August 27, 2008

calling all survivors…

me: is there really nothing you can do?

gp: sorry, no. there is really no cure for fibromyalgia.

me: i can’t sometimes believe that despite all the advances in science and medicine, you don’t have a cure for this…it’s almost over 15 years now

gp: look, the more we know science, the more ignorant we are about it. we can treat cancer, yes. but fibromyalgia…no.

me (in my head): …because fibromyalgia doesn’t kill? and cancer does? huh? huh?

me: sigh…alright doctor, thank you for your time.

gp: can i ask you a question?

me: sure…

gp: how do you cope with the pain? with no medication or support…

me: well, i still have my will power. tons of it.

i lied.

ok, it wasn’t entirely the truth. the truth is that my will power has a hundred re-births each day. it lives when i foolishly expect to live normally like everybody else. it dies when others foolishly expect me to live normally like everybody else. it thrives when i am fighting by myself. it is murdered when i visit the doctor. it survives because i know i am the only one going through all the pain, and i know i am the only one who can push myself to do more despite it. what kills it is the lack of drive i see around me, and in people who say that life is pointless. again and again. my will power dies and is reborn. what nourishes it are happy thoughts (son, husband, family, phd), and simple truths i cannot do without (multivitamins, ayurvedic stamina-booster-medicines, and the one and only, manasamitram, which relaxes my fatigued nerves each night, and prepares me for – at least a few hours – the next day).

and so i came out of the gp’s surgery last week wondering what was worse. that there is no medication cure for fibromyalgia, or that it doesn’t kill. i think i will never find out.

anyways…

i had decided not to write about myself again. at least not about the pain. but that is all there is these days. so, tough luck.

when i read charu’s blog entry this morning, i thought to myself this was the least i could do to support her cause. i know and have heard that there are millions of fellow-sufferers out there, but i personally dread reading those discussion-lists. the same symptoms, the endless pain, and the one often-unsaid comment i too have had to face so many times: but you look fine!

some days ago, a friend who’s currently in texas wrote to me that she sees fibromyalgia-related ads on tv all the time, and that every time it flashes on the tv, she is reminded of me. the first thought i had was…ahh, at last, one more person understands. and that’s mainly why, even if i’m here in london, i’ll vote for a fibromyalgia-support group in india.

because…and its strange that like charu, i too have mentioned in the past: pain makes you lonely. this support group may not provide the medicines…that is the doctor’s job. it won’t provide you sympathy…we don’t need any, thank you. but what it will provide, like that ad my friend saw on tv, is information. the quiet knowledge that there’s tons of will power around. and the power to survive.




July 4, 2008

the whirlpools in life

the thief

left behind

the moon by the window.

i used to collect zen koans during one of my many lifetimes. for no apparent reason today, while i was reading and thinking in a small corner of my mind, that i need to get back to this journal – like i have many times in the past few months – this koan suddenly popped up in my head. it summarises somewhat, all that happened when i had not been writing…

sometimes when we are in the flow of life, everything that is happening around us – and to us – takes place so fast, and so much happens so quickly that we forget what started the whirlpool in the first place. sometimes, it is just a single thought.

i want to write.

every day, in between attending athri (who is now all of 19 months and revealing his true toddler-colours) and the household chores, and the day job-from-home at techworld.com: editing articles and features about secure storage devices, wi-fi, 802.11n, wireless networks; finding out about web 2.0 and how it would work for the website, digg-ing, stumbling and reddit-ing articles, i began to get restless. storage and network devices, is this what i really enjoy reading about? i loved thursdays, when i could get on the tube towards my office and read. read anything not related to dull, lifeless technology that stripped all the words and literature off my life. novels, short stories, anywhere that i could escape into, for 35 minutes, one-way. the work increased, and so did my restlessness. i just wanted to write.

i decided, at one point, to enter any writing contest that i would come across online, just for the sake of writing. i entered three. while i was at it, i enrolled on a creative writing phd. the contests came and went. the phd process began, but i still wasn’t writing.

the day job was boring yes, but it brought in a salary. would i write if i let go of it? i wasn’t sure. i just wanted to write.

and then who looks after the house? it’s not a big house, but it’s our home. i like a bright home, well-arranged, even if the mess athri creates everyday can be overlooked. but i find it difficult to think of something to write when there are clothes to be washed, dry ones to be folded and kept inside the wardrobes, a sinkful of dirty dishes, the carpet to be vacuum-cleaned…and so i chose the house. praveen helped: we re-arranged furniture so athri’s toys had a neat hiding-place when he went to bed, put all the cables and clutter out of sight, but i still couldn’t get myself to write.

i requested for a flexible work option, knowing fully well that two days off work still meant a distant probability of me getting a few words down without being distracted by something else again. i was getting desperate now. i wanted to read and read. and i wanted to write.

one of the contest results came through. the penguin one. i had taken a day off in april to write this one. i’d held emotional gun-points to four heads, my friends’, asking them to go through the four drafts of 4000-words each that i had hurriedly cooked up in three days, before the final deadline. and it had paid off… i was going to be published! so i could write, if i forced myself to do it. and i had loved it. every minute of that writing until i sealed the envelope and sent it along. my heart thumped with joy that perhaps this is what i really wanted to do. i simply wanted to write.

faster, faster. i could sense that something, someone was pushing me in some direction, but there was nothing to hold on to. the email from penguin made me realise that my life’s whirlpool had begun to churn…

then last month, i was made redundant. the company was going web 2.0, and they didn’t need a sub-editor. i wasn’t sure of how to react…suddenly, for a job that i so often put athri and my writing aside, i was not wanted. on the other hand, i was free to write. now i could focus on my phd.

“now don’t spend time on the house,” praveen reminded me all along, “concentrate on writing, write anything. remember you have a journal?” he teased.

“it’s such a lovely house,” i argued. the long corridor running across the middle, the arcs opening out to the stairs and bright windows that always made it so pleasant to stay in, the large kitchen leading to the small balcony-railing, waiting to sprout flowers that we just planted for the summer… “how can anyone not have to spend time on a house, if it has to be well-kept?”

but it was not helping me in writing. ten days ago, we received another notice. we would have to move, give up the house. we were tenants, and the house-owner wanted it back.

we found another yesterday. it is minus a corridor. a compact house, like a man minus his neck. it has a small kitchen, enough to fill our hearts and stomachs. and it doesn’t have a fireplace or arcs to hang my torans from. but it is bright and it is practical, and hopefully, i will not fall in love with it.

maybe now i should be able to write.

the whirlpool in my life. the moon by the window. i think now, maybe it was that single thought.

ps: thank you asha. your many emails have set my words free 🙂




March 23, 2008

this holi…

dear son

this holi

your second

i still

don’t have

any colours

to give you

no sleepy faces

at the door

waiting

to pull

you out

of bed

no neighbours

filling

buckets

of cold water

to soak you

to the skin

awakening

every pore

of your spirit

no laughter

or loudspeakers

at the chowks

with the annual

o rang barse

song

i have

only

stories

memories

of the colours

that rained

orange, red

green and blue

creaky

golden pistons

our weapons

for a few

hours

puranpoli

amti

warm milk

and ghee

that melted

on my tongue

cacophony

of children

all talking

at once

shivering

with the

cold

the excitement

when

it’s your turn

son

don’t be

afraid

of a time

spent

abroad

surrender

to the colours

to the love

to your heart

watch

them fill

your life

just

one holi

day.




February 15, 2008

the unfolding and folding of memories, and why they’re important

i’m just past 56-pages of shantaram, and my brain is bursting with memories of mumbai airport along with its smells, the views and first impressions of dharavi, colaba, the radio club, mondegar’s and most of all, leopolds‘.

it’s hard for me to classify leopolds’ as a cafe, or a pub. it was simply a place where friends met and relaxed. in fact, the interiors of what i remember of mondy’s and leopolds are blurred, and i must be confusing one for the other. (no surprise there perhaps, i wasn’t always having coffee, and anyway it’s way over 10 years now). i must have sat at one of their thick-wood-mahogany tables perhaps three of four times in all my mumbai-life, in the warm company of friends, colleagues from my express-computer days. each visit, though, has a bright, shining memory of its own.

i remember being curious about the people who frequent places like these, and my secret awe at the discovery that such a place even existed in the very throat of mumbai. there, it was the first time i saw more foreigners than indians, dressed in their trademark-cotton baggies and orange flowing kurtas. beads around their necks, or wrists or forehead. my own company, sometimes four or five of us, was buzzing with the latest office gossip, smoking chains of cigarettes and ‘grass,’ and downing one beer after another. and i, the youngest of the lot, had to plead with them to let me have a sip from their glass.

fortunately or/and unfortunately for them, beer always reminded me of a tall glass of urine, and i never liked the taste anyway. so i was simply happy just being there with my friends, soaking in the ambience, and some of the smoke as well. this was a world so far away from the one i was brought up in and went back to, faithfully every day.

it was perhaps on the way home after one of those leopolds-visits that i had realised i was in love. i think someone else did too. in the five years that followed, i changed jobs, i had new colleagues, i never had reason, or the company to visit mondy’s or leopolds’ again, but that special friendship always remained close to my heart. like i’ve heard is the case with all first loves, i think it still does.

and then there were the ex-colleagues who always looked out for me. during one of those rocky, painful, wearing-out phase of this relationship, there was one friend who took me to the radio club one evening, again, a very new atmosphere for me then, and so sympathetically, heard me out, and counselled me on life, the universe and everything. (he still is so sweet, i can never get over the fact that he is allergic to chocolates.) he also told me that who knows, maybe 10 years later, i would be laughing at my past. this is no anniversary, but yes i am smiling and laughing, in a nice way, at all that had happened at the time. it was all a part of growing up.

i can get disoriented when i come across an interesting book, and gregory david roberts is a grandmaster of them all. on the tube this evening, as i read pages and pages of accurate, minutely observed and mature descriptions about his philosophies on life and love, about colaba’s pubs, the radio club, they all came rushing back to me. the places themselves, the songs of mumbai, shubha mudgal, the friends, the laughter, the warm and firm handshakes when we parted at our train-stations, the youth that i left far, far behind…

as i walked home slowly, stiff from the cold and the physical pain after a long day at office, the memories that had stirred up a storm inside my head finally flooded my eyes, and i let the tears fall. even the fox, who has his hideout somewhere opposite our house and usually prowls for food during that time of dark, waited and let me pass.

my thoughts changed track, and i suddenly realised what a beautiful animal that fox was, like the mozilla-firefox logo. i rang the doorbell, too drained out to fish out my housekeys, and a smiling husband opened the door. “let me help you medaam,” he said warmly, and took my coat off (something he has never done so far). when my 15-month-old son – so engrossed in the storymakers on cbeebies -finally turned around and saw me, he rushed with open arms, giving me a tight sooooooooo-glad-you’re-home-ma-bear hug, and before i knew it, i had folded all my memories away. this precious moment, with my husband and kid, was worth it all.

this life was certainly worth it all.




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 🙂

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

*jhattapatti

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.




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