Saturday, December 30, 2006

My Three Best Friends :)

From Left, Pooja Ameya and Neha..

She is a simple linear equation. What you see is what you get. She is the same, be it in Anger Love or against injustice. She was a math scholar in school, which has made her grow up with a rather innocent assumption that 2+2 is always 4. :) You can read her mind and sense what she is thinking accross the table. Fiercely protective about the people she loves, she turns into this tigress when someone offends her close buddies. Her feelings are not like tinkling silver or glittering gold, they are all iron ore; as strong and solid. She will cry with you when you are upset. You can see the Child in her when she is around her mum, the woman in her when she is around her Fiance, and the Man in her when she drives a car!! She is this triform yet immensely resolvable person you'd always like to be around!

She is the Diva. She could have been anything from an actress to a politician. Extremely charming, she has a severe sense of what is fair and unfair. She gets raging mad even at the hint of injustice and will not hesistate to discipline anyone including bus-conductors and rikshawalas. She loses herself in friendship a rare quality that people usually reserve for Love. She can be the MOST loyal friend you ever had. Amazingly patient about typing long messages she makes a point to have an opinion about everything. She has this special coffee-making ritual and can resurrect any "Hung-over" by her coffee. I think she can even think my thoughts so I am a bit wary when I think around her. She will never give up, somehow I always picture her standing on this cliff with her hair open and looking at the horizon. She is a free spirit.
Who will stand by you, sometimes scold you and at others laugh at you even when you are depressed. She is my alter-ego.

If we are the Reds and the Saffrons of the Palette, Neha would be the pastels..
Feminine and creative, I remember her painting coffee-mugs, t-shirts and walls even as a child. Crazy about cats ( we share this passion). You will never see her banging her fists in rage or walking out on you, furious and dishevelled. She'd probably be found sitting on a couch sobbing away to glory with a pack of tissues. She makes up for the Martian traits in the group.
A self confessed foodie ( and to our dismay with no effect on her waistline) she is the only one who has a "hearty meal" every time we go out. As we laugh out loud and get lost Neha stands safely apart and watches the fun. Cautious and sometimes calculative sometimes she entertains us by her eternal confusions. :)

I owe my happiness to them.
If we ever make a play, I guess I will write ( if they can afford me that is), Ameya will act, Neha will paint her face and Pooja will be our inhouse critic ( who would later prove to be more fastidious than the real ones)

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Indira Gandhi.

I am reading Indira Gandhi’s Biography. Written by Pupul Jaykar.
I have read her Biography before, written by Dom Moreas.

There is a stark contrast and I like it.
You get the paraphrase of the Indian Freedom Struggle along with Indira’s life in Jaykar’s book while Dom Moreas went deep into “Indiran” psychology when he wrote it.
Somehow Pupul Jaykar treats her as more of a “phenomenon” and Moreas looked at her with an amused curiosity, that of a writer looking at his subject as if she is after all a woman, behind all the razzmatazz of her political persona.

I have always had an intrigue for Mrs. Gandhi.
I know she is one of those kinds of people who command awe and hatred together. Who are liked and disliked. Who always stand on the thin line that separates Love and Hatred. We see those kinds of lines even for people who are very close to us. Every time I publicly express my respect for her, there is someone in the audience who comes charging down on me. Elaborating how stupid she was. What kind of grave mistakes she has made and what kind of hardships she has made people go through. They are always referring to the days of the Emergency and the tyrannies of her son Sanjay Gandhi. More over it always comes from a deep ire for the Nehru lineage itself. I do not understand that kind of anger so I usually keep my opinions to myself.

What I like about her is her childhood. The only daughter of one of the greatest leaders of India and a helpless “daughter-in-law”, she was the product of two polarities coming together. Somehow, Nehru’s resplendent political career and her mother’s withering away with illness coming to light simultaneously in front of her at such a young age made her who she was. There are references to her being despotic as a child and then turning inward and becoming totally silent, almost mute as a teenager. She grew up reading History and Literature. She was born in affluence and one fine day her father and her grandfather burnt all the imported luxuries to take up Mahatma Gandhi’s ideologies.

I like her transformation from the “girl who questioned everything” to the “woman who never answered anybody’s questions”. I like her silence. It made her strong. I like her grit, for she took a devastated marriage, single motherhood, and her sometimes tainted and sometimes glorified political career with extreme grace. Not all women are capable of this. Many of us take years to finally come out of our Cinderella stories. She could have been one of the most beautiful women ever but no one remembers her for that, in fact she had harbored over the years, a serious inferiority complex about her looks that stayed put even at the cost of adulating admirers. She chose to be remembered as one of the most powerful women; perhaps one of the most powerful Indian Prime-Ministers. She used all the loopholes well and yet she remained popular. This is what great politicians are made up of. She grew up to be accused of using everything right from the sympathy for her favorite son’s death which even if I try to kind of “wickedify” her to the hilt, cannot bring myself to believe.

As a child she liked to climb trees! She was fiercely possessive about her things and her people. She liked to fantasize and glorify herself. She liked to be the center of attention. She was doted on sometimes and sometimes when the “nation” needed the family, she was forgotten and ignored.
Yet, she was given her share of History, her share of letters written from jail by a helpless father. Her share of condescending aunts and grannies and her share of trying to stand up for a frail and out-of-place mother. What made her who she was is written mostly in the years that she was brought up from a baby to a child to a woman. Parents or grandparents did not raise her. She was raised by circumstances. By the freedom struggle, by Mahatma Gandhi, by the love that she yearned for and the silence that gave her much needed comfort. She was raised by larger than life events in a larger than life world. She played a “Satyagrahi” when girls her age played “house”.

While her father comes out to be this idealistic “dreamer” to me, who thought of the world as how it “should be” rather than how it actually might turn out to be, she grew up to be strikingly practical in a family full of wise men and women. She had this earthly sense that kept her attached to power, yet she had this single-minded detachment within her that was brought about by years of disrupted family life and too many powerful people trying to raise her. Her biography speaks volumes about the fact that men and women of power are not created out of square and happy families. The idiosyncrasies, eccentricities and the sharpened intelligence cannot come from a satisfied and happy childhood. Either you have to be completely spoilt or completely ignored to be able to fight back with the world with an indescribable vengeance.
I get inspired not because I realize all of this, but because it is worth getting inspired to know that a tall lanky young woman almost orphaned at the age of eighteen in a foreign land, with her own homeland going through nothing short of a political Renaissance, her father playing the pivotal role in the new beginning and the World looking at her as “Nehru’s daughter with no political opinion of her own” could have given up like they do these days at the fall of a hat!
True leadership lies in gathering oneself together and then moving on to the masses.

I think if we go beyond our judgments we will find her as helpless, as betrayed by destiny as we think we were by her.
As a life, it may have not been what it ought to be. But it shows us what happens when an intelligent, curious and betrayed mind implodes into something splendid yet ironically painful. It gives us the glimpse into the lives of people who rule, terrify, are glorified and condemned. People who pay for their mistakes and as they do, they are graciously absolved by the majority and brought back to power. People who are hated, partly because they are reckless and partly because the others are not “good enough”!
Indira Gandhi would always be the one life I wont regret living all over again. I think she is what women of substance are made up of and I think she is the benchmark that every Indian woman needs to look at to make anything of herself in Politics. For they’d happily reserve even a half of everything for Women, but they will see to it that none of their “Sisters” ever make it there!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Mistrains and Misplanes. :)

My mother and her colleagues from office have a serious disorder. They lack the vitamin that makes people catch trains and flights on time.
All of them travel extensively, both in India and abroad. So they have developed an evolutionary arrogance and disrespect towards traveling that lands them in trouble every time they have to travel.

I remember their misflights and mistrains right from the time when I was a school going kid. At that time, they were not as economically well off so usually they only afforded to miss second-class A/C trains. Now they are rich enough to miss LCC as well as HCC aircrafts and sometimes, even make it “just in time” (according to them) to board international flights.
It is somewhat like those hopelessly romantic movies they have. Where the guy realizes that he loves the girl at the very last moment and the heart-broken girl has already left for Timbuktu. So the guy tries driving to the airport when suddenly his car breaks down. So he takes a cab, which is stuck, in a record-breaking traffic. So he walks and runs and hitch hikes and takes lifts from mailmen and fire trucks to make it to the airport. When he reaches finally, they say that the flight just left but as he starts walking back looking like a lost puppy, he finds the girl beaming at him!

We never need a love interest to go to all that trouble. The fact that we have paid for the ticket and we cannot make it is enough to get everyone running frantically all over the city. It is not like these people are awfully busy; they are just about moderately busy.
When she has an afternoon train to catch, my mom comes home at about 12 PM.
She asks me to help her pack, which I gladly do because I consider myself a “packing expert”. She ticks her checklist and realizes that she has a bit of time to spare. So she calls up her mom, or decides to cook something for me before she leaves or suddenly sits in front of the mirror with the hair color! (I don’t know why gray hair on the crown of her head would make her less impressive in a stupid seminar that everyone attends just for dinner and drinks!). About an hour before the scheduled departure, I remind her that she must make a move in order to make it with no respiratory disorders but she completely ignores me. Finally we rev up the car only about 45 minutes prior to the departure and somehow we are always stuck in traffic.

She is at the edge of her seat at every traffic signal and since I am no movie star I cannot ignore the basic regulations. When we have about 20 minutes in hand she starts getting really wild and almost always she is in charge of everybody else’s tickets as well. So every five minutes her phone rings and she looks at me like she has just been made to have about a dozen raw eggs.
When we are very close to the station, there is this jigsaw traffic jam ahead of us. It is that kind of traffic jam which is created by vehicles trying to overtake vehicles that are already stuck. They make their own space on the road that is independent of lanes, cross roads, cows napping in the middle of the road or even footpaths.
If you take a top view of such traffic jams you can visualize it as a big jigsaw puzzle that can never be taken off. If you get your car inside such traffic jams, you come to a point where you can sense weeds growing inside your car!

I have grown used to these train catches. So when I see such traffic jams, I abandon our car, load the entire luggage on my back and start running. By this time I am usually very upset. So I convert my anger into a fierce determination and resolve that I will catch the train or I will die. I run with all the will and strength I have but half way through I realize that I am not going to be the one who is traveling. So I look back exasperated and find my mom using a diagonally stuck rickshaw as a shortcut. She is way behind, trying to cope up and everyone is looking at us with evident joy for we are the silver lining of entertainment in a bad traffic jam. I holler loudly asking her to run faster and about fifty heads turn back in sheer amusement!

By the time we make it to the platform, her colleagues have lost the hope to be able to make it inside the train that has almost started moving now. They are standing with those paper cups of tea chitchatting as though missing trains is not the end of the world. When they see us, they are filled with this newfound hope. They look like those football players, when they get a pass; they look at the ball as though it is the only reason for them to stay alive. They all throw their cups and almost vaporize into the compartment. My mom is the last person to get on and I throw her luggage inside as the train begins to speed up. I stand there, exhausted looking at the departing train and I see my mom peeping out of the compartment giving me a thumbs-up and a flying kiss! What a life!
It is not just me. A lot of taxi drivers in New Delhi, Lucknow, Calcutta and Chennai will tell you similar stories about my mom.

There was a time when two of our staff members were traveling together. One of them was supposed to get in at Mumbai in the morning and the other at Nashik at night. The guy, who was supposed to board the train in Mumbai, missed it from Kalyan. So he called up the other to tell him that he will catch it from some other station. He missed it from there as well so he decided to take another train and come to Nashik. The other guy was worried because the one who kept missing trains had his ticket for the rest of the journey. He missed it from Nashik as well. So the good, punctual guy had to plead and bribe the TC to let him travel till the next station where the train-missing guy was confident that he would be able to board the train. The TC came to the good, punctual guy at the promised station and made him get down because the train that he claimed his lousy associate was traveling in had not yet come to the station. It was 3 AM and the good, punctual guy got down in cold with his blanket still wrapped around. The train began to move and his phone beeped. The guy who kept missing the train had made it and he was running across the railway track to board the train. So the good, punctual guy rushed inside and reclaimed his berth! Then they both traveled happily ever after!

There have been times when these people have made it inside planes right before the door almost snapped shut on their nose. There have been times when they have left some of the luggage on platform and left and bought clothes wherever they were destined to go! There have been times when my mom has traveled in eerie general compartments in come godforsaken villages in remote parts of India.
My mom has gone places but I have never seen her sit back and dreamily plan her voyage. Nor have I ever envisioned a vacation where traveling is involved. Because growing up in an ultra-nuclear family with parents living out of suitcases, I cannot bring myself to think of suitcases and handbags all neatly lined up outside my door as a moment of happiness. It always reminded me of one or both of my parents going away for a week or two or sometimes even three months in a row. It reminds me of all those missed trains and traffic jams. It reminds me of canceling tickets and booking new ones.
It reminds me of getting up all alone in the morning and cooking my own lunch before I left for college.
It reminds me of being in the office alone trying to fight it out or reason it out, if possible with idiotic staff members.

Their constant travel has changed my definition of vacations. I’d rather just stay home and have some tea than go chasing trains and airplanes!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Instant Moksha!!

We have been thrown into a world that endorses instant gratification.
I may sound like those confused American shrinks who surface on the Oprah show every now and then to treat obese and depressed women plastered with a pound of make-up!
If we come to think of it, it is so easy now. Everything is easy.
We have instant dating, instant breakup, instant marriage, instant divorce, instant Love and almost instant Hatred that follows closely.

We have instant art. Gone are the days when a painter or a sculptor used to sweat it out for days to get the perfect portrait. We are the bunch of gizmo crazy weirdos. Even I am one of them, to a certain extent. When we get together for a cup of tea or a birthday party or even just to inhibit the Monday morning blues on a Sunday night, we all come with our digital cameras. Each one of us has one, or at least a cell phone that can be transformed into a camera. (Yeah some of my friends use their cell phone for everything except talking. When you call them, they are either busy working or caught in the traffic. Then they show up at my place at night and confess that meeting in person is much better than talking on the phone!). So we have one camera each and we click pictures as we talk. Sometimes we experiment with the sunlight, sometimes with electricity. Some of us are into a different class of photography. One of my friends insists on clicking pictures of spiders webs, coffee beans, zoom-ins of various plants and flowers, zoom-ins of eye-balls or just random sunrises and sunsets. I have never seen him take a full human picture till date.
Some of us are heartbreakingly unphotogenic. So the others keep clicking like a hundred pictures in a hope that at least one of them turns out to be the definition of self-assurance and (perhaps) beauty. When my friends come over, the house is usually transformed into a studio. My room has a cute orange wall (I call it cute and so do the others for the fear of their lives), which we use as a background. So if someone is not dressed to go with orange that someone attacks my wardrobe for a solution. My usually decently organized room turns into this war zone with murdered ideas and accessories lying around like martyrs!

When we have our satisfactory shots, we pack up from the studio and get down in front of the computer. It takes care of the residual duskiness, pimple marks, fat arms, and the unwanted nose of an unphotogenic guy in the background. We turn it in to Nostalgia by making it black and white or make a collage to get our greed for more in less satisfied. We download software and upload photographs on our virtual friend groups and communities. We crop, we modify, we brighten and we warmify! We change everything that could be changed about our God-given average looks to make us look reasonably great and still we are not satisfied! Then the funniest part begins. We insist on having all the pictures on our computers. So we have serious disagreements with lazy people forgetting to give us their pictures on a pen-drive or ( if the person is lazy AND primitive) a CD. Some of us have this “webo-phobia” so we refuse to download photos uploaded on the net.

Once we have all the pictures, we don’t know what to do with them. We cannot possibly print so many pictures. We just show them off or use them to feel good about ourselves in our idle moments of emptiness.

I remember my childhood vacations. We used to have the analog camera (yeah it is roughly the opposite of digital. At least I assume so spending my engineering days with my computer science buddies). My mom and dad used to be paranoid about getting the pictures right. We used to rush to the beach every evening to capture the sunsets and it was a very tedious procedure. For we had to wait till the film got used up to develop it. Plus there was severe rationing and I never got to click pictures of ladybirds on trees and stray cats. We used to reserve some film for “Kodak moments”. It was a matter of extreme patience and silent anticipation. When my dad came home one fine evening with the prints we used to pounce on them. There were constant instructions from my parents about not putting my fingerprints on the pictures by holding them in the wrong way!
I remember once, my mom and her colleagues from the office went to a factory owned by a very famous politician. They took about a dozen pictures with him. With him standing with my mom, with him standing with the others, with him using our instrument to analyze his product, with his staff and our team. They were really excited about using it to show off our success. When they came home however, they realized that the “analog” camera was equipped only with batteries. There was no film in it! All the while they were just using the flash and an empty camera.
They were so disillusioned by such an idiotic mistake that they fought hard and pulled a hundred strings to get one picture taken on that day by another professional photographer present with the politician. In that one precious picture, one of our staff members was seen in the background taking a picture with the empty camera from a different angle!
I nearly passed out laughing looking at their faces. This story was the major evidence used by me to argue in favor of the need for a digital camera!

Not that I am totally against having it all fast and easy, but then when it is so fast and simple, you get tired very easily. You move on to the other interesting things. You move on to the other modes of entertainment.
Somehow, we tend to give in so much to these instant easily available things that waiting for good things to come on their own seems like this extinct species of feelings.
We get upset even if we have two days of nothing to do. We get upset if our phones don’t ring continuously or if no one thinks of us for a very long time. We get insecure if people around us acquire more money or more gizmos or more “ready-made” happiness. We get upset if really silly things don’t work out. We get upset if the guy who was working with us just quit the job and got a really good deal somewhere else. We get upset if someone else gets a better husband or a wife. We get upset if our parents expect us to be home for dinner and we have plans.

It is a scary world, full of fast happening things that easily go out of control.
We have out of control bikes, our of control junk food habits, out of control smoking, out of control drinking, our of control fun, out of control grief, out of control brooding, out of control bigotry and even out of control minds.

I often wonder about the lives that I have read in books. Be it Wodehouse or Jerome.K.Jerome. They all have descriptions of a languid, easy and peaceful life.
Going on the boat with friends. Or spending a typical Sunday home with the butler. The gentle unhurried pace of their lives. They didn’t need digital cameras to show us the picturesque riverside or the old English homes. They didn’t need web cameras to let us peep into their homes. They never endorsed burgers and French fries. They didn’t have televisions to entertain themselves. They had friends! They had fishing stories, hunting stories, they had stories of their friends wooing girls and landing themselves into soups. They had so many things to describe!

All of that still entertains us (or at least ME). We still have a hearty laugh at the Montmorency story in Three Men in a Boat or we all still adore Jeeves.! I think the kids still grow up with Agatha Christie (or I hope so) and Sherlock Holmes.
Some Sunday afternoon, when I am bored with my digital camera, my computer, the Internet and about a dozen cables running between these devices, I open a book and switch on the TV-Camera-Canvass-Journal-mind and I end up being happier than I am with all these “favorite things”!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Furious and Funny! ;)

My best friend happens to belong to the “perpetually furious” class.
Everyday I spend at least five minutes asking her to calm down and take a deep breath. Whether it is the inconvenience caused by shoddy public transport in the city, rickshaw walahs taking her for a ride, the scheduled load shedding by the eternally unwell electricity board or even someone making her best friend upset; they all invoke the same amount of anger in her.

Sometimes when a person walks into a room, you kind of sense the dominating character in them. Some women take your breath away with their beauty. Some people have an inbuilt confidence about everything. Some of them walk with an enviable pride. Some are inherently funny. There are little things that remind us of all these qualities. When she enters a room, the room is dominated by Anger, not just regular anger, but anger caused as a result of severe injustice and surprisingly she is always at the receiving end of some kind of inexcusable injustice!

She could do well as a Female Chauvinist (if the male chauvinists have devised such a word). She would be able to handle at least a dozen dowry-seeking men at a time and make them feel like a collected heap of garbage.
There are times when the cell phone network that both of us subscribe to jams and we are unable to send and receive text messages. At such times, even as she knows that they won’t reach me right away she keeps texting really angry messages, which are liberally seasoned with all the four lettered words in English language. When she exhausts herself using English, she gently steers to Marathi, Hindi and even Hinglish.
The next morning as I get up my cell phone is suffering from an acute indigestion of messages. The cell phone company has had it’s decongestant and I am introduced to a fresh new day with messages like “ #@% Tel people are bloody !@#holes.F***ing Idiots. We’ll get our numbers changed now”

She is a true Leo. She goes out of her way to help people assuming them rather innocently to be just like her. Sometimes, she doesn’t get back what she gives which turns her into this fuming volcano. So when she is handling such blatant betrayals, my phone rings seven times in a day and I only get to say three to four words during a 45 minute long phone call. Those three to four words are “yes” said four times to a the same question “I am right, don’t you think so?”

When we are driving to someplace and I am on the wheel, she keeps instructing me about how to make it more difficult for ruthless drivers. When someone tries sneaking in on a turn she insists that I intimidate him by going on and breaking suddenly. Due to the inherent lack of guts in me (and an obvious concern for my car), I always let all the people get in the way and go ahead of me. I don’t really believe in making it first everywhere, because I usually leave ahead of time and I am in no hurry to reach anywhere. I am also not very fond of getting down from the car in great style, and fighting it out with the guy who was wrong. I genuinely think fighting is a waste of time but she will lecture me till another guy sneaks in and then throw her hands up in despair and use one of her very favorite swear words. When she is in the passenger’s seat, my heart sinks out of diffidence and I keep making more and more mistakes, making her all the more furious. I ignore the red light, or I forget to change the gear bringing our vehicle to a dead stop in the middle of the road. On which first she will look at me exasperated; and then maybe reading the expression on my face, burst into peals of laughter.

She makes me ask for my money back from people who conveniently forget that I had lent it to them. When I am low and in a phase where I want her to say, “ Oh poor you! You have been through a lot! I know how it feels, its just bad luck honey!”
She comes swooping into my room like a paper plane and says, “ Get up!! Lets go celebrate one trouble less!!”
She genuinely misses me when I am unavailable on the phone and leaves messages that make me smile even when I am in the middle of a catastrophe. She will lecture me on my poor eating habits or laugh out loud when I turn paranoid about something and ask her really stupid questions.
She is the superlative of descriptions. If you have a choice between watching a movie and getting it narrated by her, I think you would save more time actually going and watching it (Driving to and fro included with interval and pre and post window shopping). She will give you the details of every shot, including her cheeky comments about the probability of the rumors about a fling between the leading pair to be true. If you yawn or look out of the window during such recitations, you will be snapped back to reality by her ferocious threats.
She is etched into my brain. She is a part of my conscious and subconscious dreams and even my nightmares. For I know, at the end of a Life full of Bad Karma, the furious Devil over the hell fire would definitely remind me of her! :P

I have been supremely idiotic at times. I have landed myself into troubles that can only be laughed at but she has always stood by me furious as ever and willing to war with anyone. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes rather touching to have someone with you who believes in you even when you don’t. Someone who is so consistent with her angry opinions that even in the moments of extreme despair they make you laugh out loud. Someone who makes you believe that you are the winner in every sense even when you think of yourself as a big loser. Someone who urges you to dream when you have even given up on watching movies..and all of this not in a Saintly Godly way, but by calling you an idiot or a demented moron, by making you feel like you are crying over something that actually needs to be celebrated.
Who stands up for you with an authority that even you don’t have on yourself. She will always be the intimidating, furious and eternally funny part of my Life!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Yesterday,The Tomorrow and ME

The Yesterday, The Tomorrow and ME
Making a Chaotic Family,
One full of Anguish and Nostalgia
The other, ruthless Ambiguity!
The "CouldHaves" and the "WillBes"
All spiralling down to mean,
That my heart can only understand
and my eyes can only dream!
For even in my Angered Moments,
I cannot bring myself to say,
That I wish I wasnt the Lonely Child
Hastefully brought up by Yesterday
Or in my tender,impalpable panic,
engulfed by a silent sorrow
I cannot ever deny myself
The intimidating Mysteries of Tomorrow.
They will remain where they are
Like fighting parents, refusing to speak,
As I fill my heart with shattered Dreams
and a fresh New Dream I hope to seek!
But sometimes;for a Moment, I grow up
Enlightened with what the Moment could be,
Devoid of Past, Away from Future
Suddenly Orphaned yet refreshingly Free
And then those Yesterdays and Tomorrows
Gently dissapear within ME!
And then those Yesterdays and Tomorrows
Gently dissapear within ME!

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Detox Mom.

My mother is always on a diet. (Now you know why I am such a fitness freak)
I have grown up watching my mother practice everything from crash diets to disciplined healthy diets. I have watched her make mistakes and put the weight back on and I have also witnessed her triumphs. There was one time in our lives when she was skinnier than me (yeah it was only ONCE so get over it!!) and she used to wear my clothes. But (thankfully) it did not last long as I gathered the courage to start working out myself. We both have been watching our weights for ages together.

In recent times however she experiences a rather slow BMR and has cultivated the supernatural powers of turning even grass into fat. So every now and then she goes on these detoxifying diets. They are supposed to detoxify your body but somehow they end up toxifying your mind to such a great extent that everyone around you is compelled to run for a cover.

On the first day, she has to observe a strict “liquid diet” schedule; tea and coffee even though consumed in decidedly liquid forms are not included in this zone because milk is a colloidal solution and coffee and tea as so-called toxins (welcome to the world of staunch masochists). So my mom survives on strained tomato and carrot juices. The morning is fine. All average people are very optimistic in the morning. When you have had a bad day and you are not able to get something done in the eerie silence of the night, somehow your wicked mind convinces you that it will be miraculously possible in the morning. So following this rule, my mom wakes up and has some weird potion of lemon grass, ginger, lemon and cloves boiled in water.
At about eight, when the morning sun has begun to gently filter into the kitchen and after she is done with her day’s work out she starts toying with the idea of one fourth slice of bread and half a cup of tea, but since she has signed up publicly for this sadistic diet she cannot accept openly that she is craving tea. She glares at me as I sprawl on the easy chair with a newspaper and have three consecutive cups of tea with toast and raspberry jam. Since she cannot blame herself for her current fate, she goes on to lecture me about the ill effects of tea on every functioning part of human body and even the appendix. During such times, the otherwise innocent raspberry jam turns into a high calorie accomplice of persistent weight gain and the brown bread that I so carefully toast, turns into an “unwanted source of energy unfit for a sedentary worker like me” (Duh!!)
As we get ready for office (yeah we work together and for all official purposes she remains my boss) I come back to the dining table for breakfast and find her rolling her eyes in great fury. “Ohh so what was that toast and pint of tea? Wasn’t that breakfast??”. I usually ignore hungry and angry women. So I sit back and have a glass of milk and orange and bowl full of corn flakes as she sits there in front of me looking at me with her eyes afire. She tries to calm herself with a glass of cold spinach juice.
In the office, every phone call that she is forced to attend is like a million needles inside her brain. Every other second a small fluffy cloud pops up over her head. Sometimes it contains an inviting piece of date and walnut cake and hot cup of coffee or a succulent cheesecake, sometimes just plain rice with a lot of daal or a freshly baked apple muffin. She thinks about chicken biryani, gajar ka halwa with vanilla ice cream, or hot piping cup of chocolate.
We have an attendant in the office who, during such times of extreme emergency is instructed to extract juice from anything that could be put in a blender and present it to my mom every hour. So she goes in every hour and comes back looking like an overcooked egg. Every hour my mom gets angrier at the world. Sometimes she is thrown into the grips of self-pity and keeps asking herself, “ I am such a kind woman. I have never harmed even a weed in my life. Then why does God make me go through this?”

At lunch, she asks me not to eat with her with an obviously fake polite expression; for she does not want to witness my love affair with my lunch box. So I gather my lunch and eat in my own cabin with a blessedness that will put even the greatest of the Saints to shame. As if a full share of lunch isn’t enough, I later take a stroll down the street and buy myself a snicker bar. I avoid going into her cabin past 1.30 PM on such days as she turns into this really volatile mass of fury that has a seriously low vapor pressure. Even a mild hint of anything edible makes her go raging mad at the world. Her hourly juice breaks are our source of her mood swings. People queue outside the pantry to get the attendant to describe her mood so that they can make plans to ask for her signatures on the advance forms or go in to tell her about some mess that they have accidentally created. People, who have the heart and the misfortune to go in and talk to her at such times, come out having lost all the faith that they ever had in Life. The whole office is engulfed in a bizarre silence filled with terror and anticipation.

At tea time, as we all gather outside and indulge ourselves in the harmless small talk that goes so well with every decent work place, she hovers around us like an enemy aircraft waiting to bomb an area full of innocent civilians.
We hush up our tea break and get back to work to avoid accusations of getting paid in return of wasteful gossip that is responsible for the decline of booming Empires. We walk gingerly around the water cooler and keep our voices painfully low. We make sure that our cell phones are silent for even a tiny beep can turn into a mind-numbing explosion on such days.
The dusk brings out a rather drawn and tired tigress from the cabin, but a tigress she still is! Ever ready to snarl, growl and injure. We go back home, harboring a pregnant silence in the car. As we reach, she declares that it is not her responsibility to feed an already overfed, inconsiderate, uncouth, insensitive daughter who is able enough to stand on her own. I take the hint and call up a friend and happily go out for dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant. I come back late, so that I would save myself the residual whiplash of a starving body and a pining tongue. As I tip toe inside I am startled by the sound of the Television. I peep in through the door, left slightly ajar and find myself looking directly into the eyes of my mom; except now she is surrounded with a loaf of bread, hot tomato soup, a silver knife gently resting on a cube of freshly opened butter. She beams at me, as I giggle and join her in her warm bed fragrant with the smell of (MY-brand-new-not-to-be-used-by-her) perfume. We finish off the bread and make ourselves the most amazing masala chai!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Balcony

As a kid, I spent all my vacations in Kolhapur. It is an easy and unworried town. Full of laid back and happy people who own farmlands and dairy farms and are not worried about making it to office at 9 AM sharp everyday.
My grandparents live in a house that was built about a hundred years ago. Now it has been renovated to match it’s revamped and “made overed” neighbors but during my school vacations it used to be the typically traditional two level house with a balcony on the second floor, which I was crazy about!
My cousin and I used to spend days together in the balcony. It overlooked the street. So we could busy ourselves with our life as well as others. All our breakfasts lunches and dinners used to be served in the balcony.

What we liked the most about it however was the raspberry tree. It was planted in the garden below and it had grown up to come and embrace our balcony. Its branches spread across the wooden patterns; accommodating themselves as well as making our house look prettier. In summers, the leaves became invisible because of the soft purple raspberries all over the tree. They used to be red in the beginning and then if you left them alone, they turned black and blue. We used to fight for the black ones. And owing to our omnipresence in the balcony we gave little chance for the red ones to turn blue. I am the second youngest of the seven grandchildren in the house. At that time, I was the youngest and that too born to the only sister amongst four siblings. So I had a special say when it came to being treated specially. I used this to bully my elder cousin to give me the black ones that she painfully collected by getting up before I did.
If she refused I used to bawl in such horrendously loud voice that the entire family used to bribe her with other things to let go of the raspberries. I loved winning using the specifically established unfair means that the brats usually resort to. We used to eat the raspberries till our tongues went purple and we had raspberry imprints all over our limbs. My aunt had this chronic ambition of putting a few of those ripe ones in syrup so that she could write a recipe in some women’s magazine and win a blender but we left no ripe ones for her even once in our lifetimes to make that come true. Eventually she had to buy a blender, which we made her use to make mango milkshake for us everyday.

The balcony was our forte.
It enabled us to keep an eye on the incoming guests. My granny loved showing us off to guests. With our pitiful knowledge of classical music we used to sing in front of the guests in two different scales at a time. I was compelled to learn music as a child because I had a voice that resembled the one that is created when raw wood is sandpapered. After five years of “music therapy” my voice turned into something that didn’t remind people after all of the biggest tragedies in their lives. So we used the balcony to run away if we saw any of my granny’s relatives walking in. Or sometimes under my leadership, we used to collect a few other kids from the neighborhood and throw water on the people walking on the street. Or blow soap bubbles. Or just throw each other’s things like bangles, hair clips and dolls down.

In summers we used to have mangoes in the balcony. It was a ritual. We got a set of pinafores each especially for the “mango-eating” ritual. We used to be thrown in the balcony and locked up with our mangoes. And we ate them with an abandon that only kids are capable of. We used to be painted yellow by the end of our share (and in my case half of my cousin’s share as well). We were advised to stand under the shower and then mingle with the rest of the family to avoid mango-colored paw marks on the walls.
Sometimes our elder cousin brothers used to join us in our balcony sleepovers. They used to tell us ghost stories that made us get up with our blankets and go and sleep on either side of granny. Or sometimes granny used to join us as our moms tried in vain to make us eat and tell us stories from the Arabian Nights. Sometimes we used to get bored with the same stories so we used to ask her to make a few alterations and make them suit our interests. Like adding a witch or two who eats roasted cockroaches and drinks frog blood. : )

There was a window that let us into the living room from the balcony. It had those antediluvian wooden bars and one of them had come off so we use to shuttle back and forth through the window till the time we were thin enough to do that. This came of use when someone was behind us for some impish prank we had engineered and executed. At the end of the summers however we used to be unable to cross the gap because we would put on all the mangoes and milkshakes on our tummies.

Once one of the zillion kittens that our cat produced triennially fell down from the balcony and landed exactly on its four feet and went about its job like nothing had happened at all! It was an incident that lasted us the entire summer. We used to narrate it to everyone wide-eyed and awe-struck with the same enthusiasm for each new guest.
Our faithful balcony was also the place of our adolescent girl talk. I used to catch up with my cousin in the balcony and she used to confide in me about the cute guys in her school (and later when I saw them I used to declare them “uncute” and piss her off). It was also the place where my cousin used to comb her infinitely long hair like Rapunzel. Where she waited for me every summer with the plans of the entire holiday sketched in her eyes and from where every June, I used to say good-bye with a heavy heart and an unwanted “back-to-school” feeling.

Now it has been replaced with an uncool concrete one. It is more spacious and elegant. With the name of our house boldly written under the freshly painted red, iron railing. It isn’t the same. We had to do away with the raspberry tree because it won’t go with the new look. We don’t like it now. We don’t feel like hanging out in the spacious well-lit balcony. Even we have changed. We are not as funny or as weird or as adamant as we used to be. We don’t eat so much as to spend the entire day out. We don’t feel like listening to live and manual stories anymore. We are hooked on to the Kever Kending K Kerials on TV (Thanks to Kekta Kapur) or to our virtual friends, virtual communities and virtual journals. So why blame the balcony?
I just thank It for all the happy childhood memories. :)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Recipe for a perfect cup of tea.

1. Three quarters of a cup of water corresponds to 1 cup of tea with milk.
2. Multiply the above fraction with the number of people you wish to entertain OR with the number of times you wish to have a cup of tea before you decide to quit for the day (or the hour or the minute)
3. Put the water on high flame. Leave it alone without trying to set it up with sugar or tea prematurely.
4. When the water comes to a good boil, reduce the flame and add tea ( about 1 tea-spoon per cup) . Cover it immediately. Ideally tea should be made at around 600C because it is leaching of the tea extract into the water. If you hurry up this process by severe boiling and leaving it open, there could be a colossal amount of loss of flavor.
5. Any flavors that you may wish to add must go in right after the tea on the same temperature conditions. Specific flavors that I recommend are Lemon grass, Ginger and Cardamom. Flavors of any kind are extremely heat sensitive. So if you put in a lot in the beginning and let it boil like a hell fire, you are being inefficient and wasteful. A good temperature regulation can extract a large amount of flavor from a relatively small amount of source (ginger, lemongrass etc).
6. Switch off the heating source. DO NOT REMOVE THE LID. Let the ingredients of your tea get to know each other well for at least 2 minutes. Let them team up to create the irresistible fragrance that every tea enthusiast longs to smell first thing in the morning.
7. It is a good idea to warm up the milk and separate the cream while the tea brews. In my personal opinion pouring refrigerated milk directly into warm tea is a sign of uncouthness and extreme impatience. It disturbs the camaraderie of tea with its other colleagues.
8. Now strain your precious tea into a cup. You will notice that it is not entirely three quarters of a cup, but it is okay as meager evaporative losses are always accommodated. Pour in the separately heated milk. Add sugar.
9. If you intend to use a tea bag instead of powder, pour the boiling hot water in a covered kettle and put the tea bag in. In any case however, the milk should be used only after elevating its temperature to a good 600C.

Additional Suggestions

1. A good tea goes well with cookies. However they should not be those really ornate cookies with walnuts and pistachios. The cookies should be only as good as not to undermine or insult your tea and only compliment it.
2. For break fast, you could team your tea with toast and blackberry jam; Black tea with lemon works wonders after a heavy lunch when you have to get back to work; In the late afternoons, it should be accompanied by an occasional cake or a muffin since you need energy to go shopping right after work.

The way you make tea reflects a lot about your personality, because a great cup of tea demands a lot of patience, intuition and class. ;)

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Coffee Shop

I like coffee shops.
They are like the best friends you never had. Inviting you over at every languid corner of the city.

They put you at ease. Almost instantly.
Going to a coffee shop with your best friend is like therapy.
I usually go to these places with my bosom buddy; someone who I have grown up with and who can think my thoughts along with me. Every time we meet, we make it a point to visit a coffee shop.

The moment we step in, we look for a place in the corner. Actually I look for a place in the corner so that I get the view of the entire space. She sits across from where she can only see me. We order what we want (and for me it is always tea. Which is kind of cruel towards a coffee shop). As the door opens now and then and people enter and exit, I have this running commentary of who is funny, who is sleepy, who is cute, who ordered what!!
Sometimes, there is a group of friends next to us and we shamelessly eavesdrop on their conversation. Or there is this elderly couple that makes us “awww” and wonder if we would show up with someone like this when we are old!
Sometimes there is this really weird couple, where the girl is mighty mad at the guy and they are having a suppressed fight. (It is that kind of fight where in the absence of the surrounding audience the girl would have exploded like an out of control nuclear reaction). I keep giving my friend updates about the girl’s expressions. Now and then her eyes glisten with tears, sometimes her eyebrows rise in contempt or her fists clench on her lap. The guy has a constant expression of immense sadness on his face all the time. It is a cross between a captured goat and a puppy that has just been rescued from the municipal drainage. He is constantly sorry and worried about the reaction going out of control.
I keep telling my friend about them and she is tempted to turn back. Which is the part that I enjoy the most. She looks back now and then and if she cannot take it anymore, she gets up under the pretense of going to fetch an unwanted tissue and verifies all my descriptions.
Or then there are people who show up like they were mummified in the 60’s and have suddenly come back to life.
There are guys who smoke one cigarette after the other between sips of coffee. My friend and I (my friend happens to be a doctor in the making) feel like walking up to them and requesting them to quit.

It is not always the “others” that are the source of our entertainment. Some of it also includes the fact that I cannot stand muffin-crumbs and coffee mug marks on the table. So every time a mishap like that happens I make sure that I clean the table. So my friend suggests that we should arrange for me to mop the entire coffee shop to my specifications. Or her innocent questions about life that make me laugh. Or the way she narrates a five-minute long incident for forty long minutes including her mental notes at the time of the incident and detailed descriptions of all the parties involved. Or we just sit and try to remember people from our high school class.

A fraction of a minute, sometimes we get meditative about life. But then it doesn’t last long as a lot of people are yet to be assessed and criticized.
In our earlier coffee-shop expeditions, the waiters used to be our primary target. As we have turned older now (and realized that a guy in an apron is as idiotic and unimaginative as a guy in plain clothes) we have moved on to more creative criticisms.

When I have a busy busy day with people refusing to cooperate with me; with depressing power-cuts and adamant machines. When the walls come closing in on me and phone calls haunt me, and I know that I have to be at the coffee shop right after work; that thought keeps me going through out the day. I can take one problem after the other and not be defeated if I know that my friend is going to wait for me on a table for two, with one chair empty and the usual order already placed as I go in all disheveled and late.
When I know that all my problems will vanish when I enter the warmly lit, coffee-scented, elegantly furnished and liberally populated joint where the buddies, the enamored, the distressed, the relaxed, the rich, the average, the young and the old, the talkative and the shy, the busy and the unoccupied all flock together to get away from whatever unpleasant parts of life that they have to live.

I think even when I am all alone; in some god-forsaken part of the world, a coffee shop, a great book and the memory of my friend is all that I will truly need to be happy!