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.

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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.

The secret banks of our moms and grandmoms

Honey, it’s all about money now in India. All of us are talking about money. In offices, homes, cafeterias and during morning walks too. And out mothers and grandmothers are  talking about it too. In a little different way. Sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with a little reluctance. Thanks to recent demonetization in India, many people are discovering the interesting relationship their  moms and grandmoms share with money.

After the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8, many households are now seeing something which is really ‘note’worthy. My friend’s 82 year old granny has just handed him over her priceless Rs 23,000 to him so that he could deposit in the bank. My friend tells me with a sense of utter surprise ruling his voice, “Never knew aai (in Odisha, we call maternal grandmother as ‘aai’) had so much of money with her. Now, I understand how she always managed to give us (her grandchildren) money to eat aloo chop and rosogulla or to buy new clothes for our birthdays.”

Just two days prior to the demonetization, when my friend’s father had asked his wife (my friend’s mom) whether she had some extra money with her, she had refused point blank telling she had no cash lying with her. And when the demonetization process was announced, she had no option but to reluctantly hand over a stack of crisp Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes to her husband as the scrapped notes need to be either exchanged/deposited in the banks.

Well, I am a great admirer of mothers and grandmothers who manage their households with great caution and loads of charm too. They can put any finance minister to shame. Not many of them earn a regular income.They manage to save the money from their household budgets. They save the money the receive from their loved ones on special occasions.Their saving smells love. And their precious savings is put in their secret little banks tucked away carefully in cupboards, in between silk saris, in little pouches or purses. That gives them the freedom to pamper their daughters, sons, grandchildren, domestic helps in myriad ways and once in a while for their own shopping too. Thanks to their secret wealth, many of us have enjoyed loads of chocolates, ice-creams, samosas, new clothes, shoes and the like.  Aah, the pleasure of receiving money from your mom, aunt or grandmom. No salary slip can match that pleasure.

Even as I am writing this, I am fondly remembering  my mother’s secret bank. A couple of days after she passed away,  while arranging her wardrobe I found many little purses, colorful envelopes containing cash. If I remember correctly, I found cash worth Rs 32,000. And then I also remembered  how my mother used to give me cash during my annual visits to buy something for myself and my husband. Giving me money was one of the many ways to express her love for me.

.So, let us celebrate the secret banks of India’s mothers and grandmothers. Homes will not feel the same without this fabulous wealth. These little secret bank makes us feel so rich. And so loved too.

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.

 

Life in time of Indrani Mukerjea

I know much more about Indrani Mukerjea than I know about any of my first cousin’s life. For almost two weeks, the attractive, stylish Mrs Mukerjea (wife of Peter Mukerjea, former television honcho) consumed my attention. (For those of you who don’t know, Indrani Mukerjea allegedly murdered her daughter Sheena Bora in 2012. The case is under investigation now).

Indrani Mukerjea brought back The Telegraph (a newspaper published from Kolkata) into my life for couple of days. After decades, I started reading the newspaper, thanks to the Kolkata connection of the murder case.  I got confused with all the information floating in the virtual world. Like a dedicated  researcher, I  tried my best to put things together, filter the information, somehow finding a thread. Indrani Mukerjea and her elaborate khandaan entered into my living room every morning and every night. I don’t know whether the nation wanted to know or not but I definitely wanted to know the details. For almost 300 days in a year, my television at home doesn’t even get turned on (pun intended). But the TV was put to best use even as senior officials at Khar police station were busy in interrogating the three accused and others.

Indrani Mukerjea figured in my conversations with my sister, my mother-in-law, my friends across the globe (my close friend’s Australian husband termed her ‘mad’ because she was hooked to online reading on the murder case).

Friend’s G chat message: deepika yeh indrani mukerjea ne paagal kar diya.. i keep reading all the websites for more news. more better than soap opera.. and hubby finds me reading, he goes, again murder story. Some report said indrani got her second husband to kill.  i cant get my present husband to pick up a towel from the floor.

Me:: i still can’t understand why Indrani brought sheena to Mumbai?she could have made her study anywhere… delhi, blr, new york. what was that need/compulsion? (Can you see a potential CBI chief in me)

Friend: I  think both of us must go to khar and take over the interrogation.
The fiery anchors on television news channels made sure that I get an almost 3D feel of AK 47 shooting spree in my living room. Sometimes, I thought my television might need a fire extinguisher (thanks to the hyperbole). In the midst of screaming, counter-screaming,  I sat with a monk like concentration in front of the television. Night after night. To consume the juicy info. Ekta Kapoor’s frothy family soaps looked like a watery cup of tea in front of this alleged murder case.. Indrani Mukherjea’s case was like champagne material. Bubbly waiting to spill from all sides.
Every day brought out some new details. I don’t remember half of the names of members of our union council of ministers. But I know the names of the Mukerjea clan, extended clan and further extended clan (stretching from Guwahati to Bristol in between stopping over Dehra Dun).  I feel just by the sheer wealth of my knowledge about this Mukerjea clan, they should embrace me as their newest member. Yes, I know, it’s politically incorrect even to harbour such a figment of imagination. But you know, I am a Cancerian (known for wild imagination). May be, I will get a long distance view of the vast family wealth.
After couple of days of constant reading and watching the news involving the Sheena Bora murder case, I got into an introspective mood. Am I becoming a vulture? My mind said, “No, you are a journalist.” My heart said, “Look beyond cheap thrills, concentrate on real issues.” Somewhere in the cacophony, fake has become real and real has become fake. The talks of her marriage, lack of talent, great skills of moving up in the social ladder are there all over. I personally feel, greed for wealth knows no gender.
I don’t have it in me to be Indrani Mukerjea. I don’t have that X factor. Almost all my friends are middle class working people. Aspiring at best to do budget travelling around the world.Yet I find Indrani Mukerjea fascinating. Yes, eons ago I found the story of Charles Sobhraj quite fascinating.
It’s interesting to understand the times we are living in through the eyes of children. They offer us the best mirrors. My friend in Mumbai has a seven year old daughter. She asked her daughter to do remote swapping as my friend wanted to watch the news. After 7-8 minutes of watching the news, she told her daughter, “You can now watch your cartoon shows. My news is not coming.” The bright little girl told her, “What’s your news, Mama? You mean Indrani Mukerjea-Sheena Bora murder news.”
I am trying to make a sense of the times we are living in.

Life. Little less

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She believes less is more. She believes it’s fine to be vulnerable especially in front of loved ones. Life is not a battle field. You need to drop your mask sometime somewhere in life. It’s suffocating to hold on to your mask 24×7. Everything in life need not be grand, opulent and come with a price tag. The dew drop on the grass is tiny but it evokes joy. There’s a beauty in grey hair, wrinkles, shrinking chest of your grand-father, father or mother. Toothless smiles can also warm hearts.

But we are living in strange times. This diverse, ancient, crazy, wonderful country suddenly seems to be caught in the whirlpool of aggressiveness, pulp-patriotism and a masculine desire to show to the world that we have arrived. In that neon-lit streets where dream machines zoom past, the space seems to be shrinking for the poor, homeless, the differently able or the old woman selling pea-nuts for a living. All the talks of 56 inch chhati (chest) just do not make any sense to them.

It’s difficult if you want your love to be like Urdu – textured, soft, elegant, rooted, beautifully wrapped in emotions and memories. The world around knows now only one language — Hinglish. Urban, crass, aggressive and conversations laced with who the f**k are you or even worse ‘tere ko pata hai mera dad kaun hai?’

It’s tough if you want your life to be a like a chikankari kurta. Patiently done needle work on a piece of white / pink/ lemon yellow cloth over days, may be months which in the end is also about memories of somebody’s hand in far away Uttar Pradesh weaving magic. May be there’s a song playing on the lips of the artisan as he/she is creating patterns on the soft cloth. But the world around now celebrates suits in monograms or swanky brands selling tote bags/ Little Black Dresses (LBDs) worth millions in sanitized, air-conditioned malls dotting the urban landscape. The brand strangely has become bigger than the person who’s wearing it. Somewhere the person has become less and the brand has become more. Of course there’s something called ‘likes’ in the Facebook. People are counting the ‘likes’ on their smartphones/ laptops/ tablets. Without the ‘likes’, neither the handbag nor the LBD looks alluring.

In the madness for to be there and to be seen, some have forgotten to just stand barefoot and look at the falling waves. Yes, there’s beauty in falling waves. Only if you can open your heart and embrace it.

Low-cost happiness

When I booked my Bangkok ticket for Rs 48,000 in October 2014, my friends got into a collective mourning phase. So, for almost two weeks, they kept on telling me , “Oh, for this amount (and a little more), you could have gone to Istanbul, London, Paris…” Their never-ending list covered almost all parts of the globe other than Antarctica (that was really generous). And in typical Indian way, they never forgot to add, “This money is too much for Bangkok. You got a really bad deal.” Well, the Bangkok trip was done only to make my very close friend happy as she wanted to spend her birthday with me in a third destination. I am an old soul who doesn’t believe in always calculating, adding and subtracting in life.

But my friends’ constant talk of my Bangkok ticket did something to my psyche. So one of my bucket lists for 2015 was to experience joy, happiness at low cost. So, I chose to go to Jaipur to be a part of the much-talked about literature festival. And I decided to make it a low cost one. The natural choice was to go by the Indian Railways. I am challenged in many spheres of life (the list will be longer than UPA government’s scam lists).  With great difficulty, I opened an IRCTC account but I could never log in as it kept on telling wrong password (The password was a combination of my name and my ex love’s name. May be the Indian Railways found that it’s not ‘ethical’ for a married woman to have such a password).

But then there are always somebody or the other to come to my rescue. So, by the grace of the universe,  one of my colleagues offered to book my ticket from his account.  When he asked, “A two-tier AC ticket?” I said “No, no…book it in three-tier AC (I wanted to go slow on every penny).” The hotel in Jaipur where I stayed was definitely a drool-worthy deal. It’s a nice small heritage property (however, In Jaipur/ Udaipur, it’s very difficult to find a non-heritage property (every hotel’s name ends with ‘palace’ and this was no different). The highly involved owners of the ‘palace’ hotel make sure that it’s well-maintained. The only drawback is that they don’t serve non-vegetarian food. So, I missed having an omelette in the breakfast. But it was a small price to pay for a wonderful deal.

The organisers of Jaipur Literature Festival definitely deserve a toast for keeping it free. So, for four days I got to listen to writers/thinkers/philosophers/scientists from across the world on a variety of subjects without spending a penny. There can be no greater happiness than reveling in knowledge.

When you are in the Pink City, it’s natural to indulge in some shopping. I have a put an embargo on buying clothes. So, I bought a beautiful bed-cover, bangles for myself and my cook and ear-rings for my cook’s daughter who also works at my home. The shopping sojourn deserves another post which will give a slice of life in India.

I came back to Ahmedabad as a much happier person with loads of stories from the lanes and bylanes of the Pink City and of course from Diggi Palace (the venue of the Litfest). And all this did not cost me much. Who says happiness needs to have a big price tag?

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.”

Sex & Sensex

Visiting him in the hostel one day, Madori asks Wantanabe loud, “Do all the guys here masturbate thinking about women?” At which Watanabe hushes her and tows her out of the hostel with a, “Yes they won’t be thinking about the stock market and doing it.”  

This is from the book ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami which I came across in my friend Indira’s blog ( http://www.indiralaisram.com) the other day. It took my mind to a conversation I had with a friend that happened almost a decade ago.
When I was shifting to Ahmedabad, one of my close friends was very concerned. For some strange reason, he did not want me to shift my base to Ahmedabad. I remember having a long conversation with him on a March evening. He suddenly told me, “Promise me, you will never make love to any man from there.” I laughed and asked him why? He told me, “Listen, men there only understand the language of money. They are like ATMs—when you make love to them, only money will come out.” I laughed and told me, “Oh dear, that will be the easiest way to make money. You should be happy for me.” He told me, “I can’t imagine you doing that. You are too intense for all this money talk.” (Now, I know whom/what to blame).
But this also takes me to a novel which I had read long back. One night, a prostitute (the protagonist) makes love to a rich man. As the man goes on grabbing her body hungrily,  she thinks to herself, “He will not leave one penny go waste. He has to extract every little penny from me.After all, he wants the best from the deal.” In that particular desolate moment and a disgust for her body desired by many men, she remembered a painter (who had come to her earlier). The young painter in the midst of sex distanced himself from the ‘paid’ act. He made her lie next to him and talk about her childhood and her mom who was a tailor.
In a society now ruled by money, most men are slaves to the notes. But I don’t know how many of them really think of sensex while having sex. Probably on a bad budget day, with a plunging sensex not many men here will give a thought to plunging necklines. Does that say anything?