February 14, 2008

bbc looks for love in the wrong places

how’s that headline for a taste of their own medicine?

either the bbc is turning very short-sighted about all matters related to india, or they are plain lazy and should simply pass the job to someone else.

it’s not been too long since i mentioned this before, and the bbc does it again (check out all the pictures from 1 to 8). is that the only picture they could find about indians ‘celebrating’ valentine’s day? why show nice, gooey-romantic images from the rest of the world, and portray india as an enemy of the idea of love, which in fact, is not the case at all.

i bet there *must* have been an archie‘s shop just around the corner from where pic#8 was shot, overflowing with red heart-shaped balloons, mushy-mushy cards and big, huggable teddy bears. also, will someone direct the bbc (and check if their eyes are wide open) to any one of the over-100-shopping malls in mumbai itself, or, the remaining 258 in the rest of india. here, this directory should help.

i have been following bbc news faithfully for quite a few years now. but these days i find their reporting to have turned anti-everything-india for some reason. look at their own news items on valentine’s day here (2007), and here (2002). why be different now? yes, there are anti-valentine protesters in india, but i would think the news is about the millions other indians, who easily outnumber them every year, and even make some extra money while they are at it.

to those second-, third-generation indians sitting abroad and reading misleading reports about their home country on the bbc, i think this is sad, and really, really unfair.

February 13, 2008

a story, unpublished

something i witnessed during my recent mumbai-visit stayed in my memory, and haunted me for a long time.

last month, when i watched taare zameen par (tzp), for no reason related to that movie, i remembered that scene again. i wrapped it in a fiction story and sent it, one by one, to two publications. wrong choices maybe, because, forget about any feedback on the story, neither of them responded at all (this, after we’d already exchanged emails). or perhaps they thought i was offending aamir khan’s original intentions, or that i was taking the realism a bit too far. perhaps they simply didn’t like the story. whatever. one thing’s clear…. i need tuitions on how-to-know-who-is-the-right-publication-for-your-story, and once that is clear, how-to-market-it-to-them. any published writers out there, hint, hint ๐Ÿ™‚

well, anyway, i cannot keep this buried in my pc anymore. tzp is already yesterday’s news. and stories have to be told. so here it is, *sailee ki kahani…saare zameen par.

*(sailee, afzal. not their real names. the shaunchalay at nariman point, very real.)

saare zameen par

sailee loved aamir khan. afzal loved sailee. in their young 12- and 14-year-old lives, it was their friendship that had survived the displacement of their slums, the death of their parents in the lathi-charge, the humiliation by the police, the nights without food, their puberty. and there was their love of films.

after his day job at the sulabh shaunchalay at nariman point, afzal worked evenings and nights at the local theatres in the city. the role of a black-ticket-marketeer was not a permanent one. it had its share of risks and profits, but it was fun. and moreover, he was doing it so someday, he could take sailee to see her favourite star. first day, first show. taare zameen par. and he wanted to do it in style.

the kids were both excited. this would be their first ‘date.’ for sailee, as dusky as her name, afzal managed to borrow a lovely, deep-pink chiffon kameez from his friend who worked at the dry-cleaners. the dress had a mending job to be done, but the tear was hardly visible to the naked eye. besides, it would not be collected from the shop for another four days. from her own meagre earnings (for it canot be called a salary) – from cleaning car windshields, and selling mogras and magazines at the signal opposite hotel ambassador – sailee bought for herself, for the first time in her memory at least, a soap and a shampoo. but the municipality tap that she shared along with other slum refugees had running water only for an hour in the mornings, during which they all filled their buckets. where would she have a good bath now, at this time in the afternoon?

afzal thought about it. “why, you can use the shaunchalay!” he said. indeed, it was the only way. and in between two crammed latrines, amid the dirt and slime leaking through the drainage pipes on that hot afternoon, sailee filled up the leaky orange bucket with water from the toilet taps, crouched in the middle of the narrow passageway and scooped water over her head, using one of the coconut shells that the narial-pani vendor often so carelessly littered behind.

outside, afzal sat at a desk, collecting one-rupee coins from anyone who wanted to use the public facility. luckily, there were hardly any ladies coming in that day, and the gents could barely glance over to the somewhat-well-concealed ladies’ lavatories. secretly priding himself for having given sailee the chance for a luxurious bath, he hopped over to the other side of the road to buy them some mid-afternoon snacks. it would have to be ragda patties, he thought, spicy, tasty, hot, just the right thing after a bath.

afzal was away for about four minutes. during this time, there was but one woman who needed the public toilet. she came away stunned, not understanding which of her feelings were most dominant – relief for having emptied her bladder at last, or shame, at the plight of a young girl having to bathe like that. sailee pretended not to notice anyone, and continued with the scooping of water. it was not until the soap slipped out of her hands and fell into the indian-style latrine, that she lifted her head and noticed him standing there. and then she felt his eyes. eyes that studied her smooth-fresh-smelling body, and caressed her long hair and naked skin. sailee shivered. millions of tiny little goosebumps erupted all over her. and the eyes, unabashed and hungry, lapped up even those with pleasure.

it had taken less than a minute. for a girl who was bathing in her own naivety, dreaming of simple treats like aamir khan and the movie that evening, to come down to reality, how vulnerable it was, how cheap and how easily available.

that night, throughout the movie, afzal held her hands in his and wept. no, she hadn’t told him anything about that afternoon. it was the movie that made him sob…the heart-warming songs, the dyslexic boy ishaan, and his so-hard-to-break-father.

afzal wept, because he missed his own parents, his own brother. he wished he had a father who demanded to know his marks, he wished he had a mother to wipe away his wounds with the end of her saree, a teacher to set free his imagination, if there was one, he checked himself. the letters that were like greek and latin to ishaan awasthi were not any simpler to read for afzal either. he wished he had an education.

and sailee? her eyes were dry. unfeeling, like big black pebbles stuck still in their white envelopes. sailee had grown up just a few hours ago. every passing reel in the film made her aware of a deep hurt and anger bubbling inside her. the false promises made to her parents when they were alive, the teachers who wanted a school built over the land, the man who came with the bulldozers, a childhood spent washing away the bird-shit off cars, the never-appeasing hunger for food, for love, or for a soap to wash her skin with, a place to bathe in privacy… ‘every child is special.’ with every song, she became aware of the hypocrisy. this was the real world, she decided, where sailee and afzal and many thousands like them were born and perished each day. no flute-player in a red and yellow clown’s cape was coming for them.

“but i thought you liked aamir khan,” a confused afzal said, walking a quieter-than-usual sailee back home on the sepia-street-lit mumbai night. “i was wrong,” replied sailee without lifting her eyes. “i hate him.”

to sailee. may you soon find a place to bathe in privacy. from, the nri woman who was just visiting mumbai.

January 30, 2008


bounce. bounce. bounce. swish. plop.

for the second time on that wet morning, sree had to sink her feet in the mud.

“hurry up! come on, we only have five minutes till the bell goes…silly girl!”

sree heard them chuckling behind her, but she maintained a blank, not-affected look on her face, passed them the ball, then squatted down and buried her hands in the brown earth-water, her wide eyes glistening like her now-freshly-browned palms.

“hey! who’s going to be the donkey again? come back here, slowcoach.”

sree got up. she jerked her wrists in the air to shake the mud off, and walked back carefully. taking her place in the centre – a few feet away from both the girls, one on either side – she turned this way and that, and round and round, jumping to get a hold on the ball that the two passed from over her head, giggling all the while.

“will you let me have a chance tomorrow?” her small voice finally found the courage to ask the girls as they walked back from the playground for the next lesson. math. the girls laughed again. “why not? but you must be quicker.” sree calculated for a moment. “i…i dont want to be the donkey this time…”

“but you are one already!” they guffawed, others joining in their laughter.

math. the very mention of the subject made her want to hide below the bench. “get your homework out everyone, where i can see it on your desks.” ten minutes later, sree was making her way to the staffroom where all the teachers drank tea and shared stories of incorrigible children, husbands, and mothers-in-law. hands stiff and behind her back, with one finger she stroked her other hand where the cane had fallen, making a track of the hot-hot, soft skin. no homework meant kneeling down in the staffroom where her face too would turn hot with shame. when she came back to her class for the next not-so-dreaded english lesson, she found her name scribbled all over the blackboard: “sree is a bad girl. true / false.”

at home, sree ate her dosas in silence, watching the door, while a tv added to the kitchen cacophony. a click, a jingle, and it flung open at last, letting in her father and kid brother who bounded towards her happily. sree waited till the father went in to the kitchen, then smacked him hard on his head, and made him cry.

*i am not aware of how to translate jhattapatti in english. it’s a children’s game (from maharashtra) where one player – say x – hits or touches another – y – then y goes on to touch z, and so on. the game involves a lot of running barefeet, and sometimes you don’t know if the resounding slaps are coming from the feet on concrete, or from sweaty hands on skin.

ps: yes, when i read this piece again, it reminded me of TZP, and i winced. amazing how the mind travels…and all i thought of was a little girl being the ‘donkey’. honest.

January 28, 2008

ma, why does self-raising flour…

…not do what it says on the pack?

self raising flour

January 18, 2008

house #47, acton street

my train/tube commutes have always been interesting.

if i’m not mentally memory-surfing between mumbai and london, then i’m travelling across many minds and through many characters on paper, leafing through pages and pages of them till i reach my destination. and then the story continues on my way back home. sometimes, a little disoriented when i have just read a powerful story, the characters travel a short distance with me, and drop off even without me knowing when. most times, i am happiest when i come across a happy ending.

one certain book that never ran out of characters, or stories, was but a door on acton street. i passed by this door en route to my office on the #45 or #46 bus, which starts at kings cross station, passes through pentonville road, kings cross road, acton street, and finally grays inn road where i get off. a seven minute-journey, i think, including all the bus-stopping times in between.

opposite one of these bus stops is this door to house#47, which i always found half-open. i must have noticed it the first time i passed acton street, for not all houses in england keep their doors open to the public. as i passed by the door a second and third time, i began to wonder about the people living inside. were they young, too careless to think about an open front-door? were they elderly, too ill to walk? perhaps someone inside was just too hot, and decided to ventilate the room a little. but why was the door open every day, and especially at that particular time i passed the road.

the door was a dark, old shade of green, with a worn-out gold-coloured ‘u’-shaped handle right in the middle. the glass above the doorframe was cracked, broken, as if shattered by a little boy who missed catching a small ball that his friend must have thrown across, or a lover who wanted to get his message across to his/her beloved who lived with very strict parents. the message would have to be wrapped around a little pebble strong enough to smash the frosted glass. maybe an elderly widower, who always forgot his keys were under the doormat, once had to break glass to get into his own house. maybe there were vandals on the street who bullied and harrassed, and troubled the residents of the #47 house the most. what if there was an extremist group inside, mixing flours and chemicals and cooking recipes that threatened innocent lives? maybe one of them had an argument and that is why the glass was broken. no, no, maybe there was nothing to it at all. the house perhaps was rented by someone who was so busy that the door and its broken glass was never on their to-do list. gasp! what if it was a haunted house, and no one liked to live in it? …that’s why the door was always half-open (maybe it creaked horribly too), that’s why i could never ‘see’ anyone going in or out…

everyday the bus stopped in front of #47 on acton street. everyday, the characters changed. the stories changed. the writer also, changed. the bus journeys became irregular and i began to travel once a week to work. the rest of the days, i worked from home. i always looked out for the door though, and all the stories it wanted to tell me.

yesterday, for the first time in one-and-a-half year, the door was shut. it was brand new, and had a fresh coat of shining, black paint on it, like it was teasing me. the doorframe had been replaced too, and the glass, frosted, was all intact. i kept looking, even when the bus had taken in all its passengers and had begun to move on. when i could not crane my neck any longer, i relaxed. the activity must have brought a smile to my face, because the person in front of me returned it, surprised, and somewhat awkwardly.

he should have known. i just happen to like happy endings.

moving on…

nothing fancy. nothing extra. just a new location…less spam maybe. more convenience.
hopefully more words. many, many more words.

do keep coming back. and yes, before i leave the most important part out, please update your feeds.

January 11, 2008

to the bbc…an irresistable rant

the world’s cheapest car. surely that’s front page news for every general/business-publication on the planet. but wait, the world’s cheapest car from india? go on then, put down the usual, that’ll will easily give you 25 to 40 words.

and so the bbc must have gone on to present its front home page news (which i should have taken a screenshot of, as i can’t find it now, and I can’t believe how foolish i was for not thinking of it earlier), with the oldest of india-related clichรฉs available in their database.

in fact, i suspect they must even have a stylesheet to represent india: third world, most polluted country, most populated, clogged roads, lack of infrastructure, relentless traffic, (especially photo captions, one of which almost always reads the same for every other news on india: one in three indians live in ‘harsh poverty’) a third of the population living below the poverty line, shanty slums, ‘children living off scraps left by the railway passengers’… like a friend so casually put it, “what goes of their father?”

look at this classic example for instance (scroll down to the last picture and its caption): is it in any way connected with the rest of the story?

oh puhleease, writers at the bbc, do your reports always have to be so skewed? india has grown up, why wont you?

someday when i have the time and resources, i do want to make a documentary with snapshots of all the ‘good’ that is in india too, along with the ‘changing’ (i won’t call it bad, things are really changing, and i can see the change when i go back every year), and i want to send it to the bbc so they can get rid of all their old footage on india. or i might just sue them for defamation. whichever’s quicker.

and yes, we *do* have motorists taking two, three, four of a family or friends on a two-wheeler. it’s not a miracle that they don’t fall off, it’s faith, and it’s all over the country. yes, we have pollution, a crumbling infrastructure, poverty, beggars…name one country that doesn’t.

at least, we have better (read, reliable) medical care.

December 30, 2007

dancing in the dark

another writing crisis. i have had so many so far that i sometimes wonder why i even try.

at other times there was a plain ‘what-do-i-write-about’ lack of inspiration. this time the big question is w-h-e-n, and how do i manage my time around work and athri. this time it is also more severe…how do i break into the mood for a novel when i can’t even find the time (or the energy) to blog. i ‘think’ all the time. i eat when i am hungry. so why must i not write?

so here it is. fifteen minutes of dancing my fingers on the keyboard. while it is still dark outside. while athri and praveen are fast asleep. while i myself can’t sleep over the worry that i am not writing.

i could probably start with our short, quick break from the bitterly-cold winter in london (or so i was told), to a hardly-wintery india…

flying alone with a one-year old is not going to be something on my list for a long long time. but yes, both athri and i survived. or that must be more due to the fact that we visited the doctors in mumbai as soon as we landed, before any other social visit. athri was promptly given some asthalin and alerid so he could breathe through his over-four-week-old nasal congestion. for my fever that went up and down and up like a sensex chart, (what the so-bemused nhs gp here had so fondly dismissed as a common cold and viral infection, and sent me home not with medicines, but a suggestion to ‘have patience’ instead), the doctor in mumbai declared – with some alarm – a severe state of bronchitis.

five days of strong knock-out antibiotics later, wherever i went, i was well enough to not-spare tales of a desperate medical system in one of the most highly developed countries of the world. a chance meeting with a leeds-resident – again, at a doctor’s clinic in thane – landed me with a useful tip that perhaps you too can use: when in front of a uk-gp, always highly-exaggerate the number of days you have been suffering an illness, any kind. so two days of cough becomes three weeks of a terrible time, and …you get the drift.

other highlights of the trip include a very happy athri; a relaxed mom and dad; elated grandparents; a greatly-relieved to meet sis (who, in all the confusion of parting, i even forgot to hug, and regretted all the way home…deeps, i owe you this one) and brother-in-law; meeting my kottakkal doctor – who officially declared (to my relief, for i thought i was beginning to imagine all the pain) my fibromyalgia at a point of no return – but assured he will help me deal with the fatigue symptoms; a first-time-dentist visit and thankfully-not-as-painful-as-i-thought tooth filling; a long-awaited trip on the train to mumbai vt for half a day, which included mysore masala dosas from the guy opposite the express-towers building at nariman point, where i had started my career (is it really 11 years now!?); and last but the most impulsive highlight of all…my decision to face my fear of the road, and learning to drive.

now the vacation is over. the bags are not quite unpacked, and athri is still jet-lagged – sleeping all afternoon and keeping us awake for the longest hours of the night. he can’t stop walking now, blows kisses that fly, and talks a lot. to the cbeebies characters on tv, to the radio, the lights, the switches, and most of all, to this imaginary-alien-friend i am convinced he has, who lives under the cot. i say alien, because our thirteen-month-old thinks it is his moral duty to feed it as soon as daylight fills the room…be they milkbottle-caps, vicks vaporub, the tv remote, the landline-telephone handset, feeding-spoons, or even my only bangles. (now tell me, what kind of human friend would have a diet like that?)

there, he is doing it right now, which means my fifteen minutes are long over, dawn has broken, and i have to stop writing.

have a nice day.

November 21, 2007

on the idea of writing a novel

to write a novel.

the idea came to me as i was struggling with my 20,000-word final masters project, which was a film (story, screenplay) for ram gopal varma*. i was fighting to reach it to the deadline, working from home full-time, and (with praveen to help), looking after then-six-month-old athri – who i was being repeatedly told by other have-been-mothers – was a remarkably manageable child.

as a first-time mom, the pressure was too much to handle no doubt, but an intense-three-week project-wrapping marathon, and less than a day after i handed in the 74 pages of my hard work at the university’s postgraduate centre, i was beginning to experience withdrawal symptoms. i was addicted to the research, the river of information, and the writing that gushed from it. i now wanted to write a novel.

there was a reason. somewhere in my head was something that remotely resembled a good story. i thought i’d let it rest for a while…perhaps it would pass? but a month later, an excited email from my teacher told me i had a distinction in my project, and a masters degree with merit. i was thrilled. perhaps it was not to pass, perhaps it was a sign!

i held on.
today, five months since, i wonder why it is still there.

am i again going through that clumsy phase, which, like most young girls stepping out of their sheltered lives and protective families, and into the wide world for the first time, leave them so naively attracted to the idea of love? now that i can sit back and laugh at how confused i had been, how almost-annoyingly innocent, i can’t help but suspect if the i-want-to-fall-in-love affectation has just been replaced by another syndrome. i-want-to-be-a-writer.

but i don’t have the time to be one. after my project submission in may, and my last post in august (which, between you and me, i wrote across two-and-a-half weeks), i have had visiting in-laws, house-moving, many sleepless nights thanks to a teething, charming boy (who turned one two days ago), viral infections that seemed to come and go in waves, fibromyalgia-pains, an application for a phd, work – and i haven’t written a single word.

i haven’t been reading either. the 40 minutes that i commute to work (on thursdays) lets me read about 25 to 50 pages of a book, depending on what i am reading. i had to return a dalrymple book that i renewed about five times already. i can’t wait to return to wodehouse (my first), who made me laugh aloud carelessly on the tube journey home, whose humour, like a sweet-smelling balm, instantly cheered all those rushed, sleep-deprived nerves.

there’s the sink – i call it the akshayapatra corner, that which never runs out of dishes to wash, there’s food to be cooked – new recipes to try, clothes to be washed, a husband and son who demand attention i love to pay attention to. i like a clean home, the rooms need to be vacuum-cleaned, everyday, the toys need to be put away. there’s my office work, stories and websites to go through, blogs to browse…

and yet there is that adamant, that idea for a novel. in my mind, curtains of a story flap noiselessly in the breeze, restless. its characters stare at me (thankfully, not many right now), enquiring what their fate is going to be. some of them grow large at times, like balloons filling up with air, some lurk in the shadows, afraid to come out. others just shrink and lie there, emaciated, waiting.

me? i have already learnt my lessons in young love. i do everything possible, to avoid their path.

* anyone with any kind of contact with the director puhleeease get in touch with me…you won’t regret it, i promise ๐Ÿ™‚

November 19, 2007

happy birthday, little 1


and let the world be your playground ๐Ÿ™‚

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