Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stranger (A short story)-Part 2

She couldn’t believe it. She blinked her eyes several times which zeroed on the man standing beside her, who was looking more troubled as seconds passed by and he got no reply from his silent companion.

Any problem?” he asked.

“No, no…’s nothing…..umm…….you took me by surprise actually!” Mina confessed, “how come you are here?

I followed your auto. Just to check that you will reach here properly” he said distractedly.

Mina quickly recovered her composure and sat straight.

I am fine, you know. You need not have come” she replied calmly, eyeing him curiously.

She was impressed. After nearly avoiding a collision, most people on bikes run away and never look back. But this man here had not only apologized but also helped her and followed her auto to see that she does not come to any harm.

I just wanted to make sure that you reached here safely” he repeated.

Mina stared. He sat down on the opposite seat without waiting for any invitation.

I am Gopal” he introduced himself.

Mina” she replied, looking at him closely.

He was wearing a casual printed t-shirt. His hair waved and covered half of his forehead under the rotating fan. His eyes were dark brown contrasting his dark black hair which made him look more handsome. How she had missed that before, she wondered. Maybe it was the treacherous rain that had made her half blind.

The waiter appeared with 2 cups of tea. Without any explanation, he put it infront of both of them. Mina looked enquiringly at the waiter. She had ordered only one cup of tea. So why had the waiter brought two? Gopal had just come and never had placed any orders infront of her. But the waiter did not look at Mina. He arranged the cups, put down some more napkins from his tray and went away after giving a brief glance at Gopal, who ignored him.

Have you come for a visit here?” Gopal asked, sipping his tea and eyeing her heavy luggage on the floor.

No, it’s my best friend’s wedding after two weeks. So I have come in advance on her invitation” she smiled and added, “I have done lots of shopping for her in advance.

I can see that with the size of your suitcase!  So, how are you planning to go to her place?” he asked with a grin.

She was supposed to meet me at the bus stop. But she was in the middle of some meeting and my bus came ahead of schedule…..….”

Yes, but after so much time, still she is not here” he cut in.

I expect she is very busy. I told her to relax a bit when her marriage is so near. But you know, she is kind of a workaholic. She won’t bother even if anyone dies. She will go to work even then, no doubt” Mina shook her head as if this behaviour of her friend’s amused her a lot.

Gopal laughed. Some of the waiters passing by looked back at the pair of them. Mina sipped her tea and made a face.

What happened?” he asked.

Mina sighed, pushing her half drank tea cup away and said, “I like to have more ginger in my tea than sugar. But never get it so outside in any restaurant.

Gopal immediately stopped a passing waiter and ordered a ginger tea with less sugar.

“No need, Gopal. Don’t bother” Mina hurriedly interfered.

It’s OK. What’s the use of a restaurant if it cannot satisfy it’s own customer’s needs?” he said and sent the waiter away after Mina pleaded to cancel the fresh order.

Gopal didn’t seem to be convinced and kept asking her to change her mind. But when she did not budge, he came up with a new idea.

Don’t you want to eat anything?

Yes, I would love to. In fact, I’ll order something now…..” Mina said realizing that she had been very hungry all this time.

Tell you what; try one of the veg cheese sandwiches they make here. It’s always fresh and tasty” Gopal said with a smug expression.

Do you come here often?” Mina asked intently.

Yeah, now and then…you see, this restaurant is closest to my home. So I ONLY eat here” Gopal answered without looking in her eyes directly. Somehow, she felt that he was not being truthful.

They ordered sandwiches. Plus, Mina couldn’t help ordering some Jalebis.

Do you like it?” Gopal raised his eyebrows. Most of the girls he had met would shun away from any type of delicacies because of weight issues. Let alone in the early morning.

Very much” Mina replied happily.

Soon after, sandwiches were laid and Jalebis arrived more quickly. Gopal and Mina enjoyed their breakfast silently, nodding occasionally at the crispy bread or delicious chutney served. But Mina did not like the Jalebis.

It shouldn’t be like this” she grumbled, irritated at the sweet dish infront of her.

What?” Gopal managed to speak with his mouth still full of munching sandwich.

These should have more of that sweet thick liquid around it. You know, chasni” she explained, “Or else how are you supposed to enjoy it?

Oh…right” he muttered.

Mina’s mobile began vibrating. It was a message from her best friend. About time too, she thought.
                          “array…..whr r u?
                           i m at d stop!
                           red ford, cme fast”

Mina turned a beaming face at Gopal and then sent a message.

                         “I m nt on d stp!:)
                          cme forward, i m stndng
                          outside d frst restrnt u c”

I got to go now. My friend is coming” Mina said and got up.

Sure you don’t me to drop you?” Gopal insisted.

No, she is coming here. So I just have to stand outside till I see her car” Mina replied and began arranging her luggage. She held her suitcase and turned for a final goodbye to Gopal.

Nice to meet you then” he said, holding out his hand.

Mina smiled and stretched her hand. They both had a warm handshake but none of them wanted to break it first.

It was nice meeting you too” Mina replied earnestly, breaking the handshake finally herself.

Goodbye and have a safe journey. Watch out for the bikes on road!” Gopal grinned.

I will! So…goodbye. And take care” Mina said with a small ache in her heart.

She turned and went on the counter at the reception area. She waited for a few seconds till a customer infront of her finished paying his bill. She moved to pay her bill when the man behind the counter refused to accept the amount of cash she was extending.

Your bill is already paid madam” he said cordially.

Already paid? Who paid it?!” Mina asked, quite surprised at the news.

That Sir, sitting with you madam” he replied, lowering his voice. He was astonished at the lady’s ignorance.

Mina turned and looked at the table she had just left. It was now occupied by some other customers. Gopal was no where to be seen. She scanned the whole area. But he was not there. How could he disappear so suddenly?

Meanwhile, a small queue had gathered behind Mina. She moved away, ready to go outside. She was nearly at the door when she saw it. There was a small portrait next to the counter amidst various awards and achievements, hanging on the wall for public display. She went towards it to have a closer look and gasped. Her eyes widened in shock. She turned to scan the place one last time but couldn’t find the person she wanted to see. Clearing her throat, she dragged her luggage and came to the counter again.

Excuse me?” she nearly shouted at the man behind the counter.

Yes ma’am, what is it?” he asked, perplexed at her scowling face.

I am sorry. But….Who is that?” she asked pointing at the portrait.

He looked at it and then at Mina. He answered softly.

Our boss. The owner of this restaurant, madam

Mina became confused. She looked madly at him thinking him to be joking. But when the man refused to break his composure, she decided to leave him at it. She went forward, pushed open the door and got outside. It was not raining. She walked a few feet away from the restaurant and then looked back at it again. Her eyes went up to the disbelieving name on it for the first time and she mouthed the words.

Gopal Eateries


Friday, September 28, 2012

Stranger (A short story)

The bus stop was busy with early morning bustling passengers and overcrowded buses. The weather was chilly with the rain clouds threatening to cover the blue sky. The noise on the road increased every time an impatient driver honked hard to shoo away people in the way of his bus. All the buses moved hurriedly in order to not become a victim of the rain. People were hurrying to either board the buses or take shelter somewhere. Even a group of dogs sat in a secluded corner which the crowd ignored.

Amidst the chaos, a bus coming rashly down the highway moved towards the bus stop. It stopped with a screeching sound of brakes and out came Mina. She wore a sleeve-less white top with deep blue jeans and carried a laptop bag on her shoulders. One of her hands had a posh handbag whereas she extended the other hand towards the conductor when her feet had firmly touched the ground. He passed a suitcase to her. The driver hit on the accelerator and the bus moved with a sudden jerk that threw half of the passengers backwards inside the bus. Mina dragged her luggage till she reached a corner beside a vendor making sugar-cane juice. She took out her mobile and sent a message.
                                                             “hey, I hv rchd d stop.
earlier dan u expctd:):)
 no traffic on d road! So,
 hv u started yet or nt??”

She waited for a whole minute staring at the crowd before she got a reply.
                                                              “omg! hw d hell so early??
i m still in d meeting:(
                                                                sorry buddy!!!”

Mina was disappointed. She had a late night journey in a train, a suffocating bus ride from the station which had made her close to feeling sick. And when she had finally reached the destination, her best friend was too busy to pick her up. But she had an inkling that something like this would happen. It always does when she is journeying. Either her bus breaks down or her train is hours late. One time, she encountered a minor accident while riding in a cab that got bumped from behind by a truck. So she had gotten used to all kinds of unexpected catastrophes. And they came when she least expected it. Having gained enough experience at hand, she knew how to deal with it.
Feeling exhausted, she was wondering what to do next when a loud thunder in the sky alerted her. She got hold of her suitcase and was about to go for a shelter when her mobile vibrated. It was again a message.
 “i m really sorry! but it wl
   take 10 mins fr me 2 start!!
       till den, y don’t u eat somthng?
 I wl b der ASAP. promise!”

Feeling that eating would not be a bad idea, she started walking, her hand and shoulders stiff with the heavy luggage. Her suitcase came in the way of many passengers, who grumbled and stared back furiously. There were many potholes on the road which was very hard to avoid. Panting slightly, she managed to drag her belongings smartly avoiding all the mess on the road including cow dung. When she had put some distance between herself and the bus stop, it started to rain slowly. Why she hadn’t brought an umbrella with her, she wondered angrily. Now she didn’t want to get soaked in rain with her precious belongings! Several people ran towards shops to stand at the entrance. Mina decided to move into a shop in front of her which was already overcrowded due to stranded people.   She raced towards it with all her strength she could muster. Suddenly, her right leg got stuck in a pothole and she fell. Shocked and splattered with mud on her favourite jeans, she became frustrated. She stood up, balanced herself and started to walk again, a little carefully than usual and crossed the road. She had just gone 2 feet more when a motorbike went zooming past her, nearly avoiding a collision with her.

Oi…………..…IDIOT” Mina shouted angrily at the bike.

The man on the bike did not seem to care about any kinds of collision but heard her words clearly. He stopped at a distance and looked back. He turned his bike 180 degrees and came back to her. Mina was scathing with anger. Her hands were balled up in fists, ready for a fight. Words failed her when the bike reached and stood beside her. The man flapped open his helmet and stared at the furious girl who had dared to call him an idiot.

I am sorry. But what did you just call me?” the man asked, his own temper rising with every uttered word.

I called you an idiot! Is this the way you ride your damn bike? Do you even keep your eyes open?  It could have hit me! It was just about to collide with me” Mina said angrily.

Oh!” his brows shot up as he realized his mistake. He looked offended at the girl’s outburst but he saw that it was all his doing. Or his bike’s rather.

What oh?!” Mina snapped

I mean…..I am sorry. I was lost in my own thoughts and did not realize that I was going to hit you. I was so deep in thinking. I shouldn’t have...I mean…please, sorry” the man pleaded earnestly and got down from the bike.

Mina looked around and saw many curious faces looking at the pair of them as if they provided some kind of entertainment to them. And all of a sudden, it started raining heavily. It had gained momentum. Becoming self-conscious, Mina picked up her luggage and turned to go into the shop only to realize that it had become full. She scowled and looked around for some other shelter. Seeing the girl’s helplessness, the man came forward.

Look, let me help you. This place is done. You will not find any place to stand here. But there is a restaurant here nearby. You can go there. I can take you. Come” the man pleaded.

No, thanks” Mina remained dignified.

She was basically cursing her best friend for not coming in time to pick her up. Then all this mess wouldn’t have happened anyway.

Please, I’ll feel better. Anyway, you are getting wet in the rain. And your luggage as well. Look” the man said hurriedly while trying to protect his face from the falling rain drops by his helmet.

Mina was left with no choice. She gave in gracefully after arguing with the man over riding his bike.

How will my suitcase come on your bike?” Mina asked while lifting her handbag above her head to stop the rain falling on her face.

The rain drops came crashing on their bodies. The man seemed to have forgotten about his bike which was getting wet.

He nodded and stopped a passing auto rickshaw. Taking the advantage of the situation, the driver demanded a very high fare while Mina sat inside with her luggage. Mina protested but the man quickly placed some cash in the driver’s hand. Mina couldn’t see how much it was but that amount made the driver’s eyes round with astonishment. He gulped and looked extremely happy. Before Mina could do or say anything, the driver moved his auto at a breakneck speed. She was lost in wonder at the man’s behaviour. She tried to look back at the road but only saw the place getting washed in the heavy rain. She could not make out anything.

Suddenly the auto came to a stop after a few seconds. Mina blinked and watched around her. There was an outline of a restaurant to her left. The place was bright with lights and lots of people munching away hungrily on tables. The smell of delicious food prepared in its kitchen was filled in the air. Mina realized how much hungry she had been! She got out of the auto and hurriedly went towards the entrance. The driver brought her suitcase and passed it to her, too happy to have been blessed with a lot of cash in advance. He didn’t mind to get drown in rain for helping his precious passenger now.

Shall I wait here to take you back, madam?” the driver asked enthusiastically.

No, no….there’s no need. You can go” Mina was surprised at the over grateful driver.

I can wait here. You can come back whenever you want” the driver insisted.

I have someone already to take me back. So, please you go” Mina admitted.

The driver’s face fell and he went away in his auto. Mina entered inside the warm place, looking like a lost soul. Her jeans had become muddy and her shoes were squeaking with every step she took. Her suitcase felt heavier after getting wet in the rain. She longed to get rid of it. The place was completely packed with cheerful faces, children eating hungrily and waiters taking orders. Nobody wanted to get out in the rain. Everyone seemed hell bent on remaining inside the cozy room that not only provided a dry place but also satisfied their hunger and thirst. Mina craned her neck and found an empty table in the far end beside a small palm tree. She raced towards it before someone else could occupy it. She sat on one of the two seats and finally put down her suitcase and laptop bag on the dry floor. She pulled out some napkins kept on the table and tried to clean her face and hands. A waiter appeared out of nowhere and stood infront of her ready to take her orders. 

Mina felt slightly jealous on seeing his clean and dry clothes.

“umm……..1 cup tea please” Mina said in a low voice.

“Anything else?” the waiter asked patiently.

“Later…but first bring the tea” Mina replied.

When the waiter went away, Mina put her head down on her arm. She felt too tired to move an inch.

“Are you OK?” said a concerned voice.

Her head snapped up, astounded on hearing that familiar voice.  The man was standing beside her chair. He smiled on seeing her surprised expression
Mina blushed.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rain Rain, Don't Go Away!

These are the pictures that uplift my mood, freshens my mind and calms my temper! Whenever I see these rain clouds approaching, ready to shower the world with cold water, it brightens my day ahead.  As people in Chennai have to face the heat every day, such pictures do bring a lot of excitement and smiles around. Of course, different folks react differently. Ladies run on the terrace to bring back nearly dried clothes. Men are seen going towards their uncovered cars and bikes. If it’s raining heavily, it is a sure sign of upcoming power cuts! So a lot of headaches arrive with the monsoon. 

But it’s altogether cheerful for children. They don’t mind the rains a bit. Leaving their homework behind, they are ready to get drenched in rain water. Sometimes, looking at them, my mind rewinds to 10 years back when I was a kid. I would go on the terrace with my friends during first rain of the season every year. It used to be a good excuse. First rain, how to miss that? There was absolutely no fear of catching cold or studying for exams in our innocent minds. That work was left for our parents.

I heard her silent footsteps long before she came and stood before me. I came out of my reverie and turned. She was wearing a brilliant pink dress with her favourite Barbie printed on it.  She smiled and pointed at the rain clouds outside the window. It was starting to thunder at some distance in the sky. The clouds were engulfing the city in darkness. Far away, some construction workers were busy covering some parts of an under-construction building while the strong winds threatened to blow them away. There was pin-drop silence on the road. Everybody had taken a shelter somewhere. And then after ten minutes, it started to rain.

Nisha, my cute and charming little neighbour, was very excited about something. Call it the rain fever; I too didn’t want to work. I just wanted to enjoy the cool weather and stare at the rain gods.

Do you know what test we have tomorrow?” Nisha asked which got me back to my real world.   

Test?” I asked.

Yes, its Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!” she answered with a sweet smile. I understood her at that moment. Literature is her favourite subject while she detests mathematics. Just like me. Novel reading is her hobby and she loves books more than anything.    

Let’s go outside!” she announced suddenly.

Now? It’s raining out there” I said and pushed back the curtains so that she could have a nice view of the small drops of rain dropping on the window sill.

It’s not raining heavily! Come, we’ll go” she said and happily went outside dragging me along with her.

She played in the garden heartily lost in her own world. She liked looking at the small details like water drops on the palm trees, wet flowers and little flowers dancing to and fro in the strong wind. She made these observations which left me thinking when the last time I had enjoyed the rainy weather like that was. Small children can teach you a lot of things or rather will allow you to freely enter into their small world and feel like a kid yourself for a time being. And my neighbour has a great unseen power with her that attracts everybody within her range. Her happiness is infectious which can make any sad tired person to smile.     

When it finally started raining heavily, we were forced to come inside my home.  But still it didn’t dampen her spirits.

“Can we please T-Y-P-E?” she asked brightly bouncing on her little feet.  

She likes to read and write. And wants to become an author! Nowadays, she is typing an amazing story on Microsoft word. Yes, a small author is on her way to surprise the world with her talent.

Nisha, you make me proud of yourself! Hats off to you girl or I would if I was wearing one right now!


Monday, September 24, 2012

I am not a born cook, alright?

It was a few days back when this incident happened. My family was busy in making proper arrangements to receive a guest, an acquaintance of my father. Women were busy in the kitchen making delicious dishes. Kids were ordered to make less noise and be presentable. The whole house was made neat and clean as if Diwali had come. Meanwhile, I had taken up my responsibility to make Palak Paneer and Kheer. After a lot of hard work which included burning my right hand a bit, I finished and arranged the dinner on the table. My mum made rotis and kept it in a hot box. Our guest came and he was immediately asked to feel at home. He talked and chatted happily recollecting his old memories with my dad. When dinner started, he ate quietly till I appeared with some more cold water. I was pouring it in his half empty glass when he suddenly started the following interview:

So you have started cooking huh?” he smiled and asked with a boyish grin on his round face.

Yes uncle, but not much” I answered quickly, not wanting him to assume that I had cooked the whole dinner.

She made the Palak Paneer, you know” my father said proudly and pushed the Palak Paneer bowl in front of the guest to take some more.

I cannot make round rotis like mummy yet. I have to still learn that” I confessed and was about to go into kitchen when uncle’s next words stopped me.

Cannot make round rotis!” uncle exclaimed so loudly as if I had admitted to some heinous crime right before him.

You must learn to make rotis. This vegetables and all anyone can make! What good is that if you cannot make rotis? A girl should learn that or else what is the use of being a girl anyway?” uncle said and went back to attacking Palak Paneer.

My father saw my angry expression and quickly intervened on my behalf.
You know, gone are the days when women had to only work in kitchen and look after the kids. Today, they are educated and work outside. You cannot expect them to know everything about cooking in their 20s! Those days are gone!” my father explained as if it was as simple as learning A-B-C.

My daughter can cook basic stuff. That is enough for now. Anyway, she is busy nowadays. What with her usual projects, she is always making presentations and what not. You know how our working culture is competitive right now” my father spoke in a final tone as if it would make our guest to stop further enquiring on my cooking skills. Uncle did stop. And I went in the kitchen, my sisters had gathered to discuss more on this topic. There was an instant uproar among my teenage sisters. And I was left to ponder on why I had wasted my time in preparing dishes in the kitchen for uncle instead of finishing my project work lying upstairs.

I had a small talk with my mother that night. She started telling me how she wasn’t an accomplished cook in the kitchen when she was newly married. But she was lucky to have a good mother-in-law who never taunted her for it. Eventually after a few months passed by, she could cook well after gaining some experience. But right now, in 21st century, women are supposed to fare well in everything. Do your job, earn salary and cook brilliantly in kitchen. It’s a one way of keeping your husband and in-laws happy. My mother said these words but it wasn’t enough for me.

When one of my relatives got married, I thought her life would be happy afterwards. She worked in a reputed company and her in-laws wanted a working woman like her. Everything was going nicely till the ultimate bitter truth of life fell on her. She got up at 4am in morning to complete her house hold work. Her in-laws were a joint family but nobody helped her. She finished making breakfast and lunch single-handedly and went to her job. After returning in the evening, she got into low spirits seeing the mess in the kitchen. Utensils were piled up for her to wash and nobody would clean the kitchen. She lost her appetite and used to work all evening till dinner time. Sometimes, in her hurry to go to office, she couldn’t cook rice well or the tea would become too sweet. The poor woman was tormented for this lack of concentration. One day, her in-laws called her own mother to complain about it. They were not happy with the way she was cooking and wanted to know what her maika walas had taught her! When this piece of news reached me, I wanted to ask them bluntly, have they wanted a daughter-in-law for their son or a maid servant?    

Is a woman meant to cook since her childhood? Is it a crime if a girl does not want to become a great chef but just a humble housewife? Why are women in their 30s, who cannot cook properly, looked down upon? I agree that women must learn to cook but expecting young girls to become excellent cook and at the same time achieve first rank in their class is too much of a pressure. Some girls do have an excellent knack of cooking and they enjoy it. While some do not like it but still have to do it because they are women, no other choice. Indian women, my mother clarifies! They are compared with one another. A girl about to be married has to know everything that comes under cooking, especially every dish that her mother-in-law can make. What one fails to understand is that, a girl, newly married, has very less experience in cooking because she had her mother to cook for her in her maika. And working women spend more time in office than in kitchen, before they get married anyway. If they know basic cooking and aren’t letting anybody starve, people should be satisfied and be patient.

One of my friends hates to cook and therefore is labeled as ‘lazy’. The same person can make very good Hakka noodles if she gets into one of her tempers! My cousin sister cannot make Rice and Dal. Instead she likes making sandwiches and yummy chocolates at home. And for the record, I am 22 years old and can make rice, dal, vegetable curry, any dish including paneer and every other stuff which comes under ‘basic cooking’. But I am still under the process of learning to make round rotis. I just don’t understand, what is there between me and rotis, but I just don’t get it. I fail to make them round. My mother smiles sweetly at my attempts and encourages me. But still if anybody got a problem with that, then hell. I will order from the nearby restaurant for you :):)


Friday, September 21, 2012

A short trip to Snow World

Hello everyone! Have a wonderful and splendid time at Snow World! This is on behalf of the powerful snow-man from the side picture. He is addressing from one of the coldest amusement centers in the country aka Snow World! It is situated in Hyderabad and is one of those really cold places where you can have fun, entertainment and lots to play! You need not go all the way to America to witness the snow. All you have to do is visit the Snow World built near the Hussain Sagar Lake in Andhra Pradesh where you get an opportunity to walk in the thick snow, play around igloos, pose with the mighty snow-man and dance to the Bollywood songs! Meant for both adults and kids, it is a wonderful place for a family outing. 

It was a fine sunny day when I reached Snow World with my sisters and relatives. There was a good parking area where our driver parked the car with great relief and we happily got out. Full to the brim with excitement, we walked towards the main area. There was a place where one has to mandatorily submit their mobiles. If you want to take your cameras inside with you, you need to pay and get coupons for it. At the entry, there was a queue. We joined them and after few minutes, we were inside the fascinating place. We paid and bought the tickets. We passed our shoes and sandals at the next counter and got coupons in return.  Next in line, we were given protective clothes to wear above our original dresses. We wore jackets, gloves, socks and boots. Some got blue colours while others like me got red ones. They were neither clean nor dirty. They had been worn by others before us. One of my cousins complained about his boots being too loose for him. We went and got new ones for him.

After we were ready to face anything cold in our new avatar, we were led into a closed chamber that had a big round door. It was very strong and looked inviting! When everyone was inside, the door opened and voila! The place was white with snow and bustling with people who had arrived before us. As I walked for the first time in my life on snow, I realized how much blessed I was to have gotten an opportunity to visit the place! The snow was smooth and our boots could well go deeper in it with every step. I looked up and got a smashing hit of a snow ball on my face. Completely surprised, I blinked and shivered a bit. The snow was damn cold on my face. I cleared some of it with my hands and turned round only to see a couple of cute boys playing snow-fight nearby. The place was full of flying snow-balls and laughter. There was a net for playing throw-ball with lots of large plastic colorful balls lying around. At one end was a sleigh slide with larger part of the crowd around it. Other end had a kind of place erected for dancing to some fast music. Near the entrance was an igloo. A place similar to rock climbing was next to it which was hardly being used. Who wants to climb in snow when you can instead dance to Sheila Ki Jawani? Then there was my super strong snow man waving madly and content by posing with everyone.

My most adventurous part was going down in sleigh slides. I climbed the steps and reached the upper most part. It was very slippery. A man stood in front of me in the line eyeing everyone suspiciously. When his turn came to lie on the sleigh, he looked back and saw me.

Girana mat please”, he appealed to me.

I was taken aback. That was going to be my first slide ride. So naturally I had not gotten to push anybody down deliberately. Not yet anyway.

Main kyun giraongi tumhe?” I tried to knock some common sense into him.

Already teen baar gir chuka hoon” he said as if I was responsible for that. My sister visibly laughed out loud and tried to hide her face behind me. The man only seemed to get more irritated at this.

Main nahi tumhe push karne wali, now….will you get a move on?” I said and looked back at the long waiting queue. People were getting irritated at the hold up. Finally the man went down on the sleigh and whoosh! It went straight down within some nanoseconds. Now it was my turn. When my sleigh went down, I had kept my eyes shut and opened them only after my safe landing.

After some playing around in the snow, it was time for some dance. We joined others in the race to get the perfect place on the dance floor. Forgetting about their ages, everybody joined in it with enthusiasm. Bollywood songs were played in loud volume. It was picture perfect. The scenario resembled some disco dance! Afterwards when we were tired, we decided to just stroll around the place for some fun, clicking pictures and throwing snow in the air.

When the time was up, the main entrance opened and everyone was called out. But we didn’t want to go! Slowly dragging our feet forward reluctantly, we got out. Suddenly it felt very warm outside. We gave back the protective clothes and got back our own things. But the fun wasn’t over. Once we were outside, we went to eat some pav-bhaji at the front shop. After that, we went for some looking around the place. My sister dragged me to a beautiful teddy bears shop. I took out my camera only to see that a thin film of moisture had gathered on the lens. No doubt because of the snow inside. I tried rubbing it with a piece of clean cloth to get rid of it but to no avail. So finally, we had to use the moisture-stained camera to click the below final picture before the shopkeeper could shoo us away :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stop harassing aam aadmi during bandhs

This is not the first time. Nor it will be the last.  A nation-wide bandh has been called out again by some political parties.This time it is for protesting against hike in Diesel, gas and FDI in retail. Though such bandhs are meant to force the government to change its decision, be it on a state level or a national one, it’s always the common people of India who suffer. Passengers, shopkeepers, commuters and students are worst affected always. A bandh may succeed or fail but its impact is always left behind.

An old man opened his books/newspaper shop in Patna railway station. It is his bread and butter and no amount of bandhs will make him abandon his work. And why should he anyway? Now what did the protestors do? They straight marched on the platform, disrupted his shop things and threw down books. The helpless man was seen fighting alone against a bunch of tough men, trying to resist them. He tried stopping them. But his shop was forcefully made to shut after tearing down the whole stock of books and newspapers. What did the protestors meant by that? Tear away every paper available in the country for getting your rights? No matter even if that leads to a lot of paper wastage? What kind of bandhs would anyone call it? In India, we regard every piece of paper as ‘vidya’. It is a Hindi word for ‘knowledge’. If a book gets touched by anyone's leg, they quickly pick up the book and touch it on their forehead. It is a kind of apologising for disrespecting the book or ‘vidya’ or goddess Saraswati.

Trains are being stopped in high numbers at Patna, Mathura, Kanpur, Varanasi, Faridabad, Allahabad and the list goes on. But what nobody is caring about are poor passengers. They are left standing terrified on platforms and railway tracks for hours. People don’t know where to go with their heavy luggage and are left to stand waiting for the protests to end. Nobody is available to help them out. And who will when no transport is there? How will they move? With no buses and taxis on the road, they are stranded and helpless. In such cases who will pay for their time loss? Who will pay for their boredom? Is anyone providing them food and water for free of cost inside the forcefully stopped trains? Anyway who has given anyone the right to stop a train and ruin every passenger’s journey? Harass travellers so much that any government will bow down? What kind of democracy are we living in?  Urgent works compel some to travel during bandhs. Some book their tickets online months before when they are not even aware of any future bandhs.Their relatives and acquaintances would be worrying back at home.

Cities like Kolkata and Amritsar are facing forceful shutting down of shops. Delhi is the worst hit of all. Schools are closed and fires are seen in the middle of streets in some places. Protestors are rallying with posters and placards on the empty highways. Slogans with full volume are being raised. Amidst all the mayhem, the local people are left with no choice but to sit at home and sulk.

Protestors in Andhra Pradesh are halting the state by stopping the city buses. Markets and malls are shut. Vehicles are off the road. But I am sure people there have got used to it by this time. They have gone through Telangana bandhs a lot of times. When I was in Hyderabad, nearly half of my college life was ruined by such bandhs. Sitting for days at a stretch at home with nothing to do was very cruel. We used to go to bus stops some days and become disappointed when no bus came to pick us off during bandhs. No going out, no shopping, no friends, no theatres, no parties was our lives during bandhs. We were forced to shut ourselves at homes. Our minds were empty and turned into a devil’s workshop.

Chennai has been least affected by the bandh. Schools are open and people are going for their jobs. There are vehicles on the road and shops are open. Life is normal and without any chaos in the city. Why can’t we have such situation in other capitals like Lucknow and Mumbai? Why Mumbai always targeted during bandhs? The city of dreams is an important workplace for many Indians. Disrupting its life affects a lot of people and mounts to a huge loss. Those who want to join in the protest should do it but those who do not want to should not be forced.

Caught in the political crises, the country only is the ultimate sufferer. Battle between various parties should be done in parliaments and not on streets. Politicians\leaders are meant for helping the people and solving their problems. Bandhs and protests should be done peacefully without disrupting anyone’s routines. At the time of Ganesh Chaturthi, when people should have been busily happy in the celebrations, they are now suddenly faced with bandhs. Where there should have been ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ slogans, protestors are shouting ‘Hai Hai’ and beating their chests right in front of cameras. Where is the country leading to like this? I can suddenly recall the lines from Lage Rahe Munnabhai, “Desh toh aazaad hogaya par log paraye ho gaye.” It looks like that now. 

Meanwhile, AI’s latest plane Dreamliner has taken off its maiden flight. And as protestors are not stopping planes nor are climbing on it to raise slogans as they are doing with trains and buses, this piece of news would be relieving for some passengers! Happy Ganesh Chaturthi and have a safe journey!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why only women have to fast ?

The festival of Teej has started. It is celebrated mainly in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Teej chiefly means that a married woman keeps fasting for a whole day and fervently prays that her husband lives for a long period of time. In villages, women gather in groups and sing songs. They receive gifts from their in-laws. Many fast by eating only fruits and drinking plain water through the day. They are not allowed to eat anything that is salty. While some women, like my mother, do not eat or drink anything all day.

Every year, on the eve of Teej, my mother gets up at 4am in the early morning. As per ritual, she drinks tea and eats some spoonful of curd. She can also eat some slices of cucumber. Apart from these, she is not supposed to eat anything. She consumes curd and drinks tea at 4am even when she is not hungry or thirsty. Then when the day starts, she cannot eat anything. She is not supposed to drink even water. Low on energy, she still works the whole day. A housewife never has a day off. She makes breakfast, lunch and dinner for her family. She washes clothes and goes to the terrace to dry them off under the hot sun. When the maid-servant comes, my mother looks after her for an hour so that she would do her work properly and wouldn’t run off leaving half the work behind. If some guests come, she has to again work extra in the kitchen. By twilight, my mother feels very thirsty. Only thirsty, she says. She will never complain about being hungry. By night, she becomes very weak and feels too tired. But she bears it all with her mouth tight shut. 
She breaks her fast only the next day in the morning.

When I asked her, why she couldn’t start fasting by eating at least fruits like so many other women, she replied in the negative and explained her helplessness. She was just 18 when she got married. Today she is 43 years old and still fasting each year. Her mother-in-law (my grandma) does it still and her mother-in-law did it till she lived. So the family ritual goes on for every woman in the family. Nobody has dared to break the tradition yet and nobody will ever. They feel too guilty to even think in that manner. At least my mother lives in a city which is a boon for her. Back in my hometown, women living in rural areas have to fast and work more than my mother on Teej. They have to take care of joint families on an empty stomach all day. And they do not dare to raise their voices. They just cannot.

Why do so many married women, like my mother, follow such strict fasting rules? Even when they are literates? Why do only women have to fast on every such occasion and not the men? Women fast to have a longer life for their husbands. What about a woman’s life? Who fasts for that? No one! And if this really was the case, why doesn’t every single wife in the foreign country also fast? Wouldn’t they want their husband’s lives to increase? And anyway, where is it written that fasting by somebody will lead to increase of someone else’s life? It’s not a scientific fact nor is it written in our constitution.

As per my knowledge, fasting does have some benefits to the human body. But it is a personal choice and should be done when a person is healthy. A sick person is not advised to fast. A person can fast by eating fruits and drinking milk. And such fasting will only help the one who does it. Not to someone else. But it’s different for women like my mother and grandmother. They are forced to do strict fast by rules and traditions made by the society they live in. No matter if they are sick or ill. They have to fast and during fasting, they do sometimes become sick. They curse but suffer silently through all the pains and stresses. Men fast too sometimes but for a different cause. Take for example Anna Hazare and Arwind Kejriwal fasting against corruption. The actors in saas-bahoo serials also fast to show their love for their wives/actresses on cameras.

The only time I didn’t eat (close to fasting) was the time when I was chasing a deadline for an unfinished assignment.  I skipped my breakfast and missed my lunch too. And the result? I fainted so badly that my best friend had to half drag and half carry me. Only after splashing some cold water on my face did I come back to my senses! So I know one thing. I cannot live without eating something once every three hours. But here’s the catch. My mother is not a rebel and has never raised her voice. But she has vowed to never impose such traditions on her future daughter-in-law. Whatever she suffered from, she would never allow it to pass on to someone else when it comes in her power! Kudos mummy, I am very proud of you! So what’s the motto for the day? Eat, pray and love!!