Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All's fair in bargaining and war

It was going to be a full house in Ratham Veedhi , Madurai. Such days were few and far between and Gomathy Patti looked forward to them more than anyone else. She planned on waking up at 4 am in time to prepare an elaborate meal for everybody. She would spend most of the night awake for fear of getting up late. Cooking for several hungry kids, enthusiastic parents and uninvited guests that would be welcome with open arms wasn’t easy. Gomathy Patti took on this daunting task with a large serving of gusto and a huge dollop of pride.

She allowed an extra 15 minutes to bargain with the vegetable seller, Chellappan, at the market. While on her way to the market, she spent all those 15 minutes, stopping to tell those she met on her way that all the grandchildren were going to be home that day. To some selected people she confided that she was going to make vendakkai (okra) curry. Her daughter-in-law Kaamatchi stayed at home, cooking other things that Gomathy Patti felt didn’t need an expert. Also, Kaamatchi keenly avoided listening to Chellappan complain about her mother-in-law. She was never sure whom to support. Kaamatchi smartly used Gomathy Patti’s absence in making some extra rice and increasing the quantity of rasam and sambhar by adding more water and some more spices. Later, everyone would exclaim that Patti’s rasam was always especially tasty when there was a large crowd to dine with.

By the time Gomathy Patti made it to the vegetable seller, word had reached him that she was going to buy okra. He huffed readying for the bullfight. He sprayed water on all the vegetables to make them look fresh. He quickly covered one of the baskets with a wet cloth and rope so that he could make it look like the vegetables had just been delivered. He removed all the rotten vegetables he could lay his hands on. He then gulped some water, cleared his throat and clapped his hands. He was ready.

An audience had also gathered. Waiting. Who would win?

Gomathy Patti came in with her nose upturned. She took each vegetable by hand and nodded her head in disapproval. Chellappan paid her not the slightest attention, tending to the banana plantain instead. Gomathy Patti took out a bunch of coriander leaves from beneath the large pile. The ones below were rotten. “Che. What good will such a bunch do to my rasam? This is why I grow my own coriander in the kitchen garden”, she said.

Gomathy Patti had opened with an ace.

15-love to Patti.

“Well, for you maami, I will give this bunch to you for free”, he said removing a fresh bunch from the top and waving at her. ” Even if you discard all my wares as old and rotten.”

15 all

“No. I don’t need anything for free. My son earns a hefty pension and my grandchildren are soon going to be working in fantastic jobs that don’t even need a pension. Why, I might even give you some of my own coriander then”

30 -15

She next went to the beans and drew out the fibre from the sides of the stalk to test their tenderness. She sighed loudly. And as though doing it out of generosity she asked him how much it was, adding that she must be a fool for wanting to buy it at all.

40 - 15

Chellappan played along knowing full well that she did not want the beans. He quoted a particularly expensive rate . He hoped that the lesser price he would eventually quote for the okra would be acceptable in comparison.


She pretended to think for a while, and then, feigning a defeated look, refused it. She now looked around the place vaguely as if her long-hatched plans had been soiled and she hadn’t a clue what her other options were. She sighed loudly again. She now turned to the okra. She took each okra and broke off the tip. The whole time she kept up a constant prattle of disapproval.
“Why are they so hard ? They’re all overripe. Much like you Chellappan. ”

“Maami. These are as tender is my 10 month old baby. Besides, okra is good for any age, for brains of any age, including yours”

He proceeded to pick a particularly tender okra and effortlessly broke off its tip.


Gomathy Patti was not impressed. She proceeded to test the okra some more. It might mean that she would break the stalks of all the okra in the stall. But Chellappan let her. It wasn’t everyday that someone prepared such a feast. He could feel his patience wearing out even as he displayed a smug smile, confident of his goods. Narasimhan, who was also making his way through the market place, was loudly gesturing at his wife Lakshmi “Buy okra from here Lakshmi. The curry you made last week was pretty good” he said.

Advantage Chellappan

Gomathy patti turned to them and snarled. Not missing a beat, she said nonchalantly “True. Chellappan can sometimes be lucky.” And she picked up an overripe okra and showed it to them.


Chellappan now found no humour in this. “Maami. Careful. I respect your age. But think about my age and what I am capable of before you start driving my customers away.”

Advantage Chellappan.

But Gomathy Patti was not that easily stymied. She waved her hand dismissively and said “ Bhagawan (God) will come to the aid of those who tell the truth”. “Anyway”, she said, this time with the look of one who is doing a favour, “now I will give you 16 annas per kilo for this okra and I’ll buy three kilos of it.

Either give it to me or risk losing more customers than just Lakshmi and Narasimhan”


Chellappan knew the math all too well. If Gomathy Patti bought the okra, chances were Lakshmi maami would buy the okra too. If Gomathy Patti didn't, Lakshmi wouldn't dare for fear of having to defend herself against Gomathy Patti's claim that Lakshmi had betrayed her. And so, Chellappan would have wasted all morning for nothing.

“Fine. Now will you please make a move? ”, he said.

Gomathy Patti finally permitted herself to smile. She loaded the okra in the choir basket and counted out the money twice before giving it to Chellappan. As she handed him the money she said “Where’s my coriander bunch you promised me? “

Advantage Gomathy Patti

Chellappan permitted himself a smile this time.

“Maami. I’ve rarely seen a more cunning lady than you”.

And then Gomathy Patti bared her large toothless smile and whispered, “and I’ve rarely seen better Okra than this. Make sure Lakshmi pays you at least 20 annas per kilo.”


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

And here we go again

I've never written anything in this genre (if it can be called that at all) before, because its really hard to get away from all oft-repeated plots and say anything new and I don't think i'll ever manage to overcome that hurdle. Anyway, here it is :)

“Why”, she asked him, forcing herself to look into his eyes with what she hoped was a penetrating stare.
“Why do you like me ? I am a smartass, and not one of those pretty babes”
“Don’t kid yourself. You’re no smartass”
“Get your eyes checked. I am not a pretty babe either”
“ I see what you want and I am not going to give it to you”

She wondered if he’d known all along. If he knew how badly she wanted to reciprocate and how badly she detested the vulnerability that always followed an admission of love, even if it wasn’t going to be everlasting. She had never been vulnerable. She’d always detested the feeling of being weak in the knees, and the giddy feeling that she’d read in umpteen romantic novels, and had heard being described by friends. She for one had never let herself go there. She’d always found a reason to “keep standing”, she told herself. Yet, somewhere inside her, she knew it was all a farce. The fact that she had to continually remind herself to stand up straight, continually remind herself to ignore the flutter of the heart when an interesting guy smiled at her told her that she was no different from the rest of them. Perhaps she was even worse. Her only consolation was that she knew the alchemist’s trick. She could always turn her heart of gold into stone.

“No, I don’t want a big romantic speech about love, if that’s what you’re thinking”
“Let’s say it was. But I’m glad you don’t want it because I hate lying”, and he smiled.
“What are you so afraid of anyway?” he asked.
“What makes you think I’m afraid of something?”
“Because I am mostly irresistible, and I’d be surprised if you found me objectionable. I’m assuming it’s my perfection that’s actually throwing you off guard”
“I’m worried about the Cupid impersonators. The kind whose arrows will only ever lead to heartbreak”
“Ah! The smartass believes in Cupid and fairies and Santa Claus”

This time she couldn’t hide it. She let herself do what every cell in her body was demanding of her. She smiled.

“I suppose you think that since you’re smart you can discern every wrong arrow from the right one. But here’s a question. What if you’re not? What if you miss the one opportunity because you weren’t willing to let go of your shield and let the arrow pierce you”
She looked up at him, wanting to run away from there. She couldn’t stand there being exposed any longer. On that bright, hot, day she felt cold, unprotected and unguarded.
“What if you lose”, he paused and then whispered “me”.
“I noticed the dramatic pause. Work at it, will you ?”, she said and started to walk off hastily.
“I’ve decided after all, to make the romantic speech”, he said, rushing after her.
“Here’s what I’d like you to think about tonight. The speeches are cliché, but perhaps it’s so because no one has really been able to answer it, settle the debate once for all, and allow it to accumulate dust somewhere. Love is a matter of the heart. Do you really think you’ll be able to dodge it with your head ?”

She walked faster, not noticing that he had already stopped following her. Why did he think he could get her simply by reading her every thought? She looked back and saw that he wasn’t around anymore. Why did he have to be right , she thought and smiled more fully this time. She truly was no different. Hurt was what she feared. Hurt was what she had never felt. She looked back again to where he last stood when she was still capable of looking into his eyes and manage to hide behind closed doors in her head. Who was she kidding? The door had always been ajar, and he had unabashedly opened it wide and had looked right through. Somehow she couldn’t tell herself to push him out and shut the door on him.

Dear diary,

But it never works that way does it ?
Until I know the answer, I am going to have to lock these thoughts in you. In all honesty, I’ll only be half asleep tonight, waiting for a charming lock picker to come, open you and release me.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


She entered the large building with long strides, gripping her briefcase tightly, with a smile on her lips, facing the world straight ahead, making for the elevators in the far side of the building ignoring the escalators.

The floor was still wet. She’d long since decided it was the better of the two evils. In 10 minutes, the first crowd of people would come in hurriedly. To be lost in a crowd was now a myth to her. Wherever she went, she stood out. However tall she tried to walk, she felt other powers towering upon her. However fast she walked, she could somehow never escape. Right now there were already two people – the receptionist and the maid. Everywhere she went, the maid and the receptionst, despite their disparity in ranks, despite the need for one to look prim and proper at all times and for the other to work up a sweat, despite the fact that one needed to be available at all times and the other needed to be unheard and unseen, formed strong bonds and ended up intimidating her.

As she walked in, the receptionist looked up to see who it was that had come into the building that early, and the maid began to twiddle her thumbs because the floor hadn’t yet dried.

“Go warn her”, said the receptionist.
“Why must I ? The last time I tried, I was informed by a person that he could very well see that the floor was wet, and maids like me should be unseen and unheard”
“Don’t worry, this one seems to be the kind who always needs to be at work much before it actually opens. She looks like she is used to walking on wet floors in early mornings. See her eyes. There isn’t a hint of surprise that the building is so empty. She must be new here”
“I’d vote for her”
“She’s not running for anything”
“No, but look at the way she confidently walks with long strides, holding her briefcase tightly? She looks like she could change the world just by changing the contents of that briefcase. I’d vote for her, whatever she runs for”
“Then you better move away because she’s looking at us. You’ll vote for her, and the first thing she’ll do is make sure that maids who are seen and heard do not have jobs along with the receptionists that indulge in such activities”

What was it that they had against her, she wondered. It was with reason that she had chosen to work as a consultant. She knew her job would take her places – if not far away, then at least pretty far apart from each other. Escape that way was always imminent and comforting. Everywhere she went, she saw them standing close to each other, whispering, murmuring, looking at her, assessing her, homing into her deepest insecurities. She’d always wanted to look back and smile at them, but she was worried she’d be accused of having a condescending attitude. Often she told herself that they appreciated her. She always laughed the minute she thought that. Distorting reality was one thing. Creating a complete fairy tale out of it was quite another. Every morning she’d hear them speak softly, yet she could hear them loud enough in her head. They knew her palms were sweaty she thought. She always gripped her briefcase too tightly, concentrating on not dropping it, and her palms sweat all the more, despite the air conditioning. Slippery floors were another problem. The less time her feet spent on the floor, the less her chances are of making a fool of herself, so she walked fast, with long strides, looking straight up. As she walked, her heart flipped a beat. It did that every day and it always meant the same thing – that her world was suddenly just a little more crowded. She forced herself not to quicken her pace.

Anju walked in, smiled at the receptionist, a little more broadly than usual and continued walking, looking down at the floor. In the hazy reflection she wondered if she could see her tears. Pari walked next to her forcing herself herself to keep quiet but yet wanting so desperately to help her friend. Another bill had arrived today, Pari knew. But Anju was done with asking Pari for help and Pari knew that Anju was smiling only because of the pride she gained from standing on her own two feet – literally. Anju was glad that Pari was holding her hands right now.

“Look, I can’t keep quiet any longer. One day, you’ll make it like her. Look ahead”, said Pari.
“Sometimes it’s not even worth dreaming Pari. It really isn’t. Everytime I see someone like her, imagining that they must’ve started from the bottom like me, I get my hopes again”
“You can start by looking at world in its face – like her. See how she keeps her head up. She’s not worried what the mirror is saying to her. She’s brave enough to change her own reflection. She’s even walking alone. She doesn’t even seem to need anyone to tell her what she can and cannot be”
“Okay, don’t get excited. She might hear us”
“We weren’t saying anything wrong”
“Oh look, now she’s going towards the elevators. Walking away from us downtrodden lot, I suppose”
“I think she’s too busy with walking high up in the clouds to bother about what’s beneath it. And I assure you, that’s where you’ll be one day. Now cheer up. This month too shall pass and you’ll come out unscathed.”
“Right ! Since I’ve already reached rock bottom, I don’t need anything to break my fall. I’m already broken and broke”
“And from there, there’s nowhere to go but up”

She looked straight up, at the highest floor of the building. She gave a half hearted smile attempting to ooze confidence. Look at my eyes once, and you’ll know they’re looking not straight at you, but over you, as though you never existed. If only that were true she thought. Sea of faces, or empty places, the only place she ever looked was up, high enough to see over and above the heads where thoughts twirled and connected and somehow linked to her. High enough to ignore the stealthy looks, the miscalculated conclusions, the prejudices, high enough so that she was peaceful enough to smile. They’d only just spotted her, she thought. They were already speaking about her. What did they see at the back of her head ? Could they see, that it was such an effort to keep walking straight ahead when everything behind was intent on stopping her and observing her keenly, as thought she was a specimen to be studied in a lab? She thought lovingly about her imagined joys of suspended animation. Could they see that their whispering, that they had someone to speak to, made her painfully aware that there was no one by her side? She walked towards the elevators. Why people chose to socialize on escalators, she never understood. She preferred the closed space of the elevator. It was claustrophobic, she was told. She looked at is a warm feeling that enclosed her and protected her - a plexiglass enclosure where no one could hurt her.

“Third floor please”, said Akhila, removing her compact and the lipstick from her bag.
Tanu walked in behind her.
“I suppose since you’re taking me via the elevator today, you have something juicy to tell me”, said Tanu.
“No. I had my tooth extracted yesterday and my mouth’s paining and there’s only so much time I can spend smiling artificially at everybody.”
“What you and I need is a real smile – not smiles for occasions. What difference are we from greeting cards then”
“I used to know how to smile properly once. I spend so much time guarding myself these days that no one can every catch myself smiling quietly, to myself, in a corner”
“Here’s our lucky day. Look at the woman at the elevator opposite us. She has a very lovely smile doesn’t she ?”
“She looks like she’s on top of the world”
“Well, someday we’ll be there too. Perhaps it needs a certain altitude, a certain dizziness to be able to really let go and smile”

She looked down at the marble floor of the elevator and smiled. On the elevator opposite her, two women were chattering and smiling- certainly about her. She remembered a time when she was younger, when buildings didn’t need to have swanky see-through elevators. She adored her lone time in them. The only opaque walled elevators now were the express elevators and they were worse than escalators. She caught herself smiling suddenly. Did they reach her eyes, she asked herself. Probably not, not since a long time now, a voice replied. The elevator slowly made its way to the top of the building where she made her way into her large spacious office. It was lonely at the top, she’d been told when many times. It was her only incentive to get there. That’s the only place she felt truly on top of the world in.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Another day.

For as long as she had known, she had never asked her father anything. That wasn’t to say that she had fended for herself. She’d put herself through college using the scholarship only because such an option existed. Had it not been there, the fees would still have been paid.

Yet, the entire thing had a sense of strangeness about it. Why would anyone be afraid of asking her father for something? She couldn’t remember an occasion when she’d asked him for anything. Not a day had gone without three meals. Not a fever had gone without a visit to the doctor. Every mistake had been rightfully reproached. Every act of ill faith had been pardoned. No birthday had gone without his remembering.

As she walked, she wondered if there had ever been a time when she’d asked dad for anything. Trivial ideas crowded her mind. Birthday wishes, bed time stories, her first motorcycle, her first time in a movie theater, the first time she went camping and the fact that dad came to pick her up when she came back. She couldn’t remember anytime when she’d asked for something that dad didn’t already know she wanted.

She walked faster, sweating a little now. She needed to know if there was a time when she needed something that dad didn’t know about. More importantly, she needed to know if the wish was granted. She looked across at the road. “First left, then right, then wait, then walk”, came a voice in her mind. In all her desperation, she forced a smile. She hadn’t asked dad about how to cross the road either. She was quite content sitting at the portico watching other people come to her. Yet, dad had come one day and taught her.

Why does it have to have an air of an emotional drama, she wondered. Why couldn’t she just sit and think for a bit. Search for that glimpse of assurance. There had to be a first time for everything. But a precedent would make this situation so much simpler, she thought. But every minute mattered now. She couldn’t afford to do a whole flashback scene. Her life was too long for that. It was long and so scarcely scattered with useful matter, that searching it would be futile.

Across the road, she saw a little girl pleading with her father, asking him for a balloon. She already had three tied to her wrist. There was once a time when she’d asked him for a balloon and he’d bought it too. There was no time to wonder if her mind was playing games with her. Her father had his flaws too. He didn’t always know what she wanted. This was clearly one such time. The doctors had assured her that if he got through the next 24 hours, he’d be fine. She walked towards his ward with resolve.All she needed was another day. After all, for as long as she’d known her father hadn’t refused anything she had asked.

Dedicated to miracles.
Wherever they may be.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

My own terms

Another bottle of Horlicks and another basket of oranges arrived today. One person presented me with a joke book. He’s never so much as uttered a joke, let alone appreciate one, and he tries to pep me up with a joke book. I’m ill, and the doctors have declared that I’ll probably die. Suddenly, my place is swarming with people with words of pity.

I’ve known people to describe me as hateful, wretched, sweet, generous, pompous, proud and what not. Now all I am, is an object of pity. I’d like to at least feel that I’ve earned it. I haven’t. I did nothing to get this disease. It just came and presented itself, and my body accepted. I wasn’t even there during the transaction. I was away breaking someone’s heart, and there’s no one who is willing to give me the credit for that.

I’ll soon be sitting in some bed with only the murmur of the many machines as solace. I’ll look at them fearing a blackout. What will happen to me, if the power goes off. All I’ll have is my thoughts. I don’t plan to keep visitors too long. I don’t want to erase the adjectives they have for me in my mind. I want to remain as memories. Memories that are specific to me. The human mind’s so forgetful. If I allow too many people to see me, they’ll forget what I was and look at a frail me and well up in tears. I can’t stand that. To live forever’s become such an urgent dream now. I’m rich, only rich enough to drag my life for a few more milliseconds, perhaps another hour. I’ve been good, for the most part, but not good enough that I can validate a petition for immortality. The only way I can remain is in memories. I’ve said that one too many times, but that’s all I can say.

I must die before I get worse. I must die before everything becomes unbearable. I’m running away from life really fast, hoping to bump into death really quickly. Maybe the collisions will have an impact at my molecular level, that I’ll spring right back to life. Its such a crazy thought, that defies every law, every science that I’ve learnt, but I’m sitting with enough time to dwell on them, feeling a misdirected sense of purpose.

I’ve always lived on my own terms. My own – ones that I’ve devised. Risks, that I was willing to take, mistakes that I was willing to pay for. Why should death be any different. I cannot sit and watch behind glass doors, looking at the doctors throwing numbers at random. 4 months, 6 months, a year, 2 years. I don’t care. I want to live an ordinary life, die an ordinary death. There must be something left of me to burn. Organs of value. But I think I’ve done it. Figured out a way to die, that is. Its strange that I want to desperately die because I want to live on. Live on as words, as thoughts, as experiences, as exasperation, as joy. They’ll probably call me a coward for doing this. They’ll probably call me stupid, silly, someone who didn’t believe in the power of miracles. They’ll call me all that, I hope. Someone who truly sympathizes with me, can’t call me a coward, can they ? That really is my point. I want all the joys of a normal human being. I don’t want to be raised on a pedestal, and I don’t want to be cited as an example. I didn’t deserve it. I planned my death, meticulously, properly. Time of death – around 7 pm. Same time as I was born. I came a complete circle – on my own terms.

Bon Appetit

Grandpa had never asked me to dine with him privately. He was trying to be very Western nowadays. He’d started ever since grandma died. At least that’s what I heard. When I was born, he insisted that I called him grandpa. My family consisted of appa, amma and grandpa. He always spoke to me in English. For a farmer who lived in a village, that was an achievement. In fact, it might have been a sign of early senility. Grandpa was 85 now. I always thought of him as a virus. Viruses are organisms that are neither modern nor ancestral. I could never quite decide if grandpa was youthful or was indeed very old. A private dinner. It sounded so odd, so western and I could only conclude that Grandpa too was bored with all the tamil sitcoms and had begun to watch then English channels.When I reached home that day, I wondered where we were going to privately dine. There was only one dining room. Grandpa had set the table in his room. Mom had cooked and had laid everything there.

“First things first boy, you will call me thaatha from now on”
“ What did you say grandpa.”
“Haven’t you been taught to obey your elders boy ?”
“Sorry, thaatha”
“You young fellows, you go with other girls on something. What is that”
“Ah, yes. I think I’m going to have a date with your grandmother. Hell or heaven, it doesn’t matter. While she was here, she fed me really well. She was very much a part of the sins I committed. If I’m going to hell, then she’s already there. I want to prepare for it, so she’d accept me. I still look handsome don’t you think. My wrinkles, are they too much”
“ Thaatha. Grandma must be wrinkled too. I don’t think it would worry her”

“ You’re forgetting boy. She was never beautiful. While I was married to her, the only thing I looked forward to when I came home was her food. She made this dish – masial. Your mother can’t cook it. My experiments in the kitchen have failed abysmally. She also had a very nice smile. A timid scary smile. My moustache always scared her. She wore a red bindi all over her forehead. Like I was going to die and she wanted to reassure herself that she still had a husband or something. She was never beautiful on the outside, but every other quality made up for it. I was never beautiful on the inside, but I was a handsome dude”
“Dude, thaatha ?”
“Yes dude. And you’re supposed to say that I’m just as good on the inside as I am on the outside. So tell me. My twinkling eyes, my dashing smile, my stubble, my tan. I make quite a handsome old man ?”
“I’m certain thaatha.”

That night I told him everything I knew about impressing women. He listened patiently, and interjected when he didn’t understand. It was the strangest conversation I ever had. It happens to be the best conversation I ever had. He showed me a painting he’d made of grandma, smiling. She did have a pretty smile. Even if it was Madhubala in the painting.

For three days in a row he went to bed clad in a suit. Every morning he’d get up and tell me that he was stood up again, and would go into the kitchen to see if he could get the masial right. He’d scream at mom.
“It is yellow, and it tastes strange, but nice. With all your experience in the kitchen, this must be easy for you to understand”

On the fourth day, he came running out of the kitchen “ginger, ginger”. His heart couldn’t take the excitement and he was admitted to the hospital immediately. Over the phone, he explained to my mother how “masial”, had to be prepared, with ginger. I took it to the hospital, where dad was almost in tears.

When I walked in, he asked me. “How do I look, boy”.
“ Very handsome thaatha. You’re going to sweep grandma off her feet”
“I don’t want to break my heart and end up back in Earth you know. Your grandma is going to stay rooted in hell”
“Heaven, grandpa”, I said in tears.
Grandpa was very eager to see if his masial had come out right. It had, thankfully.
“Bon appetit son”

Those were the last words I heard from my grandpa. The last words I heard from virus thaatha.

Cheaper by the dozen

Sania cursed at herself. In her slumber she had put the alarm clock off instead of pressing the snooze button. She woke up 5 minutes late. She knew she had to skip breakfast and the morning news. She could catch up with Calvin and Hobbes the next day. As she walked out of her apartment, she slipped over the newspaper plastic and broke her shoes. It was the only pair she had. Sania had a strict policy about shoes. One pair of keds, one pair of bathroom slippers, and one for work was all she had. She quickly hopped over to the shoe-shop at the end of the road. She was running late and there really was no time for bargaining or for trying out all the shoes that caught her fancy. She spotted a pair that looked decent enough.

“That one, please”.
“ That comes under our “cheaper by the dozen offer ma’am”.
“I need one pair and that’s all I will buy”.
“Sure ma’am. Perhaps you could come back in the evening and I can explain the scheme to you. You are only expected to pay for this pair right now.”
“Fine, how much.”
“400 ma’am, and it will get cheaper by the dozen”.

Exorbitant as it was, Sania had no time to argue. She paid, signed the form that accepted her into the scheme, wore the shoes and went out into the road. The bus went past her, and Sania cursed her luck again. She hailed a cab. This day was turning out to be very expensive. The new shoes fit rather snugly. She wondered if it was time she got herself another pair of shoes. She had promised to never buy more than she needed, but she had to equip herself in times of emergency. After all, shoes are known to give way, and its only fair that she had an extra set. She looked at the form in her hand that said “Cheaper by the dozen – The more you buy, the less you pay.” When opportunity knocks, one opens the door. Sania decided to stop by the shop later that night.

When she went into the shop that evening, she found herself involuntarily looking for classier shoes. Her mind quickly went through the clothes in her wardrobe, and Sania was inflicted with a childlike enthusiasm for mix and match. The salesman on duty explained to her that every purchase would get her a discount of an additional 5%. Sania was satisfied and convinced herself that the day had not gone badly after all. There was talk of the managers promoting some of them and Sania decided to begin dressing for the occasion. A little voice within her reminded of a promise she had made a long time ago about never giving in to temptation. She looked down at her new shoes and fathomed a slight pain on her insoles. She needed comfortable soles didn’t she ? Sania looked at a variety of footwear. Flats, heels, boots, platforms, stilettos. She couldn’t really make up her mind. One wouldn’t go with her pants, the other wouldn’t go with her skirts. If she could buy only one pair, it would have to go with everything. The salesman didn’t fail to mention that the third purchase would get her 10 % off. “and you can go all the way upto a dozen ma’am.” Sania found herself considering this. When she left the store, she found herself thinking “ well, at least they’ll go with half my clothes”.

On getting home, Sania arranged her new possessions neatly near the door. Almost involuntarily she looked at the space allotted for her shoes and wondered if there would be enough to accommodate 6 pairs of shoes.

The next day Sania spent more than 5 minutes on deciding which shoe to wear, and then on debating which dress to wear. Sania decided that moping around wouldn’t help. She had to expand her wardrobe, now that she had new shoes to try them on with. Sania decided to shop around for a new dress later than night- something that would match both her shoes. Sania was late to work again and couldn’t care less. That evening Sania came home with 2 new dresses. Sania had a party at the workplace that weekend, and the employees were encouraged to come well dressed. With appraisals and promotions drawing nearer, Sania knew that they would be keenly observed. Over the next few days Sania bought 2 more pairs. Along with it, an expensive haircut, few more clothes, a drop at the automobile store to see if she could afford a new car and most importantly a shoe-rack. Taking the cab to work became a ritual, so did going late. A new mirror occupied her room. To top it all, Sania went and bought a few handbags. By the end of 2 weeks, she had 6 new pairs of shoes, and a cupboard that wouldn’t close. Sania was certain that the promotion would be hers. She had clearly showed she wanted it, and despite coming late to work, she hadn’t yet missed a deadline.

The following Monday, Sania had to attend the meeting.
“We had to make a tough choice between you and Dina. But we’re more interested in D, because she will come to work on the weekend even if she didn’t have a pair of shoes named Sunday”.

Web Of Life

She was there at 6 in the evening each day. She didn’t know she was there at 6. The streetlights were her clock. She knew two things. Time to earn, and time to eat and sleep. At 6, the streetlights came on and she knew that she had to earn for the next day. She would sit below a streetlight in one of the many sacks she had collected during her

Her world was tiny. It consisted of the main road where she made sure that she’d survive another day, and the back alley where she did the surviving. For decades she’d spent life living one day after another. She had no memories of her past, no dreams for her future and no agenda for the present. Her knowledge of the world was sufficient. She knew how to kill the ants, to drive away the rats, to sense slithering reptiles. She knew how big the coin must be to get one idli. She knew that 2 such coins would fetch her 2 idlis. She wasn’t a person given to planning. If ever she got 2 idlis, she would eat them immediately. Not because she was unbearably hungry – hunger was a feeling she’d lived with all her life and had never learnt to sense it She wasn’t aware of any other way. What food was obtained was to be swallowed immediately.

At 6, she’d occupy her place below the streetlight with her coconut cup and 2 sacks. One served as a mattress and another as protection from the cold. Years of observing had made sure that she understood most of what was going on. She had come to expect the lights to go on in the first floor of one house at a certain time. If ever she was curious about what people were doing in cars and vehicles she had learnt to quell it. Now, all she did was passively look around and smile a toothless smile at the rare person who dropped her a coin or two. Once in a while there would come a person who would give her a rupee every day, but then they too would disappear after a while. She had learnt simply not to expect anything from everyone. So far, she had never gone a day without a rupee. She wasn’t aware of any other possibility.

If you ever went up and spoke to her, all you’re likely to hear is a barely coherent mumble. She knew enough about the languages of her world to understand what someone was saying. She did make a very honest attempt to reply though. She had never had much opportunity to speak. Her actions were not just louder than words- they were her words.Shaking the coconut cup fetched her coins. Rattling those coins got her idlis. Eating those idlis got her another day. Hers was a very simple existence.

One day she didn’t appear at her place below the streetlight and the man who gave her idlis decided to look into the back alley. She was there, cold and dead. Few more men came and made sure she was given a proper burial. Inadverdently she had becomes part of their lives. For the man who sold her idlies, she was his last customer every night. Strangely enough, he was superstitious about his last customer. It had to be the lady below the streetlight. It calmed his mind to know, that he had helped someone survive every night. For years he had been giving her one idli at the price of half an idli. He could only afford that much generosity.

Many times the traffic policemen had delayed giving the go signal. From where he stood, he could see that a car driver or a cyclist was about to give the old woman a coin, and he would wait until they did that and then allow the vehicles to pass. On the days when the woman looked too pale, the policeman would make sure that she got an extra rupee. On the days when no vehicle driver gave her any money, he’d make sure she got some. The traffic policeman made sure that she never starved at night. He too couldn’t help anymore. After all, he had 5 children at home, and another one on its way. On the days when he helped the woman, he skipped his daily liquor. He didn’t need it on those days.

The gardener in one of the houses on the road made sure that her home was neat. When she was sitting below the streetlight, he would go into the back alley and clean the place.

It was the least he could do. He’d place a coconut cup there every week so that old woman could use it. He used his homemade rat poison to clear the place of rats.
His dinner tasted delicious on those days when he went and cleaned her little home, he insisted. No one understood why, though.

The carpet seller came by the main road every day. When he saw the sack around the woman was beginning to tear and fade, he would replace it. He sneaked in surreptitiously some days and replaced it while the woman slept. The old woman slept soundly and dreamlessly. A tired existence some would say. Others would say a very content existence. On the day she died, she had four pallbearers and a decent burial. It was the first day when anyone wondered if she had a name.

Garnished with spice

“You’ve changed”, said Maanya.

“Change is natural Mane…”, said Ashok, stopping in mid-sentence, wondering if he still had the right to call her that.

Ashok looked at Maanya searching for an answer. Maanya looked fixedly at the traffic.
Her thoughts drifted back almost 2 decades when he’d first taken the liberty to call her that. From then until now, Maanya allowed no one else to call her Mane. Hearing him call her “Mane”, brought back memories from a time when she was a child. Memories that she wanted desperately to forget.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…..”, said Ashok.

Maanya looked at Ashok, properly for the first time since they met on the crowded street. He wore spectacles now. Maanya remembered the number of times she had told him to get rid of the contact lenses he wore.

“You’re wearing specs”, she said.
“Yes, someone convinced me to do it”

Maanya was hurt by the realization that in the past few years, someone else had come and had made him switch to glasses, that in the years that had gone by, someone affected him much more than herself.

Ashok realized almost immediately that his words could have been mistaken.
“No, it’s not what you think”.

“When has it ever been what I think?”

Ashok winced. She hadn’t forgotten. How could she? It wasn’t a trivial issue. He’d kept her in the dark for many years. He’d never explained himself. Maanya was still in the dark. It made everything complicated. 4 years ago, they’d departed on this very street. Maanya realized that she had been deceived. She had vowed never to speak to him again. She never had. He’d tried to meet her, get her to talk to him. The only thing that would have got Maanya to talk to him was the truth. The truth was all a lie. Ashok couldn’t tell her.

“When has it ever been what I think?”, Maanya repeated.

Ashok knew that he heard her voice shiver. He saw her hands shiver. He missed her. The way she spoke animatedly. The way she looked away when she was guilty, the way she looked straight at someone’s eyes when she wanted them to speak out the truth, the way she tried hard not to let her eyes show any emotion and the way her smile and dimple betrayed everything her eyes tried to hide. He missed her and sometimes had contemplated coming clean. But she would never understand. There were worse things than her not understanding.

“Mane, would you believe me if I told you that there’s nothing I’ve done with the intention of harming you. ?”

“I would. But the harm’s been done. I’m sorry I came back looking for an explanation. I’m sorry that I found it in me to think that there could be a rational explanation for what happened. I’m sorry you never found it in yourself to trust me enough. I think it’s best if we parted ways, forever”

Years ago, when he had been recruited in the intelligence agency, they’d taken him because he had no relationships, no involvements and therefore had no liabilities. No one could hold anyone to ransom. He was therefore unshakeable and unbreakable. Before long, the pressure had got to him and he needed someone to be by him. He had found Maanya. He couldn’t tell Maanya the truth because there were worse things than her not understanding- death, for instance.

“Goodbye, dad. This will be the last time we meet”. Maanya turned around with tears in her eyes, and walked away.

Ashok looked on, as he saw his adopted daughter walk out of his life forever.



I still remember the day when you walked into my life. No, that would be a lie. There was no mystical spark, the sky didn’t erupt with firecrackers, birds did not chirp as if they had got wind of something and the angels didn’t weep in delight. You didn’t walk with a knowing air, and I didn’t look at you with inexplicable curiosity. You weren’t the last piece in my almost complete jig jaw puzzle. You were, the first.

Somehow, you came and became a part of my life. I don’t remember how or when and have never broached to ask “why”, but there you were, an indomitable presence. What was your purpose ? To change my life so much that I couldn’t claim ownership of it anymore ?You stood like a rock, and I wasn’t afraid that I would be crushed by it. Instead I reveled in the shade. I came many times in search of rejuvenation, which you gladly gave. Yet you never seemed to get drained. Often I tried to reach into your depths, to see if there was anything beneath that hard exterior. I couldn’t so much as create a crack. What was it you saw in me, when you entered my life quietly. What was it that you saw in me, when you left just as unannounced.

The day you left, I noticed a crack. A crack that I had solely created. A void that I couldn’t fill. You didn’t demand an explanation. I couldn’t have hoped to give you one.I remember the day you left vividly. The earth trembled, and the angels wept. Yet you left without waiting for an apology, without asking for one. I’ve found pieces of my jig-jaw puzzle since then. You started my quest to complete the puzzle. I’m waiting for you to come back and finish it. All I ask is for a chance for redemption.


Ride on a city bus

Everyone dreams, and wishes that they might someday become a reality. These dreams, and all we do to make them real and tangible, might be the only force that makes us skip from day to day without noticing the birds twittering or the roses romancing the wind. That there is as much romance in these visions as there is in our painstakingly built sand castles is ironic, strangely wicked and a subject that philosophers will debate for generations to come, but I shall let it pass.

Arun had a dream like everyone else but like no one else’s. He would tell his friends, and everyone else who was willing to hear him, that someday he’d like to travel on a city bus. Those of you who presume that Arun is very poor, that the few rupees needed to travel on a city bus were out of his reach, that he might have six children and one more to come are wrong.

Arun was a bachelor, living in an apartment that can be called comfortable. He owned a car, a TV set, a digital watch-the fad of yesterday and a mobile phone- the fad of today. But Arun wished that he might someday travel in a city bus. When he was once asked if he couldn’t do it today, he said,“no, because today I must work so that tomorrow I may realize my dream.”

Arun wasn’t simplistic. He yearned for every materialistic pleasure that the world had to offer. But someday, he hoped that he would have it all. The digital watch and the mobile phone he already had. He never bothered wishing that he’d own a tower on the moon, or the Great Wall of China. Dreams must be realizable he said. “All I want to do is travel on a city bus one day, and that itself poses such a big problem.”

Arun wanted it all, or wanted to reach a point in his life where he felt that he had it all, except perhaps a ride in the city bus. A ride in the city bus, where he can sit and watch the lady rushing to her work, or that man who’s dreading meeting his superior, or the driver himself yelling obscenities at other drivers yelling the same at him. Arun wanted to look at the squirrel gathering acorns for the cold winter, or the street dog drinking water from a muddy puddle. Arun wanted to smile at the beggar woman carrying a young child in her arms, and smile and give her money along with perhaps the metaphorical fishing rod. Arun wanted to ride in the city bus not in order to get anywhere, or to get away from elsewhere. For once, in his life he wanted to ride the city bus, because he had done everything else, and there was nothing else left to do.

Arun rides a city bus everyday today. Don’t ask me if he became a millionaire or if he actually did buy the Great Wall of China. But my friends, what does it matter, after all we too want to ride the city bus everyday. And I have an extravagant dream - that all of us might travel on the city bus someday.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


and this is where i'll have all the stuff that my mind spews out with no basis or fact.
again, this place needs a little management... but keeping the link at the main site will motivate me to put this place into shape faster :)

b'bye for now.