Friday, 25 March 2016

Dear Cinderella...

~Published as my contribution on gender stereotyping on Incredible Women of India for the 6th Women Scream Art and Poetry festival, Kolkata Chapter~

The clock has barely struck eight when her phone starts singing a mad tune. Rakhi glances at her phone screen and sighs.

“I got to go, Megha…”
“But it is barely eight!”
“I know…but you know as well…”
Both the girls sigh in an implicit understanding and Rakhi turns to go.

Where you ask? Why, to home sweet home! The curfew has struck. Cinderella needs to be back or in this shadowland of crime and grime, she would not just lose her impressive attire but her life itself.

As the moon ascends in the purple sky, we see gals hurrying away, their family frantically waiting to usher them home, even as guys order another round of beer. When I was a kid, I kept hoping to grow up, thinking that adulthood was the license to stay late. I couldn’t be more wrong.  

To validate my statement, just plan a trip with a couple of your girlfriends. If you get an instant nod from all family members, then please inform me. I would like to meet the great souls. At least once such a question or one of its variants might come up- “An all girls’ trip? I hope there would be at least one man with you people?” As if that one man would be some kind of Hulk or Hanuman. I agree the security issues are huge especially in the country we reside in, but my na├»ve mind wonders if hemming all women in by a certain time of the evening is a really good idea? Doesn’t it steadily give rise to an all-men night? What a weird dystopian thought!

The curfew timings for girls may vary and in some cases, might not even exist. But in most parts of the country, women today do have such a time. I call it the Cinderella time. What is your Cinderella time, if I may ask?

If you are a Y chromosome, you might not have heard of this phenomenon before. But then you might surely have accompanied a Curfew-ridden Cinderella back home or at least offered to do so? Well, isn’t that what a knight-in-shining-armor supposed to do? Or for that matter, a chivalrous prince? Hold the delicate hands of the dainty princess and walk her down the aisle. Or lay down your life for your lady love. It does sound so wonderfully Victorian era-ish, doesn’t it?

But what if the knight doesn’t feel strong enough? Or the damsel is not really in distress? Do they still need to play their god-ordained, or shall we say society-ordained, roles? For the sake of romanticism perhaps. Or for saving face in front of the policing ‘society’ which has nothing better to do than pass judgments and provide unwanted critiques. The very same society which rushes to call a man effete who doesn’t feel up to some ‘manly’ task and which deigns to look at a woman who is way too good for its liking. The questions just keep coming…why is it such a pain to put up with a more successful woman? Why cannot we readily find examples of hypergamy among men?  

Talking about stereotypes, how many of you have cringed at the thought of being driven about by a woman? Or marveled at a gal steering an SUV? Somehow the idea just doesn’t seem to stick. We still feel the need to respond extraordinarily when we see such otherwise pretty ordinary happenings. Add to that, the preconceived ideas of women considered inept for certain roles leading to biases against female managers or women in top roles. No doubt, the likes of Chanda Kochhar and Mary Barra are storming male bastions but the examples are few and far between.    

Oh but let us not forget the famous Indian dilemma! The moment a girl reaches adulthood or turns into a lady, before greying hair can give her the news of her age, her family does the honors. How you ask?

Like job offers, marriage proposals pour in from all conceivable corners. Guys can wait, but a woman unmarried at say, 30 must surely be an old maid!

‘What’s wrong with her?’ people will whisper. ‘Facing too many rejections perhaps!’ they venture. And the poor parents rush around begging for decent in-laws. Sigh!

I agree the biological clock is ticking. But why do we have fairness creams and age-defying gels directed primarily at women but no brand yet claiming to keep a man young? We will drool over George Clooney (okay I admit I do so too) calling older men sexy but see an ageing woman as a crone?

There are just too many Cinderella moments in women’s life. Sometimes the curfew time, some times, the biological clock. Oh dear Cinderella! What a race! Running and always running…

“Oh, that clock! Old killjoy. I hear you. Come on, get up, you say, Time to start another day. Even he orders me around. Well, there's one thing. They can't order me to stop dreaming.” (Cinderella)

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A Splash of Color and Some Memories...

I may have misplaced the details a bit. About who spoke what. After all, it's hard to remember everything, but this is what roughly happened.

Pic credits: 
A cloud of dust hovers in front of me, preparing to settle and then rise again as another car whizzes by. I think about other clouds like these.

Bright. Iridescent. Blue. Green. Yellow. 

Holi is two days away.

Five Holies ago, I was climbing out of the cocoon of high school discipline and the sheltered life therein. Eighteen years of childhood and teenage had passed me by. I was an adult now.

“Any plans tomorrow?” someone asked the class at random. Holi was a day away. Freshman year. Barely out of high school. Newbies. Nascent adults. 

Some response about bringing colors. Some volunteers. Another voice came up for a Holi party. Hmm, something was happening. Cool, I thought.

The next morning, I carefully oiled my hair. And donned an old brown kurta. Just in case. Plans are always tough to execute when too many opinions are involved. And so, the Holi celebration agenda was in a haze for the time being.

When the class broke for lunch, I had realized preparation wasn’t required. There was probably going to be nothing.

“Got the colors!” Anshum, the bespectacled joker of the group announced, brandishing a pouch that looked small and suspicious.
“How many in? We are going to play right now,” Amaan declared with a tone of finality in his voice.
“Now?” Medha asked, sheet in hand. “Can’t we play after class?”
“Come on, Medha! Just one class right?” I said to her, suddenly all excited and willing to play. Medha and I were already friends by then. Arushi and Apara were yet to join our bandwagon.
“Four classes!” Parul reminded everyone, opting out of the whole idea instantly.
“Oh come on, people!” 
I really was all for it. I wanted to go all out this time. After all, what else is college about?
Sakhi was ambivalent about it and looked unconvinced.
“I am in, you guys decide! I can come anytime.” It was Hanima. She was the one who gave me the confidence to go ahead with the plan. “What’s ED lab compared to Holi? I can easily go if you guys are willing.”
I was glad there were a few people who could survive on a little less of study for a day.
I was wrong, though.

Friday afternoons were usually reserved for Engineering Drawing lab classes and bunking a lab is equivalent to losing the attendance of four classes. And attendance, my friends, is the most important thing in the life of a student. An engineering student, at least.

With utmost regret I have to state that the guys were all ready but it was the fairer sex that was dilly-dallying. Except me, of course. Obviously ED probably had much to do with it. Although I quite enjoy sketching and have whipped up some Madhubani paintings in my teenage, the thought of drawing a well-measured top view and lateral view gave me the jitters.

“Final call, guys!” Lucky announced, as if announcing the final boarding call for passengers. “See the loyal ones at Sutta Point in fifteen.”

The order had been delivered. Now remained the question of loyalties. Parul had left even as the annunciation was on. Arushi and Apara followed suit. Now remained us four.

“Are you guys coming?” I asked them.
All of them looked like they had been asked to choose between death by hanging or electric chair.

“Come on, please? Let’s go get a life! It’s Holi after all!”
“I will surely come, baby.” That was Hanima. Just notice the enthusiasm she displayed. And hold this thought. I will come back to her later.

“Let’s first go to the washroom,” Medha suggested. For Medha, washroom was the go-to place for everything. You could cry it out, think it over and talk it out; in short, do everything in the hallowed restroom. Going together to the restroom is a ritual we have religiously followed through the four years of our graduation.  
While Medha was putting on her facial creams, my phone rang.

“Are you guys coming?” It was Praneet.
“Umm…yeah I guess.” I looked at the three girls before me, trying to gauge their reaction.
“Let’s go, baby!” Hanima said with great vigor. 
Emboldened by her support and pushed on by the forces waiting outside the gate, we hurried off, with the promises that they would follow.

What happened in the next half an hour, I can’t recall very clearly. All I know is that I found myself at the Sutta Point with a bunch of guys from our class, brand new friends of mine, Karandeep leading the pack. And Hanima? Well…only the Seven Heavens knew where she had disappeared off to after escorting me out of the gate.

We took our group of sevenish people to CC (Community Centre, NFC), the Mecca of all our outings, the place which was to become our haven in the coming years. And there, beneath the shade of the huge banyan, right in front of the McDonalds outlet that was to become the touchstone of our gatherings, the celebrations began. 

Anshum lunged at Shubh, coloring him all over. While Karandeep took a dig at Praneet, Lucky quickly made a call to Abhinav, gathering his forces. Battle cries were sounded and the lovebirds sitting sweetly beneath the banyan had to part as a fierce war ensued. Colors were shed and clothes ruined. I managed to get my hair dyed red and green and further red and also slapped on some colors on each of the warring factions but my motive had shifted now. I was awaiting someone else. I had only one thing on my mind. Yes, you got it right. Revenge.

It was Anshum who received the call. Yes, it was they, the traitors who had chosen to attend the lab class. We gestured to him to call them to the park. As the sounds of giggles and excited chatter grew nearer, we decided to maintain pin-drop silence. None of us uttered a word. 

“Yayyyy!!!” They came running towards us with a mission, revelry etched large on their faces. We, though, sat mute. Indifferent.

“You guys! What are you sitting for?” Hanima shouted. “I thought you would be playing!”

None of us uttered a syllable. We looked around at the trees as if the leafy creatures were telling us such interesting tales that we were deaf to their speech.

“Aashi! Why isn’t anybody saying anything? What did you all do all this while?” Medha and Sakhi came up to me and began asking.

“Aashi?” Hanima ran to me.

This was the precise moment I was waiting for. The person I was waiting for. The deserter. Yes, you are right. Hanima, who had left me stranded. I had something in store for her. I didn’t say a word as she came closer. Then I looked up and signaled almost imperceptibly to Abhinav behind her.

“What the-?”

A barrage of Coca Cola bottles were emptied on their heads and a volley of colors shot. Before they could make out anything, we were upon them. Shouts and screeches rent the air as both the armies fell on each other. Colors were daubed mercilessly on faces, arms, and most of all, hair. Clothes had never been more colorful. And I had Hanima in my grip now.

“Abhinav! Helllppp!” I screamed and he rushed in with a garden pipe helpfully lent by the caretaker of the park. We drenched her in a shower of black and grey colors, smattering her face with a fistful of gulaal.

“There!” I raised my fist in victory. But the oncoming party was already upon me. Pinning me to a nearby tree, Medha and Hanima took out a bunch of colors from God-knows-where and colored me blue, green, purple, red, black... 

Meanwhile, a vicious attack was on. Sakhi was tempestuous as her tresses dripped with Coca Cola. She concocted a deadly mixture of Pepsi and silver grease that she took out of her bag. A fierce battle ensued.  

And ended with a bang. And pangs. Hunger pangs. All of us, exhausted and awfully spent, traipsed to McDonalds for a burger.

The gang! Those were the days...

That day when I took an auto home, totally unrecognizable and frantic to reach before my mother dialed 100, (because my phone had had a rough day too, having been drenched and colored), I realized I had lost my drafter and my set of carefully drawn sheets to be produced in the semester practicals. I realized all this while rinsing my ears out, trying to ascertain if my hearing was still intact.

I ended up getting home, drenched, blackened, sooted, spending the next four days scrubbing my face off, draining my hair a minimum of twenty times and ending up with red, green and blue roots (no hair dye needed for a few months). The impressions left on my earlobes and underneath my fingernails told tales about our Holi exploits. I was ready to tell anyone who would listen about how I was colored and by what machination I managed to take revenge.

Yes, I lost my drafter and sheets and had to redraw those darned things again. I also missed my ED class. I had called myself a fool then. But today as I think back to my college days, to playing Holi on college streets, running around in parks being chased by disgruntled guards and restaurant owners, unleashing hosepipes on each other and devising schemes to color each and every person, come what may; I realize that I gained more than I lost. Well, memories for one. And yes, friends...
Holi does that to you. Makes friends out of classmates. Out of non-talking batchmates. It was the Holi of our first year that cemented our friendship. And created memories. Lingering memories. 

I’m pledging to #KhulKeKheloHoli this year by sharing my Holi memories at BlogAdda  in association with Parachute Advansed.


Monday, 21 March 2016

The Land of Scribbles

On the occasion of World Poetry Day, let me try my hand at some versification. A few free verses. Or doggerel, if you will. For everyone has the right to rhyme. Or not.



Spirits soar and
Leap beyond self, 
Streams trickle towards each other,
Reborn into a cataract,
Gushing from a height.
Essences merge,
Panglossian ideals and pluperfect dreams
Feel real enough,
Lulling you into a sweet madness.

The lines between devilry and sainthood blur,
Shades and hues of all kinds find home
Here, in this habitation of freedom,
In this haven of thoughts,
In this milieu of doodles,
In this tiny land of scribbles,
Where love is the only rule,
Where all are kings of their destinies,
Where dreams have found a way to exist,
Where life has found a way to thrive,

Despite the threat of indifference.


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Tazo Thief

 ~The True Treasures~

For all non-Bengalis, before you think I have messed up on my spellings, let me clarify - Didibhai is an endearing term for Didi or sister in Bangla.  

A luridly colored purse with flaming orange fur dangled from her shoulders as she hopped away in gay abandon.

“Didibhai…” he called after her in a squeakily cute voice. Didibhai turned.

“What will we play now?” he asked his elder sister, looking up to her with much respect and great awe.

“Come along you,” she ordered, taking his hands in hers and both the kids skittered their way to the balcony.

Didibhai loved to count her treasures and at that stage, nothing was more precious to her than her beloved tazos. Both the siblings sat down cross-legged on a mat spread out on the balcony floor spreading their treasures with much ceremony. The coin-shaped but much larger in size ‘tazos’ that used to accompany the packet of potato chips in those days of yore (as I call them now although they don’t seem so far away in reality) lay spread out ahead of them. A major reason that the inclination to buy wafers and potato chips developed in the kids those days was these tazos. Cleverly marketed by the companies, the tazos had captured the imagination of the little kids, leading to a shoot-up in their sales. While most of the tazos sported static colorful pictures, some of them glittered with twin images as well. Perfectly round, almost like coins and decorated with images of cartoon characters, the tazos were the most prized possessions and the closest to the siblings' hearts.

“There! A lizard!” Didibhai shrieked and little Bhai’s eyes darted to where she was pointing. Her hand meanwhile had surreptitiously stolen over to his side. A tinkle sounded somewhere but before Bhai’s attention could be diverted, Didibhai repeated, “There! There! Two more lizards have come up!”

While the poor kid looked around for lizards, the sly elder sibling pocketed some of the tazos from Bhai’s side.

“Where are the lizards? I can’t see them!”

“Oh I think they vanished. You shouted too loud and scared them away,” Didibhai said, knowing full well that her word was the ultimate irrefragable truth for her little brother.
By the time he had returned to the tazo game, Didibhai’s pile of tazos was much larger than his. No prizes for guessing how the mischief was managed.

Once upon a time...

When we were younger...

Dear Bhai,

Does the above narrative ring a bell? At all?

You know, it was a pity that you couldn’t count at the time. Had you been able to though, I doubt you, my dear Bhai would have countered my words even then. Such a perfect disciple you used to be! Sigh! 

Those were the days! My golden days of reign! What fun I had had!
Looking back on those days, I wonder how things have transformed. Yes, I still call you Bhai, although (I guess it was quite expected!) you have dropped the salutation of Didibhai you had reserved for me then.

Do you remember how we invented games out of thin air? The days of Pokemon and Maggie Hot Wheels racing? The days of playing cricket with plastic bats and housie with plastic utensile? The days of endless Beybladeing ? (Although I later restricted myself to providing commentary as you and your pals ‘let it rip’)

I remember how we gushed at the new stationery, dividing the pens, fancy erasers, sharpeners, scissors and the like into neat piles. Those tall Shaka Laka Boom Boom pencils, egg-shaped sharpeners, huge Goldilocks and Snowwhite books…

Crap…how I miss those days! The days when our biggest problems used to be taking a bath and eating meals. The days when all we needed was our colorful paraphernalia and zero interruption by ‘elders’. The days when all we feared was getting scolded by mother for messing up the room and scattering the toys. Oh how we treasured those tazos, cars, dolls, cutlery and heaven-only-knows-what-not! But I know now what the true treasures were. Moments with you, dear brother…

Much love…
Yours affectionately (and slyly :P )

Here is a little token for you :

#TrueTreasures #MemoriesForLife

“Share your #MemoriesForLife like I’ve done at BlogAdda for HDFC Life.”