Category Archives: People

A story turns 10

#10YearChallenge : Few weeks back, my social media timeline was full of photographs with this hashtag. Well, here it’s a little different. I wrote this story for my niece Simrita in 2009 (She turned 8 then) as a birthday gift. Ten years later, in 2019, she is all set to join college in couple of months. Two days back, I found the story in my Gmail inbox when I was in a combative mood to delete old e-mails. I am sharing this short story out of love, affection and nostalgia. I am also realizing that how fast kids grow up. Simrita is all set to celebrate her birthday on February 15.

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A birthday to remember

Sui Moi is a beautiful little girl who’s just seven years old. And let me share a secret about Sui Moi — she’s crazy about her birthday (in addition to watching Tom and Jerry on television and eating large pieces of chocolate cake). She has always thrown big birthday parties for her friends. She loves to call all her six close friends and also three close friends of her brother Koko Moi who is six years old. Koko Moi loves his sister a lot and is always ready to think of new ways to bring in special surprises for Sui Moi’s birthday. Are you wondering when’s Sui Moi’s birthday? Her birthday is on January 15.

This year Sui Moi as usual had lots of plan in mind before bringing in another birthday. She along with her papa (whom we will call Papa Moi), mama (whom we will call Mama Moi) and Koko Moi had checked out the menu of a restaurant from where she had planned to order the food her party. And with every passing day, she was getting excited about her birthday. So also Koko Moi. He spent hours in painting a huge card for his sister.

baked birthday birthday cake blowing

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

But alas, sometimes things just don’t go right in spite of our plan. On 15th January morning, Papa Moi got a call from the restaurant saying that there had been a fire in the kitchen of the restaurant the previous night. Though no one was hurt in the fire but they had closed down the restaurant for some repair work. That’s why, they wouldn’t be able to deliver the food and they would give back the advanced amount. “Oh No, God can’t be so cruel to me,” screamed Sui Moi when she first heard the news and tears rolled down her cheeks. She couldn’t imagine what would happen to her party which she had so meticulously planned days in advance.  What’s a party without food? What will she do? There are just some hours left for the party. All these years, Sui Moi’s birthday parties were much loved among her friend circle for the decoration, food, fun and loads of laughter.

But as they say every cloud has a silver lining. And immediately there was a family discussion on what to do next. Both Koko Moi and Sui Moi wore a very sad look. But then came brilliant ideas from Papa Moi and Mama Moi who declared cheerfully, “Let’s cook for the party and as they say nothing tastes like homemade food. All four of us will be the chefs and the party will rock as usual.” Sui Moi at first thought Papa Moi and Mama Moi were joking. But seeing their determination, she and Koko Moi decided to go ahead with this sudden plan.

The first thing on the menu was something from Koko Moi. Well, you might think he’s a little boy but don’t forget that he’s our little champ. So, Koko Moi said with a big grin on his face and a packet of Gelatin powder in his hand, “I will make Jell-O sweets for everybody.”  Bingo… and Sui Moi said immediately “I am going to be Mama’s assistant and help her in the kitchen.” And immediately Papa  Moi said, “Hey you guys, don’t forget me. I am also going to have fun in the kitchen and make some delicious potato sandwiches. But before that let me rush and get the cake and of course some packets of chicken nuggets and pizza bases.”

With so much of enthusiasm in the air, everybody got into action. And Mama Moi immediately rushed to the kitchen to boil some potatoes so that Papa Moi can make the sandwiches once he returns from the market. And she asked her assistant Sui Moi to take out capsicum, mushrooms, tomatoes from the refrigerator.
Then Sui Moi said, “Well, Mama, how about putting some music so that we all can dance a little  while cooking.” Our little Koko Moi simply loved the idea as he’s always the first one to shake a leg. Even as Papa Moi went to the market (this time he went alone cause there are so many things to do at home and Koko Moi was too busy to go with him), Mama Moi braced herself to cut those capsicum, mushroom, onion for making pizzas. And Sui Moi then had a request, “Mama, can you make those lovely chilly egg fry which you made just a week back.” Mama Moi hugged Sui Moi and said tenderly, “Darling, today is your day. So I  will do anything for my dearest princess.” And she took out eggs to boil while Sui Moi watched her with a big smile on her face.
In the meanwhile, Koko Moi was all set for making Jell-O sweets. He added the powder to the boiling water given by his mother… and after that he put them into small containers to be put in the refrigerator.

And then after 45 minutes, Papa Moi came back from the market with packets of chicken nuggets and pizza bases and a huge chocolate cake (which he had ordered the previous evening). Everything went off smoothly and with music in the background, cooking for friends became almost like a picnic at home. So, in the end the guests at the party had : Delicious crusty pizzas, potato sandwiches with oregano, chicken nuggets, chips, cookies, colorful Jello-O sweets. And of course they had chocolate cake. It might sound funny but some of Sui Moi’s friends just couldn’t get up from their chairs after polishing off such a delicious home-made meal. After taking rest for a little while, they all danced like crazy and screaming at the top of their voice, “Sui Moi’s party rocks.” Ha ha, what’s new, didn’t we tell you before?

Are you wondering, what all Sui Moi got as B Day gift:

* She got story books, toys, cookie packets, nice colourful stationary sets, a beautiful necklace and a lovely beaded bag.

 

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2019 Wisdom

(A very happy and prosperous 2019 — From Gypsy on qwerty key board)

I have been thinking to write a post for quite some time. But somehow, I just couldn’t find the time to sit quietly and write it. How do I start the first post of 2019? Well, I owe this post to my friend A. 

A… is one of my close friends and I have known him for almost 25 years. He writes beautifully on cinema, sports and life and is a published author. A recently went to Bhutan on an official trip. When we talked after his trip, I asked him excitedly, “Did you go to the Tiger Nest monastery?’ (I know, it’s a real tough trek). What he told me in answer to my question has stayed with me and the wisdom in what he said is relevant to many of us. I am putting his words in the following lines.  Over to A.

“On the day of the Tiger Nest trek, I stood at the starting point and told to myself, ‘Listen A, all your life you have never gone on a trek. So, at this stage of your life why do you want to do something just to impress your boss and probably your colleagues. Why should not you be just yourself and give the trek a miss and enjoy the other beautiful experiences offered by Bhutan. After this conversation with myself, I felt good and then there was no need to impress anybody. They say, the Tiger Nest trek gives you a fascinating view of Bhutan and the view is really breath-taking. Many people consider this trek as a spiritual experience. But what surprised me was that when my team members came back after the trek, none of them talked about the view or the soul-elevating experience. All that they were talking was how some team members could not manage the trek, how miserable some people were and how some people really huffed and puffed with no end result. They were interested in talking about other people’s misery rather than the view, the beauty of the trek, the unique experience, the nuances and the like. So, my point in life is do what your heart says. You need not do anything to impress anybody.  If you do something in a superficial way, you will never enjoy the experience as it will be a manufactured one.”

So, here’s to 2019, life and my friend A’s mantra of listening to one’s inner voice and living  life by one’s core values. Not by other people’s approval. If you listen to yourself intently, you will always know the answer. So, be mindful in 2019 and listen to your heart. Have a wonderful year.

 

 

 

 

Take me as I am

It’s bit tiring as people keep on telling me, “Oh my God, you have got grey hair. Why are you not coloring your hair?”

Well, I am very comfortable with my grey hair. The grey hair tells the story of a rich, textured life I have lived. I can’t color my experiences. I have to take them as they are/were. It is all part of an organic process.

I dread spending hours in the salon for coloring my hair. I had streaked my hair seven years back as I wanted to have fun with my hair. It was a long long process which was quite expensive too.  I am not here to make a statement. If I feel like having those purple streaks to match my purple lipstick sometime in the future then probably I will do that.

But why do people are so worried about other people’s grey hair? They should be more worried about climate change, mindless consumerism and the like.  Not someone’s grey hair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.