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. .

Mobile India err Smart India

A group of youngsters in cool cafes and swanky restaurants sitting with their frothy cups of cappuccino and nachos. But their eyes are lowered and their fingers are in a ‘fast and furious mode.’ You might think that they are the future Einsteins and Newtons all set to unravel the mysteries of the universe. They are all together but not a single word is exchanged. Their silence is intriguing. But their silence has a reason. They are all hooked to their smartphones. You wonder why did they all come out in a group? They could have actually stayed at home and done the same (alone). Welcome to the new age Mobile India. Phubbing is the buzzword of urban India vocabulary.

 

mobile

India has been seized by a mobile revolution. Believe it or not, the mobile phone users in India are pegged at one billion. We might not have access to safe drinking water and toilets but there will be more than one mobile phones per family.
In the beginning, when mobile phones came to India in the late 90s (actually those days the mobile phones looked like those boxes you need for your geometry classes, some even looked like tiffin boxes), it was like caviar. Very few had it and the majority only mastered the art of ogling at the caviar from a distance. Today, mobile phones are as common as idli, vada pav or even paani puri.
Before you think that I am ‘immobile’ or anti-mobile, I must say that I love the way mobile phones have changed the way we communicate. In times of a crisis or emergency, mobile phones come as a great blessing. I love the way mobile phones act as a great democratic agent of change. I love it when the young girl who helps me at home comes, plug in her mobile phone and attaches it to the speakers and put on Rihana’s ‘Monster’ or Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’  and then goes on the cleaning spree. Well, I find it cool when she uses the bluetooth for ‘transferring’ songs from my playlist. She loves it when I play my age-old favourite ‘Katra Katra’ song from Izzazat. Today she told me, “My sister doesn’t like this song. But I think, she doesn’t have emotions.” She says with a smile, “Didi, accha lagta hai yeh gaana sun ke. (It feels nice to hear this song).” When she decides to take it easy, she sends me a message on whatsapp, “Didi, not coming.” Quick communication at its best. On my birthday, she changed her DP to a photo taken with me. Her ‘smart’ way of celebrating my birthday.
But there’s another side to this ‘mobile’ story. India is hooked to the world of touch. Everybody is in a rush to upload their holiday photographs, nuggets about their love life. From your break-up to make-up, everything you can upload in the virtual world by just the touch of your mobile. The art of conversation in India today is on life support system. India which was famous for its oral traditions may soon have to mourn its death.
WhatsApp has become the cool word. Everybody is on a ‘mobile’ high. You are smart only if you have a smartphone. The buck stops there.
India is hooked to its mobile phones but the users have very little or no knowledge of mobile manners or etiquette. So, in the darkness of movie theaters when you are lost in the magical world of celluloid fantasy, you will be ruthlessly pulled back to this not so pleasant real world with a loud voice telling, “haan bolo (Yes, tell me).” I have actually heard people yelling at their top voices and telling, “Woh share bech do (Sell that share), dusra kharid lo (Buy the other one).” You see, I live Ahmedabad, the city of bulls and bears.  Sensex is orgasmic in this part of the country. Where does the celluloid magic figure, actually?
Even as the sound of people munching their caramel popcorns from their paper buckets   slows down and you breathe in a sense of relief, you suddenly hear a woman telling, “Haan, dinner mein roti aur aloo gobi bana dena. (Make dinner for us).” You don’t curse your destiny, you curse that little smartphone and the hands holding that sans any etiquette.
Mobile phones have become a status symbol. You got to flaunt it. Your cool quotient is directly linked to that little one. The ones owning these little ones are on a rampage. They have seized urban India (including real and virtual world). Thanks to mobile phones, in India every Tom, Dick, Harry (or to be fair, say Sunny, Bunty, Pintoo, Chintoo or Jayesh, Jignesh) is a reincarnation of Henri Cartier Bresson. And not to talk about selfies, welfies and the never ending vocabulary of all ‘fies’ coming together. All the while, you are seeing somebody or the other pouting like Kim Kardashian and clicking a picture of their own or a group. It has become a menace, if you can allow me to say that.
Every other guy aspires to be a Salman Rushdie or should I say Chetan Bhagat (he mints a hell lot of money). And you actually thought, writing or photography is an art? You gotta be joking.

Just grab your smartphone and take a walk. Welcome to Mobile India..

INDIA, A COUNTRY OF EXPERTS

India is a country of experts. Everybody is an expert on anything and everything. Everybody has an opinion on everything.

So, people who can’t even spell badminton properly now have an opinion on why P V Sindhu missed getting the gold medal. People who have never played a game in their butter-laced life dismiss our Rio Olympics participants as lazy, completely devoid of any grit and determination. In their cocooned existence, they can’t understand what it means to be a sportsperson in India. Unless, you are playing cricket..What all our non-cricket sports persons  have to go through to arrive where they have arrived. On the international level. How many parents from privileged background encourage their children to take up a sports?

People can talk about wrestling, boxing, badminton and hockey like they have spent years and years sweating over the games. I am curious to know which sportsperson plays to lose in a game? Who doesn’t love to win an Olympic medal?

And then Mark Zuckerberg has gifted Indians a lethal weapon called Facebook. So, the expert comments need to be shared, liked and gloated over.

Now, these experts can do a great service to mankind only if they keep quiet and take a chill pill.

(In the midst of all this, there are some who also searched about P V Sindhu’s caste on the internet. Only God can save us)

 

Health is wealth. Who said it?

I am looking for the name of the person (read genius) who said, “Health is wealth”. For me, he/she is more important than Marx, Aristotle and Tagore. Everything pales, looks insignificant if you don’t have health. A succulent mutton biryani will taste insipid if you are not in good health.  My mother-in-law says her mother (my grand mother-in-law whom I have never met) used to always say “The best way to leave this world is while you are enjoying a meal, wearing your favourite clothes and talking to your loved ones.” I completely agree with Kalumutti’s (that’s how she’s being referred to) wise words.

I have spent a lot of time in hospitals — running around depressing corridors. I have  waited for hours in front of the doctor’s chambers holding my loved ones’ medical reports in my hand. I have walked into hospitals with tears in my eyes. I have walked out of the  the hospital’s elevator with my mother’s lifeless body on a stretcher. I dread visiting hospitals.

I feel very strongly about India’s pathetic health-care. I feel very angry about the super-expensive private hospitals that look like luxurious hotels. I feel angry about the way we are dealing with health-care making the best available only for the super rich. At the same times,  I feel super rich when I am healthy and when my loved ones are healthy. There’s no greater joy than this.

And here’s to the genius who said health is wealth.

Are tomatoes the new avocados?

tomatoes

 

Tomatoes are now selling for Rs 80 a kilo. Forget about having a tomato salad. It’s a luxury to have a simple potato curry cooked in tomato gravy. Blame it on global warming. Reports mention that the brutal heatwave affected the production of tomatoes. There’s something very serious brewing on the ecology front. The developing nations which previously thought that global warming is a problem of the rich, developed world must now wake up and act on the serious issue of global warming.

I find it surprising and shocking that none of our top political leaders, film-makers, actors, writers (Amitav Ghosh, you are really an exception) and artists are talking about it. And India’s vulgar rich people are still reveling in mindless consumption. I don’t know whether they will ever stop and spare a thought for the ecology. Will they ever celebrate the philosophy that ‘Less is actually more’? Will they ever come forward to say goodbye to the culture of waste now we see in  urban India? There’s a certain elegance in having money yet refusing to consume recklessly.

The poor, the salaried class will have a tough time in the coming days to put up a decent meal on the table. The soaring prices of vegetables are something that will create a hole in the wallet. Needless to say, tomatoes are the new avocados. The poor will try to cook up something without using tomatoes. The rich might just organize a Tomatina festival in his/her garden to celebrate a birthday/anniversary.