Monday, 22 January 2018

Perfect Timing

At precisely 2 in the afternoon, when the sun was soaking all the hydration from Saachi’s body, she gave the pushed open a wooden door that gave the bell overhead a tug. Even before she had let go of the knob, the chef greeted from behind the display of fresh-out-of-the-oven confectionaries.

“Hey, right on schedule! I’ve just baked a batch of the Danish.” Tanya, the owner of the tiny, hole-in-the-wall café flooded with natural light, untied the knots of her apron and glided to the door in her pale yellow dress to hug her friend.

“Hey, yourself! I need a quick cold coffee and I’ll be out of your hair,” Saachi answered as she took a seat at a table close to the floor-to-ceiling window that had the uninspiring view of the parking lot.

“Ha! This is the slowest time of the day. No one comes in before 5. Wait, I’ll get you some coffee.” There wasn’t much ground to cover—just one room where all pastries and breads where kept, a cash counter and a kitchen at the back that no one but the staff was allowed to enter (Tanya and her two helpers). The tall, slender woman with a pixie haircut brought back with a tray with a glass of iced coffee, four warm chocolate seasalt cookies, and a croissant, and set it on the table.






Sasha smiled at the woman five years her senior. Dressed in her comfort jeans and shirt with her hair in the bun, she looked like she was going to college, but her boss didn’t mind the casualwear. He was happy on the days she reported to work. The younger woman had 15 minutes to talk to her new friend who always had flour somewhere on her face.

“I love the foundation,” Sasha told Tanya as the two got comfortable on the armchairs.

“I’m not wearing—Oh wait, I got flour on my cheeks again?” Tanya asked as she tried wiping off the marks with her left hand that had burning marks on at least five different places. Baking incident.

Sasha gave her a toothy grin and feasted on the chocolate treat. “I have precisely 10 minutes to spare.” She took a sip and then another mouthful.

“Why are you always in such a hurry? For once, you can sit back and enjoy it.”

“She’s timing me.” She told her in a conspiratorial tone.

“What? Who?” Tanya enquired curiously as she buttered her croissant.

“My mother.” Sasha answered settling back against the chair again. Two down, two to go, she thought as she counted the cookies. No wonder I have gained two kilograms in the past two weeks since I’ve met her.

“She times you?” She asked horrified.

Looking at her wide-eyed expression, Sasha had to keep the cookie down. It was comical. “Yeah, she watches the clock like a hawk after I leave for home.”

With a laugh, she continued, “I work for my Dad, just around the corner from here. He doesn’t need me; he has 10 employees that can do what I do way better, which is basically answering some emails and basic marketing for this catering business. But we are indulging each other until I find a better way to use my MBA.”

She paused to take another sip while the older woman with a degree in hospitality and five years experience at a five-star sat nodding her head.

“So anyway, it takes my dad precisely one hour and 23 minutes to make the drive from Hauz Khas to Sohna Road, where we live. Now consider these two things: He leaves at 7pm in the evening and drives at a speed of 50 even on the highway.”

“But what does that have to do with anything?”

“It takes me 45 minutes to make the journey.”

“How?”

“I only come to work for four hours everyday. I leave after lunchtime and it’s light traffic. And let’s face it, I’m a faster driver.”

“And your mom has a problem with that?” She thinks my sweet mother is a cantankerous old fossil, Sasha laughed at the thought.

“I wouldn’t call it a problem. It’s more like an obsession. The moment I leave home, my dad calls my mom because it is grilled into him every morning that he absolutely cannot forget. Then mom stares at the clock. If I’m there in 55 minutes, it starts with “You were speeding,” and ends in tears. Hers.”

The first time it happened, it caught her completely by surprise. Her mother was standing by the standing, the car had given away her arrival, and waiting on her with worried eyes. And then the grilling had started.

“Oh, no!”

“At first, I didn’t realise it was a conspiracy against me. But it was happening everyday and I caught on the pattern. So, I started making pitstops three weeks ago.”

It had been her third day at the office when she marched into her father’s cosy but functional office to tell him she was leaving. On her way to the car, she realised she had forgotten to her him about an email and rushed back in to find him ratting on her.

“When you first entered here?” Tanya prompted.

“I already had checked out some shops in the past week and I hadn’t picked anything up. I didn’t want to go in again for browsing so I climbed the stairs to your cafe.”

“That’s why you look at the wall clock so much!”

“I don’t want to break my winning streak. It’s important to my mother, and honestly, better than reasoning with her.”

Tanya chuckled, thinking about her older brother’s wise words: You can’t have a rational argument with your parents. It’s impossible!

They talked longer than Sasha had anticipated. She stood up to thank her friend, paid the bill through her phone, and tapped the jeans pocket for her car keys. Then, she was on the way home.

What she had failed to mention to Tanya was her near-death accident a year ago that had put her on bedrest for two months. The next eight were painful, too, with physiotherapy as she started claiming her body back. If not for her mom’s strength and support, she would have lost all hopes of recovery and gone into despair. It has been just a month of working for her dad for shorter periods, but driving and sitting was as much as she could bear right now.

As she rounded up her home 10 minutes later than usual, her mother was standing by the door, waiting for her to come up.

“You got late today, Sasha?”

“Yeah, mom. There was some traffic on the road.”

And with that, the worry lines disappeared from the retired nurse’s forehead and everything was peaceful in her world once again.





 

Sunday, 31 December 2017

New Year, Same Old Me




Another year has come to pass. Now we’ll be getting calendars from Daboo Ratnani and IndiaPicture and picking out favourite months based on the best photographs. New diaries. New resolutions. And that same old vow: This year will be different. This year, I will be different.

And, I will be! Two months ago, I decided to be healthier. Physically and mentally. Less than a month ago, I retired my wings and stepped into another role. But a lot will be the same, like this tradition of making the first blog post of the year at midnight and chastising myself for not being more disciplined with this. I was supposed to write 24 short stories in 2017 and even when I had the inclination, I let myself go loose. And the gazillion online courses are in a limbo somewhere, too. Ted Talks, documentaries, podcasts are nearly forgotten.

The last few hours left are as much for recollection and retrospection, as for vow-making. A year in review, that’s what people call it. I did well, come to think of it. I travelled, met with professional growth, made an effort to stay in touch with friends (and not become a recluse), and I mostly did whatever the hell I wanted. Two international holidays and many work travels later, I am wiser and happier. And stronger, for I did say goodbye to a job that wasn’t giving me any pleasure.

Oh, 2018! I’m not doing this with a coke, chocolate cake, and pizza as always. That’s a darn good sign for what is to follow! I promise to finish my reading challenge this year and write at least 12 short stories (God willing). I promise to be more levelheaded with money matters. And like every year, I promise to be less judgemental and more patient with people.

I don’t always know where I’m going when I start a year, but I like where I am right now: Procrastinating like a pro and watching Footloose. What a life!


Monday, 29 May 2017

Pen Friends



Sunday afternoons are the worst. Kids stay home and watched the telly. He joins them on the couch and they alternate between napping and wrestling for the remote. A heavy brunch around noon and I am mostly left alone.

I have this corner of the house to myself, the store room where everything that I never had the heart to give away has found a home. A hoarder, I collect things like memories and bundled them up with a bow of joy. Their first rompers, our wedding invite, that too-small-for-a-mother of-two little black dress, my first typewriter, and even some music CDs, among other things. Letters, diaries, magazines, albums, cameras…  

It was a year ago that I became a pilgrim to this room. My life in a box, I would call it. Irritated by the ruckus in the living room, a restless and agitated me found solace in an old, battered novel I had dug up here. The next week, it was my parent’s charmingly preserved photographs. Then, some sketch books I had kept all these years.

Today, I’m tackling a box that says PRIVATE. I don’t remember why that warning was written in such bold letters, on a brown carton, with a solid black marker. Not that anyone would ever trespass here—the room was invisible to everyone in the house, barred of all technology.  

Half filled with diaries, notepads, notebooks, and papers. Writings. One is mine, I know. And the other is of someone I love very much.

We had no phones in those days. Computers were a luxury we didn’t have. No emails, no texts, no video calls. We did everything on paper. Innocent ramblings of a teenage girl, telling her reader how the day went at school.

“You are not here, so I’m writing everything down before I forget. Maths was boring. Someone played a prank on the Physics teacher and the principle punished us all. I didn’t have anyone to have lunch with in the recess, so I just sat in class…”

Religiously for ten days, there were ten entries. Even if it was just one sentence: “I am too tired to write today, will do it tomorrow.”

I jump with glee when a few pages later, the correspondence start in earnest, with replies. Either side is discussing what someone else reading this would consider tedious humdrum. Yawn-worthy. Just plain boring.

But I am reading it as it is scripture, passages and passages of a life I hadn’t lived in decades. Flashbacks to the time when penning down thoughts really meant penning down. We had shared our deepest thoughts, our worries, our delights, with each other, without judgment.

“I can’t believe you left your bag in her house! What if she read all this? We have written so much about her…”
“I bunked school to go to a movie with some friends…”
“I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I love writing but that can’t be a career, can it?”

“Hey, what are you doing sitting on the floor?” He finds me in the room, eyes alight with pleasure, I am sure. It has grown quiet in the house, which means the kids have gone to the park. He brings me a cup of coffee and kneels down to look into the box.

He understands, smiles, and leaves the room. He comes back with a paper and pen. I haven’t written a letter in ages, I tell him. To this he replies, good thing you found the stationery, then.
Thirty years later (not exactly to the day but close enough)—I stir the wheel again.  

Dear Samah,

You won’t believe what I just found in my store room. Our childhood diaries! Remember how we used to exchange them in class? One was almost caught in my bag in school! I was reading them just now and I wanted to write to you. Not text or email, but exercise penmanship.

How are you?


And so, it begins again. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

There’s Something I Have Been Meaning To Tell You

My resolution this year was to write 24 short stories. I'm falling behind, terribly. So now I have a new goal: finish this series by the end of this year. Five chapters, that's all I'm thinking. 


Chapter 1

It is a rather ordinary scene of a mother driving her son to a restaurant for a treat. They are celebrating the last day of school. It’s an ordinary white Maruti Wagon R, dented and battered, on the streets of a busy neighbourhood in Gurgaon. A moment of innocent bliss that’s broken by a cry of, “What the fuck is he doing?”

“Mom! You swore!” A voice comes from behind a Kindle. The boy with the glasses looks up from the backseat to his mother with impatience and reluctance. It’s just another day. 

“Sorry. I’ll pay the fine, but just look at what that crazy bas—head is doing.”

“Mom.”

“Fine, Rs 200. Okay, let’s find parking space.”

Kirti Shah is not a bad driver, she tells everyone who listens, but there are so many idiots on the road. 

“They refuse to see that I have a child in my car, arrogant pricks,” she mumbles but is heard but the child again.

“You are teaching me bad words, mother,” her nine-year-old son complains. Vir has always been wise for his age, she thinks. Even in his short pants and Batman t-shirt, he sounds like a 20-year-old. He tucks the Kindle in his Batman backpack, pulls up the glasses on his nose, and gets out of the car when Kirti opens his door.

“Because you should know the bad words. I am confident you will not use them, smartypants,” she takes his hand in hers and walks towards the café on the other side of the parking lot.

It’s a hot day, with many more to come. Summer break is a wonderful time of the year. She will plan a week-long holiday with Vir, who will drown himself in extra classes on everything from robotics to piano, and hate every spare moment of his time. “No sports,” he had declared earlier when discussing his summer plans. Kirti was a national level football player, but her son had little to do with the sport, or any other. He liked reading books, playing piano, doing his homework, and watching cartoons. An introvert, she had mused while reading to the shy boy who had difficulty making friends in school.

The café is buzzing with activity, even at 4 in the evening. The bright blue walls painted with cartoon characters had made it an instant hit with Vir when it opened two years ago. It helped that the owner was his favourite person.

With her big round eyes, pixie-like hair, feminine voice, and short frame, Sana is a sweetheart. She is also Kirti’s college friend. Vir and Sana were best friends and sometimes, the understanding between the two makes Kirti envious. As a single mother, it is difficult to see her son rely on someone else, but then she knows that he is more like Sana, intense, quiet, and rational than her, impulsive, spontaneous, and passionate. 

She waves to them from behind the counter and they take their favourite table in the corner to admire the set up. The wall behind them is white, with photographs of patrons and guests, but the two walls on the opposite sides are bright and vivid. Batman and Robin, Superman, the X-Men, and some other comic characters are bundled together, with their weapons, stance ready to fight the bad guys. Sana has painted it herself, by taking help from Vir’s various comic books. She has always had a knack for the arts, like her brother.

She joins them with an assortment of new pastries that she has been experimenting with and Vir gives a nod of approval to orange honey and mint macaroons. 

“Tell me again, why did you ever go to a media school?” Kirti asks her as she pours green tea for both of them.

“Because I didn’t know what to do with my life. Good thing that I did though, now I can do my own branding, advertising, and PR.”

“Good thing you went to cooking school later,” Kirti adds and watches Vir devour peanut butter cookies, back to his Kindle.

Sana is wearing white pants and pink top. Her silver loops are new, and so are her white pumps, Kirti notices. The girl sure loves to accessorise. Feminine, that’s the word that you think of when you look at Sana, but she is more than that. She has a great left hook and sharp business acumen. She doesn’t miss things, attention-to-detail is her strong suit.

She asks a server to take Vir to the washroom, and when he’s out of the hearing range, asks Kirti without any theatrics or premonition, “So when were you going to tell me he is my nephew?”


Kirti did not see that coming.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Two Good Deeds

It’s not a good week when you hit your car on a pillar in the parking lot. It gets worse when you see the total amount you need to pay to get the repairs done. Just when you’re thinking, this is it, can’t get worse than this, you stumble on the street and your sandals just fall apart. And you make a dash for the nearest shoe shop, barefoot, and drop your phone on the street.

No, that’s not my idea of good.

But it could have been worse—that’s what everyone tells me.

Two young boys, teenagers, saw me drop my phone and run (I was barefoot!). They chased me on the street and returned it. I was dumbfounded.  

I went into the Bata store, with dirty feet, and no one thought it was weird that a girl was running inside without any shoes—may be it happens often. The salesman helped me pick a few pairs, but I confessed that my feet were dirty. He smiled politely and told me it was okay; I could try them on.

I bought two pairs in less than 10 minutes.

A lot of times, I don’t remember such gestures; it is easier to focus on what’s not, than what is. If anything, I wouldn’t have been surprised had the salesman turned me away, or had my phone been lost. It’s what I honestly expect from people. That realisation came with a bit of shame. So cynical, painting everyone with the same black colour. What a waste of a brain to judge people so harshly.

As inconsequential as this may seem after a day or two, I needed these two good deeds to remind me, it’s not all that bad. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Musings After Hours





I holidayed with a friend in NYC. I had the best time singing at an empty bar in the Maldives. And the JLo concert was a strike off my bucket list (attend a concert). In Spain, I walked the streets at 1.30 am, completely lost, with no Google maps or Internet, trying to find my way back to my hotel. In Nagpur, I was on a 77-year-old plane that served during the World War 2.
All this just in the last couple of weeks.

It’s 2.11am and I should be sleeping, or doing something more productive with my sleeplessness like finishing my stories, reading, or continuing a previously abandoned course. But here I am, thinking about my job, my luck, my travels.

You can’t take these things for granted; you just can’t. It’s a luxury to even travel, but to actually have such experiences is beyond my dreams—and I do dream a lot.

I may whine about the hectic schedules or the stress, but there is just no way I would trade this for a regular job.

Not at least till I finish my long, long bucket list. First thing on it: GO TO THE UK IF THEY GIVE ME THE FREAKING VISA!


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Can’t Put A Label On Me


It’s an old habit to write something for myself around the New Year’s. And I’m a stickler for routine. (Turn off the car, take the key out, lock the wheel. Interrupt me between these steps and I’ll lose my momentum and lock the keys inside the car.)

But this isn’t a flashback of the year that was. I am just procrastinating. What better way to do it than a little scribble, a little doodle?

This is something that I have been thinking about lately—definitions. Everyone is put in a mason jar with a label. Introvert. Extrovert. Plain Jane. Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Smartypants. Rebel. So, I’m trying to find my ‘THIS IS YOU.’

I love butter chicken. On a pizza, it’s even better. I watch Bigg Boss, Roadies, and the likes, and on my bedside are Harry Potter and Vanity Fair right now. I dance to the tunes of The Chainsmokers and hum Arijit’s songs. I am loud, but I almost never swear consciously. A non-vegetarian who feels too guilty if she eats anything other than chicken and eggs. A teetotaller fascinated with different types of liquor. Always dancing in my car; always making excuses to not to go to a party.

It takes me 15 minutes to wear my lenses. I am a nervous nail biter (hence I painstakingly do nail art to keep myself from ruining my perfectly tiny nails). A little noise in my head makes me insane about hygiene and I, in turn, drive people around me nuts. (Don’t touch my food without washing your hands. Don’t leave half a cookie in the packet. If it came out of that drawer, it’s probably not clean.) But there is always a stack of clothes on my bed and very little space on the bedside table to keep the phone.

So how would I define me? Crazy is one. I’ve been called a geek, a nerd, a sociopath. Judgemental. Feminist. Uptight. Mean. Funny. Sweet. Kind. Guarded.

It’s difficult. I can’t describe anyone in my life in a phrase, let alone a word. Everyone is a whole chapter at least. Me? I can write a book on myself.

This is my takeaway from 2016: You can’t put a label on me.

Welcome 2017. Hope you bring more wisdom, more travels, more money to travel.