Tea

I love tea. I presume tea too loves me.

Tea slows me down. Tea makes me move forward. Tea gives me company. Tea makes me reflect.

Every morning, I drink tea in the same beautiful blue ceramic cup. It’s my own little tea ritual.

Sometimes when I am too sad, I stay away from tea. Sometimes, when I am too happy, I drink cups of tea. One after another.

Tea brings back memories of my loved ones.

teaSometimes when I visit people’s homes or offices, I lie about tea. I say, “I don’t drink tea.” The reason is I am very scared of having over-boiled, sweet, milky tea.

I love my first cup of tea at work. Not in a paper cup but in my own ceramic cup   At 11 am. It makes my day unfold.

I am in mood for a cup of tea. Right now.

This post is an expression of that longing.

Have a cup of chai/tea on my behalf. With love. .

Life in time of autocorrect

She was absent-minded. She was  balancing a fat samosa, a cup of sweet milky tea and a sleek smartphone. She was writing a message to a close friend from the coupe of the AC Two-tier compartment of Rajdhani Express.

She wanted to write: ‘I am going to …

Then the autocorrect popped up on her phone. She just clicked in a jiffy. The message went as ‘I am going to die.’

Actually, she wanted to write: ‘I am going to Delhi.’

He panicked. Called her back almost within 10 seconds.

They had a good laugh when they discovered the truth.

Aah. Autocorrect.

 

A romance called Indian Railways

Indian Railways

(This beautiful picture is from Flicker… (BY Ujjawal). This post celebrates 162 years of Indian Railways)

Last July, I was on a flight from Ahmedabad to Bengaluru on a budget airlines. I had ordered a cup of coffee to kill my boredom. Seeing me sipping the frothy coffee, my co-passenger (with whom I had not even shared a hello) asked me, “Why don’t you have a samosa which I am carrying with me?” I politely declined. But the immediate thought that came to mind was, “Oh, it seems like a scene straight from the Indian Railways.”

There’s always something alluring about Indian railways.Strangers become friends in a matter of few minutes. ‘Adjust, just adjust’ becomes the vocabulary. Adjust your luggage, adjust the passengers who are travelling without reservation. Life needs to be lived on an ‘adjust’ mode. Food like love becomes a bonding factor.’No’ for an answer when food being offered is not even entertained. Is everything about Indian railways so intimate, colourful, vibrant, full of life? The obvious answer is NO. But you know, life need not be an Oscar award winning movie. There’s beauty in imperfections too.

When Indian Railways turned 160 years, Google, the uber cool search engine paid a tribute to the Grand Old Lady of India by doing the doodle (well, pardon me for giving a gender to the railways) of a steam train curling around a palm-flanked setting. The world needs to celebrate this even when you are not a part of it.

I grew up in small town India with an awe-inspiring fascination for Indian Railways. My earlier memories of a train was in a train called Konark Express (from Bhubaneswar to Secunderabad). As a child, I used to find it fascinating that the train’s name used to change to Minar Express even as it chugged along tracks from Secunderabad to Bombay (Changing names of cities was not politically fashionable then). As I saw in front of my little bewildered eyes, Konark Express becoming Minar in just a matter of few hours, I thought of having two names for myself. Years later, I created an e-mail id in another name just for the memory of a journey with beautiful memories.

Built by the British Empire in order to open up and facilitate commerce, and link the people of this vast country, the railways changed the lives of Indians, making travel much easier and connecting the north, south, east, west of this fascinating country. And in the last 160+ years, the railways have given a whole new meaning to the word ‘metamorphosis.’  If you have the money, you can savour a delicious slice of a royal life in the luxury laced ‘Palace on wheels’ and if you want to soak in the lingering beauty of the mountains and probably wanting to pick up some wild flowers, then hop on to a toy train in the Nilgiris.

On many occasions, when my mind draws blank, I turn to the Indian Railways for taking that  journey of fancy. On such a fancy flight, I found myself discovering the Vivek Express, from Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari which is the longest route on the Indian Railways network, in terms of distance and time, and the 9th longest in the world. Imagine 82hours 15m with a mind-blowing 56 halts. (Doesn’t it sound exciting).

To travel in the trains in India is to experience a slice of life. Where else would  you experience the landscape changing colours probably every 200 kilometres, voices whispering different dialects with equal speed and the platter of India taking a roller coaster ride. From puri aloo at Kharagpur, oranges at Nagpur, guavas at Allahabad to mango jelly at Moghul Sarai, the variety is unbelievable and irresistible. A meal which is neither gourmet nor exclusive. Yet gives a sense of fulfillment.

The times are changing. The budget airlines have taken over the travel itinerary of India’s vast number of middle class souls. The Railways as per the government statistics is going through heavy losses. The mineral water bottles now have taken over the old world jugs which used to be filled at stations earlier. Yes, now people are hooked on to their mobiles. Listening to songs, playing games or just messaging even as the train chugs along in a languid fashion. But still then it’s yet to become as cold as a flight journey where it’s impolite to strike a personal conversation.

In the autumn of 2013, I took a train from Delhi to Ahmedabad in the Rajdhani express and I had refused dinner which was complimentary. In the morning when I made valiant efforts to climb down from my upper berth, my co-passenger asked me, “Why did not you eat your dinner last night? It’s not nice to skip your dinner.” For a moment, I basked in the glory of that warmth. I couldn’t help but think of a long harrowing flight journey I took (from Ahmedabad to Bhubaneswar) after my dad passed away. I didn’t touch a glass of water throughout the long flight and nobody really noticed it. I was alone in my grief even though I was sharing a middle seat in a row.

Strange as it might sound, for years I have nurtured this desire to travel across the country in an AC first class coupe (I have never travelled in one) with the man of my life. This is one romantic journey I have always held close to my heart. Even post budget airlines.

PS : The steam engines might be a thing of the past in the tomorrows to come. But I hope, as the train chugs along the lush green fields, swaying trees, little houses unfolding dreams within their four walls,  there will be a middle aged man reading a Hindi novel called ‘Maine maili ho gayi (I’ve become impure) and there will be always a smiling woman/man offering you some home-cooked food in a train compartment moving in a zig zag way and thereby bringing you smells of home. Even if home is far far away.

Death of a cafe

Cafe samovar

It’s like losing a loved one. It’s like losing a chance to relive a beautiful memory. There will be no once more. No once again too. Reading Mumbai Mirror’s lead story on ‘Cafe Samovar closing down’ filled my heart with a sense of desolation and sadness.

Years ago, when I was planning for a trip to Mumbai, my former boss Ranjona Banerjee wrote on a piece of paper a ‘list of must visits.’ And Cafe Samovar was one of them. It was love first sight. Every time I visited Mumbai, I visited Cafe Samovar. Sometimes when time was a big constraint,  I just had a look at it from a distance. It felt like home. Even on my first visit. It can’t be more endearing than this.

In April, 2012, I was in Mumbai to spend some time with my close friends who were visiting India from Melbourne.  Apart from our love, affection for each other, nothing worked well in this trip. Mumbai painfully hot, sweaty. People on the streets sapped me of my energy. As if this was not enough, I had some horrible experiences with a person I thought I was close to. We were desperate to get out of Mumbai after two listless days. It was a trip I would like to erase from my memory.

But something saved me. Haruki Murakami and a mug of beer at Samovar soothed my soul on that cruel April day. As I soaked in my solitude on that hot, sweaty afternoon in India’s dream-chasers’ city, I drew a sense of peace and tranquility from Cafe Samovar.

Even as this beautiful Cafe Samovar gets ready to say goodbye this March to its lovers, friends, well-wishers and admirers after being with them for 50 years, I can see the ugly, brutal face of modernization all around us. And it’s going to erase everything tender, beautiful, elegant and minimalist from our landscape. What are we becoming as a city, people and nation? Will there be only masculine brutality all around us?

p.s:  Even in the midst of loss, I feel happy today for two reasons: I managed to click these pictures of Cafe Samovar  that afternoon. And I bought a beautiful coffee-table book on Cafe Samovar. A friend of mine thought I was crazy to waste my money by buying this book on a ‘cafe.’ But to understand love, you need to have it in you to love. Without calculations.

samovar2

Chai Chai : A love story

My best friend in my office is probably the shy young canteen boy who gives me a cup of tea exactly at 11 in the morning. Till he comes and pours the tea in my cup, I can’t bring my brain operate to its fullest capacity. Once I see him, I feel at peace. Well, I am not alone in my obsession with tea. There are many across India who can’t think of starting their day without a cup of tea. Or many cups of tea.

tea

(During a recent visit to Wagh Bakri Tea Lounge, Ahmedabad, I fell in love with this beautiful tea kettle)

For many many years, lots of things in India happened over tea. But there was no glamour attached to it. It was a part of life but not a lifestyle statement. Many from my generation grew up with the song ‘Sayad meri shaadi ka khayal..Isi liye mummy ne meri tumhe chai me bulaya’
Chai or tea can be easily called India’s lifeline. From railway platforms to swanky living rooms of India’s rich and neo-rich, chai is omnipresent. To understand tea, you have to understand the emotions that come with it in that little cup.
One of the most endearing memories of growing up in India is the train (in which you are travelling) chugging along and entering into a station and then comes the cries of ‘chai, chai garam’ almost embracing one with a deep sense of love and affection. Nothing comes close to sharing a cup of tea with your friends. And let us be honest, chai always tastes better with a bit of harmless gossip. Some years back, when I used to visit my friend in Mumbai (she always came to receive me at the station even though the train used to arrive at 4.30 in the morning), we used to sit together cozily in her living room with two cups of tea in our hands and discuss in utter seriousness about lives of Bollywood stars, cricketers and politicians. .
Chai is more/less like India. There are many layers to discover. So, when you want to save a little money, you go for the cutting chai. Where else in the world you will get this unique ‘cutting chai’? (for those who are uninitiated, cutting chai is a glass of tea that’s divided into two).
What’s more romantic than watching the lashing rains with a cup of garam chai and a plate of pakoda. And if you love your share of  ‘spice’ in life then nothing is more welcoming than a cup of ‘kadak adrak chai.’ With ginger and pudina added to your tea, you can be as efficient as the Chinese machine.
Chai has different avatars in different parts of India even though there’s a thread that runs through it. The English might give their ‘bed tea’ a miss today but the Punjabis do not. Every time I stay at my Punjabi friend’s house, her domestic help wakes me up in the morning with a cup of bed tea. Needless to say, the tea comes with an overdose of milk and sugar. In Gujarat where even dal comes with a generous sprinkling of sugar, the less it’s said about the sugary chai, the better it’s. Chai here in Gujarat is much savoured with khari biscuit, maska bun, khakhra and ganthia. In India’s intellectual city Kolkata (no other city can boast of this tag), people can spend hours and hours at addas and over cups of tea argue endlessly over Mamta Banerjee and Dibaker Banerjee.
But there’s a new competition to our humble chai now. Swanky coffee shops with wifi connection have now become a part of urban landscape. Suddenly you can see that a lot is happening over coffee. From ‘make-ups’ with nervous giggles, job interviews, business deals to teary break ups— lot is actually happening in the sanitised air-conditioned coffee shops. Suddenly cappuccino, cafe latte have become part of urban dictionary. Sipping frothy coffee with a smiley carefully done has become a sign of ‘being cool.’ Smartphones and a cup of cappuccino is the sure shot way to show off  your cool quotient. Now where does the humble chai actually figure in? Well, the chai has got a makeover.
Urban India has now moved beyond those kadak chai, adrak chai or overboiled sweet milky tea. It’s now time for peach tea, apple tea, green tea. Exotic has become the mainstream now. With new money showing its ugly face from every nook and corner of the street, the chai has to keep pace too. And look beyond that ordinary garam chai served in a kullad.
However, even it its new avatar, there’s less masculinity about tea. I feel, there’s a tenderness about tea. Tea is like a love story taking its own time to evolve. It’s not in a hurry to prove itself to the world. The coffee is a tad different. Trapped in a bone china cup that arrives on your table even as the blaring music of Justin Biber’s ‘Baby’ shows a slice of globalisation penetrating India. It’s a little bit on your face. May be it has got to with the fact that now in urban India coffee has suddenly become a uber cool lifestyle statement. Every now and then friends, colleagues and acquaintances say, “Let’s meet over coffee.’ May be a time will soon come when people will say, ‘Let us make love over coffee.’
Do I see any threat to our good old chai? No, not really. To have chai is politically correct now. We have a ‘chaiwalla’ prime minister in India now (Mani Shankar Aiyer, you can eat your own words). And yes,  hopefully we will have lots to discuss over a cup of tea. You know, chai pe charcha.

Comrade, this is for you

They are almost extinct now. Probably, a tad better than Rahul Gandhi’s Congress tally in recently concluded Delhi Assembly elections.  But there was a time, they symbolised hope and intimate dreams to change the world. Gut-wrenching poetry, heart-warming songs came from them. And India swore by its friendship with Soviet Russia. Decades ago, when I was a wide-eyed young student of JNU, a bastion of left politics, I was madly in love with one of those unique species called ‘Comrades’. So, on this Valentine’s Day, I am taking a journey down the memory lane of those beautiful years when ‘left’ mattered more than the right (though Right is ruling the country now). Till very recently, I took love (man-woman) very seriously. Now, I am almost enlightened … part Sufi, part Buddhist, part minimalist,  I see now life with a twisted eye.  However, Here’s to you, comrade. For old time’s sake.

TEA

An… I address him by this name when I write to him. So, let us stick to this name. In JNU, if you throw a stone, it will hit one comrade or another. I don’t know why I was drawn to this comrade. There is no logic to love.I m not dwelling on this.

His room (unlike other hostel rooms) had no bed. Not that the hostel authorities didn’t provide him one. They gave him one but that was honorably put on the balcony so that the visiting comrades from different parts of the country will have more floor space to stretch their legs and arms. The room at any given time had more than four people. On very few occasions, the room was locked. He could be anywhere but his room was 24X7 open for fellow comrades. Modi’s Vibrant Gujarat talked of ‘atithi devo bhav’ in glowing terms but the comrades practised it with all sincerity much before it became a pure marketing gimmick.

If you were very lucky (that happened very rarely), you could find a water bottle in his room. I was very happy when I spotted a plastic water jug once in his room but then it vanished in no time. In JNU, the ‘special’ tea made by the hostel mess staff in the early morning was the best (it was mostly meant for their consumption). There were days when our comrade used to get the ‘special’ tea for me too. You see comrades have a natural talent for finding a solution even in extreme situations (for nothing they talked about class annihilation). Thinking about having a tea/coffee mug in our comrade’s room is like expecting United States of America to go slow on giving moral lectures to the whole world on racial equality, human rights and religion tolerance. But being an organic ‘jugaadu’,  he always managed to get tea in a steel glass (borrowed from some friend or the other). Even decades after, it’s that endearing image of having chai in a steel glass that brings a smile on my face.

Our comrade never had enough money during those ‘student’ years but he always travelled in an auto (which was a luxury then). I remember one Sunday morning when I went to his hostel room, he was selling old newspapers to the kabadiwallah (a national ‘Sunday activity’ in India which also generates income). Suddenly, I found out that some issues of the Hindi magazine called ‘Saptahik’ (if I remember correctly) containing his articles were also up for sale, I screamed “No, don’t do it. Your articles are there” but it fell on deaf ears. But he did treat me to a very nice dinner, thanks to all the money he got that day after selling newspapers and magazines.

On a very romantic rainy evening, with great enthusiasm I made coffee for him and with equal difficulty I managed to find a big flask from one of the girls in my hostel. As usual, there were many ‘revolutionaries’ in his room and after having my coffee, one of them looked at me and said, “Deepikaji, waike hi aap bahut accha chai banate hai (Deepikaji, you actually make very good tea).” I wish I had an AK 47 with me that night.  He survived and here I am telling the story with a tinge of affection.

On another occasion, when I was soaking in love and affection, I bought a shirt for our comrade. It really looked good on him. And in less than 48 hours, I saw another lanky comrade wearing that shirt and happily sipping tea in the JNU’s much popular Ganga dhaba. I must say, I was really heart-broken that day. I was young then with a sense of possession. Now, I have evolved.

Yes, we did exchange some letters mostly during vacations. His letters read like Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto.’ Even then it was a joy to just read anything in his hand-writing (you know that silly thing called love which makes everything feel so beautiful).

There was one occasion when three of us (the comrade, me and Sanjay) were supposed to write a research proposal for an NGO. The deadline was nearing and our comrade was absconding. So, in utter desperation, Sanjay and me went to his room. The room was dark and as expected four/five people were sleeping. Sanjay kept on telling, “Hello, hello… where’s An?” There was no response for almost 10 minutes. And then out of sheer frustration, Sanjay 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.” We called off our search operation and the next morning, our comrade somehow appeared on the scene and as we were very angry, he did the major chunk of the work.

Epilogue: The comrade is still a very much part of my life. No, I didn’t marry him. He is no longer dreaming of an armed revolution. He has changed for the better — a better human being, a more compassionate thinker, far more democratic than what he was. He has become worldly-wise though I am afraid he still can’t indulge in small talk. His e-mails now read like the ones written by one human being to another. The letters exchanged between us contain the collage of images of changing India. I wish, we could publish them in future. These wonderful narratives are precious to the understanding of love, life and most importantly India.

I love him a lot — in myriad ways. If you ask me to define the relationship and put a name to it, I just can’t do it. Both of us are now married and charting our own journeys in life. A lot of credit also goes to our respective spouses for understanding and respecting the space we share. In those heady years of love, longing and a passion for changing the world, he had lovely mop of curly hair. Today, he has lost much of that adorable mop and I still don’t tie my curly hair much to his disappointment (like my dad, he always wanted me to tie my hair. But I never listened to both of them).

I have lots of respect for his superb razor-sharp mind. Whenever I am in ethical crisis, dilemma or trauma, I always turn to him for healing. Friends often ask me how have we managed to keep this connection alive all these years? I guess, the answer is respect for each other. Both of us have deep love and appreciation for Gandhiji and the wonderful diverse, fascinating land called India.  And we laugh a lot together (of course, I have a better sense of humor than him. But he’s improving with every passing day). We still talk to each other for hours and hours — the conversation ranges from identity, love, gender, food, India to Gandhi. Whether it’s the counting day of Delhi Elections or the day of brutal Peshawar attack, my first call has always been to him (even if it means an expensive ISD call). I tease him now, “Thank God, I didn’t marry you. Otherwise, I would have ended up as a divorcee.” He laughs and says, “You would have written three brilliant books.”

We have never celebrated the Valentine’s Day (you know we are not just  those petty bourgeoisie kind).  But this note is just a warm narrative to remind me of those lovely years which give me so much of strength in good times, tough times and sad times. Comrade, this is for JNU, life and us.

(Tea figures a lot in our conversations. Over skype, sitting in different continents, on many days we share a cup of tea. The tea cup here sits prettily on a coaster gifted by him. No matter how tough life is, a cup of Earl Grey tea makes it a lil better).

 

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.

Reverse snobbery

Last week, I was at the house of a rich and famous person in Ahmedabad (it was work related). As we settled down for a chat, the couple insisted that I should have a cup of tea. I generally refrain from having tea in people’s house as I am not particularly fond of having milk tea and most people in India have this fascination for overboiled sugary tea with excess milk. The couple kept on telling, “Deepika, you must have tea at our place. We serve very good tea. The tea is exotic in our house.” Being a tea-lover (I aspire to be a tea sommelier some time in my life), I thought I would get a chance to savor some sweet sakura tea or a cup of lapsang souchong. After much ‘you must have our tea’ talk, finally I settled down for a cuppa.  It was Twinning Earl Grey Tea. I blurted out, “Oh, this is what I have been drinking since 1996. Never thought it to be exotic (Trust me not to do aggressive marketing for my kind of lifestyle). This blog is inspired by that ‘couple’ act on a muggy July evening.

I was in Grade III, when a nagging little friend of mine kept on telling, “Oh Deepika, you don’t have a slacks in your wardrobe (Slacks in those days was what lycra leggings are now).” Her father was an engineer (read corrupt) and that definitely gave her an edge in terms of wardrobe. Immediately, I asked her, “Do you know who’s Piloo Modi?” I don’t know why  I blurted out Piloo Modi’s name (I had heard of my father discussing something about Piloo Modi). Trust me, with that AK47 shot, I silenced Miss Slacks for all times to come. Retrospectively speaking, I had by then learnt the art of reverse snobbery. Unknowingly.
I was a ranker throughout my academic career and also quite good in elocution, essay-writing and the like (I wish I should have learnt music, dance or pottery). So, there I was with my limited shoe-skirt collection— a person with whom no one would like to pick up a fight. Coz she knew how to deal with morons. With my father’s limited government salary, I always felt like a millionaire’s daughter. In every sense of the term. Knowledge was asset in my balance sheet. I scored high on that.
Getting into the high-brow world of JNU was an icing on my cake called reverse snobbery. (If you don’t know then here’s a piece of information for you — Jawaharlal Nehru University is the best university in the country, according to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council which has given the university a grade of 3.9 out of 4, the highest grade awarded to any educational institution in the country).  Believe it or not, till now I have not seen Dilwale Dulhniya Le Jayenge (but I love SRK). Well, we all in our refined snobbery saw all international films — Iranian, Korean, French, Japanese and the like. Once in a while, we saw movies like Bazaar, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon aata hai in the campus. Of course, I must add that Bollywood was not so all pervasive as it’s now. We thought we were the style icons of the world with our colorful kurtas from Khadi Bhandar and kolhapuri chappals. We didn’t think twice before entering into plush Vasant Continental (it changed its name afterwards) in our so very ‘desi’ avatar. We seriously thought we are God’s gift to India and the country should be proud to have us as its young thinking critical minds. We had the arrogance of Karl Marx, Fukuyama and Noam Chomsky. We didn’t have a care in the world. I also believe that the world outside (read petty bourgeoise) dismissed us as ‘pseudo intellectuals. When we felt rich, we ordered a plate of American chopsuey and hot steaming pork momos from an eatery in the campus. After a bottle of Old Monk, everything tasted divine. We were content in our own world. Money was a clear loser in our world of fine grey cells. Nothing was absolute. Neither love nor break-ups. With a Wills Navycut in our hand, a look from the corner of our eyes was enough to dismiss mundane souls who were not qualified to be a part of our world.
Even when I became a journalist, the same attitude travelled with me from the campus to my working desk. We never thought that we had less money (our payslips were pathetic). We worked long hours, did feature stories (in addition to our regular work)— less for bylines, more for the money. Many evenings were dedicated to endless conversations, vodka, rice and chicken curry. Delhi felt secure and comfortable in our glasses. Frequent night-shifts made sure that we didn’t have a very active social life (hence less spending on outings too) and colleagues became close friends.
I don’t know why and when life changed for me. And as the Odiya saying goes,“Even cats will bite soft iron.” I don’t remember when and why I became like soft iron (which the cats just love biting). I don’t know when did my ‘Great Decline’ start?  Was it because I saw my mom’s battle against cancer? Or was it because a part of me died seeing my father sccumbing to a long painful battle which was so very unfair for a brilliant and creative person like him. Suddenly I felt as if my world has crumbled around me. And in that desolate sense of mind, I allowed a lot of mediocre men and women in my life. I allowed catty remarks, fake sympathy to seep into my life. I forgot what my dad brought me up to be.  As my long-time intellectual friend says, “When did you accumulate all these cobwebs in your life, darling?” That’s right, dear.

Right now, I am in a mood to take a retro look and once again embrace my original self. Today, I feel the power of my beautiful intelligent curious mind. Dad, this is is for you.

So, I m going back to my Grade III. I don’t drive a car but do you know about  El Nino or carbon footprints? Moron, go and get a life. Let me turn to Murakami. With a cup of Earl Grey tea.

P S:  Interestingly,  20 minutes after writing this post, I lost my mobile phone. I see it as a message from the Universe. To permanently delete the morons from my contact list. I am not even trying to get those numbers. A cleansing act for cobwebs.

E for Excess

I have grown up seeing my mom making a list of items to be bought on a paper and then handing it over to the driver/ domestic help along with the money. But then there was no super-market. Only the humble friendly neighborhood shop.
Two days back, I was forced to start my day with black coffee as my stock of Twinning Earl Grey tea was over. I was grumpy the whole day as my day is incomplete without my Earl Grey tea and I can only drink milk tea made by my mom-in-law and my younger sister (both of them really know how to make a perfect cup of tea). I had a mild heart attack when I discovered that a 25 tea bag packet of Earl Grey now costs Rs 200 (the packet mentioned 5 free Green Tea bags). Elementary mathematics (even though I am really really bad at Maths) that day came very easily to me as I immediately calculated that each Earl Grey tea bag costs me now Rs 8. I cursed myself, “Why the hell can’t I drink Wagh Bakri tea?” My humble pay-slip danced in front of me. I felt more miserable but then I immediately consoled myself, “Am I not saving a lot of money on cigarettes now? So let me at least drink good quality tea.”
And then like millions of urban-Indians, I roamed around the super-market with a trolley in my hand and putting one thing after another in it. I came back home, dumped the shopping bag on the dining table and collapsed on my bed (I managed to switch on the AC before that) and in that state of  bliss I finished a packet of freshly bought Lays American cream and Onion (my all-time favourite) potato chips in less than three minutes. My husband was a mute witness to this opera unfolding before him.
After a while, when I felt little better, I looked at my shopping bag to rediscover what all I have bought when all that I needed was just a packet of tea.

Here’s the list

* Three packets of Britannia multi-grain thins in different flavours (Didn’t I take a vow few days back to become ‘thin’ in true sense of the term?)

* Maggie Masala (Never mind, even though my kitchen shelf boasts of couple of maggie packets…. I need my extra dose of ‘two minute’ security)

*Packets of mushroom (well, much-needed… no heartburn on this)

*Soy chunks (Even though I have a packet in the kitchen, I thought of a close friend who loves the way I make chilly soy nuggets… I have been thinking of her a lot in recent times)

* Britannia fruit cakes (Very often I give long lectures to my cook on ‘chini kum’ in my chai (less sugar in my tea) as I am desperate to go back to my model figure. And now I am spending money on cakes….(I need to see a shrink soon)

* Frozen Green peas (I love green peas…so this purchase is logical)

* Frozen corn (I thought may be I can whip up a quick spicy tomato corn bharta… even though I am against all kind of genetically modified corn… Logic leaves me when I enter into a supermarket )

* Bread in different flavours (Some of it thankfully has been consumed by Hubby dear… Some which are of non-vegan variety have to be consumed by yours truly and suddenly I feel I have developed a bread-phobia)

* One packet of kabuli chana (After watching Vicky Donor, my love for Punjabis has grown beyond anybody’s imagination…Even as I was managing my way through the super-market, I thought of Chana-puri which every Punjabi worth his salt loves to gorge on. So, here’s one to Dolly Aunty and Biji of Vicky Donor)

* A huge Bottle of Maggie Hot and Sweet Tomato Ketch up (Big is better in today’s world)

* A bottle of Chilli Garlic Spread (My friend Indira introduced me to this wonderful thing years back and I am hooked to it since then)

Now, my bill ran to something like Rs 860….when all that I needed was a packet of tea. Didn’t somebody say, you take care of the pennies and you will be richer by the pounds. And, now E for me is not Elephant (as dad taught me when I was learning the alphabets). It’s E for Excess.