Category Archives: Life

The language that runs in my blood

odiyaI don’t remember the exact year. But it was early 1990s. My friend and I were going to Connaught place (New Delhi)  in bus no 615 (from JNU). We were talking in Odia (the language spoken in Odisha) and just before we alighted from the bus, a co-passenger asked us. “Which language is this?” My friend without batting an eye-lid said, “Italian.” We got down from the bus and laughed to our heart’s content. It felt exhilarating to be able to speak in a language that somebody standing next to us couldn’t understand.

I have always relished the fact that I can speak another language fluently other than English and Hindi. I love languages and love collecting words in different languages and write them down in my notebook, mobile phone, mind and heart. Odia is my mother tongue and that’s the language I first learnt to speak.

I remember spending beautiful evenings under a cloudy sky listening to Chittaranjan Jena’s soul soothing song, ‘Mo priya tharu kiye addhik sundar, ediki manoi jiha se…’ (There’s no one more beautiful than my beloved… but she is so moody that only when she’s in a mood she tells me that she’s mine) and Shekhar Ghosh’s ‘Hridayara ei sunayata ku’ (When I ask the emptiness of my heart). I learnt English before I picked up Hindi. I loved English as a language and always scored well too, making my father feel very happy. I was equally good in Odia and my favourite leisure activity was reading all kind of adult literature (mostly novels and short stories) in Odia. Some of the stuff I read, I didn’t understand at all. Nevertheless I just read the books. For the sheer pleasure of travelling through the forbidden territory. My mother had kept away one such novel far away from me in one of her secret shelves. The little devil in me egged me to hungrily finish that novel when she was fast asleep in the afternoon. I think I read that novel faster than a Sukhoi 30.

As a child, I never felt attracted to Hindi as the teacher was not that exciting. He was an old man who was lost in his own world and didn’t pay much attention to our young inquisitive minds. I wish I had somebody to teach me Hindi well in school. I love the sound of Hindi, I love the beautiful, mesmerizing world of Hindustani. I deeply regret not exploring the rich textured world of Hindi literature. But I remember the first Hindi word that left an impression in my mind. The word was ‘kachchi dhup’.   One of my friends had just shifted to Odisha from Bihar and she was good in Hindi. She explained the meaning of the word to me. I remember standing in our garden early in the morning and telling to myself, “Oh, this is kachchi dhup (tender sunlight) playing with me.”

For three years in school, I flirted warmly with Sanskrit and enjoyed listening to the Sanskrit news bulletin on All India Radio (AIR).  It was a highly pleasurable activity for me even though I didn’t understand much. The other day in the newsroom at work, we were talking about our childhood memories and then I started, “Eyam Akashvani. Samparti bartah suniryatam. Prabachika Deepika.(as they used to start the Sanskrit news bulletin on AIR). Everybody burst into laughing. The three language formula in school gave me enough joy to fleet in from one world of language to another.

Now my fourth language is Gujarati. For this, I owe a lot to Taraben, my cook. She didn’t understand Hindi when she became a part of my home and world. So, I had to make an effort to learn Gujarati and now I can speak Gujarati and manage to read it if it’s written in bold letters. I hope, one day I will be able to read a Gujarati newspaper completely. I want to push myself. I want to do it.

Language feels like a trusted companion in my personal and professional world. I feel lost without language. We need to embrace each other for my own sanity. Language is the lover I love spending time with. I need to hold language in my heart. I need an effortless relationship with languages. Languages are not just about words. Languages are about emotions. Languages have a feel of warmth in them. Sometimes, I feel the salty breeze of Bay of Bengal in my mouth as I speak to my childhood friend of 30 odd years in Odiya.  Sometimes I feel the taste of a lightly spiced fish curry and mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil, finely sliced onion and green chili, when I go through old letters of my mother written some twenty odd years ago. Sometimes it gives me a strange of comfort while sitting in my apartment in Ahmedabad, only I can relish the content of the letters written in Devnagari script. It feels very intimate and special.

As I flaunt my grey hair with gay abandon, I now look at languages with a kind of warmth and fondness. I remember my maternal grandmother who always carried a basket of Odiya proverbs with her. She was a tough lady who believed in dishing out a proverb or two at the right moment. She never missed a chance. She had mastered the art of firing proverbs with missile like perfection.

Even as India surges ahead on the path of globalization, we need to protect our languages. It still amuses me when I see upwardly mobile Odia parents speaking to their children in English or Hindi at home but not in Odia. Years ago, a young man asked me “So you speak Odissi at home?” He was then studying in a prestigious college in New Delhi. I looked at him and said, “I speak at home. I don’t dance.” (For the uninitiated, Odissi is a form of Indian classical dance.)

As I indulge myself in English literature, conversations and music, I feel I need to move a bit closer to my mother tongue now.  I can no longer write a poem in Odia. The language is in the process of distancing from me as I am not nurturing it with tenderness and dedication. I have been an inconsistent lover. The touch of ‘sahitya’ is missing in my mother tongue. I am losing a slice of my love. I can’t remember when did I write a letter in my mother-tongue? May be a decade ago. But I now feel the desire to do so..

Now I listen to Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosale, Mohit Chauhan, Elton John,  Cat Stevens, Mariah Carey, and Adele.  I no longer listen to Akshaya Mohanty, Chittaranjan Jena and Prafulla Kar. They are childhood memories carefully tucked away in some corners of my heart. Their songs are on a pause mode for me. Their voices no longer waft through my home.

Most importantly, I express love in English. On rare occasions, I do it in Hindi. My love has a language that was never in my blood. Never in my vein. I express love in a language that has been far more global than mine actually. A language that has a limited vocabulary  for fire, water, earth and sky. Leave alone love. English makes it easier for me to write a love letter. It enables me to shed my inhibitions. To create a different world than the world I am familiar with.

In strange ways, I now stay connected to the language I first spoke. I speak in Odia to the visiting pigeons who come and happily sit on my balcony wall and sometimes wander aimlessly in my living room. I ask them in Odia, “Are you paying the rent? Why are you going and banging yourself against the glass window? When will you have some intelligence?” I make a mental note of my ‘TO DO’ lists in Odia. When I am desperate, .I talk to my late mother in my mother tongue asking her to make things easy for me. I tell her, “Why did you go up there when I want you to be here? If you are not here, then at least make life easy for me.” I feel a sense of peace and resonance when I talk to her in the language she taught me to speak and encouraged me immensely to explore. And unknowingly, she gave me a chance to discover adult literature when I was very young,  She gave me an entry ticket to the wonderful La La Land called ‘Imagination.’ I will be eternally grateful to my mother for introducing me to Dr Kunjabihari Das, the doyen of Odiya language and his seminal works on proverbs, Lok katha.

Right now, I am feeling a lot more closer to the language that runs in my blood. Even though I am writing this piece in a language that is not mine. Some emotions or memories always stay true and authentic even though you express in a language that is not actually yours.

 

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WE ARE 25

(In times of instant noodles, coffee and dating apps— we just celebrated 25 years of being together. This togetherness is beyond any structure, legality or shared surnames)
1. All the cups of chai I enjoyed with you and all the chai I had thinking of you.

2. All the e-mail notes I wrote and all the phone calls you made

3. Crispy fried chicken from Nirula’s and also enjoying a Manhatten Mania ice-cream while walking from Vasant Vihar to the last range of Aravalis (figure out what’s)

4. Gulzar’s ‘Katra Katra’ from Izzazat — still playing on

5. Our mutual love for poori-aloo ki sabzi

6, When Moonlight samosas and jalebis were bought with love and affection

7. Learning to make chicken curry and actually doing it well with a desire to cook a nice meal for you.

8 Living up to the image of ‘Argumentative Indians’ in front of each other

9. To perspectives, experiences and discovering

10 For all our grey hair and all the love that come with it

11. Long sleeve white kurtas and blue jeans you wore

12. Conversations that continued in the stillness of the night and finally waking up

between fantasy and reality

13. For the India within us, the India we are dreaming of

14 Our deep love for Gandhi and his thoughts

15. To that extra-ordinarily beautiful rainy night on the rock. Not many are as lucky as we are.

16. 236 Jhelum — bare walls, mattress on the floor yet it felt so complete

17. Politics — wholly, partly but substantial too

18. To that unexplained feeling that this relationship will survive against all odds

19. For not tying my hair even though you wanted me to do that (rebel without a cause)

20. Sitting on the verandah of the Sabarmati Ashram with you by my side (my spiritual home in every sense of the term)

21. Longing and belonging — in between sunrise and sunset

22. Love and affection — beyond context and structure

23. All the ear-rings you bought for me, my love

24. Marx, Gandhi, Rumi, Kabir — discovering all of them in one life and then embracing and celebrating

25. To the clock that has ticked diligently for the last 25 years even as we loved, laughed and fought occasionally too.

Here’s to LIFE and to all the lovers across the world

David & The Land of Mahatma

It was a beautiful mellowed June evening. The sky was grey, there was something romantic about the waves hitting against the rocks. We had just reached Fort Kochi in God’s own country after a long gruelling journey. But the tiredness of the journey just melted when we saw the vast encompassing ocean.

Fort Kochi

As we were walking under the clouds, suddenly we heard a young voice greeting us with a  ‘Hi.’ We stopped and he introduced himself, “I am David. I run a restaurant here. We serve seafood delicacies for lunch and dinner.” David added, “My father is a fisherman. So he brings the fresh catch and we cook it in the restaurant.”

And then he asked all three of us for introduction. My friends live in Dubai and Mumbai. When I told him, “I am from Ahmedabad.” Immediately, with a twinkle in his eyes, David said, “Oh! you are from the Land of Mahatma. How wonderful.”

Hearing that, my heart swelled with pride. Ahmedabad is the city in which Gandhiji established his Sabarmati Ashram and changed the course of India’s destiny. I am happy that David recognised that essence of India. These are difficult times. The world needs Gandhi more than ever.

 

 

 

 

Of six years & 100 minutes

She is one person who is really close to my heart. We worked together in Delhi years ago and became close friends. We are soul sisters but the irony is that we also lose touch with each other and then after some years we again find each other. This time, it was for six years. I last talked to her in 2012.

Few days back, I was talking about her to my younger colleagues. On an impulse, I tried to track her in Facebook but I couldn’t find her there (I have lost her mobile number). I logged on to twitter, saw her profile. I couldn’t send her a direct message. So I tweeted, “…where are you? You nut case..a slice of my heart walking outside my body.”

She started following me and then we got into chatting via direct messaging. There was so much to talk. Finally, we talked to each other on phone on Monday night (as she was having her weekly off day and I finished work early).

She had no idea that I have lost my mother in 2013. I had no idea that her father (whom I lovingly call uncle) is now lying in a state of semi coma for last four years. I had no idea that she had a harrowing  experience while chasing dreams in London. My eyes welled up in tears as I was listening to her. She said, “My dad was like a huge beautiful oak tree under which I flourished and drew strength from. And today, he doesn’t even recognize me.”

There’s no answer to loss. You can only feel loss in your heart. I couldn’t sleep on Monday night. After  six years of losing my mother, my loss paled in front of hers.

All I can feel is love for her and for her dad. It hurts me to even think that uncle won’t recognize me. But I can recognize him and remember his love for me.

After we ended our conversation, she messaged me, “Six years of my life condensed into this conversation that lasted for 100 minutes.”

 

 

 

 

Dead woman thinking

I feel dead thanks to this brutal never-ending summer in Ahmedabad. I have been working constantly for last one month without a single day off in between. Last evening, my neighbour in the lift asked me about ‘weekend planning.’ I replied, “In office… planning the newspaper.” In spite of my dead woman (almost) status, I keep on thinking. Some of my thoughts are as follows:

Why is the sun in Ahmedabad so angry?

Why doesn’t the sun here take a sabbatical?

I would have won an international literary prize if I would have been in some cooler country.

How much money do I require to buy a property in Uttarakhand/Sikkim?

Am I earning to give it away as the electricity bill?

What will happen to this world?

Why can’t people just go on holidays like the earlier times and not post pictures on social media?

Like schools/colleges, why can’t newspapers have summer vacation?

If time is fluid then why isn’t it flowing quickly?

What did I do in my last birth that I am getting baked here in Ahmedabad?

Can I hug all those huge beautiful trees ?

Why are they cutting trees all over the cities? Have they gone mad?

What’s development?

Why are we so cruel towards nature?

When will the rains come?

I have never checked the weather forecast so religiously and so sincerely as I have done this summer.

 

 

Pasta in pesto sauce

While growing up in a sleepy town called Bhubaneswar, Sunday morning luxury was all about my father packing a breakfast of idli, masala dosa and sambar  from a small restaurant. These were earliest memories of pushing the creative boundaries of my palate. Having a South Indian breakfast is what we looked forward to. The same happened when I shifted to Delhi to pursue my higher studies. On some Sundays, the hostel mess used to serve masala dosa and coffee. And if I remember correctly, the girls from UP, Bihar, Orissa (then) and West Bengal were more excited to have the so called exotic Southern breakfast more than anybody else. The same emotion was recently shared by my Gujarati friend’s 80 year old mother. She told me, “I used to feel pampered and loved when my husband ordered a meal of butter naan, paneer butter masala and kaali dal in a restaurant. It was a refreshing change from the roti, shaak and khichdi at home.”

It’s a different story now in urban India.  Many of us probably took the 10 year rule of UPA government with a remote control in Sonia Gandhi’s hand too seriously. Suddenly, pasta became omnipresent. Every neighbourhood kirana shops started stocking pasta packets in different size and shape. With great difficulty, he gives you a list of Fusilli, Penne. From chicken tikka masala and paneer butter masala, urban India has graduated to pasta in pesto sauce, nachos and Mexican hotpot. Suddenly you see restaurants showing signboards displaying proudly, “Punjabi, Chinese, Italian, Mexican.” If you happen to stay in Ahmedabad (as yours truly), you will get a Jain version of everything. From Punjabi, Chinese, Italian and Mexican. You will always have a choice of Jain pizza in Ahmedabad. Please don’t ask me how it’s as I have never tasted it.

three different pieces of macaronis on top of black surface

If you thought that Bollywood with its all jazz and item songs is minting money, then hold on  the food industry is ahead of the film industry.  The all consuming ‘eating out economy’ is on a roll. According to a FICCI report, the restaurant industry is expected to contribute about 2.1 per cent to the total GDP of India by 2021. Eating out is big business in India. If you have not booked a table on Sunday, you will be condemned to stand in queue for hours and count the stars in the sky (if you are lucky to spot them).  In developed Gujarat, if you walk on the road on a Sunday, you might think that there’s a Kumbh Mela waiting to start soon. You have to push through forever hungry men, women and kids to find your own way in between cries of ‘one veg manchurain, one fried rice, double cheese pizza (whatever this means),’ The roads are chock-a-block with milling crowds waiting to have their share of world on their platter.
There’s a gourmet revolution happening in India. Post-liberalised India is on a platter high. And everybody is in a race to be cool. So cool that he finds it uncool to have anything other than Italian and Mexican. So, the uber cool stylish new ‘kids’ on the block are pastas, pizzas, cookies, garlic bread and hold on how can I ever forget ‘cupcakes.’  Few days ago, a colleague bought a box of cup cakes to celebrate her birthday at work. Yes, I did bite into it and wished her very warmly.  But by evening, my sweet craving was so intense that I did run to the nearest mithai shop to have my sinful share of ‘jalebi with rabri.’  Hot jalebis literally soaked in rabri. I could have died of happiness. You can call me ‘desi gal’, I will take no offence.
Yes, food needs to be celebrated and I see no harm food being looked at boundaries. After all, aren’t we living in an age of globalisation? With every other person turning into a food blogger or food photographer, I can see the winds of change sweeping our platter. There’s a glasnost happening there. Modi’s much talked about ‘acche din aayenge’ actually arrived on our plates some years ago.
It’s not just that people are tasting different cuisines at restaurants. But there’s a silent revolution happening on the kitchen shelves. The refrigerator is also witnessing a revolution. The ‘maharaj’ (the man who cooks and takes a salary) needs to be on his toes to master the perfect art of making the pesto sauce. He has to be a globe-trotter in the kitchen, otherwise there is every chance that he might become another Lehman Brothers employee in late 2008.
But I am still unable to understand why urban India is in a rush to prove its CQ (Cool Quotient) only by having pasta, nachos and garlic bread? It’s fashionable definitely. But to link your CQ to your platter might not a very great idea. Or so do I think. But you need not agree with me. India is all about having thousand opinions.

P S: Eons ago when I was working in Delhi, there was a colleague who used to come and share his breakfast menu. To be fair, I used to ask him also to derive some unexplainable pleasure. Rolling his attractive eyes, he used to say, “Oh, normal…bread, butter, omelette, bacon and orange juice.” Poor me used to go green with envy as I was munching my so very ordinary veg puff available in the canteen.
Once he fell ill and didn’t come to office for few days. Out of concern, I made a call to his home (there were no mobile phones then) and his mother picked up the phone. And we had a nice chat and in between she told me, “Beta (She was a Punjabi. As you must have realised Punjabis are capable of addressing their enemy as ‘beta’), please tell him to have his food. Before he had this fever, he used to eat a hearty meal of roti, gobi/tinda ke sabzi in breakfast and go to office.” The moment I heard this, my mind went back to my friend’s talk of ‘eggs, bread, bacon with orange juice.’ Well, the irony called life.
Should I have pasta in pesto sauce for dinner tonight? Let me think.

Marx on my mind

On May 5, 2018 — the world celebrated Karl Marx’s 200 birth anniversary. So, in simple terms, if Marx would have been alive, he would have turned 200. As an alumni of JNU, I have had the privilege of knowing some Marxists from a close distance. My spiritual/intellectual companion (so also my helpline number ) lived a substantial part of his young adult life working tirelessly and dreaming endlessly of bringing a revolution in this country. With a deep laugh, I say to him now, “I am the biggest victim of Marxism.”

MARX

 

On May 5,  I messaged him, “Comrade, Happy birthday to Marx. Woh nehin hote toh aap bhi nehin hote. (If Marx would not have been there… you would not have been here).

He answered, “Yes, let’s celebrate. Ideas never die, they just travel.”

Being in an organic, instinctive relationship for more than two decades, I knew he would call up after this. So, when he called up, I just picked up the call and blurted out, “Yes Comrade.” We then got into ruminating about his days of being a ‘Comrade.’ Once upon a time.

His humble room was like an open house with almost no concept of lock and key. Even if it was locked by chance, the key was kept there on the top of the door ledge. So, at best the lock did what the traffic lights in most two-tier cities in India do, advisory function. As the room did have floor sleeping arrangement (sorry if you are thinking of Japanese aesthetics or tatami mats), it gave enough space for the innumerable visiting comrades to lounge and brood over petty bourgeois. The room at any given time had more than four people.

And just because it was open that didn’t mean that my ‘comrade‘ was in the room. He could be anywhere but his room was 24X7 open for fellow comrades from different parts of the country. Nobody other than these comrades understood ‘atithi devo bhav’ (The guests are like Gods) better.

There was one occasion when I and another friend of mine had gone to his room late in the night to look for our ‘missing’ comrade. The room was open and dark. And we found four/five people sleeping on the floor. In our polite middle-class ways, we kept on telling, “Hello, Hello, Excuse Me.” But there was no response for almost 10 minutes. And then out of sheer frustration and anger,  my friend shouted, “Comrade, comrade..”  It worked like magic and suddenly one of them got up and told us, “We have no idea where’s he. As the room was open, we came and slept.”

There was no concept of personal possession in this world of Marx. Everything was collective. So the shirt bought for this comrade of mine changed hands in less than 48 hours. My blood pressure shot up to 500/200 when I saw another lanky comrade wearing the shirt.  These young revolutionaries lived in their own world. So no wonder then when I made coffee for them, after gulping cups of it, one of them (the brightest among them) said, “Waike hi aap chai bahut accha banate ho.” (You really make tea very well).  I wish I had an AK 47 with me.

There are many ‘comrade legends’ from Odisha I have grown up listening to. One such legend is about a communist-cum-academician riding a bicycle in his own marriage procession. The whole village gathered to see this unique bridegroom on a bicycle as even poor families go extra mile to hire a car for the marriage procession. And after his marriage, he insisted his new bride and now fellow comrade should come with him on his bicycle. His spirited bride went to her new home sitting on his bicycle. Well, this was followed by the bride’s mother weeping inconsolably and howling, “Why did I choose this rakhash (monster) for my daughter?” However, the silver lining was that the comrade bridegroom didn’t take a single item/penny as dowry.

In the neon-lit streets of India where now dreams and material desires are always engaged in a foreplay, the comrades are  a vanishing tribe. But these are also the times of jarring economic inequality. Then when suddenly you look back and you actually look at the comrades with a sense of tenderness. The beauty of being a comrade. When you are young, you dream of the impossible. There are no limits to possibilities. I have always admired them for that vision of a larger world. I may not agree with them but it always warms the cockles of my heart when I look back and remember many bright young minds looking beyond their comfort zone and dreaming of a classless world.

So, here’s to a belated Happy Birthday to Karl Marx.