Monday, 31 December 2012

New year resolution

Don’t want wild animals roaming the roads,
Calling themselves humans but preying in hordes.

Don’t want to wake up each day in fear,
And wonder; are my loved ones still here?

Don’t want this New Year,
If it can’t give me this.

Let’s not make empty resolutions for ourselves,
Let’s resolve and act together for our India’s peace.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Time for action

I am outraged.

Not just because I am woman and I cry at the loss of such a brave and beautiful life at the hands of such merciless and brutal attackers. But because, I feel ashamed that this could happen in our country, in our capital. That this has happened countless number of times and will continue to happen unless action is taken right now.

I am outraged.

Not just because I am the mother of a 6 year old daughter and I want her to be safe. But, because when I see the faces of all the children around, I cannot help but wonder, 20 years from now, will they too have to face a day like this if no action is taken now?

So, I want action.

I don’t want the powerful people in the corridors of Delhi to hide behind their AC offices. I want them to own up to the flaws. I want them to act swiftly and decisively.
I want heads to roll from politicians to police. I want the transport mafia to be brought to task and the rapists to be punished without any mercy. I want the voice of the common men to be heard and respected and not ridiculed for being “dented and painted”.
Above all, I want all parents to teach their children to respect and honor women. Our children should not have to face this when they grow up.

This is my country. I want to feel safe. Is that too much to ask?

Friday, 28 December 2012

When will we be free?

She had dreams and hopes in her young heart,
You wiped them off as you ripped her body apart.

But you can’t kill her now…

She may have died in mind numbing pain,
But her death will not be in vain.
As millions of people rise up in protest,
And ask questions that cannot be put to rest,
Powers that be can discuss change in the archaic laws,
And the system can rush to cover its flaws.
Politicians and police can play the blame game,
But tell me, please tell me things will no longer be the same.

So, you can’t kill her now     
The nation is awake.
Run and hide you pitiful, soul less fellows,
Worse fate awaits you than the darkest of gallows.
If after 50 years of independence, you cannot let people be free,
I wonder if you really have any reason to even be.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Monday morning lesson

When I woke up this morning,
My feet were heavy as clay
For the Monday morning meeting,
I knew I had nothing to say
But when I looked out of the window,
And heard laughter at the gate
And saw the tiny feet running, not to be late
I saw happy faces waiting to just start their day
‘Thank God its Monday’, the faces seemed to say
I closed the window, it was time to go
And start this morning, begin the show
Monday didn’t scare me, not anymore
I can take it, bring on some more.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The new 360 degree feedback

Heard this from a friend and it was just so hilarious that I had to share it..

My friend, a working mom, with her usual share of guilt and doubt was trying hard as usual to juggle the demands of her job, home, 8 year old daughter, maids, and more.

An important project was taking up all her time and she was coming home late almost everyday for the last few days.

After reaching home late one Friday, she saw her daughter was still awake and heard that there was a Parent Teacher meeting at her kid's school she needed to attend the next day.

"Wow, that's great, I am really looking forward o meeting your teacher" she said.

"How is your project going, Mom?" her daughter asked.

"Almost done, dear," she answered, pleased at the interest.

"You know, I was thinking," the daughter continued

"Just as we have parent teacher meeting at school where you get to speak to my teacher and discuss my performance, you should also have a meeting in your office where I can meet your boss"

The new 360 degree feedback. Now wouldn't that be a fun meeting between the boss and the 8 year old daughter? Wonder who would have more to say about the poor mother?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Turning 6

My daughter turned 6 this year. 6 is a big milestone for her. It’s an even bigger milestone for me.
It means she leaves the comfortable play area of the nursery class and steps into the wide classrooms of the primary school literally spending the whole day in school learning new subjects and making new friends.
It means she can surprise me with her amazing questions, insightful observations, logical thinking and boundless creativity.

She can hold forth on many topics be it the virtues of Chhota Bheem vs. Tom and Jerry or why eating carrot may not be such a good idea vs. eating pancakes. A lawyer maybe when she grows up, I wonder.

It means I no longer have to run around, feeding her every morsel. On most days, if she likes her food, she can eat it herself and can give her little Masterchef suggestions of what new recipes I should try out in the kitchen. Of course, her suggestions can range from making ‘chocolate chicken’ or 
‘pancakes with fish’. Or maybe she'll be a chef, I think on these days.

It means she takes her own decisions whether it be not combing her hair or choosing purple slacks with a yellow jumpsuit over a normal frilly frock. Actually, maybe she might be a model, my husband tells me as we try to keep a grave face at her 'fashion' choices.

It means she understands almost everything we say and maybe more that’s been left unsaid.

Of course she still has the tantrums or ‘meltdowns’ as my husband and I call them when there are glimpses of the baby she was a few years ago, when all I can do is hold her in my arms and soothe her worries or fears. When I wonder, whether she has really grown up at all.

But that happens more and more rarely. At 6, she is fast becoming independent and no longer depends on me for the smallest of things.

At 6, she is too old to be treated like a baby and her own unmistakable, individual personality shines through all the maze of advice, rules, care and guidance that she goes through each day at home, school and daycare.

At 6, she is my best friend and I see glimpses of the confident, independent woman she is going be one day.

At 6, my daughter is a person who never fails to inspire me and make me strive to be a better person, someone worthy of being called her mother.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The sound of the dhak, again

As the sound of the conch shells fade away and dhakis stop beating the dhak, Bengalis all over the world heave a collective sigh as the Durga Puja festivities come to an end for another year.

I have to admit that all through my life, growing up in Kolkata, where Durga Puja pandals literally spring up in every para (neighbourhood) and preparations for the event start months in advance, I used to take Durga Puja, like so much other things, for granted.  I questioned the need to offer pushapanjali to the goddess, to do boron and sindoor khela, to touch the feet of elders for Bijoya Dashami and to compulsively check out each pandal across the city in a mad pandal-hopping race, meeting known faces and friends at every pandal and stopping for some food and adda on the way.
But now, as I sit, miles away from Kolkata, I wait eagerly for these 4 days as do millions of other Bengalis. And this year even as the Goddess is immersed and life comes back to normal, I ask myself, why does Durga Puja have such an irresistible lure for Bengalis across the world?

Why do we do it?

Is it nostalgia? Remembering our childhood days in Kolkata when we used to hop from one pandal to another to see the creativity on display in the lights and the pandal decorations that vied with each other to bring new heights of imagination and craftsmanship every year?

Is it tradition? A chance to hold on to the Bengaliness in us in lands far away from Kolkata where we try to create a shadow of the warmth and fever that Durga Puja used to mean for us as children?

Is it just enjoyment with friends? A chance to lose ourselves in adda even as gorge on oily, unhealthy street food that is so unbelievably tasty? The chicken, mutton rolls, biriyani, mughlai porota, luchi, jalebi and sweets?

Is it our way of holding on to a past that is disappearing so fast, the glory and beauty of which we want to show our children so that they too, when they grow up, can share the memories with their children in turn?

We may not be in Kolkata, but the 4 days of the Durga Puja can bring back a little bit of the magic back for us.

For some, it could the new dresses, resplendent new sarees with the sparkling jewels that make the Bengali women look much like goddesses themselves.
For a few, it could be the food, the bhog from the Puja and the array after array of junk food that takes over the kitchen during the period of the puja as cooks and mothers take a temporary hiatus from cooking.
For the culturally inclined, it could be the music and dance performances that enthrall them - ranging from the famous artists to the amateurs who entertain with all their heart and give us magical moments of joy.
And for a few, it could actually be the spiritual call of the god, the chants invoking the goddess and the power that she exudes even as destroys the evil and upholds all that is good and sacred.

But for the most part, for many of us, Durga Puja would just remain a chance to be, once a year at least, part of something that defines us, part of a past we can never forget, part of a warmth that engulfs us in a familiar glow and gives us the courage and hope that in the ever changing, uncertain world, there is at least something that will still not change.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Monsoon Haiku

The first monsoon rain,
Eyes closed, and arms stretched wide, I
touch childhood again

Image from Google

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A reluctant cook

“I’ll never enter the kitchen”, I remember myself declaring to my patient mother when I was in my rebellious teen phase.
No wonder then that my first experiment with cooking (after being tired of ordering takeout food everyday while working in Delhi) started off with a disaster.  I was trying to cook dal and rice for the first time in life.
A frantic phone call to my mother and 60 anxious minutes later, the results of my efforts were a dish of burnt dal, overcooked rice and a huge phone bill. And we had to order for dinner from a restaurant. I used to hate cooking so much that I even agreed to marry my husband only on condition that he would never expect me to cook! Thankfully things have changed since then.

Today, the kitchen scares me no more rather it invites me to try out new and creative experiments mixing ingredients, recipes and spices from across the world.
So if I fancy Spaghetti for dinner and cheese toast for breakfast, I can cook them up myself without resorting to frantic phone calls or restaurant orders.
How did this transformation happen? How did I get over my fear of cooking and start loving it?

Well apart from my mother’s tips, the other things that helped me were:
1. Exotic and colorful cookbooks that literally brought me the world on a plate with mouth-watering pictures and easy recipes from around the world. And of late the BBC Good Food Magazine that has just been launched in India has become a favorite read with its gourmet recipes and amazing food pictures. I guess I am addicted to it. 
2. A range of cookware – microwave, OTG, grill, food processor and the works that made cooking and chopping and mixing so easy.
3. Gourmet food stores like Nature’s Basket and Shorbet in Bangalore that stock everything from smoked cheese to salmon and an array of sauces, herbs and spices that lend flavor and aroma to the cooking.
4. which obligingly offered me new options of food blogs and recipes when I wanted to try out something new. Some of the food blogs like are simply awesome.
5. Cooking shows ranging from Masterchef Australia to Nigella Lawson and Donna Hay which showed creative cooking and plating at its best.
6. And last definitely not the least, an encouraging daughter who feels her mother is the best ‘cooker’ in the whole world and is ever willing to sample my new experiments in the kitchen and even join me in my experiments.

And today, when I call my mother, it is she who asks for recipes. And I teach her new recipes for grilled fish and noodle soup and healthy salads.

But this post is not about my cooking journey. My favorite dessert of all time is Caramel Custard. Just love the soft pudding and the caramelized sugar syrup. Of course, I initially thought that it is too difficult to create it and I am destined to only savor it in restaurants. Imagine my surprise then when I tried it and it turned out perfectly. I am sharing the recipe I used (of course courtesy the Internet)

2 and 1/2 cups of warm milk
3 eggs
1 spoon vanilla essence
1 pinch of nutmeg powder (if available)
1/3rd cup sugar for the custard
1/2 cup sugar for the caramelization

To caramelize the sugar

Put the 1/2 cup sugar on the gas in a pan with a sprinkle of water. In a few minutes, the sugar will start to turn brown and caramelize. Lift the pan and pour this in the container in which you will bake/steam your pudding. I generally use a cake container. This mixture should coat the bottom of the container. Keep it for 10 minutes for the mixture to harden and set.

The make the custard

Beat the 3 eggs together.
Add the 1/3 cup sugar. I generally use castor sugar. Since I prefer less sugar, this quantity might need to be adjusted depending on taste.
Pour in the warm milk.
Add the vanilla essence and nutmeg powder.

Pour the custard on top of the caramelized sugar in the container.

There are 2 ways to prepare the caramel custard.

Method 1: Steam in a pressure cooker

Cover the container top with a aluminium foil. Add water in a pressure cooker so that it reaches till about ½ of the container. Put the container and then steam it for 20 minutes. After the container is a little cooler, put it in the fridge. After 2-3 hours, take it out from the fridge, scrape the sides and then hold it on top of the serving plate. It should fall off in a smooth, jelly like mixture, holding its shape with the caramel sauce dripping down the sides. Keep it chilled till ready to serve.

Method 2: Bake in OTG

If you have an OTG, you can preheat it for 10 minutes. Place the container on a baking tray after filling the baking tray (till ½ of the container height) with boiling water.
Bake for 20-30 minutes till you see that the mixture holds its shape and does not look like a liquid mass.
Again put it in the fridge and later on hold it on top of the serving plate.

I have to add that my family is still quite unable to believe that I actually enjoy cooking and tease me no end for my past rebellions even as they try with brave hearts to sample my latest inventions in the kitchen:)

Friday, 5 October 2012

A new Masterchef Challenge

A grandmother and her granddaughter, a 6 year old
Were chatting on the phone, weekly ritual I am told,

Chocolate ganache, smoked salmon, were some words I heard,
Masterchef recipes were being carefully unfurled,

But guess who the teacher was, teaching these recipes new?
It was the 6 year old Masterchef fan armed with her world food view.

Why at her age I didn’t know what cooking meant!
But these Masterchef kids are already hell-bent,

On testing us poor moms with ‘Invention tests’ from hell,
And if we don’t live up to the challenge, well, well, well…

Try offering them cornflakes, there’ll be demand for pancake,
And forget plain old milk, better whip up a strawberry milkshake.

So dal chawal is boring now, they want Spaghetti Bolognese,
And for extra dressing, they might just ask for parmesan cheese

Of barramundi cutlets and grilled lamb chops, these lil’ masterchefs dream,
Or perhaps an apple strudel and pistachio crumble topped with cream.

Texture, flavor, acidity and balance, they want it all,
Their plating standards would drive Andy and Mindy up the wall.

Imagine Masterchef 2030, when these kids compete,
Why, just watching that would be some Master Feat.

George, Gary and Matt you’d better beware,
And get ready to lose not some but all your hair.

Parmesan risotto with poached egg

In case you are still wondering, this 6 year old is my daughter and the grandmother is my mother whose definition of gourmet cooking would be a plate of Bengali style 'kosha mangsho' and 'luchi' (mutton curry and puri), never mind what the occasion is or who the guests are or how many times they have eaten it before:)

Monday, 1 October 2012

Parenting Anonymous

All of us have bad parenting days. At least I hope so. Even the most patient and most loving of us would have at some point of time felt that they were battling an insurmountable battle where tears and angry words battle a fierce battle with loving smiles and tender patience.
The world of parenting is like a pendulum. There are days when the pendulum swings your way, your child is happy and smiling and you feel so happy and proud as a parent. And then there are days when the pendulum swings the other way, when nothing seems to go right, when tears and pouts greet you when you expect them the least, when you want to be patient and loving but at times end up being anything but that.
Consider this ‘situation’.
It is 10 p.m. in the night and you are trying to clear up the dinner plates and catch a few hours of sleep before an early day at office tomorrow.
Your 6 year old daughter is on the verge of some path breaking new innovation, so she says, of discovering a new television (made with pieces of cardboard and plastic) that would let her and her friends watch Chota Bheem all day. After all she has been told watching too much television all day and specially Chota Bheem is bad for her eyes and brain and is trying to find her own solution to the problem.
And of course, busy innovator that she is, she does not have time for such mundane things such as finishing her dinner.
So what do you do?
a)     Let her innovate, anyway India needs less people who copy and more who innovate, food can wait for another day. Maybe you have a scientist in the making?
b)     Run behind her with the food, she just can’t miss her dinner; you can feed her while she continues innovating?
c)     Scold, shout, cajole, threaten to beat, actually beat, and use all persuasion tactics at your disposal to make her first finish her dinner. She can’t miss her dinner.. innovation be damned
d)    What if you want to go with option (c) and your spouse with option (a). What do you do then, do you start another fight, this time with your spouse on the importance of discipline in the child’s life?
Whichever option you choose, you are bound to feel few moments of anxiety and doubt. Am I doing the right thing? Will this help my child? Am I a bad parent?

Enter Parenting Anonymous.

What if there was a club, you know something on the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous, where you could discuss such scenarios with fellow parents who have gone through similar situations, who don’t judge you but just listen.
What if you could nurse a cup of tea, nothing alcoholic mind you, just a good old cup of tea and just talk about these  ‘situations’ that you have with your kid? And what if other parents share similar stories and you feel that you are not alone, you are not a bad parent, it’s a just bad day and you can learn something new about yourself and about parenting today.
Parenting, the toughest job in the world for which there is no school and no real training. Don’t we at least deserve our own club? We don’t need pity or advice or judgment or sneers or adulation, at times all we need is just to be heard and to hear.
So here’s to the idea of Parenting Anonymous. Till some wise soul starts it, maybe fellow bloggers can share their parenting nightmares and we can all sip an imaginary cup of tea and listen and learn!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Game, set and match

The floodlights were on. The match was about to begin.
There was silence in the grounds except for the faint whirring of mosquitos that were buzzing around the heads of the players. There was absolutely no wind today. Good day for the game.
The players were standing at attention, their rackets raised high as if praying to the Gods before the start of the match.
And then the match started. What a match it was.
Swat, swat, swat went the rackets. Backhand, forehand, every shot in the book was played to a full gallery.
Eager eyes watched from the sides and clapped for every hit.
Soon, all too soon, the match was over.
They lay on the floor, dead, the mosquitos.
The men kept their mosquito racket swatters down and carefully closed the net doors of their houses as they stepped out for a chat.
All the villas in the small gated community near the lake were now silent, waiting for peaceful sleep.
Another evening of victory against the nightmares of dengue and malaria.
And their children would be safe for another night from the deadly mosquito bites.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A cup of tea and a slice of history

Long before I set foot in Kuala Lumpur, I had actually dreamt about the place.

The stories of Somerset Maugham had conjured up before my eyes pictures of rain drenched plantations with the British planters trying to cope up with the weather, the mosquitos, the rain and their own emotions; trying hard to retain their Englishness even as they found themselves changing in ways they had never thought of.  

But, the first glance of Kuala Lumpur seemed quite the opposite of my dream. The country which had its humble origins in tin and rubber prospecting and was given its name, Kuala Lumpur, literally meaning ‘muddy confluence’ in Malay, today stands tall with wide roads crisscrossed with flyovers, upmarket malls stocked with global fashion brands and endless skyscrapers dotting its cityscape.

The economy that once thrived on tin and rubber plantations today seems to have moved on, ready to match its pace with the modern world. 55 years after its freedom, it’s a city that seems to have successfully overcome its wartorn violence of the past, quite destined to move ahead even further.

And for most tourists, Kuala Lampur is just another beautiful, modern, cosmopolitan city. They shop in the colourful malls, click pictures in the wide open Independence Square, enjoy the breathtaking view of the city from the Petronas Towers, run behind the butterflies in the Butterfly Park, worship the statue of the Lord Murugan outside the scenic Batu caves and eat till they drop in the amazing restaurants.

But a few souls like me who are still suckers for history might wonder;
Where are the rainforests? Where are the rubber plantations?
Where is the city that Maugham had written about?
Is there nothing left of the history of Kuala Lumpur?

And these questions led me down the busy market street to the Coliseum Café.
A small, nondescript building in the middle of the bustling city market, the doors of this iconic British restaurant which first opened its doors in 1921 usher you into a world that seems to be almost a century behind.

Once you step inside, time seems to stand still in the midst of the wood panelled walls.

Everything seems to be exactly as it would have been 90 years ago.  The worn tablecloths, the uniformed waiters, the ‘proper’ menu, the bar in the centre of the room, the newspaper cuttings on the wall; it’s a world that we had forgotten, a world we might have only read about, a world where planters would have sat discussing the latest politics of the day with their pistols by their side, savouring a good meal and a drink and leaving their tensions aside.

You can almost imagine Somerset Maugham sitting at the table with his little notebook, sipping a cup of tea and enjoying his steak as he sketched out a new character – a paragon of virtue who is not quite what he seems.  Yes, Somerset Maugham was a frequent visitor at the hotel when he stayed in Malaya and the newspaper cuttings still bear testimony to the fact.

And as you order a cup of tea and the steak that the hotel is still famous for, you wonder how long the magic would still remain. Would the hotel survive a 100 years and live to cross a century?

Would you still go there for the food? Probably not, there are better places for that in Kuala Lumpur.
But you might want the old waiters to pour you one more cup of tea as you feel the magic of the past come alive.

You might to sit and savour the moment for a little more time. After all, you know that the minute you step outside, the old world would disappear and you would get lost in the real world.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A tiny dose of inspiration

A lot has been said about mothers sacrificing everything - their lives and all their time for their children.
But what about kids inspiring their mothers to change for the better? Here are 5 changes that I underwent  that were inspired by my daughter, who is just 5 years old.

I was fat, really fat at 75 kg. I happily ignored it and continued eating junk food until one fatal day, my kid asked me with an innocent smile “Why are you so fat mummy?”  Next day, I armed myself with a diet cookbook and joined the gym. 10 months and aching muscles later, I could finally bid goodbye to XL sized clothes and happily sip cup a green tea without flinching. 

-Everybody does. So I did too. Spend time at the pantry in office, gossiping away while work and deadlines waited at my desk. No more. Like Cinderella’s mad rush at 12 o clock, I now have a deadline of 6 p.m. to pick up my kid from the crèche. And alas, there is no fairy godmother to wave her magic wand. Which means – no time to waste. So every minute is spent on first meticulously finishing work and pantry time is strictly regulated. Time management books should take a tip or two from mothers.

- I knew my building had 299 other flats but I never found time or inclination to meet anybody. Well now I do. Finding friends for my kid was my mission last year and while doing that, I made friends too. Potluck parties and picnics are regular weekend activities now and it’s hard to say who enjoys these more – me or my kid.

- I couldn’t dance. Two left feet seemed to have been all that I was born with. But after observing my kid’s Bollywood jhatkas and graceful movements, I signed up for a Salsa class. After 3 months, I realized, I too could dance. Not fancy steps like my kid, but basic steps that actually makes me feel that somewhere the right foot was always being ignored and waiting for the right moment. Now, we can dance together to “Why this Kolaveri di?”

-I never wrote. Nothing except meeting minutes and PowerPoint presentations. But when my kid seemed bored with the usual bedtime fairy tales and other kid’s stories, I found myself running out of ideas to keep her inquisitive mind occupied. So I started spinning stories in my head to entertain her and also try to teach her some values. And that sparked off an interest in writing. If I can tell stories, surely I can write them to.

In just 5 years of her existence, my kid has made me take 5 steps to change for the better. Of course, there are many mad moments.  Like when I stare at my kid staring at the television and refusing to eat her dinner. But I know one thing, “this too shall pass”. And tomorrow, she will inspire me again. Does your kid inspire you too?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Short story - The Accident

Inspector Roy hated this part of the job. The early grey morning seemed to reflect his mood as he walked out of the police station and stepped into his jeep.
“Hospital” he told his driver.
He didn’t want to look at the newspaper the driver had thoughtfully kept near his seat.
The newspapers would be full of news of the car crash that happened late in the night yesterday. Reckless teenagers had rammed into a car killing 55 year old rich businessman, Mr. Raj Rastogi and seriously injuring his wife Mrs. Ruchi Rastogi.
Mr. Roy had just come out from the police station after meeting the suspects. In the lockup, the teenagers had been defiant. They had been drunk but then they said that the fault was Mr. Rastogi’s. He had lost control of his car.
“Rich kids, sir, too much money, no control” sub-inspector Pande had told him.
Anupam Roy had looked at them, the three boys in their designer denims, tees and branded watches. Bright minds with bright futures.
He hated the thought of all it being wiped out in a single instance, a single mistake. But if they were indeed guilty, they would need to pay the price.
But for now, he had something more unpleasant to deal with. Even though he hated it, he wanted personally break the news to the victim’s family. He always did that.
In a few minutes, Mr. Roy reached the hospital.
Mrs. Rastogi, the elderly widow was strapped to her hospital bed, looking frail and helpless and tired. 
Anupam felt infinite pity for the pale face that seemed almost invisible under the mass of pillows.
But, he had to do his duty. He had to break the news that would probably break her heart and numb her mind.
“Mrs. Rastogi, we are very sorry to inform you that your husband died in the accident yesterday night,” Anupam said as gently as he could.
Ruchi Rastogi stared at the inspector. Her body was still racked with pains. Though he was standing near her, his words seemed to be coming from such a great distance that she scarcely understood what he was saying.
Sensing her confusion, Anupam Roy again repeated himself, adding how sorry he was for her loss.
He was looking at her kindly. The nurse was standing right next to her, ready to shoo away the inspector, if he asked her any more questions.
“Can’t you see she is so weak, poor lady, she has lost so much blood?” the nurse spoke angrily.
They were all staring at her, waiting for tears, for loud cries, for protests, for grief.
Ruchi Rastogi finally understood what they were saying. Images of the last night flashed in front of her eyes.
She had seen the young boys driving towards them before Raj had. He had been driving fast as usual and speaking without a break.
At what moment had the plan crossed her mind? She was not sure. Was it when he had started shouting as usual, when he had said he would never forgive their daughter Sheila for running away from their home and choosing to make her own career in music, a field so far away and removed from his world of murky business deals?
“How can she do this?” he had shouted, “she has to join the family company.”
“It’s your fault, I don’t have a son. At least then I wouldn’t have to see this day.”
“My daughter and a singer! How shameful! If she dares to do this, I’ll not only cut her off without a penny, I’ll destroy her career.”
“I have enough contacts. She’ll never even get close to dreaming about music.” he had snarled, his face red with anger.
She had tried to reason with him.
“It’s her life; let her choose to live as she does” she had tried saying.
But he had stopped her mid-sentence as usual. Secretly, she was glad her daughter had the courage to move away from Raj was and choose to build her own life. All her life Ruchi had seen the shady deals Raj had cracked and become richer and richer by the day. She had lacked the courage to run away herself and silently suffered his barbed comments and angry insults all her life while instilling in her daughter the courage to dream.
Everyone had thought, she was lucky, the wife of a rich man. But she had never wanted to be rich, she had just wanted happiness and she could never be happy with a man like Raj.
She knew then that he would never change. He would never let anyone else live their dreams, never tolerate any other thoughts but his own.
30 years of control had snapped in an instant at that moment.
The last few moments were but a blur. She saw the speeding car rushing towards them. She could hardly remember when she had pushed his hand away from the steering wheel, when he lost control, the last glimpse of his stunned face when he realized what she had done. She would always remember that look.
She didn’t much care for her life anymore, but she just didn’t want him to live. And she wanted Sheila to finally live.
They felt she was shocked, too shocked to cry.
“Give her some rest”, she heard the nurse say to the inspector. The inspector nodded and said that he would come back to speak with her again later. Everyone was sorry for her, the poor widow whose husband had died.
She hid the joy that spread through her heart at the knowledge that she was alone, alive and free and Sheila could finally live her dreams.
Tomorrow, she would think of what she would say to the kind inspector. Maybe tomorrow, even tears would come. Today she just wanted to sleep, free.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Haunted by Chittorgarh

When we returned from Rajasthan, our minds were full of the beauty of the place; the colourful markets of Jaipur, the beautiful City Palace, the magnificent sandstone castle at Jaisalmer, the mystical desert sand dunes and the adventurous camel ride.
But the one place that kept haunting me was Chittorgarh.
The Chittorgarh fort has been attacked time and again for its strategic location. The eerie silence and the vast open ruins tell a tale a bloodshed and honour, of sacrifice and integrity.           
As our guide took us around the 700 acres of ruins, I was struck by the story of 2 Rajput women; women who didn’t fight battles but whose bravery and sacrifice no less changed the destiny of Chittorgarh.
History talks about the cunning king Alauddin Khilji who was so enamoured of Queen Padmini’s beauty that he wished to meet her.  And after seeing her reflection in a mirror, he waged war on Chittorgarh to capture the fort and the queen.
As we walked into the fort, we actually saw a mirror placed so cleverly on the wall that from the steps outside, Khilji could have just seen a reflection of the beautiful queen and not see her actual face. And we saw a wide open barren ground where thousands of Rajput women along with Padmini had given up their lives and hopes.
What did Padmini really feel when she let herself be stared at in the mirror by the lustful king; when she saw her husband rush to defend the honour of the fort and realized that defeat and dishonour were inevitable?
When she dressed in her finery and gazed at her husband one last time and together with other wives in the fort jumped into the fire to embrace death rather than dishonour? I stared at the large ground in awe and sadness, the beautiful queen was certainly no less brave than the warriors who defended the fort.
Years later, one more woman, not a queen, but a humble servant, created history in Chittorgarh. The beauty of Udaipur enthrals all but little do people know that Udai Singh who created Udaipur would have never lived to build the city if he had not been saved from death in childhood.
Amongst the ruins, we saw a tall window of the fort. And there in the dark of the night, brave Panna Dhai, Udai Singh’s nursemaid, sacrificed her own son to be killed by attacker Banbir and saved the king Udai Singh instead as she fled with him and carried him away from Chittor to safety.
A mother, and she had to watch her son being killed for the sake of the loyalty to the king’s family. Can there be valour higher than that?
Yes, Rajasthan is a beautiful place but amidst all the beauty that can be seen, lie the magical ruins of Chittorgarh. In Chittorgarh one cannot see anything but vast stretches of ruins. But one can imagine the faces of the two brave women who sacrificed everything they loved for Chittorgarh.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

A short story - Faceless

I steal. It is so easy. I just need a name.  That’s all I need to start.
People are so careless. When they speak on the phone in the busy cafe, they don’t know I am standing behind them, listening while they call out their Account number.
When they throw out their garbage, it is so easy to get their address from an old bill that has not been shredded.
The leave behind so much information on social networking sites. They never know I go through every word and know every detail of their lives from the name of their pet dog to the next holiday they are planning.
I have a lot of patience. I can wait for months and years as I put together each piece of information together and then build a profile of my target.
And I always test them first to see if they really are as foolish as they look. They are busy and harried. Do they notice if I take Rs. 100 from the third bank account?
And then when I am sure they will not notice, and I have all my information, I go in for the kill. I steal everything I can. I clean them out. They never know what hit them.
I wasn’t always like this. Would you believe me if I tell you I used to work in a BPO? But as I spent my nights talking to irate customers about the wrong payments on their credit cards, it struck me. It was so simple to get the information about the customers. It was so easy to use their name and take their money. My mother told me I used to love solving puzzles when I was young. I used to spend hours putting together every small piece till I got the last bit of the puzzle solved.
And that’s what I do now. People may call me a Fraudster. But I am really a puzzle solver. Did I tell you how I cleared out an old lady of her entire bank account? She was so careless. Poor lady, she just died of shock. I attended her funeral just to see her one last time. Do you think I killed her? I hate violence. I would never do that. She just didn’t take care of her money. So I took care of it and took it all away. She never got to know.
I steal. No one sees my face. No one knows me. I live alone with my money and dreams. Tomorrow, I will find one more target.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Here's to Yahoo!!!

YAHOO! I felt like shouting as I read the news that Yahoo had appointed Marissa Mayer as its new CEO.
I felt like cheering for Yahoo not just because they appointed Marissa, one of the very few women who have reached the level of the CEO in any industry, not just because she is just 37, much younger than her usual CEO counterparts who are well beyond 50 but because she is 6 months pregnant and is going to give birth to a baby in the next few months even as she takes on the reins at the troubled firm.
Did Yahoo make the right decision? Analysts will write profound articles about her sound engineering and product management background that might help rebuild Yahoo’s fortunes or her lack of strategic vision that might ultimately be limiting for the already shaken company.
The argument will continue and the results will soon be visible.
But for now, I celebrate the decision for a much more personal reason.
By appointing a 6 month pregnant lady as the CEO, Yahoo has brought to light a common discrimination ground for women.
How many companies would take such a decision in India?
Forget about considering for a CEO position, how many companies would even consider a pregnant lady for a promotion or a demanding role?
I have seen cases where women are passed over for plum roles by companies thinking that they cannot give their best after becoming mothers.
Most women end up either leaving their jobs or choosing a less demanding role or changing track completely after being mothers. In fact, they often themselves step away from roles requiring travel or extended hours as they try to prioritize the time they spend with their children.
But the decision to choose to work or not to work and to choose a demanding role or a flexible role should only be the mother’s.
It’s her right and her choice.
Not the companys’.
The company has no right to discriminate against women based on pregnancy.
As for Marissa, is she taking the right decision? Will she miss the bonding with her baby by working through her maternity leave? Well, I believe these decisions are purely personal.
I wish her all the very best as she takes on two huge challenges at the same time.
And I sincerely hope more companies follow Yahoo’s example by at least offering women roles worthy of their merit rather than just discriminating based on potential motherhood issues.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Of snakes and ladders

As children, a lot of us loved playing the game of snakes and ladders. Oh, the thrill of climbing up the ladders and the dread of landing on the mouth of the snake which would pull us back to the starting point. And wasn't it the worst feeling to get caught at the big snake that used to lie in wait at 99 just when we were about to win the game and reach 100 on the scoreboard?
We forget this simple game as we grow up and get busy in our daily lives as adults.
But isn’t the grown up world of jobs and responsibilities a lot like the simple game of snakes and ladders that we played so often and well as children?
We all look for ladders for success, helping hands and opportunities that propel us forward, give us recognition for our efforts and help us grow as individuals.
And most of us are unaware when we are treading on the mouths of the snakes that lay in wait to trap us and pull us down from our heights. And very often the snake pulls us down just before a big triumph, a big win.
How do we deal with such invisible snakes? Well, that’s a lesson our children can teach us. Just as they cheerfully go back to playing the game and start the climb upwards on the playing board all over again, so too must we; even though it may seem more daunting and difficult the second time around.
And with patience, and a smile, hopefully, we’ll find the next ladder just around the corner.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

It all started with Facebook

I remember once as a child, I was once taken to a posh restaurant in Park Street, Kolkata. It was a special family outing and the food was too good to waste. So, I ate and ate and ate. So much that I soon vomited all over the velvet sofa and teakwood table. Of course all traces of the remaining food were quickly snatched away from under my nose.

As if that wasn’t enough embarrassment for my poor parents, I soon started crying.
“Don’t cry, don’t feel ashamed, it’s ok” my mother said with her last ounce of patience.
 “I am not crying because I am ashamed. I am crying because I want to eat more” I shouted.
That was me. A complete foodie then and now. I thought about food when I woke up and when I went to sleep and my dreams were also quite often about food. I was addicted to watching Masterchef Australia, reading gourmet recipes in colourful cookbooks and trying out exotic culinary experiments during the weekends.
Added to my love for food was my fear of exercise. And being a mother only helped pile on the excess kilos.
But I pretended I didn’t care. I couldn’t give up my favourite food for a few less kgs.  And wasn’t I super busy managing home and office and kid and everything else in between? I just needed to eat to keep up my energy.
And well exercise, there was never enough time for that. Swimming, cycling, yoga and the gym were all like enemy alien forces to me. And the covers of the latest bestseller book stared at me too invitingly in my few moments of leisure. Even if I managed to get some time to walk, my feet invariably carried me to the supermarket or the chicken roll shop. So the walk ended in adding more calories than it reduced.
And then one not so fine day, after coming back from a holiday, I sat trying to upload some pictures on Facebook. And then I stared at the picture.
Who was that staring back at me? The fat face, trying to hide the bulging curves behind my kid? Was that how people saw me?
As I tried to search for pictures that didn’t feature me too prominently in it, it finally dawned on me.
I was not being a woman of substance by just adding more weight to my already bloated body. I needed to do something and do something fast before my daughter came and asked me one day in her innocent voice “Why are you so fat, Mummy?.”
At this point in my life, I weighed 73 kg. And all who knew me knew how much I loved food.
But over the last one year, I managed to drop 22 kg. And the best thing is I dropped this weight without even having to resort to any drastic measures. I never exercised for more than 40 minutes, gave up no other food except Coca Cola.
And I am still a foodie and still love watching and trying out Masterchef recipes.
All I did was took advice from a trained nutritionist, began eating at smaller intervals, and started going to the gym for 4-5 days a week.
Nothing happened overnight. It took more than a year for me to drop my years of excess baggage.
There is less of me now definitely more to me. Only someone who has been through this journey can understand the joy of throwing out clothes in XL size and buying clothes in S size (clothes I didn’t even dare to look at earlier).
It’s not difficult to lose weight. If I can, anyone can. And here are my learnings from my journey:
1.It’s not a sprint, it is more like a marathon; instead of having sudden, quick  targets like lose 5 kgs in 2 months or joining some latest new diet like African Mango or Banana diet, it is better to lose weight naturally in a healthy way; though it will obviously take much more time.
2. it’s not a goal which one can achieve and forget about. It is a lifestyle change. I love the gym now and can prepare plenty of yummy salads and healthy yet tasty recipes. Bottom-line: it’s not a punishment; one has to enjoy the journey and make it one’s lifestyle.
3. it’s all in the mind: Despite enjoying the journey, there are days when one would feel like having a brownie or a chicken roll. What I have learnt is it is ok to indulge once in a while rather than obsessing about every kg.  Like all foodies, I believe food is a religion, not just a mathematical count of calories. You see, its all in the mind; once the mind understands the goal, the body automatically follows.
So for every other foodie who might be wondering whether they can still love food and lose weight, I would say:

Go ahead and try; love your food, take it slow and speak to your mind often and long. After all, one has nothing to lose but weight.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What happens after 6?

It’s 6.00 p.m. in the evening and you stare at the clocks in panic. All the 3 large clocks on the orange wall in front of you with its large colourful posters of ‘Values in Action’ and ‘Quality is our Focus’ tell you the same thing. In US time, UK time and India time, respectively, they all tell you that your time is up. You just have about an hour left to pick up your kid before the crèche (daycare) doors close shut and to reach there you have to brave the never ending Bangalore traffic and the never failing stares of a few colleagues who seem to be whispering ‘Look, she’s leaving at 6.00 again’.
If this is a familiar predicament in which a lot of us find ourselves, let me add to the scenario.
When you finally reach the crèche, the waiting maid glances at you reproachfully for spoiling an hour of her evening serial time, you have reached in the extended hours (beyond 7 p.m., you see; when the crèche normally closes) and she had to wait back specifically for you. To top it all you find your daughter, fuming, angry and in mutiny.
“Mummy, there’s no one my age here anymore”
“All my friends have left”
“They don’t have any activities for us to do. We are just asked to sit and play.”
“Why do I still have to come to the crèche?”
So, that is my question too.
Where do the children who go to daycare centers go once they turn 6?
Most daycare centers proudly show their statistics – a bunch of 2-6 year old kids that decorate their walls in their childish sprawls and add to their hefty bank balance.
But the same centers have very few children above the age of 6 and even the ones who are there are rarely treated separately with educational/sporting/cultural activities that are suitable for their age.
So what happens after a kid joins primary school? When he/she returns from school at 4 p.m. but still needs an hour or two at the daycare before parents can return from office and pick up?
And what do parents of such kids do?
They can’t start returning home at 4 p.m. suddenly. As if 6 p.m. wasn’t bad enough for the office gossips to constantly comment upon.
Do they give up their jobs? That is increasingly not an option in today’s world.
Shift to a 24 hour housemaid? Many people do it but unless extremely lucky, this might turn into a 24 hour disturbance with someone who is never a part of the family but always hovering around the periphery.
Grandparents? That might have been the solution earlier but nowadays many grandparents choose to have their own lives without taking the responsibility of being surrogate parents for their grandchildren.
As one stylish 55 year old grandmother put it very aptly “Been there, done that. Why should I manage my grandchildren; haven’t I raised 3 of my own?”
This brings me to 2 possible solutions, if anybody cares to listen.

    - Kids between 6-10 should not be treated like small babies. Daycare centers should have educational and creative activities for them that mentally stimulate the children and add to the knowledge they are gaining from school. That would reduce the daycare dropout rates and make sure these older children also enjoy the hours they spend there.

    - Why can’t we have teenage girls/boys babysitting or rather ‘child sitting’ for these kids? For a couple of hours, these teenagers could just play some sports with them or read their own books while helping these kids read their books (most of them can read by this age). They don’t need too much of handholding, they just need companionship and learning. Not only would this give the teenagers some much needed money for their personal use, it would help instil in them a sense of responsibility and caring.

But as I said, is anybody listening? Till then, our daily fight with the clocks will continue.