Friday, 26 December 2014

The Year that Was

I have written about this before. As a child, I had been used to standing on the shore, at times dipping my feet into the water that spilled onto the beach while my mother firmly held on to my hand. This time it was me who had the death grip on a colleague’s hand, as she guided me into deeper waters. As a large wave approached, I lost my grip and went under. Breathing brought water into my nose and ears and for two seconds I was more scared than I had ever been before. The wave subsided, and somebody found my hand. I was safe again, but this time less scared of any oncoming wave.

Very frequently this year, I cribbed, I bitched, I was unhappy.

But this was by far, the most interesting year of my life. It was my first year as a real adult, and I think I found my way through, armed with some deep insight into growing up.

There was Goa.

Then there was the first visit to Bhutan, the trek to Tiger’s Nest. That point in the trek, when for the first time I didn’t second guess myself. I absolutely knew what I wanted to do, and did just that. The first time I wasn’t just happy, I was in bliss.
It was also the first time I was at my unhappiest, and alone. I didn’t have friends to cheer me up, I didn’t have my parents fussing over me, my sister telling me it would be okay. But I managed to pick myself up. I broke down on the way, but I wasn’t embarrassed about it. Alone wasn’t the same thing as lonely.

There was the first visit to the Maldives where I learnt that binge-watching MTV could be incredible fun. And that Sidhharth Malhotra was hot. And that I was capable of washing bed-sheets and scrubbing denims clean.

There were the second visits to the two countries when I realised I felt safer there than in India. Where I realised I was capable of random conversations with strangers. When I realised that I was more parochial than I thought. But I was still less parochial than others. Floating lights can lift your mood. Old people do not find happiness in the small pleasures of life. They crib more. I might revel in being alone, but want my parents to be with me the next time I go to the Buddha Statue in Thimphu.

And along the way, in Delhi, in Bombay, in Shirdi, in Nasik, in Kolkata, there were a host of other things I learnt, about me and the world.

I oscillate between naiveté and shrewdness. (When did I forget the difference between having fun conversations and being friends?)

The average woman matures faster than the average man. It’s true, not a sexist conspiracy.

There is no person in the world I love more than my sister. But I don’t want to be like her.

As people grow up, they make compromises in their lives, which were unimaginable when they were younger.

The most unlikely people can surprise you. The auntyji-ish colleague can be a tennis aficionado and Agatha Christie groupie. The quiet, mousy colleague could have had a love-life that could be the stuff of movies.

It’s important to say no.

Manoeuvring social obligations is a bitch.

I can’t spell ‘manoeuvring’ without the help of a word-processor.  

I look back at my Hindu college days through rose-tinted glasses. I realised this by watching a video of old photos which ironically, was designed to make me feel nostalgic. Or maybe I am emotionally stunted.

I can go to great lengths, sometimes stupidly, to save 700 bucks.

We often allow people to hurt us, and don’t hit back.

I can write soppy blog-posts.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Of old friends

Manu da sat across the room from me, at the door of the balcony, under the sun, rifling through the newspaper supplement. Every ten minutes or so, he would look up to stare at his shut bedroom door and sigh wistfully. He had a mug of tea at his side, yet untouched. I sipped mine in silence. I had winced at the first taste, and shot an accusatory look at him. He had orchestrated an elaborate bow at that indictment of his culinary skills. Then reverted to his ritual of staring at the bedroom door. Malini di was getting ready inside, before they stepped out for a winter afternoon date on a Saturday. The door had closed exactly hundred and two minutes earlier. I knew because I had begun dressing at exactly the same time, and emerged within ten minutes.

“How much more will we have to wait for her? Should I just go?” I asked half-heartedly.
“What time are you supposed to meet them?” he asked.
“Half an hour back”, I drawled.
He smiled. “If you had any talent, you would make a wonderful artist. Reclusive and people hating. The media would love you”.
I protested. It wasn’t people I hated. Just the stepping out to catch up with people I knew long back in school, and who had gone all weird on me.
“Weird, how?”
“One of them got married.”
“That is the worst”, he dead-panned. “The other?”
“She is an MBA. All ambitious and everything. She is probably earning pots of money”.
“So, you are jealous?" he wondered out aloud, his eyes narrowing. (I could see them because he had recently got a haircut, so the famous curls didn't cover them anymore.)
 "Well no”, I answered. “But she will wonder what happened to me, how I lost all my drive”.
“So don’t tell them the truth”, he answered, matter-of-factly.
“What do I tell them?”
“Whatever suits you”.

He was right, I thought to myself, as I made my way to Warehouse Cafe in CP, an hour later than planned. The place was dark, there was loud music and I missed my step and stumbled. A waitress came to my help but she said “Ma’am” in the disapproving tone my mom adopted when two minutes before the school bus arrived, I would start a frantic search for ‘chart paper’ for the SUPW class scheduled that day. It was ominous.

I spotted them at a corner table, both fashionably thin. I walked towards them and both saw me at the same time. And then something happened that I hadn’t for a minute thought out in my head. They spontaneously called out my name while breaking into the happiest of smiles and I mirrored them. And while we hugged and talked at the same time, I was glad to be there.

As it turns out, you don’t mind when school friends point out that you have gained weight (maybe because they don’t worry that it will hurt your chances in the marriage market). You can call them snobbish and forgetful without hurting their feelings. You can say elitist trash that comes to your mind, which you would filter out in different company. Everyone gets less ambitious and less serious and less intense as they grow up. Marriage does not cause personality makeovers. It might actually help people open up more. You can be honest about your career plans with your school friends. They knew you before you started understanding yourself better, so they understand what could make you happy. They ask about your family, and you genuinely care about how their kid siblings are doing. You want to know about what their old colony friends are up to, the ones you used to hear about all the time. Friends’ husbands don’t necessarily have to be people you don’t like. When they walk you to the metro station before they leave, it can leave an incredibly nice feeling in your stomach (especially after your relentless independence). And even though you are now more different from each other than you ever could have imagined, you know that you still have some solid friends.

Monday, 8 December 2014

I want to move.

I am a selfish bitch.
Someone got raped on Friday. Someone like me. A young career woman on the way home after an evening with friends. And all I can think about is I have done the same. Tons of times. I did it last Friday. I didn't take a cab home, I rode on the ladies compartment of the Delhi metro. Apparently separating the sexes is the only way to keep women safe now. That is, till the next case. Maybe next time it will be the Metro. Maybe that's the next way my freedom will get curtailed.

I want to move to a different country. Where women in public spheres are not seen as aberrations or threats. Where religion is not a polarising force. Where national leaders don't express the need for a 'holy book' for the country. Where people from the majority community don't peddle crap like 'We have taken enough'. Where donor agencies are not welcomed with open arms to make the country more 'business-friendly', especially when their ulterior motives are known. Where young educated women don't have to give up their dreams and careers to have happy family lives. Where different points of view have the space to be heard without being branded sickular or sanghi. Where people question and debate, don't believe and accept. Where the family elders don't bemoan cultural pollution when the young embrace their rights to choice.  Where people forget who or what the 'other' is.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

In Which I Explain The Blog Name (and get new room-mates)

Some people, whose mailboxes I may or may not have flooded with links to my blog, have enquired why my blog is called what it is.
If you took it literally, you wouldn’t be off the mark. Fish is always preferred. To everything. (Except maybe chicken.)

However, “Fish Preferred” is also the name of a book by Wodehouse. His other titles include “Aunt’s aren’t Gentlemen”, the “Code of the Woosters”, and “Uncle Fred in the Springtime”.  As the titles suggest, Wodehouse wrote heavily about family-batty cousins, battier aunts, and even battier uncles (besides prize pumpkins and award-winning pigs). Since I have an enviable collection of these (batty relatives that is, not pumpkins and pigs), I decided their misadventures would make for fantastic writing fodder. Of course, it didn’t pan out that way. Half of the posts on the blog have me cribbing, a fourth have me gush about movies/t.v. shows/ authors. In two years of blogging, only two posts featured relatives-one cousin and one aunt.

 Part of it has to do with the fact that I cannot be physically dragged into a family re-union/ function anymore. So I just don’t meet them that often. The rest of it has to do with me finding a relative I can bring myself to like. Who I wouldn’t have found unless the rest of the brood-actually only Malini di-had not existed.

I wasn’t feeling so charitable towards her that day though, when that call came. It was about 1 o’clock on a wintry Saturday-only late morning for me. I had been snuggling inside the quilt, reading, and the phone had been lying in the living room. I tumbled out of the bed, and failing to locate my slippers, had to run barefoot on the cold floor, towards the ringing mobile. It was only to be expected then, that my “Hello” to Malini di didn’t sound too enthused.
She asked me how my life and I were. I replied I was great. She decided I was joking and laughed a nice, polite laugh.
“I am in the city. Do you want to meet up? Get a bite?” she asked.
I hesitated a little, before replying-weighing the benefits of free food against the costs of stepping out in Delhi on a winter evening. Plus would the food even be free? I did have a job now, however little it paid…If we met in a nice, up-market restaurant, would I be expected to foot the bill? But she is older…surely protocol dictates that she pay…
“Or maybe we could come over to your place? I’d rather not be out in this cold”, she said before my inner voice could allow my real voice to answer.
“Sure”, I replied. Then wondered what level of familial censure a “no” would have caused.
Meanwhile she fixed the time. Then tried to make small talk but I stopped her mid-sentence to remind her that we were meeting later anyway. I was depending on talk of the weather, the fog, the traffic, and the upcoming Delhi elections to take us through the better part of the evening.
*              *              *
I looked down from the balcony when I heard an auto honk below. I could see the top of Malini di’s head, as she struggled to pull something out of the auto. It turned out to be a rather large suitcase. My inner voice shrieked in horror. Malini di seemed to hear that for she immediately looked up. I waved half-heartedly, and she gave me her famous dimpled smile. I saw that she had gotten fringes now, which seemed like an age-inappropriate choice. I decided to let her know that, if she threatened to stay with me. She looked towards the auto once again from which a bag was half-protruding out. My heart skipped a beat, as I realised someone inside the auto was holding it out.
“Or maybe we could come over to your place?”
We, she had said.
It suddenly dawned upon me that Malini di had gotten married since the last time we had met. Some painter-Dhrittimaan Chatterjee or Mukherjee or something. Or was it Ray? I saw a curly head of hair get out of the auto now.
                                                                                *             *              *
The curly head of hair was attached to a rather thin, wiry body. That of my new brother-in-law, who sat squatting on the mattress in my living room, dipping a glucose biscuit into the tumbler of tea I had offered him. I could see the biscuit crumbs merrily fall on his tiny French beard on to his green oversized kurta, which he had worn over a pair of faded jeans. The curly hair fell over his eyes which he kept flicking away periodically. The unmistakeable signs of aatel, I noted with some satisfaction. 

Malini di sat beside him, sipping from her glass. Periodically, she would adjust herself, and then look around the room, a pained look crossing her face, every time she did. It could be the newspapers strewn about the floor, my disbelief in the idea of chairs, or the bitter taste of the tea that was causing her, her consternation.

 “So mashi said you don’t have a roommate”, Malini di said, once she realised that I had registered her facial expression.
“Yeah, my roommate left, because she thought there were bed-bugs in the house”, I lied.

 Then I started painting her a picture of the terror the bugs had unleashed, but my brother-in-law interrupted to say that he wanted to use the bathroom. I indicated to him the one inside my room, and then resumed my gory narrative. She almost let out an audible sigh of relief when he returned, and gathered the tea tumblers to take them to the kitchen.
I heard her turn on the tap in the kitchen. She had begun washing the tea utensils. If I hadn’t known that it was a ruse to avoid conversation with me, I would have been touched.

Meanwhile, the brother-in-law had positioned himself on the mattress again and was smiling vacantly at me. I smiled back.
Then he outstretched his hand, at a 90 degrees angle from his body, and grunted noisily, while waving the hand. I leapt in surprise. He laughed at my shock.
“It’s an elephant, no?” he asked stupidly. Then repeated the action to show me that he was acting like an elephant. Apparently, this was regular behaviour from him, because Malini di kept up the utensil washing. Either that, or she was still studiously avoiding contact with me. And her weirdo husband.

“Yes, very nice,” I finally said, deciding he wouldn’t hurt me if I patronised him.
He laughed, then pointed at the luggage.
That is the elephant, in this very nice room.”
I shook my head, believing that to be a neutral action, to which no meaning could be attached.
“So can we stay? We need a place for about three weeks. I have an exhibition here. We were going to stay with friends but that did not work out”.
I started mumbling. I was beginning to like him.
“We can take the spare room with the bug infestation”, he smiled. A pleasant smile.
“And you can say no. Even if this ambush seems to suggest otherwise”.
I couldn’t say no.

It’s been 11 months since the first meeting. My first meeting with my current room-mates.

Friday, 14 November 2014

What I Learnt in the Month Gone By

The answer to the burning question of what I like better- mountains or the sea.

Bhutan-Relaxing after a morning walk

Maldives-Sneaking out for a mid afternoon break

Mountains FYI. Hands down.

A young person's love life is everybody's business.
I got asked by a thirty something globetrotting professional woman whether I wasn't getting too old for marriage. And whether my parents were not introducing me to suitable bachelors.

It's probably not love if a muffin can help get over heartbreak.

I don't hate dogs. Not a lot.
I shocked myself by going 'Awwww what a cute doggie' at a random stray in Bhutan. Also, fun fact: there are no dogs in the Maldives. Not one. (Maybe not such a fun fact for dogs).

I enjoy teaching.
Or having a captive audience, at any rate.

Adam-teasing is a thing.
A shop girl would break into a Hindi film song every time a male colleague would visit. One of those times, the song was 'Husn hai suhana, paas mere aana' (yes that forgotten gem from Coolie No. 1).

Unnecessary beautification is not just something CWG obsessed Indian administrators do.

Ghastly ornamentation in Bhutan

Still better than this:

Ghastly ornamentation in Delhi

Young lovers the world over desecrate public property.

See, just the names change

Indians are world famous for circumventing queues and bending rules. And being unapologetic about it. Even in the emergency ward of a government hospital named after a former Indian Prime Minister.

All the hoopla about 'Ghar ka Khana' is justified.
You can have all the fish maru, grilled tuna with salsa, Kerala style fish curry, Bengali restaurant style fish curry in the world. But your mom's homemade curry that spills from one end of the plate to another is still the best.(Now if only the moong ki daal and the daily bhindi could be avoided).

I am more Bengali than I get credit for.
It's not just about the food. I have rarely heard a Bengali say, 'Valentine's day is an import from the decadent West'. It's more common to hear them say that we have Saraswati Puja for that anyway.

A Uniform Civil Code is not a necessary (and certainly not a sufficient) condition for women's empowerment. The senior management of the Central Bank in Islamic Maldives is all-women.

There's a pleasure in the world called Kit Kat ice cream.
There can be no reasonable justification for this being denied to an average person in post-reform India.

They are not paying me for this, I swear

Monday, 28 July 2014

Just ruminating

I wrote a poem when I was eight that got published in a a really dull children's magazine (no, not Champak). It was about a cat that chased rats and sat on  a mat. That's how far my poetic instincts ever went. May be excepting something insincere about world peace/ poverty/ despair I wrote in middle school. And my benchmark to judge poetry was simple-I liked them as long as they rhymed.

But then recently, late one night, when I was moping alone about how I was too old to be this clueless about life, I stumbled upon these lines:

"These paperboats of mine are meant to dance upon the ripples of hours, and not reach any destination."

And this simple line written by a white haired gentleman many years ago, uplifted the mood of a person born four generations later.
I know I have these vague ambitions of making a difference in people's lives. But can anything I do (as an average economist, consultant or government servant) match the kind of a impact a poet can have?

Forget Tagore.

Think of how happy the average Bollywood lyricist can make you.

Feeling daunted by work or life?

"Mitti ke parato ko nanhe se ankur bhi cheerein....
Suraj ki kirano ko roke yeh salakhen hai kahaan; sapno pe pehren de, yeh aankhen hai kahaan"

Or the more prosaic,
"Tension vension kya lena maathe pe bal hote hai
Beparvah muskano se hi masle hal hote hai"

In love?
"Lena dena nahi duniya se bas ab tujhse kaam hai
Teri ankhiyon ke shahar mein yaara sab intezam hai
Khushiyon ka tukra mile ya mila dukh khurchane
Tere mere kharche main sab ka ek daam hai"

Stunned by nature's beauty?
"Aasman ke chhat pe hain apni duniya
Khilkhilati jismein hai apni khushiya
Chaand ki chalni liye
Taare chunte hai hum
Jadui hai yeh jahaan
Hai nahi koi gham."

Of course this is not to deny that the same sentiment could be described by
"Yeh blue hai pani pani pani pani
Aur din bhi saaanny sannny saanny".

Friday, 11 July 2014

Budget 2014-15: A stronger case of cooperative federalism?

Honestly, this does not deserve a separate post-at best a comment on the Firstpost page where this article was published. But if you are a regular visitor on the website (does it say something about me that I am?), you would know how the regular commenters there do I say it politely...moronic.
Anyway, the facts stated in the article are accurate enough. That is, as Jagannathan notes, there has been a  "...massive transfer of fiscal implementation power to states in just one year. In P Chidambaram’s last fiscal year (2013-14), states got Rs 1,19,039 crore out of the Rs 4,75,532 crore plan outlays; this year (2014-15), they get a huge Rs 3,38,408 crore from the total plan kitty of Rs 5,75,000 crore."
Essentially, there are two ways in which states can receive funds- Centrally sponsored schemes (CSS) and Central Assistance to State and UT plans. CSS schemes come with certain strings attached. Namely, states have to make proportionate expenditure contribution to the scheme if they are to access CSS funds. On the other hand, Central Assistance comes in two forms-Normal Assistance and Additional Assistance. Additional assistance funds are scheme-based. However, Normal Central Assistance are not tied to any specific schemes. Transfers to states depend on the Gadgil-Mukherjee formula which uses criteria like population, per capita income, fiscal discipline and special problems of the state to determine how funds are to be transferred. Once received, states can work with these funds in the manner that suits the state, on schemes that are tailored to the states’ specific needs.
However, the writer is being disingenuous when he says that,
"The one-cap-fits-all approach of the UPA years, dictated by dynastic and centralising feudal considerations, is now being whittled down by a former state chief minister who is now prime minister."
In fact, the almost three-fold jump seen in Central Assistance to State and UT plans (and a corresponding decline in allocations under CSS as reflected by the Gross Budgetary Support to States) under Jaitley's 2014-15 budget, mirrors the allocations made by Chidambaram's interim budget of 2014-15. He, of the party "dictated by dynastic and centralising feudal considerations". To be fair, the budget document itself does not claim to reversing any trend of "de-federalising a federalising trend that had begun earlier in the last decade". Rather, it maintains that it is continuing with the restructuring of CSS, as suggested by the B K Chaturvedi committee report.
Just goes to show that media coverage needs to be taken with a heavy dosage of salt.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Moving house

I looked determinedly at the pile of rubbish lodged into the loft. Used high-school textbooks, old broken toys stuffed into polythene bags of unseemly colours, a torn worn out Spiderman school bag, all stored away by Renee to preserve the memories of her childhood. This sentimentality seemed unnecessary to me, especially since I, as the eldest among four siblings had been used to passing my things forward to the younger ones. Often it was a prized object, a doll or a favourite illustrated book, handled carefully to be of use to the subsequent owner. When the youngest had outgrown it, my mother would pass those on to relatives with younger children or to the domestic help. With a large family, space was at a premium. Though Renee, as the only child had more of that to her disposal, a government flat in South Delhi did not afford any more room than a bursting-to-the seams bungalow in North Calcutta.  And now, that we were moving to an even tinier flat to the suburbs, after my husband’s retirement from work, I had put my foot down and insisted that we rid ourselves of all things we did not need. Renee grudgingly agreed when I told her over the phone. I could have had my way even if she did not-she was away studying in Mumbai.

It was taking longer than I had hoped. While I was mechanically taking things out, dusting them and passing them out to my husband for him to sort into boxes, even the slightest scrap of paper seemed to evoke a string of reminiscences from him. The book that Renee had won for being a class topper at the annual day in school, the answer sheet for the first geometry test she had flunked, a ‘magazine’ she had made as one of her holiday projects. And when he discovered an art book at the bottom of the first pile, I found myself, squatting on the floor beside him, and looking through her childish drawings.

The men seemed to have square bodies, the women unnaturally long hair, and a rainbow marked the background for most of the pictures. She was six I think, when her class teacher suggested that we encourage her towards art, because she seemed to have a certain flair for it. Ever the dutiful parents, we hunted for one until we concluded that the good art teachers were either too expensive, or lived too far off for us to take Renee to, every week. Then Ghoshal Da, my husband’s senior colleague and neighbour suggested that we let Abhijeet, his twenty-year old son, be Renee’s mentor. I was not averse to the idea. Apart from the convenience of the set up, Babu (Abhijeet’s nickname) also had the credentials. He was a student at the Delhi College of Art-enough credentials for an aspiring artist anyway. Plus Renee, not the most agreeable of children, seemed to like him.

Every Sunday, she would wait eagerly for her Babu Dada to arrive and sit beside her, while she first drew a line, than laboriously erased it, then drew again and repeated the procedure with the eraser, progressively dirtying the page. It was only when working with crayons, that she showed any sign of the flair her teacher had noticed. Babu taught her to stay within the lines, use colour and shades, and she learnt fast. My husband was happy because the only ‘fee’ Babu charged was Sunday’s breakfast, and I did not really mind cooking. For one, Babu relished whatever he ate, and was generous with his compliments. Sometimes, if his mother were not home, he would come for lunch after college, and show us his drawings. And even though I was his ‘kakima’, I got along better with him than with his parents. I enjoyed our conversations, for he was aware and well read and could talk about politics as intelligently as he could about cricket. His idealism was contagious, and I remember how he persuaded me to go vote in that year’s general elections (his first), when my husband said he would not because all politicians were corrupt anyway.

Another neighbour in the colony that Renee and I both loved was Meeta. She was married to Ranjan, a young engineer from IIT, Kharagpur- and a poster boy for affirmative action.  The perfect example of how a poor boy could ensure a better life for his parents and future generations with the help of more opportunities. Meeta herself was from the same town, but not as educated as her husband. She was frail when I first saw her as a newly-wed, and three years in the city, albeit with much better means than before marriage, did very little to help. Kharagpur may be more than a sleepy little town now but even the Delhi of the nineties, before the Metro and before the malls, with its traffic, pollution and people, intimidated her. I empathised with her, because even though I was from a metropolis, I too had battled unfamiliarity with the language and the culture, when I had first arrived. I knew Meeta looked up to me and I enjoyed showing her around. I familiarised her with the shops, with the Hindi names of the vegetables, and the markets where fish could be bought. Renee loved Meeta’s cooking. The mutton and the prawns she made were brilliant no doubt, but even her rajma, a hitherto alien ingredient for her, eclipsed mine. And every time she made something new, or something she knew Renee liked, a bowl of it would unerringly sit on our dining table.

Meeta and her husband, the Ghoshals and we, were the only Bengali families in the colony. Naturally, since she knew very few people in Delhi, and certainly much fewer Bengalis, I introduced Meeta to Mrs.Ghoshal. The latter was cordial enough but presumably with her job and domestic chores, found no time to reciprocate the visit. Babu saw Meeta sometimes at my home and showed her some of his paintings. She liked most of them, especially the landscapes, but the two of them did not really get along as well I had thought they would, which surprised me since she was only a little older than he was. Admittedly, their interaction was limited, and their backgrounds disparate, so I resisted any further attempts to get them and their families better acquainted.

Babu was still a favourite with Renee though, and their art lessons continued through the year, until one day when Mrs. Ghoshal called to ask if I could accommodate Babu for lunch. Normally that would not be a problem at all, but I had made only pulses that day, something I could hardly serve to a guest, even if it was Babu. My own daughter had been making dissatisfied noises at the menu. Meeta was at my side when I attended the call and she immediately offered to get me some of the fish curry she had made. I protested half-heartedly, but she waved those off, happy to see Renee jumping around, celebrating the favourable turn of events. After dutifully dropping the bowl of the deep brown coloured curry off, she left, just as Babu came in, giving him a quick smile. I went inside the kitchen to heat the food, hearing Renee excitedly tell Babu how good the curry looked. I could not agree more but when I took up the bowl to serve him the fish, he sheltered his plate with his hand and said he did not want any of it.

“What will you have then? I have only made daal! I thought you liked fish!” I exclaimed.

“I do”, he replied, “but I don’t want anything she has cooked”.

For a second I looked at him in disbelief, then regained enough composure to rustle up an omelette.

The following Sunday, in the most uncharacteristic manner, Renee refused to come in front of Babu. My husband was embarrassed. Babu was after all his senior’s son. He tried to scold Renee into complying, but she started sobbing into his arms. He held her and melted immediately, assuring her that she didn’t have to take art classes any longer.
“But why don’t you want to colour any more with Babu dada?” he asked Renee later, when she had regained her calm.
“He doesn’t like Meeta aunty”, she replied simply.

As I smiled at those drawings fourteen years later, my husband looked at me sideways and suggested that we could save some of Renee’s old things.

“At least those that nobody else would have any use for”, he hastened to add. I agreed.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Back to (D) School

The e-rick driver is in a good mood. He sings 'Suhana safar hai yeh mausam haseen', while facing the risk of a heat stroke.

I down two glasses of iced tea within the first thirty minutes. I come back later for a third, but the ice cubes are over. I settle for masala coke instead.

I make my job sound way cooler than it is  to people I don't like (Guess who). I am more honest with my friends.

I feel happier seeing Rawat bhaiya (who ignores me) than any of the professors at D school.

I spend inordinate amounts of time talking to professors I didn't even like in D school. But let's face it-there were very few profs I did like.

For the second time in my life, I follow every word of a speech. For the first time, someone is giving me advice I really need.

They serve vegetarian shaadi wala food. I die a little. The shaadi wala desert (ice cream with hot gulaab jamuns) saves the day.

I salivate at the description of food served at a friend's wedding. I am shocked I have a friend who has had a wedding.

I introduce a friend to my colleagues. I feel weird having colleagues.

Friday, 30 May 2014

"I am too good-looking for paper-work"

                                   -Gregory House, M.D.

Yes Sir, you are.

You so are.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Book Review: the Accidental Prime Minister (Sanjaya Baru)

In 2004, after the Financial Express speculated that the Prime Minister would retain the Finance Ministry, Sanjaya Baru, the editor of the newspaper (and the author of the Accidental Prime Minister) got a call from Chidambaram, asking if this was true. When Baru confirmed he had received the news from reliable sources, Chidambaram went into a mini-rant, wondering what portfolio he would get, and that anything less fashionable than home, defence and finance would be ill-suited to his stature. It is this kind of gossip that punctuates most of the Accidental Prime Minister, making it the most fun piece of non-fiction I have read (which doesn’t say much given how I avoid the genre like plague, but still).

The other important aspect of the book is the picture it reveals about political machinations. Baru reveals how after the NREGA was extended to 500 districts, Congress leaders fell over themselves trying to give the credit for it to the Gandhi family, when the person responsible was Raghuvansh Prasad of the RJD. In another instance, during the negotiations for the nuclear deal, when the Left withdrew its support due to its anti-US stand, Baru got a call from Amar Singh, then a part of the Samajwadi Party (SP). He was unwell, he said, undergoing treatment in an American hospital, where the American doctors and staff were paying close attention to him.  The SP finally openly supported the deal after APJ Abdul Kalam (the then President, former scientist and Muslim) endorsed the same. This helped them gain a foothold in Delhi, without antagonising their Muslim vote-banks in UP. Amar Singh was to later claim that the authors of the nuclear deal were not Manmohan Singh and Bush but Amar Singh and Bush. Even academia it turns out is not isolated from politicking- you might be a well-respected economist alright but the journey to the Planning Commission is smoother if you have some recalcitrant (Leftist) friends in the coalition ruling at the Centre.

Of course these are side-shows to what the book aims to be-an insight into the life of the ‘neyk Sardardji’, who helmed the Indian government for the last 10 years. It mostly succeeds in giving a balanced account of the PM’s achievements and failings-though the latter only confirm what media accounts have been telling for a number of years. These include a deference to the Congress President (sometimes as a survival mechanism) and his almost-willingness to turn a blind-eye to the misdemeanours of his political colleagues. The book is far more interesting however, when it details the PM’s strengths-his doggedness in pursuing the Nuclear Deal with the US, the deft handling of some of his coalition partners, his pluralistic economic and political world-view as well as a healthy sense of humour. In 2007, when Baru reported to his PM that L K Advani was conducting havans to propitiate the Gods into ousting the Congress government, Singh joked that Advani lacked the basic data to ensure that-the PM’s accurate date of birth. 

While Baru writes an engaging account of his experiences as media advisor to the PM in UPA-1, he is guilty at times of over-explaining, at others of writing the same thing more than once-nothing that some editing won’t correct. Lastly, some lines in the book come off as sexist, though not more than our political classes. In 2004, Yashwant Sinha, likened Manmohan Singh to Shikhandi, the character from Mahabharata who was a woman in a past life and a man in the present-and hence an incapable leader. The problematic part in the book is when Baru writes, that “..there was a double entendre in that metaphor, implying that the Prime Minister was controlled by Sonia Gandhi, and it was a damaging allusion. Clearly, my biggest challenge as media advisor was to firmly establish in the minds of ordinary people the credentials and credibility of Dr. Singh as PM”. Later in the epilogue, he wonders what Yashwant Sinha really meant by that jibe.., “was he (Sinha) disingenuously suggesting that he (Singh) was not a real man and a real leader?

Monday, 5 May 2014

Blog Ki Kasam

I realised that the only resolutions I manage to keep (and that too, only just) are all blog-related.

And short term.

And since I really need to rekindle my interest in economics, I will be posting economics related content for the coming two months. I am aiming for weekly updates, as of now.

Of course, that means you (dear, reader) are probably going to lose interest.

Or maybe I will be a really fun economics writer, like this guy here, the other love of my live.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Blog B'day D Day (Ah well, 13 hours too late)

People who know me well (which you, since you are reading this, probably do) are aware of my hatred of my own birthdays.
I have always reasonably enjoyed others' however. Turns out even my own blog's (which has to be sad on one level, but let's ignore that for the moment).

The day began (fashionably late) with me shelling out 300 bucks to quell my academic curiosity, at PVR Saket, that citadel of pretentiousness (with its Walk of Fame) and over-pricing.
However, 300 rupees are only enough to get you cattle-class seats-hard, uncomfortable and affording no privacy to the couples (and to us from them) flanking us from all sides. And because fleecing customers is not criminal enough, the theatre decided it was acceptable to make its patrons sit for an extra twenty minutes while a palanquin perched Katrina Kaif traversed through badlands looking for the man(go) of her dreams, and little girls made puppy eyes at their fathers to make them quit smoking.

Even the writers of these montrosities however, put more thought into their material than the writers of the actual feature film. It's one thing to take an interesting concept and make a bad film; it is another thing to take an interesting concept and make a boring film. So boring that the opening sequence with three mustachioed gundas establishing that Kangana Ranaut's Alka was a b****h, k*****ya and what not, had me dozing off (like a middle-aged uncle, but let's ignore that also for the moment).

Not ones to let any money go to waste, my friends woke me up and the three of us decided to sacrifice our well being for the greater good-entertaining our co-audience with live commentary on the happenings on screen.A very unappreciative audience as it turns out. Some people left our side to go sit in front. Another school-masterish guy, disapproving of all the fun we were having, applied to a higher authority-the usher-to silence us (that could be the plot a really fun slasher flick). The usher in turn issued us an ultimatum, the end result of which was that we left the theatre in the middle of the film. Voluntarily, mind you.

The rest of the very hot Delhi evening was spent having cold coffee, momos dimsums and chicken fingers. And bitching loudly about our respective lives.

A very enjoyable evening indeed.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Countdown to Blog B'day-Day 2

Since it's my blog's second birthday this week (26 April 2014), I have decided to blog every day up to it. However short. However frivolous (which of course goes without saying).

Read about Day 3Day 4Day 5 and Day 6 here.

I have been to the beach before, with my parents. My mom always ensured that if I ever ventured into the sea, it was not beyond a point when the water was more than ankle-high. She would clutch my hands if I tried to go deeper. The instinct to protect.

I have always wanted to escape that protection. Not in the way teenagers rebel (I completely skipped that phase). But just out of the wish to experience everything. Out of the desire to feel everything there is to be felt. And purely for selfish reasons.  If I hoped to be a writer some day, I could imagine events. I couldn't imagine people's emotional reactions to those events, could I? How could I write about someone falling in love, if I had never been in love myself? Or about loss, if I had never felt the hurt.

But this has led to the oddest thing. The realisation that anything that happens to me is useful (in the sense of adding to my life experience, and hence the material for a book I may or may not write in the future), the hurt I feel is always dimmed to that extent. I am able to step back and analyse my feelings-like an outsider. Like a critic reviewing a film.

Is this related to age, maturity? Is it because I don't have other people to talk to (on a daily basis), that I have these intense discussions in my head? Or is it really because of the writer-ly ambitions? (Which will probably just remain ambitions if I keep using words like 'writer-ly').

It can't be maturity. If anything, over the past nine months, since leaving campus, I have become more vulnerable. Earlier, the only thing that could get me upset were feelings of aimlessness, insecurities about my career and if bad things happened to my family or friends. I could get over anything anybody said or did to me by (mentally, always mentally) abusing them. Because those people were never important. And the important people cared too much. It's not like that anymore. But then, wasn't that the point of escaping all that protection?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Countdown to Blog B'day-Day 3

Since it's my blog's second birthday this week (26 April 2014), I have decided to blog every day up to it. However short. However frivolous (which of course goes without saying).

Read about Day 4Day 5 and Day 6 here.

This is probably cheating.
But don't tell me you would rather read a hastily written post than feast your eyes on these:

Because every trip begins at the airport

View from Paro, the city with the airport, Bhutan

Is it possible for a country to be unhappy if this is what it looks like?

Gate to the cafetaria, Tiger's Nest

Even the tramps have THE life here
Budhha Statue: Look at the trees for some perspective
The view of the Tiger's Nest monastery from the Cafetaria

This could be an Airtel ad

Have some more beauty

Photo Credit: Mehul Gupta

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Countdown to Blog Birthday-Day 4

Since it's my blog's second birthday this week (26 April 2014), I have decided to blog every day up to it. However short. However frivolous (which of course goes without saying).

Read about Day 5 and Day 6 here.

I am going to recount a childhood incident again. Not because I have nothing else to talk about (I have lots actually), but because there is nothing else I can coherently post about, in very limited time.

I think I was in 5th standard when we first performed a play in my colony.

It was Christmas. And my first attempt at writing something that did not involve rhyming 'cat' with 'mat'. I did a terrible job-the 'play' was essentially a bunch of kids mouthing facts about Christmas traditions in English.

But since parents insisted on encouraging mediocrity (and English) we were much appreciated.

So the next year, before Diwali, we decided to stage a 'Modern Ramayana'.

I don't remember who wrote it-it was essentially a bunch of bad jokes strung together-Ram looking for his Ray-bans before Vanvas, Hanuman being mistaken for the Monkey-man, and so on. But we were at an age when Kaho Na Pyar Hai counted as a piece of art.

The casting was very controversial for that play. There were three major male roles- Ram, Lakshman and Ravana and we had three male actors. Those roles went to them unquestioningly (though Ram and Lakshman had major ego hassles between them).

There were a bunch of girls and one coveted female role-Sita. (I can't for the life of me remember whether we had a Surpnakha). 
I decided not to audition for Sita, but claim the role of Hanuman instead. That's because I knew the only other role was for Jatayu (who dies midway) and the Vanar Sena. Which is what all the people rejected as Sita were relegated to.

The play itself was a little bit of a disaster.

You would think scientists wouldn't be very God-fearing. But someone from the cast blabbed about what we were doing to their Scientist (or spouse of scientist) parent. And they objected to the mockery of religion.
Half an hour before the performance, we decided we would change the names of the characters to Ashwarya (Sita), ShahRukh (Ram) and Salman (Lakshman).

Most of us forgot that 3 minutes in.

And the audience couldn't figure out why Shah Rukh asking for Raybans before a Vanvas was funny. Or why he was going for a Vanvas in the first place.

Some of the audience also heckled a dying Jatayu. So Jatayu got up from the dead and went off-stage.
Ram and Lakshman (sorry, Shah Rukh and Salman) forgot their ego hassles and ganged up against Jatayu to berate her.

Jatayu promised never to play with us again.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Countdown to Blog Birthday-Day 5

Since it's my blog's second birthday this week (26 April 2014), I have decided to blog every day up to it. However short. However frivolous (which of course goes without saying).

Read Countdown to Blog Birthday-Day 6, here.

Hindi films always make a song and dance (quite literally) about jawani (youth).

The best part of my jawani (till now) have been my three years of college.

The best part about college was that it was so uneventful.

My childhood on the other hand was legendary.

One year my (then) best friend and I pooled in our books (which weren't many) to open a library. Our patrons were our playmates in the colony. Often, they also donated to our book collection.
We returned the favour by charging them for a monthly membership (Rs. 2/-).
Worse, we made them sit in the library (a common room in the colony, otherwise used for dance/music/art classes, rehearsals for Durga Puja and kitty parties) for half an hour every week to read.
Once this kid (who was a year older to me) came to my house and asked to be let off 'library class'.
I refused. The rules didn't allow for it, and he had promised to abide by them (by signing a form, whose master copy had been typed on a type-writer. We were too cool for computers.) His mother approved.

The power apparently went to my head though. Allegedly in one year, my friend and I appropriated Janmashtami funds to build our book collection.

We haven't been forgiven for that yet.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Countdown to Blog Birthday-Day 6

Since it's my blog's second birthday this week (26 April 2014), I have decided to blog every day up to it. However short. However frivolous (which of course goes without saying).

I saw 2 States last weekend.

The trailers during the interval were more interesting than the movie.
Alia Bhatt was wonderful though.
Now only if someone advised her to not do bland romantic comedies. (And physically restrained Randeep Hooda from doing trash like Jism 2).

The two trailers I saw were of Revolver Rani and Samrat and Co.

Revolver Rani looks horrible. But I am still going to watch it out of academic curiosity. And to express solidarity with the feminist cause. Though I doubt that's what the film-makers were going for. It looks more like they first saw Neha Dhupia in Phas Gaye Re Obama, then watched Loin and his moll in Yaadon ki Baarat , and decided how fun it would be if the tables were turned. Not that that's a bad thing.

The hero of Samrat and Co. is a detective. He sports curly hair, goes around in a coat with an upturned collar, and talks very fast. In one sequence he runs out of a building (presumably in pursuit), stops in front of the gate, shuts his eyes and seems to concentrates hard. Maps appear on the screen, indicating directions (presumably of the possible routes his quarry may have taken).

And ooh, he has a 'seventh' sense. Since the sixth one is so passé.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Bhutan Diaries

·         The moment I truly understood Gross National Happiness was about 30 minutes after I landed in India, when a DTC conductor snapped at me for enquiring whether the bus would go to the domestic terminal. That was before a middle-aged aunty disapproved of my luggage, then proceeded to invade my personal space in return.

(This was all aboard a ‘shuttle’ between the two terminals of the Delhi airport. But really, the domestic terminal is one of the bus-stops on the way of the bus to “Kashmere Gate Kashmere Gate”, in the words of the afore-mentioned conductor.)

·         When asked about the meaning of GNH by an Indian, a young bank employee in Bhutan replied that it meant not having to drive in traffic for an hour and a half to reach office.

·         Who wants to drive when the best part of the day is a 30 minute leisurely paced walk back from office to the hotel.

·         Happy country or not, I can crib anywhere. Even seated on a rock at the riverside with the river making the most pleasant gurgling sounds and a view over-looking the mountains.

·         A rock on the riverside with a view over-looking the mountains is fertile territory for philosophising.

·         My thoughts while making the hardest trek of my life: the journey is more important than the goal, the journey is more…huff…aah this is killing me.

My thoughts after reaching the destination of the trek: The goal’s more beautiful when the journey is tough.

(Now to just apply this deep philosophical insight to real life).

·         Snow-capped mountains, from the vantage point of a giant Buddha statue can be a heart-breakingly beautiful sight.

·         I never thought I would use the phrase ‘heartbreakingly beautiful’ in all seriousness.

·         All the scenic beauty and peace can go take a hike if there is no internet. Or tv.

·         I saw an episode of Savdhaan India in Bhutan. I had never seen the show before.

·         Imtiaz Ali should set his next film in Bhutan. It should be a love-story between an Indian girl and Bhutanese boy. The girl will be an employee of an evil donor agency looking to economically cripple the country (though the girl doesn’t know that) and a Bhutanese government servant who is set to expose its agenda. Lots of possibilities of conflict and love. (Call me Imtiaz, the script is all ready in my head).

·         Bande hai hum from Dhoom 3 is my new anthem.

·         Bollywood’s more popular than I thought, and the adulation is not just limited to the Salman Khans and the Katrina Kaifs. While I filled in my immigration form, my Bhutanese co-passenger on board the flight to Paro peeked in, then exclaimed in recognition. Was I related to Mithun, she asked.
I wasn’t related to her current favourites either.  Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.

·         I am more experimental with my food than I imagined. My third favourite vegetarian dish (after rajma-chawal and jhinge aloo posto) is now a dish comprising of green chillies cooked in cheese. Ema datsi, the national dish of Bhutan.

·         I am far less experimental with my drink. I asked for ice tea at my hotel. The waitress tried to fob off a packaged version. I refused to drink that. She relented and made the ice-tea for me, the traditional way. It was the closest thing to the JP Ice tea I have ever had, only 11 times as expensive.

·         The samosa and pyaji available in Bhutan can give tough competition to the best in C R Park’s Market 2.

·         Veg momos can be great too. Who would have imagined?

·         A scone is a less sweet, less nice version of goja.

·         Bhutan has the fanciest taxi of the sub-continent.

·         Bhutan also has the most talkative taxi-driver of the sub-continent.

·         Dogs like Kurkure.

·         Thimphu has a very cool book-store called Junction. It’s what Oxford used to be before they started playing loud music and hosting ridiculous events. Junction has its own dogs who will leave you alone as long as you don’t step on them. Guess what I bought from there?

Dumb Witness. Poirot.