Thursday 26 February 2015

Book Review – The Inevitable by Ashay Abbhi

Every writer, sooner or later, comes to be identified with writing that is unique to him. If not like fingerprints then certainly like a signature he invents for himself the moment the hand feels confident to wield the public pen. I had read a short story by Ashay Abbhi in ‘Chronicles of Urban Nomads’ and I just finished reading his latest collection of stories and poems, ‘The Inevitable’, leading to these thoughts. I realize that while yet in his salad days of writing, Ashay has found certain motifs and themes around which he has built a comfortable space for himself; a space elegant in sober shades of mood and maturity of thought. 

There is much that is appreciation-worthy in Ashay’s book.

The Inevitable’ is structured differently from the usual. Each story alternates with a poem. Which means we have a piece of poetry preceding as well as following a story. I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea, since mixing drinks never ends well for me. However, I realized gradually how the poems in the book act as driveways subtly ushering us into the full world of the stories to which they lead. Often, the reader is able to draw connections between them, marrying story to poem, or both to a particular thought hanging heavily in the air. Whether we consider poems as interludes between the stories or stories as breaks between poems, this book’s experiment of plaiting two different forms of writing worked for me, especially because Ashay remains loyal to treating certain specific ideas in myriad settings.

Opposites attract Ashay enough to become constant motifs in his writing. And how he juggles them! Where there is death there is expectancy of life, maybe beyond. Where hopelessness lurks there hope tip-toes too. And where there is the stink of violence there is the fragrance of love. At an emotional level and through the intensity of his writing, Ashay involves the reader such that what sounds like a death knell could just turn out to be a temple bell. Thus, while his poems and stories often leave you sad, with a lingering hurt in the heart, each affirms that hope abounds – be it in the form of love transcending life or an endless wait coming to a crashing close. ‘Into white, from the grey, I’ll take you away’ and ‘little of life is left to live, little is there to die with me’ are two lines from two different poems which find resonance throughout the book. 

The voice of the narrators is mature, composed and hence felt through the otherwise simple use of language; which, as a vessel for conveying and generating spookiness, shock, suspense and sadness requires no floral imprint through Ashay's pen. There is more tell and less show, true, but the ‘power’ of his narration lies in how he owns his readers, and especially in the closures, which don’t twist but touch instead.

Most of the stories and all of the poems are first person narrations. Trouble is, while we know there is one ‘I’ who wrote this book for us, who are the various ‘I’s telling us their tales or their thoughts? And that’s where the book becomes so open to interpretation as would delight a literary mind. Who is ‘I’? What kind of a person is he? What are his beliefs? I enjoyed exploring that ‘I’ in each piece, and wondering if Ashay has laid bare his heart-and-soul to readers, albeit in the guise of characters who range from wayward travellers to vegetable shop owners, street-dwellers to apparitions walking on desolate roads, office goers to a wife ‘sipping tea but swallowing her tears’. Their lives. Their loves. Their losses. Angst-ridden ‘staring unconsciously, into the nothingness of everything’ yet musing at another ‘I wished there was something I could do to help her, but I too was miserable’. And then their context, which I call “holes in the wall”, where no pen usually ventures. Hungry, tired, sick, cold, alone and angry. The author has to have observed them, talked to them and felt for them to have managed this. There is no other way. 

What is also fertile for interpretation are the ideas expressed in the poems. There is a constant presence of something beyond life but we don’t know what. Is it God? Peace? A force of divinity which is conspicuous by its absence in the cruel and meaningless lives he portrays? Or does Ashay mean transcendental love, and deliverance from earthly sorrows? The book opens with an “invocation” to the power of Imagination - ‘Imagine it says, Imagine I will … Imagine the rush, Imagine the thrill … Imagine the last, Imagine the nil, For Imagine you must death, to live until’ and not just follows this to the end but makes the reader follow it too.

A few things which may not work for some.

For one, the stories in this collection are not short stories, per se – those with a beginning, a body and an end and adhering to the five essential aspects of the traditional form of the short story. They are nuggets of thoughts converted into episodes or scenes, much like what is popularly printed as short stories these days. 

For this reason, the characters in the stories don’t usually flesh-out, with particular traits, tastes or quirks. We identify them as types, and identify with them because of how their streams of consciousness are depicted and how their thoughts become ours. For me this works wonderfully to give the idea of existence itself a universal consciousness bound by a common thread of life and death, pain and joy. However, those who enjoy collecting memorable characters as “friends” may not be able to do so here. 

Also, while there is a hint of light at the end of the tunnel, the dark tunnel here lasts the duration of the book, and sometimes overshadows those slits through which hope is being blown in. Most stories leave you contemplative, the sadness echoing in your minds way beyond the reading. This is this writer’s skill to convey and impress an emotion with such intensity. But for those who look for butterflies and rainbows, happy endings and dancing, this book might come across as “heavy”. Even philosophical. 

Interestingly, male narrators predominate the scene.  Those who want the female voice being equally represented may notice this. Or some may notice it anyway, like me. And two stories were completely predictable. Not a huge number considering the total, but there.

PS - I would have liked a table of contents. 


The Inevitable’ is the kind of collection that you open not just to read what’s in there but to leave with food for thought. To interpret and wonder, and re-visit ‘The Yellow Wall’ or live ‘Just Another Day’; to wish ‘The 9th Cross’ away or enjoy your ‘Love for Tea’ or ‘Coffee at Midnight’. Or maybe by a lonely window you will wish for someone to say ‘I’ll Take You Away’. I will not say there is something for everyone here, but I can say with confidence that the sombre notes and ripe themes will find takers in many who like to mull over their books way after they have ended. 

Thought-provoking and sensitive writing by a writer who holds much promise in the literary world.

'The Inevitable' by Ashay Abbhi is published by Maitreya, 2015.

[This review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own.]

Tuesday 24 February 2015

On Compassion

I missed writing for a day I had pencilled way in advance. February 20th saw thousands of bloggers the world over write on Compassion – the satin ribbon that binds, should bind, one creature’s comfort to another’s pain, one human’s fortune to the other’s need. I checked the exact meaning before deciding to write this. It was always a big word for me, but it became humongous after looking at what it meant. So much bigger than all the big words I like to keep as friends. Way beyond mere Politeness, surpassing stray acts of Kindness and occupying a pedestal next to felt Humanity, no less. 

Even though I was saddened that the bus full of beautiful posts on compassion had long left, leaving me and my pending work behind, on the desk still, I caught myself wondering aloud if at all I would have had anything to say about Compassion. That unconditional giving of what you have and what the other doesn’t. At all times, under any circumstances and without the slightest hope for reward. The emotion that makes you feel one with the other; human, animal or even an old oak. The ideal definition of compassion. 

And then I think, what about in life?

Every Tuesday the scene outside our neighbourhood temple is like it is on no other day. A mini-fete. There’s a balloon-seller standing alongside the Kwality Walls cart, together and away from the two parallel lines of beggars sitting lining the holy walls. A flute-seller plays devotional tunes, but the hungry stomachs hear no music. They beg for alms. For prasad, orange over-sweetened balls, from those visiting the temple. People walk in and out, and some passers-by dig into the newspaper packet to give some around. Often without looking who they are showing concern on, with measured hands. Three grape-sized pieces per hand. Deed done. Then they scurry on. Away from the house of God to their own homes where piping hot chapattis are being rolled. Leaving behind a question hanging in the air to be plucked by those like me, sitting and typing away their thoughts.

Is this compassion, pure and simple, or an automated ritual? Can the feeling of real concern be fleeting as the blink of an eye, or last the time it takes to brush the dust off the pants where the hungry-dirty hand tugged, in askance for food? Pity is short-lived, for who has tears to spare in such evil times? Or guilt. It vanishes quicker than grass thrown in the wind. But then, does it matter? Someone gave something. Shared. 2 seconds, 2 minutes. The heart opened. So, does it matter – how real how staged how in return for extra blessings?

The idea of giving, material or in thought, to the other has to stem from some degree of compassion. Or so I wonder.

Closer home. 

I don’t have half the number of compassionate bones as, say, my own mother. (I’m still checking dictionaries to see what it means!). My mother. So many times I get bugged at her idea of “doing good” at the cost of her own well-being, time, energy, health and bank balance too. What could have made her ‘adopt’ a student and sponsor his studies through school? What makes her spend her holidays teaching girls and boys from schools we never went to about the natural wonders of planet Earth? What makes her keep bowls of food and water for strays who lose their path into our driveway only to find a home in the verandah till their dying day? I used to think she is in love with the idea of charity but I corrected myself when I realized I’ve never heard her talk about it. It doesn’t make it a better version of being compassionate but it does make it seem more real in a world which we love to consider a stage, and all acts our performance to a gallery.

To feel and do silently is beautiful because compassion sings then in the highest note of the octave. I’ve heard that music through others in my life. The most fortunate ones hear it. See it. Learn to emulate it too, perhaps. 

Have I learnt? I don’t know.

Sure, I feel empathy for feet whose shoes bite, like mine. So many people’s failures are mine and cries of grief emanating as if from my lungs. I don’t hurt with rude words, even less with actions. I do try, at least, unless you hurt me or mine. Those who work for me never leave, those I have worked for are kind enough to call me caring. But what do I do in deed which can confirm to me that I am a compassionate person? No alms giving, no adopting. No routine cause-hankering, no fancy charity fairs. No impulsive gifting, no unaffordable donating. I could almost be the most apparently cold-blooded person on your friend list who moves not a finger till she feels. Gosh! What do I do to prove that I am compassionate? 

Mumma, wipe my nose please, or puppy will get a cold from me’ and the thoughts break with a prick. Oh no, not again. Please let it not grow into congestion. He feels so uncomfortable. He even thinks his stuffed toy will get a runny nose.

And then I realize, just like charity begins at home perhaps compassion begins right there too, along with answers and definitions to big words which need have no absolute versions. Just like the thousands of bloggers who wrote so passionately on the 20th of February, I too was looking to get in touch with the compassionate corner of my heart… 

Spent sleepless nights when he slept hot with fever, feeling the heat in my every bone. Spent impatient days when I knew he’s burdened in office, and today he needs a respite, he looked so. In tending to their needs, keeping mine aside or feeling loved when the pain was mine, this time. One feels towards toy animals and dolls, the other towards everyone who touches his life. And as I admire those compassionate acts done by my loved ones, I learn on-the-go to see what compassion really, truly means. I also realise where we discover true compassion breathing silently is what we call home, because real love breathes alongside. And there can be no compassion where there is no love.

Is that a selfish kind of compassion I feel, unable to fully grow beyond the hearth, and embrace all in one unconditional hug? 

I don’t know. 

Do I want to know right now? 

No. His nose is running, and him I need to be with. Or his puppy will get a cold, and he will then be 'hurt in the heart'.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Book Review – Kamadeva; The God of Desire by Anuja Chandramouli

I was sitting and reading Anuja Chandramouli’s ‘Kamadeva; The God of Desire’ on a peaceful Mahashivratri day when I read Shiva being called ‘an uncouth, unwashed ascetic who reeked of corpses, blood and decay’. I laughed a scared laugh. If reading a quarter of this book had not confirmed my fear already, I knew for sure now that I’d be damned! Unless of course the Gods and Goddesses (though mostly Gods) enjoy the same sense of humour that Anuja has so delightfully put to use in telling us the story of the ‘boy with a toy bow’, Kamadeva. I hope they do, because in this book wit is just one of the many subversive weapons this writer employs to create a thoroughly entertaining and proudly sacrilegious story. 

Chuck the blurb. ‘Kamadeva’ is not just about the juicy Kama’s journey from the magnificent Kingdom of Amravathi, through the preordained Third Eye curse and to the destiny where form or no form he is nuzzling Rati’s neck ever-so-gently. This book draws within its satirical folds the complete pantheon of Hindu gods and demi-gods (okay, the pop ones anyway!) and makes a running commentary on their polygamous lives full of lust love but times wrought with mindless wars and ill-tempered curses. The goddesses, in the meantime, take the sassy cake for speaking our minds, albeit in clothing, context and with husbands we wouldn’t exchange in this lifetime. 

This book is, thus, an antithesis to mythology as we know it, or as Anuja lovingly calls it ‘pages upon pages of philosophical, pleonastic gobbledegook that will easily take entire lifetimes to comprehend’ which our grandmothers tried their best to make us swallow, whole. Remember? This slap-n-stick satire I’d like to call “mythology told from below”. Yes, yes, what subaltern means too. 

How was this grand irreverent swim across the Milky Way successfully achieved? 

Damn-it Wit

Kamadeva’ is an exemplary book to see how language can be a tool for subversion. Anuja has used colloquial and slangy language on sacred clouds and meditative mounts. This intentional juxtaposition not just takes the sheen off the divine but replaces it with a wit’s-eye view of what is traditionally sacrosanct. She has not just humanized the Gods but has pulled them down to earth with such might that you would believe it is your libido talking, not just theirs. Brahma, Indra, Shiva, Vishnu right down to Arjuna haven’t escaped her arrows of satire. Her sweet wit is a kitten’s paw hiding the claws. Or not.

Brahma has been ‘injudiciously indulging his coarser passions’, with his only ‘saving grace’ being that he took his job of creation very seriously. Kama candidly admits to Vishnu that his father has ‘repressed sexuality and anger issues’, which, to be fair to Brahma, most of them seem to enjoy. The ‘duplicitous prick’, Indra is the ‘bloody bugger’ who has ‘shamelessly manipulated, cheated, lied, killed’. Krishna is always encouraged to ‘conjure up more evil plots that masquerade as universal truths or some such jazz’. And Arjun? ‘One of the most annoying men that ever lived with his incessant demands on Krishna’. Phew! ‘What say you?

That was a time of such love that Kama and Rati ‘explored every conceivable and inconceivable kind of sexual union in addition to honing the skills of kissing, embracing and the oral arts.’ That was also a time of much stress, for Indra always said ‘We are in deep shit!’ and many a time ‘underwear in a bunch’ were the norm. There is so much conspiracy hatching that letting 'nature run its course’ is akin to ‘get down on my knees and pry open my butt cheeks to allow (enemies) easier access’, as Indra puts it. Women like Maya were doing ‘Godkind and mankind a big favour’ by not letting go of their perky breasts and ‘normal sized privates in order to push war-like sons Shambara so desired’. And there are prophesies which ‘reek of bullshit’ and ideas of beauty in a woman which meant ‘hypermammiferous or possessed of an exceptional rear’. Of course, it was ladies like blind-folded Gandhari who had ‘amassed a sizeable amount of ascetic merit’, in the end.

And I've not even begun with the examples. Really, you’ll be damned!

Asura Speak

The book has given fair space to the opinions of Asuras who had been vanquished by the Devas in the epic clash. Akhirsen, the demon king, enlightens Maya about the ‘pathetic inbred rodents… puny bastards… Devas’ who tricked them into losing the Amrita and relates to her the ‘diabolical propaganda engineered' by themThe demons tell us of Devas’ tales of ‘debauchery and perversions that would make a rock blush’ and the reader secretly nods, and then blushes. Shambara, Maya’s husband, wisely pronounces how there are ‘no good guys or bad guys’ and while history is written by the victors ‘only death ever makes a killing’. He even says ‘I fight because I will not be anybody’s bitch – and that is about as honourable as I can be’. We hear you, Shambara!

Women, wo-man!

Make no mistake. The ladies of the Three Worlds in ‘Kamadeva’ are no chip of the old block. They are endowed with features that make divine loins shiver with excitement and also a tongue which when afire make bladders shudder. Except, the menfolk enjoy their temper troubles so much that pronouncing a curse to turn them into stone or mere mortals, or ‘using’ them as seductive baits to tempt ascetics out of merit are activities with no qualms attached. Even Krishna tells Pradyumma to help him for ‘there is a beautiful young maiden to be had as a reward’. Still, listen to this! 

Kama’s heavenly wife Rati goes on record to say ‘illicit sex trumps a violent self-inflicted death any given day of the week’ but is clear as crystal when she states ‘I cannot and will not take second place to anyone’. Why, she even dares Shiva to ‘admit that you behaved despicably  … or I will strike you’. After a long journey to Earth and back, with Kama/Munna, her final word is that ‘I am sick and tired of all the fuss over the bloody soul’. Your thoughts too?

Rati is saddened to think how poor women have to remain trapped in stone when there ‘are people who have sinned simultaneously in thought, word and deed and they are free to roam’. Rambha, herself ‘stoned’ for a thousand years, forces Kama to hear her story of downfall and ‘don’t you dare roll your eyes at me, your Majesty or I will dump this jug … on your royal head!’ Kama of the cute-butt fame butts in to remind all of Goddess Durga ‘a mighty warrior despite her sex or even in spite of it’ and we know instantly why women loved him so. No jug was emptied on his head.

But if I were to love a woman it would be Maya, Kama’s Munna’s divine/earthly mother/wife. ‘All men are nothing but giant pricks’ and ‘not everybody has what it takes to be a good mother’ are applause-worthy. I also screamed an orgasmic yes, yes, yes when - ‘My dearest husband, I pray that in our next life, there will be a much-needed role reversal and I’ll be the man to your woman … I sow my wild oats with gay abandon and marry as many women as I feel like’.


 In all of this, Kama, where art thou? 

Everywhere. He’s the confident God of Desire whose ‘mind does seem to match the perfection of my butt’ up above the world so high where love is equal to ‘desire met sexual delight’. He’s not just important and relevant but intensely needed, really. His role in the book is of a hinge around which this window to divinity is opened for us by Anuja. His role in ‘his life’? Well, if the Lord of Heaven is to be believed – ‘you get to be exhibitionists without actually being exhibitionists, voyeurs without actually being voyeurs and willing partners in exploring the limits of your libido, while genuinely believing yourselves above that sort of depravity.’ How lovely, no! Even in his mortal avatar, in Munna’s ‘company the other boys found even cleaning latrines a fun thing to do’.  Such a charmer!

Not all is hunky-dory for him, though. Often, he’s the ‘sacrificial goat’ at the altar of political conspiracy, feeling like a piece of ‘dog turd’ even though not looking it. As Munna with his two wives, Maya and Rukmavathi, life is interesting – ‘One would drink the nectar of immortality and call it piss, the other would drink piss and thank the Gods.’ Sandwiched!

I would say Kamadeva should be feeling fortunate for all this, for had he not mused – ‘I will be lucky if I am remembered enough to be featured prominently in pornographic material; worse … lampooned as the divine pimp!

Thanks to Anuja, we will remember him as all of that and more!

I should stop… 

All the Three Worlds are on a stage, and Anuja the sole puppeteer-cum-ventriloquist of it all, with naughty Narada her sutradhaar. She has loaded the book with velvet-edged wit and loaded those witticisms with her opinions on everything that sacred texts stand for, and fail to stand up for. Towards the end of the book, the events as we know them take over and Kama, along with his enjoyable wit, hurriedly recedes to the background with a sagging narration and death of brevity. But that doesn’t take away from the book, or its neck-nuzzling end. Interestingly, the topicality of women's roles, marriage, idea of love, mothers-in-law, society, vamps, MCPs, sex, adultery, big breasts, etc. would magically transport you to your own society and its true-life reflection in TV soaps. With an ‘almighty dose of poetic license’ Anuja has truly shown how one uses laughter to make a point about the laughers themselves. 

This book should be well-received by anyone who enjoys a good sense of humour and keeps touchiness at bay when it comes to discussing matters divine. Subversive, subaltern, sacrilegious, soppy Gods, sassy-seductive-Goddesses and lots of sex. If this doesn’t make you pick up the book, God help you! 

[PS - I do wonder how those parents who have named their children after these Gods and Goddesses will receive the epithets lovingly reserved for some of their favourite deities here. Oh, I’ll be damned!] 

'Kamadeva; The God of Desire' by Anuja Chandramouli is a Rupa publication, 2014

[This review was commissioned by Rupa Publications. Views are my own.]

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Book Review – A Second Spring … brings new hope by Sandhya Jane

Sandhya Jane’s debut novel ‘A Second Spring … brings new hope’ reminded me of some novels by Indian women writers that I have read in the recent past. It also raised in my mind the same questions as contemporary women-centric works bring to the fore. Which is not to say ‘A Second Spring’ has been done before. It enjoys its own story-line and characters. Yet, it fits into the thematic mould of modern Indian women's writing rather well.

Avantika is a doting single mother and a successful investment banker, juggling her two roles with determination and discipline. Her confidence awes her colleagues and even more her juniors; Rohan, the attractive and smart aspiring banker, being no exception. Except, the handsome Rohan catches Avantika’s fancy in return too. The story proceeds as dual narrations alternating between Avantika’s thoughts and Rohan’s; their individual struggles with the idea of unconventional love yet their slowly growing dependence on and attraction for each other. Fate and free will both play a role in shaping their lives and easing the story onwards. Both protagonists speak directly to the readers throughout the book, spread over many years of their lives, but by the end of the novel the reins of the story are entirely in Avantika’s hands. Her ideas come to occupy centre-stage, eventually leading to the book's pleasantly surprising end and painting the aforementioned themes of women-centric novels in mature hues. Even though the blurb plays spoil sport by laying bare the whole story of ‘A Second Spring’, this review promises to say no more about the story.

The contemporary relevance of ‘A Second Spring’ lies in the issues that the book deals with. Marital troubles, single mothers, working professionals, younger lovers, tough decisions, opinions, power struggle between the sexes and how the presence of children defines and gives difficult dimensions to unconventional love affairs. 

The appeal of the book lies in the character of Avantika – the way she has been created and the manner in which her thoughts and mental conflicts are portrayed, in her own voice and through Rohan’s narrations. What is also charming is the unhurried pace at which this love story progresses, especially in Part I of the book. That both the protagonists speak directly to the readers keeps the readers involved, often feeling like confidants into their secrets. 

Avantika – the characterisation

The first predominant image of Avantika is of a mother who ‘wasn’t sure how I was going to manage carrying a child on my shoulder, three bags, and a travel mug of chai, but somehow I managed. I always did’. Strains of motherhood dot this working woman’s workaday as we see her chairing board meetings and rocking her son to sleep with equal ease. She does manage, knowing ‘small things counted big time’ with ‘the only man in my life’, Aarav, her son. 

Sandhya managed to create a calm and complete life for Avantika, up until Avantika develops feelings of concern (and more) for another man, Rohan. Reality dawns – ‘At my age, at that time and level of success, one tended to fool oneself into believing that one had outgrown the need for admiration and excitement’. Being a woman who took risks but always on her own terms, dreams of unhindered love are always qualified with restraint. In the meantime, the fire is burning as brightly for the ‘boss-lady’ in Rohan’s six-years-younger heart, whose ‘basic innocence that people like me had lost along the way’ makes Avantika realize a part of herself which no longer exists. In keeping with everything about her, it is Avantika who opens her arms to Rohan, literally, in a scene beautifully rendered and expressed as ‘it was a bit awkward, but it felt so good, like this was just how it was meant to be’. Avantika makes the first move. 

Each chapter gives voice to the conflict that is tearing at the unconfessed lovers’ insides. While Avantika’s somewhat maternal love for Rohan occupies her existence, to the extent of putting her time for her son at stake, Rohan cannot keep the thoughts of his conservative family away from his unconventional love story and though he ‘loved her too … (but) was confused by her’.

The maturity with which Sandhya has created Avantika make her doubts and dealings extremely real – ‘Soon, he would have no time for me. I could see the lonely road ahead of me’ – she muses, with age, marital status and professional success in life throwing up barriers to what she saw as wanton lust but knew as affection like never felt before. But her strength of character rules when things go amiss. ‘I had no intentions of waking down that path again just because the great man had had a change of heart’, and all feelings are sent into ‘deep freeze’ when Rohan walks out of the scene. Avantika is a thinking woman, and a doer too. 

Interestingly, this is where Part II begins, and this is the exact point where we see Avantika maturing up into a content woman, in touch with herself and one who has come to terms with the reality, albeit many miles from Mumbai, in a foreign country. Some beautiful scenes of contemplation, as one spring leads to another and Aarav grows up, offer us peeps into this woman’s evolving mind, still a mother first. She is alone, but not lonely, living in a community where ‘those sweet little homes looked happy to me – the very embodiment of family life. At least, this was the closest I came to it.’ Her child is a constant presence in her life, as are her studies, a friend who is ‘a sounding board for my deepest thoughts’, meditation and spiritual writing. 

And Rohan? Reconciliation has seeped in with his absence, and so has belief in destiny, a destiny which throws up another surprise her way. This time however, Avantika is far from what she left behind. ‘Do I need to forgive him? Do I need to accept him?’ You need to read to find out what happens, but I’ll leave you with these last words of a wonderfully created character and who makes an excellent life-choice in the end – 

These days, the highs and lows of life don’t get to me and I wonder if it’s acceptance or just indifference. Either way, I don’t get too involved in things beyond my control and that includes people… these days, words like passion, commitment, and forever sound strange to me.

I couldn’t help but wonder how much of Sandhya’s own life’s philosophy has been used to create Avantika. It has to be the author baring her own mind through her character’s. The portrayal is so straight-from-the-heart that it cannot be any other way. Or can it? That the language has been kept simple and conversational, and devoid of heavy philosophy and lyricism that love stories are wont to have make it seem as if Sandhya knows these two people, for real.   

Slow unfolding – the pace

Sandhya did remarkably well in keeping the pace of ‘A Second Spring’ slow. Also, there is no noise of too many characters. How else would the thoughts of the two main characters occupy prominence and keep the reader listening, attentively? Avantika and Rohan’s love is not in a hurry, and the plot unfolds in tune with that speed. Part I shows us their connection building in strength, slowly but steadily. From ‘strange chemistry’ to ‘living in his company, unknowingly’; from entering a pub after six years to finally catching herself opening her hotel door to him in her nightdress, this book is as much Love’s story of growth as it is a love story. Of course, ‘the power struggle is an inevitable aspect of the man-woman relationship’ and so while I insist on calling it ‘love’, the story is a sweet, romantic rendition of the former too. 

In Part II, even though the linear narrative often skips many years together, the plot’s crests and troughs are kept limited to the central theme of the book; although by now we are more interested in Avantika’s story and Rohan calmly recedes to the background.

Ifs and buts

Of course, there are some. For instance, why has Sandhya felt obliged to explain every Hindi term in parenthesis right in the middle of the narrative? I thought it was unnecessary and also successful in breaking the reading flow. A glossary at the back of the book would have done just fine!

Then, at some points near the end of the book I realized how the readers are still being introduced to characters’ traits through the two narrations. It was not just late in the day but also  not required, because by then we knew Avantika and Rohan like the back of our hands. After all, it had been them talking about each other throughout the book.

Rhea’s reality (read to know more) was an unnecessary thread and I so wished Aarav, at the end of the book, got a chapter to voice his life. That would have been a fitting way to see a mature mother’s hard work in flesh-and-bones. Maybe, in a sequel to the book? 


A Second Spring’ is a tale about love with two protagonists but only one who manages to leave a mark in our thoughts. The book is how the story unfolds around her musing – ‘Thank God for normalcy. Thank God for family. I didn’t need anyone else, did I?’ and how she realizes that she does need someone only to re-examine her own decision, yet again. Overriding it all is ‘my sense of survival’ and a fantastic end which comes like a ‘Pleasant shock; joyous, explosive, unbridled’ making you wonder why the subtitle reads ‘It’s all about destiny’. Because this book is more about a mature woman’s bold, brave and wise decision-making ability rather than the fickleness of Fate alone. 

An easy and enjoyable read for lovers of this genre.

'A Second Spring ... brings new hope' has been published by Sandhya Jane, 2014

[This review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own.]

Thursday 12 February 2015

Book Review – The First Firangis by Jonathan Gil Harris

I just finished reading ‘The First Firangis’ by Jonathan Gil Harris. 

This book does many things. Many.  

At the surface, ‘The First Firangis’ tells remarkable stories of heroes, healers, charlatans, courtesans, pirates and other shadowy foreigners from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who reached Indian shores centuries before the British Raj, with humbler ambitions and to finally leave ‘their bones in the subcontinent’. In spectacular vividness, the book brings those lesser-known firangis to life. I could see them, in royal robes or bare nakedness, in harems or in hiding, in ships or lying buried. I could see them bending over paintings or drinking coconut water; adorning their necks with jewels or slaying others’ with military skill. I could see those foreign bodies moving ‘across borders of geography, culture and language’ and becoming Indian. 

The book also re-creates those times, those bits of the Mughal period which find no mention in popular historical narratives of battles, annexations and mighty edifices. It took me to those forgotten lanes of Indian history where beggars were multi-lingual poets and highway bandits poor Englishmen in Mughal disguise. It welcomed me into forbidden rooms of palaces where feminine love and healing existed alongside hierarchy and politics. The book looked beyond codified History textbooks to show me the Literature of those times and views derived from a window of critique. 

And the book took me by surprise. As it busied me with its fascinating world of people constantly becoming by learning and unlearning, the book quietly slipped away from below my feet my own solidified idea of a pure identity. What does it mean to be a Punjabi Hindu? What is my racial identity? What does it mean to be Indian? Is there something called ‘authentically Indian’? In short, the book shook me as it took away from me my acquired definition of a historical self. While I read about the firangis’ process of acclimatization and becoming Indian, the book planted a storm in my head, interrupting my sense of identity, completely. 

So, what exactly happened when Jonathan Gil Harris, himself a descendent from a long list of migrants and now living and working in New Delhi, ‘traced the outlines of rather different modes of contact between firangi and desi’ by drawing on ‘modern day interludes’ of his own life?

His readers were encouraged to give thought to the following - the concept of body and bodily transformation; the problem of absolute identity; the idea of history hidden in ‘subjunctive’ art and finally, the relevance of connecting the past with the present. To examine each of these individually helps see how Jonathan answers ‘How can a firangi become a Mughal painter?’ with a detective’s eyes and ears which collate stray ‘echoes’ of history scattered around. 


Jonathan asks us to re-imagine the nature of ‘biography’ as a ‘story of bodily transformation in response to the specific challenges of new ecological, cultural and economic environments’, in order to make legible the lives of firangi men and women from pre-colonial times. For this he uses his own body as an archive of migratory imprints, making his own experiences the conceptual premise on which to rest these mini-biographies.

Re-locating meant the body interacting with alien elements – consciously or at a sub-conscious level. Garcia Da Orta, the Hakeem of Bombay and Ahmadnagar, is accidentally welcomed by the scent of a cargo of cloves and falls in love with mango in all its forms. Smells and tastes change him. By gradually being forced to move away from ‘proper’ bodily behaviors mandated by his religion and profession, Garcia ‘inhabits otherness’ – gastronomically, culturally, linguistically and religiously. 

The story of Thomas Stephens shows the complex bodily translation of an Englishman into a Konkani kavi. His passage to India entailed ‘the passage of India’s physical elements through his flesh’ – like coconut water, which finds prominent expression in his Marathi version of the Bible. ‘Is it still my body at all?’ is a question his body's transformation poses. 

The spatial mobility of firangi warrior slaves ensured intimate relations with the physical environments they fought enemies in. New skills and new reflexes had to be found, and a ‘muscle memory’ formed. Malik Ambar, the Muslim slave who grew to design Aurangabad, used his embodied knowledge of a new landscape, something that could have been learnt only after adapting to it. To acquire specific skills to master, a bodily modification had to be cultivated, of sitting a certain way, of using exotic tools, etc. 

A body became another by being clothed in specific ways too. Gifting robes and fabric was a part of  complex hierarchical relations of service and obligation. Bibi Juliana Firangi’s ‘tantalizingly elusive’ story of going from a servant to a royal confidant in Aurengzeb’s harem is a fascinating documentary on the transformation of her body. But it is Coryate’s change from a 'comical' firangi to the Fakir of Ajmer that really shows how ‘his body … become a palimpsest – a khichdi of skills, gestures and linguistic abilities from England and the subcontinent’.

But no matter who reached which part of India and when, the weather had to be weathered and the body had to change in order to abide by the laws of the climate, to survive disease and dysentery, storm and sunstroke. Each of these stories show how it was not just foreigners who arrived in India, ‘India arrived’ in their bodies too, challenging their physicality and eventually re-charting their sense of an identity.   

Jonathan speaks from experience when he talks about ‘becoming another’ yet ‘longing for a core identity – an irreducible part of the self immune to transformation’. Identity, then, becomes more of a Work in Progress, much like the body, a fluid entity and forever in flux. 

The First Firangis’ attempts to disturb modern ideas of racial identity, ‘including the white of “white Mughals”'. How space, language, clothes, skill, names, allegiance and professions which 'conduced to multicultural curiosity’ transform not the just the body but the perception of self too. What Jonathan says for Orta is true for every firangi whose account this book carries – ‘Orta’s identity was not singular, but organized around fault lines that split and pluralized him … his lived identity not singular, but multiple.

While the book examines the etymology of the word ‘firangi’ it reveals to us, through its various ‘stateless shape-shifters’, how the tag of a ‘firangi’ served as a reminder that they were neither Indian nor nationals of places they left behind. This must have led to much mental turmoil. On the other hand, for those like Malik Ambar, the vakil-us-sultanat of Khadki, the reality of not belonging to a single space ‘was an empowering precondition of his ascendency’. 

The paradox ‘of moving yet settling’ which was at the heart of what it meant to be firangi in the 16th and 17th century India is also at the heart of this book. How else can we reconcile Manucci’s Hinduphobia with his embrace of siddha medicine as the Vadiya of Madras? Is a firangi then, ‘an identity at odds with itself’? A contradiction of sorts?

In such permeability of multicultural influences, the term ‘authentic’ loses its purity. The idea that someone foreign can become Indian makes you even ask what it means to be ‘authentically’ Indian? If ‘Indian’ is always becoming something new, can intolerant rigidity of identity hold its ground? ‘What if the ‘authentically Indian’ were to name not a pure but an impure condition?

After all, it took Jonathan, a ‘firangi’ who became an Indian, to not just show us our own Indian-ness but its foreign facets too. A “white” man’s voice, so to say, but one which could see things through an uncoloured lens. A fair voice. I’ll tell you why. 

The fair voice undoing the ‘white noise’

Jonathan re-opens fading parchments of history, critiques long-forgotten poetry and paintings, and cross-refers to Literature and Arts from across the globe to give us a perspective totally different from the ‘narrative of angrezi cultural, linguistic and racial supremacy’ that colonial accounts are wont to carry. He admits ‘Delhi has arrived in me, I mean that it has seeped into me and colonized me at a molecular level’. It is with this stance that he speaks.

He tells us how not just the Mughal customs but firangi customs were patriarchal too. That the English East India Company actively banned women from journeying to India by sea. He opens the doors of women’s zenanas to show us how they were not about ‘sexual talents that Western Orientalist imagination has traditionally attributed to it’. That a harem was something different from what the ‘white noise of male stories and fantasies about Mughal-era women’ created. 

Jonathan rejects some popular historical accounts as ‘patently untrue’ and lends credence to others by researching them with a magnifying glass. He even exposes how Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador of King James I to the court of Jahangir, wrote a narrative of ‘self-pity party’ by distancing himself as superior to Indians and mocking in awe the ‘Super-exceeding Pomp’ of the king. He freely gives examples of the ‘racist condescension that typifies 19th century colonist ethnography’.

In quip-rich irony he says for Manucci – ‘Manucci needed to adapt to the Indian weather to survive as someone who could complain to other Europeans about the duplicity and ignorance of Hindus and Mohammedans.

It is not a colonizer speaking but a man colonized by India. A man overturning Euro/Anglo-centric myths about the Orient. Laying the cards on the table, and even inviting Rushdie to see how real women of Mughal history are not mere 'tales about tales' but women with distinctive voices.


It gestures towards the work performed by Indian agents, human and non-human, in refashioning Christian orthodoxy into something anti-establishment, an instrument of colonialism into something anti-imperialist, and firangi flesh into something Indian’. 

This book also becomes a 'subjunctive' Mughal painting when we see its topical relevance. The book makes us aware about facts from our past which lie buried under the emphasis on purist identities and divisive ideologies based on religion or caste. Say, how Shivaji’s family history as much as his military tactics were very much the products of a multi-cultural, multi-denominational Deccan culture. Or how conventionally Mughal paintings “allowed” striking trans-cultural details where Ram and Sita both have blond hair. And how art in those centuries acquired a global self where artists like Mandu Firangi ‘borrows knowingly from a Christian-Italian convention to illustrate a Persian translation of a Sanskrit story’.

Here is a provocative thought from the book, as a parting note – 

No one single trajectory of Indianness – whether religious, cultural or linguistic – can go uninterrupted for long. At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, one might even say that the ‘authentically Indian’ can never be identified with a singular trajectory but, rather, has always been a series of interruptions and creative responses to those interruptions.

The First Firangis’ is a book to possess. A treasure trove of stories and how they interrupt the most well-founded ideas of becoming, of belonging and of being, Indian or firangi, both.

'The First Firangis' is an Aleph Book Company publication, 2015

[This review was commissioned by Rupa Publications. Views are my own.]

Tuesday 10 February 2015

The Lunch in the Box

I am very fond of buying lunch-boxes. I have a few Tupperware ones in various shades of yellowness, two circular casserole kinds which were originally meant to keep the food warm and even a fancy translucent box-cum-matching-jacket to keep the winter chill away from the rotis inside, the couture way. And just like any middle class home, which wants to march ahead with times and technology yet carry something from its deep history, I also own an old-and-faithful stainless steel triple-storied lunch-box. Zipper bag included. Quite a collection, and to which I lovingly add every time I come across a lunch-box which will help convey to my husband, every passing office afternoon, how much I love him.

The only problem is that while I love to collect lunch-boxes, I just don’t like to cook. So usually there is no fancily cooked lunch in the box. And more often than usually, the lunch-boxes remain at home – clean, untainted, unused. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like to feed people. That is, when I’m in the mood. Those days when I want to chop-stir-cook are precious, like rare truffle even pigs can’t find after spending days, weeks even, walking in truffle territory. Getting in the mood to cook is tough work, and tougher for me than the most expensive Teflon can ever be. Some days are too cold to wash those vegetables, others too hot to stand beside a fuming tava. (Maybe the curd never getting ‘made’ in the fridge despite 6.5 years of trying to set it is an omen that I should quit cooking altogether. Including, buttering the toast.)

No wonder then that if I were to dedicate such a post to someone I will think no further than the one superhero that is my husband, who has uncomplainingly left his dear lunch-boxes emptily adorning my kitchen shelves, while he has managed working overtime with hunger raging in the stomach but a heart so sated with love that where is the need for mere morsels? 

I really love him for his patience, his gastric fortitude and the undying hope that one day when he opens his lunch-box it will have the finest pasta made by his wife’s hands. Or maybe makki-ki-roti and sarson ka saag, which he loves, or something more Cheeni-Japaani that he equally adores. Or hope there will be biryani in his lunch-box, steaming and flavoursome and something that he can eat standing upside down. 

In hope we live. Hunger can wait. 

But I’m working on it, you know. First, on the ability to get myself to get up and cook and second, on my ability to cook edible. I really, really am.

Just today the couture-lunch-box carried sandwiches made from the subzi my husband relished last night, which he couldn’t eat the day before because he wasn’t that hungry. With this special tiffin, made with a resolution to keep it up, I also sent a note. I wish I was there to see his face when he reads it. 

You want to read? Here goes ...

Dear A,

I hope this lunchbox finds you in the best of health and fitness. I know I have not been able to learn how to cook like a Master Chef, but neither have you. So all-in-all, we’re a well-matched couple. Even though we didn’t find ways to each other’s hearts through the stomachs, let’s use this lunch-box as a symbol of our love – where you buttering my bread and me making jam sandwiches to eat in office are more celebratory than a five course Punjabi meal in a five star restaurant. (Unless, of course, we’re invited to that party. With family.) 

I promise to use this lunchbox to feed you the world’s best delicacies as soon as you begin feeding them to me. May our love and friendship always remain this strong, this mutual.

PS – There is no salt in the house. I broke a nail. We’re ordering in, tonight.

Your dearest wife,

There! That's my #lunchboxANDyou story. Your turn now.

['The Lunchbox' Premiere on Valentine's Day at 8 PM on &pictures. This is a sponsored campaign review.]

Sunday 8 February 2015

Cuss Fuss; My Storm in My Tea Cup

The debate around the AIB controversy has at least three distinct levels of discourse that many commentaries have confused. 

1. The first is how one judges the use of language, gestures, humour, etc. (of the kind the show used) in one’s personal lives and the levels of moderation or excess that go with it.
2. The second is how one judges the content as that of a stage show or internet video. This is quite different from the test of use in personal context. To explain, one might thoroughly enjoy watching murder mysteries on TV without being in the habit of going around town slaying people or being too fond of getting butchered either.
3. The third is, where one draws the line on the right to free speech. One may not, while disapproving of a certain content, subscribe to the belief that others should be deprived of the right to access it or even approve of it. People may also have different opinions on when curbs on the right to free speech should kick in, or whether they should at all.

This post does not aim to defend the ban or support the FIR filed against AIB, nor is it about how I like or dislike the show per se. While the show and the ensuing discussions have been a catalyst for this, this is in defence of my personal preferred idea of language use and abuse. To be clear, this is only about point 1 that I mention above. The views were arrived at much before the show and its controversy came about. In tragic irony, I have to splatter this post with the choicest expletives. Forgive, or enjoy, as your personal taste may be. 


No. No. No. Preferring communication sans expletives does not mean an attempt at holiness. Why should it, unless those who like speaking a different language take their own ways to be banal? Thus, just like there is nothing immoral in cussing, so is there nothing moral in not cussing. After all, a loud ‘Hai Ram!’ and a face-palm ‘Hey Bhagwan!’ have expressed many generations’ frustrations, rather successfully. So, if one is making a choice about how they like to speak and be spoken with, wherein comes the need to undo your blessed loincloth or wrap it around another? 

Fun and funny.

Mine is what you proverbially call a big, fat, Punjabi family, with branches in every corner of the world and roots going as far back as swinging primates on trees, just like yours. The family is so scattered that any get together is bound to be teeming with equal measure of excited loudness and shared ranting. To be fair, I pick one aunt from my maternal side and one uncle from my father’s side to express my point that it is possible to vent frustration and be humourous, both, without necessarily going  dirty.

Uncle’s favourite rant-phrase was ‘Batao ji?!’ coupled with both palms facing Heavenwards in front of his belly, a perfect sphere responsible for keeping his arms out-stretched when he gestured thus. His phrase was spoken in the angriest of times, say when a fake insurance company swindled some lakhs off him, as well as in humour or even mock-ire. That as children we giggled on both is a different matter. That as an adult I realize the successful grown-up reaction it received remains the point now.   

Kee dassaan’ (What to say) is what aunty was heard using in fun and serious times. How these two Punjabi words came to change in intonation decided how they were received. In her most troubled times as well as in her angriest she would say this with necessary amount of force combined with the whole story. She expressed, was understood, taken seriously and helped in return too.

These people’s dates of birth and the use of archaic expressions show they are very old, but the expressions they chose to vent or celebrate give them a unique timelessness that a ‘Chutiya’ punctuating fool can never boast of. 

Fuck you. Fashion.

Interestingly, ‘Fuck You!’ is a magic phrase. It is malleable, ductile and still enamel-hard to withstand as many contexts of usage as are known. It can be used as any punctuation mark, article, adverb and in some cases as a middle name too. Obviously then, one would think a person like me a fool to not want to use it in its various intellectual avatars. But I do want to keep it at bay. Not because I hate sex (I love it!) but because there is enough of it, in all the wrong forms, transpiring around in shady corners of cities. 

At a subliminal level most expletives are not simply sexual but carry a violent imagery too. A well-expressed ‘Fuck you!’ no matter how much stress it relieves, is disposing of the other’s presence by a threat which attaches disgust to the very act which got you into the world from your mumma’s ‘choot’. Its translation into an action, hyperbolically, will probably be a synonym of rape? 

I asked myself – Do I want to attach significance to something that is so difficult to see apart from the most common head line in India’s rape capital (Behen chod and madar chod are real people)? Will I take it calmly if not my elite best friend but a stranger on the road uses it for me? And, am I so far gone in the ability to use a language that I cannot recall any other way to express anger, frustration, happiness, sadness, anything except a ‘Fuck you!’ or versions which bring into the limelight genitals of humans, cows, etc? Phew. No.  

At a larger level, are we also promoting the same social and sarkari hypocrisy we want to do away with when we “encourage” a peer to use it to and then go home to his and our respected parents with a finger on our lips?


What does a foul-mouth get us? Of course, it shows the world that we are either anpadh-ganvaar or cool-dude, entirely depending on the class and status of the user. Because we are like that only and Hindi gaali users are just lowlife roaming the streets and we are just good family people keeping up with the times chill yaar. Okay. Good for you. But what else? 

Don’t know about you, but I am unable to take chronic expletive users seriously. Poor dears could just be bemoaning how their wives left them but somehow I cannot stop myself from counting his ‘behen ka land’s while he narrates his story. While I manage to offer my sympathy I also wish to send them to a Dolly Bindra or Masterchef’s Krissi, who would have big shoulders to lend in understanding – well-versed in cussing through loud mouths, often making people de-recognize their talent and beep their presence away. 

So, not always do expletives make you seem cool. Often, they make you misunderstood.  


I want the government to understand that I should be allowed to watch what’s coming on TV. But equally importantly I want the people to understand that there is a certain way of communication that I find more effective, and enjoyable than others. Because, while I can turn off the noise on the idiot box, how do I turn off the idiots around me? 

My idea of family values, culture and even debauchery is quite different from my parents’ – not just because I live in a different time but also because I arrived at newer values to follow in conference with those who I live with now. But we have chosen to live a certain way, just like some others have embraced their own ways. Neither is one way ancient nor the other modern. It is a choice, a basic choice that all are allowed to make. 

Goody Shoes

How important the idea of Family becomes.

Every night when we polish these shoes we repeat to our child something that was repeated to us, and which we see no need to reject even though times have paced on - that the part of the shoe that needs to be most polished is the one that stands inside it and that one need not follow ‘friendly fashion’ or even the authorities’ ‘forced discipline’. One needs to follow what is most important to oneself, away from the glamour of clamour.

One day, my child will move on and beyond our umbrella and follow the latest on the communication vine. He will ask of me to grow-up with him. I plan to. And so I will try. But something tells me that I will never grow up enough to have the heart or the hypocrisy to accept my son saying ‘Fuck off!’ to me, without cringing and crying inwardly.

That will be another story. Another day. Maybe. Fuss about cuss, yet again, but still entirely my storm in my tiny tea cup.

Friday 6 February 2015

A #GreatDad

Witty Mr. Anonymous on evolution - ‘She becomes her mother and he becomes his father’. I must be an aberrant entry into this world then, who is her mother’s Xerox but her father’s copy in all other matters. And I don’t just say that because this post is meant to be an ode to my dad and by this logic an ode to myself. I say it because I am told so, by my mother, quite confidently. Ahem. When I pay attention to how I live and like to think, I realize it’s quite true too.

From those prominent to the really small and miss able ones, we are all a compendium of features and habits which trickled down from our parents and occupied our minds - either consciously or otherwise. It’s inevitable, because while a child’s eyes observe with awe the ones he loves the most, his mind begins to make copious notes on how they sit, walk, talk, smile, eat, etc. And, how they think. In the beginning most children drink up the show-and-tell. Later, as they come into their own, they begin making amendments to the family-induced values and habits which were passed down. These are personal and made independent of any more consultation with mothers and fathers. After all, unlearning goes hand-in-hand with learning when times change at the speed of light and relevant becomes irrelevant with the blink of an eye.

In this scenario, when children leave the proverbial nest much before they physically leave it, it is so difficult to actually realize how much of us is really our parents - their old voice hiding behind our young views, and their experienced thoughts lurking behind every rebellious one in our mind. How do we tease away the parental thread from the mesh of fresh influences that envelop our adult minds and find the ratio? All we know, without any doubt, is that we all remain influenced by how we were brought up and by whom. How much of it we realize is usually just a matter of age, stage and time.

Now, everyone’s daddy is the best, and so is mine for reasons galore. Singly, and in combination with my mother (except when he ganged up with her sometimes when my pre-teen head wanted him to stand guerilla on my side). He did what every father does – took care of us kids, protected us and taught us about the wonders of the world. He did all that. But what he also did, without realizing it, is show me a cool school of thought by following it himself. 

He showed me how to be right without being rude or unkind. How to broker peace where there is hope of none, or remain elegantly away from what was not his business. I saw in him a man who put his wife before himself, but rationale before anything else. And be organized, and as neat in dress as impeccable in integrity. I have sensed in him a desire to feel blessed for and celebrate each day of his life with friends and family, while yet ensuring that our tomorrows are safely secure through solid foresight. And as his daughter I have experienced the right blend of being-allowed and being-cautioned (except that this last ‘right’ is always realized in hindsight. Murphy!). When I had asked my husband what he thought of my dad, he had pronounced him a Buddha, sending both father and daughter soaring high up into the sky. That day told me everything I wanted to know about my future son's dad. Because I already knew by then what a great dad I have! 

I saw the video above a few moments back. It is a part of SBI Life Insurance #GreatDad Campaign. And it depicts a father’s presence in a child’s life really well. Do give it a minute of your time.

[This is a sponsored campaign review.]

Wednesday 4 February 2015

The ‘Other’ Inbox on Facebook; A Love Story

To wake up, rather suddenly, on the sagging side of 30+ can be quite traumatic. Even more if it happens on a morning when the maid informs you that today’s Delhi Debate in Vrindavan Park near Mother Dairy-gate of our flats saw most maids agreeing that I was so much prettier when I came here 6 years back – just married, fresh face, long sensible hair, always threaded brows, etc. Her unabashed comfort in revealing such truths didn’t stun me as much as, well, the truth. Which being, my body and hair and face and younameitdammit are undergoing constant … evolution, to use a nice word. 

The conversation grew roots in my head and remained there like a teak tree with big leaves keeping all light of reason and reasonable analysis away from the freshly formed idea of a maid-rejected Self. Meaning, no sense of self, at all. I was provoked to think, look back, call my husband to ask his ‘You’re the most beautiful woman I have ever married!’, sift through my wedding albums and message my husband again for a contrariwise-to-maid’s-opinion in text as further substantive evidence. But for the maximum solace to an injured ego, I logged in to Facebook, my magic mirror on the wall, just like yours. 

Professors of Secret Sociability on Social Networks tell you how the vainest put display pictures, collect likes on them and then scratch those numbers on a wall of fame in their houses called ‘Fuel for Narcissism’. I am one of them, on Facebook. (No, not the Professor. The other vain variety). 

So, after sending the nth message to my husband and finally receiving a reply back (‘Honey, I'm off for a very important sarkari chai break now’) I had no other shoulder to rest my injured head on and I logged on to Facebook; the underwire that supports you on your lowest days. That’s when it happened. While I was still doing the math as to how many total likes I have got on all display pictures put together, dividing them into columns of known sources, known-but-untrustworthy-sources and unknown-thus-more-valuable-sources, I noticed something by sheer coincidence. I noticed a folder called ‘Other’ in Facebook Messenger and opened it. 

That’s the exact moment I realized how wrong the maid was and how I was measuring my waistline with the wrong tape. That’s also the exact moment I fell rose in love, all over again, and this time with multiple men. Yes, as many as would fit in a Trojan Horse before I pushed it down Mount Etna’s golden gurgling mouth. All out of love, and for giving it irreversible permanence, thus. 

You want to see what keeps this old wife’s heart’s strings playing tra-linga-ling?

Isn’t it just lovely how this kind man hunted me down like a true seeker, found me and finally addressed me by my surname? Wht’s mre! He’s an aspiring wrter 2 lk myslf. Immediately, I felt connected on this side and on the other side of all sense too. He also intends to forge a most unique bond of friendship – one that motivates and one that inspects. In advance he shows such gratitude already for a communion yet to be made that my starry eyes wonder what’s in store for me after the raid is over, the inspection done and dusted, and the X-file closed. 

Not all bodily references are bawdy. Certainly not those which are also your centre of gravity. He called me like he would a French nun who quit the habit to marry a Monsieur (which was a breeze of fresh air compared to the ‘hi sakkuu’ I received just before this). So novel the address concocted that I wonder how novel the just-released novel will be! I would have liked to tell him how I too was hoping to write a book with my esteemed end but how, after Kim K’s revelation, it’s sitting put on strike, asking to be let free from the purdah system permanently with a year’s supply of oil.

A love note so close to my heart that on the crappiest of days I turn to it to realize what I see as shit surrounding me is not. This man charming has with such keen observation skills painted a picture of me that my husband could borrow some leaves or rox from this mode of expression. What can it be except trew lowe in the eyes which notice how a woman mixes colours optimistically, thus leading him to (big word alert) believe in her – as a messiah to deliver mankind from the ugly, unruly life of glamor-without-a-u. U being me, here.

I wish I could meet this man, one day. He looks nothing like Robin Sharma or Shiv Khera but see how he cares if I’m happy. Just how many people ask you that? How many, tell me? Oh, and he feels too. You see, he looks beyond the externals. He simply sits blindfolded on messenger waiting for harmonic signals of charming women to reach him. That’s when he pings to tell ladies such as myself giving us hope for things beyond the first horizon of friendship. Ahem!

Many others have come and gone. Many keep coming and coming and coming till the number, of messages, is mind-blowing. There all all kinds. One just left a “gud morning happy thandi thandi morning” and froze all conversation since I saw the message too late. Others have pockets full of posies, like this one “Hii... Gd morning.have a nice wednesday.''Yeh duniya kahan hai dosti ke liye,'par kahan se waqt nikalta hai dushmani ke liye'' and then fallen into a drunken stupor where even Thursday rhymes with 'liye'.


So wanted by the opposites I feel, such divine calmness too, that if I were to die this moment I would be reborn as a Best Seller Balm 30+ – a relaxing, warming elixir to rid you of all aches and pains - right from your heav(y)ing bosoms to your revered ends. 

And just as suddenly, I am left with no more complaints for today.

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