Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Wake-Up Call


Beep! Beep! It was 7:30 am and I was still not ready to forsake the luxury of my blanket to get ready for work. I did some calculations that were heavily biased towards my blanket and decided to hit the snooze button one more time. A beep rang out again. That was strange. The snooze time was 10 minutes and although time flew when you slept, it couldn't possibly have flown that fast. And then I saw. It was a whatsapp message. Damn early birds! Texting at the crack of dawn! My curiosity got the better of me though and I decided to read it anyway. It was my friend. But no good morning, no hello. There was a single passage. That struck me as even weirder. Here it went.
''Mindnumbing and mindless violence tears the blood-stained fabric of humanity, giving the human race a whole new meaning. The attacks, be it the Nirbhaya tragedy or the barbarian bloodbath in Pakistan are referred to by people as inhuman or beastly. But I strongly disagree. Only the human race is capable of such heinous acts of mass destruction. Only the human race can plumb to such morbid depths of brutality. No beast can sexually assault a girl with a steel rod. No beast can pretend to be army personnel, lure the kids into believing in their safety and then shoot them point blank or incinerate their teachers in front of their eyes. No beast would savour their fellow species being tortured. No beast would hold grudges for ages. No beast would kill in the name of religion, caste, gender and such 'lofty' concepts. It is the human race that is capable of such chilling acts of savagery, of cold-blooded murder, of horrendous unthinkable means of torture. No species on earth is as barbaric, as cunning and as dangerous as the one at the top of the food chain. When we seek revenge for the massacre such as the recent one, we are aping their ideals, we are trying to create an even higher level of annihilation thinking that they ought to be punished, that we are righteous this time. Violence renders moot the concept of right and wrong. I would rather that we be inhuman.'
Phew! That one did wake me up pretty well. I was in a trance for some moments after going through the outburst. I realized that it was so true, so totally true that it was hard to escape it. It is the human race, that wages wars, destructs nature's balance, inflicts torment and causes all sorts of catastrophes that have ever taken place. It is in human nature to boomerang between extremes, to reach the apex of virtue and to descend to the nadir of vice. Humanity assumed a whole new perspective, a whole new meaning. A powerful creature, sharp of intellect, devious in intent, mentally bursting with infinite ideas with an entirely distinct view and perspective. Highly unpredictable and perilous. That might be the definition of our race in some encyclopedia of some alien universe.  
Being ‘human’ doesn't sound so natty now, does it?


#BloggingForPeace

Friday, 19 December 2014

Tinku & The Missing Bangles



There is something about the tales of our childhood, about those comics that had a single dialogue accompanying a colorful picture, about those stories titled 'The Cock and The Crow', 'Jack and the Beanstalk', 'Martin and his slippers' and so on. Those titles caused in me a tingle of excitement and I started calling them the 'AND' stories. On train journeys, I would look for magazines which had such AND stories in them. This little story is for kids who like to watch 'Oggy and the Cockroaches', 'Spongebob Squarepants' and the like.

“Here, have some.” Tinku shoved a ring-like structure into reluctant jaws. “Chocolate likes these onion rings!”, he exclaimed, pointing at a feline whiskery creature, perched up onto the chair where Tinku sat, its paws clutching at the chair handles and its whiskers blowing every which way as it gobbled up the given food and purred on, asking for more.
“Why weren’t you having them before? See they are so tasty!”, Tinku scolded his pet cat while feeding it the onion rings his mother had made and which he thoroughly disliked.
“That is where all my work goes.” Tinku’s mother sighed in annoyance. “In vain.” Tinku did not like onions or anything which contained them. He felt they left a bad stale taste in his mouth which refused to leave him even after several mouthwashes. He loved his pet cat, whom he had found wandering about in the streets one day, when he decided to carry it into the house. People usually kept dogs as they were loyal and not “wily cats” as his mother had termed his pet when he had declared that he was going to keep it and named it ‘Chocolate’ after the article of food he liked best. But Tinku was wilier than cats, slyer than foxes and cleverer than most people his age.
***
“Don’t poke around. Get ready.” Mom scolded Tinku as he tried to tinker with the nailcutter, pulling the flap back as far as it could go. “I am ready.” Tinku replied, continuing with his exercise.
They were preparing to go to a wedding that evening. Mom had put on a glittering golden saree that almost blinded Tinku when he looked at her. She was clipping large gold earrings to her earlobes when she cried out, “where are my bangles?”
Tinku jumped, the nailcutter, flying from his reach. “I don’t know”, he said.
“I had kept them here. Right here!”, she exclaimed hysterically, pounding on the dressing table. But the bangles were nowhere to be seen. Mom’s hysterics made Dad and son comb the entire room but the bangles still eluded them. “They were made of gold, for God’s sake! Where are they?”
They searched and searched but Fate had something else in store. Mom had to wear some ersatz jewellery to the event and she went most reluctantly, her face forlorn and her manner most woebegone.
***
“But where could they go?” The question refused to leave mom’s lips even the next day. They had searched the entire house but they couldn’t find the bangles. “This will teach you a lesson, showing off to those maid-servants of yours!” Dad looked at Mom reprovingly.
“I never showed them a single ornament!”, she countered indignantly.
“Well, you may have opened your boxes in front of them or perhaps talked about your newest and latest collections to them or probably to your friends and they must have overheard you on the phone or something.” offered Dad.
“I obviously didn’t!”, mom retorted but with a slightly suppressed voice as if she wasn’t so sure.
***
“Clean the corners well!”, instructed mom as she followed the domestic help about the house as she swept and dusted. When the cleaning was done and the maid finally left the house, mom sank into a chair. “Give me some water, Tinku”, she called. As Tinku brought her a glass, she decided to recheck her room, wardrobe and everything, even though the thorough cleaning had left nothing to chance.
However, something had gone amiss. “I cannot find my artificial bangles either! I had worn them yesterday itself!”, mom screamed, surprised out of her wits. “I was with her the entire day and I watched her like a hawk. She didn’t take a single penny, I am sure of that.”
But just like the previous day, the bangles had gone missing. They opened the wardrobe, searched here and there but couldn’t find the bangles anywhere. Where were the bangles after all? How did they disappear into thin air? Who was robbing them?
***
“I am sure its him”, Mom pointed at Tinku. “Tinku is playing one of his stupid pranks.”
“Oh God! For the thousandth time I am telling you, its not me!”, Tinku replied hotly.
“If it turns out to be you, then you won’t be spared. Mind you! I will spank you and you will remain grounded till you know better!”, his mother’s warning rang in his ears. “And control this pet of yours! Kamla complains of its whiskers and pawprints everywhere. She has a hard time cleaning away the dust anyway.”
“Come Chocolate, I will give you some onion rings!”, Tinku fondly stroked his pet and took it to his room.
***
“Awwww, what happened to your fabled fangs? Did they really fall out or something?” , Tinku murmured while examining the interior of Chocolate’s mouth, as the cat refrained from eating the onion rings. Perhaps, the cat had also developed a revulsion to the smell of an onion.
Tinku checked the cat’s mouth and an idea struck him. He ran outside and in a few moments dashed to mom, carrying the stolen bangles in his hands.
“Where did you find them?”, mom was visibly overjoyed.
“Just know that your genius son found them!”
“I knew you had hidden them. I knew it!”, Mom’s temper suddenly flared.
“No, I didn’t! It was Chocolate! She thought they were onion rings and tried to chew them.” Tinku explained.
“What the crap are you talking about?” Mom grew impatient.
“I will tell you but first promise me that you will take her to the vet.”
“No! First, she steals and chews my bangles and then I spend money on her. Forget it! And don’t give her those onion rings! ”
“She won’t have any. Although she liked them when I fed them to her for the first time, after trying to chew your bangles, her dislike for the rings grew till she broke one of her teeth trying to sink them into your jewels, thinking that they were onion rings. Since she was sly enough to understand that she was stealing from the house, she hid the bangles near her resting place in the garden.”
“How did you know about such goings-on? Did she narrate the whole story to you or what?”
“Well, at first it was her whiskers strewn about near the wardrobe (that you pointed out to me that day). Then her reluctance to eat the onion rings, she liked so much at first. I just had to add two plus two. It was easy.”
“Well, you sure are a nosy boy. But a clever nosy boy.” Mom said with a hint of pride in her voice.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Oh Shit!


To All: I am not advertising anything. My views are purely personal and unintentional (no intention of helping anyone profit.).
To the developers of the app: I wouldn’t really mind making a few bucks out of publicizing it.

Have you ever wanted to get back at someone? Maybe your irksome neighbour or an overbearing boss or your ex? You wrote hate mails, shouted and screamed, bitched about them and what not. Writing their names on a piece of paper and burning it up or flushing it down, calling them and hurling expletives of the creamiest sort are just a few ways to vent your ire. Sometimes, your feelings cross the danger mark and nothing appears to satiate you save the blood of your sworn enemy. Some people must have realized this and came up with a way to really give the crap to them. In the literal sense of the word. Shitexpress.com is a one-of-its-kind initiative that can revolutionize the world of haters and the hated. One can use the app to buy shit. Literally. You can buy shit for the ones you have a grudge against and parcel them in a nicely wrapped shiny paper. You just shell out a few bucks and a load of horse shit or dog poop will be delivered to the one you loathe.

If this app succeeds, the concept of gifts will undergo a massive transmogrification. They will be dreaded as much as they are eagerly awaited. Parcels would then be divided into gifts and gaffes.  Since the wrappers will be shiny and pretty in both the cases, one wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them. The bell rings and the delivery boy holds out a package for you. You are overjoyed thinking it must be from one of your secret admirers or some long lost friend or your boyfriend trying to be creative. You accept it graciously and offer the boy some beverage because you are just so happy. He leaves and you retire to your favorite corner of the room to open the coveted package. The ribbons are carefully untied and the shiny golden paper reflecting the light of the room falls away to reveal a box. As you open the box, a malodor fills the room and you gag and probably puke all over your favorite space. Gaffe received. Mission accomplished.

The age of the jack-in-the-box is fading, fast being replaced with an advanced level of pranking.  This makes me wonder if perhaps perfumes with nauseous odors may also become popular. You hate someone but have to attend the party that they are throwing. You buy one of those elegant looking bottles and wrap them in the trademark shiny golden paper. Then you deliberately forget to put your name on it. Or perhaps you actually want your foe to know what you sent. So, you write your name in a beautiful font or just place a riddle in order for them to figure out. Bang! The party room is filled with a repugnant smell as soon as your ‘gift’ is opened. The guests can’t figure out where the obnoxious odor emanates from and the receiver of the package cannot reveal the fact that he/she has received a gaffe in place of a gift, hence, the impact is manifold- humiliation added to hatemail. Double bonanza!

Popularity will soon be calculated in two ways- fame and infamy. The more the number of gifts,the greater your fame. The number of gaffes, in turn, will decide the level of your infamy. It will be one of the hot topics to bitch about.
“You know Sarita received kitten stool and dog poop yesterday?”
“How did you know?”
“She opened her bag and there it was, a glimmering shimmering flash of paper. I hung about surreptitiously for a while and sure enough, a putrefying stench assailed me.”
“I think its Ravi. She shouldn’t have dumped him. ”

Venting your ire on your boss or that high-heeled flashy stuck-up colleague, who sees herself no less than the Miss Universe, does seem in accordance with your vanity pursuits. I personally find this app a very filthy idea. Sending people crap. That’s just not my thing. However, on closer examination, I think it could actually be a success. Especially in our country. In fact, if we were to develop a similar app (let’s call it i-shit for Indian shit), it could really transform our country for the better. The developers of this app would hardly incur any cost except obviously the delivery, which could be handled by a tie up with an organization dealing with transportation. As for the content, a colorful and foul-rich array of flavors is available. Step out of your building and you will surely find some animal poop lying here and there. Its so abundant that you just can’t miss it. Come to think of it, not just animal shit, even human excrement can be gathered simply enough. Although that would require searching in the dark corners on the roadsides or near the slum areas, that would be easier than finding a public washroom (If you are tenacious enough, you may find one but I will give you 50 bucks if you manage to find a clean one).  
After my confident discourse, if the developers still worry about where to find crap or perhaps trying to get hold of a poultry farm, I would happily take the contract. No, I don’t live in the countryside nor do I own a farm. But I am still confident that I can easily get the content which this app requires. On the contrary, I would also be doing a service to the country in terms of the ‘Clean India’ campaign.

In fact, you too can contribute by using i-shit. Clean India and send the shit to the ones you hate. Perhaps soon this trend might catch up so much that we start sending our friends shit just to help clean the environment. Perhaps the warring factions of the country might decide to transport their own rubbish to the others’ domain. Perhaps we could also add a bit of philanthropy to the advertisement by using only street-side shit, hence, helping to keep the environment clean. I-shit would definitely be a hit. Siphon off your rage! Send shit! Clean India!


Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Magic Number



I am twenty two. Always twenty two. Make of it what you will.

I was scrolling down my facebook wall, idly looking at posts and unconsciously hitting likes. I say if its cheap, why not use it. Liking doesn't cost you a penny, so like as much as you want. I am in the habit of such mass liking that when (and if) I receive any likes on my pictures, I divide the total number of likes by two, assuming that at least half of the 'likers' probably belong to my category. 
Just then, I came across some birthday pics titled "my Double Decade" or "My 21st" or "Coming of Age" and so on. And followed pretty pictures in LBDs, gaudy lehengas or dazzling anarkali suits. It brought to my mind the fact that my birthday is approaching. I was thinking of buying a nice low-cut lavender dress that I saw a starved model showcasing online. It looked quite a catch. And then came to mind clicking pictures-endless selfies, unlimited photo-ops and a great vanity boost. Then I wondered about the title of the to-be album. I would write 'My 20th-something', wouldn’t I?
It struck me that I have never seen a woman put up an album with a header-'My 31st' or 'My 42nd' or 'My 55th' or even 'My 28th'! Is 28 old? There is this particular age after which women seal their lips about the number of years they have been surviving on this planet. I call it the 'freezing age'. Everyone knows the 2 precious numerals one must never ask a woman-her age and her weight. (Actually there are a load of things men should avoid asking women. It would take quite a while to compile the list.)
Between them, weight is something which one can hardly conceal. It is only the wily elusive age that can befuddle the hearts and minds of innocent men, who are lured into believing the freezing age as a woman's true age. Like all her vital assets, a woman clothes her age in an opaque outfit of age-defying makeup and weight-loss regimes.
Vanity, thy name is woman!
A few days ago, I was clicking selfies in some new hairstyle I had copied from a youtube video. As the camera lens focused on my face, a message hovered over the focal boundaries-"32, female". My heart stopped in its tracks. What devilish claptrap was this? I can still tolerate face recognition softwares, even though they match my face with my grandmother's. I usually discount the errors as the usual AI glitches.No computer can be that accurate.
Then comes this supposedly age and gender recognition software that threatens to expose the blemishes, the unevenness of complexion and other such foibles of my skin, that I strove to obscure using photo-editing softwares.
I tried to change the angle of focus. The age came down to 28 and I heaved a small sigh of relief. Another adjustment though shot it up to 36, thus pouncing on my vanity and deflating my self-confidence. Numerous such attempts at lens focus created an age range for me-an age range, which seemed never to touch teenage but always seemed to go upto the 30s. Technology-boon or bane? Right then, I was in a mood to debate in favor of the latter. I was sorely disappointed and my selfie conviviality faded.
I know age is just a number. But it is a very important number.
Some of the women wear their age on their sleeves. Take Indira Gandhi, for instance, with the fashionable trademark grey streak in her jet black plumage. Take Rekha of Bollywood. Or Hema Malini. The world is brimming with examples. But the fact remains that the obsession with age cannot be downplayed. Be it accepting or adjusting to one's age gracefully or masking it with botox and age-freezing products, women have a special bond with this magic number. This is the reason why some of the women, despite being past their middle age, take offence when you append an 'aunty' to their name. They prefer to be called 'didi' or better referred to by their names. [This little note pertains only to the Indian way of living. The western lifestyle has no age barriers anyway. Its only Miss or Mrs. or plain Jane.]
So...what goes up and never comes down?
Age !!!
And what goes up, reaches a certain point and then freezes?
A woman's age !!!


Friday, 7 November 2014

Alapadma-the new middle finger


A mudra is a symbolic hand gesture used in Indian dances. ( And this must be the briefest prologue ever written by anyone.)

www.pinterest.com

“This is the way to do it. Its one of the most important mudras.” A tall slim woman, not so young and not so old, spread her five long fingers into a graceful curve, which appeared to me like a faint outline of a chalice. “And the more beautiful because of it. It is called ‘alapadma’.” That was the name my dance teacher gave to the charming shape her hands had conjured up.

I still remember that dance class of mine when this very vital mudra of Bharatnatyam was taught to me and how quickly I adopted it as my own personal mudra in all kinds of classical dances that I performed. I became so obsessed with it that I started looking for ways to use this hand formation whenever I could. For instance, while asking ‘wh’ questions like where are you going, who are you going with, which place and so on.

I soon realized that a lot of others share my feelings towards this ingenious ‘hand’iwork. Especially the drivers on the roads. When you release the clutch a little too soon and your car bumps to an abrupt halt just when the traffic light turns green and the cars behind you start honking madly as if you had set them on fire, at that point, the overtakers show you this beautiful hand mudra, with an expression that says if looks could kill, you would be dead by now. Or when you forget to switch on the car indicator before turning left or when your car is parked  a little way off the imaginary LOC (Line of Car Control), you get this ‘alapadma’. I have begun to equate it with the middle class’ middle finger. Alapadma- the middle finger of mediocre India. The tauter your fingers and the more precise your mudra, the angrier you are and the more the tendency to wring someone’s neck with those graceful fingers of yours. The degree of your ire can also be calculated by the number of hands you use. One slack hand shape indicates that you touched a nerve. A tensed accurately formed shape means you are in trouble. Two hands though mean that you are in great big trouble. This sort of proves that dance is a popular form of expression. In more uncanny ways than one.
This gesture is not just limited to irate drivers or irascible people on the roads. You will see the people around you utilizing this dance feature as well. This mudra is often accompanied by a slight tilt of the head that spells intense derision and utter disdain in the doer’s mind. “What the hell, dude?” it seems to say.

Hands today have come to mean a lot of things. They seem to have become more expressive than either expressions or words combined together. Its not just art forms like dance that use hands extensively for the depiction of emotions and senses. When you are trying to ward someone off, you say “talk to the hand”. Owing to the dearth of time we face today, sign language is a popular lingo wherein interplay of fingers can create a myriad of signals from a ‘pataakamudra showing the Congress ‘haath’ or the ‘shikharmudra viz. ‘thumbs-up’ sign doubling up as the most popular ‘like’ statement ever (courtesy of facebook) or the newest signal of aggression/annoyance/inquiry -the alapadma-our question mark -our own trademark middle finger.

Sign language is not a new invention. It is an age-old mode of expression, dating back to paleolithic man. Man in his quest to develop more and ever more, sometimes seeks solace in the simplistic symbols of articulation. Hands are the new words and alapadma is the new middle finger.

My dance classes coming pretty ‘hand’y now, huh?




Saturday, 25 October 2014

A Blade Of Grass

~~~PUJO SPECIAL~~~


A cousin of Rakhi, Bhai Dooj is celebrated right after Diwali, often eclipsed by the enormity and the scale of Diwali celebrations. There are many things that get eclipsed in the routine rush of our existence. Like, when was the last time you walked on grass?
The ‘I’ in the following piece is not me. I just like to take the place of people and play their part for the fun of it.

“People hardly have any time for anything these days.”
“And these festivals come like a blizzard, all at once and hardly let you breathe.”
I was eyeing the elaborate thaalis containing sweets in all shapes and sizes, my face betraying greed and ravenous hunger as my mother chatted with my uncle’s wife about the torrent of festivals that invaded as well as brightened our mundane existence.
“Get some incense sticks from the other room!”
I heard mom’s instructions and went ahead to comply.
It was another happy-busy holi-workday when some age-old rituals had to be upheld and embellished with our new age improvisations of gifts and celebratory dinners.
An array of puja stuff had  been laid out, decorated thaalis with an engraved incense stick stand and a glass of sparkling water. Laddoos and barfis lined on a large tray, salty snacks placed in another dish, flowers on the periphery of all the traditional decor. It all seemed like an offering to some deity. Obviously it is supposed to be an offering to some deity. My mother would anoint her brother’s forehead with a crimson teeka while praying for his well being and prosperity. My uncle would return the favor by blessing mom, his hands on her head, holding the customary paddy seeds, sweets and -----
“Grass. Get some grass! Quick! I had told your dad to get everything ready. Does he ever listen?”
My mother’s voice trailed into accusations as I set out to collect fistfuls of grass for the ceremony ; grass in the ritual signifies the bounty of nature and prosperity. Perhaps...
Finally, I got out, away from the alluring sight of the mouth-watering delicacies and mom’s never-ending instructions. This one was a petty task. Collecting grass. Pooh! I could get it in a jiffy. Just down near the parking lot maybe. Or in the garden.
My mother loves flowers. She had our gardener plant lovely roses, marigolds, jasmine, money plant, bonsai and so on. Our garden is a pleasing sight of ivy and vines tastefully cording themselves around the verandah railings.
No grass though. We don’t have grass in our pretty little garden. Obviously grass is not pretty. Also, our plants are all potted. Some dwarf plants do crop up in the vases but I haven’t seen grass growing anywhere. What would we do with grass anyway? It looks quite wild and unwanted as if it belongs to uncultivated land or something.
I moved on towards the parking area. What an imbecile I must be. What was I expecting to find? Grass sprouting through cement and mortar?
I decided to check out the neighbouring gardens. I saw bougainvilleas, cacti, ashoka trees, neem trees, peepul, laburnum and even those pink and white wild flowers that grow of their own accord. But I couldn’t spot grass anywhere.
My petty assignment was taking longer than I thought. I couldn’t find grass in my locality? Kids would snigger at my asininity. Just then, I hit upon my mistake. I was looking in all the wrong places. And the word ‘kids’ had given me the idea. Where do kids play? Obviously!
I just needed to check out some parks!
It came as a blow to me that my block does not have many parks, at least grassy ones. More glaring was the revelation that I had never bothered to look for any in all the years I had been living here. I came across a park which had one broken swing and a gang of boys playing cricket on sandy ground, a lot of dust accompanying their game. There were a few more in several nearby blocks where there were paved tracks for walking and a host of swings on yellowish-brown earth. These were among the well-maintained parks. Strangely, they were quite grassless. Save a few swards here and there, patches of dried yellow grass. Mom wouldn’t have accepted them for the offering. Even I knew that the ritual required bright green grass. It is said that brothers bless their sisters with grass. Grass denotes that blessings do not require anything save true devotion and feelings and even a blade of grass can be an invaluable present if you have the heart. Little did our ancestors know that soon a blade of grass would truly be tagged as an ‘invaluable present’ and plants as expensive classy gifts.
I wandered a bit more, determined to hit success in this quest of mine. Just then right between two buildings, where the water tanks are kept in a neglected space, I saw a clump of grass sheltered by a few dwarf trees of unknown origin.
Green grass! What a blessing !
I snatched fistfuls of it and filled my polypack to the brim.
When I reached our flat, my mother asked me, “Were you growing grass or what?”
I felt like saying “nearly”, I was dying to tell her about my newest discovery- that grass is on its way to extinction!  


Friday, 17 October 2014

The Black Cat

While travelling in a bus, my attention is always riveted by the variety of people flocking the cramped space from daily wage workers to IT professionals, by the calls that they make or get (which I am not supposed to overhear I am sure but I just can't help eavesdropping), by the way some women rock their babies to and fro and speak to them in a rustic dialect. It amuses me no end and I often find myself ogling at them and then roving my eyes all over the bus when they spot me in the act. This piece though is not about the pleasures of bus travel but something just the opposite. In fact, I don't think it has anything to do with bus travel at all. Maybe a little.  

A cackle sounded stridently in his ears and he forced himself awake. ‘What the hell was that?’, Mahesh wondered. "This good-for-nothing is supposed to take care of us? This one??" A round stout woman stood in the room, with one hand on her hips and the other holding a rolling pin. The room barely qualified as a room. It was a square space with a rusted iron-grey trunk, a table lookalike and a mattress, torn and holed, with a crumpled bedsheet containing Mahesh, who was trying to disentangle himself from a confused tangle of his bedsheets and sleep. He glanced at his cellphone, which was probably the first cellphone ever made. Those phones had probably stopped selling now and that was the precise reason he had managed to get a second-hand specimen.
It was 7:30 am. He had one hour to reach his workplace. It had not been an easy task to procure that job. From the intricate webs of babudom and "Office-Office" scenarios, he had managed to befriend a middle-aged personage with betel-stained teeth and a Bihari accent. Thanks to Mishraji, Mahesh was not unemployed anymore. He had managed to maintain the thatch above their heads;,the thatch that his father had created with backbreaking daily wage labour at the nearby mall construction site. Food, clothing, shelter and work-his life's aim was to successfully juggle these balls that supported his existence. Today, however, he was about to drop the ball which bolstered the others, the work ball. He rushed out of the room into the balcony, to the left end of which was a tap, beneath which stood a peacock blue bucket with a flashy red mug hanging by it. On the thick railing, lay an emaciated soap block which Mahesh vigorously rubbed himself with, while the bucket filled to the brim as the tap ran. In a few minutes, he finished his ablutions. Grabbing his black backpack, he drank down a glass of milk that his mother had set for him in a single gulp.
"You must eat a biscuit with it. Never drink milk on an empty...." He didn't wait to hear her mother finish her sentence.
Taking large strides, he reached the bus stop, already packed with people like him. As he prepared to cross the road, a black cat scurried past him. He groaned. It was destined to be a shitty day for him.
He halted at the corner most post of the bus stop so he could catch the bus as it entered. However, his efforts were not enough. There were at least a dozen youngsters like him waiting to win a paid bus ride. His daily competition started early. The day began with the race against time and the battle with sleep in the morning, proceeding further to the bus kerfuffle and the workplace chaos, consummating in household tension.
A red bus thundered by. Only a handful of people boarded it. Mahesh was not one of them. Wasting 20 bucks one-way to office was nothing less than profligacy to him. He waited for a green bus, impatiently glancing at his phone.
His prayers were answered as a green bus appeared to be coming from some way off. The green monster thundered to a halt and its preys hounded it to ultimately disappear into its jaws. Hardly a man got expelled before the jaws snapped shut.
Mahesh had failed to get sucked into the belly of the monster as the bus had parked itself far ahead of Mahesh's standpoint. He had grown panicky now. He must take the next bus or his livelihood would be in jeopardy. He fixed his eyes on the direction from which the bus was expected to arrive.
A flaming orange hulk came blundering to a stop a few paces behind where Mahesh stood. A horde of people like fireflies attracted to light, flocked the door. Mahesh knew that he had to get in somehow. The front door had not been opened and it looked as if he would miss out on this one too. But Mahesh refused to accept it. It was his last chance to reach his work on time. He shoved and heaved but could not manage to get in. The passengers started showering him with invectives. The driver pressed the race. The bus began moving. He held on to the door handle and managed to get a single foothold as the bus assumed full speed.
Mahesh heaved a sigh of relief. However, the relief was short-lived. He was still half dangling in the air when the rear doors slammed shut, inducing panic and causing him to fall back on the other passengers, earning their displeasure. He felt his back getting clamped as he struggled to free his legs from the clutches of the automated doors.
'High tech measures are not meant for this country', Mahesh thought. 'At least not in a country where every inch of space is claimed by some kind of a living creature.'  
The bus lurched to another stop.
"There is not an inch of space left!"
"Don't you stop driver bhaiyya!" exclaimed a few passengers. The others murmured their assent. However, where there is life, there is hope. And so with the hope of managing within whatever space was available, some brave folks climbed aboard, crushing Mahesh between two men and a woman. He was now sandwiched between them in such a manner that his hands rested on someone's shoulders, his back was taut against the woman and his legs were stiff and supported against someone else's. He dared not move in the fear of either offending the lady or losing his balance. They were all standing on the floor of the bus, jostled against each other in such a fitting manner as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Mahesh looked out of a distant window, gauging the distance left for him to reach his office when he suddenly felt incredibly light. He reached for his bag but couldn't find the strap on his arm. His heart nearly stopped. He hadn't even bought his ticket yet. His eyes frantically roved over the space around him and he saw his modest bag suspended in the air supported by someone's elbow and another's shoulder. His confidence began to return and he fetched his bag, holding it now between his arms since the strap had come off in the hustle-bustle.
He decided to buy the ticket before the TCs decided to prey on him. He tried to adjust his bag so he could take the money out. All of a sudden, he felt as if he was being smothered and his chest felt constricted. He couldn't breathe. He felt as if the crowd would converge on him and squash him flat. The thought brought out his fears in the form of bile. Claustrophobia tugged at his insides and he started retching.
"Oh God! Get this man out! What is he up to?!" a woman screamed. Others started making way. Surprisingly, space was automatically created at his retching. "Open the door for God's sake! He will vomit on all of us!" someone shouted from behind.
Mahesh couldn't have felt worse. He had never felt claustrophobic before. He was heavily mortified and yet, the uppermost thing on his mind was air. He needed fresh air.
"Why do you people drink liquids before travelling? You must have had milk or something! Are you a kid? Do you have to be taught these things now?", the conductor scolded him. As if on cue, he retched. As he was about to spew up, people parted further. The woman against whom he had been standing could not move away in time. Mahesh couldn't help it and he barfed. "Ewww!!", the woman made a grotesque face. Mahesh was sure that now he would definitely be slapped or driven out of the bus or something but as he looked down to detect the extent of the damage he had wreaked, he saw that there was some puke right between her heeled sandals. He had miraculously managed to maintain space-time complexity. Just then, the doors mercifully opened and he vomited out onto a sidewalk while holding fast onto the door handle.
"Drop him off!", someone suggested. However, an old man disagreed saying, "No, let him stay. Where will the poor lad go from here? There is no mode of transport around." And so, Mahesh leaned back as the doors clanked shut again. The day couldn't have started off worse. He was late for work, had had nothing to eat in the morning, had just ejected out whatever he had consumed the night before, had earned revulsion from the fellow passengers and must be smelling obnoxious.
The bus came to a stop yet again and suddenly there was a lot of commotion. He didn't have to look around much for the source. The day had gone a shade more awful. His worst fears had come true. The dreaded TCs were here. He tried to hand over a 10-rupee note to the conductor over the heads of the people, when an aged tough looking TC took him by the arm and carried him down the bus. He didn't bother to explain because he knew it would have looked like an excuse. He followed the Ticket Checkers meekly. Now, he would miss work, lose money and probably be beaten. Or he might be lucky enough to be let off with a lecture, which didn’t seem a very plausible prospect considering the course of events throughout the day. It looked like the black cat had taken its revenge on him.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Belpaata

~~~PUJO SPECIAL~~~


www.bhakti-online.com


As Durga Pujo comes to a close, strangely, its the trifoliate bel leaves which have won a place among the number of things uppermost on my mind. Don’t worry, I am not going to expound on the sanctity of belpaata or their significance in Shiv Pujo or Durga Pujo. I don’t have the faintest idea about it nor do I want to know much. As I stood waiting for pushpanjali to begin, my stomach grumbling with the long wait for Ashtami, Sandhi Pujo and Navami aunjoli, my mind cooked up some weird thoughts. Here they are...

The kohl rimmed eyes stared straight ahead-unmoving and unwavering. There was a smile in them. It was mesmerizing to look at them. I could look at them all day long.
“Side deen please (Excuse me),” someone shoved me, tearing me away from Maa Durga’s eyes and bringing me back to earth, back from a world where Her elegance had entranced me into believing in a heavenly abode resplendent with majestic Gods and Goddesses. I stood erect, my legs going steadily limp, as I waited for the Purohit to commence the pushpanjali. I am not into fasting. I need food as soon as I wake up. Whenever I wake up, that is. I summoned all of my patience, believing it to be some sort of a test, which, if I passed would win me choice blessings from the Mahishasur Mardini. But I couldn’t put up a show for myself any longer. Soon, I came into my own, my face wearing that worn-out look, my forehead glistening with sweat. I had put on my best attire for Ashtami, had had a haircut and tried to look decent. But now my hair (previously kept open in a layered style) was up in a clumsy bun, my hand frequently running over my face in an effort to wipe away the sweat and the irritation level rising every minute. The Purohit was doing the Aarti now. A huge crowd had accumulated. It was the final pushpanjali and mom and dad had issued a caveat that I must not move from the mandap till I was done with the aunjoli
A lady stood ahead of me, her hair brushing my face every now and then. I couldn’t say much since she had a baby in her lap. The baby kept trying to reach my spectacles. I turned my head this way and that but the clever little child would manage to extend his hand and tug at my glasses. I finally changed my place, going back a few paces, earning my parents’ displeasure.
Aage aaye! (Come ahead), my mother ordered. And I meekly went to her, saying a thousand ‘excuse me’s and nudging past people with folded hands. Suddenly, I felt the crowd converging at a certain point. Everyone seemed to move left. I finally got some space. As I stood happily, dad nudged me to the left.
Ki? (What?),” I asked.
Aarti !” dad answered.   
And then I saw a huge flame travelling inch by inch from group to group as the dhaakis continued playing their dhaak, making everyone’s voices except the purohit’s (because he had a microphone) ten times less audible. There was a mad rush to get Maa Durga’s blessings in the form of that flame. It was as if the flame contained the solution to everyone’s problems.
“A similar thing happened 3 million years ago. When man discovered fire,” someone whispered in my ear.
I looked around to see T in a brand new kurta pajama, looking oddly out of place without his trademark Superman tee.
“Looking nice,” I complimented him.
“Want to impress Her you know,” he replied, winking at Maa Durga’s idol.
There were two more flame fights wherein in the first one, I managed to secure the 'essence' of the aarti and in the second, dad blessed me on the Goddess’ behalf by running his hand, that had brushed the flame, through my hair, thus imparting some of the 'essence' to me.
Finally, we huddled together, hands folded, eyes towards the basket of flowers.
Phool...phool...phool (Flowers! Flowers! Flowers!),” everyone chanted, groping for flowers as my dad managed to get me some. I tore up my flowers and gave my friend some petals. He did the same with his friends.
Ektu belpaata nei? (Don’t you have some bel leaves?),” someone put up a million dollar question. And everyone started rummaging in the basket for belpaata. My mom and dad couldn’t find any. They asked the distributor, clad resplendently in a white silk saree with a red border if they had any belpaata. She entered the mandap maze, trying to collect some. Meanwhile, someone had been lucky. A trident shaped leaf stood out amongst all the flowers, the holder of the leaf triumphant, as if Maa Durga had chosen him out of all the rest to bestow her blessings. The others looked away, trying to be indifferent and act like adults and yet, feeling that irresistible pang of envy inside. Just then, the flower woman came with another basket, bringing with her some belpaatas. Everyone fell on her as she handed the basket to a man, clad in a maroon kurta. He took over the proceedings in an authoritarian way that the woman couldn’t and started asking around if everyone had received the flowers.
Belpaata! Belpaata! Belpaata! (Bel leaves! Bel leaves! Bel leaves!),” came the exclamations from different directions. This must be the only time when leaves get more importance than the flowers. 
My dad tore the tiny scrap of leaf he had managed to get. 
“Its okay I don’t need it,” I said as dad gave me a part of his ‘blessings’ or the coveted belpaata. I didn’t pass it on this time. I had gotten a small enough piece, barely visible.
Chheedbenna paata chheedbenna (Don’t tear the leaf),” someone protested against the tearing of the leaf to pieces. But that is how we humans are. We want to get as much as we can, take as much as we can manage, try as far as our last efforts let us.
With the amalgam of gainda phool (marigold flowers) and bits of belpaata between our palms, we closed our eyes and chanted after the purohit.
‘Om...’
The purohit’s commanding voice seemed to bewitch us as we repeated after him. “Namostute!” A kid in front of me exclaimed in a mock-purohit voice.
“You asked me to repeat after him. He spoke like that I swear!” the kid said in his defense as his father reprimanded him for insolence.
“Where are the rest?” I asked T as another bout of flowers and belpaata began.
“Who? A and B? Come on! When have you ever seen them praying?”
“Well, last year you know.”
“They were in XII grade last year.” He gave me a look that said ‘isn’t that obvious’. “That’s why I am here this year. Else I would have been at home. Sleeping and enjoying my hols. What about you? I always see you in the devotee line. You a fan?”
“Umm...I guess I am one of those flowing-with-the-tide kinda people. And...yes I sort of, am a fan, I guess.”  I replied.
‘Om…’
Another round of chanting ensued.
“Flowers?” a friend of mine offered me some in the third round.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” I inquired, a little surprised at seeing her otherwise uppity self delving into the nitty-gritty of the Pujo proceedings.
“Why? Doing some pujo work what else!”
“I thought you didn’t fast.”
“Well I didn’t. So? You need the spirit, not some bullshit rituals that decide whether you can do pujo work or not,” she said with a self assured flourish, giving me a paltry amount of flowers sans belpaata (as an answer perhaps to my curiosity) and moving on, with a wave of her hair this way and that.
‘I guess I am one of those who go by the rule book.’ I thought to myself, as I threw the flowers at Maa’s feet with all reverence after the chanting.
The final round of prayers doesn’t require you to pray with flowers. We chanted with a namaste pose, me all the while wondering what to pray for after the chanting ends. That little amount of time between the end of pushpanjali and the consumption of charnamrito always had me in a fix. I just didn’t know what to say. I sorely wished I had some more mantras to utter. That space, that silence always made me uncomfortable. It was like I was on a phone call with the Goddess and I didn’t know how to open the conversation.
‘Hello? How are you?’
Oops...no...Start again.
‘Hello. Thank you for your blessings. I would like it very much if you could get me a nice job with a nice pay. It would be great if I could learn how to cook, how to take decisions and how to not be awkward. I would love it if…’
And the list would continue. And then I would feel guilty that I was asking for too much. But my heart would crave for ways to say that I wanted miracles to occur in my life, that I wanted to be loved like the princess in the fairy tales, that I wanted to find the answers to all the doubts I have ever had, that somehow somewhere I wanted everything to be just perfect, that I wanted to be assured of a utopia, that I wanted to know why we live the way we do- why we think, behave and act the way do, why we were born at all, and most importantly, importune the God to somehow exist. I was always in a terrible fix and my views swung wildly between atheism, agnosticism and theism. I didn't want to be caught unawares at the end of my life. I wanted to know now. Then I would check myself thinking that I should pray for serious stuff like health, wealth, joy and happiness. Aaannnnnd….TIME OUT !
Charnamrito arrives and the phone call ends. Tada!   

***

You could use these meanings:

Aarti- A part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities
Ashtami- Eighth day of the Hindu lunar calendar
Aunjoli- Offering to God with folded hands
Belpaata : Bel or Bael or Bengal quince leaves
Charnamrito- Sweet drink offered after Hindu prayers to break the fast
Dhaak- drums
Dhaaki- people who play drums
Durga- Hindu Goddess
Gainda Phool- marigold flowers
Mahishasur Mardini- Slayer of Mahishasur (a demon) referring to Goddess Durga
Mandap- temple porch/ temporary platform for puja activities
Navami - Ninth day of the Hindu lunar calendar
Pujo- The act of worship
Purohit- priest
Pushpanjali- offering of flowers to Indian Gods. In Sanskrit, pushpam means "flower" and anjali means "offering with folded hands".
Sandhi Pujo- A puja performed at the juncture of the 8th and 9th lunar day
Shiv-  Hindu God