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.”


“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.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Counting Miles in Milestone

I’m turning 25 this year. In a very dramatic tone, a usual for me, I pointed out to mom this evening that one quarter of my life is over. She rolled her eyes, a usual for her, and told me in her mommy voice, “Teri life mein shanti nahi hai,” and I had the perfect, Bollywood answer to her quip: meri life mein shanti marne ke baad hogi.

Milestone birthdays weren’t ever my thing—I did nothing special on my 18th and absolutely nothing on my 21st. And I have just one reason to do things differently this year:

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

If there were a yearbook in my high school, beneath my photo would be these words: To make a difference. Now I am not sure if I have done that, or if I’ll ever be able to, but I do like to believe that what I do, matters. Who I am, matters. So of course, I want to celebrate the first 25 years of my life. Go away for a week and come back more sensible, more level-headed.  

I mentioned this idea to a friend who reminded me I do this every year around my birthday, and every few months in between. I do! It uplifts my mood to check flights, find out prices and decide random dates, and random places. And although it never maps out, it gives me hope. And like every time, I am dreaming of it again. A new place, a new way to celebrate a real milestone; open my arms, and I may catch another postcard memory.

This stuff is what I live for.   

Monday, 2 May 2016

I am Murphy’s Law

 They call me jinx at work. Anything that can go wrong with my travels, we are all sure it will.

Here’s the backdrop of my travel mishaps: I started working for Travel + Leisure seven months ago (officially), and a lot of travel assignments came my way. And one after the other, they kept getting cancelled for a variety of reasons that I’d rather not say. So after a string of heartbreaks, I finally flew out for my big international trip with a photographer and everyone thought that the jinx was broken. If only it were that easy.

Johannesburg is known for its crime—we were warned. I wasn’t worried though. I was travelling with a photographer who was anxious enough for both of us. This may be the reason that he didn’t let the gentleman at the airport help him with our luggage trolley. The gentleman, who we thought was a porter, showed us the way to the domestic airport and we hurried to catch our next flight. To thank him, we turned around and bam! Our nice gentleman was being handcuffed by the cops. So close.

Instance two: A day before I was supposed to leave for Switzerland, Jatts decided to protest in Rohtak. Gradually, it progressed to Gurgaon and our office declared a holiday. Amidst cheers and woohoos, my reaction didn’t go unnoticed, “Nooooo!!!” I had to take cash advance for the trip that day but I couldn't. Something had to happen, however small.  

Almost a year after the devastating earthquake, Nepal was still kneeling when I visited the country last month. To say that their domestic airport doesn’t compare to ours will be an understatement. It’s more like a house, an old one that you see in Chandani Chowk, with two counters. That’s not the point here though. We went to Chitwan National Park, and the airport there is smaller than the domestic one in Kathmandu, if that’s possible. The plane is just a wee bit bigger than what kids play with, and when it flew, it swayed. But that wasn’t the problem either. The problem was that it came four hours later and I missed my next flight, to home. Mishap number three.

I won’t explain my very recent trip to Egypt more than this: I lost my luggage; we had unfortunate encounters with cops; I got terribly sick and had to take an injection. Four, five, and six.

No, my jinx isn’t broken. It follows me everywhere and strikes when I’m not looking. But here’s the good part: I bring back home incredible stories.