Yes, I love my curls

Last week, I was sitting in my friend’s beautiful kitchen while she was frying fish. There were four of us — talking, laughing and enjoying a drink. She walked up to me suddenly, put my hair behind my ears and told me, “Deepy, You have such an adorable face, why don’t you just tie your curly hair?” She loves me a lot and she just became the newest member of the brigade propagating this ‘tie your unruly curly hair’ philosophy.

I am the only one in my family who has curly hair. Well, it’s genetic as my father had it. Growing up as a girl with curly hair in small town India (Orissa to be precise) was not a smooth ride. To top it all, being dusky was another major ‘perceived disadvantage.’  So, wherever one went during the adolescent years, scores of self-righteous aunts, uncles looked at your hair and asked, ‘Why don’t you have straight hair?’ Or ‘Why don’t just tie it tightly (so that it won’t look like curly hair)?”

As I grew up in  pre-liberalized India, there was no talk of straightening my hair. But, then I was given numerous other names like ‘Sai Baba’, ‘Pagali (crazy) and “African”.  These name-calling were certainly not a pleasant experience for a young child but never once did I think of having  regrets about not having straight hair like my sisters. In fact, I always felt better-off when I used to see my sisters sitting in front of the mirror and laboriously applying lemon juice and egg whites on their straight hair. Mine was ‘zero maintenance hair.’

As a young adult, being in relationships, the hair issue followed me zealously. Otherwise bright, socially aware men had a problem with curly hair and constantly mentioned about tying my hair in a neat ponytail. Well, this was nothing new to me so it didn’t really affect me. I continued with what I was comfortable doing.

But it was unnerving to encounter strangers commenting on my hair. When I went to file a police complaint in New Delhi after losing my wallet and I-card, I was persistently quizzed by the official in the police station,  ‘Aap toh honge Kerala/Goa se baal jo aap ki aise ghoongaralu hai?”(You must be from Kerala/Goa because you have curly hair.” Till today, I have no idea of the connection between filing a police complaint and curly hair. While travelling in the train from Delhi-Bhubaneswar, generous co-passengers never failed to ask me that question (in between feeding home-cooked vegetable pulao and poori-alu) “beta, aap ka baal aise kyon hai?” (Why do you have hair like this?). Look out of the window, in sheer deseperation.

And then something changed in the mid 1990s. India embraced the path of economic liberalization and with the satellite television, people started noticing fashion and style trends from the West. Perming became a cool word in urban Indians’ hair & style lexicon. And then in 1997, Arundhati Roy won the Man Booker prize for her debut novel God of Small Things. Suddenly she became the poster girl (a huge amount of prize money added to the glam). For the upwardly mobile urban Indians, curly hair became a symbol of being cool, stylish, successful and creative too. Suddenly, everybody wanted to become a writer.

I remember, after a month of Arundhati’s win, I had gone to a salon in Vasant Vihar for a hair-cut. Three rich and stylish women accosted me and asked, “Are your curls natural?” When I said “Yes”, they squealed with delight, “OMG, We love it. It’s like Arundhati’s hair. You are so lucky.” I rolled my eyes in disbelief and actually basked in that compliment. Temporary happiness.

Ironically, years later in 2005, when I was travelling in a train from Jodhpur-Ahmedabad, two young engineering students came up to me and asked me for an autograph. They thought I was Arundhati Roy. I thanked God for their poor eye-sight and told them that their mistake had actually made me happy.

The curly sunshine moments have followed me even after this incident.  When I interviewed one of India’s great ad gurus and noted theatre personalities, in between our long engrossing conversations, he told me “The moment you entered into the room, I knew it would be nice talking to you.” I asked him “What made you think so?” He answered, “Your curly hair. In India, it’s not easy to be a woman with curly hair. I know, you have to fight so many battles against mindsets and stereotypes.”

Well, now I love my mop of curly hair. I can’t really remember when did I last go for a hair-cut because the standard comment of hair stylists is : “Can’t do anything to your curly hair.” I have done google search on cool curly hair styles and taken print outs to give ideas to the hair stylists. But all my diligent efforts have only made me poorer by few thousand bucks without any noteworthy result. So, I am saving the money for a pair of cool mean distressed jeans.

Has life changed for this curly-haired woman? Well, sometimes people ask me, ‘Are you an artist/designer?’ And the obvious reason for asking this question is my curly hair and huge silver rings on my fingers. Well, considering the times we are living in India now, by any stretch of imagination, a journalist can’t be an artist. Sometimes, when in a playful mood, I say, “I am a cook (not a chef).” Go, figure out, my love. If that makes me an artist.

Of course, India has loads of people who will be forever on Darwin’s first stage of evolution till their death. So, in the midst of conversations on people who have influenced us, when I say, “It’s Maya Angelou for me.” Some laugh and say, “Oh, it got to be Maya Angelou for you coz you have crazy curly hair like her. You know that African connection.”

Well, when you have poet-singer-actor-human rights activist Maya Angelou as your role-model, you always remember ‘I know why the caged bird sings.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Right to Privacy

The Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgement on August 24, 2017 unanimously declared that  individual privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right.” I danced in joy when I first read this as a ‘breaking news alert’ on my mobile phone.  It’s a historic judgement and I am really excitedly looking forward to see its ramifications.

In between joy and excitement,  I thought of this conversation I had with my Punjabi co-passenger during a train journey from Manmad to Jalgaon.

She: Where did you stay?
Me: Name of the hotel
She: How much you paid?
Me: The amount
She: Tax vax to hoga ji (there will be some tax amount too)
Me: The amount
She: How did you go to Shani Signapur (A place in Maharashtra, famous for its Shani Temple) ?
Me: Taxi
She: How much you paid?
Me: The amount
She: Indica? AC
Me: Swift?
She: Bhaisaab hai na (meaning my husband)
Me: Haanji
She: How many years have you been married?
Me: Years
She: Family. shamily
Me : Planning (BIG LIE)

And then the icing on the cake of right to privacy

She: I am very good at it

Me: Meaning

She: On teaching how to have babies

Me: Wow. Good for you.

India, a million voices

(I love India.  Deeply and intensely. I can’t imagine myself living in any other country. I love India’s diversity, its delicious food from different regions, mouth-watering mithais  (I will always go for a plate of rabri-jalebi over a blueberry cheese cake), colourful textiles,  delicate craft, the soul-soothing Indian monsoon, the large-hearted Indian Railways, the resilience of the not so privileged to wade through life with grace and grit and endearing voices laced with humor.

We are living in tough times in India now. India of 2017 keeps me awake in the night. I feel hurt, anguished at the way things are shaping up in our country. From being a multi-coloured, huge, rich, layered collage, we are being politically coerced to look at life in a monochromatic little box. I refuse to be a part of this little box.

My India is the land of Gandhi, Kabir, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Bulleh Shah, Raman Maharshi for whom there is no ‘Other’.  My India is large as the Bay of Bengal. As ravishing as the mystical Himalayas. Life is fluid here like the river Ganga, Brahmaputra, Teesta and Godavari. So also time. One doesn’t know where does time begin, where will it end.

The world is looking at India today as India turns 70 on August 15. Through a series on this blog, I am trying to look at India through my experiences. This is the first in the series) 

India is a country of voices. Silence is almost alien to our culture. Our temples are crowded. Our weddings are a lot about voices, giggles, arguments and counter-arguments. We love talking, haggling, bargaining, arguing. For nothing, economist Amartya Sen wrote a book titled ‘Argumentative Indian’. This is a collage of Indian voices which I am trying to weave into this piece. These voices are not related to each other. They are droppings from that caravan called life in India.

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We board the train from Ahmedabad, this train goes to Bengaluru via Manmad. After putting our luggage, we exchange pleasantries with our co-travellers. Suddenly all of us start feeling restless. And we discover that the AC is not working properly. Finally the coach manager is being tracked down. A lady passenger walks up to him and asks him to adjust the AC properly. The coach manager seems to be in an aggressive mood and he says, “This is how the air-conditioned coaches are like.” She gives him a stern look  and says, “Do you think that this is the first time I am travelling in an AC coach?” Well, the argument ends there. The AC starts to work in full swing. And we are all happy.

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This conversation is from my visit to Shirdi, a temple town. Everything happens around the temple. From a dusty little village few years back, it is now in the midst of a construction boom. There are hotels and there are hotels. We are walking on the main street in the evening. The sun is in a mellowed mood. Suddenly, my attention is diverted by cries of ‘Ramphal…. Ramphal’. This is the first time, I am seeing this fruit called Ramphal, it’s a much bigger version of sitaphal (read custard apple). Apparently, it’s only available in Shirdi.

And then comes a beggar woman and she probably takes a liking for me. She follows me and asks “Bhabhi (sister-in-law), please give me some thing.” Well, it definitely sounds endearing. But I am in no mood to give in. She is also in no mood to give up. Then she says, “Didi (elder sister), please give me something.” I keep on walking, pretending that I haven’t heard her. And then she says, “Madam (she gets into a professional mood), give me something.” I am impressed by her creativity and she knows her business. Even as I move forward, she walks behind me and says, “Mataji (O Revered Mother, please give me something.)”

At that time, I just couldn’t control my laughter. We are definitely a creative nation.

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There’s a young boy in my apartment who loves playing cricket. One evening, I see him walking with great confidence (wearing a helmet, pad and gloves) to play a game in the parking space of the apartment. I tell him, “Hello Sachin Tendulkar.” He looks at me,  “Na aunty, Virat Kohli.”  He’s in sync with time.

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I am in a mood to buy some traditional dolls in a local market in Ahmedabad. I ask him the price, he says “Rs 200”. I remember my mother-in-law’s wise words — “Don’t be a fool. When you bargain, just reduce the price to half and then subtract Rs 20.” I try to be wise and say, “Rs 80.” He doesn’t agree but still follows me and urges me to buy. I tell him, “Why are you following me?” He walks faster and goes ahead of me. And then tells me, “Who’s following whom? Me or you?” I start laughing and then the bargaining starts again.

 

 

 

 

Chai romance

tea

Sit by my side,

Let the world run to the coffee shops,

For their share of  frothy cappuccino,

We will sit here,

In this dimly lit room,

On the Midnapore grass mat,

I bought from the Dastkar Nature Bazar,

We will slowly sip our chai,

Mine with sugar, yours without sugar,

We will talk politics, love jihad,

GST and the times we are living in.

You and I

With a cup of chai.

Summer blues

SKY

There’s a sun and there’s an Ahmedabad sun. Our Ahmedabad sun is very active and does not believe in taking a sabbatical.  I hate summer (well, this is an under statement). I always tell my friends if I would have lived in a cold country then I would have won the Nobel prize.

My mind doesn’t work in summer. I am on a pause mode 24×7. This blog is to break the monotony. Break the horrible feeling of not writing anything.  I am only dreaming of cool mountains, crisp fresh breeze and warm cups of tea. Holidays are eluding me. I am diligently working.

I am dreaming of rains. I am soaking in the memories of Odisha’s magical rains. I am basically dreaming to escape the heat, the dust.

I know, I am lucky to work in an air-conditioned office. The other day, I just walked out of the office in the evening. It was sizzling hot even though the sun was getting ready to say a goodbye. I looked at the sky and it looked like a colorful canvas. I captured the sky in my phone camera. Suddenly summer felt soft and sublime. For a nano-second.

An aunt wishes happy birthday

gogol

(Wow. That’s what people say when I tell them that my nephew Sarthak’s birthday is on December 31.  For me, you are the ‘WOW BOY.’ )

It is difficult to be an Indian kid and have only one name. Even when you live in Atlanta. In your school, they call you Sarthak. Your aai (grandmother) used to call you Babu.  Your mom, dad call you Sarthu. Simrita, your loving elder sister dramatically calls you ‘Brother.’ For me, you are Gogol (named after the famous Russian writer Nicolai Gogol).  Sometimes, we also call you – ‘The thinking boy,’ ‘The little Buddha.’

It’s December 31, 2016. You will turn 9 today. I still remember the day when I received a call from your mom telling me that you have arrived. You and I live in two different time zones.  It was evening and I was in my office doing the pages for the next day’s newspaper. Suddenly, I felt as if I were in the clouds.  Deliciously happy and joyful.  Aah, the pleasure of having a nephew.

This is the first time you are celebrating your birthday in India. Here I am sitting on the balcony of the house which my parents and your grandparents lovingly built and writing this. In this house, we have a generation of memories (of your grandparents) tucked away in every nook and corner. And having you on your birthday in India makes me realize that we all are creating beautiful memories for the years ahead.

With your American accent, you now say, “I love India and want to move here.”  You even talk about doing home-schooling in India. In you, I see the magic called life. You take my breath away with your questions, sharp observations and your love for the wonderful world of trees, flowers, sea shells, fish and cats.  I wonder how seamlessly and beautifully you blend into the natural world. When your mother screamed after accidentally touching the tail of an overweight cat beneath the dining table, you non-chalantly said, “Mama screamed like a little gal and it was just a cat.”  When we put  fish in a water container, you said, “Look, look.. that fish is going crazy.”  You wanted a fish expert to come and rescue the female fish(es) so that they can have babies.

I am impressed by your knowledge. From the sparkling world of gemstones like ruby, topaz, sapphire to dinosaurs, you add so much to my knowledge. Talking to you, I realize I have so much to learn and unlearn too. Seeing me sipping my morning drink, you started talk about coffee beans, grinding of beans to make coffee powder. All that I can do is to look at you in amazement.

We talked about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. You told me about Donald Trump’s talks about building a wall. You vehemently said ‘NO’ when I asked you ‘Do you like Donald Trump?’ You said Hillary if elected would have been America’s first female President.

There are times when I see you lost in deep thoughts. You fit in so beautifully to the names we have for you –‘Thinking boy,’ ‘Little Buddha’.

I am amazed at how you turn away from anything that is excess. On a restaurant table full of dishes like rice, hariyali dal, mutton rezala, panner kalia, diwani handi,  chilli mushroom, green peas masala, I saw you happily savoring just butter nan, little spoons of rice and a tiny piece of chicken tikka (which came as a starter.) The overflowing table with dish after dish just didn’t excite you. To see you so happily enjoying that frugal meal felt so joyous. When we went to buy new clothes for you, you tried just one kurta and after that you were least bothered about how many were we buying for you. I marvel at your sense of minimalism. How far are you from this world of excess?  The world of excess which we adults are all mindlessly creating and feeling proud of. There’s so much to learn from you.  You reaffirm my faith that less is more. In you, I see a hope for this amazing universe.

You are an American citizen and many in this world would give up everything they have to flaunt that passport (more from Gujarat where I live). But in you, I see this ancient land called India. I know, the world is changing. India is changing too. Very drastically. There are intimate moments when I feel you are as beautiful, kind, compassionate as our fascinating, layered land called India.

When I gave you the bag of kurtas in the shop and told you, ‘This is your birthday gift’, you told me, ‘No, no I have seen this. There’s no surprise. You have to surprise me.”

I wish you health, knowledge, love for nature and people from all walks of life. And may life always spring up happy surprises for you.

I will wait for the day when you will grow up and read this blog and realize you have been a real wonderful and precious gift to all of us.

We love you deeply. Happy Birthday, Sarthak.

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.

India and its privileged class

Most of India is standing. Standing in serpentine queues in front of banks. Even before the banks have opened their doors, people are standing in queues. All conversations are revolving around Rs 500/Rs 1000.. And then there are some well-fed, well-oiled, net-savvy Indians who genuinely believe that their story is the only story of this vast, diverse country. If I remember correctly, more than 60% of Indians don’t have bank accounts. Yet, there are privileged urban Indians who talk like this:

Why can’t people just use paytm?

(Hello, please make sure that your domestic help, vegetable vendor, garbage collector have access to paytm. It’s like Queen Marie telling ‘let them eat cake.’ )

I commute to work by uber. I have no problem in paying as the money gets automatically deducted from my net wallet.

(Thank you very much for sharing this STATE SECRET)

I just ordered some designer outfits online using my net-banking.

(You definitely deserve a Nobel prize for peace for this extraordinary charity act of yours.)

India should be just cashless. America is so cool in this case.

(Yes, my dear, thanks for having such a wonderful realistic vision of Indian society.)

All my friends are all net-savvy people.

(Yes, your friends are God’s gift to this ancient land called India).

To a large extent, privileges make most people blind. The challenge is to open your eyes and see life and people around you.

The tragedy of India is that one half has no idea of how the other half is living.

My little story of Rs 100

I have my little story of Rs 100. It was early 1980s, I was a school girl. We were living in Cuttack, a town in Orissa. My father was a professor of chemistry and we lived in a beautiful campus. Cuttack is famous for (among many other things) Bali Yatra. Bali Yatra is about a huge fair that is organised to celebrate the memory of Orissa’s brave-hearts who used to sail to Java, Sumatra and Bali (South-East Asia) eons ago for trade and commerce.  It is now part of our maritime history. As kids, we used to wait for days together to go this magical fair which had giant wheels, swings, stalls selling lip-smacking food, artisans selling indigenous crafts, clay toys, dolls and the like. It felt simply magical to be there.

These crowded fairs were also notorious for pick-pocketing. I had gone to the fair with my parents, sisters and an elder cousin too. My dad, as a safety measure, was  keeping his left hand on his shirt pocket which had his wallet and I was holding my father’s right hand and taking my measured steps.  While finding our way through the jostling crowds, in a nano-second somebody picked up my father’s wallet. And the wallet had Rs 100. My father lost his precious hard-earned money.

We all came back home with lots of disappointment.  I remember my mother didn’t eat her dinner that night as she was mourning the loss of Rs 100. I also remember my father urging her to eat her dinner as the money would not come back. But feeling of loss and logic don’t really go together. The memory of my father losing the Rs 100 note in the fair and my mother not eating her dinner has somehow always stayed with me. And somehow that memory of  my mother’s grief that night has always made me treat money with respect.  It gives a me a deep feeling of where I come from. And how I should sail through this world. Not succumbing to mindless consumption.  To respect what I have on my table.    

On November 8,  Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi told the nation that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 will cease  to be legal tender from the midnight. All hell broke loose on the virtual world. My phone kept on ringing, there were endless chats on whatsapp and the like. I sat in front of the television watching the press conference by the Economic Affairs Secretary (an articulate man). And then I sat down to take out the Rs 500, Rs 1000 notes from my wallet.

I have been privileged to have couple of  Rs 100/ 50/ 20 notes to sail through. To manage my daily expense. I am yet to stand in a queue to withdraw or exchange money. I stood in solidarity with one of my colleagues when she went to the bank to exchange money.

I have been extra cautious in my spending for the last three days.  At the same time, I must confess that I am privileged to have debit cards and access to net-banking (I have a credit card too but I don’t use it.) unlike many others in this vast, diverse country.

I want to push myself. I will wait for 2/3 days more. The Rs 100 notes in my wallet give me a kind of strength, pleasure and a deep sense of my roots too.

I wish that the banks will keep a separate line for senior citizens and differently able. That will make their lives a little better in these tough times.

 

Tea

I love tea. I presume tea too loves me.

Tea slows me down. Tea makes me move forward. Tea gives me company. Tea makes me reflect.

Every morning, I drink tea in the same beautiful blue ceramic cup. It’s my own little tea ritual.

Sometimes when I am too sad, I stay away from tea. Sometimes, when I am too happy, I drink cups of tea. One after another.

Tea brings back memories of my loved ones.

teaSometimes when I visit people’s homes or offices, I lie about tea. I say, “I don’t drink tea.” The reason is I am very scared of having over-boiled, sweet, milky tea.

I love my first cup of tea at work. Not in a paper cup but in my own ceramic cup   At 11 am. It makes my day unfold.

I am in mood for a cup of tea. Right now.

This post is an expression of that longing.

Have a cup of chai/tea on my behalf. With love. .