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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Grief. Political

IMG_2989

 

In the times we are living in, grief is no longer personal. It is political. Last evening, I spent hours discussing about Chinese human rights activist and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. I woke up in the morning to find out he is no more. He died of liver cancer while being in custody.

Recently I had read a beautiful story on  Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia’s unique love story published in The Guardian.  “Even if I were crushed into powder,” Liu Xiabo wrote, addressing the love of his life, “I would still use my ashes to embrace you.” If you are interested, you can read the story on the below link.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/12/devotion-amid-despair-the-great-contemporary-love-story-of-liu-xia-and-liu-xiaobo

 

 

 

A temporary matter

It is evening,
The street lights are on,
People are rushing back home
Some are on two-wheelers,
Some are in their cars,
Some are in autos.

Xxxxxx

They are in a cab,
One of them is going to a hotel,
The other one … Home
Sometimes homes feel like hotels,
Sometimes hotels feel like home,
Home.. Hotel.
All Temporary

He says He’s tired.
She feels his tiredness
She stretches her hand towards him.
He holds her hand,
Plays with her hand. Fingers.
He tells her ‘you have very soft hands’
She thinks ‘wish life was soft on our love.’

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.

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.

I want to hug the Bay of Bengal

I woke up today morning, telling my husband, “I want to hug the Bay of Bengal.”

The Bay of Bengal is an emotion for me. An intense emotion. It’s much more than an ocean. I have grown up with it. I remember crying as a child when the rising waves took away my little shoes. My mother consoled me by saying, “The sea will not take anything away from you, it will give you back your shoes. Remember to always love the sea.”  The sea returned my shoes. The love lingered.

Both my parents loved the Bay of Bengal. We immersed the ashes of my father in the temple town of Puri which is home to the Bay Of Bengal. I feel, parts of my parents’ soul now remain in the Bay of Bengal. So, I feel at home with the rising waves, the falling waves, the rolling waves, the mellowed setting Sun suddenly disappearing in the horizon leaving no trace of its existence till the next morning and the cool breeze that strokes your cheeks as the dark nights become darker.

Years ago, I spent a mildly cool December morning all by myself on the shores of the Bay of Bengal to clear the cobwebs in my mind. My heart was full of agony, hurt and pain.My mind was a cluttered one. I had lost my way. I was afraid to grab tomorrow. I sat down to just look at the waves even as wild thoughts moved in a synchronized rhythm in my mind. I just sat there looking at waves. I didn’t know then anything about the ‘Art of Just Being.’ By the time I left the waves behind, I was clear in my heart and mind to move forward. The Bay Of Bengal gave me the strength, the wings to leave the ruins of the past behind and embrace the light of a journey ahead.  Sometimes the sound of waves on an otherwise silent morning gives you strength to listen deep within.

I go back to the ocean now to feel the presence of my parents. I go back to revel in the memories of my mother buying me delicate shingaras (known as samosas in masculine parts of India) filled with little cubes of potatoes with their almost silk like smooth skin, melt-in-mouth sweets that go by the name of Madanmohan, fiery, salty, seductive jhalmoori with a dash of mustard oil and cups of coffee which sometimes carried a faint smell of kerosene. I loved the sight of my mother taking out the money from her purse and then indulging me with these lip-smacking delicacies. The fiercely independent career woman within me took a backseat as I soaked happily in that moment of tenderness. I happily let myself to  become a little girl.  The ocean was a witness to the unconditional love that defined my world.

ocean

 

Sometimes, the universe feels the thread of emotions that run deep in our hearts, deep in our veins. The universe comes like an guardian angel to hold us, comfort us, soothe us. As I was longing to roll in gay abandon in the wild embrace of Bay Of Bengal, I received a photo of my niece holidaying in Florida in the company of Atlantic Ocean. The photo soothed me. She’s a 15-year old bright, intelligent, creative girl. In the pic, she’s enjoying her solitary moments with the ocean. Albeit a different ocean, I grew up with. I don’t know what thoughts are running in her mind. But she’s having her moments of solitude. By the waves, by the shore. It’s necessary to have your moments of solitude. Certain emotions are universal. And certain legacies are always carried forward. Even without any realization.

My Father

I love men who can cook, buy handloom saris for their women, write long letters and look after trees.

My father did all these beautifully, wonderfully and elegantly.

No, he was not a superman. He was a man.

I miss him dearly but looking at people around me, I love him more intensely.

Even when all that I have of him is memories.

Memories of a Father.

Cheers to the Honey Bees of the World

honey

My mother did a lot of work. So also my aunt. They led a very busy, active life. My mother-in-law does a lot of work. I am always amazed at how much work she does. My mother, aunt and mom-in-law never received/receive any money for their work. Yet they did immensely valuable work.

I love women who work. At homes, in the fields, in crowded markets, in classrooms, in swanky air-conditioned newsrooms, in the cockpit, in operation theatres, on the stage, at the potter’s wheel and in front of the camera. I simply love women working. On my way to office, I sometimes stop to say hello to Champa Ben. She sells fruits to earn her living. She’s always cheerful and on many occasions she gives me an orange or a banana just like that to have a ‘fruitful’ journey. Both of us work to earn our living. The dusty street is her workplace. Mine with modern amenities and state-of-the art technology is different from hers. Yet there’s an unspoken bond between us. We revel in our work. In more than one way, our work defines us. As women, as individuals.

I love my cook Taraben who goes to five different houses in a day. Her bi-cycle is her faithful companion. She never complains about her struggles, long day at work. She always embraces work with a smile.

There’s nothing low/high about work. Whatever we do with our hands is something we all must celebrate. Every work involves some kind of body-mind coordination and concentration. To work is to be closer to the earth, to the universe. Even as the global economy faces challenges in many countries, the women workforce will face many hardships and challenges in the years ahead. But consider yourself lucky if you enjoy your work — whether at home or office.

And the time has come when we must sensitize our men, women and children to celebrate the works done by our women at home. It’s tough to be a good journalist, a good teacher or doctor. Similarly, it’s also tough to be a good homemaker. Economics might not recognize this as ‘labour’. But a lot goes into the making of a good homemaker. My father always told us as young girls, “If you want to be a home-maker, it’s perfectly fine. But make sure you excel at it.”

The world around us needs to be sensitive about the working women.  We need to create safe homes and secure workplaces so that women can express their creativity, strength and imagination through their work.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, here’s to the honey bees of the world. Let the world revel in the sweetness of our hard work.