Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wanderlust

Stuck in the library,
A week before the exams,
Watching the rain come roaring down,
Books lie forgotten.

Something about today is making me dreamy. The rain, pictures of places around the world on my Tumblr dashboard, the travel section of the latest issue of the school magazine: they’re all making me not want to be here right now.

One of the things that I want to do most in the world is travel. I’ve always loved travelling, but it’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand the sheer massiveness of the world! There is so much to see, and probably not enough time to see it all.

There is no place that I don’t want to go to. I want to sit in a cafe on a cobbled street in Paris; take brilliants photographs in Barcelona; gape at the Grand Canyon; row down a road in Venice; marvel at the blueness of the sea at a beach in Greece; get lost in the crowds of Mexico City; ski down the Alps; stroll down La Rambla in Barcelona; feel the heat of the deserts of Morocco; spot all the gnomes in Wroclaw, Poland; and so much more! And I don’t want to go to just the popular places: I want to see the Navagio Shipwreck in Zante, Greece; the cliffs of √Čtretat in northern France; the beaches of Anguilla; the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia; the Minorca Island in Spain; the World Heritage Site of Sana’a in Yemen.

I want to spend more than just a few days in a lot of places: I want to spend a couple of months, I want to get to know some cities! I want to know about the not-so-popular nightlight spots, the seedy bars that make the best Bloody Mary in town, the unknown restaurant that will change what I think I know about pasta.

And I want to know India. I want to take four-six months just to travel around India; go to small villages and big cities, see all the great historic monuments I’ve only heard about, see the monuments that I haven’t yet heard about. I want to know and understand India in a way you only can if you’ve seen the problems that her people face.

There is too much to see, too much to do. Everyone says that it’s impossible to get the chance to do everything you want to do, to travel as much as you want to. But I have to make it possible.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Grand Sophy

The Women's Web has a writing contest: the Favourite Fictional Female contest. What do you have to do? Just pick a female character from a novel that you would like/admire/appreciate, write about her in less than 500 words, and submit your entry to the Women's Web. Visit their website for more information. My entry for this contest is below:




I’ve always had immense respect for people who can fly in the face of convention and societal expectations to do what they want to and what they think is right. Sophy, from the book the Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, is a character who does exactly that. The book is a romance set during the period of English Regency. Women in this time did not have much freedom. Society was governed by strict rules of behaviour: sports such as driving and shooting were considered extremely unsuitable for women; single women could not entertain men without a chaperone; it was unheard-of for a woman to remain unmarried past the age of 21; flirting was one of the cardinal sins for a woman.

In such a society, Sophy is a breath of fresh air. She was brought up by her eccentric diplomat father who taught her to look out for herself instead of depending on a man for protection. Sophy learned to become an excellent shot and to “drive to an inch”, sometimes making her the talk of the town.

The independence and strength of mind that I love in Sophy is obvious throughout the book. When she’s left in London with her aunt while her father travels to Brazil, she proceeds to take the entire family in hand to solve their problems. She formulates a plan that is as scandalous as it is innovative to make one of her cousins recognise that the man she loves for who he really is; she goes to a villainous moneylender herself to stop him from harassing another cousin, something that no woman is ever supposed to do; she stops yet another cousin from foisting his unwelcome and unpleasant fianc√©e onto his family, and puts an end to his unquestioned but well-intentioned authority over his siblings.

I love Sophy’s practical way of looking at a situation and never giving up. According to her, the people who say that there’s nothing to be done are those who are “too lazy or too timorous to make a push to be helpful”. And Sophy was definitely neither: she came up with successful plans to put an end to any problem that she saw.

Sophy has a very witty sense of humour, which kept me in splits throughout the book. Her hot temper rises up only in situations where I can’t help but agree with her, but never drowns out her innate sense of fairness. She does not let her love for a person blind her to the person’s faults, nor does she ever blind herself to her own faults. She doesn’t hide her opinions from men the way she’s supposed to, and is not afraid to tell her equally strong-willed cousin (and future husband) when she disagrees with his actions.

It’s because of Sophy that I never go anywhere without my copy of The Grand Sophy. Not only would I love to have written her, but in many ways, I’d love to be like her.

Friday, October 8, 2010

CWG Experiences

I've been to a couple of CWG events during the past few days, mainly to see what the organisers have managed to pull off and to be a small part of a big event happening in my city. Leaving aside the matter of how they prepared for the games, I wanted to see whether what they tried to do actually worked.

On Tuesday, I went to see Badminton at the Siri Fort Sports Complex; that went pretty smoothly. Even though there were no signs at the main entrance telling spectators to use the side entrance, we did manage to find our way to the gate we were supposed to use, buy tickets, and reach our seats. The area was clean, there were more than enough volunteers to guide us along the somewhat convoluted path to the stadium, and the stadium itself looked great. The entire experience was a lot of fun. Badminton is a sport that I have played and like, so I could at least dimly appreciate the skill of the players. The entire event seemed fairly well organised.

The next day, however, my mom and I tried to go watch Athletics at the new Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. I say "tried" because even though we bought tickets, we didn't actually manage to go into the stadium. The "servers were down" when we got to JLN Stadium to buy tickets, but thankfully, we only had to wait five minutes before the servers were up and the queue was moving. So, standing at Gate 14, we finally managed to buy two tickets that allowed us entry at Gate 6.

How far could it be, we reasoned, and resolutely walked the way indicated by the police officers. And walked and walked and walked. At one point, we actually left the stadium behind us and took a road leading away from the stadium because the road around the stadium was blocked. So we were supposed to walk up the other road, take two lefts, and walk all the way back to the stadium.

We walked for nearly 45 minutes before we reached an intersection point with CWG volunteers. Who then informed us that Gate 6 was at least another kilometre from where we stood, and the only way to get there was to walk. I was tired, my mother was exhausted, and we were furious. After somewhat dramatically tearing up the tickets and throwing them away, we found an auto and came back home.

Today, we went to watch the India versus Australia hockey match. Someone we knew had two extra tickets, so I don't know whether the servers at the ticket office at the Dhyanchand Stadium were down or not, but we got to the stadium easily (we took an auto rather than try the shuttle service from Metro stations). Both the matches were fun to watch, even though the Indian team got trounced by the Australians, and the audience was huge, enthusiastic and very loud.

The problem emerged when we wanted to leave. After the match was over, the entire audience trooped out of the stadium only to find no shuttle buses to take us to the nearest Metro stations. We ended up walking nearly a kilometre, I think, to Pragati Maidan, where we stood in a very long line to get through security check, to finally take a train back home.

What I've found is that the CWG Organising Committee seems to have done a good job with the actual building of the stadiums and other venues, late as the completion might be. The operations of the games, however, need some serious help. Efficient selling of tickets should not be as a big a hurdle as it seems to be! And it makes absolutely no sense to expect spectators to walk so much to watch anything, let alone matches where India may not even be playing!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Three Years, Countless Calories

Instant noodles, strong coffee,
Bread-and-cheese, flat Coke,
Midnight ice-cream tubs, soupy Maggi,
Readymade pasta sauce, packets of chips.

MTR Indian food, microwaved sweet corn,
Icy water, expired milk, old cereal,
Thai food, frozen cheesecake on sale,
Bars of chocolate, M&M packets.

Spicy potatoes with too much haldi,
Chola from cans, frozen parathas,
Baked-beans-on-bread, scrambled eggs,
A lot more Maggi.

Coke with JD, orange juice with vodka,
Salt and lime, tequila shots,
Frozen margharitas with stolen tequila,
Coke with Old Monk, surreptitious cigarettes.

What college tastes like.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Does That Happen?

From all the time to once a week,
From meetings to emails,
From calls to texts,
How does that happen?

From so close to secretive,
From acceptance to accusations,
From forgiveness to bitterness,
How does that happen?

From understand to confusion,
From laughter to silence,
From sureness to jealousy,
How does that happen?

From love to indifference,
From caring to convenience,
From best friends to acquaintances,
How does that happen?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Further CWG Embarassment

I have not been following the news about the Commonwealth Games in Delhi much. I know that there are problems, to say the least, and I read a couple of articles about corruption allegations. And since I was in Delhi during July and August, I saw the ongoing construction and the supposedly "ready" sites.

However, my knowledge about what went wrong with the CWG is very basic and unresearched. It is obvious, however, that there are problems. Clear, serious problems. During August, I would drive past a board that flashed a digital countdown to the CWG, and I would scoff. Because even though I wasn't reading the newspapers and reports regularly, I knew that the situation in Delhi was definitely not what it should have been a 60 days before the games.

The whole CWG affair is becoming more and more embarassing. CNN has reports of Delhi not being even close to ready. Countries are delaying the departures of their athletes, and some athletes have even backed out of the games completely! And to top it all off, there are now reports of child labour.

There are so many things in just one report to be sad and embarassed about. The first thing is that it doesn't even surprise me: I've seen small children on construction sites in Delhi all the time, of course they'd be used for CWG construction. And the fact that the pictures that go along with this report are scenes that I have seen multiple times before is sad.

Sheila Dixit's response is another embarassment:
"If this gentleman... had come to us, told us that this is what was happening there, we would have taken immediate action," Dixit said.The minister also went on to say that "she had wished" somebody would have come and told her of the allegations.
She needs to be told about this? A person who lives in Delhi and travels on its roads does not need to be told of the existence of child labour in construction, let alone the matter of the chief minister of the state wanting to "be told". Who's going to take this comment seriously? The student who reported the child labour did, it turns out, try to contact the ministry of labour, but we can all guess how that turned out.

There is a week left for the CWG to begin. There are reports now that say that Delhi is working hard to finish the preparations, and that all this last minute work might actually pay off. Hopefully, the actual carrying out of the Games won't be as great an embarassment as the preparation for the Games were.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Boredom Does to Me



Boredom
it is such a pain
Especially when my brain
Is acting like a drain
And letting nothing sane
Stay inside my brain

If only I had a cane
To spank those who are my bane
Or a very tall crane
from which I could see Spain
Or a bottle of champagne
And no need to abstain
Or people who are vain
that I can hit with my cane

But alas I have no cane
Nor a crane or champagne
So I am constrained to remain
in this state of boredom.

I could continue in this vein
And write something even more inane
Or instead, you could entertain
A friend bored out of her brain.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Agonising Wait

We met last week,
I was so nervous,
I was trusting you
With the centre of my life.

You promised to call,
You promised to be ready,
Today was to be the day,
What a fail.

When I call you, I get no news,
Only bland, apathetic assurances,
Getting angry solves nothing,
How do you make me feel so helpless?

Life without you is empty,
Incomplete, boring, difficult,
Please understand my feelings,
Don't keep me waiting.

O Sony, return to me my Vaio,
It's been ten days, I can't give you more time.
Don't lose my data, don't mess up my hard drive,
And please, please don't take two weeks.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Too Much TV

The last few weeks at my mami’s place have made me marvel at my cousins’ seemingly endless capacity to watch TV. My mami has two daughters, aged 6 and 13, and a live-in babysitter. All three of them are permanently planted in the front of the television all day long during these vacations.

The daytime is spent with my two cousins fighting over what to watch: the 6-year old wants to watch Dora the Explorer or Mr. Bean or some other show on Pogo or Disney, while her elder sister is equally determined to watch the rerun of Dill Mill Gaye (though she watched the same episode the previous night).

Late afternoon, my six-year old cousin calls a friend over so that both of them can watch CID together. She has now taken to declaring that she’s a CID officer and goes through all my stuff when I’m not at home, looking “for drugs”, as she sweetly informs me when I reach home. I have now taken to carrying anything that I don’t want her to find with me to work, because telling her not to search my stuff has no effect whatsoever. Apparently, a good CID officer is immune to complaints from their suspects about any invasion of privacy.

The TV is off for about an hour at 6 in the evening, when both the cousins go downstairs to play and the babysitter goes for her daily walk. And then it starts again. I didn’t catch the name of the show that’s on currently, but the grandmother with the pistol aimed at her grandson is now chasing said grandson through a park as he escapes from her clutches (he effected the escape by telling her that there was a cockroach on her hair, which obviously made her screech, stop her car and start a search for the cockroach, at which time the kid leaped out of the car and took off). The heel of one shoe has now gotten stuck in keenchad (wet mud) in the park. One hopes that the kid is now safe, but I’m sure there will a new twist soon.

The night starts with Rang Badalti Odhni. Which is followed by Geet – Hui Sabse Parayi, and then Dill Mill Gaye. There are the “reality” shows such as Indian Idol and Desi Girl and one more involving child magicians, I think. And once the kids sleep (at around 11), there’s another show that I didn’t quite catch the name of that keeps the babysitter up for another half an hour.

The TV, unfortunately, is in the guest room, which is currently occupied by me. So the children and the babysitter are glued to my bed all day long. After one weekend of trying to follow the dramatic sound sequences and the repeated scenes and the convoluted story lines of Dill Mill Gaye and Geet, I gave up and have set up house on the sofa in the hall. My bedtime is dictated solely by what show is on that night (and so, by what time my room will be emptied).

In those two days that I spent trying to unravel the mystery of why the story-less drama unfolding on the television set interested anyone, the babysitter saw fit to explain to me the basic story of each show. I was wrong. The shows are definitely not story-less. After all, Geet was abandoned by her fake husband who happens to be her new boss’s (and love interest’s) brother, which is a storyline that’ll progress no further for a couple of weeks. Armaan did love Ridhima before Siddharth came along. If it wasn’t for the disease that forced Ridhima to jump into bed naked with Siddharth, and so, obviously marry him later, Armaan and Ridhima would still be a happy couple.*

But all jokes aside, the storylines of the shows aren’t even the point. It’s the unnecessary and extremely blatant and forced drama of the shows that gets to me. Star One has even picked up this annoying technique of showing the last scene of the episode three times with advertisements between each occurrence! And yet, my cousins keep the TV on. There were 20 minutes and two advertisement breaks between the time the host of Desi Girl announced that he was going to declare the winner and the time he actually declared the winner. And yet, no one changed the channel.

I am quite baffled.

*I may be wrong about the storylines. The dead-but-not-dead characters and the time jumps kept me quite confused.

Snippets of Conversations

Bits of conversations between my cousin and her parents (I have paraphrased a bit, but I think the meaning behind the statements remains intact). The cousin is either 13 or 14 years old.

1) Mami: “Those cousins of mine stayed at bed-and-breakfasts all over Switzerland, and they really liked it”.

Cousin: “Chee! How could they?” (As far as I am aware, my cousin has never actually stayed at a B&B)

2) Cousin: “That bakery was so good, but it was in an all-Muslim area, hai na mumma? All those people in the shop, with the big beards, they all looked like Osama Bin Laden. I was quite scared”

3) “In those photos, nani was wearing Western clothes and looking just like a foreigner! Who gave her those clothes? She never wears them, she’s a grandmother.”

4) “Yuck. I feel like vomiting every time I see that man’s face.”

5) “Oh, those people? They’re damn fat no?”

And then there are the conversations between my mama and mami about how Maharashtrian men are damn lazy. The generalisation doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

I don’t protest, or say anything at all when such conversations take place. Both my mama and mami are very sweet and helpful; they took me in for the entire month when I needed a place to stay in Mumbai and generally, I like it here. But conversations like the ones I’ve mentioned above happen often and are commonplace. I believe they would be very surprised to think that someone might object to the statements they make.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rain

I used to love rain. It transformed the world into green, wet wonderfulness and got me a couple of days off school. It made all kinds of crazy games possible by flooding the garden. It allowed me the great joys of jumping hard into puddles, making awesome splashes and swooshing sounds with my bicycle, and following earthworms as they wriggled around the driveway.

Then I came to Bombay, started this internship, and started using public transport. Which requires walking. And then the rains started. And suddenly, I'm not so fond of the rain anymore! From being the amazing phenomena that meant green leaves and awesome rain-smells, now it means perennially wet feet and wet clothes. Umbrellas do not manage to keep me (or my bag) fully dry, so I'm always stuck with damp clothes, hoping that my bag is waterproof enough to keep my laptop safe. And with wet feet.

Then there are the umbrellas themselves. Practical, helpful inventions, I know, but so messy. There's always the problem of where to keep a wet umbrella after walking in the rain. There's the problem of actually holding the umbrella while walking in the rain and simultaneously trying to cling on to two bags and a cell phone (I realised later than texting is really not meant to be done in the rain, so the cell phone went into the bag: one less thing to hold). And then there's the fact that people on the road can't seem to comprehend the obvious reality that holding an umbrella will require more space than not holding one. So that 2-inch space between me and the wall that you're trying to squeeze through? The only result is going to be the pointy ends of your umbrella stuck in my hair, water from your wet umbrella dripping onto my already damp clothes, and you right where you started.

And then there are the wet feet.

There are still some cool things about monsoons. Primarily the awesome swishing noise that my umbrella makes when I press a button and it zooms open. And the feeling of efficiency I get by opening and shutting my umbrella in 2 seconds flat, as I go from covered space to non-covered space while walking. But writing this sitting in a crowded train, watching the rain outside, and knowing that I’m going to be out in that rain again in 10 minutes, I'm having a hard time thinking of more things I like about the rain.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Seen on the Train


I saw four of these posters in the ladies' compartment in a local train in Mumbai four days ago. For those befuddled by my photography skills (combined with an average-at-best cell phone camera), the poster says:

"Never forget 25th June 1975. The day the Emergency was declared. Scrap all repressive laws. Defend the right to dissent."

I don't really know what to think about the poster. It's interesting, definitely, also because there was no mention of the name of the organisation (or person) who put the posters up. I was concious of a feeling of surprise though: the only politically inclined posters I've seen before have been advertisements of some election candidate or political party. I've never seen posters with a message beyond "Vote for me".

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Opinions of Strangers

People have been proffering their unasked-for opinions and advice a lot lately. I’ve started noticing this recently: complete strangers are very willing to tell me their opinion on something, or to give me to advice on matters that have nothing to do with them, without the least amount of encouragement from me.

A woman trying on a kurta at the trial room next to mine in Westside asked me how I think she looks, gave me a minute to give the polite answer, and then immediately told me that the kurta I was trying on made me look “a bit pale”. The security woman at the entrance of my workplace started her morning by telling me that I’m very tall and also fat. Clearly, I enjoy food more than I should. A tailor taking my friend’s measurements for a dress told her that her breasts were too small, and gave her “tips” on how to make them appear larger. Two taxi drivers were more than merely expansive on their respective opinions about women working (more on that later), and the importance of God in a young woman’s life.

People assume that random strangers are interested in their opinions and are open to their advice. But we’re usually not. I am not interested in the security guard’s opinion on my weight. I am not interested in knowing what the woman standing next to me in the queue for the bathroom at Pizza Hut thinks about the abominable state of bathrooms in Jaipur. And I definitely do not want to be told by a man that the fact that I work is against Indian culture, against the will of God, and probably against the wishes of my parents too.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Yeh Hai India, Meri Jaan

A friend asked me recently whether I want to live in India again, after studying and living abroad for a while. She’s lived in India only for a couple of years two years ago. She said that she’d believed that she could do it, that she wanted to do it, but when she came to India after two years this year, she realised that she really can’t. She said she just can’t deal with the chaos, the lack of respect for personal space, the problems you can face in just accomplishing a simple task such as getting a new phone number, the disregard for simple common sense or manners while driving, etc.

But for me, the shininess of Singapore gets old fast. Yes, there are tall buildings, and smooth roads, and air conditioning in every single building, and shiny new malls on every corner. There are rules that are followed; there is order in everything that’s done. There’s no need to think twice about being out any hour at night; there’s amazingly fun nightlife. I like the city, I enjoy studying there. But I can’t imagine living there permanently. And it’s not just because the entire country is just one city, or because I’d have to get a permit to protest against anything, or because the rules (even the silly ones) are followed because of the scarily excessive consequences.

I miss India when I’m in Singapore. Not just my friends and family, but the place. I miss the loud, muddled, dusty markets; the familiar looking people on the roads; the insane honking and driving; the casual chatting with shopkeepers; the delicious food. I miss my Rs. 10 golgappe, and paying Rs. 30 for an entire meal. I miss the way people manage to create order in complete chaos, and how sometimes chaos is just chaos.
Of course, the honking and the traffic fascination lasts for a week, then it becomes a constant cause for complaint. The loud, muddled, dusty markets don’t remain so lovable when I have to go out there in the Delhi heat. But somehow, there’s always more to like than to dislike. And I can’t imagine not living in India, and not calling it home.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Wish I Could..

Write like I want to
Make you cry through my songs
Take those photos
Sketch a cartoon
Appreciate “good” books
Work harder
Find what I love.

Keep in touch with old friends
Talk easily
Recognise toxic relationships
Make you see, understand
Make you care
Let go of what hurts
Forget.

Think clearly
Know what I want
Get what I want
Not be lazy
Unveil my path
Save the world
And so much more.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Me

The soft, not just the shine
The meaning, not just the smile
The choice, not the clothes
The expressions, not the face
The beliefs, not just the debate
The dreams, not just the fight
The words, not the voice
The feelings, not just the storm
The feel, not the look
The mind, not the body
The inner, not the outer
The melody and the lyrics, not the plastic casing
See me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Good And The Bad

I had a Political Science class yesterday. We started discussing how the same concepts impact different countries differently. The talk came round to India. Since I was one of the two Indians in the class, the prof chose me to talk about (among other things) the reasons behind Indira Gandhi's assassination.

I didn't know too much about the topic, so I stuck to what I'd studied in Political Science in class 11 and 12. The book had stated that she was killed by her two Sikh bodyguards because of Operation Bluestar and the damage done to the Golden Temple, so that's what I said in class yesterday. When the prof asked me to elaborate on Operation Bluestar, I started talking about the separatist movement and amassing of weapons in the temple. But the prof interrupted me, saying "Yes, please do go on. Let's see how you're going to tell us about the torture and killing of the Sikhs. Let's see how you're going to put that".*

I didn't know what to say. I had no intention of trying to twist the facts to make them sound favourable to Indira Gandhi's actions. I didn't even know the facts well enough to even attempt to twist them, even if I had wanted to. My stammered explanation that I had no intention of trying to manipulate the issue in any direction was laughed away, and the prof moved on to talk about Rajiv Gandhi.

I was still lost. I didn't know much about Operation Bluestar or Indira Gandhi's assassination, but with two sentences, the professor had made me doubt my Political Science book. I don't think that this while incident was written in a blatantly pro-government, or pro-Indira Gandhi way in my textbook, but was it tilted towards supporting Indira Gandhi's Operation? Did my textbook gloss over the "torture and killings of the Sikhs"? Have I learned about the political history of my country from a very biased point of view?

I remember reading about how history is always written from the point of view of the victors once in an article somewhere. I've always been aware that the history of the same place, same incident, written by two different people or two different governments, will probably be very different. I've always known that the Pakistani textbooks talk about the Partition in a different way than the Indian textbooks. But this impersonal knowledge had never struck home. I'd never made the connection that the things I studied in school, what I was taught, might be biased and inaccurate. What in the history of my country has been deliberately left out of the school textbooks and what deliberately written wrong? How much of the true happenings do I really know?

*In that class, the prof also talked about Gandhiji. She talked about nonviolence and the freedome struggle, then mentioned his difficult relations with his family. She talked about Nehru and his years as Prime Minister, then mentioned his affair with Lord Mountbatten's daughter (wasn't it his wife, not his daughter, that Nehru was involved with?). Again, I was slightly surprised. We're all so used to hearing only about the good in Gandhiji and Nehru; when have we ever heard about the bad?