A Square Meal

 

In 2012, the world’s 100 richest people earned a stunning total of $240 billion in profits. That is enough money to end extreme poverty worldwide four times over.

In 2007, the total volume of trade by private corporations the world over was over $1,171 trillion; the sum of the earnings of all countries was a mere $66 trillion, almost 20 times less.

Earth is a strange place; humans stranger. We have reached a point where money and the privileges that come with it are concentrated with a selected few. There are millions of children in the future generation, who are destined to float away in an unknown void, working hard only to earn the basic necessity essential for their survival – A square meal. There are 1.29 billion people all over the world living in abject poverty, 400 million of them are in India.

The only thought that will come to your mind when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from is to find a way to earn your next meal. You will not think about getting an education for your children or for a better life for them because you need food, because your children need food. The thought is surreal because the people who are reading this have not lead such a life. But close your eyes for a second and think about sending your son and daughter to do manual work instead of a school because you need money and food on the table. Nightmarish, isn’t it? There are millions of people out there who are living this nightmare.

The only way this vicious circle can be broken is by educating the next generation. There has to be a strong urge to uplift the underprivileged children from their current situation, to give them a springboard to reach out for the stars. It is heart-warming to see so many people and organisations around the world coming ahead and work towards the betterment of our society. There are many organizations in India that are working towards encouraging poor parents for sending their children to school. It is a brilliant idea to provide meals to students in school so that they could concentrate on their dreams.

There is enough money and goodwill in the world to make everyone’s life better, to help our future to be better than our present. No child should have to choose between hunger and education. It is inhuman.

Of course, the scale of the fight is humongous but there is always hope. And perseverance.

I am going to #BlogToFeedAChild with Akshaya Patra and BlogAdda. I sincerely hope you will join me. For every blog post you write, BlogAdda will sponsor meals for an Akshaya Patra beneficiary for an entire year, as a part of our Bloggers Social Responsibility.

I am tagging no one specific, but it will be great if all my blogger friends take up this tag. You can read more about this initiative here.

Daddy Diaries : And she turns one

Dear diary,

Anika turns one today. In the last few weeks, she gave us one jolt after another. First, teeth started sprouting all over inside her mouth. I know that is normal but it was strange to see her with teeth. She looks like a bunny when she laughs which she does a lot nowadays. She farts and laughs. A lot.

She has started walking too. She did a drunk dance for a few days and then one day, got up and crossed a room. Everyone fell silent and looked at each other, as if we have realized that there was a green alien from Mars sitting in the room with us. Then everyone fell upon each other to grab their mobiles. She clapped and laughed and walked. She is still getting the hang of it. Her gait is funny.

She has started eating all kind of food – eggs, yogurt, butter, panner, khichdi – you name it, she eats it. We usually have to put up a song when she eats. Thank God her relationship is over with Justin Beiber’s Baby. The affinity was driving me crazy. Nowadays, it is plain, old Lakdi ki kathi. Bless the Lord.

Diary,

A few days back she made the first connection between a word and what that word means. It was a bit surreal. I don’t know how to explain it. It is like that moment when you understand the first word in a French movie because you have started learning the language. That happiness. That first click. I felt that for her.

And that was the first time I felt how far away she has come from being an unknown face floating in liquids that she was a year back.

Last year, we were worried about everything going right, worried about her grand entry in the world. And when the doctors brought her out – a pink mass of flesh, completely dissatisfied with the change in her quiet existence, hungry, crying – I felt a surge of blood to my face. Something changed inside me. I went to the nursery, saw the nurses put some identification on her as she tried to open her eyes and look at me. I stood there a long time trying to comprehend what had just happened. I became a father. Holy crap!

Dear Diary,

It had been a crazy one year journey. Geet and I went through myriad collection of emotions. Our limits were tested. Sometimes, there were cloudbursts of happiness. Sometimes we went through volcanic eruption of frustrations. But we clung to each other. We watched her face change every day. We saw her pick up new habits and discard the old ones within weeks. We saw her smile one fine day and smiled with her. I won’t lie if I say that there weren’t times when we wanted to break free, when we wanted our own personal space, when all this got too overwhelming for both of us. And that is when our families came to our support. I don’t know what we would have done without them.

But you know what, Diary? We always felt guilty about leaving her behind whenever we went for a movie or a dinner date. We kept talking about her. I remember both of us getting restless when we went to watch a movie leaving Anika with her grandparents for the first time. We could not sit through the second half. And that is when we realized how much our lives have changed. How much this girl has crept up in our thought process. How much she means to us.

In January ’14, Geet and I went on a holiday with Anika to Kasauli. She was seven months old and everyone scared us to bits about taking such a small child to the hills. We still went ahead and immensely enjoyed the trip except for that one time when we had to go to a temple on the top of a hill and taking her there in the pram was not an option. I picked her in my arms and climbed the hill and then scared a monkey away who tried to kidnap her. I was Superman in Geet’s eyes that day. Her jaw scraped the ground and she had no idea how I did that. Neither did I.

Diary,

 I wonder what is in store for us in the future. I am scared that she might not pick up my habit of reading or watching movies. I want to discuss books with her. I want to discuss old Hollywood classics with her. I know, I should not be imposing any sort of career choices on her but I want her to an artist – a singer or a painter or a writer or a dancer. I want her to love her profession. I want her to choose a career that fulfils her, not something that just pays the EMI of  her apartment. But, well, I think I am thinking far ahead. We will cross the bridge when we come to it. All that makes her happy right now is her plastic fruit basket that she loads and unloads relentlessly with plastic mango, papaya and bananas.

So, one year has gone by Dear Diary. Who knows what the future holds. But I do pray that the fun continues.

Happy Birthday Anika.

20130521_175348E

Open letter to my maid

image from here

image from here

My dear Maid, 

I know guys don’t write letters to maids and they definitely don’t call them ‘dear’ and I hope you do not take offence in me addressing you as someone who is dear to me. So help me God. I have seen women write incessantly about the love-hate relationship they share with their maids but guys usually shy away from it. I blame our system for it, much like Rahul Gandhi. We are not supposed to feel affectionate towards our maids. I am breaking the barriers here and that is why it is so important for me to call you ‘dear’. It is not a word, it is a hammer and I am using it to break the wall and show my gratitude to all the lovely ladies who have worked in my house over the years. 

Let me begin by saying that I was brought up with a sense of being higher up in the pyramid of society. My grandma used to keep a separate plate and glass for you to eat breakfast and drink the tea she provided with a sense of charity. We were not supposed to touch those utensils and it was blasphemy to eat in your plate or drink water in your glass. You were supposed to be a lower class nobody who could never be satisfied with what has been given to her and your whole community was supposed to be like you. Well, let me tell you dear, that the phoniness of this unabashed display of superiority pissed me off as a kid and I gleefully indulged in numerous acts of blasphemy when I ate in your plate and drank water from your glass, much to the utter shock of my grandma.

Dear maid,

I remember so many unintentional hilarious and sad incidents involving you that I have lost count. So, thank you for the doses of laughter and the pauses of pondering I have collected over the years. I remember, when grandma in her rare moods of philanthropy, started teaching you the Hindi alphabets. I was surprised to know that you could not read or write. I was young. And then, grandma and you reached the alphabet ‘sh’. She would say ‘Sh se Shatkon’ and you would say ‘Sa se Satkon’ and it went for such a long time that I thought that only a calamity like grandma grinding all her teeth to dust or an astroid hitting the Earth could possibly stop the loop. And your name was Geeta which is one of the many ironies of life. Then you transformed into Bhagwanti. You were usually beaten blue and black by your husband when you came to work. You were 2D thin. I always wondered how much endurance you had for doing such physically challanging work when half of your body was swelling with pain. You made me laugh by the way you cleaned the utensils with all your might as your sari danced like waves with your movements. Then you turned into Sheila, who used to steal spoons for reasons I could not understand. It was hilarious because once mom caught you while you were trying to hide a spoon in your salwar. You said that you were itching terribly and merely rubbing the spoon over your skin. Then you turned into wide-eyed Sampa who would, in excited shrieks, tell her sisters over the phone that you went to the mall with us and saw a movie in the theatre and had chow mein in the food court. 

Dear Maid,

I know sometimes people are ruthless and you end up doing more than you could endure. You are constantly pestered at times, even when you are doing fine. Sometimes, you rebel and then you are told that you belong to a category of society that can never be thankful for what is being given to them. Have you noticed the crazy flip-flop of hatred and harmony you experience with a family? At one hand, you are sitting with them and having tea in your designated cup, telling them the story of your life and how miserable everything is, expecting some gift on Diwali and New Year and on the other hand you are blamed for being lazy and not doing things properly. How do you handle such relationships when you are at the receiving end? Of course, you grin and bear it, just like all of us who take shit from people above us in the pyramid, conveniently forget it and do exactly the same to the people below us.

Dear Maid,

I would like to thank you. Thank you for cleaning my room, my wash-room, my clothes, my utensils. Thank you for dusting my house, for making the food, for folding my clothes, for making tea for me, for being there. I know it would be impossible to survive without you. I know everyone knows that, no matter how high in the air their nose is, no matter how much difficult they find it to give you a raise which is equal to the price of a plate of chicken tikka kabab in a mall. 

And in the end, a small note for my present dear Maid –

It has been a month since your mother-in-law died. I know you have no love for her (and I am quoting my mom here), but you have already extended your 15 days break to 30 days. Yes, unbelievable as it may sound, my household has been operating sans you for a month now. It is a miracle and we are enduring one day at a time but a day does not pass when we don’t remember you. What you have done is unprofessional but it is OK. As always, mom will forgive you after giving you a nice piece of her mind. And then everything will be as it always was. It has nothing to do with the pyramid, believe me. So, you should return now. We are somehow, barely holding the fort but we need reinforcements. We have never told you how important you or your successor (who might be a reality soon) are to us and that is what this letter intends to tell you in addition to the fact that we are dying without you.

Thank you,

A humble dependant.

p.s. I will be a bit erratic for a while on my blog and all the amazing blogs I regularly read because I am working on my second book. Please forgive me.

Why homosexuality should be encouraged in India

image from here

image from here

When the Supreme court acts like a Khap and bans homosexuality in a country like India, it is indeed a dark day especially when allowing it would have done wonders for the country. Decriminalization of homosexuality would have turned us into better humans over the coming decades but by making it a criminal offence, all we are doing is being consistently thick-headed

This criminalization bit basically means that two consenting adult men or women cannot indulge in ding-dong inside their own house behind close doors. Strange and insane as it may sound, from now onwards they will always be haunted by images of God wiggling his finger at them reminding them of the ‘natural order’ of things. They will also be haunted by Baba Ramdev trying to seduce them into their ashram so that he could cure them by teaching them how to tie themselves in a knot. And this happened after giving four years of hope to those consenting adults that they would be treated like ‘normal’ human beings.

I am disappointed majorly because this was such a golden chance for India to set a few things in order. Take the example of population control. Now we all know that two men or two women cannot produce a baby because of chromosomal complications. That would be like Rakhi Sawant spelling Czechoslovakia correctly. This decriminalization would have helped India to solve this problem of babies popping out of every nook and corner of the country. We would have slowed down this production line of wailing babies for a while.

Another major change would have been lesser dowry deaths. The LGBT community does not believe in arranged marriages and matrimonial websites could not have possibly exploited this aspect of our society. We usually burn around 8000 brides every year which would have considerably reduced. We would have also reduced cases of marital rapes, which by the way, are completely legal at the moment as per the natural order.

Consider female feticide as well. Parents might not kill their daughters when they would realize that after attaining adulthood, their daughters might leave with another woman. There would be no need to save money for their dowry and marriage for the rest of your life. In fact parents would have encouraged it (at least in case of women) and we would have seen ‘Become lesbian in 10 days’ posters on the rear windows of autos. 

“Hello Mrs. Chadha! Where is your daughter nowadays?” asked Mrs. Ahloowalia.

“She got married to her lesbian lover,” Mrs. Chadha replied with pride. 

“Really! How lucky! Our daughter turned out to be one of those silly normal ones. My husband spent his entire pension and savings on her marriage.”

“Pity! We are going on a Euro tour next month. But your son did turn out all right, no? He is gay, right?”

“Yeah, and thank god for that!” said Mrs. Ahloowalia. 

“What about the family tree?”

“Oh fuck trees! They are adopting!” Mrs. Ahloowalia beamed. 

We would have also seen a rise in the number of adoptions happening in our country. Usually same-sex couples end up adopting children to complete their family. This would have taken the burden off the conscience of parents who leave their children in garbage bins. Of course, our ultra complex adoption laws would have to be amended. They anyway need an amendment at present because by the time a couple is able to finish the formalities of adopting a 6 months old child, he/she is already 18.

Maybe decriminalization followed by making same-sex marriage legal would have made us more tolerant to people who are different from what we consider normal. It would have opened doors for other kind of kindness too. For example, we would have stopped looking down upon all the Chinese from the Eastern states of India or the people who work in our houses or collect garbage for us or who pull the rickshaw or who live under the flyovers or who are not married or who are differently-abled or who are raped. One kind of acceptance would have opened doors for another kind.

Another good thing that would have come out if it is that the country would have shown a middle finger to all the people who are the mouthpiece of Gods. It is strange how God has nothing better to do other than frothing via the mouth of his fan club dying to set the world straight. All around the world, the countries that have moved away from conservative religious zombies and madmen and have kicked them in the ass are the ones where people have a much better living standard. This was our chance to be progressive. And we supremely fucked up.

It does not matter if we hurl a hundred rockets towards Mars or set up an Indian colony on that planet. As long as we poke our nose in the affairs of two consenting adults and do not give them freedom of choice, all those scientific advancements don’t mean a thing. As long as we do not open our minds to the fact that it is every one’s right to be happy irrespective or their orientations, gender, caste or religion – we are still very much where our ancestors were. On the trees.

Money in the blouse and other stories

images from here

images from here

The Toofani Couple

A few days back I had an early morning live implementation. As my cab driver played Need for Speed on the roads of Delhi at 5.30 in the morning, I kept an eye on his nitro consumption which basically means that I was wide awake ensuring that he does not squash me in the rear of a truck. Suddenly, a car overtook us near Hyatt. I noticed that it had two toofani couples in it. Now the couple at the rear seat opened their respective windows, pushed their sorry head and torso outside and planted their butts on the windows. They then went ahead and smoked the same cigarette, passing it to each other from the top of the car.  The eyes of my cab driver went wide while I studied them with mild amusement. I was more worried about my cab ramming into their car and the driver flying out to join them. They smoked the whole cigarette and went inside like the neck of a scared turtle. I narrated the whole incident to my team at office and one of them remarked – What’s so toofani in that? It would have been toofani if they would have exchanged the cigarette from the bottom of the car.

I guess I am getting old.

Another not so lucky Toofani couple

The same week, while returning home enduring my rickety office bus, I saw an accident on the highway. A motorbike was racing in the wrong direction (Yes! On the highway!) and rammed into an Audi. People actually stopped their cars and came out to help (Surprise!). The woman and the bike ended up between the front and rear wheels while the man was dragged to safety. Now they were not able to pull out the women because the Audi went over her. So they tried to get the Audi off the woman by picking it up. I hope she survived but the chances are slim. This happened a day before Diwali.

I wondered if I could show this whole sequence to the Toofani couple in the earlier story, would they still think what they did was cool? Would they care more for their life?

Money in the blouse

Why on earth do people keep their money in their undergarments? The other day, I squeezed myself in a shared auto, which is basically a metal entity used to carry 10-15 people crammed in a space for 6. Sitting in a shared auto will be the closest you would come to understand the feelings of Jews jostling for space in a gas chamber. So, while I shrunk my butt to adjust in the pitiable space provided to me, I saw an elderly aunty ji sitting opposite me, staring in infinity. As the auto traversed the potholed roads, the aunty ji suddenly realised that her stop was near and thrust her hand inside her blouse. After my initial shock subsided, I realized that she was not trying to seduce me but frantically searching for her purse. She fumbled her right breast first but could not place the purse. Then she took out her left  hand and in went the right one to disturb her left asset. While all this was happening, I was obviously not looking at her but I could comprehend what was happening from the corner of my eye. Finally, she was able to find her purse that was hidden in some remote corner and the trauma ended.

I have also seen men putting hands in their underwear to take out money. Please someone tell me what is so irresistible about rubbing cash on your private parts?

Exercise in Patience

I have realized that writing a book is an exercise in patience. When you are doing research, you are impatient to start writing. When you are writing, you are impatiently waiting for the day when it will finish. When you finish, you are impatiently sending it to publishers. Then you wait very very impatiently for the publishers to respond. After a positive response, you patiently twiddle your fingers and wait for the book to hit the market. So, it you are a very impatient person, try not to write a book unless you have some sort of a mental asylum fetish.

By the way, I have started writing my second book. But now there is a kid in the equation, so it will be a while before I finish it. Deep breaths. Patience.

Mars and Traffic signals

There is a very busy traffic intersection on the highway near my home. Since the last two years for which I have been here, I have hardly seen the signal working on this intersection. Although people living in the country of Uttar Pradesh don’t believe in traffic signals and treat them the same way we treat a stray cow and beggars, I still believe that some day we will find people capable enough to mend the said signal. I know that there is some extremely complicated machinery inside it but I am sure that since we have sent a rocket to Mars now, we will be able to find people suitable to handle the neglected signal. Maybe we can consult a few top scientists at ISRO?

I usually do not write random posts but I had to share the ‘money in the blouse’ story and since I do not want to come across as a pervert, I added four intellectual stories to the post.

Boiling Water – III

image from here

image from here

Read part 1 and 2 of the story here –

Boiling water – I

Boiling Water – II

                                                *           *           *

I stood in the balcony for a while. It was dark and the city felt dead. I wondered what will happen if the Sun does not rise tomorrow. Everyone will gape at the sky for a while and realize how minuscule their blip of an existence is. Then the world will mould itself around its absence. We are good at forgetting. There is so much misery in the world that it would be foolish to think otherwise.

Her chair was propped at a corner of the balcony. She always observed the world sitting on it, with a cup of tea in her hand and a storm of thoughts in her mind. She travelled sitting on it. It was her time machine. I smiled as I looked at the empty chair. After a while I got tired of standing and I lowered myself on it. It was 4.30 am and I knew that sleep will not come near me now. Like me, she too was scared of my dreams.  

Sleep was having a good time with the woman inside. Thank God for that. 

                                                *           *           * 

When Shyamli saw my one bedroom house in Chandni Chowk for the first time, she broke down. I still remember the look on her face. She had been waiting for this for so long. All I can remember of her first day in that house is her arms encircled around me while she cried like a broken dam. My shirt was completely drenched from one side by the time she stopped and went to sleep. I took off my shirt and looked at it. I touched the wetness of our past one last time and threw the shirt away.

Shyamli finally completed her school. She was the oldest student in her class. She then went to college and finished her Bachelors. I too did well at my job and was promoted many times in the next few years. We moved in a bigger house. A few months after we moved, Shyamli got a job of a school teacher in a nearby school. The day she got her first salary, she bought me a shirt. It was same as the one I threw away on her first day in the city, the one soaked in her sorrows. 

“You should get married,” she said once.

“I won’t. I have to take care of you,” I said.

“Don’t do this. I will not be able to carry this burden.”

“We left all our burdens in the village.”

It never came to me getting married. I somehow couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was scared for Shyamli. I was scared that a slight hint of aloofness would push her over the edge. It was bound to happen if I brought another relationship in the equation. I talked to her about a second marriage but she recoiled at the idea. Maybe it was the rape. Maybe it was the fear of leaving me behind. In the end, both of us found solace in each other’s company. People often mistook us for husband and wife. We laughed them off. Sometimes they looked upon us as a strange pair – a brother and sister living together. Sometimes there were hints of suspicion, hints of our relationship going beyond the limits set by the society. But over the years, we made more friends than enemies. It was a good, fulfilling life. We didn’t have any regrets. 

                                                *           *           *

I went to sleep sitting on the chair. Seconds later, a gentle touch of a hand woke me up. I opened my eyes and Shyamli was standing over me with a smile on her face.

“Shubh, it’s seven o’clock. Come I will make you some tea,” she said.

“It’s seven? I don’t remember the last time I had such a sound sleep.”

“When did you wake up?”

“It was around four.”

“There is a function at my school today. They have invited all the retired teachers.”

“I know. You told me a week back.”

“Did I? I am invited too. Would you like to come?”

“No, you go ahead and enjoy yourself. I will go over to Srini’s for a game of chess.” 

I did not go anywhere. As Shyamli left for her school, I switched on the television and watched some news and eventually dozed off. The last thought before my eyes closed was that I would tell Dr. Kapoor that I slept soundly for two and a half hours after the dream. This has never happened before. 

                                                *           *           * 

I wasn’t supposed to be there. If I had any idea that the incident would haunt me for the rest of the life, I would have jumped in the pond and hid myself in layers of water. But of course I had no idea. I was a curious three years old.

Somewhere in the nearby hut, the women were wailing, Ma one amongst them. I had no idea why. All I knew was that Ma had a swollen tummy till yesterday and she told me that a baby brother would come out of that. When I asked her why not a baby sister, she hushed me up.

There was a small gap between two of the bricks in one of the walls where all the men were huddled. I saw the nightmare unfold through the gap. Baba lowered the crying newborn into a vessel in which water boiled furiously. My eyes widened as her head went inside. She thrashed for a while as chocking sounds filled the room. I stared from the hole as Baba pulled out his dead daughter from the water. He then took the dead body outside and threw it in the hole that has been dug for her.

That night the dream haunted me for the first time. I won’t call it a dream now. It was as if life decided to play a part of my past again and again to me. It was like a number burnt on the skin of an animal. I had to live with it.

Ma was again pregnant next year. She told me that I was going to have a baby brother this time. The women went into our hut for the delivery and soon a wail rose from there. The man standing outside the adjoining hut started digging a hole. A fire was lightened to boil the water. The crying girl was brought into the hut where all the men were grouped.  

I was shivering. Sweat ran down my face mixed with tears as Baba lowered the girl towards the vessel. I got up and ran towards the door of the hut.

“Baba! Please! I want to play with her!” I shouted as I reached the door.

He stopped and looked curiously at me.

“Daughters are a burden on the family. We are poor, son,” he said still holding the crying chid over the steam.

“I will take care of her. I promise,” I said. Baba laughed and took his daughter in his arms. A few men sitting in the hut laughed.

“Don’t forget your promise Shubh,” one of them said.

“I won’t!” I said looking straight in his eyes.

Baba gave the little girl in my arms. She had stopped crying.

“What will you call her Shubh?” he asked.

“Shyamli,” I said. I kissed her and held her tight.

The women were still wailing. A man was still digging the hole. But it did not matter anymore. I had made a promise. I was going to take care of her. 

~The End~

I was completely disturbed when my father told me the story of Shyamli. Murdering a female child is not uncommon in India. We have already killed 10 million girls and haven’t stopped yet. Shyamli somehow got lucky.

The ending of the story is completely true but I have fictionalized the rest of the story a bit. I have changed the decades in which it happened. Also, in reality, Shyamli did get married again. In fact, that is the reason why I am able to share her story with you. She was my great-grandmother. 

Boiling Water – II

image from here

image from here

Read part 1 here – Boiling Water – I

I wasn’t late. As I waited for my turn, I looked at the people around me. They were petrified. They carried a façade but I was a fellow traveller. I knew what they craved from inside – to sleep with a grin on their face. No one was as old as I was. At least they realized early in their life that they needed help.

“How are we today, Shubh?” Dr. Kapoor, the kind psychiatrist asked as I settled in his cabin.

“Same old same old,” I said.

“How are the dreams?”

“They still visit me every day without fail.”

The doctor sighed. I was a complicated case. No amount of medication has helped me in the past year. He was the most reputed doctor in Delhi but I had an ever-growing inkling that he was as helpless as I was.

“Tell me about the dream,” he said finally after a few seconds of scribbling on his pad.

“It was different this time but related. There was a huge vessel of water kept on a cooking oven made of bricks in a corner of a hut. A lot of firewood was burning.”

“Go on.”

“The water was boiling. Bubbles were breaking the surface, making a hissing sound. There was a lot of steam coming out.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes.”

“And you woke up?”

“And I woke up.”

“This might be an improvement.”

“It isn’t. I have had this particular dream before. It is not very frequent.”

“You have never told me about it.”

“I thought it was not important.”

“What terrifies you about this dream?”

“Doctor, the dream is the same. Only she is not in it. I am still terrified of what I was terrified earlier.”

“All right, Shubh. I think it is an improvement but we will wait for a few days and see. And, it is not just the sound of boiling water that terrifies you and you know it.” 

I reached home at six. She was watching television.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“Medicines and no conclusion,” I said.

“Have faith,” she said with a sad smile. 

                                                *           *           * 

Shyamli was bright. She was the only girl in her class. A few boys teased her for being foolish enough to study and I had a fight with them. One of them ended up with a bloodied forehead. No one dared to tease her again. Both of us walked the 3 kilometres to school every morning. If we were lucky, we would get a ride on a bullock cart while coming back. Sometimes we took a dip in the village pond while returning. Sometimes we would ride buffaloes on the way.

            Shyamli went to school with me for three years before her studies were abruptly stopped. Baba was worried that he would not be able to find a suitable match for her if she studied too much. He was of the view that I too should start working on the farm instead of going to the school. I objected and stopped eating food. Ma took pity on me and talked to father who reluctantly agreed to continue my studies. I asked her to talk about Shyamli too.

“No Shubh! She has studied enough. Now it is time for her to put her mind to household work. She is already eight. She will be married in a few years,” Ma said.

“You were not sending her to school because it was the right thing to do?” I asked her. Ma looked at me for some time.

“No son. We sent her because of you. It is time to end the games and be serious about life. We have to marry her off and these books are doing her no good,” Ma said.

I started going to school alone. In the afternoon, I would come back and teach Shyamli as much as I could. I became her teacher. Sometimes she cried and I told her that she will complete her studies. I promised.

Shyamli was thirteen when Ma and Baba decided that it was time for her to get married. There was a sixteen years old boy called Raghu in the village whose father had a lot of land. They married her to Raghu who raped her on the first night of their marriage. I was not aware of this or I would have strangled him. She told me about it years later.

I was seventeen the year Shyamli was married to Raghu in 1967. My parents had started hunting for a bride for me while I was packing my bags to go to college which meant leaving the village and going to the nearby town to study. Baba was aghast. Ma was petrified as if I was going to fight in a war. No one in our family had ever left the village. In the end both of them gave in after a lot of shouting and cursing. I told them that I did not want to end up like them. I told them about the dream that was killing me from the last fourteen years.

“How many times have you committed the crime? How many?” I screamed.

Baba slapped me hard. I told them what I thought about them. That put a lock on their mouths.

                                    *           *           * 

I washed the dinner plates. She cleaned them with a towel. We then watched television for sometime. She stopped talking after a while. I looked at her. She was sleeping on the sofa with her mouth open. I smiled and woke her up.

“Go to bed,” I told her.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“I will try to avoid it as long as I can.”

“Don’t stretch yourself Shubh. We are not young anymore. Your body needs rest.”

He was holding her upside down by her right foot. She was naked and her crying filled the room. Her body was smeared with blood, the blood of her mother. There were other men in the room, watching the act. Two of them were chewing tobacco, another one was yawning. It was a way of life for them. This was not the first time they were witnessing the act. Another man was digging the ground outside the hut. Someone was wailing nearby.

            He took her to the corner of the hut where water was boiling frivolously over a brick oven. Water, that was unaware of the crime of which it was going to be a part soon. He lowered her towards the water. Steam was rushing up to condense on her face. Her tears mixed with water and dripped in the bubbles breaking the surface. Her shrieks were reaching a crescendo. Her face was close to the hissing water. Oh! So close.

I woke up with a start and with horror in my eyes. I gulped air. My hands were trembling. After a few minutes as my breathing came back to normal, I looked at the clock. It was 4 am. I sighed and got up from the sofa. I needed fresh air.

The same dream. The same dream ever since I could remember. 

*           *           *

I lived in a hostel. Every evening, I would take tuitions to pay for my college fee and other expenses. I was a good teacher. I would go to the village on the weekends to meet my family. I went to Raghu’s house to meet Shyamli. I wasn’t welcomed there. They were unsuccessfully trying to have a baby. Shyamli always beamed on seeing me. I was the only happiness in her life.  She never reminded me of the promise I had made a few years back but I remembered. She would complete her studies. She lived with Raghu and his family for four years. They sent her back home because she could not bear a child. A year later Raghu married someone else.

“I knew it was a mistake to save her,” Baba said.

My parents were grieved by her presence in the house. She was a burden now. They treated her like a servant, beating and cursing her for minuscule reasons. 

I completed my college and gave entrance exams for clerical posts in government organizations. I got through one and was posted in Delhi. I took a small one room house on rent in Chandni Chowk and shifted there. I went back to the village on the weekend and asked Shyamli to pack her belongings.

“What are you doing Shubh?” she asked with fear in her eyes.

“I made two promises that I intend to keep,” I said.

Baba stood in my way and slapped me. I was a bad son in his eyes. He then held Shyamli’s hand and tried to push her away. He pulled her hair. I slapped him. He held a hand to his cheek and stared at me with disbelief. I slapped him again and again and again till he crumpled on the ground. Ma stood in a corner gawking at me. She did not recognize me anymore. Now she knew how I felt all those years. I took Shyamli’s hand and both of us walked out of the house, never to return. 

to be concluded…

Boiling water – I

Image from here

Image from here

(Based on a true story) 

“I had the dream again.”

She walked and sat next to me, taking my hand in hers, caressing the folds of my skin.

“You have to forget her. You saved me,” she said.

“I can’t,” I whispered.

“It has been sixty years.”

“Yes. Sixty years. And her sound still wakes me up.”

“I know.”

Tears ran down my crumpled face. It wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t going to be the last. She had wiped my tears infinite times before. She was going to wipe them now. She moved her hand. I held it tight.

“Don’t,” I said.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

We sat silently for a while. Then I sighed.

“The sound that woke me up today was different.”

“What did you hear?”

“Boiling water,” I said. 

                                                *           *           * 

I don’t know what it means to be completely happy. Can anyone be completely happy? Don’t we always have something running in the back of our mind – a tragedy, a horror story, a sorrow, a nightmare? Over the years, I have realised that even though I might be giddy with my so called achievements, despondency runs through me like blood.  I can never get rid of it. It is like the fingers on my hand – a part of me that cannot be cut away without pain.

            It is not as if I cannot pretend to be happy. I can. I retired from my job two years back in 2011. If you go and ask the people I worked with, they will tell you what a clown I was. I had a wand of laughter. It was my way of making my staff comfortable. I would sit with them and tell them funny stories. They respected me. They cried on my farewell. They gave me flowers and gifts. But then they did not see me sitting alone in my cabin, staring at the wall, tossing the paperweight. They did not see me gulping those medicines so that I could sleep peacefully. They did not see me getting up in the middle of the night reaching for air like a drowning man, drenched in my sweat, my hands on my ears. That is what I mean when I say that you can never be completely happy because when you are happy, you sleep with a grin on your face. When you are happy, someone wakes you up in the morning and you smile and put your head beneath the pillow so that you could sleep for five more minutes.

                                                *           *           * 

“But you never heard just boiling water before,” she said.

“I did a few weeks ago. It keeps coming back.”

“Did you hear her as well?” she asked reluctantly.

“No. Not this time. I prefer water as long as I don’t hear her.”

She patted my hand. I looked into her eyes.

“Can I?” she asked.

I nodded. She wiped the tears off my face.

“You have an appointment today,” she said after my tears were on her hands.

“I know.”

I saw pain on her face when she got up from the chair. Her joints were troubling her again. She stood holding the sofa for a few seconds before moving to the kitchen.

“I will make tea,” she said.

My appointment was at 4 o’clock. I have been going there since the last one year hoping for a miracle. 

                                                *           *           * 

It was difficult to get out of the village. Baba always wanted me to be a farmer like him. I knew I had to find ways, run towards any door that could take me away from this life. I asked Ma to send me to school. She laughed. Boys in the village hated going to school and here I was, coaxing my mother. She talked to Baba.

“He won’t like it there and drop out in a few months. What is the harm?” she told him. He grudgingly agreed to it.

The school was not in my village. There was a single school for 5 villages in the district.  It was 3 kilometres away. I walked. I did not feel tired. It wasn’t a choice to attend school. It was a resolve.

I was seven. I did not drop out like the rest of the boys of the village. After one year, Baba tried to get me out of the school but I was adamant. Ma helped calm him. She saw that I was interested in studying. Had she known that I was growing wings to desert her one day, she would have turned into someone I could have never recognised. I barely recognized Baba for what I had seen him doing four years back. Of course, now I know that Ma was an equal partner in the crime. 

The year was 1959. I had been studying for two years now when I asked Ma if my younger sister could attend school with me. Mother was milking the cows. She laughed again but this time she did not talk to Baba.

“Girls don’t study. They learn household work,” she said running her hand in my hair. Droplets of milk stuck in my hair.

“Ma, how were you saved?” I asked.

She stopped milking the cow, the fingers of her right hand curled on one of the teats. She could not understand my question. Then I saw realization dawn in her eyes. She turned around and looked harshly at me.

“Go, help your Baba,” she said. She stared at me as I walked away, suddenly scared.   

I requested my school teacher to talk to my parents so that they send my sister to school. She was a kind lady who came to my house and successfully drilled some sense in my parents. Shyamli, my sister, started going to school with me on a promise that she will still do all the household chores assigned to her. Sending her to school made my parents the laughing stock of the village. Baba was very angry but Ma asked him to be calm and let her handle it.

“No one will marry her!” he said. 

“What are you teaching your daughter for? Will she become a doctor?” the village women would laugh at Ma when she went to fetch water at the village well.

“I don’t want her to use her thumb as a signature,” Ma would reply.

“You will pay for your madness one day,” the women would retort. 

To be continued

Confused Scared Dirty Angry

image from here

image from here

What can a guy possibly know about sexual abuse? After all, he can only have a second hand experience of what the female population of this country goes through on a daily basis. That is why I have to tell you my story.

I was a very shy kid in school. I never bullied anyone or picked up a fight. All I did was study diligently and top my class every single year. When not studying, I was neck deep into Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle. My sports teacher were perplexed to come across a boy who did not like throwing and hitting balls. I had great difficulty in striking a conversation with strangers and was terrified at the prospect of leaving the warm embrace of known faces in my school and join a college. To my utter discomfort, that is exactly what life had in store for me.

I got admission in a good college in Delhi University. The college was a one hour bus ride from my home. In those Metro-less days, The DTC buses as a mode of transport were as good as Manmohan Singh as our Prime Minister. So, the only way to get to the college was to board the notorious killer machines called Blueline buses. Sometimes, the buses were so crowded that you won’t find space to expand your chest to breathe. All I could see was a mass of hands holding the metal rods and pressing the windowpanes for support. The crowd was like a giant, single animal with multiple hands protruding from all sides.

The year was 1997. It was a time when we still talked about a lot of topics in hushed voices. Topics like rape, sexual abuse, child molestation, sexual orientation were not openly discussed. And yes, Rape and Sexual abuse happened only to women. Add to it my complete disconnection to the real world because of my nature and you would realise that I was shockingly naive.

So one fine day, I left the college in a hurry to get away from the awful place full of strangers and boarded a Blueline bus chock-a-block with more strangers. I squeezed in somehow and stood completely surrounded by unidentified torsos. A few moments later I felt a hand on my crotch. At first I ignored it, considering the number of people in the bus but then I felt that the hand was not there by mistake. It was slowly rubbing my crotch. I looked down and traced the hand back to the human attached to it. The person who was doing this was an elderly uncle in his late 50s. He looked straight into my eyes and kept rubbing. 

The first emotion that hit me was complete confusion. Why would a person who is of the age of my grandfather rub my crotch? I knew he was somehow getting aroused by this but I failed to understand how. I went red in the face and moved away from him. To my surprise, he came after me. He again stood near me and tried to rub my crotch. By this time, I was completely agitated and it showed on my face. I had no idea what to do in such a situation. I was this scared, timid boy who did not have the courage to push him back. When I look back, I understand that courage and anger are the last of your thoughts, especially when it is happening for the first time. Confused and scared – that is what I felt at the moment. Why was this even happening? I again moved away from him and this time he sensed trouble and did not follow.

When I reached home, I felt anger erupting inside me. I still could not make sense of an old man touching me like this. I felt dirty and disgusted. I did not discuss this with anyone but my parents did notice that I was a bit sad. I encountered the man two more times in the bus back home. He recognized me and tried to come near me but I was not going to let him get away with it, so I always moved near to the driver where I was not completely surrounded by people. He gave up after that.

It took me a long time to get over the incident. 

I told my wife about this incident a few days back. She asked me that how would such an incident play on my psyche if it happened again and again. I told her that I would be devastated till the point that I will require medical help to come out of it. She told me about numerous incidents that happened to her while traveling in buses. She told me how she was groped many times and how she sometimes received help. The women not only survive such abusers but they have to then survive the fingers pointing at them. I cannot imagine someone coming to me and telling me that what that uncle did was my fault. I would spit in the person’s face. 

So you see, I know a bit about sexual abuse. It is a tiny blip in comparison to what happens to women in India but I understand what they go through. I understand how it plays with your mind, how it makes you jittery in the presence of strangers, how it makes you wonder about a life in a parallel universe where you are respected, where people will not touch you without your permission, where they will not treat you as objects. 

I still feel angry that he got away with it. I feel angry that so many people get away with it in our country, in this world. Yes, the world around me has changed in the last 16 years. We are more vocal, more angry. But the abuses haven’t subsided. 

I am a different person from how I was in 1997. I have lived alone, managed my affairs and have shed most of my phobias. And if it is any consolation, if that incident happens now, I would grab that uncle by his balls and toss him out of the moving bus. It would save many more youngsters the trauma they would have gone through by his hands.

Chronicles of Dearth : The case of missing Yaun-doms

long_time_ago

….there was a planet called Dearth. The dominant specie on the planet was called Insane (pronounced In-saan*). The name of the planet had seen better days but Insanes had squeezed out all of the planet’s resources and thus a resolution was passed to change the name of the planet to commemorate the achievement.

An interesting episode happened on POL011 on planet Dearth in the klear 5690*. POL or Piece Of Land is very similar to how we define countries on Earth.

POL011 was the second most populated POL on Dearth and this was a major concern for the King. Now the king did not have any real power other than to be a poster boy or pardoning convicts he found sexy. The real power sat with his Prime Minister who was a part of a governing body. Sadly, the Prime Minister was as helpless as the King. He was deaf and dumb and was puppeted by the governing body run by Madaam Pasta.

Population explosion was such an immense problem on POL011 that the King, PM and Madaam Pasta decided that insanes have to be educated about not producing babies every time a power cut happened. Educating the insanes of POL011 was as difficult as asking the PM to speak two words, so the governing body finally passed a bill to put 11000 yaun-dom* machines throughout the POL. Yaun-dom were special devices very similar to our condoms but with a special chip embedded in them which made them reusable.  They were almost like mini- robots that could lid the desirable places.

One fine Klatoony day (Klatoon was the name of their Sun), a minister came running as Madaam Pasta was pouring  cere-lack in baba’s mouth. Baba was her 40 Klat-years old son.

“Madaam!! They are all gone!” the minister said as he kissed her ring.

“Elaborato,” Madaam said with exasperation.

“Madaam, all the Strawberry flavoured yaun-doms are missing from the machines!” the minister said.

Madaam raised one of her eye brows and looked at baba.

“What? Noooo! Of course not! And that is not even my favourite flavour! Why don’t you ask Zeezaazee?” Baba said throwing his hands in the air.

” Your Zeezaazee is a poor farmer. I don’t think he uses local brands,” Madaam said thoughtfully.  

A few minutes later, an SOS message was sent to the ministers to immediately teleport themselves in the King’s War room. After everyone had arrived, the Prime Minister was the first to speak. He talked in sign language which was interpreted and voiced by a T608BOSS robot standing behind him.

“Did we check with Ass-aram? We might have to raid his ass-rum,” the robot said.

“I don’t think he uses yaun-doms,” the King said trying to hold a giggle which earned a stearn look from Madaam.

“What about Imraan Kissme?” a minister asked.

“Checked. He is clean.”

“No one in this fuc*ing POL uses a yaun-dom. That was the fuc*ing point of installing the machines. Do you even realize what will happen if the media gets a whiff of this?” Madaam Pasta screamed, Unable to hold herself anymore.

The robot coughed.

“Get the MIB on it,” Madaam said.

The MIB (Madaam Investigation Bureou) was a coveted organization that was given only those tasks that were supposed to linger on for hundreds of Dearth years. So this decision emancipated nothing but a collective gasp from the ministers and a quick sign from the PM which made the robot gasp an electronic gasp.

The MIB started its investigation but things were about to get worse. Soon, the chocolate flavoured yaun-doms went missing from the machines. And then the news was leaked to the media. And then the banana flavoured ones went missing too.

The media houses did everything from organising panels to discuss the order in which flavours went missing to showing closeups of yaun-dom vending machines for hours as hinsanes (male insanes) cried bitterly holding the machines in their arms. As the king pondered over a proposal of installing hi-tech fly shaped, almost invisible 6755SONAM cameras on all the machines, media houses conducted audience polls to know the favourite flavous of the citizens.  Unsurprisingly, the result came in exactly the order in which the yaun-doms went missing.

pollfinal

[Others including lichi, pomegranate, butter scotch, vanilla etc]

Even after the cameras were installed and MIB worked full time on the case, flavours after flavours vanished from the machines. There was anger in the inhabitants of POL011 as they loved getting things for free and the King seemed simply incapable of providing them the simplest of such free pleasures. There were marches on the street where insanes dressed up as huge yaun-doms and burnt outdated robots dresses up as the King, PM and Madaam. The Po-lice was deployed who stunned the protestors (especially shinsanes (female insanes)) by touching them with their tasers at inappropriate places. The situation went quickly out of hand.

The PM finally addressed the POL. The robot stood behind him and passed on his message as the PM gestured.

Finally, the yaun-dom machines went empty and MIB searched fervently for an excuse for its incompetency. The MIB chief got a personalized slap from Madaam Pasta. The King launched a new scheme called YYHH (yaun-dom yaun-dom Hota Hai) where the citizens were given door to door service of their favourite flavours. A huge amount of currency was transferred from the SOD (Save Our Dearth) fund for this activity.

The flaw in the scheme was stark the very next year when the sale of balloons declined during the festival of la-colourina*. The king realised with horror that the insanes of POL011 wanted to collect free yaun-doms for an entirely different reason but it was too late to make any amendments. To recover the losses, Madaam Pasta gave a brilliant idea to increase the breathing tax.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring POL92, the notorious gangster The-wood was laughing hysterically in the company of the King of POL92 and his ministers. POL92 was enemies with POL011 over a disputed area called POL011-0191.

“This was a brilliant idea. Who needs killing drones and bombs?” the King said.

“The-wood is a brilliant mastermind. Who would have thought of this,” one of the ministers said.

“Yes, they are already on the brink of a collapse, teaming like nanodrakes*. All we had to do was to give then a nudge. And no one believes in using yaun-doms in that POL. The idiots believe in the more the merrier,” The-wood said.

Later at his home, The-wood went to the store room and took almost half an hour to select a flavour to use that night, chuckling at his idea of using a teleporter on a robotic fly to steal the yaun-doms.

*Insaan – means human in Arabic. It is a commonly used word in Hindi

*yaun – Copulation

*nanodrakes – very similar to ants. They can copulate from both ends and hence indulge in chain-mating.

*la-colourina – A festival similar to Holi but played only with  balloons. In recent years, price of balloons have gone up in POL011, just like the price of petrol in India.

*klear 5690 – Similar to Earth years. On Dearth, a klear consists of 225 days. Each day is 12 hours long. Insanes work only for 3 hours a day.

The news that inspired this post – 10,000 condom machines missing, CAG finds