Category Archives: Personal

#Lockdowndiary: Stranger in my own city

MAY 20, 2020, AHMEDABAD (LOCKDOWN 4.0)

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After 57 days (since the lockdown was announced in India on March 25), today early in the morning I ventured out of my home for the first time. The city felt intimidating. I felt like a complete stranger in the city which has been my home for the last 20 years.

Since yesterday, I have been mentally preparing myself to go to the neighbourhood shop to buy certain items. Even essential items for me are luxury for some. As I could not find   the shop’s contact number, I looked for it in google. I had made a call to find out about the shop’s timing. The person who picked up the phone told me to come at 6 in the morning. I set my alarm clock before hitting the bed.

In the morning, I got ready, put my homemade cotton mask and ventured out. I felt nervous, unsure. I was happy to meet Santosh bhaiya, my building’s security guard. We exchanged greetings.

As I walked towards the shop, the city felt intimidating. I felt like a complete stranger in the city which has been my home for the last 20 years. Few masked men and women were on the street as it was early in the morning. I could not see contours of any face.

I had to wait for a little while as the  owner of the shop had not arrived. He then came on his two-wheeler. ‘Good morning,’ I told him.  He said, “Beta, good morning.” He fed grains to the pigeons before opening the shop.

His shop always had shelves full of things. Today, his shop did not fit into what I have always seen.  I had never seen empty shelves in his shop. I felt odd, a sense of emptiness. I bought things I wanted, some things were not there. We exchanged money with a sense of caution. Before leaving the shop, I told him to take care of himself. He wished the same to me.

I walked back home with a sense of urgency. The vegetable, fruits vendors were arranging their carts to start another day. The police van was moving around asking everyone to follow official guidelines. Behind masks, everyone looked distant, cold. It was as if I walking through a ghost town.

I reached home, put my clothes and mask in a bucket for washing . I washed my hand with soap for little more than 25 seconds. I then burst into crying. I still don’t know why did I cry. But I just couldn’t stop the tears.  I don’t know whether the tears are for the uncertain times we are living in or for the faceless migrant workers walking back home under a brutal sun, some dying on the road, some being run over by a train. Some gracious enough to refuse food because they want someone more hungry to have that food.

Or may be at a deep personal level, I just could not come to terms with that feeling of being a lonely stranger in my own city. My Ahmedabad. Aapnu Amdavad.

Grey love

They were on skype. He said something, she said, “What do you think? I have got grey hair for nothing.”

He smiled and said,  “With every new grey hair, my love for you grows and deepens.”

The next morning, she received an sms asking, “Wanting to get rid of your grey hair. Our product assures that. Contact us… ”

She simply deleted the message.

 

 

When the mind cuts like a knife

In many ways, words become living beings in the course of our life journey. Words assume a life of their own when we listen deeply to our inner self.
She thinks of the word ‘Pining.’ And thinks of him. He taught her the word — through  his presence and absence.

Both of them feel they should have been together. It would have been wonderful to read, write, dissect, reflect and exchange ideas and world views. Night after night. In the midst of ordinariness of life.

Even though their  interests are different, they share a very strong sense of adaptive intellectual and cognitive connectivity. After all, all you can now only hear cacophony around you. There are so very people  with whom one can talk these days. Don’t get her wrong. She doesn’t believe in intellectualizing human relationships.

People think she’s flamboyant. They find her cool. But you see people see themselves differently. She feels the flamboyance is actually a kind of cover up for all the years of longing she has kept within her.  Lest the brutal world will shred her soul.

Over cups of black tea and Farida Khanum’s soul-stirring music, she tells to her friends, “Love and loss mean the same. I have loved only one man in my life and lost him so many times that in the process love and loss are intertwined.”

One friend asks, “What makes you stay attracted?”

“Tenacity and ability to look at the world like a sharp knife. It’s gratifying to see someone cutting the flab/the excess and hold on to the essence. Something like holding a knife and peeling the yellow skin of a mango.  A simple yet meaningful act. There’s immense beauty in it. Probably, that’s why I am always attracted to austerity, melancholy, bareness. Excess is vulgar.”

There was silence in the room. Silence can be sharp too.

 

 

 

 

The Art of Stillness

I enjoy reading Pico Iyer. The other day while trying to sail through the madness of the newsroom and stiff deadlines, I took a little break and ordered online a copy of  Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness. I decided to give my favourite Amazon a miss and chose another site (No, not Flipkart). Well, I chose this site  because it was offering me a price which was Rs 22 (when you convert, it’s far far lower than one dollar) less than the offer given by Amazon. The lure of saving money.

 

book

 

This was my first purchase from this site. My heart says it will be last too. Little did I know that this site took the title of my book  very literally. They true to the title of the book decided to be STILL for many days and weeks. They taught me to practice The Art of Stillness in real life. I waits and waited.

The stillness turned into movement when I received the book two days back after I had forgotten about it completely.

The slim book is a pleasure to read. I m not rushing through it.

Like slow cooked mutton biryani, I m savoring it.

Slowly. And slowly.

America. Too far

Even in 2016 that comes with near perfect internet connection, viber, skype, whatsapp, Gchat, I find America too far. I find it difficult to embrace two different time zones.

“America is far. When will you be back?” I asked him. “Distance is not an issue these days. By your logic, even Ahmedabad is far from Delhi,” he told. “No, America is very far,” I answered back. He told, “But your sister lives there.” I replied, “How will anyone understand the pangs of separation?”

My younger sister has been living in America since last 20 years. During the initial years, I hoped that she would come back to India. To Bangalore, Pune or may be Hyderabad. We often talked of her coming back to India.  Possibilities of walking into each other’s homes  without ever having to go through the visa, immigration procedures.

Times have changed. Years have brought in different realities.  We don’t indulge in such talks now. Our wrinkles on the face are becoming more visible.We know the reality. Her coming back to India looks as remote as Virendra Sehwag once again playing international cricket.

I have always hated the hours between my sister boarding a flight from Newark and arriving at Mumbai. These hours always make me  cranky, anxious. I  somehow make a listless attempt to sail through the day. I keep myself occupied by  cleaning wardrobes that look organized. I perk up when she arrives in Mumbai. Suddenly the anxiety just melts away.

It’s not even 20 hours since he left for America. I have started feeling the pangs of anxiety. I am writing this piece to sooth me, to calm me. I know, it’s not about him. He has gone there on a short visit. He travels frequently. So, it’s no big deal.

So, what exactly is it? It’s about my primary emotions. It’s about my sister living in America. It’s about my sister and me not being able to mourn together the loss of our parents. We could never hug each other when our wounds were raw and bleeding. We were too desolate in two distant lands. Yet we could find a meeting ground.

Life is strange, actually. Sometimes we don’t know whom we are missing. But we feel the ache deep within our heart. We feel the pain in our veins. Same is true of ‘being far’ too. Even in the midst all the internet trapping, I feel America is really far. The silicon valley guys will laugh at me. For talking about distance in 2016.

 

 

Relationship manager

I was on my desk at work. A tall, lanky man came to meet me. I thought the visitor had some press release to share with me. Journalists can’t think beyond news/stories.

I looked at him curiously. He looked at me and told,  “I am your relationship manager.”

I told him, “What!!!! most of my relationships are screwed up. So, what exactly are you managing?”

He was taken aback with this outburst of mine. Most finance professionals are too seriously involved with numbers, profit margins and the like. Humor doesn’t come to them quickly. Humor comes easily to poor journalists like me.  He then blurted out, “I am from your bank. I am there to manage your account. ”

Money, relationship, finance … all now seem entangled together in a liberalized, market-driven India.

You see, I was born in pre-liberalized India. I am as clueless about all this as I was before.

 

Love. Pyaar. Magic.

Duniya bahut saari hoti hai, par pyaar ek hi hota hai. (There are many many worlds… My world, his world, her world, rich man’s world, poor man’s world, peaceful world, volatile world, hostile world, friendly world.. the list goes on and on. But there is only one love.) You can never replicate magic. It just happens once and once in a lifetime.

Just embrace the magic. The magic called love. And be grateful for it.

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Of checks and cross

.Image I call him Kitty these days. The world also calls him Sarthak or Gogol. He is my five year old nephew who lives in Atlanta. He came to India during this summer. He has a unique way of showing his love. If he loves you, then he will give you a check. And if he’s upset with you then he will give you a cross. Some times he draws it on a paper and puts it in your hand. On most occasions, he will draw the sign on your hand, palm or cheeks. That’s his way of showing love or disappointment.

I told this to my husband and showed him how Kitty does it. And my husband kept on giving me loads of ‘cross’ —- sometimes a little hard which felt like mild pinching.   Now I have banned this ‘playful’ act at home. May be I should have just told him about drawing it on the paper. There’s always something innocent about a kid’s way of doing things. Till he/she grows up.

Locked door, closed windows

I am wallowing in grief. Because the door of the house in which my aunt and uncle lived is now locked and all the windows are closed. For me, this three bed-room apartment is home to a collage of wonderful memories. I will hold it close to my heart till I breathe my last. Everytime I went to Bhubaneswar on holidays, I loved being in this sparkingly clean house. It was a house where I could walk in at any point of time even without making a phone call. Five star hotels could have picked up a few lessons in house-keeping from my aunt. Not a single magazine/newspaper was ever misplaced in her house. For years, my favourite way to relax in her house was to lie on her absolutely comfortable bed and read an Outlook or India Today.  Every now and then my aunt would come to me with a cup of tea/coffee and a plate full of mouth-watering snacks. The tea always came in a different cup and on a different tray. I felt like a princess soaking in the love and warmth of my aunt and uncle. Pampering a niece came naturally to them.
Without ever saying, it was understood that it was a home where I was always welcome. I could just put my feet up on the couch and ask my aunt to give me a visual account of all the sari-shopping she did when I was far away. She would then open the cupboard and take out feather-like soft silk and cotton saris in bright colors. In between looking at the saris, I would cast a glance at myself on her dressing table mirror. Life felt like sheer poetry.
I spent languorous moments watching my aunt applying powder on her face after her morning bath. I loved the quietness that ruled the morning air. I loved the way time stretched its arms even as my aunt and me laughed, talked and drank cups of tea. It was love and affection that brought me back to this wonderful house year after year. It was a second home that gave me a chance to escape from existential realities.
I was looking forward to savour that slice of life once again in October. But destiny had willed it otherwise. My aunt passed away on the wee hours of July 17. Last night, my uncle moved to Bengaluru to be with his eldest son. From now onwards, my uncle will divide his time between Bengaluru and New Jersey. The house that once smelt of my aunt’s lip-smacking bread-pakoras, elaichi tea and chicken curry is now locked. Warm memories of laughter laced moments spent with my aunt now fill up my eyes with tears. Sooner or later, dust will settle on my aunt’s pebble like smooth dining table. The colourful teacups that line her kitchen shelf will long for a lip. Every time I think of the locked house, images of my beautiful aunt moving graciously from one room to another haunt me. I still can’t come to terms with the thought that next time when I will be in Bhubaneswar, I will not actually see my aunt pottering around the house like a butterfly. Like my aunt, the house will be as far as the distant horizon.