Category Archives: People

Celebrity Weddings

Looking at celebrity wedding pictures on instagram can be quite exhausting (after the initial euphoria)– emotionally and physically. And more so when you are a journalist even though you are far away from Lake Como and it’s unlikely that in your lifetime you will ever be there. Deepika-Ranveer, Priyanka-Nick have been the flavour of the wedding season. I think, funny man (though I really find it difficult to laugh at his jokes) Kapil Sharma’s wedding coverage is little low on publicity quotient. Never mind, it’s all part of showbiz. Some will get more than others.

But Priyanka-Nick’s wedding has unleashed the inner energy of some frustrated, negative souls in this country. And unfortunately, this breed includes some journalists too (my fraternity). What do you do to people who give comments like the following?

  • Ha ha… let us see how long this marriage lasts (Even if it breaks, neither Priyanka/Nick are coming to you idiots for solace. And you must be a jerk to have this kind of vicious mindset)
  • Nick does not even put his arms around Priyanka (Anyways, he is not going to put his arms around you… so what’s exactly your problem?)
  • Nick’s 10 years younger than Priyanka… too much of an age gap. These kind of marriages don’t work.  Didn’t you see it earlier in Ashton Kutcher-Demi Moore marriage? (Very sad that Priyanka didn’t consider this )
  • Priyanka has no Hollywood career (Anyways, she is not looking for a newspaper job in India)
  • Let us make a list of people who will attend Priyanka’s Mumbai reception (when the official date is yet to be announced) and then dismissing the list telling that no big star will be there. (Hello, are you real?)

And then another moronic question: ‘Why didn’t Ranbir Kapoor go for Deepika-Ranveer’s reception?”

The list goes on. These are the people who have an opinion on anything and everything — right from politics, economy, cricket, cinema to food. They are the ones who give lengthy monologues on what should be Virat Kohli’s strategy in Australia. Never mind, they have never picked up a cricket bat in their life.

The more I hear these kind of conversations, the more I feel the need for grace. You can buy anything in today’s world but you can’t buy grace, empathy and elegance.

 

 

 

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People called Kerala…

This narrative has lived within me for almost four months. I feel, there is always a right time for the story to travel. From my heart to the world outside, In between experiencing the story and telling the story, Kerala has seen worst of times in terms of devastating flood and loss of human lives and property. Now, Kerala is back on its feet.
In India, it’s now time for celebrating Diwali. Diwali, the festival of lights is all about joy, happiness, love and light. This narrative is all about celebrating that light. How dark would be darkness without this light… 
diwali
Hussain:  The navigator, the philosopher
Hussain drove us from Fort Kochi to Palakkad. He also took us to Arakal and in the beginning of the journey, he told us, “I will take you to such a place that you will forget Ooty.” Hussain is the symbol of my India — liberal, secular, quirky, gentle and caring.

He has six friends and he tells us they will stand by each other no matter what happens. Before marriage, he told his wife, “You don’t need to adjust with my parents but you need to do so as far my friends are concerned.” He talked about his wife in a gentle and caring way. He makes sure that his wife has her share of fun and enjoyment. “Just because we are men that does not mean that only we will enjoy. A woman is a human being first and she must enjoy.”

He loves making money and also living life king size. He says, “What’s the point of making money if you can’t enjoy money.” Once in a while, the seven friends meet, enjoy a drink and eat a nice meal of rice and mutton curry. And the icing on the cake is after a drink or two, they all philosophize about life. So what will he do if his wife falls in love with another man? “The only answer to the question is to love her more,” said Hussain.
His friends are from different socio- economic backgrounds. Some of them are government officials, some of them are businessmen. Some of them are earning lots of money and some of them are not. But their bonding is all about love and memories. If they are all together and one friend says, “I am just going somewhere and I will be back in five minutes.” Even if he comes back after two hours, nobody asks him, ‘why did he come so late? Where did he go?’ There are no questions asked and they just take up from where they leave.
Once they all had gone to watch a movie after buying tickets at a high price (and with lots of struggle).  And when they were just about to enter the movie hall, they got a phone call  informing them about someone’s death. They all had a quick discussion and decided that ‘the person is already dead. So, even if we won’t watch the film, he won’t come back. So, it’s better to watch the movie.”
They all seem to see death from a different perspective. Once all of them had gone for a funeral and one of them cracked a philosophical joke about life and death and they all broke into a smile. And then somebody came and told them, “Do you know where are you?” And then one of the friends said, “Listen brother, tomorrow if someone dies in my family, you can come and crack a little joke about life and death. We won’t mind.”
Hussain loves the beautiful landscape of Kerala. He has a warm, loving relationship with Kerala’s swaying coconut trees, its backwater, waterfalls and the mesmerizing monsoon  “Only if you have something tender in your heart and mind then only you will love nature. Otherwise, you will end up buying things at the malls only.”
I asked him about his friends’ religious background. “We all are from different religions — Muslims, Hindus and Christians.” When I told him, “God bless you.” He told me, “No, no, say something more.” I told him, “May nature bless you.” Hussain broke into a gentle smile approving of my statement this time.
Hussain being Hussain has his own theory of people of Kerala going crazy about football teams and forming groups like, “Argentina — fans of Kallepally. Hussain says, “Byakitya nehin hai.. (They don’t have a personality of their own and that is why they are becoming part of the collective.)
Najeeb — The quiet soccer-loving man
Our meeting was accidental. My friend Lekha and I were taking a morning walk in Fort Kochi on a lazy Sunday morning and on an impulse we just went to check out a kiosk which had a board about daily trips to Alleppey or Alappuzha.  And we somehow liked the deal and decided to go there. Najeeb took us to Alleppey. When I expressed my desire to have coffee at the quintessential India Coffee House, he enthusiastically took us to one. We were in Kerala when the FIFA World Cup 2018 was at its peak. You got to be in Kerala to believe the state’s soccer mania. As we were all taking pictures of those huge cut-outs of Messi, Ronaldo standing tall in small, clean villages of Kerala, we wondered about Najeeb’s soccer love. And then when we were inside the car, we asked, ‘Najeeb, which team are you supporting?” He kept quiet and pretended not to hear. But when we persisted, he said with a tinge of sadness, “Germany and imagine they are out.” But the moment he uttered the name of Germany, we all broke into laughter. He also joined us. In his quiet dignified ways.
In no time, he understood our taste and stopped at beautiful churches so that we could admire its wonderful architecture. He took us to beautiful beaches so that we could revel in sunsets.
Gulab — For whom time waits
Gulab is beyond time. He doesn’t wait for time, I have a feeling time waits for him. He took us in his auto from Kalepally to Kalpathy, a heritage village in Kerala. As we were roaming around in the village, Gulab told us to give us a call once we were free. He insisted that he would take us back home ( Earlier in the morning, Gulab was really kind enough to wait at a pre-primary school when we just wanted to spend some time with the kids.)
We had only heard of Gulab’s ‘time sense’ before. That day, we experienced it. Every phone -call to Gulab was met with the standard answer, “I am on my way.” The shopkeepers, the autorickshawallahs, the vegetable vendors were all amused to see three of us sitting comfortably on the verandah of a dilapidated house without a nameplate.
While waiting for Gulab, I suddenly had this intense urge to have a samosa. And my friend Ayaz immediately bought one for me which came on a plantain leaf (you see, South India is a little nicely different from North India). The samosa was really tasty. And thanks to our smartphones, three of us happily indulged in some photo session too. Even after all this self-indulgent acts, still there was no sign of Gulab.
samosa
(While waiting for Gulab…)
In that state of mind, every auto-driver looked like Gulab. But you know, life is not actually that miserable. So, suddenly we saw our Gulab coming and then as they say, time stopped for us.
Living in cities, chasing deadlines at work has made most of us very impatient. We are always in a hurry, always trying to manage time. But for Gulab, time is something else. It moves or stops as per his wish. Gulab is the ultimate boss.
Ordinary city mortals like us can only wait for Gulab.
As the state was trying to cope with the tragedy,  we made phone calls to find out about the well-being of Hussain, Najeeb, Kumaran, Gulab and their families. They were all safe)

A journalist…what it means to be one

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Photo by brotiN biswaS on Pexels.com

(The youngest member in our newsroom is 22 years old. I have given more years of my life to journalism. Most of the world outside sees journalism as a glamorous profession. Not many are aware of the grime, the sweat and not to talk about long working hours and less holidays. But it is definitely one profession that gives you an ability, a perspective to look at your own life like an outsider)

I am a story-teller but I am not the story. That’s why every day, I wake up with a sense of deep gratitude. It’s humbling to be a journalist. It’s the story that is much much larger than me. It’s the story that matters, it’s the face behind the story that counts. I am just the narrator bringing the story to the world. People trust me with stories which define them as individuals. Not for anything else but for the fact that I am a journalist. People bare their vulnerable souls to me and share with me stories of love, loss, success, failure, aspirations .. all in the hope that their story reaches to the world. As much as you need the stories, you need the story-teller too.

Let me take you on a retro ride. It’s March, 2002. I am walking along with my colleagues in the riot affected areas of Ahmedabad — amidst burnt houses, smoke billowing from the roofs of  houses, textbooks of young children lying here and there in tattered condition, once shiny utensils now all black and beyond any shape and most importantly charred dreams. The loss is immense and palpable.  Grief stricken women and men open up their hearts to us i.e strangers armed with little yellow notebooks and ball-point pens. The world calls us ‘journalists’. A woman in her early 40s wearing a pink salwar kameez and a green dupatta holds my hand and tells with tears in her eyes, “Go and tell the world what you have seen here and what I have told you. Tell the world.” I hold her hands  gently and say, “I will. We will.”  I am the outsider in her world. Her loss has given me an entry into her intimate world. I have a comfortable home in the western part of Ahmedabad to go back to in the night.

But here in the midst of devastation — I am the narrator, I can’t be the story. Yet, I have to be there with them without losing my sense of self.  I have to bring back the story as it is to the world outside. I have to draw the boundary of not losing my self and stealing the story from them.

On another day during the same period, my senior colleague and I go on the field to do a story on relief camps. From there, committee members of the relief camp take us to a graveyard nearby. They say the smallest graves are the ones that hurt the most. Standing there among wailing men, I actually counted the number of graves of little kids who had fallen prey to mindless violence earlier in the day. There were nine of them. In moments like that, a part of  me feels like an intruder and I want to move away from that deeply private moment of those grieving intensely.

But the story is the winner here and it holds me back. There’s no moral dilemma here. I have to tell to all of you  who are sitting in their homes, or working in offices and who are not privy to what’s happening there. I have to be detached at that moment to tell you what I saw there — without any colour, any filter. I can’t jump into the frame, I can’t be the frame. I need to be there among the people to bring you back the story no matter how gruesome is the story or how heart-breaking it is. I believe, if you don’t have it in you to come to face to face with death, violence, loss and grief then you can’t be a  journalist. You got to be somewhere else.

My best friend who worked with Sebastin D Souza ( in Mumbai Mirror), famous all over the world for his photograph of Kasab in action in CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) station in the Mumbai terror attack, which eventually led to Kasab’s conviction, asked him once, “Sebastin, didn’t you feel scared while you were clicking photographs of Kasab?” He said non-chalantly, “What was there to feel scared? I was just doing my job — shooting him with my camera.”  He didn’t glorify his moment of truth, how brave he was or how put his life into risk.

Years later in an interview, Sebastian said to a leading news channel , “After all that hype of 26/11, nothing has changed. I don’t feel anything. I try to erase it from my mind. It does not seem such a big event now. Photo-wise, yes, it was a very big thing. My pictures were used across the world and helped convict (Mohammed Ajmal) Kasab (the lone attacker captured alive and hanged in November 2012).”  As matter of fact as it can be.

On a slightly chilly winter evening, I met Kalpana Gupta, a woman who had lost her husband, two kids and home in the 2001 killer Gujarat earthquake. I was meeting her five years after the earthquake had consumed her once picture-perfect life.  Like a phoenix, she had risen from the ashes of pain, loss and longing. She had remarried and she came to meet me with her two year old daughter. She took me to the same apartment where she lived before the earthquake took away everything she had nurtured lovingly. She offered flowers on the door and we sat down on the ground floor of her apartment on two plastic chairs facing each other. She was living in another part of the city then and had just taken the possession of her newly built flat.

There was no question to ask her. She had to tell her story in her own words. Till now, I have not seen someone crying throughout an interview. She had no control over her tears. The poignancy of her story overwhelmed me. Yet I had to sit stoically throughout the interview and listen to her attentively. I distinctly remember walking back on the neon-lit streets of Ahmedabad with a heavy heart. But the narrator’s job begins with that.

No matter how heavy is your heart or how dark is the night, your qwerty key board is your place to go to. In the stillness of the night, you have to detach from the world around you.  Then it’s just you and the story. That’s the ethereal moment when writing feels like prayer. That’s why, it’s intoxicating to be in the newsroom day after day, week after week and actually year after year. The high of holding the story within you and then letting it travel to the world. Once you let it go, you have no control over it.  And it’s that juxtaposition of brutality and tenderness that has fascinated me all these years. The brutality of telling a story as it is and the tenderness of the story becoming a part of your life.

We are living in strange times. An overdose of information, fake news, issues of ethics plaguing the media, the list is endless. It’s not easy to be a journalist in today’s time. But then it’s almost impossible to resist a story. And letting it travel through 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.”

 

 

 

 

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.

The Great Indian Art of Bargaining

vegetables

My mother-in-law thinks I am bekaar (useless). This unilateral judgment only stems from the fact that because I am a dud when it comes to bargaining. The other day I went to the nearby market with her. Being a Mallu she loves her share of coconuts the way an Italian loves his/her pizza. But she will not buy the coconut just like that. She has to haggle and haggle till the shopkeeper loses his patience (if not his customer) and hands over the coconut at a price demanded by her. I asked her, “Why do you waste time and energy for Rs 16?” She answered back, “How can I not? I am a senior citizen.” And thereby dismissing me at one go. Well, even if I am no fan of Ektaa Kapoor’s soppy saas bahu soaps, I have learnt to be quiet. You see, over the years I have mastered the art of domestic silence. All in the name of peace and happiness.
My mother-in-law has a theory (read brilliant) of bargaining. Actually she can put any economist worth his salt to shame. On a balmy July evening, I bought a dress and did the mistake of sharing the price of the dress with her. She almost fell off the sofa and when she regained her composure, she taught me the fundamentals of bargaining. Her funda goes on like this — if the shopkeeper says Rs 400 all that you have to do is to divide it by 2 and then deduct Rs 50 from it. So, a T shirt worth Rs 400 should be actually Rs 150. She will never go to a shop which has ‘Fixed Price’ written on its wall in bold letters. In her dictionary, only one word rocks and that’s ‘bargaining.’
But in all fairness, my mother-in-law is not alone. Almost every Indian has this unique art of bargaining running in his/her DNA. The most primary example is the raddiwala or the kabadiwala. I mean, selling newspapers brings more smile on our faces than reading the newspaper in the morning. The thicker the newspaper on Sundays, the broader is the smile. And selling newspapers is not an isolated mundane act. There comes the great act of bargaining. If the raddiwala says, “Rs 4 per kilo”, immediately he’s told  curtly, “The other guy was offering me Rs 4.50 last Sunday. But I was going out to meet somebody, so I couldn’t sell it.” And the haggling will continue till it’s settled at a price suitable to both. Such is the power of bargaining.
Same story is repeated at vegetable vendors. I remember one particular incidence of a lady coming in a swanky car and buying 500 gram potatoes and then asking ‘Give me one tomato free.’ Getting dhania (coriander) and green chilli free is every Indian’s fundamental right. But I think, there is a threat to the fundamental right as now I hear my neighbourhood vegetable vendor telling, ‘No free dhania now. It’s very expensive.”
The other day, we were having sev puri at a roadside stall. And then I eavesdropped on a conversation between a father and his eight-year-old son. The conversation was somewhat like this:
Father: How much did you pay for the sev puri?
Son: Rs 20
Father: How much he asked for?
Son: Rs 20 only
Father (In a much higher decibel voice): And you gave him Rs 20 without even bargaining once? You didn’t ask for a single rupee discount. You think, money grows on trees (I instantly thought of former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s famous statement ‘Money doesn’t grow on tree.’)

I almost choked on my humble sev puri hearing this conversation. Certain lessons really start early in life. No wonder, I am still struggling as a ‘bekaar’ in life as my parents never taught me this art of bargaining. Picking up these lessons from my mother-in-law and the ‘unknown’ father, I decided to be a world class bargainer.
The other day, while walking on a crowded street, I decided to pick up two traditional puppets. I asked the price and the young boy said, Rs 250. Immediately, my mom-in-law’s face danced in front of my eyes. And then I said with loads of confidence, “Rs 75.” He gave me one of those Gabbar Singh laughs but then I too was in a Phoolan Devi mood./

I kept on walking and he kept on walking behind me. After a while, I told him, “Why are you following me?” He told me, “Why should I?” But in true bargaining style, we decided to once again strike a fresh conversation. I used all kind of tricks in the world right from telling him how poor am I to how many new customers I will bring for him if he sells me these two puppets at Rs 75. Finally, I won and got the puppets for Rs 75. For a nanosecond, I felt like one gold medalist at the Olympics. But the story doesn’t end here. When I told me mom-in-law about my great bargaining act, she dismissed all my tall claims by telling, “I could have got it for Rs 40.”

Well, if my mom-in-law were my FB friend, I would have blocked her immediately. But then we have a ‘real’ relationship. So, in spite of all our fights, we end up sharing a cup of tea. But I am learning the art of bargaining. Wish me good luck.