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.