Author Archives: Deepika Sahu

About Deepika Sahu

I earn my living through writing stories, editing what other people write (in simple terms, I am a journalist). I dream of opening a cafeteria in the mountains, owning a beach home on the shores of Bay of Bengal... but right now, they all seem like wild dreams. A gypsy at heart --- am passionate about India's rich diversity, life, music, words, cooking for people I love, soaking in the lashing rain and just looking at the changing colours of the sky. I am a great fan of the Indian Railways and I long to travel in First Class AC coupe across India with my man.

Finding love

stack of love wooden blocks

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

The year was 1995 or 1996 (It doesn’t really matter now). There was no landline phone at my two bedroom apartment in South Delhi. I was working in India’s leading news agency. The board line numbers of my office were always busy and on quite a few occasions, the telephone lines got all mixed up. Sometimes the call landed where it was not meant to be. On some occasions, the caller disconnected the phone in sheer frustration. To make life easy for our foreign correspondents in New York, London, Beijing, the bosses installed a direct line at the Foreign Desk. This direct landline number became more important to some of us than all our bylines and meager salary. In no time, I gave this number to him so that his call doesn’t get lost in the chaotic news chasing, news gathering world. During the day shift, many times I used to skip my lunch (by not going to the cafeteria) just in the hope that he might call up. And I didn’t want to miss hearing his voice. Till now, nobody knows about this (I was/am quite close to some of my (ex)-colleagues.). Loving him was important, not talking about it. Waiting to hear his voice was important. Even if it meant missing my lunch. And I didn’t think about it then as a ‘sacrifice.’  Now people make it sound like one.

If love’s the hero now then it can’t perform without its all pervasive supporting ‘virtual’ characters : google, whatsapp, skype, Facebook, Instagram, tinder (the list can go on and on). Life is now about searching. We are constantly searching now. Online. Searching about food, clothes, accessories, buying a house, we are searching locations,
prices, sizes. We are searching ‘How to Be.’ We are searching ‘How to be productive’, ‘How to be organized’, ‘How to write a perfect To Do List’ and yes, we are searching for happiness, love.

In a workshop related to web writing, I was told that one of the most popular topics for online search is: ‘How to be happy’. In my moment of curiosity,  I searched ‘How to Love’. Google, the brilliant one-stop search engine, disappointed me. The search engine hardly pops up anything leave aside some lyrics of  songs. There are many other ‘Hows… how to kiss, how to have sex, how to keep him hooked in bed … The list is endless. The missing one is ‘How to Love’.

In the same breath, I must tell that there are loads and loads of love coaches giving gyaan (knowledge) in the virtual world.  One day I got a mail from Mr X (his site popped up during one of my searches for gathering info on a story I was doing).  I had checked out his site to find out what it’s actually about. And then I got a number of mails from him. (the virtual world keeps a track of your activities). His mails always had varied subjects, “Does being a bitch really work to attract men and get them in love with you? / How To Make Your Ex Want You Again / 3 Secrets To Quickly Rekindle His Desire /  Fatal Mistakes To Avoid In Your Bedroom.  I did not reply to him or ever showed any interest in signing up for his ‘hugely popular’ (all his e-mails came with that killer marketing line HURRY, FEW SEATS LEFT)  programmes.

Some days back, I got a mail from him : “Hey Deepika , I wanted to quickly stop by and let you know that my program titled ‘How to find perfect romantic love’ is now on sale and available on a 50% discount. Hurry up!!!”

I am in no hurry. 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Being a daughter-in-law of Kerala

Happy Onam to all the wonderful people of Kerala. This post is kind of a personal love note to Kerala. I am writing this just out of sheer pleasure and love. 

It’s wonderful to be a daughter-in-law of Kerala. In my mother-in-law’s house, I am not expected to do any household work. Whenever I visit my mom-in-law, I get to eat delicious food without cooking.

My mom-in-law is the best thing about my marriage. We share a very loving and open relationship. We occasionally argue and bang phones too. But you see, everything is fair in love and fights. I shall now refer her as Senior Mrs Menon (SMM)

With every passing day. my love for Kerala food goes deeper and deeper. Now, my smartphone has my MIL’s recipes of Erissery, Thoran, Inji Puli, Kadala curry and the like neatly typed on the ‘Note’ app.

One of the reasons behind me agreeing to marry my husband is his surname. I have always loved the surname ‘Menon’. My twitter handle is @menondeepika though for all official purpose, I have retained my maiden name. But I love the sound of Deepika Menon.

When I first visited Kerala as a brand-new bride, my husband’s aunt asked me, “Deepika, chor indaka?” And I got damn excited thinking that how exciting to have a Chor/Thief (in Hindi chor means thief) in the house in broad day light. Well, even as I was imagining to put up a brave fight against the visiting thief, I found out that chor in Malayalam means rice. And my aunt-in-law was just checking whether I will have rice or not.

My soul sister is also a Menon woman and she lives in Dubai. Last year, both of us along with my soul-brother went to Kerala on a holiday. I was in tears when I boarded the flight to return to Ahmedabad (where I live and work). That trip to God’s Own Country felt magical. I really miss those moments.

I feel my father instantly agreed to my marriage plans because he thought Malayalis are very intelligent people. (Husband will be happy to read this)

On a good day, I can finish off 10 parippu vadas at one go (Kerala’s famous snack).  They are absolutely my favourites, I talked about parippu vadas so lovingly that Hussain (the man who was our navigator during our Kerala visit) offered to buy them for me.

I am a great sucker for Mallu sense of humour. During my first visit to Kerala, one of those cool aunts (with not so butter-tongue) told my husband that she’s very relieved to know that he doesn’t have a brother-in-law. She thought a wife’s brother generally has lots of nuisance value and little else to offer.

As a journalist, it feels great to be in Kerala because you see lots of people reading newspapers sitting in their verandah, garden or at roadside tea stalls.

My mom-in-law aka senior Mrs Menon during her growing up years in Kerala had a pet dog whose name was ‘Chundaran’ (such a lovely name to have). I asked mummy  about Chundaran’s diet and was in shock when I came to know that he ate idli-chutney, upma and the like. He lived long and led a very happy life. My mom-in-law still gets teary eyed talking about her favourite Chundaran.

All through my years in Delhi, thanks to my curly hair, people thought I was from Kerala (stereotypes at its best). Well, destiny took all those questions seriously and made me a daughter-in-law of Kerala.

When we were living in Bengaluru, one day I ran down the stairs thinking that my husband was having a fight with the Malayali broker as I overheard them talking in Malayalam. Well, they were at their cordial best and having quite a polite conversation.

After listening to them, I stopped any effort to speak Malayalam. But, hey you can’t bitch about me in Malayalam in front of me. I understand the language well. But, now I seriously want to speak the language fluently.  I hope to do it in this life —- My bucket list.

I now wear Kalumuthi’s  (my husband’s grandmother) necklace. I feel privileged to carry  a slice of history and family heritage with me though I never got the chance to meet her. I keep hearing stories about her life,  her wonderful skills in whipping up delicious dishes and her pearls of wisdom.

My new love in life is karimeen fry. Aah, Kerala take me back to your embrace soon. I want my karimeen.

KERALA

Faith

“I wish I had Hamid’s faith,” I texted to my friend after watching the film titled Hamid on Netflix few days ago.

hamid2

Image credit: Yoodlee films

Hamid got this year’s National Award for the Best Urdu Film and  Talha Arshad Reshi (who acted as Hamid in the film) got the National Award for the  Best Child Actor (He shared it with two other child actors). After getting the award, the director rued the fact that due to the current situation in Kashmir, he had not been able to share this news with young Talha. I hope, Hamid akka Talha now has now received this happy news of him getting the best child actor award.

I am not a qualified film critic so I will not get into that territory of dissecting Hamid through the lens of cinematic language, vocabulary and expression. My canvas here is different.

Hamid touched me for its sheer gentleness, for the poignancy of a story set in Kashmir and the universality of human pain, loss, longing and hope too. Life is a juxtaposition of brutality and tenderness. And that’s why there can be no greater fiction than life itself. But beyond this, as I watched Hamid, I yearned to have faith like little, adorable Hamid had in Allah. His intense love and longing for his father moved me to tears. As Hamid hopes for his father’s return, he seeks the help of Allah through a mobile phone.  And like life, the story unfolds in myriad ways.

Life’s brutal and in course of time, Hamid realises his father would never return. He will never see his father again. But he wants to finish the wooden boat (his father was an artisan and a poet too. Hamid wants to follow his father’s footsteps).

He realises that Allah will not bring back his father. But he moves forward in life and holds on to gentleness in his own sublime ways. In the end, when he receives two metal containers of red paints for his boat by parcel (I will not share the details of how and why here), he says to his mother with a smile, “Allah ne bheja hai “(Allah has sent it).  And then in the end, he takes his  mother on a ride in this beautiful boat painted in deep red. A boat made by his deft yet tender hands. The magic of human hands.

Kashmir with its ethereal physical landscape, bruised emotional landscape has been captured beautifully in Hamid.

As an adult negotiating through life, I often wonder about having a child’s faith and innocence. Hamid took me to that world.

And if there’s one gift I would want from life, I would like to ask for Hamid’s faith.

hamid

The film has a beautiful song titled Hukus Bukus — my favourite Kashmiri folk song.  My Kashmiri friends always talk about this beautiful song with a smile. In happiness and pain, the song gives them a sense of home.

(Below) You can find few lines from the song with a little English translation in the end

“Hukus bukus telli wann che kus
onum batta lodum deag,
shaal kich kich waangano,
Brahmi charas puane chhokum,
Brahmish batanye tekhis tyakha.”

(The Teacher corrects:)

“Itkayne ne Itkayne
Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan su Kus
Moh Batuk Logum Deg
Shwas Khich Khich Wang-mayam
Bhruman daras Poyun chokum
Tekis Takya bane Tyuk”
Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan su Kus

(Who are you and who am I then tell us who is he the creator that permeates through both you and I)

In the end, THERE IS NO OTHER.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘You have cried, so have we’

How does one divide a land? And how do you tell this story to generations who have no idea of the deep loss and grief  millions of people experienced  when the partition of India happened in 1947?

Who decides what story to tell? When to tell? How many stories to tell? Who decides how should we tell the history of a nation to its younger lot? How can we tell these stories so that subsequent generations know the real cost of  hate, prejudices? 

 

partition

During my recent visit to Amritsar, I spent an entire day at the Partition Museum, the only one of its kind in the world. To be there is to be on a pilgrimage. It was deeply moving and engaging to be there. The Partition of India saw  the largest migration in human history and around 20 million people were affected. Yet, for many decades these stories have not been shared. The Partition Museum is all about people and their stories. They have opened their hearts, shared their gut-wrenching experiences and while sharing their stories they have once again lived the horrors of those times. But they have chosen to share their stories. That’s the beauty of the Partition Museum in Amritsar.

Here I am sharing some notes I took while I was there. Photography is not allowed inside the museum (barring at one place) which I think is a fabulous idea.  The physical space of the museum strikes a chord with your inner self. The haunting sound of a train passing by and the installation of an anonymous railway platform stays with you for a long time. This nameless platform is in memory of all those innocent ordinary people who lost their lives in train attacks  and all those who survived this intensely traumatic train journey without food/water as they fled from the land that was their home.  You come closer to stories of loss, grief, betrayal and also the story of hope and the indomitable human spirit to build lives from the ashes.

THE PARTITION … THE LINE THAT DIVIDES 

Sir Cyril Radcliffe had six weeks to draw the border line. He was commissioned to equitably divide 4,50,000 km sq of territory with 88 million people. Radcliffe had never visited India before and he had no idea of its people, landscape and culture. He arrived on July 8 and completed his report by August 12. In an interview later, he said, “I had no alternative, the time at my disposal was so short that I couldn’t do a better job. Given the same period, I would do the same thing. However, if I had two-three years, I would do it differently.”

Following the mindless violence the partition saw, Radcliffe did not take any money for the work he had done. He said, “The people who died, their blood was on my head.”

 

partition1

YOU CAN’T READ LOSS 

Loss is personal yet in many ways it’s universal too. Sudershana Kumari and her parents had to flee their home one evening while they were preparing their dinner. They just jumped from one terrace to another in desperation and left everything that was once theirs. Sudershana was eight then. Decades later, she recounts that horrifying night as tears flow continuously from her eyes. In an extraordinary gesture, she has donated a ‘KARI GLASS’  (among other things) to the museum. She explains, “When you respect a guest, you offer them milk/lassi in a kari glass. As the polish never goes off, it was considered precious.” Her sense of belongingness lies in that glass.

Major Jagat Singh’s family and their village did not migrate initially because they assumed Lahore will be with India. When finally their kafila moved, they were attacked. Singh had just crossed the Ravi river, when he looked back to see his father and many others killed on the other side of the river.

(Radcliffe had said, “By population, property, standards Lahore was originally in India. But then there was no city left for Pakistan. So I took Lahore from India and gave it to Pakistan. From East Pakistan, Calcutta was coming to India.”) 

In Thoha Khalsa village in Rawalpindi, women jumped into the well to protect the honour. In the museum, when you see the well (an installation) under the subtle light you feel a knife cutting through your heart.

THE POOR ALWAYS SUFFERS THE MOST: There were many with no other means came by Kafila, walking miles and miles in the scorching heat and the torrential rains of heavy monsoon. They were particularly vulnerable to attack by mobs. They walked without shelter, sanitation, food and water. Thousands especially the elderly, the sick, the children perished from exhaustion, starvation. They started the journey but never made it to their destination.

WHO CARES ABOUT DALITS? Very less has been written about the Dalits and Partition. To be honest, I myself have not thought about this aspect of the Partition earlier. Dalits could not stay in the main refugee camps and they were also cut off from getting access to clothing and food rations. Rameshwari Nehru, the head of the committee to rehabilitate dalits notes that the land compensation policies excluded dalits as they were viewed as tillers not owners.

partition3

 

HOW DO YOU DIVIDE CULTURE? 

The tragic consequences of the Partition were felt in music, literature, cricket and heritage. In an absurd matter of fact effort at equity, ancient necklaces belonging to Mohenjodaro were broken and an equal number of beads were given to India and Pakistan. Even giving either country one extra bead had to be discussed and put formally on file.

TOWARDS HOPE, LOVE AND LIGHT

The Partition Museum shows us that — We can never win against hate. Hate will consume all of us, sooner or later. Empathy is the only answer.

The last segment of the museum has a tall, elegant Hope Tree. You can leave a message on a piece of paper which is in the shape of leaf. History can be our greatest teacher if  we are willing to learn from our history.

Facing the Hope Tree, there is a board which has following lines of Sufi poet Bulleh Shah. “Entire universe is contained in a single point. The God is found not by those who follow rites and rituals but by those whose hearts are pure.”

Let us move away from hate, prejudices and stay closer to love and empathy. If not now then when?

Farewell

Kashmir… I love the sound of it. It’s my elusive lover. Four times, I have come close to Kashmir but I could never meet Kashmir. A land is like a lover, you might be ready for your lover but the lover is not ready to embrace you. There’s nothing you can do about it till it’s the time. I have my own imagination of Kashmir. Before the onset of every autumn (my favourite season), I always travel to Kashmir in my heart. Today, the whole of India is talking about Kashmir and the scrapping of Article 370. Beyond politics, there’s poetry. Agha Shahid Ali is one of my favourite poets and he was from Kashmir. He died at a young age but his poems are his legacy. He is there. Even in his absence. Here’s the poem titled Farewell by Agha Shahid Ali. 

*************

FAREWELL

At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.
when you left even the stones were buried:
the defenceless would have no weapons.

When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller’s balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
Who is the guardian tonight of the Gates of Paradise?

My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved- all
winter- its crushed fennel.
We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?

In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other’s
reflections.

Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are found like this
centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?

In this country we step out with doors in our arms
Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.

At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me.
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect Enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory:

I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.

The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed- as it withers-toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.

If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn’t
have happened in the world?

I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive.You can’t forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.

There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.

If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?