Friday, 23 August 2013

A Little Braveheart..

Chintu ran as fast as he could, sweat pouring down his shirt like tributaries joining the rivers, his breadth fast and uneven. He had only 5 minutes to make it to the theater. He would not miss the movie for his life. He had been saving for months, helping Jaggu polish shoes by the roadside after the morning school. His school shirt was soaked to the skin, the heat draining all his energy. Yet he ran, and finally made it to the theater just a minute before the show was due. After he had bought the ticket, he hurried inside. He could already hear the blare of music from within. Chintu sat down , whistles and whoops followed the grand entry of the actor. A broad smile lit his face, finally he would see it. The movie he had been dreaming about for weeks. Finally.

Chintu entered the ‘basti’. Scores of pretty little houses done in vivid shades of pink, green, blue n yellow lined the two sides of the road; nearly naked brown kids with beautiful soulful eyes ran about playing while the women sat in groups talking and working at the same time. A constant lively buzz emanated from the ‘basti’ while the old smoked beeri and sat looking lost amidst the incessant bustle. Chintu walked on, lost in the daring adventures of the hero and scheming images in his mind where an older version of himself fought the villains with almost surprising strength n valour. So when he saw the other kids push a little girl away from them amidst loud mockeries n jeering, he was almost beside himself with rage. It was his turn to prove his bravery and live up to the bold antics of the hero he worshipped. He walked up to the kids looking all worldly wise and serious and asked them, his voice quivering slightly, ’Is this the way to behave with girls? Do you have no sense of honour and respect? ’.
The kids in question all looked at each other in surprise. Chintu was one of them and it was almost betrayal on his end to stand up for the girl from the newly founded complex nearby. The huge building recently erected beside the ‘basti’ housed innumerable apartments that were almost nearly empty. The little girl had haunted the confines of the basti almost since the day she had seen the kids running and playing about oblivious to the loneliness that she suffered in that huge apartment all day. However, she had been unprepared for the haughty disdain and scorn that the children had meted out to her; it had taken her little time to grasp that she was not one of them. Yet her heart was no longer willing to stay holed up inside the walls erected around her life. So she looked with almost joyous eyes at Chintu when he stood up for her and it did strange things to him. He had nevertheless more pressing issues at hand and it would not do to dwell on her happy face.
‘She is not one of us Chintu. How can you stand up for her?’, said Jaggu the young cobbler.
‘Who are you to decide that? All she wants is a chance to know us and play with us. Or do you want to take the issue to Amu?’, replied Chintu. Amu was the oldest and wisest man in the basti. All matters of relevance were taken to him and he was equally feared and respected by all. His blind grey eyes almost immediately struck terror in the hearts of the kids and they tended to avoid the porch he sat reclining in all day. However now it was a matter of utmost importance and they had no doubt that Amu would stand up for the girl.
‘We are old enough to make our own decisions Chintu. I see no point in taking matters to Amu’, said Jaggu.
Chintu was adamant. ’We either take the matter to Amu or we let her play with us. I can see how old enough you are to take nasty decisions.’ Jaggu’s face flamed and it was with all his might he controlled the fury waging within him. Yet he knew he was defeated and it would not do to lose the favour of his friend over petty issues like this girl.
‘Fine, she may join us. But am warning you she is not one of us. You will see one day. Come on Chintu, drop that bag and join us. Whats your name?’, asked Jaggu to the girl.
‘Tamina, but you all can call me Tamu’, she replied shyly.
‘Tamu here’s the rules. The game's called -------. We hope you are good enough’, said one of the kids scathingly.

Tamu’s life slowly became livelier and the kids, in their innocence, were too merry to grudge their playmate. In the afternoons they all gathered after school to play their favourite games and their loud shouts and noise filled the area and almost added a joyous tilt to their struggling lives. Tamu and Chintu were inseperable. It was almost as if his standing up for her in her loneliest  hours had forged an invisible thread of bonding between the two. Tamu would often spend entire afternoons at the basti, while her parents were more than glad to see that she was no longer sitting musing and trying to accustom herself to the new life they had had to thrust on her. On Chintu’s tenth birthday she got him a big ball that had Chintu almost screaming for joy while he gifted her a doll made out of stones on her eighth birthday that took pride of place in her shelf.
 Yet fate has a way of refusing to run to plan, shattering all in its wake to destroy stagnancy and crush innumerable hearts along the way. So when the owner of the land sold off the basti to some promoter, mayhem struck the lives of these people. The pretty colourful houses were bull dozed to the grounds and it advanced on the basti like a huge predator consuming all in its wake. It’s like their lives changed in a matter of seconds. Chintu’s family moved off to some other slum and his father was forced to stop his education.  He took on the job of working at stalls and later, at the age of fifteen, took on the responsibility of riding a rickshaw, helping his father run the family on their meager incomes. Sometimes when he would cross the cinemas, he would see posters of his hero flaunting his dashing looks and smiling like he had no care in the world and think back to those days at the basti when life had been so much simpler and beautiful. Now he no longer visited the cinemas, saving money to survive that had become increasingly difficult after they had lost everything. He toiled day after day and often hoped he would encounter Tamu someday. The joy that would lit her eyes on finding her old friend and the smile that would brighten her young face would be more than enough for him.

So as he sat outside the college gates watching the innumerable students trickling out, hoping to find customers, he was almost prepared to wrangle the best bargain out of the female calling him as he turned around saying ‘Bhaiya, how much will it cost to Chowrasta?’. And as the long awaited joy lit his face, there was no sign of recognition on her’s.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Little Things..

A child always dreams of growing up. The day he/she moves from primary to high school, from pencils to pens, from ruled papers to blank copies, from knickers to jeans, etc he/she is one more step closer to this transition. I remember the day when I held my first fountain pen. I felt so grown up and wisely and worldly mature. All that mattered at that point was growing up and seeing the world and now that we are grown up all that matters is going back to those blissful days of oblivion. Just the other day I got down from the metro and accidentally took a longer route to the entrance. And found myself in a passage full of drawings. I was dumbfounded for a moment and couldn’t stop myself from reaching out to those drawings. All of them were drawn by kids between the age group of maybe 9 to 11. And they were beautiful, portraying how much we have when there are millions out there in this nation who can barely afford two square meals a day. The thoughts gone behind the drawings humbled me and I started recalling all those painting competitions my mother would drag us kids too.

As I stood there gazing at the hundreds of pictures I looked around to see and was stunned to notice no one but myself standing there and gazing into the pictures. The crowd hurried by in a rush, pushing each other in their haste to reach the exit as soon as possible. None seemed to be aware of the drawings on the walls; some would gaze with blank looks and then hastily look away as if those drawings would infect their minds with poison. Adults seem to forget and appreciate the small things in life; the nostalgia of childhood memories, the beauty of gazing into the night sky, the joy of being childish at times, of spending lazy weekends having breakfast in bed, of tripping and falling and getting up again, running around the playgrounds chasing friends, blowing bubbles and acting crazy at times. No one can even comprehend of finding peace and beauty in a metro station and very few people look out for it. We rush through life like zombies struggling to survive and prove ourselves. Make impossible wishes, look out of the window of the bus when going to office, go on a painting spree (even if you are terrible at it) and help make someone’s day worthwhile. Because in the end you do not want to leave this world with regrets; you want to take great memories with you and make your presence felt even after you die. You want to live on in the little things that bring joy to the people you love; in the garden you built for the kids to play around, in the hammock u made for your wife to lie on, in the photographs you took on a family vacation and the friendship you so willingly gave to those who needed it. Because all that matters in the end is not to become an insignificant figment in someone’s memory; what matters is living on in their hearts.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


The human nature is a complex study, a finely spun web intricately woven so that all threads are interlinked and entwined. Defying all caution it is almost always judgmental of varieties in its domain. Since my childhood I have often heard that we all leave behind an image when we interact with others. This image is a joint culmination of our actions, beliefs and presentation. Living in Kolkata has been a revelation in many ways as it presents a wide variety of human natures to study and judge. The first impression is like a mirage; a delusion we are led to believe as per the object wills us to. This delusion can be powerful; a shallow person at first can seem to have surprising depth and we may be swayed to believe a dishonest man to be the most honest man ever existed. We pass through life mostly holding on to this mirage as most people walk past leaving behind nothing but a delusion. As soon as a little intimacy is encountered, the true nature starts unfolding.

Let me give you an instance. Last August I met an elderly man, solely devoted to his religious cult and believed to have forged an image of a benevolent benefactor to many. Tall and impressive he strikes instant respect in his devotees and sways them easily with his beliefs and views. Such a religious and pious man can hardly try to exploit victims but as time passed I saw another side to this man. This man is fanatically obsessed with money, making unjustified demands on people whom he believes are unlikely to protest. The image I had of him was a mirage that hides a more human side to his nature. As time ravels we become familiar with both the good and bad within. These revelations are often shocking and damaging. Travelling by train I have often encountered helpful people, rude people and people who are not bothered as to anything besides themselves. We pass through life with these mirages; touching just the tip of the iceberg as we sail. But we do stop at times to sit down and try to break the delusions we live with. This is when we develop bonds for life; friendship, love, enmity, admiration. . We look for compatibility in this variety and develop bonds as per our needs. It is our nature to seek company. It is our nature to seek emotional attachment. This is what I believe makes us so unique, the ability to feel and analyse and hold on to the bonds we so intricately develop. These bonds are for lifetime; it is like the glimpse of an oasis in the desert. Mirages give you hope, oases give u the elixir needed to live. We humans are beautiful and complex.In our own way we are  intricately linked to each other like threads in a vast seemingly endless web called life. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Middle of the Road... (The Indian Middle Class)

The lower Indian middle class is an egoistic lot, priding themselves on small great achievements that are insignificant beyond survival, celebrating small joys and anguishing in the face of harsh reality. They walk with their heads held high, drown in debts for the sake of their children and hope for a sun filled day tomorrow. Mediocrity and the middle class is a tough combination in this rat race. It is all about sacrificing your soul for the sake of survival in a country like India for the meager opportunities that are handed out in infested bowls by the government. So I see this guy who fights in an unknown city for survival, quietly tolerates mean insults from relatives for taking up space in their apartment free of cost, laughs like a carefree bird, loves music and gets criticized for indulging in his passion and studies for the sake of a job. I see a girl crying alone on a terrace for her father cannot afford to give her a free independent existence, who survives on the money and insults of her benefactor and breaks all rules to be with her friends. I see a friend trying to make their lives happier by indulging them whenever he can, lying to his parents to be with them, flirts like a dashing young charmer and forcing his friends to study when all he does is play games. I see another love sick puppy who cannot think anything beyond his girlfriend and cares for his friends like they are his own brothers and sisters and cares selflessly for them. They refuse to loan from each other and give away willingly after eyeing each other rather impishly. All they want are jobs, money and a shelter of their own. All they want is to make their parents proud. All they want is to scream at their parents for giving off free advice.
The mother toils at home, is worried sick for her kids and the father waits for the day when he can rest awhile after his children take his place of responsibility. He walks with his chest wide when his brilliant child scores a 99% and admonishes when his dull son keeps playing the guitar. He follows the budget closely and swears at price rise, while his wife visits all the temples and offers prayers for the well being of her family. Both constantly worry about money and feel low when they cannot fulfil the demands of their kids. The month ends are terrible with nearly no money, the women are at their meanest and the men at their worst. But these are respectable people, who value virtues and discipline, and celebrate joyously the little beautiful things in life. They criticize the government, watch cricket, consult literature and the arts, worship thousands of Gods, are easily brainwashed when it comes to religion and are proud to be Indians. Optimism is their ‘middle’ name. So when you look at the colours of holi you see the radiance and joy of this class, when you look at the diyas of diwali you see their hope, and when you look at their Gods you see a reflection of their faith. For they believe that in the end all turns out well. In the end all will and must turn out well.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

I Am a Woman..

Every life is a collection of precious tidbits; of beautifully sweet memories interwoven with tragic loss, of tender caresses lost amidst miserable vengeance and often of joyous tears mingling with the dread of anguished cries. Every moment is infinitely precious; every second is a new beginning. And none understands it better than a woman. She is the very epitome of life; she can heal with the warmth of her soul and drive away all sadness with her luminous smile. So in a place like India, where Goddesses are worshipped with such grandeur and showered with so much love, you expect women will be revered, cherished, loved and esteemed by all.
 Yet sometimes a new born girl is still drowned in milk in rural India, a young woman is taunted in the city streets, female fetuses are aborted in hospitals, a bride is humiliated for dowry and old mothers are left abandoned at old age homes. It was the brutal loss of a young girl in Delhi that jolted us awake. Can we now hope for change? A never hoped for revolt uniting the youth in its firm resolve to do justice emerged after the Delhi gang rape. It was time not for sympathies and consolation but the time for action. Young India marched on ignorant to turbulent waves.
And as the whole world watched astounded the tragedy that struck Delhi, my own world tilted upside down on that very morning- the 17th of December. It was not the stories in the news channels that mirrored through my eyes, it was the fear of a granddaughter whose 80 year old grandmother had walked out on her family alone in the chilly morning and had not returned. We shall never know the answer as to what instigated her to walk out on her son, but what struck me was the struggle that she still waged on-had waged on since her husband died 50 years ago leaving her destitute with four children to raise on a meager pension. To look back proudly and say that only a woman could raise such established and well-to-do kids amidst such struggle would be an understatement. How could I worry about the rest of the world when my own world was in such upheaval? After 10 frantic days of searching, we had lost all hope. In the meantime The Indian Brave heart struggled in Singapore to survive. As the news of her death struck the morning news the very next day, I felt a strange loss well up within me. It was the last day of my search for my grandmother after which I would give up. And incredibly she was found that very day. A young woman of meager means had provided her shelter and had returned her to the safety of her brother’s house. It should have been a joyous moment but I felt nothing-all I felt was a sadness and anger mingled with relief. Flashes of the morning news kept coming back to me, the drawn tired face of my grandmother devoid of hope kept coming back to me.
So all you can do then is shed silent tears. When will the struggle end? When will India be truly independent? Yes I am a woman; I call a man my father, I call a man my brother, I call the one I love my husband, I call my own blood my son. I live amidst strangers some of whom I call my relatives and some of whom I call my friends. I am never safe because sometimes honor to some men means nothing. I am taught to fear all men since childhood be it my father or son. I fear lonely roads, I fear crowded buses, I fear the touch of a stranger, I fear the touch of  men I know, I rush by men who subject me to humiliating stares, I fear the loud songs of men on roads who cannot resist to know their feelings known. I am left abandoned on the roads when I am of no use to my son. But it is time for me to be brave, to learn to defend my honor against all odds because I shall not give up without a fight. I am a Woman and change will come through me. For men must learn that physical strength doesn’t make one strong; it is faith that does. A promising young India stands by my side and we shall not let injustice reign.
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