Category Archives: People

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.

 

 

 

 

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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 mind. 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.

Knowing Self, the Sufi way

A wandering dervish arrived in a town where the locals did not trust strangers. “Go away,” they shouted at him. “No one knows you here.” The dervish calmly responded, “Yes, but I know myself and believe me, it would have been much worse if it were the other way around.”

There is no Other

In few hours from now, the year 2017 will go behind the curtains. This is also the time to pause, contemplate and ruminate. This year has been a year full of violence, aggression and lack of empathy. The streets of India are becoming mean and violent. People are being targeted for their food on the plate. Lovers are being dragged to courts because they are from different religions. Attempts are being made to put the all-encompassing beautiful Hinduism in a little black box.  On social media, it’s difficult to have a discussion without receiving choicest abuses. If you are sensitive and compassionate then you are a micro-minority.  Everyone seems to eager to vent his/her anger towards an imaginary ‘Other’.

How does one live life in the midst of so much of distrust, anger and violence? How do we bring up our daughters and sons? How do we move forward as a nation and improve our pathetic yet supremely pro-rich health care and education? How do we improve our Human Development Index? These are the questions that have disturbed me a lot in 2017. How can our daughters walk fearlessly on our streets, play a game of hide and seek in our parks and gardens? How can our daughters say ‘No’ to relationships that they find stifling and not face acid attacks and violent attacks?

It’s time for us to pause, contemplate and ruminate.

How do we move forward ?

The answer lies in “The strength to love, the courage to love.”

This also reminds me of the heart-warming story in which a disciple asks the great sage and teacher Ramana Maharishi, “How does one treat the other?”

Ramana answered gently, “There’s no other.”

 

 

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.