Of love Notes, samosas and jalebis

It’s a sudden realization. For the last three weeks, I have been only talking or listening about money. I am also reading quite a lot about money.

I am tired. Don’t get me wrong. I love money. For all the temporary possibilities money offers.

Late last night, I listened to Ravish Kumar’s wonderful talk titled ‘Love in the time of Note Bandi’ in Timeslitfest, New Delhi. The house was deep in slumber. I was the only one sitting in front of a flickering laptop, enjoying the words of Ravish Kumar.

Delhi suddenly felt near, intimate. Geography seemed irrelevant. Airports felt meaningless. Memory and desire felt warm in the heart and veins too. So also the huge, dark gulab jamuns of Aggarwal Sweets in Munrika. The piping hot jalebis of Moonlight. The jalebis felt complete with samosas, they made a happy couple with their sweet-salty combination. Life’s XL pleasures. Managed with little money.

Why do I still remember the taste of those jalebis, gulab jamuns and samosas? Why is it so difficult to let go of young, delicious memories?

jalebi             samosa.jpg

I am thinking of love. Young love. Adult love. Aching love, smiling love, happy love, teary love.

Some loves are so intense and organic that they actually don’t need much money to survive, to flourish. These love stories are wrapped in richness. They don’t need pumping of money to look or feel rich.

These love stories don’t need diamonds, birthday celebrations in swanky five star hotels, Louis Phillipe shirts or LV handbags. They are just rich by their very nature.

On November 9, 2016 morning, some love felt like Rs 100.  And some felt like Rs 1000.

Who knows what lies ahead?

Bur I feel like sitting down one Sunday and counting the chillar (coins) in my little piggy bank. I have a feeling we can still buy a nice meal for both of us with that money.

Let them talk about cashless India, debit cards, credit cards, netbanking, paytm, this and that.

My India is still safe in my little piggy bank.

I want my fingers to be messy with the syrup of jalebis. I love my fingers, I love his fingers. I love it more when our fingers are intertwined. There’s certain mellowness about lovers and their fingers.

I want to run my fingers through his hair. Like I used to do when I was 22.

Neither of us need to be rich to do that.

Of JNU, Emptiness and Azadi

(Yes, I love JNU. If I have to choose something that changed my life and changed the way I see life around me, then it has to be JNU. There’s a JNU in the way I see/love India, its rich diversity, pluralism. There’s a JNU in the way I listen to music, the food I eat and relish, the films I love watching, the way I love people of this land and the way I feel for India’s marginalized communities.  

No, I am not a card holding member of any Communist party. I never was one and will never be one.  I cherish the dreams and imagination of a free, diverse, egalitarian, liberal India. I will fight for your right to say though I might not agree with what you say. And yes, I pay my taxes.  I also enjoy my Macbook Air and I start my day with a cup of Earl Grey tea.)  

‘I am feeling so empty,” I told over phone to my friend who lives in Dubai.  I have never felt so empty before. For the last 2O odd days, I have led a life marked by deep anguish, emptiness and pain. I tried earlier to pen my thoughts but I just couldn’t. Today, I sit down, look back and make a note of myriad thoughts that crossed my mind in the last few weeks. Sometimes at the break of dawn, sometimes in the darkness of night. I am using the symbol of hashtags to express myself because we now live in the ‘banal’ times of hashtags.

#  It was a February late night when before sleeping, I scrolled down the notifications on my Facebook .  I came across a post from a friend (ironically she lives in Nagpur) which mentioned #shutdownjnu. I was too tired to delve into the details. I left it there to sleep.

#  After  JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition, I listened to his speech to understand what he spoke. Yes, he ripped apart the BJP-RSS politics in that speech but I didn’t find it at all anti-national. And being a student activist in JNU in the 90s, I have heard far more scathing speeches. I loved that line in Kanhaiya’s speech, “What are universities for? To critically challenge, the society’s ‘common conscience.” Yes, we need universities to encourage a society to think, question and dissect. A nation is not made of computers, smart phones or tablets. A nation is made of men, women and children who think, imagine, love, debate, discuss. There’s no uniform software.

# Just a day after his arrest, the onslaught of hate speeches on social media happened. Prime Time TV studios felt like war zones. The talks of JNU students being ‘prostitutes/call girls/anti-nationals’ dominated the public space. I put a post on my Facebook timeline celebrating the ethos of JNU and an idea called India. The so-called ‘friends’ came up with choicest abuses. They showed the ugly face of aggression through their comments, personal messages.

# As a social sciences student, I am really curious to understand how do these people harbor so much of hatred, venom, violence within themselves. How do they live, work, sleep and raise children with so much of aggression, violence wthin them?  Yes, they have this AK 47 called Facebook and Twitter accounts and they think they can engage in mindless violence without rhyme or reason.

#   What’s nation? What’s the Idea of India? What’s imagination of a nation? Can a nation exist without imagination? Who makes a nation? These are the questions that have always fascinated me. Where does my cook who can’t now afford a bowl of her favourite Gujarati khatti mithi dal (Thanks to arhar dal being so expensive) figure in this idea of nation?  What about the rivers, forests, mountains and valleys that make this nation so beautiful and the way we are abusing them, destroying them in the name of development?  And who will decide what’s nationalism? Who will define how Indian am I? Will the central government (whether it’s a BJP/Congress/any coalition) decide what is nationalism? Will these governments put a stamp on my love and idea of my nation?

#  How will we thrive as a nation, as a society if our young minds are not engaged in debate/discussion? Why are we so scared of young minds? How will we arrive as a society if our young minds don’t think out of the box? Why are we scared of dream catchers, rebels, thinkers, philosophers, poets, artists? Aren’t ideas/cultures/narratives all about evolving? Where does critical thinking figure in our political/social/cultural narratives? Who are these people who are jumping into conclusions without even discussing?

#   I am not even talking about doctored videos, fake voices. I am not talking about somebody offering Rs 5 lakh for cutting off Kanhaiya’s tongue? Or posters offering Rs 11 lakh to anybody who will shoot Kanhaiya. And who were these masked people shouting slogans in JNU? Why can’t our state machinery/apparatus put a face and name to them?

#  Three of my close friends have lived a life of ‘the other’ in this country. My soul sister is from Manipur and she lived in Delhi for more than 15 years. All through her Delhi years, she was seen as a ‘Nepali’. But never as an Indian. House owners in mainstream India shut doors on her face when she went to pay the deposit money because they couldn’t possibly give the house on rent to a Chinese/Nepali/Chinky. Her face became her greatest enemy. She became ‘the other’ in her own country.  My friend ‘M’ is a Kashmiri Pandit who has lost her home in the valley. She mourns the loss of her beautiful land which now hides behind a veil of pain, anguish. Her voice chokes when she talks of her Kashmir yet she says she feels a sense of joy and warmth when she meets an elderly Kashmiri Muslim woman in a phiran in Delhi. She says time has stood still for her as she can’t connect with today’s Kashmir. Another close friend who’s a Muslim feels like an outsider in the land he loves dearly and warmly. His young daughter was traumatized for days when she was called a ‘Pakistani’ in the school.  I can’t understand urban India’s obsession with Pakistan. Pakistan is not my benchmark so far as the ethos and imagination of a nation is considered. I am sure many will agree with me.  Why should I celebrate a monolithic nation?  India with its vibrant democracy, multi-culturalism, diversity is closest to my heart.

#  Post his release on conditional bail, Kanhaiya Kumar became a prime-time hero thanks to his earthy, fiery, witty speech.  His speech appeared as front page lead in many newspapers. In the times of 24×7 channels and social media, he suddenly became the flavor of the day. ‘Azadi’ became the word of the season. For some, spring suddenly felt more enticing, more young, more beautiful. Was his speech a ground-breaking one which would go down in history?  I will suggest restraint. Let us not go overboard. As a student of JNU (in the 90s), I have heard equally soul-stirring, fiery, political speeches by young student leaders. There were no 24×7 channel television then to beam those speeches across the nation. There were no twitter trending hashtags then. Let us not become a desperate nation looking for momentary heroes or anti-heroes. Let us look at the larger canvas of nation building. Let us think of a nation that gives a fabulous world class education and medical facilities to its poor and marginalized. I liked it when Kanhaiya said in one of his TV interviews, “Speeches alone don’t make for political leadership.” The struggle has to go on. And the toughness of the struggle ahead will decide who is what.  The struggle ahead will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Let truth prevail. Let our young and old minds celebrate ‘azadi’.  Let the young think, imagine, feel and work for those who still can’t afford to study in this beautiful institute of learning in the last range of Arravalis.

Of brutality, tenderness and Gandhi

Pic

Intimacy is strange. But you don’t know when intimacy can turn into brutality. With deep pain in my heart, I felt this. It was a bright, blazing sun outside. The swanky coffee shop of a star hotel was cool though. Three tall glasses of juices sat prettily on the table. And then I saw the face of brutality unfolding in front of me. It was painful to see a person whom I loved dissecting emotions in a clinical way. It ripped apart my heart. I couldn’t sleep that night.

I woke up with a heavy heart. It was a Sunday but I had office to attend to. I was desperate to feel tenderness. I wanted to run away from that memory.

Earlier, in my moments of pain and anguish, I used to always turn to my parents. Sometimes to my father. Sometimes to my mother. Now, I can’t afford that luxury. So, I thought of reading something on Gandhiji for human tenderness. For reposing my faith in life. And this is what I found. In the words of late Madhu Dandavate (an astute politician) on ‘Gandhi’s Human Touch’. As I read this piece, tears flowed down and my heart felt lighter.

For me, Gandhi is the healer. So, if you are feeling desolate, read this beautiful, soul-elevating piece on Gandhi. Or you can just read this for the sheer tenderness. Life will feel beautiful, large.

Dark Calcutta, Glittering Delhi and Gandhi

1947. There was darkness of Calcutta, where Gandhi was giving the healing touch to the society that was torn by Hindu-Muslim riots. And the second flash back would have been the glittering lights of Delhi on the midnight of 14th August 1947, awaiting the dawn of freedom on 15th August 1947. Glittering lights, loud slogans and a poetic assertion of Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who said: “At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps India will awake to life and freedom and a soul of a nation long suppressed will find utterance.” I remember the darkness of Calcutta. I remember the agony of Gandhi. A few weeks prior to Independence Day of 1947, an emissary of Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel was sent to Gandhi at Calcutta, who was working for peace and harmony among the Hindus and Muslims. The emissary reached at midnight. He said: “I have brought an important letter for you from Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel.” “Have you taken your food?”, asked Gandhi. When the emissary said ” No”, Gandhi served him food. And after food, Gandhi opened the letter from Nehru and Patel. They had written: “Bapu you are the father of the nation. 15th August 1947, will be the first Independence Day and we want you to come to Delhi to give us the blessings.” Gandhi said: ” How stupid!. When Bengal is burning, Hindus and Muslims are killing each other and I hear the cries of their agony in the darkness of Calcutta, how can I go to Delhi with the glittering lights?” These were the heart-rending words of Gandhi. He said “I have to live here for the establishment of peace in Bengal and if need be, I have to give up my life for ensuring that there is harmony and peace.” The emissary started for his return journey in the morning. It was a moving sight, full of human touch. Gandhi gave the emissary a sendoff. He was standing below a tree. A dry leaf fell from the tree. Gandhi picked it up and put it on his palm and said: ” My friend, you are going back to Delhi. What gift can Gandhi give to Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel? I am a man without power and wealth. Give this dry leaf to Nehru and Patel, as my first Independence day gift.” And when he was saying this, tears came from the eyes of the emissary. And with a sense of humour Gandhi said: ” How great is God? He did not want Gandhi to send that dry leaf. He made it wet. It is glistening with laughter. Carry this leaf as a gift full of your tears.” That was Gandhi’s human touch.

Political orgasm

aap Politics fascinates me. I am addicted to politics. The ‘Sahu-Menon’ household is talking, eating and sleeping Delhi  elections for last few days. I think, hubby dear seems to be more excited than Arvind Kejriwal’s wife. He woke me up today at 6.30 in the morning to watch news (I went back to sleep after telling him that the counting will only start at 8 in the morning). It’s a happy day for me (understatement… I am toooo happy),  thanks to the magnificent landslide victory of AAP in Delhi Assembly Elections. Political orgasm … that’s how I can describe my feeling right now.  No, I am not a die-hard supporter of Arvind Kejriwal. But it’s the arrogance of the BJP and its politics of strong Hindu fundamentalism laced with dollops of anti-minority stance  that puts me off completely. I strongly believe in secularism and inclusive economic growth. The beauty of Indian democracy is that it can really spring up surprises and it shows its door to arrogance. We as a nation collectively did in 1977, 1980, 2004,2014… we have done it and we will continue to do it. I have great faith in India and its diverse canvas. Now, it is up to Arvind Kejriwal and his team to put up a show of good governance. Rhetoric(s) will not work in the long run.

On a lighter vein, politics also brings out humor in people. Here are some gems from Facebook status updates

बड़ा मन है कि श्री अमित भाई शाह के बेटे की शादी में गेट क्रैश कर उन्हें बूंदी का बड़ा लड्डू खिलाऊँ।  (BJP president Amit Shah’s son got married today,  Feb 10… so you can connect)

I cant bear the tension any more. I am going out to buy a jhadu.

So muffler-wearing now compulsory? No Saville row suits? Gosh

मफलर बिहार में छोड़ कर बहुत खुश था. नही पता था कि दिल्ली में यह एक दिन बहुत पॉपुलर हो जायेगा.

SWACHCH BHARAT AVIJAN started at Delhi,

21 LOVE AND MONEY

I don’t understand money. But I love money. I respect money. I have lot of respect for men and women who earn their money through hard work and honesty. I believe money can change lives. Yes, money can be destructive. But then passion can be too.
One of the greatest highs of my life was when I got my first pay check. I started my first job with a Delhi based research organisation and my first project was ‘Juvenile Delinquency and impact of mass media.’ Getting the first salary was equivalent to having a feeling of freedom. Its sweet taste lingered in the mouth for a long time and erased the pain of a really hurtful break-up I just had then. I still remember the thrill of taking a DTC bus and going to Connaught Place to do justice to my first salary. I bought my Kodak Korma camera for Rs 1500 from Studio India. The handsome elderly gentleman who owned the store said to me lovingly “May you have years of exciting journey with this one.” Seventeen years have passed since then and I still have that camera (I must add that my husband has changed more than six cameras in last three years). On the same day, I also bought the music cassette of Scorpion (those days everybody sang ‘Winds of Change’, ‘Still loving you’ and ‘Always Somewhere’). I still listen to ‘Still loving you’ and ‘Always Somewhere.’ Now on a blackberry connected to an iball speaker.
In the mid 90s, money was never much. And even when I changed my job to India’s leading news agency, money was still not at all impressive from any point of view. We used to call ourselves ‘moongphali patrakar.’ Moreover, finding a flat in South Delhi  in limited money was not an easy task. But somehow we sailed through— you know there’s something called chance or luck. I had no money to buy impressive artworks or artefacts to fill up the blank walls in my home but I did go to the Cottage Emporium to buy a huge batik painting of Buddha and got it framed. If it’s my home, it got to have table lamps (daddy darling, you must be laughing from up above there for this obsession of mine). I did go slow on my expenditure to bring home that beautiful table lamp from the Cottage Emporium. Little money made me ‘think creative’. So I bought three colourful matkas from a roadside potter and just kept them in one corner of the room to add that element of ‘ethnic, colourful touch’ to the decor.
Strange as it might sound, I never had then any feeling of deprivation. I still don’t have any. I am happy with what I have. I am not the one who romanticises lack of money. I personally feel poverty is the greatest curse on earth. Not being able to buy the medicine you want to buy for your loved one can be soul destroying. At the same time, to nurture a material desire, saving money for it and then buying it is also a great act of pleasure.
But looking back, I feel that those days I along with my friends had no concept of saving. Anybody who had a little more than Rs 5000 in the bank (in our friend circle) was envied!!! And when my back account showed an amount of Rs 10,000, I happily booked a second class ticket in Tamil Nadu express and travelled all alone from Delhi to Kanya Kumari. Credit cards were not popular then. So, I had taken my money in Travellor’s cheque and I did manage to save a part of it too. The pleasure money gave those days were pure, unadulterated. When we had less, we lived for the moment. When we have more, we live for tomorrow.
Indulgence at home came in the form of fruit custard and chicken curry with chunks of potatoes. And indulgence outside meant relishing an ice-cream named as 21 love or Manhatten Mania at Nirula’s. Nothing matched the joy of having a Chinese meal at Golden Dragon in Panchsheel Park. On most occasions, the dishes we ordered were the same —  Golden Dragon special fried rice, chilly chicken dry and diced vegetable in hot garlic sauce.
It’s a different story now. Money has different connotation now. But I still don’t understand money even though I love it. And after all these years of being in a profession laced with temptations, I am sure of one thing —- Money can’t buy my soul, my heart, my core. I would rather happily eat a humble meal at my home than have a ‘free’ meal at a swanky five star restaurant. I will not have the burden of ‘obligations’. I will earn every morsel on my plate through my hard work and my skill.
And yes I do miss Nirula’s 21 love and Manhatten Mania.  More so when I am in Ahmedabad—!!!!!

PS: I read somewhere that when the gypsies curse, they say “MAY YOU WIN A LOTTERY.”

Grief has no name

Nirbhaya, Damini, Amanat —- the media has given her different names. I despise this patriarchal act of calling her by these names.

I don’t know her name. I need not know. I cry for her without knowing how she looked. She passed away in an alien land after putting up a brave fight for 12 days. ‘I want to live’, that’s what she said after gaining her senses in the Safdarjung hospital where she was admitted after being brutally raped in a bus in Delhi. I just can’t stop thinking about her pain, her trauma and the brutality of the demons who raped her. The grief is overwhelming. For last two days, I feel as if I have lost something very precious, very prized, very intimate.
For years as a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), I spent many mornings and evenings at the same bus stop in Munrika from where she boarded the bus on that fateful night. The landscape is too familiar to me. I can’t stop thinking about what gut-wrenching pain she must have gone through in that moving bus when six men raped her with a brutality that can’t be described in word.
She was a brilliant student. She was a talented painter too. Newspaper reports say her friends were always in awe of her beautiful handwriting. In her neighbourhood, she was everyone’s role model. “Be like her”, that’s what every parent told their children. Her parents had put all their hopes on her. Coming from a humble background, she aspired to rise higher in life. She dreamt of a brighter tomorrow for her, for her parents, for her young brothers. As a physiotherapist, she wanted to heal people.
With her indomitable spirit and a burning desire to excel, she could have done it all with élan. She would have made her family proud by moving up in the ladder. But a patriarchal society called India didn’t think twice before crushing her very existence. She was just 23.
Few weeks from now, the candles flickering in the protest gatherings will slowly die a natural death. Champagne glasses will clink at official banquets raising a toast to our sensex and India emerging as a global power. ‘Always with you”— politicians and police personnel will scream at the slightest opportunity. But for her family, it will be a void that can never be fulfilled. No matter what action the government takes now, she will not come back. Even though she badly wanted to live. India has failed her collectively.

P S:  What makes a human being so brutal? How could these six men be so violent in their thought and action? What are we becoming as a society? And the person who did maximum damage to her physical being is a minor. He will turn 18 years in few months from now. There are every chance that he will get away with this heinous crime by just three years of confinement.

Reverse snobbery

Last week, I was at the house of a rich and famous person in Ahmedabad (it was work related). As we settled down for a chat, the couple insisted that I should have a cup of tea. I generally refrain from having tea in people’s house as I am not particularly fond of having milk tea and most people in India have this fascination for overboiled sugary tea with excess milk. The couple kept on telling, “Deepika, you must have tea at our place. We serve very good tea. The tea is exotic in our house.” Being a tea-lover (I aspire to be a tea sommelier some time in my life), I thought I would get a chance to savor some sweet sakura tea or a cup of lapsang souchong. After much ‘you must have our tea’ talk, finally I settled down for a cuppa.  It was Twinning Earl Grey Tea. I blurted out, “Oh, this is what I have been drinking since 1996. Never thought it to be exotic (Trust me not to do aggressive marketing for my kind of lifestyle). This blog is inspired by that ‘couple’ act on a muggy July evening.

I was in Grade III, when a nagging little friend of mine kept on telling, “Oh Deepika, you don’t have a slacks in your wardrobe (Slacks in those days was what lycra leggings are now).” Her father was an engineer (read corrupt) and that definitely gave her an edge in terms of wardrobe. Immediately, I asked her, “Do you know who’s Piloo Modi?” I don’t know why  I blurted out Piloo Modi’s name (I had heard of my father discussing something about Piloo Modi). Trust me, with that AK47 shot, I silenced Miss Slacks for all times to come. Retrospectively speaking, I had by then learnt the art of reverse snobbery. Unknowingly.
I was a ranker throughout my academic career and also quite good in elocution, essay-writing and the like (I wish I should have learnt music, dance or pottery). So, there I was with my limited shoe-skirt collection— a person with whom no one would like to pick up a fight. Coz she knew how to deal with morons. With my father’s limited government salary, I always felt like a millionaire’s daughter. In every sense of the term. Knowledge was asset in my balance sheet. I scored high on that.
Getting into the high-brow world of JNU was an icing on my cake called reverse snobbery. (If you don’t know then here’s a piece of information for you — Jawaharlal Nehru University is the best university in the country, according to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council which has given the university a grade of 3.9 out of 4, the highest grade awarded to any educational institution in the country).  Believe it or not, till now I have not seen Dilwale Dulhniya Le Jayenge (but I love SRK). Well, we all in our refined snobbery saw all international films — Iranian, Korean, French, Japanese and the like. Once in a while, we saw movies like Bazaar, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon aata hai in the campus. Of course, I must add that Bollywood was not so all pervasive as it’s now. We thought we were the style icons of the world with our colorful kurtas from Khadi Bhandar and kolhapuri chappals. We didn’t think twice before entering into plush Vasant Continental (it changed its name afterwards) in our so very ‘desi’ avatar. We seriously thought we are God’s gift to India and the country should be proud to have us as its young thinking critical minds. We had the arrogance of Karl Marx, Fukuyama and Noam Chomsky. We didn’t have a care in the world. I also believe that the world outside (read petty bourgeoise) dismissed us as ‘pseudo intellectuals. When we felt rich, we ordered a plate of American chopsuey and hot steaming pork momos from an eatery in the campus. After a bottle of Old Monk, everything tasted divine. We were content in our own world. Money was a clear loser in our world of fine grey cells. Nothing was absolute. Neither love nor break-ups. With a Wills Navycut in our hand, a look from the corner of our eyes was enough to dismiss mundane souls who were not qualified to be a part of our world.
Even when I became a journalist, the same attitude travelled with me from the campus to my working desk. We never thought that we had less money (our payslips were pathetic). We worked long hours, did feature stories (in addition to our regular work)— less for bylines, more for the money. Many evenings were dedicated to endless conversations, vodka, rice and chicken curry. Delhi felt secure and comfortable in our glasses. Frequent night-shifts made sure that we didn’t have a very active social life (hence less spending on outings too) and colleagues became close friends.
I don’t know why and when life changed for me. And as the Odiya saying goes,“Even cats will bite soft iron.” I don’t remember when and why I became like soft iron (which the cats just love biting). I don’t know when did my ‘Great Decline’ start?  Was it because I saw my mom’s battle against cancer? Or was it because a part of me died seeing my father sccumbing to a long painful battle which was so very unfair for a brilliant and creative person like him. Suddenly I felt as if my world has crumbled around me. And in that desolate sense of mind, I allowed a lot of mediocre men and women in my life. I allowed catty remarks, fake sympathy to seep into my life. I forgot what my dad brought me up to be.  As my long-time intellectual friend says, “When did you accumulate all these cobwebs in your life, darling?” That’s right, dear.

Right now, I am in a mood to take a retro look and once again embrace my original self. Today, I feel the power of my beautiful intelligent curious mind. Dad, this is is for you.

So, I m going back to my Grade III. I don’t drive a car but do you know about  El Nino or carbon footprints? Moron, go and get a life. Let me turn to Murakami. With a cup of Earl Grey tea.

P S:  Interestingly,  20 minutes after writing this post, I lost my mobile phone. I see it as a message from the Universe. To permanently delete the morons from my contact list. I am not even trying to get those numbers. A cleansing act for cobwebs.

An addiction called JNU

In 2008 August as I  was standing on the steps of the International Guest house in JNU, I could hear somebody strumming the guitar and singing John Lenon’s ‘Imagine’. The song flowing gently from a distance on that muggy evening brought back a thousand splendid memories of my own JNU years even as tears welled up in my eyes. JNU is not just a university where you come for a degree. JNU is a world which can change your life for ever if you are open to embrace it in the true spirit.
When a senior journalist friend of mine asked recently ‘How did you remember the beginning?” I said ” Tinannemein square massacre.”  He found my answer funny. But that’s how I see the beginning.
After spending soporific years in Orissa, getting into JNU was a liberating experience. That was for the first time, I was staying away from home. The bougenvella laced red brick structure at the first meeting looked enchanting, enticing and quite alluring too. There was an intense desire within me to soak in the atmosphere that smelt of liberal outlook, unbiased attitude and most importantly a heaven for women.
And for the first time, learning was not just limited to classrooms. The hostel mess which gave us our staple meals thrice a day turned into a place for intellectual discourse on varied subjects post dinner. Ordinary meals turned into gourmet meals thanks to the stack of pamphlets on various national and international issues kept in the hostel dining hall. And before I could even realise, within two months of joining JNU, there I was contesting the elections for the post of councillor, School of International Studies (SIS). Well, I still continue to be the only person from my family who has ever contested the election in their student days. More than winning the election, the lessons learnt from the process have stayed with me even after two decades. Fighting an election without a single penny was like biting a slice of heaven. As a newcomer, I had my first taste of endless election debates on Cuba, China, Soviet Union which went on till wee hours. It took me some part to understand it all but nevertheless I soaked it all, revelled in it.
There’s a classroom every where in JNU, the last range of the Arravalis. From the Ganga dhaba, Jhelum lawns to the Social Sciences Auditorium, there was always something new to learn, something to cherish for all years to come. From the Dalai Lama, George Fernandes to late comrade Vinod Mishra, I enjoyed their speeches and the question-answer sessions. The doors were always open for an alternate view. Even without a murmur, JNU always gently made ways for letting thousand flowers bloom in their own ways.  I effortlessly fell in love with cotton kurtas and kolhapuri chappals and the love for cottons has only become more intense over the years. From a class obsessed society in Orissa, I moved to a whole new world where I learnt to respect people for what they are rather than from where they come. The bhaiyas in the hostel mess became guardian angels who gave me always extra servings of potatoes from the sabzi and lovingly also called me “aloowali madam.” Camaraderie became the new word in my dictionary. Subconsciously I learnt to embrace values of love, dignity and compassion sans any caste, class and religion.
It’s difficult not to fall in love when you are a part of this beautiful campus. So there I was soaking in the beauty of love with a guy who (true to JNU’s reputation of being left bastion) believed in changing the lives of millions through an armed revolution. We belonged to two different political worlds. Yet that never took away the elegance of the relationship.
I consider my JNU years more special than many others because in those years we were witness to the disintegration of Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Mandal Commission report and most importantly the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Those historic events which happened outside the campus created ripples within JNU and needless to say  all those absorbing discourses and debates I participated and listened to changed the way I perceived India, identity and self.
Today it’s a different story. I have moved away from JNU in which I discovered love, tenderness, political understanding and a larger vision of the world outside. Today I have found love and companionship in people I have met at work in different cities or through a mutual friend or at an art workshop. And they all have opened their doors to let me be a part of their world. Without seeing bougainvillea laced red brick structure on the last range of Arravalis. Without having an inkling of how I looked those days.
I am married to somebody who is an outsider to that intimate world called JNU. I have also mellowed down a bit from my student days. And at the end of the day, I am still very happy and content without owning that LCD television or that swanky car. I am happy listening to the same old songs of  John Lenon, Bob Dylon and Cat Stevens which filled up my top floor room in Ganga hostel years ago. And on days when I feel low, I still pick up a collection of Pablo Neruda’s poems from my bookshelf which brings back a smile on my face. And one of my close  friends is the same guy whom I loved intensely and could not marry for different reasons. And we still argue for hours on phone on issues relating to gender and identity in contemporary India. Well, could it have ever ended in this beautiful way had I not been a part of that wonderful world called JNU. I think, it would  not have been. Thank you, JNU.

Of parathas, Punjabis and more….

I grew up in Orissa in the pre-liberalisation era when satellite television was still a far dream. And I grew up on a staple diet of Oriya food. Masala dosas were the only luxury we had once in a while from outside and it was considered as a real celebration. Paneer butter masala……. well it was an alien in my mother’s kitchen which smelt of mustard oil and paanch phoran. But interestingly, the first story I wrote as a nine year old had one Mrs Malhotra as the protagonist (blame it on the endless reading of soppy short stories I read in magazines bought by mother). Without even knowing it, I had my first brush with Punjabis through Mrs Malhotra. In life, many times you do things without even realising it.
Punjabis became a part of my life when I moved to Delhi for my higher studies. In the hyper-active lanes and bylanes of Karol Bagh, I got stories that would keep me going for the rest of my life. Aloo parathas suddenly had a special place in my life. I still long for them on a mild winter morning (well, I must say nobody can make parathas like Punjabis though my Gujarati cook boasts that what Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket, she is to exactly the same to ‘paratha making’. ). And how can I forget spicy aloo gobi, paneer butter masala and rajma chawal (hey, did you say the dirty word calorie….well ‘khate pite’ ghar ki log hai hum).
After living in different parts of India, I think only Punjabis can make you laugh, cry at the same time and the buck doesn’t stop there only. And after a roller coaster ride, they can feed you as if nothing has happened. They can call you ‘beta’ in the very first meeting and 15 minutes into the meeting after a supply of chhole bhature, gobi paratha, gajar ki halwa you will be doubting your own mom’s exstence. But then as you swear by Malhotra uncleji and Reetu auntyji, an earthquake with a Richer scale of 8.4 will rock your very existence and you will be running for cover. Such is the power of Malhotra and Co. The moment you enter into the house, somebody will come to you with a glass of water on a tray almost like a spring. And then comes the next ballistic missiles (common to all Punjabis) “Chai, coffee aur cold drink?” Never had a South-Indian asking me this question (their offers are always limited.) Please don’t think that I am anti South-Indian (I am married to one for last 11 years)
I lived among Punjabis in South Delhi for years. Gregarious they are… unlike South-Indians. When we had a monkey visitng our house in a ground floor apartment in Delhi, it was only our Punjabi uncle (next door neighbour) who came forward to help us in saying goodbye to the unwanted guest. But that was not the one occasion uncle was ‘active’. Every time a friend walked out of our house in a short skirt, uncle’s eyes were ‘active.’ But then let me be fair, uncle was just doing something which is so very ‘man’ ly.
Punjabis know how to live life and of course show off to the entire world. Have money, will show… is the mantra they ‘jap’ everyday without fail. And if your neighbour has a 32 inch LCD TV then you have to buy a 42 inch LCD TV just to show him that your bank account is really loaded. Every Punjabi living room looks the same. The sofas are always huge, the crystal (on most occasions fake) flower vase is always there and the curtains are rich gloden or deep red. The opulence has to be there.. the lack of it will put you on the bottom of the ladder (it’s always like a snake and ladder game).
I never knew that I will miss Punjabis per se. But I missed them like crazy when I went to Bangalore in 1998. I missed that laughter in gay abandan. I missed the tiffin dabbas sent to us by our Punjabi neighboures which had dozens of ghee laden aloo/ gobi parathas, paneer ki sabzi and achar. I missed that word ‘beta’ which Punjabis use 10 times in a 3 minute conversation.
And one of the most dominant image that still come to mind is young Punjabi brides wearing tight fitting jeans and T shirts teamed with chudas and sindoor. Years after I have left Delhi, when I see a young girl in this ‘avatar’ immediately I feel a rush of happiness within myself. And my mouth can almost feel the tingling taste of aloo paratha/ spicy aloo gobi. And I can almost hear that sentence “aur kya haal hai ji?” The world within me seems at peace.