Sunday, December 27, 2009

Defining Religion

I have been feeling a surging emotion for a few months now. Every time I think about what my religion is, I feel unsure. What should I say?

Technically I am born into a Hindu family. But isn't religion about believing in the teachings and following the way of life prescribed by it? That way I am quite the non-believer. Though I have been brought up to perform and participate in basic festivals/poojas, I primarily indulge in teh same to be part of the community. It is fun when everyone sits around, and dresses up, has yummy food, etc. But if you ask me if I believe in idol-worship, keeping fasts, giving money/food to temples/animals, doing all night jagrans.. I would politely decline.

Though I am not as smug as to believe there is no power, as I am still struggling with answers to many of life's questions, like what are we doing on this earth, how and most importantly did the whole universe come into being... I still dont believe in a particular GOD, or theory, or principle. I am also not a firm believer in destiny... that one is helpless, everything is already written for you. I believe everyone makes their own luck or destiny.. we are given situations, and how we react to them, is our choice and hence we decide the course of our lives.

As for GOD/DEVIL I think it is just about good and bad, a little bit of both of which is there in every human being. What part manifests itself more, is upto the person and their situation. Same for HEAVEN/HELL... it is all here on this earth. Whatever you do, good or bad, you reap teh benefits here in your lifetime only.

However, I still think that there is some power, which is behind all which is inexplicable to me, most of the things are otherwise explained by science. But Ramji, Allah, Jesus... I think they all are just mythology. No offense to those who believe in religion and GOD, I have utmost respect for believers. Even if I dont necessarily subscribe to their beliefs.

So where does that place me? I am not exactly an Atheist. Maybe agnostic. But what do I say when someoen asks me my religion? These days I have resorted to saying "None". However absurd it may sound, but that is the truth. Why is it so difficult for someone to accept that someone may not want to have a religion? Why cant we have a column in every damn form where there is an option under religion "None"? It may be common, acceptable, even fashionable abroad to not be religious, but in a country like ours, it is unimaginable. Wonder why.

I am not religious, and I am not ashamed of it. I am thankful when good happens, and I pray for safety when something bad happens. But to no one in particular. I just wish for what I want, from teh bottom of my heart, hoping it comes true.

I am waiting for the day when I will be asked to fill up the religion option in a form or something. And I will leave it blank. And I will be questioned. And I will answer. Lets see what happens then.

A couple was in the news recently, for doing just that. The husband is Muslim, the wife (coincidentally named Aditi), a Hindu. They had a baby, and while getting a birth certificate, the question of religion arose. They decided to not give any religion as an option, they wanted to leave that choice with their children when they grew up. But alas, the authorities would not accept it. "Are you ashamed of beinh a Hindu/Muslim?", they asked. "We are not ashmed of our roots but we dont practise our religion", the couple quipped. Nevertheless, the certificate is auto-generated and cant be printed if any information is left blank. The authorities suggested going for "Others" option. Though the couple was not happy with that, as that option still means defining what religion one has apart from the commonly known ones, in the absence of any other way out, the couple relented.

Like them I know I will be faced with this situation many times in my life, while making a passport, admitting a child in school, or getting admitted into a hospital; but I intend to stick to my guns. Wonder if there will be a day when it wont be frowned upon, or even noticed, when I just leave it blank, or better still there is an option "Not Applicable" or "Atheist/Agnostic"!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chivalry is dead these days.... or not!!

Chivalry is a much debated topic in these modern times. Whether its about how much is too much (Sir Walter Raliegh laying down his coat over a puddle to let Queen Elizabeth cross it) or too little (opening doors, offering seats), to the feminists vehemently calling it a violation of their rights to equality (I know of friends who refuse to take the ladies' seats in buses etc), chivalry is popularly discussed amongst us. But whether chivalry is dead these days, I am never able to make up my mind!

A few months ago I was travelling from Delhi to Mumbai. When we landed in Mumbai, and got into the bus which transfers to the airport, 2 people were discussing how Delhiites are such MCPs while Mumbaiites are more chivalrous, taking an example within the bus of a man, who was contentedly sitting on a seat while a lady next to him was standing, looking uncomfortable. I heard the comment but felt bad for the guy, cuz I did see his gesture towards to woman to offer her a seat, but she herself refused.

Though I don't know if there was any merit in this statement, and having lived in and loved both Mumbai and Delhi I was unable to decide.... when 2 incidents occurred on my recent trips to Delhi which both asserted as well as refuted that statement of Delhiites not being chivalrous.

In my first incident I was visiting a doctor with my mother. I went up to the clinic to have a quick meeting and get back, while my mother stayed back in the car. As soon as I got back and started to leave, I realised the key had got stuck and something inside the ignition had broken because of which I could not start the car. Now the car was parked on the roadside, not a parking, as I had intended to be there only for a few minutes. But we were now stuck on the busy roadside, where soon our car was a hindrance to the already very heavy traffic.

Soon the traffic policeman came and asked us sternly to remove the car from there ASAP. We tried to explain the situation to him, but to no avail. We called a helpline, who promised to be there in half hour, but eventually turned up more than an hour later. All that while we were continuously harassed by the policemen, and were forced to move the car on neutral, manually. Mom and I got out and started to push the car towards a nearby lane. The road was unsuitable and our strength not enough to make much headway... I looked around and saw we were near a bus stand and just next to us many people, all men, were standing. But in spite of seeing two women haplessly trying to move a car by themselves, not one guy budged. They kept standing there watching the tamasha! I got really pissed and asked someone to help... and not a single guy came forward.. they just stared at me shamelessly! I told them off, telling them what a shame it was that they would not help two women in distress... not one guy felt ashamed enough to come up to help even then. I was so pissed off that day, I can express. Downright shameful behaviour, like I have never seen before. No feeling of humanity in anyone! That day I made up my mind, that indeed Delhi men were a bunch of asses.

Till I changed my mind a few weeks back, on another trip to Delhi. That day mom, dad and I were travelling to my in-laws' place, which is a good 35 km away. We had barely left our house that it started to drizzle and 2 km into the journey, we had a flat tyre! Now we had a spare, but it was raining, and we were dressed for an outing, and I was with my 55 and 65 yr old parents... Nevertheless Dad and I got out and started to work on replacing the tyre, while mom tried to hold up an umbrella for us.. again we asked a few rickshaw-walas to help... we even offered money. But no one bothered. Dad refused to let me do the hard work, and started working on removing the tyre while i assisted him. Seeing him do this brought tears in my eyes, less out of sadness and desperation and more out of frustration on the lack of some good samaritans in this city! When suddenly a Wagon R stopped and a middle aged and an old man came out, both of them with folded hands saying "Bhaisaab, can we be of any help in any way?" And then they took over, refusing to let any of us help, and both of them (the old man with an injured hand too) changed the tyres in the pouring rain, and ensured all was well, before bidding us good bye. I did not know how to thank them, not that they asked for anything. I wanted to express my thanks in some way, but giving money for example, felt like an insult to their genuine help and concern. So we all just thanked them profusely with words and bid them good bye and good luck.

And that is how I came back to square one.

Since then I have thought about this and various other experiences and incidents and though, with the attitude towards women being much better in Mumbai than in Delhi, Ive come to a conclusion that chivalry is very much alive, even if in a few men, and no matter what the statistics reveal, I think it has nothing to do with the country or city or religion or education... A true gentleman can be of any caste, age, background, and touch your life out of the blue in unexpected ways, and make you feel truly, like a lady!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Finally! It's time to be happy and Gay!

As you may have already heard, in a landmark judgement by the Delhi High Court yesterday, Homosexuality has been decriminalize. Before this, Section 377 of the IPC, from the British Raj times, read that homosexuality and any form of unnatural sex was a crime. The same has been amended, keeping in mind the basic right of a human being to equality and choice of partner. While this is a reason to rejoice for many, both LGBTs and others, issues like legalisation of gay marriages are still under debate.

I am all for equality and right to choose a partner for every human being, and ever since I came to know about the existence of Section 377, I have wondered which dark era we are living in. Why are we still sticking on to such ridiculous laws left to us by the British? As the biggest democracy, and the second largest population in the world, cant we think and make laws for ourselves, as per the situation and for the better of the people in our country?

News about the repealing of Section 377 was a great relief for me. I'm straight, but I feel happy for all those who have finally got the right to be who they are, and not be made out as criminals. I can imagine the sighs of relief and happiness the LGBTs must be heaving, having fought for their basic rights for so many years in India. I am glad to know, that finally India has started to tread the path of maturity, and is trying to rid itself of biases, stereotypes, and conservative beliefs.

But I still have doubts in my mind. Forget about further steps and legalisation of gay marriages etc. Taking this first step of decriminalisation itself might be a big problem for India. Already several religious groups and leaders have started to protest against this historical judgement, justifying that legalising homosexuality will lead to further disintegration of the family system and this kind of consensual unnatural sex is against the law of nature, and India's moral, social and religious fibre.

What crap. I mean its high time we adapt ourselves to the changing world and accept certain things in life, like the existence of Gays. Though its less popular, its not unnatural for a person to feel attracted towards the same sex. And whether you like it or not, whether you accept it or not, whether you legalise it of not, gays will always be there. By legalising homosexuality, we have allowed these people an equal right to be who they are. It is a basic right, denial of which was extremely unfair.
Every individual has their own religious, social, moral, cultural beliefs, and is entitled to their opinion. If you think that homosexuality is against your belief system, then you keep away from it. How can you dictate to another adult human being to choose their partners as per your beliefs?

But these protesters don't care for rationality, right to equality, and logic. I wonder what they are really afraid of? That suddenly all straight people will start feeling homosexual after this ruling? That suddenly all their kids will get affected by this ruling and become gay? Yes, is someone is gay, they will now get a chance to come out of the closet, but isn't it better that way than to force people to get "Cured" from this "affliction" and FORCE them into straight marriages?

They say it will ruin the already fragile family system. I do not agree. If gay marriages are legalised, I am sure may gays will be more than happy to settle down into happy matrimony and live a fulfilling life like any other straight couple: set up a house together, earn a living, do household chores, take care of each other. How does it matter if the two people doing that are both men or women? As long as they love each other and care for each other; no one in the world has a right to judge them as a threat to the society. They are part of society and have every right to live as they want.

They say there will be no offspring and the human race will die out. I don't think it is ever possible that everyone in this world turns gay and no babies are born. Not everyone is gay, nor ever will be. And even if that does happen, I think the earth will rejoice that finally the human race has stopped producing more people, who do nothing but violate nature. I know this sounds extreme but so does the protest.

They say if their son is gay they wont have grandchildren and their family name will not continue. In countries where gay marriages are legal, gays are also allowed to adopt or have children of their own with some help. There is no reason why we cannot have that here as well. With so many childless straight couples, and orphans on the other hand, adopting sounds like a great idea. And with sperm banks and surrogacy, now one can have their OWN flesh and blood too.

They feel that even if they are OK with someone in their family being gay, the society will not accept and ostracise them. Well, as time passes, people will get matured, or so I hope, and realise that homophobia is baseless and ridiculous. Haven't we come a long way from the times when Sati was legal and widow remarriage unthinkable? We managed to change one of the many important and long-believed traditions of our culture. MAybe we will be able to make a change in this case too. Hopefully sooner or later people will think logically and accept homosexuality: it wont be a taboo anymore, and LGBTs will be a comfortable part of the society. This change may take years or decades, and maybe the stigma may not be completely wiped out, but I hope some change does come about. And the change will start from each individual.

Ofcourse, until then we should prepare ourselves for a slew of protests, rallies, marches, and who knows, maybe even riots, all against this judgement, and continuing social stigma against the queer. But here's hoping that one day soon, this will die down and everyone will move on.

If only we understand, accept, respect and celebrate our diversity, can we be happy together as one nation. Kudos to the High Court for taking this decision. Cheers to all the gays on India, and boo to all those who are against this!

Friday, June 26, 2009

MJ - R.I.P.

Today is one of the saddest days of my life.

I woke up, thinking it was just another usual friday, when the news hit me.
Michael Jackson died yesterday at his LA home. He collapsed, went into coma and finally died.

But I still cannot believe it. It has not sunk in. He just suddenly died. Im shocked.

I loved that guy. He was the first international music star I ever heard. I grew up on his songs. We all did. We sang, danced to his tunes. He had a song for every mood... romance, dance, brotherhood...
There have been many talented musicians who have walked on the face of this earth, but no one had the mass appeal and fan following like that of MJ.

I know apart from all the mourning, there are many people who are happy he is dead or are making fun of his supposed paedophile ways. I dont know if he really did those things, and I dont care.
He was a phenomenon. A legend. He crossed all boundaries of music and geography. He did a lot to give back to the world through his songs and activities. He was a great man and I sincerely feel the world has suffered a great loss.

Not only is it a sad loss, its a tragic loss. MJ had unmatched fame and fan following. And money. But a rare skin disease, failed marriages, financial ruin and paedophilia controversies marred the man, and made his last 5 years a horror.
I feel sad for him, what a sad way to go, but maybe it was a relief for him from the mess his life had become.

All said and done, I wish he had stayed longer, come to India for one last concert, written and sung his last legendary song... But that is not to happen and we will have to make do with the legacy and the music he left behind.
I just hope the whole autopsy thing is done and over with ASAP and more mockery and drama is not made out of him and his life. May his soul Rest In Peace.

Michael Jackson - we love you and will always miss you. You will be remembered forever!

Monsoon Ala Re!

Monsoon is here, and how!

It has been raining a bit here and there in the past few days in Mumbai.
But it was only today that it really poured. Started early morning around 7-8, and continued till afternoon. The town side got flooded, large parts of suburb roads were covered with water too. Many people got stuck on the way to work..

All this in just a few hours of rain on day 1! Im all for rain.. but I wonder if we are prepared as a city for the upcoming onslaught, what with the highest tide in years coming up next month! Im sure no one wants a repeat of July 2006 floods.

I hope the residents and BMC together can make this monsoon enjoyable and not painful!

Saturday, May 30, 2009


She was a small town girl. But she loved her city – Pune. The fun hangout joints in camp, the beautiful roads and greenery around the cantonment area… it was a lovely city, with amazing weather, and lots of friends made Rashi’s life full of fun.

She had just started college when she bumped into the tall, dark, handsome 23 year old Steve, who was pursuing MBA from another college in the city. Some of his friends were in the same college as hers, and soon, one meeting led to another, and before they knew it, they were in love.

They had been together for hardly a year, when Rashi’s parents came to know and objected to the relationship. “Beta you are too young to know what’s good for you. And that too, a Christian guy…” “So what mama, you know he is going to finish his MBA, and get a good job. He is from a good family, and he loves me.” “All that is OK, but our family doesn’t allow inter caste marriage Rashi…” “I don’t care Dad, I will marry him and only him; else I’ll die a spinster.”

Now Rashi’s was the only child of her parents, and having brought up their daughter with some much love and care, they could not break her heart, and finally agreed to the alliance. At the tender age of 19 Rashi decided to get married, she could not bear to stay away from Steve anymore. The wedding happened with much fanfare. Steve’s parents were not ecstatic either, but like Rashi’s parents, they too had given in to the demands of their son. “Kids today…” they all nodded in resignation.

Life was a bed of roses for Steve and Rashi. Steve got a great job with an MNC in the Sales & Marketing Department. Rashi became a homemaker, after she graduated. They bought a small house and decorated it with knick-knacks. Soon they were blessed with a baby boy, they named him Ashish. And he was a blessing. With his arrival, the household became even happier, the couple came closer, and money flowed in. They were having the time of their life!

Chapter 2.

Towards their 12th anniversary however, Rashi began to figure subtle changes in Steve’s behaviour. His increasing disinterest in the affairs of the house and his family, late nights, worry lines appearing on his face. Something was not quite right. “Maybe he is having an affair”, she thought once. But she later dismissed it as a figment of her imagination. “C’mon, Steve can’t do that to me”, she consoled herself, and went on with her life.

Trouble was, Steve WAS having an affair, and though he was doing his best to keep it hidden, he had a nagging suspicion that Rashi knew. He still cared for Rashi and Ashish, but somewhere the magic, the charm of his marriage had faded, and he started to feel trapped. “Typical Man”, he told himself once, but he could not help but get attracted towards the new head of PR, Ms. Sanjana Kapoor.

He was wondering when and how he would break the news to Rashi when she came to him one day, teary eyed, holding his cell phone in her hand, looking at him accusingly. Even before she said it, he knew she knew. She had read one of the many SMS’s the two had shared over the past few months, and though Steve always hid or deleted them, this was one SMS he forgot about. “Maybe it was God’s wish that she should know”, he wondered, as she said “Why Steve, why?” And all he could say was “I’m sorry, but I love her.” She broke down. Her Steve. She could not believe he could do this. But he had. And she could do nothing about it. Or could she?

She asked about Ashish and her future. He said he would give her alimony, but it was over. He was leaving. She pleaded with his parents to talk to him; they could not make him change his mind. At last she gave up signed the divorce papers and Steve left Rashi and Ashish. She felt terrible alone. Even though she was getting some money towards basic expenses, she knew she could not live on it, and needed to work. After being a homemaker for so long, she found it difficult to find a job. She managed to get a teacher’s position in a nearby playschool. With her meager salary, some help from Steve and some from her parents, she managed somehow. But the thought of future scared her.

And Ashish was in a world of his own. After 11 years of fun-filled childhood, he had suddenly grown up. He fights between his parents, his mother crying all day, his father not coming home for days… He felt cheated out of his childhood, his carefree days which were supposed to have no responsibility. He was dragged in court during the divorce case, but there was no custody battle, as the new Mrs. Steve George did not want Rashi’s child in her house.

Ashish felt like a burden. His father did not want him; his mother could not afford him. Rashi went into chronic depression. She soon started to neglect her own and Ashish’s welfare. She would frequently miss office; forget to feed Ashish, not talk to anyone for days. And Ashish took care of himself. He learned how to make basic omelets, maggi etc, travelled to and from school on his own, did all schoolwork by himself, and managed the funds while his mother withered away. Soon the grandparents agreed that it’s best they put him in boarding school, while Rashi underwent treatment for depression. He thought it would be the last he saw of her. He was wrong.

Chapter 3

His days in boarding school were the best days of Ashish’s life. He was away from the troubled environment at home, though he missed having parents like other kids. He felt a bit lonely, a bit angry to not have a regular family life. But time heals, and he healed too. So did Rashi. After a few years, finally she came face-to-face with her son. She looked better, sounded cheerful. She hugged and kissed her “boy all grown up”, but somewhere, something was missing. They did not share the same bond anymore. Was it her fault, had she done everything she could in her power to give a good life to Ashish, he could not decide. But Ashish felt distant. This woman was not his mother. He tried to be happy for her, but could not find any words to reciprocate her emotions. Rashi knew she was pretending everything was fine, but she had lost her son a long time ago.

She tried to re-establish contact with Ashish. She would visit him often and discuss his progress. In spite of her personal trauma, he was a good student with bright prospects. “Intelligent, just like Steve…” she would comment. They talked about Steve sometimes. He was married with kids, and was living in Mumbai. They spoke once in a few months, generally to check up on each other. But Ashish did not like to talk about him. He had never forgiven his father for abandoning him. He never tried to meet or talk to him and liked it that way. Not that Steve tried either. Anyway, the visits continued and the relationship grew.

One day, Rashi gave him some shocking news “I have someone in my life I want you to know about” she said. “I met him in one of the support groups for divorcees. We met and instantly connected. Even he has gone through a sad divorce himself, and he understands my pain. We have found solace in each other, and would like to get married. I hope you can find some way to be happy for us.” Ashish was taken aback for a moment. It was happening again. He was scared, for her. What if even this too did not work out?

He smiled and congratulated his mother, who instantly gauged that something was amiss. But then, it was big news, and she thought better to give him time to digest it. And he did. He knew he had no other choice but to be OK with it. He knew that somewhere his mother would not go ahead with it if she felt Ashish did not want it. He met the man, and he looked OK to him. And Rashi’s second wedding took place, with no fanfare, just a simple court marriage ceremony. Only her parents and Ashish attended it.

By now Ashish had finished school and started his engineering course from IIT Mumbai. On the other hand, his mother and step father also settled in happy matrimony in Bangalore where his stepfather had his business. Many times they asked Ashish to come and live with them, but he refused. He felt much better at a distance. He would never feel at home with them. They desperately wanted a child, and since she married and had Ashish early, she still had a chance at 38. And one year later, though with much difficulty, they finally had a baby girl they named Ahana. Ashish went to meet them and the new baby once a year, and was pleased to see his mother, happy once again, and his little half-sister growing up so fast. She was not his real sister; he was not his real father, but close enough. They extended their love and support, and he did his best to reciprocate.

Chapter 4.

It was during his final year that he started to prepare for his MBA. Just the day after the CAT exam, he got that phone call that changed his life. It was his step father. “Ashish, I’m sorry; your mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It is quite advanced and she will have to undergo intensive treatment and surgery to make it. It would be great if you could spare some time to meet her.” Ashish held on to the phone long after the call went dead. He was aghast. At the unfair games God played with mankind. “Look at my poor mom, suffering cancer after all that she’s gone through, and look at my father, who is hale as a hog, even for all the sins he has committed.” After he had finished cursing the powers, and shedding a few secret tears in prayer for his mother, he went to visit her.

When he saw her, full of tubes and needles, he realized how much he really cared for her. He felt strong emotion for his family for the first time in years. After all blood is thicker than water. He spent a whole 10 days with her, and worked double hard on his projects and exams so he could get more and more time with her. Rashi struggled with the treatment. Many chemotherapy and surgery sessions later they realized they could do anything to save her. The cancer had spread too much to be controlled, and they had done everything in their power. She had little time left.

Was it destiny that on the very same day Ashish’s most cherished dream of making it to an IIM came true, his mother breathed her last. Coincidentally he had made it to IIM-Bangalore, the very city she had made her home. With a heavy heart, Ashish completed the cremation rites. A distant looking Steve came to attend the funeral, but Ashish refused to let him disgrace his mother’s memory with his presence. His step-father stepped up in the way a father would, and joined hands with him in putting Rashi to a peaceful sleep. As always, his step dad had proved his loyalty and love for his mother, and his care and concern for Ashish. He had brought her out of a miserable past, given her a source of unlimited joy-Ahana, and a peaceful life till her untimely death. He had proved to be a dutiful husband, a doting father to Ahana, and gave support, even if mostly financial, to help Ashish realize his ambitions. And now there he was, standing next to the burning pyre, looking forlorn and broken, alone with the little Ahana, who had just started to know her mother. How will her ever explain the little princess where her mommy had gone? Ashish felt a deep sense of sympathy for him, and guilt for not spending more time with the family in the past. He wondered if he could ever make up for all the time he lost

Finally he did get an opportunity. Little Ahana probably did not understand fully the implications of what really happened, but even she sensed and felt the loss and sadness, and knew she would never have mommy again. But she knew something that would make things better. After the prayer meeting for Rashi was over, and everyone had left, as Ashish was saying goodbye to his stepfather, Ahana went up to him and tugged on his shirt sleeve. “Dada, now that mommy’s gone, why don’t you please stay with me?” Ashish did not know what to say. With a lump in his throat, and glistening eyes, he picked up the 4 year old and took her in his arms. He looked at his stepfather, who said “Yes, Ashish, why don’t you. I mean you will be based out of this city only, why don’t you come home? I realize with your mother gone, you might not want to stay, after all I am your stepfather and Ahana your step sister. But if you ever wanted a home, you know where you can find us.” And without a moment’s hesitation, Ashish hugged his father and sister: he knew exactly what he was going to do. He was his Father, she was his Sister, and they were Family. And when he finally entered the house in Bangalore with all his stuff, he knew that after 10 years, he was finally HOME.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Mahira was her name. It meant “expert”. And she was. At her favourite game, the only thing she looked forward to every day. Carrom!

It started when she was 6… with much older brothers who had no time for her, and a mother battling with chronic depression and uncontrollable outbursts of rage, she had no company except the old small carom board that her siblings had long discarded. And she liked it like that.

They were not very well off, and lived in a small apartment in Sunshine Housing Society in Mukherjee nagar, Delhi. The only person she really loved was her father, a old looking man defeated by the trials of life. Not only because he was the only one who gave her hugs and got her toffees, but because he used to play carrom with her every evening!

As the years went by, she got a better hang of the game. By 8 she could defeat all her family and friends, by 10 she was fighting off 15 year old champs. No one talked about Mahira's beauty, or her performance in school, but they all noticed her talent at one of the most popular indoor games of the country. And she swelled with praise.

It did not go to her head though. She worked hard, and deserved the praise. At just 12, she was taking part in all local and inter-school sports championships, and rarely came home empty handed. If only people gave more importance to Carrom, she thought, I would be no less than a Sania Mirza! She was almost obsessed with her carrom board, playing with it while eating, watching TV,… Her family did not understand her craze, but did not care much. As long as she was getting decent grades at school.

Finally the day came. Every summer the local Sports club celebrated sports day and held various competitions for children of all ages. Last year, Mahira managed to reach the finals for Carrom, but lost her last game. She had never been more devastated. Since that day she swore she will not lose again in this competition. She practiced more, challenged as many friends and relatives she could find to a game, and worked on improving her concentration skills and hand dexterity. It was all worth it, for that week in June when she would get to finally prove her mettle to all. She had managed to win the initial matches and now was gearing up for the finals to be held that weekend.

She went to the old sports room in the neighbouring apartments where the competition was to be held. With 3 children, her family could not spend on a big fancy carrom board with accessories for her, especially when they had other important expenses towards the brothers. So this was where she came everyday to practice. She had made quite a lot of friends there. An otherwise shy girl, carrom was her only source of friends. They were all impressed by her abilities, and loved to play with her. No one minded losing to her; she was a sweet, fun-loving girl passionate about her game, never haughty and always quick to help the learners. They all looked forward to having her around, and were even gunning for her in the competition. Since the people of Megha Apartments knew and trusted Mahira, they even allowed her access to the room unattended.

When Mahira reached the room, she found it the door wide open and a few lights on. It was a large hall, with some table tennis equipment, and lots of tables for indoor games like scrabble, chess, pictionary, carrom, cards. There was an adjoining room for squash, and 3 huge lawns outside for cricket, tennis, football and badminton. It was a Friday afternoon during summer vacations, so a few 8-yr-old kids were playing table tennis inside (or trying to). Mahira smiled at their efforts to keep the ball on the table, and went on to occupy her favourite table with her favourite board.

Suddenly she heard some noise. There was a small toilet in the corner of the hall, near the carrom tables. It was hardly used by residents, as it was dingy and smelly. The servants, watchmen, drivers etc occasionally used it. At first Mahira dismissed the noises to be that of some servant using the toilet. She was embarrassed to hear the noises, which she thought were not her business. But soon when they turned into apparently painful moans, she could not stand it any longer. Emboldened by the 2 boys playing TT (she was not alone in case anything WAS wrong) she slowly made her way towards the half open door of the bathroom, to see the most shocking sight of her life.

A young guy with a stubble, dressed in trousers and shirt, head tilted towards the ceiling, eyes closed, moaning away, was shaking his hand vigorously near his waist, holding on to something Mahira could'nt see properly. And then it suddenly came into view, as Mahira let out a gasp, and the man let it go in a fright… Mahira had never seen ‘it’ before, though she knew about it. She did not understand what was happening, but in a second she felt sick: she knew something was not quite right. She ran out of the door, the guy running out after her shouting “Please don’t tell anyone!!”

And Mahira ran. Ran like crazy. Faster than P.T. Usha! She ran and ran till she entered the gates of her apartments. She looked back to make sure that crazy guy was not following her. He wasn’t. She was relieved. She ran farther to her doorstep, rang the bell continuously till her flustered mother opened the door, ready to give a piece of her mind to the person who was disturbing her afternoon siesta. But Mahira did not have time to listen to yet another scolding from her mother. She ran up straight to her room (thankfully she did not have to share her tiny room with her brothers), and collapsed on the bed. Never the religious type, even on the eve of any match, suddenly she started to chant all the prayers she ever knew, to ward off the evil she carried with her from that room. But to no avail. Even after 15 minutes she was still sweating, breathing heavily, unable to forget the scene which was playing in her mind over and over. She felt sick, but had nothing in her stomach to puke out. Her mother came to her room and on finding it locked, started banging on the door and shouting “What happened Mahi?” But Mahira did not reply. She just broke into quiet sobs, not knowing why she cried, why she felt guilty, when she had done nothing.

She did not emerge for lunch. She did not go out in the evening. When 7 o clock came, they all asked her to come out and go for the final match. But she was petrified of entering that room again. What if that guy was still there waiting for her? She opened the door and mumbled something about not feeling well. Her parents checked her temperature… she was running 100 degrees fever. They decided to let her rest. She was glad that she developed fever, and could avoid the match. She stayed in her room all that week, going out only to use the bathroom or have food. Her parents could not understand her behaviour. They assumed she was just unwell. The boys were glad to have the TV all to themselves. They were happy to get rid of their kid sister who was more of a pest to them. The mother was happy to have one less mischievous child to run after, and the father was sad, to see his little princess so glum. He tried to talk to her a few times, and cajole her to play a few rounds of carrom, but she flatly refused. She was distant and awkward with him. In just a few days they had grown apart and he would never know why. Finally he gave up and went back to his own bleak empty world, alone. And Mahira never played carrom again.

Over the next few weeks, Mahira took up studies with full frenzy, forgetting about everything else. Though everyone was happy to see her dedication towards studies, there were some who missed the passion Mahira had for her game. Especially her teachers. “Mahira is doing well in math, Mrs. Sharma, but she has lost total interest in carrom… Do you know what happened?” Ofcourse I know what happened, Mrs. Mehra thought, she has finally grown up and over her silly obsession and realised that studies are the most important thing.

And so the chapter of Mahira and her carrom was closed. Most people regarded it as a passing phase, a sign of growing up. Her mother was happy the child was not spending all her time on games, and took up this opportunity to hone her home-making skills. After all who wants a sports woman at home, cooking and homemaking are more important skills than anything else.

And Mahira forgot about carrom and spent all her time helping her mother, studying, and occasionally taking a walk in the park. She stopped meeting the few friends she had. After a few days of asking about her, they also gave up. She was afraid to see other people, she was afraid they could see the guilt on her face, that they could look at her and know what happened that day in that room. God knows what torture she went through to avoid looking at or talking to people at home or in school. She kept to herself. Spent all her time in her room, slept fitfully at night, haunted by the dark room with the evil man. Her reticence went unnoticed, since she was usually shy around people.

This went on for a few months, after which they shifted their house to Ghaziabad where they had finally bought their own house. With a change of scenery and people, Mahira finally found the courage to forget that incident and move out of the house and make friends. They cycled around, played various sports and hung out at the happening spots. Her family was happy to see her old self once again, though no one dared to mention the C word again.

And Mahira was happy as this place had no sports room. She never told anyone about that incident, or that she played carrom. Maybe she would find the courage to tell someone some day, maybe after a few years she would forget about it completely. Or maybe she would one day be able to look back and laugh at the incident. But for now she was at peace, having laid her demons to rest. She was free from that room, that man, that moment, forever. Now I never have to play carrom again, she thought, with a grim but relieved smile.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Auto Ho To Aisa!!

Recently I boarded an auto in Bandra, and I could not help but notice how different it was from the usual auto rickshaws. Various objects and statements, innovative and funny, were strewn all over the place. I could not resist writing about it here. Have attached a picture to help visualise... Here goes an attempt to describe the most ajeeb-o-garib auto ever!

  • The HUGE rearview mirror on the right side had on it written “King of Bandra” “Mumbai’s Cool rickshaw” and “Hum sab ek hain” along with all religions’ symbols

  • On left corner, it was written “Toilet not available, sorry”

  • Below that was added “ Do not spit”

  • Along with a Ganesha and Sai baba picture, there was a small agarbatti holder, along with pictures of the four 26/11 martyrs

  • On the left side there was a small TV that actually worked!!

  • Above it was a small fan, which also worked

  • The guy seemed to be a cleanliness freak: there were different types of dusters kept in front: feather, cloth etc.

  • There was a calendar on top right side

  • Latest newspaper was kept on the right side of dashboard (or whatever you call it in an auto)

  • On the right side, a clock was also mounted

  • On the right lower side, a locked cabinet was installed, probably to keep important stuff

  • The meter was colorful, with various denomination coins stuck on it…and this was written “Bapu bola get well soon Mamu!” and “Have a nice trip”

  • Behind his seat there was a magazine holder with a film magazine for passengers

  • Above the magazine was a mirror, and the statement “Please take care of your belongings”

  • On the left corner there was a first aid box stuck on the rod, along with the message “25% discount to handicapped”

  • On the right hand corner there was an ashtray stuck on the rod, with the message “smoking allowed”

  • On the left side there was a fire extinguisher attached

  • Behind the passenger seat, the backside was decorated with planets and stars, along with the statement “Salaam Mumbai

  • On the left corner an small Donald duck like figure was stuck on, while on the right side a flower vase with plastic flowers was stuck on

  • In the middle, a small plastic glass full of sweets was kept

When my journey came to an end, I asked him if it was ok to take a picture. He said “Zaroor madam, sab lete hain!” And then he gave me a candy from the box behind!!
It definitely was the most unique and wonderfully decorated auto I had ever seen, and I bet you too would have never seen anything more interesting that this!!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Disgusting! Shameful! Despicable!

These and more such adjectives can probably describe the ghastly attack unfurled on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore for a tour by terrorists. Many well known players were shot at by gunmen, though thankfully no one has succumbed to injuries yet. However, according to yahoo news, 6 policemen and a civilian were killed in the attack.

While countries like India who had canceled their Pakistan tour plans due to security reasons must be heaving a sigh of relief, Sri Lankans seem to have their plate full of difficulties, what with all the mess of LTTE back home. I feel terrible for all those who got injured/killed, and sincerely hope that this incident draws strong reactions from the world communities.

It is no secret that terrorism situation is getting out of hand in Pakistan. And they seem to have accepted their fate of being "taken over, ruled, wiped out" by the Taliban. Its just one dosiier followed by another, with all parties passing the buck, instead of confronting and accepting the situation. But the buck SHOULD stop here.

5000 people died in 9/11 attacks, 500 people were injured or killed in Mumbai attacks. What is the world waiting for... an attack that kills tens of thousands of people, before strict action is taken agaisnt the terrorists and those supporting them? Surely now every country will snap any diplomatic ties with Pakistan... no sports or music or any other cultural relations. But is that enough? Unless those economies who can yeild power over Pakistan hit them where it really hurts, nothing will come out of any anti-terrorism efforts.

I really hope this incident amongst other, serves as a wake up call, for those those who have still not accepted the reality and have buried their head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. Better nip this terrorism in a bud before it engulfs the whole world and threatens the very existence of humanity.

As for the terrorists, I would say only one thing to them... what the hell are you trying to prove by hurting innocent and unarmed people behind masks? Himmat hai to saamne se waar karo, barabari ke partner ke saath... Phir dekhte hain kisme kitna hai dum!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Post Script to 3 Cheers..

I was just wondering over the last few days that although I am very happy we got oscars, I've suddenly had this feeling... that why are we so excited about some other country's award, MORE than our awards? Just because they are Westersn awards, are Oscars and BAFTAs more important than our National or Filmfare awards?? Why does everyone die to have an Oscar and not a Filmfare award? We are the biggest film industry in the world... shouldn't our awards also get some bhaav? I wonder.. if we start having similar categories like Oscars... best foreign film etc, would other countries enter their movies into it? Is it possible that the Indian awards can one day be as prestigious and watched and discussed and coveted?? I guess as long as we ourselves don't give our country bhaav and stop hankering over everything to do with the west, until we are sincerely proud of our industry, and really strive to notch up the standards, we can get anywhere NEAR the Oscars.. But I really do hope we do one day!! And Brad Pitt is overwhelmed to get a Fimfare award! :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

3 Cheers for India!

I was very happy yesterday, and very proud.
After all, A R Rahman won two Oscars for his work in Slumdog Millionnaire!
Sharing the glory wree Gulzar for his lyrics, (finally!) and Pokutty for Sound mixing.
And not to forget Smile Pinki, a documentary on a 5 yr old girl from a village, born with a cleft lip, who finally gets it corrected and gets her smile!

However, at the same time I cant help but think...
Jai Ho is not Rahman's best work... Its foot-tapping and full of energy, but it would not even feature in my Rahman top ten! Nevertheless, he is a genuis, and sooner or later he was bound to get international recognition at this level. And I am so proud of him.

I also feel a tad sad for Gulzar and Pokutty. Not much bhaav is being given to these 2 people, though they also got Oscars for India.
Even though I dont understand all of Gulzar's lyrics, and admittedly it was the first time I heard of Pokutty, I think they deserve equal limelight and praise!

As for Slumdog, Im happy for the team that they won 8 out of 10 Oscars. Ive seen the movie, and I think its great. But honestly I dont see what the fuss is all about. I mean the movie is good and all, much better than the usual crap we see these days, but i dont think it was THAT great. I mean 8 oscar winning. IMHO, the movie was OVER HYPED. The funny thing is, the book on which it is based, has a completely different story, and a much better one at that.
Kudos to Danny Boyle for not copying the story word for word, and adding his own imagination to teh script, but I thought the book was better. And no one is even asking about the INDIAN authot Vikas swarup who wrote that book. I think he deserved a lot of praise as well for conceptualising the amazing story!!

A lot has been said about foreign directors making moolah out of the poverty and misery of India. But in spite of being directed by a foreigner and all that, I am truly happy and proud of the Oscar Smile Pinki got. A simple story of a ordinary girl, yet extraordinary. Pinki got her smile and put one on the lips of millions of Indians too.

Anywho, in spite of my reservations, all in all I am a happy Indian, proud of all those who made this dream com true for us, including Danny Boyle and Megan Mylan. Thanks to you all!!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

6th Sense?

The past couple of nights, I have had dreams that my brother is in trouble, and people are out to get him and beat him or worse, kill him.

The first time I had the dream, I got up, worried like hell for him. For a second my hand reached towards the cellphone to call and ask him if he’s ok, but then retracted. I did not want to trouble him unnecessarily and ruin his mood.

I called him the next day and told him about my dream casually, and asked him to take care. He asked me not to worry, that he was fine. But when similar dreams came back again, I told him to be careful. Not that I dream the future, but I was generally concerned.

That was when he told me… “Aditi, I did not tell u this before, because you would have completely freaked out, but the night you had the first dream, I indeed got into trouble!”

Apparently his friend got drunk and created a mess in a pub, fought with the manager, and got thrown out after getting beaten up. Still not satisfied, he broke the pub window and ran away, and unfortunately my brother got caught and beaten up!

He is fine now, not badly hurt, back to the usual routine, but knowing this really shook me up!! I am still wondering how I ended up sensing danger to my brother, and repeatedly dreamt about it for 3 days!

Anyway if nothing else, I think it at least proves the bond we share. From not being able to tolerate the presence of each other during teenage, to dreaming like this, us brother-sister duo have certainly come a long way!