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.

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.

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.

Four legs good

I like pigs. I really do. The place where I lived earlier used to be lush and green with wide spaces some twenty five years back. Then because of our brilliant government policies, more and more people from small cities and villages started pouring in pigs and monkeysDelhi and some very interesting unregulated and illegal colonies sprouted like wild mushrooms all around my home. It did not take long for the place to turn into a ghetto where you could not drive without your car bumping into a buffalo. And then there were the pigs. Their sudden appearance gave a new dimension to the colony in addition to naked children rolling on the roads and men bathing in full public view. Monsoons made the pigs delirious with joy and they sang duets with frogs. What a joy it was to hear the two species go oink-oink and trrrr-trrrr in quick succession while one swathed in rain water (Thanks to the eternally clogged drainage system in Delhi) and the other jumped over them. I felt close to nature.

And did I mention how much I like cows and buffaloes? I find them very well behaved in Delhi. They NEVER sit in the middle of the roads and promptly move away from your car the moment you honk. The cows in Chennai or for that matter in Haryana are a bit rustic and very fearless. They sit right in the middle of the roads even if there are huge trucks rumbling towards them. Also, the city cows make me feel proud of our nation. I have seen foreigners going ooooh and aaaah the moment they spot a cow and then frantically fumble their bags for the camera. I once saw a caucasian woman set up her tripod stand on one side of a busy road to take pictures of two cows lolling while they chew their personal cuds. My chest swells with pride every time I think about the incident. And did I tell you about a foolish, old man whose corpse was taken off a cow’s horn in my locality? I am sure he must have been harassing her for free milk.

india-roads-cowsThen there are the dogs. Not the pet ones, but the ones who play with kids on the street and bite anyone they fancy. I like them too. Every day before going to office, I religiously put chapattis dabbed in milk at the foot of a lamp-post near my house for the dogs of my street. I like the way my wife jumps and runs when 7-8 dogs try to appreciate her new saree by circling her as she catwalks. I cannot imagine my life without stray dogs. They are such an integral part of every Indian city.

Monkeys hanging from trees around my house always turn me philosophical and make me wonder why nature mutated us from them. Was it a joke? There is a society near my house that has humans and monkeys living in harmony. If you visit that society, you will find one monkey sitting on each car. The people living there have finally bought a few langurs to keep the monkeys at bay. Can you imagine how fortunate the children living in that society are to live in such proximity to their ancestors?

And what should I say about the horses, camels and elephants? I still remember (very fondly) an incident which happened while travelling in my office bus. I was deeply immersed in a novel when I suddenly sensed a giant eye peering through the window to see what I was reading. It was an elephant who was standing next to the bus, waiting patiently for the traffic signal to turn green. That day I almost tasted my heart. Sitting on a camel for a ride and straining my spinal cord always remind me how fragile my life is. And I like their extra long eyelashes and the way their jaw moves when they chew. They remind me of Tinu Anand.

22240-tinu-anand.jpg

Pigeons are another set of fascinating creatures found in abundance in Delhi. Whenever I go to my mum-in-law’s house, I am greeted by mounds of pigeon shit in her balcony. Her AC cannot be operated because it is filled with straws as numerous pigeons have tried to make their nest on top of it. If you leave any of the doors open by mistake, don’t be surprised by the flapping of wings in your bedroom. And the moaning sounds they make in the morning never fails to turn me on. It is the sexiest alarm anyone can dream of.

Living amongst all these amazing species is an experience which you can only enjoy in India. They are mostly harmless if you enjoy them from a distance. But there is another specie that is deadly and extremely dangerous to live with. Humans. In a dark street, you might have more faith in a gang of five dogs but not in a gang of five men. You might allow your child to feed the pigeons but cannot leave him with a portly, old uncle in the park. You might allow your child to take an elephant ride but can you be sure about the driver who takes the child to school?

Yes, I like pigs. Even if they swathe in mud, are dirty, carry germs and litter the road, I know that they are just animals. Trustworthy. Innocent. Living their life without poking their nose in anyone’s business. No ego hassles. They do not know how to use guns or how to throw acid. They do not understand the meaning of countries, terrorists and caste.

Funny how not being intelligent can be such a boon. I wish we were still animals. Life would have been so much simpler.

p.s. I haven’t mentioned cats, squirrels, cockroaches, lizards, sparrows, crows, donkeys, goats, politicians and so many other animals because this post was getting extra long.

[images from 1,2,3,4]

My USA is here

We all know of the utter disdain with which the oldies refer to the new generation as – oh! Those aping west types. They cleverly forget those decades of their own affinity towards the bell bottoms, Elvis hairstyles and humongous shirt collars that resembled this fish –

trygon

Yes, we do try to be the west (which basically means USA to us) by talking in that funny fake accent and looking at them for approvals for everything from Modi to Oscars, but we do not believe that you have to ‘ape’ them to turn this country into USA. Now as our government officials prefer changing names of cities to swatting flies, consider a hypothetical situation where the name of our beloved motherland is changed to USA. Now the ‘A’ in this new USA can stand for a lot many things.

For example –

We can be the United States of Amoeba. Look at the rapid rate at which the states are multiplying. From 26 in my school days, we are now at 29. Or is it 30? And then in a very Draupadi-ish style, we share the capitals too. Chandigarh is being bedded by Haryana and Punjab since ages and now Hyderabad has joined the ranks. We have divided this whole whale of a state in two and it is impossible to find a city to create a new capital? The A for Amoeba can also symbolize the way humans divide in this country although the mode is far from asexual. Coming to think of it, we would have preferred it to be asexual. Then the girls and boys would have held hands and played ring-a-ring-a-roses without their parents fretting about the slaughter of cultural values.

We can also be the United States of Aunties. It may represent the nosy aunty brained politicians who recently arm-twisted the RTI act to save their asses. It can also represent those aunties who bully the vegetable vendor into reducing the prices by 36 paise, threaten him with dire consequences if he does not add free extra chilies to her bag and feel proud of their achievement for the rest of the day.

While we are at aunties, allow me to vent a bit gracious reader.

There is this old hag with whom we share our builder floor house. She lives in the ground floor with her husband (who has this permanent expression of shock on his face as if there is a cactus shoved up his ass), her elder son and his wife (the couple fights with the capacity of two Godzillas. The son is completely incoherent and blabbers in an alien language when he is fighting with his wife. Yes, we can hear everything) and her younger son and his wife (recently married, the couple was in a hurry to reproduce. It has just been a year and the couple already has a baby). So, this insufferable woman has a habit of coming up with brilliant ideas to piss everyone off. A few days back, she invited a few homeless local workers to create huts in an empty plot next to ours (a common sight in NCR). The plot is not hers. Her reason? She needs a new maid and she can pick one from the hut. We politely asked her to fu*k off because this is how illegal colonies flourish.

This pathetic excuse of a human being and her gang of similar creatures are also famous for poking their nose in everyone’s affairs. One night, I will don my Batman suite and hang this whole gang upside down from a high-rise.

Feeling unburdened now, we come back to the topic.

We can be the United States of Apathy, because this is what we teach our children. Nothing is more important than you, your family, your dog, your underwear and your money. Not even another human’s life. We are masters in the art. In fact the leftover compassionate people who have not yet converted should be caught and dragged into gas chambers and vaporized, just like those unnecessary Jews who lived a few decades back.

We can be the United States of Applesauce. Appreciating nonsense is one of our greatest achievements. Look at our daily sitcoms, our news channels, our politicians, our reality shows, our movies and our advertisements – everything is loaded with a slapstick sauce, laden with toppings of buffoonery, laced with layers of stereotypes and mixed with a sense of senselessness. Anything ‘normal’ is called ‘art’. We believe that fairness of the skin brings success. And we love it when SRK plays a Madrasi and licks dal off his arm.

We can be the United States of Arnab. Look at the way our own Superman Arnab singlehandedly bring the culprits to justice by his uncontrollable squeaks. Look at the way he ‘demands’ answers that make the most seasoned politicians cringe in their chairs, sweat instantly and beg for forgiveness. We can all roll at his feet and ask him to give his name to the country.

arnab

So you see, we really do not have to ape the west to be USA. We have all the right ingredients present right under our nose. All we have to do is to follow our heart, open our eyes and the path will unwrap in front of us. We are already living in USA. All we have to do is choose the right ‘A’.

Do you have any other ideas for what ‘A’ can stand for, O! Reader? I am contemplating starting a petition on change.org to amend the name of our country. Looking forward to your support.

[image from here and here]

Slaughterhouse Country

bloody-hand-red-print1

image from here

I remember a tragic incident from the time when I was in school. There was a narrow two lane bridge on Yamuna close to my house. One fine day, a school bus plunged into the river from that bridge. Reason? The driver lost control because of his rash driving. The children could have been saved if the bridge had a strong concrete railing instead of a feeble iron one, similar to the one used in the balcony of houses. I still remember the face of a mother whose son was never found. The water was too muddy – the divers said. They searched for five days.

Do you know how many children were there in the bus? 120.

One of my British colleagues once made a very interesting observation. He said that we do not treasure life because we believe it is cyclical. We believe that anyone who dies will be reborn and thus don’t care about anyone dying.

Laughable?

But look around you. 4,97,686 road accidents were reported in 2011. 1,42,484 people died in road accidents in 2011 [link]. The statistics are easily available. A lot of us know about them. Still we see people incessantly breaking traffic rules. I have seen school buses jump traffic lights and ply in the wrong direction.

I remember a particular flyover that was constructed in Delhi. It was faulty with a very dangerous curve. It took the sacrifice of 8 human lives on that stretch before the administration woke up. Yes, DDA waited for 8 people to die before they installed safety measures.

How many pilots have died in the faulty MIG airplane crashes? Of the 872 MiG series fighter aircraft purchased by the government till 1980, a total of 482 planes have crashed till now, killing 171 pilots and 39 civilians [link]. Well, we have 390 more airplanes to go.

What happened in Uttarakhand was a mass murder of the first degree. More than 10000 people massacred in cold blood. Warnings were ignored and there was no disaster management plan in place, hotels made on soft riverbed crashed into the river, food didn’t reach the needy on time even though the whole country chipped in to provide supplies.

There are so many buildings that are deemed unfit in case of an earthquake but people still live in them, work in them.

There are buses and trains that run over capacity as people hang dangerously from the doors. They don’t have an option. They have to go to work, put food on the table. I knew a boy who fell off a train, went into coma and died after 10 days. He was in college.

We leave rape victims to die helplessly on the roads. It has taken the sacrifice of thousands of acid attack victims for the rulers to wake up and do something about it. [link][link2]

In 2010, 8391 dowry death cases were reported across India. It means that a bride was burned every 90 minutes [link]

It is estimated that more than 10 million female foetuses have been illegally aborted in India. That is 6 million less than the number of people who died in World War I. In 2011, 15,000 Indian women were bought and sold as brides in areas where foeticide has led to a lack of women. [link]

India contributes 25 percent of the world’s child deaths [link].

Grains rot and never reach the needy. 21 million tonnes of wheat is wasted every year. [link] That is equivalent to the wheat production of whole of Australia.

2,56,913 farmers have committed suicide since 1995. Maharashtra posts a dismal picture with over 50,000 farmers killing themselves. [link]

Don’t even try to count the number of riot victims. [link] Religion in this country is like a woman who was tied-up and hidden in a cowshed and was raped by a different man every night.

What is it if not an utter disregard of human life? What is it if not a country that has turned into a slaughterhouse?

No, I do not find the cyclical life argument laughable anymore. What makes us think that even a single life lost is Ok? It is not just a number. It is a dead human being. Who could have been saved.

And then I wonder if it has something to do with abundance of life? We deem life worthless because it is available in excess in our country? What is another man dead when we have crores of them?

Or is it the fact that we are never taught compassion. An outsider is not the same as your family. We have a shield firmly placed in front of our feelings when it comes to anyone who is not of our own blood. And I have seen this feeling grow over the last decade. We are more self-centered, more suspicious, more inhuman.

And of course, there is money to be made. We believe in compensations after tragedies. We believe in forming committees to probe deaths when we could have averted them in the first place. Committees about which the dead don’t care and neither the living after a while.

Some of us believe in repenting. Yes, we tend to do that after an accident. An accident that could have never happened.

Sometimes I wonder if we deserve each other. The politicians and citizens. Many of us have blood on our hands. We have wrapped our dead unborn daughters in newspaper and thrown them in dustbins, haven’t we? We have allowed our children to sit in a bus filled with 120 souls instead of objecting.

Yes, this slaughterhouse is a joint venture and a successful one. It is said that when the battle of Mahabharat ended, the soil in Kurukshetra was thick with blood. It is still red if you dig it a bit. But we don’t have to do it anymore. Just look at your hands. It will be invisible at first but you will see the red stains if you concentrate.

A handful of us who can still maintain our sanity have to believe that there is always hope. What else can be there after so much bloodshed?

Daddy Diaries : Timings, Fire and Nosy Aunties

injection

Dear Diary,

Anika turns two months old tomorrow. She is taller by a few centimeters and weighs almost double of what she weighed at the time of her birth. She now has layers and layers of baby fat on her arms and legs and has a double chin that can shame Adnan Sami (older one). She also has started smiling although she does that more while staring at the walls than the family which scares the shit out of us. We believe that there is a ghost in the house.

Sharma Clan is famous for its sense of timing. We have a 100% track record of understanding the importance of a perfect sense of disruption and I am proud to announce that Anika has picked the trait in just two months of her existence. So, the moment I put her to sleep and tiptoe towards my laptop, she suddenly opens her eyes and start wailing. The feat is repeated when we are eating food or trying to take a nap or basically doing anything that does not involve her. She pretends to be asleep and the moment you happily turn your face emancipating a sigh of relief, she opens her eyes and give an evil grin.

I am so proud of her.

Dear Diary,

We had Anika’s naming ceremony a few days back. It was just a formality as she already has a birth certificate with her name on it. She slept throughout the ceremony, flailing her arms in alarm as if the world was about to end when the priest dropped a utensil on the floor. When the fires were lit in the hawan kund, we deported her inside. The priest had too much time on his hands as he had no other appointments and he took his own sweet time to finish off the ceremony.

Now I really like the fire part of such rituals. I was adding ghee to the fires, just like those vamps in our daily soaps. It is an art. You have to drop the ghee at precise locations so that the wood catches fire properly and you don’t end up suffocating to death. It’s basic survival skills. So the whole Sharma clan was more interested in strategically burning the wood rather than what the priest had to say. He was anyways into too much of Sanskrit. In the end, I had to lower a mini coconut in the fire and I loved to see it burn with the rest of the wood that the family had successfully reduced to ashes.

Then the eunuchs arrived. Their leader was a towering personality (imagine The Great Khali in a saree) who made us shudder by her dance. We had to part with 7500 Rs because the gang repeatedly threatened us that they will be taking off their clothes in front of us. I was amused and actually wanted to see if they are capable of doing that but I got glares from my family and we finally gave in to the blackmail.

nosy peopleI can’t describe how much I abhor all those nosy ladies from Mom’s kitty who came for the ceremony. One of them has a granddaughter of her own who is a month younger to Anika. There is some problem with her eyes as they water very frequently. The doctors say that they might have to do a minor surgery. Now this lady finds solace in scrutinizing all the babies in the colony to find watery or uneven eyes. The first comment that fell off her mouth after seeing Anika was – Don’t you think one of her eyes is smaller than the other?

“Really? Just like your boobs?” I wanted to ask. Of course I held my tongue back. Then she did what we were avoiding to do throughout the ceremony. She smeared Anika’s forehead with the red tilak and then plonked a few rice grains on top of it as if she was a ceremonial goat tied in a temple.

Another lady had a huge issue with what Anika was wearing. She behaved as if we have draped the baby in woolens in peak summers. Then she had a problem with her name too.

“Why Anika? It is a very old fashioned name,” she remarked.

Another one had a problem with Anika’s upper lip. Sigh! Dear Diary, I must tell you that my middle finger was twitching to be raised throughout their stay in my house. I am contemplating putting a sign board outside the house specifying that dogs and nosy aunties are not allowed inside.

Dear Diary,

Anika got two injections in her thigh as well. The moment the needle went in, there was an expression of utter shock on her face and then the scream came 5 seconds later shattering all the glass windows of the hospital. I think she was quite brave, given the fact that her mother still holds my hand while facing an injection and makes a face as if she has swallowed a frog.

Time is flying by. I can feel it. A few days back Geet and I were discussing about how Anika will grow up and leave us one day to find her world. Silly, I know. It all started when I took a policy in Anika’s name that will mature in 21 years. Now I have two policies to take care of in addition to a home loan. The dent in my pocket is so enormous that I can fall through it and out of my pants.

Anyways,

I need to stop. She is awake and quivering her lips like Sharmila Tagore.

So long.

[images from 1,2]

Message in a Pen – III

fork-in-path

Read part 1 & 2 of the story here –

Message in a Pen – I

Message in a Pen – II

Neelam came to take the exam. She was flanked by two burly cousins who did not allow any male to come near her. She had a chat with Ruchi, Sneha, Amrita and Kiran for a few moments. The girls were left shaken. Neelam’s left eye was surrounded by a black patch. There was an ugly red bump on her forehead and her lower lip was swollen. She was walking with difficulty. She took the exam and went quietly back to her home in the car. No one saw her slip a pen in Ruchi’s hands which she later gave to Saahil.

The five of us gathered in Saahil’s room as soon as we reached the hostel. He opened the pen and a paper protruded out of it. There was no refill inside it. The paper was folded multiple times and pushed in the base. Saahil pulled it out and opened it. It was a message from Neelam. He read it and passed it over to us. 

Saahil,

I might not be able to write again. They have locked me up in a room. Dad beats me up everyday. I don’t feel the pain anymore. My left hand is numb. He twisted it too much.

My love, I have agreed to marry someone else. Dad says that if we try to elope, he will dig us out and hack you to pieces in front of me. He can do that Saahil. I am not able to sleep at nights.

Sweetheart,

I want you to go and find happiness without me. Our friends were right but we were hopelessly in love. I will never regret loving you but I cannot bear the thought of seeing your dead body. I will live happily knowing that you are alive somewhere.

I know what I am asking will be unacceptable to you but time will heal everything Saahil. You will fall in love again. And me. Don’t think of me as heartless. I have to think of happiness so that I don’t go mad in these walls.

Give my love to the gang.

Neelam 

                                                *           *           * 

“You think I chickened out that day, don’t you? The day the message came in the pen?” Saahil asked.

“No, I don’t. This is not a movie,” I said. The breeze was still playing with the swings.

“You think ours was not a true love?”

I remained silent.

“I loved Neelam. The day I saw her during the exams, I was furious. I wanted to go and kill her dad. How could he do this to his own daughter? And what would it have solved?”

“It’s just that I think you and Neelam gave up too easily. It’s like…”

“It’s like Neelam and I am glad that we parted, that I do not live with a sad expression on my face, that I do not always remember my past, that I do not  make my wife realize that there was someone else in my life earlier and was snatched away from me,” Saahil completed it for me.

“I am sorry but yes, that is what comes to my mind. It is as if both of you were relieved that you got rid of each other.”

“No. We were not. You saw how I barely passed the exams, how I used to sit in the hostel room and cry all day.  You were there. Do you expect me to do that all my life? Our happiness is not confined to one person. I had to dig out my happiness again after she was gone. I had to because I was going nuts. And now I should feel bad that I tried to find love again and succeeded?”

On an impulse I looked towards my left and saw Kirti standing at the door of the house and looking at us. She was far away and could not hear us but her expression said it all. She then smiled and went inside.

“Did you talk to the others about it?”

“Of course I did. I wanted to talk to you too but you were so unapproachable. You had drawn walls around yourself. We barely talked in the last three years. Thank God you are back.”

“I was completely shaken up by the incident. I always thought our country was progressing.”

“Outsourced jobs, more money and shiny cars cannot change the mindset,” Saahil said.

“I guess you are right. I am sorry for everything. I should have talked to you earlier. I don’t know what I was thinking,” I said after sitting silently for a dozen heartbeats.

“I cannot live my life starting every thought with a what-if. I had to forget Neelam to live. That does not mean that I did not love her and that does not mean that I love Kirti less.”

I nodded and looked up at his face. Both of us smiled and then stood up and hugged.

“Welcome back,” Saahil said. 

As we moved towards the house, I slowed my steps so that Saahil got a bit ahead of me. I took out a folded piece of paper from my pocket and tore it in two. I then crumpled it and threw it away. The wind took the pieces towards the swings. There was no need for me to preserve Neelam’s message anymore. It was time to move ahead.

“All ok?” Rajat asked as we entered.

“All ok,” I said.  

Saahil went and sat with Kirti and put his arm around her as she placed her head on his shoulder. 

                                                *           *           * 

The train entered the tunnel and a cool breeze brushed my face as I mulled over what had happened today. It came to me that the way we look at it, our definition of love is quite monochromatic. But when you go through the layers of your life, you begin to realize that our understanding of love is very similar to our understanding of the universe. Unimaginable dimensions of it will always remain unexplored and so our characterization of love will always remain elementary. It is not just the warmth that spreads through our heart; it is not just the pain that obliterate our soul. We discover it when we are not searching for it; we find it in remote inaccessible corners of our heart, when the light of hope has almost diminished, when we believe that our soul is too ravaged to mend by its touch, when we are sure that we are done with it.

[image from here]