" or "why am I not surprised?"

Over the years, I've earned the title of a 'hog'. In school, in college and at work. Most of my time is spent in either eating, talking about what I want to eat, or thinking about what I could eat.

I cant explain my obsession about food. I'm always hungry. even after I've just finished a meal, I'm already thinking about the next meal.

I've been accused of converting non-eaters into hogs. And they've told me, sometimes seriously, sometimes jokingly, that they need to stop spending time with me because I'm making them put on weight while I continue to stay skinny as ever.

There's something about food that calms me down. If I'm sad, or angry or lonely or busy- food makes me feel better. Almost always.

But what you should also know is that I hate eating by my self. Food gives me a joy I cant explain and I have to share it with someone. Simply talking about it doesn't help. The other person needs to experience it and feel the bliss too.

When I cut into a slice of blueberry cheesecake, watch the spoon sink into its mushy core, pause for a brief moment at the crust, hear a soft click as the spoon cuts through the crunchy base and hits the plate, when I put the spoon into my mouth, feel the cheesy, creamy cake slide and roll around my tongue and melt away, bite into the tiny blue berries as their juices burst in my mouth and feel the crumbly crust leave a tingly texture on my tongue..... that's pure satisfaction. That cant be shared with anyone until he/she feels it too.

While most people eat to live, I, for one, live to eat.


I'm not a very religious person, even though I come from a family who is. And I'm not sure if I'm too spiritual either.

I've never been able to explain to people what my thoughts about God are. But then, I dont think religion is something that needs to be explained to others. Its your won personal thing.

I also think prayers have nothing to do with religion.

I dont know how to pray. I've been taught, obviously. But over the years I've somehow lost the line that differentiates 'praying' from simply 'talking' to someone you believe in; God or otherwise.

Most of the times I feel like I'm simply talking, and to me that's praying.

I'm not going to dwell too much on how I pray because this isn't about that.

I dont know if I believe in the power of prayer. And I also dont believe that if you honestly want something, real bad, and you pray for it from the bottom of your heart, you'll get it. That just means that all the times I haven't got what I asked for, I haven't really wanted it badly enough.

That's not true.

I just think, even though its hard for me to admit, that you get what you need, not what you want.

Some nights back, I was feeling terribly low and lonely, and I lay in bed, crying, wanting so much, to be with someone who'd make the loneliness disappear. That hadn't happened in a very long time and I wished that for one night, for even a moment, someone would wipe my tears away. I 'prayed' for that moment; from the bottom of my heart.

And after all the times when I've thought God doesn't care about what I want, He gave this to me. He gave me someone who, for that moment, said something so simple, yet more than I could have asked for. "You have me."

When my grandfather was sick and people told me he didn't have much time left, I prayed. Harder than I'd ever prayed for anything in my entire life. For him to get better.

My cousin was expecting a baby and he'd be born anytime. And I wanted my grandfather to be around to see the baby, who'd be the first great grand child of our family.

I prayed, every night, every day, for a chance to let my grandfather see him ( my cousin had a baby boy eventually).

The night before my grandfather passed away, I was filled with something that could only be called 'enlightenment'.

Everyone told me my grandfather was in pain and he was suffering every moment that he was alive. He wanted to let go. But I couldn't stand the thought. It just made me pray harder for him to get better. Even when the doctors said there wasn't anything they could do.

But that night, I thought to myself, that my grandfather, even though I love him so much, had to released. I couldn't hold on to something that only brought pain and suffering. I had to stop being selfish. I had to let go. And I did. I prayed, for my grandfather one last time, to give him what he wants.

And my grandfather passed away that night. And he, and I, were finally at peace.


There's nothing I can say about Love that hasn't already been said before.

Some time back, I was asked to define 'love' on a social networking site. And I replied with, "Am I qualified to define love?"

Everyone has a different perception of love, and there can be no fixed definition for it.

When I think of love, its something very simple: Love is when you're happy being with someone, anyone, who lets you be yourself.

I wont add that the person should be just as happy. Because I believe love is selfish.

Have I been in love?

So Many Times.

I've often admitted to myself, it doesn't take much to make me happy. Someone once termed it as being 'low maintenance'. I would have agreed to it had I not known better. Wanting the simple things in life is anything but LOW maintenance. Wanting to get the smallest things, which most people take for granted, is more difficult than having someone name a star after you.

Love, to me, is anything that makes me smile, or cry, in full honesty and sincerity.

I've been hurt by some of my closest friends. I've even cried for them. But it has been real. And I know the reason I shed tears for them is because of the love we once shared.

A month or so back, I was out with some of my colleagues, and after a couple of drinks, I remember laughing alot. And I remember I hugged my friend and cried for several long minutes because she would be leaving soon. I've known her only for three months, but I'll miss her. And to me, that's love.

A person, with whom I've not been on talking terms with for over a year, with whom I've fought on several occasions, shakes my hand when we meet several months later, that's love.

My immediate boss pretends to be busy just so my boss would take a look at my work and know I've been getting better, that's love.

Love may have been last on my list, but in life, it isn't necessarily so...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Letter to my Grandfather

Note:- A letter that never reached, nor got completed in time. Love you papa. May your soul rest in peace...

Dear Papa,

This letter is 23 years late. I wish I had written this much earlier. If I could've I would have written this letter even before knowing you. Because even then, you'd be the amazing person you still are.

I may not have much time to get this to you. Everyone tells me that you're missing Nana too much and you want to see her as soon as possible. Much as I hate to see you go, I'm glad in a way because I know that Nana has missed you just as much. And seeing her would make you happy. And you deserve this happiness more than anyone else I know. So I hope I'm not being selfish in letting you go.

I'm not sure how to tell you of what's in my heart Papa, because there's just so much.

Maybe I'll start by thanking you. For endless things.For dada and mama. For all my uncles and aunties. For all my cousins. For the best example of what a marriage should be like. For keeping this family together. For every summer holiday. For all those Christmases we've spent in Goa.For my first holy communion. For the stories. For the gifts. For the games we played as little children. For the chocolates and ice-cream treats. For the scoldings and punishments because it has made us better human beings. For all the prayers, rosaries, Holy hours and chapel rosaries. Every good thing that has come our way has come because of your and Nana's prayers.

When we went to Dohad for the first time, Dada, A. Sandra, A.Lalu, U.Leo and A.Brenda told us so many stories and incidents of your times there. And I always wished I'd been there to experience all the fun times you'll had.

I'm still finding the right words to say.. To tell you how much i, and everyone else, loves you.. I hope i get a chance to tell you..

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Finding Friends

So my roommate left almost a week ago and I've been living on my own for all this time. The nights are ok, but when I wake up in the morning to an empty room, it can get pretty lonely especially when I have the entire day to kill and nothing much to do. I had thought I'd do alot of things to fill my day. But so far I haven't gotten around to doing any of the things I had planned.

So I spend my day laying in bed, watching FRIENDS and speaking to no one.

Just when I thought that the silence and boredom would kill me, I found company in someone who could very easily have been left by herself or ignored.

Every morning, at about 11, the maid comes to clean the house. When I tell people that my maid is a 12 year old girl (I'm making a guess about her age)they shoot an accusing look at me and mouth 'child labour'. Now, I feel bad about the situation, but somehow right now I feel like there isn't something I can do to stop my landlady from sending the girl to my place.

Anyway, I have a few things I think I can do now that I think about it, but it'll take some time.

So anyway, her name is Sarika and she stays with her family in Vadaj. The first time she spoke to me was when she came up to give me a bottle of cold water that the landlady had sent. I smiled at her and said "thank you", and she replied with a "Welcome" and the brightest smiles I'd ever seen.

She came up to swab the rooms and sensing that I may like some company, she began talking to me.Maybe she didn't really know what to talk to me, or maybe it was what she wanted to say, but she began to tell me about the landlady. She seemed excited to tell me different stories of the people who had lived in the house before I came. She laughed at certain instances and I joined in. She in her excellent super fast Gujarati, me in my absolutely poor and broken Gujarati-Hindi-English sentences, made quite a hilarious pair. I barely understood everything she was telling me, but I knew she thoroughly enjoyed talking to me.

The next day when a robbery took place near my place, she took it upon herself to warn me about earlier thefts and mishaps in the area. She told me to keep the doors locked and be careful when I came home alone at night.

Today when she woke me up from my sleep at nearly noon time, I asked her if she went to school. With a mix of a sheepish yet adamant look, she told me that she'd studied till 6th std, but had quit after that. I asked her why. From what I understood, she'd loved to study, and her two younger sisters were at school too. But her grandmother never encouraged her to continue studying. Being the eldest, Sarika was expected to work and help her mother. She didn't have a father( or grandfather, I didn't really understand) and when I asked her how he died, she told me she didn't know. But her grandmother never let her do her homework and that made things difficult for her at school. Finally she got fed up with all the trouble she was getting in at home and at school and decided to give up studying all together. I asked her if she has plans to study again, and she said she wasn't sure.

She then told me about an incident that made me so furious but yet again, I didn't know what to do. I don't even know if I should be writing about this here, but maybe someone reading this has any ideas of something I could do to.

She told me that she loved earrings and bangles and one day she went to a shop near her place to buy a pair of earrings. The shopkeeper showed her a pair she loved and told her it was for Rs 15. Sarika didn't have that much money and asked him to give it for less. The shopkeeper, instead of giving her the earrings, put them on for her and told her that she didn't need to pay for them, and then started acting funny with her. Shocked, Sarika threw the earrings back at him and ran from there. She told me that she thinks he was drunk, because he stank and his eyes were all red. I asked her if she told anyone of what had happened, and she said that she did tell her maasi but no one wanted to do anything about it in case he came after them at night.

I sat there and listened to her talk about the incident in such an easy manner, but I knew that it would have been anything but easy for her.

Not sure of what to say to her, and my poor Gujarati posing as a huge barrier especially when I was at a loss for words, I simply asked her how old she was. She looked at me for a while, and then said, " khabbar nai" (I don't know) Calculating her age from the fact that she had left school just months ago and she had been in the sixth std, I assume she's 12.

That's way too young to experience the things she has, and the things she hasn't told me...

May be I seem selfish in thinking that I've finally found someone to talk to in that empty house, but I'd also like to think that she'd found someone to talk to as well. May be that isn't so bad.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New Beginnings

It's been a long long time. And I still have nothing really to talk about. I would have liked to say that with the beginning of a new phase of my life, everything's changed, everything's different. But it isn't so. Not at this very moment, that is. Maybe in time I'll be able to say that.

For those wondering what this new phase is, well, I have begun the 'working' phase. Now I'm a '23 year old working woman' and I'm not really sure if I like the sound of it.

I've started working at The Times of India in Ahmedabad as a copy editor cum news correspondent. Which means that I have, once again, shifted base to the city that I had come to love once upon a time.

Ok, so in this regard I would say that thing have changed. Because when I was here two years back, everything was different. I knew so many people and it made me want to stay here forever. But now it like staring over. And let me tell you that it's really not fun. I dont make friends as easily as I would like. I'm quiet as a mouse and shy as a...well..whatever creature is really shy..and that is so uncharacteristic of me..I'm living with a new person after staying with my family for 2 years since I was here.. I dont quite know how to describe what I'm feeling right I'm not going to try.

As of now, I haven't done much at work. I started on the 8th and on the first 2 days, besides filling up forms and things I edited a few stories. Last night I sat with one of my colleagues to watch as she made page 6 and page 2. That was fun. A better word would be exhilarating. To watch the next day's newspaper being created right before my eyes was surreal. Like my friend said, I make tomorrow's headlines. I made one last night, and the feeling was great. As time goes on, I'll be making many many more. And maybe then I'll have lots more to write..

PS: never believe me when I say "I have nothing to say"