Thursday 31 January 2013

Musings of a Homeless Indian Wall

I am a nameless homeless Indian wall. I stand in the middle of nowhere. Ever since I took my first breath, which was about 50 years ago, my job has been to stand and stare - at cattle, people, cattle people, buses, red lights, trees, rickshaws, women, dogs, garbage, you-name-it.  

Things were a little different when I was new and painted pink. I did turn a few heads. But soon as the plaster chipped and the colour faded away, posters of scantily clad cinema women to fully clad election candidates started adorning my face, one on top of the other sometimes, the posters that is! Announcements of protest rallies at Jantar Mantar were painted in cheap blue paint all over me. Some boys practised diagrams out of their biology books, what solid foundation of education they must have. Things were colourful and bright, when suddenly, one day, mid-age crisis struck and people changed. Some would pause now, scratch a little poster off and walk away. Others just giggle at what was left of the polka dotted bikini and go whispering away. No new posters, no new paint. And everything soon fell apart and faded away.  

I'm old now as I think all this. Very old. Wrinkles and scars and lack of plaster keeps the poster-boys away, and their audience too. But I'm not lonely or sad. Laughter is the best medicine and it has just begun. I now have the most company, for men now like to relieve themselves against me. They come running out of cars parked randomly, in a huff and a puff do the deed, and then with equal hurry walk away, feeling nice and easy. Some whistle the latest tune and others try to keep it as private and quiet as possible. They look menacingly both sides at the passers-by to make sure their eyes don't stray. Some others keep talking on the phone, lying about the background sound and calling it the fountain at Grand Hyatt. Others quietly concentrate. There have even been a handful who left behind a little note for their beloved, etched with a stone and for the world to know that Romee loves Julie, making sure the pan spittle lands away from the dotted heart. 

Taken in Kolkata, 2008

And today, the inevitable happened and took all my smiles away. Some traffic cop who likes to sit under the tree next to me and whistle the traffic jam away wrote 'No Urine' all over my face. If that wasn't all, he installed a few godly idols all over me  to make sure the illiterate also understand his request. 
Not a single man has sought me for relief. Not one has come all day. 
I stand and stare, again, feeling bored and yawning away. 
There's nothing to see any more and nothing to laugh about.
Nothing to make me think what men are all about.
I pray to the idol sitting on me that in my next life,
Give me hands and a bottle of paint for on my smiling face I'd write,
And tell the men who ran towards me that - 'Hey! I too had eyes'.


Tuesday 29 January 2013

Wanna be (below) 18 till you die?

Oh! You're not 18 yet? Well, what do we have here, a Juvenile! No no, you can't vote or drink or marry or drive or be called adult. You can't bunk class, stop the adolescent acne and moods, and prevent mommy from pulling your cheeks or giving you a tiffin box for school. You can't do that and much more as yet, my child. But you know what you can do? You can rape, and get away with just a rap on the knuckles! Just a rap. You can be a monster-on-the-loose, and the safe hands of Law will still carry some charity lollipops and candy for you.

Feeling lucky, huh? But you won't be forever below 18 till you die, and you will die one day. We all do. We all will. Oh but then, on second thoughts, you needn't worry about death either actually, for your very being died the most shameful death the day it raped and took another's life! And dead men can't die - whether below 18, 18 or way above. Double congratulations! You are safe - both from punishment and from death.  

In the mean time, we the passers-by will just sit praying and hoping for the Thorns of conscience within you to maybe prick your peace - unless the Thorns too, tragically and like the Law, think you're just a kid deserving of a chance for reformation and education. After all, if the inches in the pants can grow, why can't the inches between your ears, says the Law book, right?

May you never rest in peace as you walk this Earth!


Monday 21 January 2013

My Republic Day, and yours too.

I don't want to boycott the Republic Day celebrations. I plan to wake my family up "early" on this coming Saturday, get them dressed, fed and set to leave home by 8:30 am, drive for an hour to the bus shuttle service point,  then ride a little and finally walk a couple of minutes more to hopefully reach our allotted seats before the microphone comes on.

I don't have an academic, intellectual, political or even a well thought-out argument as to why we should not boycott the 26th January, 2013, celebrations. I just know we should be there - in huge numbers with loud cheers, donning tricolours,  with our home-made flags pinned to our shirts and enough dose of pride for our India. Please don't knot your eyebrows in a moment of confusion or quick judgement. I did use 'pride' and 'India' together, yes! And I also said 'our' India, because that is exactly what it is - Ours!

Crimes make us believe that our country, our India, has betrayed us. They get us angry and sad and scared and talking. They get us to scream for justice in one voice. To bring the criminal to the gallows. Crimes make us faithless - in systems and governments that should run for our safety, prosperity and well being. Indeed! But crimes will continue to happen, because crimes fail to make us faithless in our own selves.  After all, it is our minds which make the country think - whether in a mob or at home, or in the secret ballot - and our combined acts which we should call India's role. India is not contained in the corridors of power alone. India is sitting in your drawing room right now, watching television, partying, playing toys, mopping the floors, cooking, teaching, drawing, writing, washing utensils, sleeping, reading, guarding the door, brooming, breathing. You are India. And I am too. It is not India that shamed us, it is we the people of this country who shamed the very essence of India. India is nothing but the people that make it or mar it! India is us and ours, both!    

What is there to write home about, really? There's ample. Start looking around for it, as you turn the scanner towards your own mind and heart too, and see what you have done to make your country proud. And as you do that, keep your eyes open for little victories and achievements, here and there and everywhere, that didn't make it to the front page of your favourite daily. Stand up and shake them out of the folds of oblivion where they were tucked away by the uncaring, unthinking ones. Start hunting for heroes of the everyday, who save lives give lives and live lives you wouldn't dare to. That is the India that your dreams are made of, and it's actually right here waiting to be noticed!

I'm going to paint a little flag on my son's face, with the same zeal with which my mother painted one on mine 20 years ago, as we tuned in to Doordarshan at 7 am, on the morning of 26th January, year-after-year. We as a family will go and watch the 2013 Republic Day celebrations together. No, not just because India was declared polio free, because it tested its nuclear capability with 100 per cent success this year, it got us 6 medals in London Olympics, took our space programme forward. No, not just for these and such other reasons! We will also go for the India we want to be proud of but know little about, which will be there in attendance and abundance  - for the India fighting on our borders to be felicitated, for the India in every State to be proudly showcased, for the children dancing to the patriotic tune, for the air show flaunting our military prowess and most importantly for the little India sitting in my lap who will understand what is it that we call India and what it is to be an Indian.

Hope to see you all at Rajpath!


Thursday 17 January 2013

Welcome to CPWD Complaint Registration Cell

Me: Hello?
Robot Aunty: Welcome to CPWD Complaint Registration Cell. 
For residential complaint - press 1. 
For office complaint - press 2. 
For trying to wake up the sleepy operator - press 3. 
For inviting the Junior/Senior Engineer for your son's wedding - press 4. 
For anything else, dial The White House.

Me: *beep* 1
Robot Aunty: You have pressed for Residential Complaint. 
For civil complaint - press 1. 
For electrical complaint - press 2. 
For trying to wake up the sleepy operator press ...

Me: *beep* 1
Robot Aunty: Welcome to Civil Complaint Cell of CPWD. Caller kindly note - For complaints related to yellow white-wash yellowing, yellow fan paint fading, white bathroom tiles falling, grey mosaic floor breaking, visible water pipe network leaking, pink plastic hot-water taps melting, WCs tilting and drains blocked since a decade, kindly contact private help. CPWD is not responsible for these in your government accommodation. Kindly note that even if your roof is falling, do not call. Just rest grateful that you have been given an address in New Delhi, and pray. For heavenly elevator music, Press 777. For wishing our  Junior/Senior Engineer a happy Diwali, dial their mobile numbers.
Me: *beep* 2
Robot Aunty: Welcome to Electrical Complaint Cell of CPWD. Caller kindly note - For complaints related to nests in meter boxes, disintegrating switchboards, lights which don't turn off, plug-points which don't come on, 100 decibel doorbell getting louder, overhead wires hanging lower, water pump not pumping water and current leak issues, kindly call your family electrician. CPWD knows no difference between red-green-yellow wires, and hence, is not responsible for the aforesaid in your government accommodation. In case of electrocution, open medical manual and rush to nearest government hospital on your panel.  For heavenly elevator music, Press 777. For wishing our  Junior/Senior Engineer a happy Diwali, dial their mobile numbers.

*beep beep beep*

Me: Hello? Hello? 
Robot Aunty: Thank you for trusting CPWD. Your call has been recorded for service quality improvement purposes. Your call lasted 30 minutes and 39 seconds. Caller kindly note - this is no longer a toll free number. Have a good day.

Dialling The White House, now.  


Thursday 10 January 2013

Woman is a woman's best enemy?

A short story first.

Her husband had refused to accept dowry in the name of 'Shagan' when they got married. Whatever the educated father of the well-educated girl wanted to give out of love, the husband was somehow convinced to accept. The educated in-laws supported their son's stand, just like the son supported the woman of his life. The wedding went off smoothly. The families rested happy. But the tale does not finish here. There was a section of humankind not happy at all - all Women. Taunts to the mother-in-law for getting no clothes for the extended family, diamond ear rings for their daughters, car for the family and silk saris for themselves flew everywhere. Inane directives in shrill female voices to the newly wed daughter-in-law varied from no-inauspicious-white-hanker-chief-please to shock being announced at her being left-handed (with the husband being told politely to correct the bad habit). These, not by witches from every woman's nightmare, but by the 'closest' Female relatives of the family, who had themselves, dutifully (and traditionally!) married off their own very educated daughters with much fanfare and enough jewellery sets for the camera to capture and neighbours to see. And Daughters of these loud ladies - architects, doctors, engineers and pilots, quietly let their mothers act the devils in no disguise. (Silence is golden. Our parents taught us not to speak in front of elders. And anyway, it happened to us, why should someone else get away easy? Going against "tradition" is a modern-mentality and westernised human nature to be looked down upon and talked-about. What club-mentality!)

A small and singular example, but a universal truth, of how we as Women have failed to respect our own kind. How we as Women have not the courage to stand up for change that we ourselves desire. How we as Women help perpetuate a system of hurting, humiliating and hating other Women - all in the name of what our educated minds and hearts know as wrong.

Lighting candles for victims of another's disrespect is easy. 
How about lighting one for those Women in our own lives who we have 'victimised' ourselves, with disesteem and contempt, rejection and orthodoxy? Or lighting one for searching out the she-devil on the loose - wearing anything and everything from a bindi to Prada, a saree to Gucci, vermilion to a tattoo? 

Let's look within for the human who can see and change the smallest yet darkest details at home, rather than for the leader who promises to change the country. The revolution begins there - within and at home. And if you as an educated woman cannot see that, then use the same candle to burn the degrees you have earned. They are all a waste, and so is the gift that was given to - that of being a Woman! 


Friday 4 January 2013

Shabnam Beauty Parlour

For latest hair-cutting styles, fruit and vegetable facials, chocolate waxing, fancy threading, manicure to pedicure and much much more. Welcome to ladies only, please. Discount on pre-bridal packages (and head massages for post-marital headache!). Thus announce all those tiny beauty parlours tucked away at the end of every lane in every colony of every town, and opened by our neighbour's sister-in-law's sister's maternal aunt's neighbour. Each with it's own 20 mirrors, walls painted orange, colourful combs displayed, fancy-but-empty Revlon bottles shelved and plastic flowers galore. 

Each also with it's own train of 'trained' service providers - young girls and old ever-ready to make you feel relaxed and beautiful and everything in between! Simply dressed, plaited hair, chipped nail paint, cracked heels and dusty sandals notwithstanding, these girls work hard, all day long, to make us glow to show, to pamper us, to take us away from a stressful home and make us look conventionally beauty-ful - a beauty they care not to find in the mirrors for themselves. Their most unscientific explanation for warts, black-heads, pimples, split-ends, dark circles surprisingly never challenged, and only well-believed and followed. With no one to notice, hence not question, the problems on the girls themselves. Absolutely heart-warming, them trying to make you look and feel special, knowing fully well that no one will massage their tired feet in return, dress their hair or even throw a spare compliment at them. A good day after a long day full of lotions and creams and shampoos is the lady leaving the parlour not screaming dissatisfied and no piercing frown from Mr. Parlor Manager meaning the day's salary gone!  

Now, times have become 'professional' and stylish! Beauty salons and spas named after Greek goddesses are fast replacing Shabnam and Sweety, in every corner of every city. They offer technology - laser, geyser, freezer - what not! They offer pretty girls (and boys) to clean your feet for you and hang your coats too. Even thread your husband's eyebrows and do his nails too. They offer a cup of coffee with sexy Vogue, free, as they empty your purse of hard-earned money! Of course, all communication in English language, please. And no, you can't discuss Mrs. Khanna's nose or Mrs. Mehta's kitty party. No time! Who cares! Quick! Make me look like a Queen. 

Where is the warmth and where those selfless ears and hands which heard you out as they pampered you, took your stress away, made you look good and feel good to the core - the human way. No shared communal feeling of warmth and sameness any more. No known names to discuss. No common colony concerns. Just foreign names, pretty girls, fancy chairs, expensive shampoos and mechanical hands. 

Adieu dear Shabnam and Sweety - we will miss you!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

The Art and the Craft of Gifting

Rumour mill has it that China is printing a novel symbol behind/under/over/inside everything that it is producing. It looks quite similar to the recycle-reuse one, but it has a tiny present made in the middle of all the dancing arrows. This is in response to a research by a Nobel winner which shows that we, apart from revelling and rejoicing on happy occasions are also busy recycling gifts - gifts we have already used, gifts we would never use, gifts we shudder to put in our show-cases, gifts we wouldn't wear even in our nightmares and gifts which are not good for our health, festival or no festival.
In no way is the activity strange, silly, stingy or stupid. It is a fine art combined with a subtle craft of thought, and a combination of both in wrapping the present and making it viewer-friendly - the horrific inside of the ribboned box notwithstanding. The art and the craftiness is in its finest form when balls of coloured paper  make the lanky gifts look like every actress's dream, glittery flowers placed just right save a penny's worth of  fruits from fitting into the fruit-basket and a shoe-box wrapped in expensive hand-made paper comfortably carries a key ring inside. Not to forget complimentary gifts from mister's office with company logos duly (and hopefully!) removed with madam's nail polish remover before being dressed in the finest of silken paper. Extra toppings almost always include gift-tags gushing with the best love, best wishes and best of everything from the best of kith and kin, and given with a bear hug tighter than the sparkly cello-tape used to strap the nightmares in place. 
And thus China thought, let's have a new USP, why not! 
Let the eco-friendly symbol also mean economy-friendly.
Let bed-boxes get some air to breathe,
These are expensive times we know we see,
And learning the art of gifting is just what we need.     
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