Friday, 12 August 2016

Dark side of a chocolate, and some bitter truth

Bus stops can be marvelously contemplative spots, or at least that’s how I find them. While the world races past you, you wait there stoically, eyes peering for those familiar clutch of numbers that you want to see and just hop on.

Today was no different. Just that the wait was a tad too long. And even as I let my thoughts saunter, something faintly grazed my feet. It was a Dairy Milk wrapper and you knew it was licked to the last bit. A moment ago, I had unmindfully seen this indulgent mother feed her child the chocolate, a usual mommy trick to keep their little ones pleased, especially during the after-school hours.

But the woman didn’t even blink before trashing the glitzy cover right there, as if the whole world was this one big dustbin except, of course, her house, I’m thinking. (No, actually I’m quite sure). While I was in all mind to give her a piece of my mind, I realized she would not care two hoots about it.

While the soiled wrapper lay there in the company of smoked cigarette butts and zillions of junked bus tickets, I had to move on. And while the ride was on, I turned to FB, bored and killing time on my timeline, till something casually caught my eye, again.

This time it was an ad featuring Big B and Kangna Ranaut. What more, the ad was curiously titled ‘Don’t let her go’ ( (
 I played it, and what played out for the next 2 minutes 45 seconds only confirmed the one belief I reluctantly held for so long -- only the good god almighty can save this country from turning into the world’s largest dumpyard. It’s only he, in this case she (Goddess Lakshmi), whose vanishing act can instil fear in the minds of people who mindlessly go around littering in public places.

It always amazes me how tiny little posters of gods, goddesses and religious symbols plastered on compound walls and public places manage to keep our peeing population at bay.  And then what about those messages, again on walls, warning people from dumping garbage at a particular site or else risk paying hefty fines?  No wonder, the makers of this ad and the brains behind the Swachh Bharat campaign thought it apt to tap a collective conscience in this manner. Fear can work wonders, especially where the language of reason has miserably failed.

In retrospect, I feel I should have probably stopped that mother from junking the chocolate wrapper there, and I shall live with that tinge of guilt for long. But then when my everyday effort of segregating waste at home ends in one clumsy mix in the garbage van the very next morning, I wonder, what is the purpose of it all? We talk of Solid Waste Management. How about some Solid Thought Management first?

Guess, it's time to wrap my thoughts, though am no way junking them!

Thursday, 5 February 2015


Of late, the virtual space has been irking me somewhat, especially a so-called ‘like’ option which I wished we used with some discretion and a little thought. Yes, I increasingly seem to ‘dislike’ the shallowness of human expressions and feelings that often come out in the open in this intangible world.

And I shall tell you why. Recently, during a quick visit to my Facebook wall I spotted this post which mentioned about a person missing from my hometown. Rumours were rife that he might have been kidnapped by extremist elements. As a silent prayer escaped my lips, I only wished he returned to safety soon. The man’s fate hung in a limbo.

As the post started gaining traction, in no time it notched up quite a few likes. I was left gobsmacked. I mean, which sane person would like the news of someone going missing, probably kidnapped and counting minutes to his death? It felt disgusting.

Considering the rate at which the faces and facts on the wall keep changing, the ‘likes’ probably mean little, often nothing more than a mindless click. But should it mean we become so numb that we start ‘liking’ to know someone is in pain? Or is it some kind of a sadistic pleasure that one derives? As if this was a perfect opportunity to settle old scores with that wry smile, ‘Yes buddy, I’m loving it, oops! ‘liking’ it rather to see your life’s screwed up.’

There are umpteen more examples of such mean streaks. Just take a close look at your own wall and you'll know. A couple of months ago my math teacher from school passed away. Now, this was a man who probably had the most number of students hate him, for he treated most of his pupils like dumbheads meant to be doomed for life. But as we kids grew up, we learnt to laugh away his barbs and have a jolly good time mimicking his mannerisms at every reunion. Now no sooner the news of his death appeared, a few likes followed. I didn’t know how to react. Not that this teacher and myself were in each other’s favourite list, but to be outright blatant and say that one ‘likes’ the fact that someone’s no more, honestly, I didn’t know what to make of such misplaced emotions. I just felt bitter to the bones.

I’m not sure in the real world how many of these people would have the gall to utter the same word with as much ease as it seems with the click of a button. I'm sure the fear of losing face would keep most at bay. And if that’s the case, why should there be any concession in the virtual space? Should an absence of physicality also mean an absence of emotionality? Just as those colourful emoticons and exclamations add tone to our messages, the ‘likes’ mirror our thoughts and, need I say, the reflections are hard to miss.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Who let the dogs out?

All characters appearing in this piece are real. Any resemblance to real persons, living (thankfully not yet dead), is purely designed by fate and certainly not coincidental.

I’m certain it’s some kind of a cosmic connection that was just not meant to be. Dogs and me, so legendary have been our encounters that today every time I knock at a new address, the patent question that rolls off my tongue is, “Ummm... well, are there any dogs around?” And if the person says no, I take his word with sacks full of salt. I double check and triple check, for I have had these tail-waggers appear in my life from nowhere, just about nowhere. Of course, the seasoned big Bong eyes never fail to do a quick recce of the place. In fact, I have become quite a sniffer myself. Survival instincts, you see.

Not that I am by any definition bony, but by all means, I have been many a doggie’s favourite pastime. The worst of those Tom and Jerry chases still give me the shudders; times when I thought this is it, it’s all over, life you were beautiful…till we meet again. Maybe a mewing Tom looks cute. But a barking Tom? Well, ask me!!

Imagine this most harmless girl, blurry eyed, half out of bed, dragging herself to class at 7.30 in the morning. Gaze glued to the watch, the poor thing knows she just can’t afford to miss another attendance. While the world around is still snoozing, at a far end of the road there’s this pack of gluttonous dogs rummaging through a mound of garbage, scaring away scrawny crows, growling over shreds of dumped food packets. As this reluctant soul plods on, the grouchy canines turn their gaze on her.” But why? Our paths weren't supposed to meet,” she whimpers. And as if prompted by a premonition and on a whiplash, she takes to her toes. ‘Run lola run….’ the words recycle in her mind, even as she does an instant Usain Bolt to scrape through the early morning scare. Heart in mouth, she finally manages to give the marauding mongrels a slip and lands in a bakery, panting and puffing much like the dogs behind. Whatever happened to the crows, she wonders.

Next, cut to a scene at her friend’s place, this best buddy who lives with her pampered pet, the ever- active bundle of energy, Mr Pogo.  With this lovable Labrador it’s more like a long-distance relationship, Pogo on the first floor and this chicken heart on the ground floor. Standing outside the giant grilled gates and certainly at a very safe distance, she’d often engage in some serious doggy talks with the brawny boy up there. They would mostly exchange ‘how have you been’, ‘long time no see’ kinda pleasantries until one not-so fine day Pogo decides it’s time he had a better rendezvous with his master’s much pally pal . And the next thing you know he’s charging down the stairs, flinging open the iron gate and shooting towards her like a havoc of a hurricane. And amid all these, this dearest friend expects her to stand her ground. ‘Don’t move,’ she says. ‘You’re mad,’ comes a screeching reply. Don’t move? Really? And wait to be knocked down like a lamppost instead? And so begins another marathon that culminates with the jittery Jerry ducking behind a truck till Pogo finds things more interesting in his life.

Well, these are just two picks from the very many times that I have taken to my heels. If I were to jot them all, I could fill rims of papers. But let me mention, with dogged determination, I have made earnest attempts to befriend man’s best friend. Why I top their hate list is a mystery I’m yet to munch on. From the most ferocious of German Shepherds to those fashionable puny Pugs, I have had my unscheduled ‘speed’ date with all.  Yes, the wry, wrinkly, muzzled faced celeb dog too tried its luck with me. But this time I had the advantage of height and managed to shoo it off with much valour. Actually, I barked back at it and the already worried fellow twitched its brows further and walked away like he really couldn't be bothered.

But over all these heart-stopping moments of hits and misses, there’s one thing I have come to realize, true to their name, these creatures are barking mad! (Dog lovers, please don’t kill me for this. The cuddly whinings and playful bow-wows are all fine. But what when all the brute barks and ghastly gnashes are solely reserved for a few chosen ones like me? Have a heart, people.)      

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Destination Digboi

I craned my neck out of the window and took a long deep breath. The sky was a soothing blue. The unending stretch of tea gardens on my either side draped the place in gorgeous green. The air was humid in the stillness of the noon. Yet, I had not felt so refreshed, so rejuvenated in a long time. The windmills of my mind went aflutter with memories mercurial.  I smiled, as much to myself as to the place I belonged to. ‘Welcome to Digboi’, read a signboard on the roadside.

I was headed home after six years. My eyes welled up. Emotions find their own expressions. Tears of joy trickled down my face only to erupt into a smile that would linger for days to come. When you go back to where it all began, and trace the footprints of time, you know the clock has ticked on, but several moments have frozen for a lifetime. As our car veered through roads much travelled and familiar lanes, the snoozy little town was only waking up to a bustling evening.

While in Digboi, I stayed at my uncle’s place, an old British-era bungalow flanked by many more of the same kind. The layout of the house was a carbon copy of the one I had spent my early childhood in, albeit in a different para (as localities are commonly know there).  It was Deja vu every bit. One moment I saw the little girl in her favourite frock prancing around the garden, the next moment she was there playing hide-and-seek with her friends. There I looked, and she stepped out of the blue school bus, and lo and behold, here she was taking a stroll in the veranda with her mother and her pet cat! I wallowed in nostalgia.

Digboi had grown old and acquaintances older, but the warmth they brought along had only grown stronger. My camera in tow, I looked back at life, this time to see how beautiful it was. I went visiting the house I had lived in, till I left the place over a decade ago. Yet again, a torrent of memories left the shores of my eyes moist. I had long craved to be there. The once-manicured lawns looked wild. The jackfruit and mango trees stood in their place, just a little droopy, just a little weepy.  It was as if the empty house too was waiting for me to come by.

The mornings and the evenings once again seemed familiar. My grandpa’s red-brick house, the school where I spent the sunshine years of my life, the temple, the bakery, the church, the local market -- how often I had thought of them, dreamt of them several times.  Tucked miles away from the restlessness of a city life, it felt time too was on a vacation with me.

The small-town girl ate, slept and made merry, till it was time to say goodbye. What a beautiful lingering it was.

(Digboi, the oil town of Assam, is where the first oil well in Asia was drilled. Digboi refinery is the world’s oldest oil refinery still in operation.)

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Netas sans sense and sensibility

How I wish our politicians were humans too. Yes, you read that right. That's precisely how I feel about them these days and increasingly so. At least sometimes, at least for pretense sake, at least to mask their true colours, they can feign to be one among us. But no. The Uttarakhand tragedy has once again underlined, and that too in bold, the ignoble side of this breed of people and how! Our humblebrag netas who chose to take the aerial route, seemingly to take stock of the extent of devastation in the flood-ravaged land, should cringe in shame. Oh, wait a minute. Shame did I say? Guess I should stop fooling myself.

Perched on their lofty copters they were anything but in sync with the ground realities. Their pseudo show of solidarity and concern lasted only as long as they found an agenda in the whole exercise.  And agendas they did have aplenty, like always. They not only knew what was making news, but also how to be a part of it. While the flamboyant Modi camp went gaga over their new-found Rambo’s rescue mission, the Gandhi scion’s late entry into the scene of action ruffled many feathers. The UPA's blue eyed boy tried touching base with ground zero rather late. And to me his visit appeared more of an attempt to seal shut the opposition's lips. In the political blame game, one-upmanship is all what matters, at whose cost who really cares.

My contention is why do these netas have to register their attendance at all? Forget any good, their presence only affected the rescue mission. After all, the VVIPs had to be treated like one, notwithstanding the listless lives struggling to survive. The victims of nature’s ferocity could have done well without any of these hyperbolic lip service. After all it's the same rehearsed and re-rehearsed lines that they parrot. And on every occasion, it's a repeat telecast, not just of the same words, but also of the same conduct. It's nauseating to see them, to hear them.

Even as the rescue teams comprising the armed forces, ITBP men and the national disaster response force stretched to their last bit to ferry stranded victims to shores of safety, often risking their own lives, our chieftains were busy laying claims on who would take up the reconstruction work of the Kedarnath temple. While Mr Modi was all out to take charge, Mr Bahuguna wanted to make sure no one else stole the limelight from him. Did they have to make the political tug of war so evident, and that too at such trying times? For the grounded pilgrims, the rescuers were godsend, but the politicians were surely uninvited. 

It's said that death is a great equalizer. A naked truth that often keeps us rooted, makes us more humane, tells us about the transitory nature of life. Why is it then that our ruling class fails to understand this? Or am I being too naive? The deathbed of Uttarakhand must be the most fertile political hotbed for many of our dreamy netas, a launch pad for them to catapult to places of prominence in the larger scheme of things. Only the likes of them will know how to get the maximum mileage out of a disaster of such epic proportion. As calm settles in on a land in absolute tatters, Lord Shiva's Tandava may be over for now. What remains to be seen is in whose favour this tandava works out eventually. Let me not take names, I can only be politically incorrect.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Spot on the sport the nation worships

It was once called a gentleman’s game. The men in white, keeping up to the sanctity of the colour, were a disciplined side, inspiring generations in this cricked consumed nation.  As much as a toddler would pick up a pencil to scribble for the first time, he would also almost simultaneously pick up a plastic bat and a ball to try his little hands at a game, the craze for which would only get crazier by the years. There was a time when every shot sliced through our hearts, the good ones felt like ecstasy, the poor ones pierced straight through. Every win would translate into instant celebrations, ever loss, into days of national mourning.

Skipping meals, staying up at odd hours to watch our players in action overseas, peeping through the key holes of our study rooms to catch a glimpse of the Little Master in action at the peak of exam season, sitting like a statue in probably the most uncomfortable of positions, dreading the slightest movement could result in the fall of that crucial wicket, having two sets of televisions, one exclusively for Star Cricket, we have done it all; without rhyme or reason,  just for the love of the game.

The only game that prominently features India in the world map has also often brought us face to face with our own maverick selves. The day the Men in Blue lifted the World Cup a couple of years ago, I screamed my vocal chords out, not at home, but very much at my workplace. At that late hour of the night, people poured on to the streets to mark the day that made history. The cup was ours, a midsummer night’s dream come true.

Like most else, I too have grown on a staple diet of this so-called religion in its various avatars. Alas, today money and honey have almost stripped the game of its gentleman garb. IPL, I have never been particularly fond of this version of cricket. I don’t claim to know the rules of the game to a T, nor do I have the names of all the players on top of my mind. But I do understand more than the basics, and, more importantly, would any day choose to watch a good match of cricket over a high-voltage reality show on TV.

However, this season I chose to take a break from the yearly extravaganza, merely keeping myself abreast of the teams still in the race. And then the can of worms opened. Too little cricket (an abridged version of the already limited over format) and too much of all else put the game in the back burner, at least for me. The Bollywood buzz, the cheer girls, the glamorous wives, the corporate honchos,  the sizzling hosts – with so much to focus on, the unadulterated joy of watching the lofty shots kiss the skies, or those stumps fall apart, didn't remain the same for me. The spot fixing episode had to be the final nail in the coffin.

The likes of Sreesanth,  Chandila and Chavan have taken the game to a new low. So much so that every no ball today sparks a doubt, ‘Was it intentional?’, every on-field gesture raises an eyebrow. Murky money dealings have mired the show. The figures are mind numbing, and the way some of these unscrupulous stakeholders have cashed in on the opportunity is sickening. First came the players and the bookies, then surfaced the Bollywood connect, next showed up the underworld link, followed by a certain team owner entering the fray, and now an umpire, the latest one to join the betrayers bandwagon. The rot appears to be spreading by the day.

All these while we have made heroes out of them, cheered their every move, bestowed them with lavish praise, raised them to a pedestal, turned them into demigods.  But today they have shamed us. For a nation of 1.27 billion people who have followed their every move,  laughed with them and cried with them, they have wronged us. Is there hope? I have my doubts. Will I go back to watching the game? For a Tendulkar or a Dravid, a thousand times over. Not all apples are rotten. In fact, some of these stalwarts have sweetened the game to such an extent with their selfless contributions that the sour taste may not linger for long. But again, only if the perpetrators of such hideous acts are brought to book, the system cleansed inside out, the game restored to its days of pristine glory.

Just a few days after the racket hit headlines, I spotted several passersby crowd outside a restaurant near my office. No marks for guessing, an IPL match was on. Once again, the religion had drawn its followers to its fold.  Blinding 'blind faith’, I thought. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Hers is no labour of love

I know not where she comes from, I know not where she goes. But I have seen her often, often enough not to miss her in a sea of faces. Those dreamy eyes -- the fear in them, the hope in them, the twinkle in them -- they reflect her story. Petite and pretty, she stands on the footpath holding a bunch of red roses, eagerly waiting for every Cupid-struck couple to ramble by. She knows these love birds’sweet nothings could earn her 10 bucks, but only if the roses, the universal symbol of love, please their romantic fancy. Sweltering sun or sudden drizzle, she knows she has to step out.  The flowers in her hand remain mute witness to the thorns in her life.

A tinge of smile, a few awkward steps and she comes imploring, “Ek phool le lo, bhaiya. Please, bhaiya. ” She nudges on, her quaint voice often drowning in the bustling crowd. Yet, she doesn't give up. Giving up is not an option. Briskly she walks, to catch up with the ones who would have unmindfully thrown a causal glance at her, enough to fuel her hopes of earning a few more pennies. While some shrug her off, a few reluctantly stop, exchange a few words with her, reach out for their purse even while bargaining for a better price. Really, 10 rupee for a rose is a lot. 150 bucks for a cup of coffee doesn't pinch.    

Her floral-print frock is all crushed and crumbled, her tiny feet in worn out hawai chappals dust-clad and tired, her braided hair unkempt. Life sure hasn't shown her rosy days. You know her innocence has lost its lustre, faded with the trials of time. At an age when kids of her age would go pestering for the latest videogame on the shelves, or that pretty dress in the shopping mall, she sits clumsily counting the few crumbled notes in her kitty, her earnings from the day, her savings for the morrow.

Even as I wonder where she gets her daily stock of flowers from, someone tells me she goes to graveyards collecting them. Initially, I shudder at the thought of it. From the graveyards? Really?  I refuse to believe, though remotely it does seem possible. Come to think of it, where else would a girl, barely 12 years old, get those fresh buds in half bloom? After all, nothing comes free in this world. And soon it begins to make sense. Money matters only to us earthly mortals. Walking up to the dead, to fend for her life comes priceless.

Every time that I see her now, I salute her courage, her resilience, her struggle, and somewhere silently wish she too sees a life in full bloom, someday, sometime.