Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mala's Story

The story of Mala (name changed) is of a nineteen and a half year old girl from Nanded, Maharashtra. Driven by social conditions and socialisation, her story is perhaps like that of many more young girls who are married off as children, face an abusive situation at their husband’s home and driven by torture, they leave home in a fit of anger.

Mala’s story brings out the harsh realities that make women and children vulnerable to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. Married at 12, Sold for sex trade at almost 13, HIV positive at 13 and battling for life at 19 and a half, is the story of Mala.

Quote Unquote - Mala
(name changed)

I am Mala and this is my story.

At a time when girls my age are looking forward to a bright future, I lay battling for my life. I’ve seen it all before my 19th birthday - deceit, mental and physical abuse, HIV AIDS, and now I lie awaiting my death. I am not afraid of death now, but the fact that saddens me more is that I’m not the only victim in this situation. Mine is a common story. A story written by the very society we live in.

My parents belong to the Kaikadi community and we are considered as "untouchables". I was the youngest of seven siblings and was married off before my 12th birthday to one of my distant cousins. This was the beginning of an endless nightmare for me.

My husband was pressurised into marrying me, although he was in love with another girl, and so, I became the target of his frustration. He abused me. Unable to bear his aggression, I sought respite from the torture. My parents convinced me that the abuse was probably my karma, my destiny.

I tried to make a more sincere effort to change my karma. It was difficult to bear the harassment but I continued to suffer in silence, until one day I decided that I couldn’t bear the agony any more.

I left my husband’s home. I had nobody to turn to, no house to seek refuge, no support of any kind and no inkling of what the future held for me. All I knew was that I had to escape from that living hell.

I walked and walked for what seemed like an eternity. In my mind, I thought of ways and means to support myself. What I didn’t realise was that I would be an easy target for people who are on the constant lookout for vulnerable women and children like me.

As I rested for sometime at a government bus stand, I noticed the unwanted attention I was drawing and panicked. I boarded the first bus that arrived and reached Aurangabad in the middle of the night. Scared, I began looking for a place to rest. I was a little wary when a middle aged woman approached me but after some time I was comfortable and even accompanied her to her house.

She took care of me and gave me food. She also convinced me that she had a job for me in a another city. I accompanied her from Aurangabad and after several hours of train journey reached a station where we were received by a woman who took us to her house.

She was to be my employer and she told me to change from the saree that I was wearing into a salwar kameez. Thus attired, I was taken to a place an hour away in an autorickshaw. From the moment I reached there, I sensed that this place was different. Something was terribly wrong. I had reached G.B. Road – the infamous red light area of Delhi.

When I realised the situation I was in, I attempted to run away but I failed. I was locked up in a room for several days, kept hungry, beaten up and abused. Several days of torture broke my spirit and I gave up. From there on began an ordeal which made everything I had gone through before, pale in comparison.

I now entertained several customers daily. I found many girls from Maharashtra, especially from Latur in that brothel. We befriended each other and soon realised that all of us had a similar story to tell. We had all been duped and sold into the flesh trade. The abuse that we faced at the brothel was unbearable and I attempted to escape several times. I missed my mother a lot and wished that she would be there to comfort me. I wondered if I’d ever get out of this place alive.

Then one day came the turning point. The Police with a Delhi based NGO had raided the brothel (2000). I was rescued alongwith some other girls. I was placed in a Delhi based shelter-home for rehabilitation of trafficked survivors, where I received vocational training. After two years at this place I was entrusted to Save The Children India (STCI), Mumbai on December 14th 2002.

Between the period 2000 and 2004, 20 other trafficked survivors were transferred to STCI, Mumbai. In the meantime a medical examination revealed that I was HIV positive. Inspite of my deteriorating health, I am well looked after and I receive a lot of medical care and attention. STCI located my family and I was reunited with them after six long years. My family was very regretful that they did not support me when I most needed them.

My story is very different from what a lot of girls dream of when they are young but ironically it would be very similar to every girl’s nightmare. There are perhaps thousands of Malas' out in the world who are married off as children; face an abusive situation at their husband’s home and run away. Such girls very easily fall prey at the hands of traffickers.

I know that my end is near and it’s inevitable but all I wish for is that other "Malas" be saved.

Mala passed away on Jan 18, 2008

Friday, July 27, 2007

Absolute Nothingness

People draw inspiration from loss, from love. I draw, if inspiration it can be called from nothingness.
What is my purpose. I know not. Man without a purpose is the highest depravity of all, someone has said.
Process. Evolving.
These are words I relate to very well. I have lived it and will continue doin so. 'Coz that is how it is supposed to be. But the nothingness grows.
Not a leaf shivers to give respite to this sultry heat in dry monsoons at 12 in the night in this far off village. The buzzing of mosquitoes and constant zing of jhingur and occasional barks in the dark is the only sound. And my tacking of the keys.
A lone lizard waits in the corner, my fearful eyes darting upwards after each minute. Its pitch dark here. On other noisy towns they sleep or chat with friends.
Its another night of stolen electricity for the villagers here. The women who were proudly showing what they can now read and write would also have slept by now. They will have to wake up at 4 and start their day in the cover of darkness. By 6 they will be done with their chores of cooking, cleaning and packing lunches. From 8 to 8 they will break their backs in the fields. At 930 they will come for night lessons in the dimly lit room with a blackboard and slogans of women empowerment.
How motivated they are to learn ka, kha, ga, gha….. The little children, some still in their blue school tunics, had promted their mothers when they faltered while reading the alphabets. Each one so proud to show what they had learnt. Guddi, the girl in blue (who accompanies her mother to the night school, daily) had recited a rhyme for me which I did not understand. The young teacher called Naina, daughter of one of the women of night school said how much satisfaction she gets out of teaching the women. “For the 1st 20 days, they could not even hold the chalk properly. Their hands would shake while writing. Partly out of feeling shy.”

“…….If my husband stops me from coming, I tell him that its only 2 hours that I spend on myself…..”, a valiant one had commented.

What motivates me? I know not. Nothing seems to matter. Not even appreciation for myself to have facilitated some kind of change in someone's life.
Slight breeze lifts my red sequined dupatta which serves as a curtain for the night. Shit, the lizard has moved from its corner.
Something rattles outside my window. A lonely peacock also cries somewhere in the dark outside. The dogs seem to have slept off. I keep flashing my torch to check the movement of the lizard. And scratch mosquito bites.
I light another cigarette. My companion of the night.
And let my mind go blank. 1232 am.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good Bye

He died at 27. Young and charming, he was also quick to temper. He could befriend the young and the old alike. A dear heart to women of all ages, a thorough buddy to his friends, he did not know how not to be happy.

Quite suddenly he passed away. With no illness, with no premonition, with reservations made at a quaint lodge in the hills for his photo shoot the next day, he passed away.

The family cleared his pending bills using the little savings that he had made. He had lived life on his terms, made his fast buck and spent it on all. They lovingly remembered him and attended to visitors who came for sharing in the grief. For much loved that he was.

Friends wrote about him, some sang his favourite songs, some lovingly remembered anecdotes from his days. They remembered aloud how he cared, how he laughed. How he gave his two bits even when not needed. This they remembered not aloud. They remembered times when they had to tell themselves..."If he is hard on us, he is harder on himself." For he expected the best out of others.

Today almost 7 months later there was no one to tease his sisters-in law, to ask about the girl-friends of the little nephews. He had more often than not brightened the dinner conversation. And sometimes strained it by his ethics. Quick on advice and critique he was, many a times unappreciated.

...."Had he been here now"..., they thought, ...."he would comment upon the falling marks of the adolescent niece, the decision of sister-in-law to quit job and take care of growing children, the demand of a mobile-phone by the 7-yr old nephew".

'Everyone cannot be like him. So what if we give into our weaknesses?', they had in their minds so often, thought.

“But why do people die, mama? Why can’t chacha come back?” little nephew asked the silent one’s around the table. They all had listened to all the other friends in grief, intellectualise about death, yet did not have an answer. Why can’t he come back? I will tell him that I have made a kite for him. What fun we’ll have. Won’t we, mama?”

He came back. Wearing his charming smile, he stood at the door.

Time stood still. It was them and him.
He read the emotions running on the faces of his family. Reflections of their conflict flashing like coloured images in the kaleidoscope on their faces.

Was 7 months too early to move on? Was 7 months too long to want to retrace?

His beautiful smile fell. He turned and without a backward glance, passed away. For good, this time.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

no cheers to bushi dam

the plan was to go to malshej, which for some reason did not happen. So we went to the cliche`d Lonavala. A sumptious lunch was in mind which thankfully did happen. But Bushi Dam - damn ! also happened.

This is what it was like.....

(misty therefore hazy)

Many more like us from Mumbai and Pune had headed to Bushi Dam...

(Like a short cut you know about and cleverly give a miss to the traffic jam

and discover that do a lot many people).


How do you reach Bushi Dam?

You pay for this ticket that ticket (pollution ticket included)
You pass by a purple-yellow-orange-green walled eatery called Chinese-hukkas
You get directed to the damn ooops dam by a lot of young boys frantically waving their hands
You pay 50/- parking

You then cross a big puddle of brown water
Some of your friends might not want to enter into that water
So just you or some other determined one like you might have to go

You pass by a lot of men in ugly chuds
and women with hairy legs showing thru raised sarees

You will also find a bhutta wala selling bhutta right in the middle of the trickling water to the picnicers who eat and hurl the chewed off remnants one after another into the same water

When you finally reach up-well almost upto the dam

This is what it will be like...

no it is not a Mela....

they are picnicers squishing their butts to fit in

while the dam'ed water manages to find some space to trickle down

4 more reasons on why to give bushi dam a miss:-

1] as you disgustingly make your way out (having never reached the top), a cow just might raise its tail to shit in that very water you will have to wade thru'

2] you could be caught a traffic jam on your way to and from the dam. Any place with a traffic jam has to be 'touristy' and avoidable

3] the chai you get there will be milky and less than luke warm

4] you still might not like bright yellow chuds on fat men with hanging paunches

What you need to do is head towards Upper Deck which has a steeply priced buffet for an OK meal...but the view is great..and if you are not photogenic, you will be lucky here

And What you definitely need to do is head to Malshej Ghat the next weekend to wash off Bushi

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Heres to the Rains

A man in black another in blue, bent at their waists, valiantly pushing a white choked Maruti engine out of the choked Bandra roads.

Another monsoon…another period of camaraderie over clogged waters. Another day when we say, shit! I just had to go to office and mean it as well. Another day when mad Mumbaikers dive on three feet water- more splash than dive, actually.

When I was in the first standard or was it IInd?, I had to write a composition (thats what we used to call it) on any season. I wrote on the monsoons. But more than write, I watched and pondered and went out to experience what I later wrote about. My teacher, I do not remember, if she appreciated my piece, but I did have a great time, I remember.

Walking barefoot on the pavements with water rushing down the sloped roads. Back then the roads would be clean. We used to put salt on the earthworms and watch them squibble as they breathed their last slow breath. We would walk around with pouches of salt. Then when all the killing (killing…it was more entertainment for us!) would bore us…we would play mud splash in the play ground.
Occasional cricket balls from brothers’ gang would hit us or we would be delegated to do fielding. Till we would have had enough of being screamed at. Big brothers are terrors and like to show off that little sisters are at their beck and call. And most times little sisters are. Even opinionated little sisters who hero worship them. Like on the dry days, I would have to hold the colourful kite and walk backwards with loud instructions simple to understand but impressive when shouted. I was a kite holder. I had the responsible job of holding the kite and giving it a push upwards as it precariously made its upward flight.

In my essay on my favourite season, I described my trudge from school to home - slow and many a times backwards, with our olive-green or khaki bags with golden buckles hidden under white and blue and pink flower patterned raincoats or bright yellow ones. We would stop and peer at puddles waiting for worms to squirm out. And jump across puddles, then on puddles.

I don't think my teacher was impressed.

I remember the greens.

The wild doob grass
which would line up
the pavements of Jamshedpur. And the huge trees with huge branches swaying to the beat of rains and splattering fat drops at the hint of a shake. It was a predictable move yet we would try and douse each other underneath the massive trees. Back then Moms used to let c
hildren go out to play and explore. There was mud and greens and open roads and huge grounds and friends who would not compete over gadgets but over who could run faster. Back then there was less concrete.

Yes, the greens! I have always been fascinated with greens. It depicts a sense of peace and open spaces to me. Walking barefoot on the green grass with tiny blades pricking lightly at different points on the foot…with the sudden giving away of wet mud underneath the foot.

I tried rolling off a green slope once as they do in movies. My elbows would come in the way and I had to push sideways. It hurt when I got up with skirt all twisted and a pattern with elbow dents trailing behind me.

Madonna is singing sensuously now on VH1. Yes rains and water take a different meaning as an adult.

Like washing off holi colour in river under the bridge of 1935, like taking a dip in river Betwa, like clutching onto someone’s sleeve on a swaying tree house over swollen river Ken, like walking on empty streets by the sea the first day on a new city never visited again, amid loud cracking thunder, like feeling fat drops on naked arms and holding tight. Like lying on white Pondi sands as rain hits the face.

If the clog clears from knee deep to shin deep I shall venture out to bandstand. There is something beautiful about Rain. To me it is the feeling that Rain brings about.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

10 ways my rural partners avoid my calls/ request for reports

1- Report is done but, mera computer 'crush' ho gaya
2- Aapka phone lagta hi nahin
3- Wo suddenly meri wife ki bahen ka husband ka mausa ka death ho gaya
4- Computer operator ka pet dard kar raha tha
5- Bijli chaar din se nahin hai
6- I have just sent it
7- Arrey, you did not receive it? Ok let me make some more changes and send it again immediately.
8- Ho madam. Ho madam.
9- My Mailbox Status: Received email without the required attachment.
Better still….
10- My Mailbox Status: Received mail with attachment. But! But! unrecognisable fonts. (or attachment in binary digits).

And one more way (should change the title, actually). I like this the best--

11- Hallo? Hallo? Sunai nahin de raha…hallo? hallo?

I do not lose my temper quite that often, though.

Friday, May 18, 2007

my lookalike

He still smiles at me even though his pink nails have faded

even though its been six long years of having known me

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Can you blame me for falling in love?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Last years’ calendar in guest room

She was walking like young Bambi. Young fat pudgy legs with dimpled knees, walking unsteadily towards me.

The white chemise that she wore had red and pink embroidery around the neckline. I could not hold back my smile. There is something lovely and amazing about holding babies. When their arms lie on your shoulder and their unsteady necks wobble back and forth. They gurgle , they chuckle and you become lost.
Atleast I do.

The anticipation of the fat baby girl wearing white chemise with embroidery around the neck as she walked on those wobbly legs towards me, made me smile and extend my arms to her. Then something suddenly turned in the air. Like it happens only in dreams and in books. The room turned from cool to chilly in an instant. Every realization flashed in a moment. All those low grade movies where the child turns into a killer made sense as I saw the baby girl in white chemise, now rush to me on steady legs and an evil smile. There was no knife but I felt the cold presence of steel. The anticipation of a sharp slash. I felt the pressure of her left knee. Knees, which now I could never imagine as being cutely dimpled. There is something more macabre about an evil intention behind a beautiful fa├žade.
I felt that pressure on my stomach.

I woke up with a start. It was so real. 4:32 am.

I froze with terror since the knock on the door sounded as real as the feeling of the pressure on my stomach. I contemplated on getting up and pulling the door open to face whatever was behind it. To face it once and for all. Then I told myself-'
shut up, u just have a gory mind.'

As always happens with dreams, I could not recall it with total clarity the next morning as I told about it to Kiran and Atanu. Atanu gave me a blank look perhaps not even bothering to listen to my ramblings and Kiran mumbled something distractedly as she directed Jamuna, the baby’s nanny to clean the kitchen racks.

I had again stayed the night over at Kiran’s place. This is so common for me that my toothbrush and some clothes are stationed in Kiran and Atanu's guest room. Kiran has in fact started refering to it as my room. Every 4th day I land up at her place to coo and drool over her baby boy. Little fat boy who has brought out all my long-buried motherly and nurthering instincts.

"These days I do not feel like working", I shot back as I rushed out of her house, again promising myself that from the next day, I shall reach office in time. Another Monday in office.

Another day for me to try and finish pending reports. Another day for Kiran to discover all those new expressions that her baby comes up with (there are numerous of those- sleepy expression, i-luv-u-mamma expression, cranky expression, sulking expression, potty expression…..). Another day for Jamuna, the baby’s nanny to finish this chore and that. She measured the kitchen racks and cut an old calendar into the-measured-neat rectangles, the calendar which used to hang in the guest room.

“Didi, yeh calendar ki baby kitni sweet hai."... Jamuna told Kiran, as she put aside the swanky kitchen scissors. Steel Scissors. “……..Kitni moti…aur iska white, embroidery wala chemise kitnaaa pyaara hai ”. Dekhke lagta hai na, ki photo se nikalkar aapki god (lap) mein aa jayegi?"

Monday, May 14, 2007

Her husband for social completeness

My chai-wali Patkar maushi called me a ‘kutti’ today. Lovingly ofcourse since she is very fond of me and favours me with untimely coffees and surprise hugs.

Sometime back she was frantically arranging for 5000 bucks since she feared her husband would drink away what she called her home of 20 years. Transfer it in her name, she did.

“So, now u have it in your name. Throw him out! “
‘Aiiga! Kya bolhi tu? Heh heh!’
She chucked.

I said-
“aur nahi to kya. Find another mausa!"
to which she called me

[Aside: comment on ‘another mausa’, was a joke. There was another dimension about ‘done-with-the-men’ conversation].

“But why do you need him anymore? What has he given you? “

A man of 50 odd years who gets government money which he drinks away. Gets fed, drinks, gets a ready family to abuse, drinks, swears, drinks, sleeps in stupored glory, drinks, gets to stay in a ready-made clean house - two children and one grand-child who maybe love him only because he his their father, drinks. And drinks.

A man who thinks it is his due that he ‘be-served’. He is after all ‘the’ man of the house.

“Aise hi hota hai. Aadmi hai who mera!” She insisted perhaps the 100th time since we have had this kind of conversation many more times before.

Samaaj…Aurat ka zindagi….reet….

She again repeated those endless reasons as to why her husband is parmeshwar.
About social sanctions. About traditions.

We have this on-going game, where I tell her what she calls ‘outrageous things’. “Tradition is as per convenience. There was a time when sati was sanctioned”, I continued.

“I will do Sati, if required” declared my Patkar maushi.

So she would. For a man who she resents. Whose bed sores she tends to. Bed sores, brought about by a long bed rest while he recuperated from the physical fall since his drunken legs didn’t support him.

She will shed tears for him since he is her husband. And she will shed tears for herself, since she is a 'mere woman', as she calls herself.

A ‘mere women’ who single handedly raised two children, got one-married. Managing all in some 2000 or 2500/- that she earns. Money, which she often had to hide in secret places from the hands of ‘the man’ of the house. Those hands which would not hesitate to fall harshly on her and her two children.

She will continue to be the victim, all the while trying to be a survivor.

She needs the social sanction of a useless husband for keeping her house, ensuring baap ka saaya over her children.

To my mind, the only encouraging (wee bit) thing about such a mess is that, she once a while hits him back!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

to each his own

how do u know
when u need to shrug it off or u need to put your foot down
how do u know
when enough is enough
how do u know
when u finally say ‘Enough! No More!‘ ..... is because you have, upto this time either been (a) least-bothered or (b) have been a coward
how do u know that
the time seems right (a) because u have been pushed to the corner (b) it is actually right
how do u know

that being pushed to the corner is not actually 'so' but seems like it, because till this time it seemed childish to react
how do u know
when u think u have transcended from the lesser-lives
but something inconsequential (perhaps) - that ought to be shrugged off, makes you want to react instead
how do u know

that not caring anymore
is not the same as being a quitter.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wish or Conspiracy?

If you look at something continuously
It takes shape as u want it to….

This friend who made me happy and whom once I made happy…

…once did this artwork for some songs
One of his sketches look as if it has me in it.

Of an embrace so sweet and intimate
Of closeness-togetherness-warmth-trust-faith-companionship

Could it be … could it not be?
Am I seeing it or seeing it, Am I?

But it should not matter
Yet I cannot throw it away……

hum Hindustani

Another of those endless workshops, where I tried making small talk.
Tried is the keyword here.
“You know, I hate English language”, said he. He the pompous.

I wonder if I should have asked him in Shashi Kapor style, with my hands folded and looking
sideways…... "Can u repeat in Hindi ?”

or perhaps I should have loudly broken into something like "Givin the dog a bone... Givin the dog a bone...."

Almost Original

Like a badly designed tacky bag saying ORIGINAL

Like a man wearing shoes that are branded FOOTLAND

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

shake it 2 ur left and shake it 2 ur right

If you get caught on a Saturday afternoon in a contraption of a mall, while hip people and not so hip ones scurry about, have a foot massage as the last stopover. If you are mad since you have had to wait for lunch till 6.30 in the evening, then coax your friend to try out the electric body massage chair (which is rated at some freaking grands).

My friend sat trapped as if for some virtual reality experiment. Face frozen while man-made fists thumped through her back. Suddenly her shoulders started shaking –left-right-left-right-left-right. Her eyes kept opening wider by each fraction of the second.
The other friend had her mouth open wide while she asked- ‘why are you shakin so?’ I am not! She screamed. This chair is shakin! Take me out take me out!

My Saturday was made. As I knelt on the floor because my laugh got taken over by the tummy ache at seeing her shake and scream and look perplexed all in one electric moment.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lesson of the Day

Do not make any deals with a movie-fanatic.

She will badger you, read repeatedly badger you with “u promised u promised…”
She will also repeatedly play at emotional blackmail
Be warned. You will want to
(a) stare blankly at her as if she is speaking telegu
(b) stuff her through the fish like grills of office window
(c) doggedly finish work that would otherwise have remained undone for the day
You will also have to stealthily type emails in an official document
and copy paste it later (without the official letterhead ofcourse)

Bheja Fry, here I come.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

my mrs k

there have been so many times that i have avoided her. a few steps away but i would acknowledge only when acknowledged. i remember those meetings when she would turn everything topsy turvy and me in my very-undiplomatic ways would get impatient and say something to goad her more. it became a game between us. who could goad more. then who would start goading 1st. then an avoidance on each one's part. she has always had a fond word to say about me. but behind my back. i yes, however tacky it might sound, love her. love her and respect her. i have been able to seperate the human her and the professional her. i loved one and accepted the other. why did she take all the crap that i gave her? she also loved me i know.
the most elegant of women i have known and seen. the most soft spoken of all. the ready smile. her walk so light as if she would glide on air. we used to say that she is not a person but an experience. we used to say, 'she has more energy in her 70 yr old strong frame than all our energies combined together.'
a woman who saw and did so much. a woman who has been an inspiration to so many. one of my NGO partners had written a song on her calling her devi. We ofcourse had lagughed and would so often feel embarrased when so many of them would behave as if they were worshipping her.
i would cringe when some1 would imitate her as she called out my name in her sing-song voice. she would call out- bye children in that same sing-song voice. a voice which at times have shaken all the veterans here. (even me at times).
which now lies numb and unfeeling. that beautiful face swollen because of medicines which her body rejected. with tubes she lies having never had thought this is how it will end. for all those times i avoided her, here i was waiting for hours and hours for a glimpse of only some seconds. seconds which leaped in shock to see what looked like the unbelievable. a flash and life changed for her. as it changed for all of us. as another one who reaches out to me now in a broken voice. with heart rending words that he needs my support. she is like God for him and he cannot live without her, he says.
We await for the miracle. which will bring back that sudden deep breath.

Mrs. K passed away on April 24th 2007, 2.30 am at Breach Candy Hospital.

Friday, April 20, 2007




My friend passed away yesterday. Survived by an old mother, sister, brother-in-law, a niece who perhaps she had not seen and friends.
My batchmate whom I did not really know that well. She had a life to live ahead and not leave behind a mother who perhaps would not look so tired and lost.
Friends had gathered and like Shuchika and I perhaps even they were relating this to their own lives.
Death so sudden-so unbelievable. What can be darker than dark? Does the body feel a passage from life to wherever they go? Does it look back? My reference has changed from ‘she’ to ‘it’. How would the mother be feeling? It’s the loved one’s who are left behind and who feel the pain every single day.
Am I selfish to think who will mourn my death? Who all will I matter to so much? Isn’t it our purpose in life to love and be loved- as Jesus said-Love one another as I have Loved you.

And here we get caught in small, inconsequential worries, misplaced pride, envy, jealousy, malice and most incriminating of all-purposelessness. Caught up in frivolity. While time ticks by.

Is Death not the biggest truth of life? At the end, perhaps there are no are no grey areas. Just black or white.

Monday, April 16, 2007

whatsit2b? part 1

i had read this story as a kid. and loved the possibilities that could be. the other day i read it again and was very excited to write wat i thot cud be. but as all those other times, the thots just about crystalised and then i lost interest. (i need to walk around with a dictaphone actually).

The Lady, or the Tiger?
Frank R. Stockton

In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done. When every member of his domestic and political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature was bland and genial; but, whenever there was a little hitch, and some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked straight and crush down uneven places.
Among the borrowed notions by which his barbarism had become semified was that of the public arena, in which, by exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured.

But even here the exuberant and barbaric fancy asserted itself The arena of the king was built, not to give the people an opportunity of hearing the rhapsodies of dying gladiators, nor to enable them to view the inevitable conclusion of a conflict between religious opinions and hungry jaws, but for purposes far better adapted to widen and develop the mental energies of the people. This vast amphitheater, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults, and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.

When a subject was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to interest the king, public notice was given that on an appointed day the fate of the accused person would be decided in the king's arena, a structure which well deserved its name, for, although its form and plan were borrowed from afar, its purpose emanated solely from the brain of this man, who, every barleycorn a king, knew no tradition to which he owed more allegiance than pleased his fancy, and who ingrafted on every adopted form of human thought and action the rich growth of his barbaric idealism.
When all the people had assembled in the galleries, and the king, surrounded by his court, sat high up on his throne of royal state on one side of the arena, he gave a signal, a door beneath him opened, and the accused subject stepped out into the amphitheater. Directly opposite him, on the other side of the inclosed space, were two doors, exactly alike and side by side. It was the duty and the privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. He could open either door he pleased; he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance. If he opened the one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and most cruel that could be procured, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces as a punishment for his guilt. The moment that the case of the criminal was thus decided, doleful iron bells were clanged, great wails went up from the hired mourners posted on the outer rim of *the arena, and the vast audience, with bowed heads and downcast hearts, wended slowly their homeward way, mourning greatly that one so young and fair, or so old and respected, should have merited so dire a fate.

But, if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station that his majesty could select among his fair subjects, and to this lady he was immediately married, as a reward of his innocence. It mattered not that he might already possess a wife and family, or that his affections might be engaged upon an object of his own selection; the king allowed no such subordinate arrangements to interfere with his great scheme of retribution and reward. The exercises, as in the other instance, took place immediately, and in the arena. Another door opened beneath the king, and a priest, followed by a band of choristers, and dancing maidens blowing joyous airs on golden horns and treading an epithalamic measure, advanced to where the pair stood, side by side, and the wedding was promptly and cheerily solemnized. Then the gay brass bells rang forth their merry peals, the people shouted glad hurrahs, and the innocent man, preceded by children strewing flowers on his path, led his bride to his home.
This was the king's semi-barbaric method of administering justice. Its perfect fairness is obvious. The criminal could not know out of which door would come the lady; he opened either he pleased, without having the slightest idea whether, in the next instant, he was to be devoured or married. On some occasions the tiger came out of one door, and on some out of the other. The decisions of this tribunal were not only fair, they were positively determinate: the accused person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty, and, if innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not. There was no escape from the judgments of the king's arena.

The institution was a very popular one. When the people gathered together on one of the great trial days, they never knew whether they were to witness a bloody slaughter or a hilarious wedding. This element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion which it could not otherwise have attained. Thus, the masses were entertained and pleased, and the thinking part of the community could bring no charge of unfairness against this plan, for did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?

This semi-barbaric king had a daughter as blooming as his most florid fancies, and with a soul as fervent and imperious as his own. As is usual in such cases, she was the apple of his eye, and was loved by him above all humanity. Among his courtiers was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens. This royal maiden was well satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom, and she loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong. This love affair moved on happily for many months, until one day the king happened to discover its existence. He did not hesitate nor waver in regard to his duty in the premises. The youth was immediately cast into prison, and a day was appointed for his trial in the king's arena. This, of course, was an especially important occasion, and his majesty, as well as all the people, was greatly interested in the workings and development of this trial. Never before had such a case occurred; never before had a subject dared to love the daughter of the king. In after years such things became commonplace enough, but then they were in no slight degree novel and startling.

The tiger-cages of the kingdom were searched for the most savage and relentless beasts, from which the fiercest monster might be selected for the arena; and the ranks of maiden youth and beauty throughout the land were carefully surveyed by competent judges in order that the young man might have a fitting bride in case fate did not determine for him a different destiny. Of course, everybody knew that the deed with which the accused was charged had been done. He had loved the princess, and neither he, she, nor any one else, thought of denying the fact; but the king would not think of allowing any fact of this kind to interfere with the workings of the tribunal, in which he took such great delight and satisfaction. No matter how the affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of, and the king would take an aesthetic pleasure in watching the course of events, which would determine whether or not the young man had done wrong in allowing himself to love the princess.
The appointed day arrived. From far and near the people gathered, and thronged the great galleries of the arena, and crowds, unable to gain admittance, massed themselves against its outside walls. The king and his court were in their places, opposite the twin doors, those fateful portals, so terrible in their similarity.
All was ready. The signal was given. A door beneath the royal party opened, and the lover of the princess walked into the arena. Tall, beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!

As the youth advanced into the arena he turned, as the custom was, to bow to the king, but he did not think at all of that royal personage. His eyes were fixed upon the princess, who sat to the right of her father. Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested. From the moment that the decree had gone forth that her lover should decide his fate in the king's arena, she had thought of nothing, night or day, but this great event and the various subjects connected with it. Possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any one who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done what no other person had done,--she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors. She knew in which of the two rooms, that lay behind those doors, stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front, and in which waited the lady. Through these thick doors, heavily curtained with skins on the inside, it was impossible that any noise or suggestion should come from within to the person who should approach to raise the latch of one of them. But gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.

And not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was. It was one of the fairest and loveliest of the damsels of the court who had been selected as the reward of the accused youth, should he be proved innocent of the crime of aspiring to one so far above him; and the princess hated her. Often had she seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned. Now and then she had seen them talking together; it was but for a moment or two, but much can be said in a brief space; it may have been on most unimportant topics, but how could she know that? The girl was lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door.

When her lover turned and looked at her, and his eye met hers as she sat there, paler and whiter than any one in the vast ocean of anxious faces about her, he saw, by that power of quick perception which is given to those whose souls are one, that she knew behind which door crouched the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. He had expected her to know it. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden to all other lookers-on, even to the king. The only hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in his soul he knew she would succeed.

Then it was that his quick and anxious glance asked the question: "Which?" It was as plain to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked in a flash; it must be answered in another.
Her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. She raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.

He turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.

Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady ?

The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer.

It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way. Think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision of the question depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?
How often, in her waking hours and in her dreams, had she started in wild horror, and covered her face with her hands as she thought of her lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the cruel fangs of the tiger!

But how much oftener had she seen him at the other door! How in her grievous reveries had she gnashed her teeth, and torn her hair, when she saw his start of rapturous delight as he opened the door of the lady! How her soul had burned in agony when she had seen him rush to meet that woman, with her flushing cheek and sparkling eye of triumph; when she had seen him lead her forth, his whole frame kindled with the joy of recovered life; when she had heard the glad shouts from the multitude, and the wild ringing of the happy bells; when she had seen the priest, with his joyous followers, advance to the couple, and make them man and wife before her very eyes; and when she had seen them walk away together upon their path of flowers, followed by the tremendous shouts of the hilarious multitude, in which her one despairing shriek was lost and drowned!

Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity?

And yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!

Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.

The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,--the lady, or the tiger?


Frank R. Stockton

Friday, April 13, 2007

to be or not to be

7 ways my movie-mate makes plans with me for a movie. There are times when our plans fall into place immediately and we rush after office and times when she has had to coax me….which she has become a master in… in 7 different ways….and I have become a bitch in making her try and coax me in 7 different ways…..

# 1: Suggestion: “Lets go for a movie today. We will leave early….”

To which I reply….”I won’t be able to finish early so don’t wait for me. U go ahead, I tell her…..”

After 5 minutes of staring into her computer, she turns and looks at me…

# 2 : Excited Suggestion (as if Suggestion # 1 was never uttered): U know what! (What? I ask with raised eyebrows…) Lets leave early today… and go for a movie….(‘today’ is said with a couple of nods….Eyes are doe-like, big and innocent)

I grunt a non-commital response, to which she says…..

# 3 : Emotional style: .......u don’t want to see a movie with me ?" (her eyes grow bigger…the look of innocence takes on a hurt expression now…If her voice could echo….it would echo as…with me…with me…with me…till fade)

I feel a twinge of irritation by now. But the varied expressions amuse me. I try very hard to wear a straight face because I know there are better styles yet to come

My friend/colleague silently works till lunch time.

Suddenly…..# 4 : Don’t miss the chance of a lifetime style: ..."U know what? this is so and so’s comeback movie…so and so’s debut direction…so and so’s music composition…so and so’s bla bla…"...

I give a vague smile. But I am very amused by now. And I am one step-ahead of thinking “cho-chweet”. If only she would quit asking at this point.

# 5 : She makes my plans style: "Listen…..Finish work by 6. We are going for a movie today after office".

I do not bother replying.

# 6 : Negotiating style: "What do you plan to do after office today? ...... (long pause...she continues staring....I feel a hole burning at the back of my head....) If you do not have any plans, do you want to catch up on this particular movie?"

Very sensible…to which I say…”I do not want to commit since I am not sure whether I shall finish work early. U carry on. I shall join you if I am free”.

By now, I do feel like a heel for doing this to her…nevertheless….she tries ….

# 7 : Done with you style: Ok bye. C ya 2morw.

I say…."What happened? I thought you wanted to catch up on the movie?"

She screams excitedly…."To chalo na! You ‘to’ (read as hindi ‘to’) are not saying anything. Lets go…chal chal… Jaldi…".....

One day she will call my bluff. One day I shall say… Back off!

Monday, April 09, 2007

my dream walked in

Ziya had to hand over a file to me which was long pending. We decided that she would drop in at my hotel on her way back from Amravati. Another colleague of hers would be accompanying her, she said. Since Ziya would be arriving at Nanded in the wee hours of the morning, I asked her to catch up her lost-bus nap in my hotel room.

Sometime after 3, I dozed off. The TV was on, the room not so dark so that my paranoia would not take over me. The last thing I remember thinking before I slept off was- I would have made Vaastu-Shaastra differently.

Remeber the scene, where Sushmita Sen's sister is home alone and so calls her boyfriend for a night over? They are in bed making love. She has her eyes closed. When she opens them, he is not there.

She goes around looking for him. Predictably, with a lot of sound effects.....she finds him dead and hanging.

Well, I dunno why, but I remembered that scene and thought to myself- It would be more scary if while the lovers were in bed....they are interuupted by a shrill piercing phone call. The girl (Sushmits Sen's sister in the movie) picks it up while naughily pulling the boyfriend closer.

The voice on the other side says.....the voice which is her lover's voice..."shweetheart, the traffic is a killer". I dunno when I will reach"...."

I remember thinking as the TV blared on that...shit...had it happened this way, it would be more scary. bed with your lover....and a phone call says he is in reality not there AT ALL.

Who then is the one in bed with you? Will the audience see a blue-frozen face when the lover lifts his face from the crook of the girl's shoulder or will he still look un-ghost like?

Anyways, I slept off with a scary re-do of a movie scene playing in my paranoid mind. TV blaring...1 light on since my imagination runs the better off me.

Ziya and her colleague came in at about 4 in the morning. It was cold and dark. I offered them water and surprisingly shared some official jargon. For me, 4 is midnight, yet here I was doing uncessary lip-movement. In a while we all dozed off.
I woke up when a shrill piercing call woke me up.

"Yes? I asked, wondering if the call disturbed the two dark shapes sleeping on the other side of the room. Ziya's was a bigger shape and Sunita looked tiny underneath the dark blanket.

"Hallo? Hallo?" It was a man's voice."....Madam? Madam? ...." Very faint voice. ".....Madam? This was the last dialled no. from this cell....The lady whose cell this is...I think her name is ..errr...was Ziya...I mean....madam....she and some other passengers died. Road accident Madam.....

Saturday, March 24, 2007

my stint at taragram

I had some fabulous years at TARAgram. TARAgram- a rural technology demonstration unit, is 15 kms from Jhansi. Located at Madhya Pradesh, TARAgram is in this fantastic wilderness, where the dry summers drain you off all energy; so bright and hot in the summers that the rocks seem to reflect more heat and the dry leaves crackle as if it'll start a forest fire of its own. The rains so heavy that those very trees would sway in wet greeness and little riverlets would drain into the already swollen Betwa river.

We had our own power supply through DESI power (Decentralised Energy System of India), our own stationery of TARA handmade paper and our own sigdi-koyla in the cold cold winters. The koyla that I mention, is charcoal made out of biomass. My colleague would always corerct me and say 'invasive biomass' invasive biomass' not a waste! ok, bajpai, I give you that!

Us, Jharkhandi's and people from Bihar, Orissa, MP , Chhatisgarh would recognise the 'invasive biomass called 'lantana' as "putus", a thorny bush with rough dark green leaves and tiny bunches of orange or purple or red or white flowers. The DESI power that I mentioned above is electricity generated through another of Bajpai's "invasive biomesses', called 'Ipomea'. Again, us Jharkhandi's and people from Bihar, Orissa, MP , Chhatisgarh would recognise Ipomea as "theythur" or "besharam" or "behaya". Yeah, a plant actually called by
that name!

"Besharam" is a tall shrub with palm sized leaves and tall stalks. It has lavender coloured bell shaped flowers and 'besharam' can grow anywhere. Throw a stalk anywhere, be it muddy or dry, 'Besharam' grows. I call that 'survivor' or 'perseverant' not 'besharam'.
No wonder, Bajpai was so protective of his biomasses. We even had our own check dam. There were times when we would take our lunches by the dam and sit with our legs swinging over the water.

8 kms away from TARAgram is Orchha. Located at the banks of Betwa, Orchha's history dates back to the 17th century. The Ram Mandir, Jahangir Palace, Teen Deviyaan ka Mahal, Laxmi temple, Chaturbhuj temple and much more. Each has its own story to say (and all guides tell it differently as well). Ram Mandir used to be more beautiful, I'm told, until Uma Bharati painted it pink. As you face Ram Mandir, on the right side is a gate which leads to an enclosure which has two square 15 foot pillars, called "Saawan Bhaado". I was told by some wise women that at the onset of rains, Saawan and Bhaado like two lovers bend and seek each other. Well, I could not imagine two squares reaching out to each other but on a fading light, the pillars did look imposing.

Jahajir Palace is impressively imposing as well. Each window on every direction gives its own perspective and meaning to beauty. A damp afternoon thrown in, and the mood is purrfeckt!

Two sides of the Palace overlook Betwa. As the skies turn a deep purplish-orange, the views could be anything - be it the trucks on their way to Niwari or Tikamgarh or Bhopal passing through the metal bridge on swollen Betwa or a flash of branches being swept away while a boat paddles downstream home or 2 women washing clothes at the ghat which has a dozen broad steps while a man rushes through his bath in the water soon to turn dark, while children dip and frolic and swim and dive from the water-slick smoothly rounded rocks.

From yet another side you can see, a well-maintained garden with a Mahal called some Fulwadi or the other. Supposedly, the Bundela Raja's favourite mistress used to reside in this Mahal. The front side as always overlooks people rushing through their touristy-agenda.

Jahangir Palace was made to commemorate Jahangir since he had helped the contemporary Bundela Raja to usurp the throne, my so-called guide had told me. (I do not remember why I never took an official guide).

Well, Jahangir came to visit for 1 night only an dit took perhaps 17-18 years to build this palace. (Am I wrong or what?). The room where he slept is not grand. A small platform where his 'rajsi' bed would have been laid.

One of my colleagues would stuff his week-long dirty clothes in a rucksack and on a Sunday afternoon would wash them at Betwa, drink beer and sleep off on the warm rocks. What fun!

A 4 centuries old stone bridge which was quite low would year after year get submerged during the rains. It was also a source of rancor since only one heavy vehicle could pass at a single time. With the Bundelkhandi tempers virtually always on the rise, the drivers of nose to nose buses would hurl swear words left right and centre.

The drive from TARAgram to Orchha during the rains is not just a drive. It is an experience. Beyond the old Orchha bridge is a wild life sanctuary. I never saw any wild animals but the drive down is mind blowing on a dark night.

I only regret not using each and every moment to soak up all that the place had to offer.

Monday, February 19, 2007

the rock

many expressions come to my mind
cool mist washin over me
thin soft flakes melting down my cheeks
cold fingers finding warmth on your tight clasp
fingers and palms fitting perfectly
long companiable silent walk
pausing and looking back
stopping and looking ahead
breathless but content
words shared with people heading the other way
not meaningless words only an effort to catch onto more newness
the fading sunlight
gods light
pink light
orange light
purple light
still some more light after the sunset
then darkness
only firelight
and that within

the chill of fresh silkcotton like snow, the heat of dancing flames
the intimate cover of silver-darkness
the colours of intimacy, love and companionship
the sounds ethereal

some more expressions come to my mind
intruding sunlight

like the hiss of snow on fire
of an impending closure
of the joy of having known such happiness

No Title

Yesterday I did not look back
Yesterday I, after a long time again felt weak in the nerves
That Fluttery feeling
Yesterday I again day dreamed
Yesterday I wanted to blush and feel shy again

Yesterday when the old call came I was indifferent
Fond memories but that’s what it came down to-
fond memories

Yesterday I once again wanted to grab the warmth of the sun
It no longer matters that I do not want to look back
Yesterday it did'nt matter that the way ahead is still lone.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

six to 8

On a cold evening with my coffee
and rum
my balcony and
4-yr old manali market

the old man
walk up and down
to the the door
to the
the door

till it is too dark for me to see
till it is too late for him to be out

the old man and I
on an evening in jhansi

Friday, January 19, 2007

some comments I found cute

Jaded question from me to this cute ‘lil girl in a printed white frock and lace around the neckline
“where are you going?”

In a deep voice, she replied….”nuckh-lau”…. (for lucknow ofcors)

wonder if my 60 odd aunty Virginia, is a virgin?”…I wondered aloud to a friend…
Ask her….he said, "Virgin- ya?"

essage on the wall near Daryaganj police station in 2001.
It goes…

....Please Bill no stick.....

he menu displayed on a student-type eatery in Hudson Lines in 1998, read as..

an painted on wall in Ideal Lane, Dangratoli chowk in Ranchi in 1992

....Yahaan peshaab karna mana hai....

He finshed painting. In bold and in red. Unzipped his pants, peed and took off in his cycle.

ood looking guy in my compartment in tata bound train asked me what do I do? I work on the issue of anti-trafficking, I said.

Long pause

He: Ahem….traffick is a problem in Mumbai. Very crowded.

I took my book and climbed onto the topmost berth.

old men from my earlier organization loved to use similees. One would say, “bla bla bla (whatever the issue of the moment
)….otherwise you will miss the bus…”

Another would love to say (for any issue)….
“you have to hit the iron when it is hot”.

A third uncle, who would say any shit for diplomacy, on one 10 o’clock Saturday meeting in the dome said…..

“As so and so rightly said, … have to hit the iron when it is hot……
Otherwise you will miss the bus.”

I am scared to call out the names of my NGO partners. Marathi names are very scary to pronounce for a regular hindi speaker like me.

I called a Mr. Badve as Bhadwe once (2005). We all were straight faced ofcourse.
I therefore, dare not call out for Bhosle.

(What kind of names are these?)

ne of my field workers (2003) would stammer. His Bundelkhandi hinglish was classic (I say this not in a bitchy way). My colleague Bajpai was supposed to have met up with this guy the previous night for some work.

Says the guy,
“ yaar Bbbjjpai, ttuum kkal aaake mujjhhhko touch nahin kiye”?

friend of mine was scared that she was pregnant. So the boyfriend goes to this pharmacy and hesitantly asks for Parakh (supposedly some home pregnancy test).
shopkeeper: Hein-ji? Hein-ji? ... oho aise boliye na.

Boyfriend of friend comes out with Perk.

ome stupid dame in some school in some small town (I have been to many small town schools) once bragged...
"My (her's) pronounciation is very good".