Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Letter

Mehek looked at the mirror. She couldn’t recognize the image that reflected back. She turned towards the women in her overcrowded room and then again stole a glance at her reflection. She had been transformed into a beautiful and elegant looking bride. The new lehenga with the red glittering border looked stunning on her fair complexion. Her face had been changed from an average looking girl of a town into some model that featured in the posters of Indian bridal wear advertisements. The gold jewelry were too heavy. The long earrings pulled down her ear lobes and made her eyes watery with pain. At such times, her cousin came to her rescue to remove the water marks around her eyes without disturbing the heavy outline of kohl. How weird! Since childhood her cousin had been her sworn enemy, but the last week had been quite different. She had helped her with her dress, make-up and escorted her to bathrooms, handling the lower part of her heavy lehenga patiently. She had stood around her all through the previous night, battling with sleep and tending to her needs.

“It’s time!” announced a familiar voice. 

Mehek turned on her chair. It was one of her aunts. The women in the room suddenly withdrew their respective works and gathered around her. They helped her to get up, adjusted her dress and jewelry one last time. Her aunt hurriedly dabbed the foundation powder on her face again. The sindoor slashed across the parting in her hair, somehow felt heavier than the time when it was actually being applied the previous night. Resisting the urge to scowl, she looked outside the door and wondered where her real family was.

“Where’s mom?” she asked her cousin, who went out of the room immediately to bring the person in question herself. 

Her brother Raunak, came to her side and held her hand. She gave a watery smile and allowed him to take her outside the heavily decorated bungalow. Each step she took brought back old memories of her childhood. The room she had vacated was her special place where she had learned to dance and paint. The dining table used to be always full of people at night because her father insisted on everybody eating dinner together. Adjacent to it was the kitchen. She gave one brief glance towards it and repeated her question loudly,

“Where’s mom?”

Her brother pointed outside. Her mother was standing near the door. Her eyes were red and puffy. She had tirelessly worked throughout the previous week to make this marriage a never-to-be-forgotten-by-relatives event. She had hired the best beauticians of the town, interior decorators from the capital, wedding planners from Mumbai and the famous cooks from her hometown. But today, she stood alone by her father’s side. Both looking tired but satisfied. Mehek ran and hugged her. There were many people surrounding her, some from her own village, neighbours, relatives, her father’s colleagues and even her brother’s friends. Some relatives from the groom’s side smiled and nodded at the teary-eyed group. But Mehek didn’t care a bit. She hugged tightly every familiar face in sight. She jumped at her favourite aunt who whispered in her ear,

“Stop crying! You are ruining your make-up!” 

She hugged her father and he escorted her to the BMW outside the gate. Her husband stood with his family (my family now, she repeated in her mind), his face unreadable but calm. The sight of the unfamiliar faces that stood patiently waiting for her to enter inside the car, made her feel vulnerable.  She turned to her father and announced,

“I don’t want to go!”

He was startled. He patted her head and led her forward. Her mother came from behind and held her other hand. When she saw her mother, she remembered something. She pulled her closer and whispered,

“Check in that left wooden drawer of your cupboard. I have kept something there.”

With final nods and goodbyes, Mehek went away, crying and looking at the quickly diminishing sight of her family, outside the window of the car.

That night, amidst making preparations for guests and relatives, who were planning to go back to their homes, Mehek's mother finally got a chance to go to her room, very late at night. She pulled open her cupboard and checked the contents of the left drawer. There was a letter. She sat down on the bed, quickly opened the folded paper and started reading.    

Dear Mom,

By the time you open this letter, I would have gone. I wanted to tell you this personally. But every time I thought of coming to you, I didn’t know who would cry first, you or me. 

And trust me, both of us have cried like hell since last week, maybe months, since the time dad said yes to Hemant’s family.  

Mom, I didn’t want to marry him. I just didn’t. I didn’t want to marry ever! This isn’t fair. This world is not fair. It just hit me like a bullet, this thing that I will have to move on to live with some other family. Call someone else a mom. Call some other man a dad. How is this fair? I lived so happily at my own home. We both fought, argued, didn’t talk to each other for days. But we both patched up later, did we not?  I couldn’t bring it up to myself, that I could do such things with some other woman (future mom!). I have seen the tension between you and granny. And how dad gets sandwiched in between. But you always managed to find a way out to keep everybody happy and satisfied, including me! I just couldn’t imagine myself to be in your position and handling the things the way you do. I am afraid to take responsibilities mom. Ok, I agree. I was my class representative for straight two years and being the main lead of my project is fun (I enjoy it) but I never imagined how it would be, to be called as someone’s wife and daughter-in-law. Don't laugh but I didn't get any formal training for this! I was afraid I couldn't cope. I was scared mom.     

That’s why I threw so much tantrums that day when Hemant came to meet dad. And the previous time when Hemant’s aunts came to meet me. 

Was it too much to ask for? To live with my own family forever? Would have I been a burden on you and dad? Why should I leave my house when my brother gets to stay in the house forever! Is it my fault that I am a woman and not a man?!

And then I realized- had you not got married and took up responsibilities, I wouldn’t have had so many beautiful memories in my life with you! Where would I be today without you? People call me your daughter! And you worked towards it, you earned that respect from your beloved ones. You taught me, raised me, protected your children and made so many sacrifices in life. You never complained but moved on with a smile on your face.

I‘ll do my best for you mom. This is life, isn’t it? You move one step ahead and you are given new responsibilities. You yourself left your parents’ house and settled with dad. You made many compromises but made sure that your family was not troubled. I am really proud of you mom. And really fortunate to be your daughter. And now it’s time to share and pass on the same happiness I got from you to a new family. This makes me blush slightly and you would know why!

Tell dad a big thanks. My next letter would be addressed to him!

And lots of love to Raunak.

Yours truly,

(P.S: Do you know mom, Raunak has a girlfriend that he chats for hours on Facebook? Check at 11pm in his room! )

Friday, September 27, 2013

Addicted to your Mobile & Computer? Take a Break!

When I get up early in the morning, the first thing that I do is to feel around in the semi-darkness to see where my mobile is. I see the time and go back to sleep. It doesn’t help either when my father scolds me for sleeping with a mobile so near to my body. He warns that it’s not good for my health. I nod at his words and listen patiently. But the next morning you will find my mobile right next to me near my head.  

My mother is more worried for my eyes. I sit in front of a computer in the office, forgetting time and lunch and keep staring at the monitor as if my eyes and the desktop screen are north and south poles of a magnet. Many times my eyes suffer and I feel headache. I keep blinking and drinking coffee and go back to my work. My mother calls me in the morning to know where I am. I tell her that I am sitting in front of my PC. She calls up in the afternoon and asks at that time where I am. I tell her that I am in front of my PC. When she finally calls in the evening, she repeats my previous answer in a questioning way-“in front of your PC?” And this leads to another headache for her. If my poor eye-sight becomes worse in future, how would she get a good-looking and talented son-in-law?! She orders me to eat more fruits and drink lots of water. You see I have some serious issue with water. I fill up water every morning in a blue bottle and keep it in my cubicle.  Evening comes and goes and still you won’t see any change in it. When I tell my mother that I forgot to drink water, she loses her patience and shouts on the other line of the call. At that time, I seriously thank god that I am not in front of her.  Fruits I like to eat. But feel too lazy and tired to buy in the evenings. 

There used to be days when in childhood, I used to sit in front of TV to watch all my favourite shows. Be it cartoons like Tintin, Heidi, Ariel, DuckTales and Mowgli. Now those cartoons have been replaced by news channels, English Channels and Channels that telecast saas-bahu serials. Going back from my work, I watch Jodhaa Akbar and Mahabharata mandatorily. I am not able to digest my dinner if I don’t come to know what Jodhaa did to irritate Akbar that day in the episode. My mum, a die-hard fan of Big Boss, doesn’t call me between 9pm-10pm. After the show ends, she calls up just to hear that the area around my eyes are aching again. She freaks out totally. 

I have seen my friends carrying their mobiles in their hands or pockets and talking/chatting non-stop through earphones. Facebook is just a click away. People have become more multi-tasking these days. Sharing the screen with a person sitting in another DC and chatting at the same time on WhatsApp is the latest trend.     

We know that getting addicted to gadgets is going to ruin our health. We know the ill-effects of excess usage of anything. But still we can’t seem to help it. We have brought this on us in the first place. So we should be the ones to control it as well. Technology came into existence to make our lives comfortable and fast.  But getting addicted to it is not going to be any good. Don’t let the gadgets around you rule your body, mind and soul. Take a break and maintain some distance with the electronics around you.

One of my friends doesn’t attend calls after going home. He insists that he uses mobile at his workplace only and after going home it’s just family time. He likes to stay disconnected from his over-priced cell phone at home, because anyway he is going to stick to it like a chewing gum after going to work the next day. And he has deliberately not downloaded any social networking app on it. Once every week, he logins on his Facebook account to check on his friend’s statuses from his own laptop. One of my relatives, working in an IT company, takes a 10 mins break every hour just to stay away from her computer. She goes around to her friends on other floors, talks and laughs. She does this on purpose to get an opportunity to walk and stretch her stiff body. When she works, she gives her best and when it’s time to take a short break, she doesn’t even listen to her manager and goes on to do anything that would save her eyes for the next 10 mins. My father sits on his laptop frequently to do his office related work. But he takes breaks, eats fruits in between, especially his favourite papaya and talks with his colleagues. This is his way of relaxing his body and mind. The thing that I-don’t-have-time-to-eat-or-talk doesn’t exist in his dictionary.

So I have promised myself one thing. Did anybody notice that I haven’t written reviews of any novels for a long time now? I purchased a copy of Talkative Man some two weeks back and still didn’t finish reading it. The reason? Whenever I start reading, I begin to feel strain around my eyes and a sudden headache follows. I shut the novel many times in frustration. So this weekend I am planning to go for an eye check-up and hope that my new specs would look compatible with my face, this time atleast! And I am going to keep my mobile at bay from me when I sleep. I haven’t decided which would be the safe place to keep it so that it’s away from me, which would be healthier, but at the same time accessible in times of emergency. For an alarm clock, I’ll have to think of something. Should I hunt up for that rusty old alarm clock which was my best friend during my 10th std board exams or should I just rely on the early morning sounds of crows and dogs? I’ll try to drink more water from today onwards. I’ll keep it besides my monitor so that I remember that yes, god has indeed made water. So drink it. Now left out are fruits. It would be a good idea to stock up kitchen with fresh fruits on weekends only. 

I am ready for fresh round of bashing from my mum this weekend. Best of luck to me. But I seriously doubt that luck will be helpful at all this time. Because even luck goes scared stiff when an angry mum is around the corner.

What’s your Pen Name?

How would it be to write a story without spilling the beans on your real identity? Or publishing an article under a different name that isn’t actually yours but cool nonetheless? Our parents named us in childhood. During that first time admission in school, we got registered under a formal name that later got a huge recognition on our report cards, certificates and finally on our most sought after degrees. We continued it on pan-cards, aadhaar cards, passports, ration cards and voter-ids. The same name we carry always around our necks with a black tag. The only thing left to do on Earth is to get a permanent black tattoo of our names across our foreheads. 

But there are some authors or many authors for that matter, who have gone on to not reveal their real identity in the world. They adopted a name under which they wrote secretly and got published. They went for a pen name, a literary double of themselves. They kept their real name hidden from the readers. They created their own literary world where they communicated through their writings under their adopted pen names, which was only known to few people around them including their publishers. The readers read their books, articles and columns without knowing the real names of the writers whose works they were reading. 

We do such similar things on social networking websites. Keeping real names aside, sometimes we register ourselves under different names that are cooler and looks better on Facebook, Gmail and Twitter. When Google talk was integrated into Gmail, initially my friends and I used to chat under different names. When girls chatted with random men (complete strangers), they didn’t reveal their real identity, but chatted under a different funny or exciting name. 

The main reason given by authors for choosing to write under a pseudonym is to hide their real identity. Take an example of J.K.Rowling. Her real name is Joanne Rowling. The alphabet ‘K’ doesn’t stand for anything in her pen name. But she chose a complete different name for her latest novel- The Cuckoo’s Calling. Heard of this novel before? She chose to release this novel under her second pen name of Robert Galbraith! When the book released and got a modest response from the readers, was the truth blown off to the world. The famous author of the magical world of Harry Potter, has written this latest novel which tells the story of a war veteran turned private investigator as he looks into the suicide of a troubled supermodel. The author changed her name because she wanted a chance to publish a different genre without any hype or expectation. The Casual Vacancy, that was released before, under her famous first pen name of J.K. Rowling, had got a poor response. Maybe the readers couldn’t accept their favourite Harry Potter writer writing anything else except magic. So she chose to change her pen name to try writing under a different genre. 

Call it a publicity stunt or marketing geniuses, there have been many authors writing under an alias in the past. The comic books in The Adventures of Tintin series were written under the pen name of Herge, by Georges Prosper Remi, a Belgium cartoonist.  The famous short stories written by O. Henry was a literary alias adopted by William Sydney Porter, because initially he didn’t think that his writings would amount to anything. Stephen King published four novels under his pen name of Richard Bachman, because his publishers feared that the readers wouldn’t buy more than a single novel in a year from the same author. Clive Staples Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia is popularly known by his pen name of C.S. Lewis. When Agatha Christie, an English crime writer and author of several detective novels decided to venture into romance, she chose to pen down her stories under an alias- Mary Westmacott. The scenario was completely different for female authors. It was felt that a novel written by a female would not be taken seriously or wouldn’t be encouraged. So some female writers wrote under masculine pen names.   

Why use pen names at all? It could be for concealing your identity or to remain anonymous. A writer of some romantic novels, who wants to try out writing some horror stories, might choose to write under a pen name. When we know that our favourite writer of romance is going to publish soon some next novel, we eventually get our hopes up that it would be something romantic again. 50% chances are that the readers may feel let down when they discover that it is so not like that! Releasing a new novel under a different genre becomes sometimes risky. So when enthusiastic writers want to try their writing skills in multiple genres, they vouch for a pen name. Some adopt pen names to conceal their genders. Some others use a new pen name to recover from the loss of the poor response that they got for their previous works. This will mean an opportunity to build your reputation in the literary world from scratch. 

For me, it’s exciting and at the same time adventurous. Today itself in the morning when I opened Infy Bubble, I read Arunprasad Ramasubramanian’s quiz question about the pen name of Madabhushi Rangadorai, who contributes his writings in The Hindu. My mind train started running on a parallel track. If I want to write in future something bolder or out-of-the-box, I would like to have my own pen name too. Plus I imagine sometimes, my name on the front cover of a novel or below the title of my column in a newspaper or a magazine-Snehal Anil Tripathi……it’s too long and not at all crisp! Ok fine. It’s what my parents named me and I should respect it. But adopting a pen name doesn’t mean I am insulting my ancestors! Plus I understand the meaning of my name and history behind it, but will the readers be bothered about it? No! If the title of a book or a column is not eye-catchy or to-the-point, the reader may keep down the book on the shelf and may move on to some different authors. I don’t want my writings to look smaller under my too long name. In order to attract the reader’s attention in the fiercely competitive literary world, I’ll adopt a name that is small and reflects me the way I write. 

My first preference would be ‘Sony’, because that’s my nick-name at home. But that doesn’t make any sense and I definitely don’t want people to go thinking about Sony Entertainment Television. Uncalled publicity for the channel! The second preference would be ‘The Talking Girl’. I think this one looks more realistic here. I have also thought about ‘The Girl in the Green Scarf’ but that title is already sold out to the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic. And I don’t have a green scarf. I have a red one though and it is a Kashmiri shawl. 

So what’s your pen name going to be? Which literary double would you adopt? Sit back, relax and think! Or have you already written something under a pseudonym before? Reveal your secret now!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Immediate accommodation available in a fully furnished 2BHK flat!!

The sun was quite harsh. We were profusely sweating. Resisting the urge to stop and sit down under the shadow of a huge Mango tree on the roadside, we walked forward and reached our desired destination- house no A-812 in Panchkula. I rang the bell which was positioned outside the main gate. A shrilling sound came from inside the house. We waited for 5 mins before an old wooden door opened. A stylish looking middle aged woman appeared and greeted us enthusiastically. We were ushered inside the main hall. After some small talk, we got down to business.

“Are the rooms fully furnished?” my friend asked.

“Yes! We have even an inverter! And some utensils too! You needn’t bring anything from home!” she announced.

“Aunty…rent? How much is it?” I asked cautiously.

“Rs. 10,000! Before I used to charge Rs. 12,000. But seeing that you are girls, I’ll charge lesser. You see, we want girls as tenants only. Boys make so much racket!” she shook her head and smiled, showing her yellowing teeth.

“But I must warn you! No smoking and drinking here! We simply don’t allow all that!” She grinned. 

We paid her a token money of Rs.1000. She promised that the 2-room set with an attached bathroom and a small kitchen on the first floor of her bungalow would be ready by day after tomorrow. The same day that marked the last day of our stay at Chandigarh ECC free of cost. We had arrived from Mysore, fresh from training, and had to search for a flat in the city within a week. After a mind-boggling search on BB (Bulletin Board) and making frantic phone calls to different flat owners, we finally settled on to this recently vacated 2-room set. Finally things started to fall in place. Or so we thought. The promised day arrived soon and we moved in with our things. When we entered the main gate, a tremendous loud barking set up from somewhere inside the bungalow. We ran outside the gate and locked it for good measure. Something came running and crashed the gate from the other side. We back-tracked. 

“Oi! Kiwi! No, no, no darling………come back, I said COME BACK!” 

Our newly appointed landlord came bouncing on her little feet and opened the gate. But we had locked it from outside! We unbolted it and the gate swung open. She was holding the collar of a large white snowy dog.

“Sorry for his behaviour! But he gets naughty on seeing strangers!”

“This is your dog?” All three of us chorused in disbelief.

Three days later, we packed our bags and decided to move to another flat. We literally escaped. Her house had become an uncouth prison. She hadn’t informed us about any dogs of her own in advance when we had booked the flat. Because of her naughty darling, we couldn’t even walk outside on the lawn or park freely. Secondly, the house hadn’t been cleaned. Apart from us, other inhabitants included mosquitoes, spiders and cockroaches and they turned out to be permanent residents. Her own house-hold stuff was locked in the cupboard and the bathroom had to be shared by a maid-servant, she revealed later. 

Two weeks later, we felt like living in heaven. The new 2BHK flat, that we got after some references by senior infoscions who had recently vacated it, was not only fully furnished but also contained balconies and was spacious. It had 2 new coolers, brand new inverter and 4-burner gas stove. The new landlord announced that we were like his granddaughters and shouldn’t worry about anything. If any problem arises, call me up, he happily confided in us. But it was costly. We had to pay Rs. 14, 000 as monthly rent and Rs. 28,000 in advance as security for 2 months. 

Meanwhile, it was announced that we had to travel to another DC for 1 month project-related work. And that, it could be even further extended. We broke the news to our landlord. He became livid. 

“So you are giving me a notice?” he asked point-blank.

“Yes!” I had kept my mobile on speaker so that my other roommates could hear it out too.

“Then, I am not giving you your security money back. You can check out of the flat whenever you wish.”

“WHAT?” we thundered in unison.

“It is there in that rent agreement that you signed as part of the contract for an 11 months stay.”

“Please uncle, we are not going to stay even for one whole month now! You can search for your new tenants this month only! But give our security money back! Else it will be a huge loss for us!”

“You people from Infosys earn so much! You people got a hike too! I read that in a newspaper!” he snapped.

“Yes! But not for us! It’s for our seniors! And we are freshers!” 

“You people from Infosys are like this only! Always give headache! You know what happened last time? Society complained and there was a police raid in the flat late night at 3 am! Those old tenants were from Infosys and partying till 3 am! I had to force 10 people hiding inside bathroom to come out! In total, there were 32 people that came out of the flat that night!  32!  Now tell me, who does that? We had even prostitutes in that flat that night captured by police!” he bellowed angrily.

We hurriedly lowered down the volume of the speaker of my mobile. And triple checked, craning our necks 360 degrees, whether anybody had heard the word prostitutes uttered from our cubicle.

“Ok uncle, but that isn’t our fault! Please give our whole security amount back!”

“No! First find me tenants. Then I may think about giving your whole security amount back!” he hung up.

The next day we posted an ad on BB ourselves and became temporary owners of the flat. We received mails, pings and booked appointments with different probable tenants. Some came and we had to show them around the flat. A group of particular boys had a very urgent question to ask before we could even greet them with a simple hi. 

“Does this owner allows to party late night?”

Another group were appalled at the prospect of no ACs but only coolers in every room. Some thought the rent was very, very costly. And a 2-months security was a strict no. One woman, looking for a flat for her family, went forward and switched on the TV. On seeing our surprised expression, she clarified,

“I just wanted to check whether this TV is working fine. The last house I visited, their TV had no sound system in it. Star Pus was coming but no sound of any dialogues uttered in any of the serials!”

After four days of suffering, we finally hit the jackpot. A group of 4 men agreed to take up the flat for the quoted rent. 

“No! I cannot accept that.” The real owner declared when we broke him this news.

“Why?” we were appalled. My friend slapped her desktop in frustration. I wanted to pick up the monitor, hire an auto, go to that owner’s house and throw it at his face.

“I don’t trust men! They lead to loads of trouble! Besides, when did I say that boys will be preferred as new tenants? I will consider only small families or women.”

“But these men are not boys! They are older and an experienced lot! You will like them! Besides they have agreed to pay 2 months security rent too!” We argued but he didn’t budge. Meanwhile our travelling date was coming nearer. It pressed our panic button.

We approached a dealer, who also had a grocery shop. He agreed to help us in finding out the new tenants in the next two hour. In return, we had to pay him Rs. 7,000 as his commission fee. We agreed and like magic, four young girls looking like they were studying in some fashion college, came to see the flat within an hour. We showed them around and they became satisfied after a quick short tour of the highly maintained flat (we had cleaned the flat with Lysol disinfectant before their arrival).  

“We like this flat. This is just according to our requirement. We will talk to the owner. But please don’t tell that dealer. Else we’ll have to pay Rs. 7000 to him! If he asks, just tell him that we said no to this flat. And we’ll tell him the same thing. And then we’ll occupy this flat and never approach him further!” one of them provided this information at lightning speed. We told them our own tale in return. 

So we both parties agreed that we would not approach the dealer anymore. Rs. 7,000 of each party saved. 

The owner agreed to rent the flat to these girls. We all were sitting in his air-conditioned bungalow. The girls signed the new rent agreement form and we got our security money back. 

“These were the worst tenants I ever had!” he thundered at us after giving the cash.

“This money is nothing to me! You know, my electricity bill comes around Rs.25,000 every 2 months!” he further clarified. 

We came out of his bungalow and an old man with a walking stick bumped into us.

“Hello there! You girls looking for a flat hey?”

We looked at him blankly.

“I have a fully furnished 4BHK in my old quarters that I am giving out on rent! Rs.18, 000 and 1 month security deposit!  Hey what say? You girls want it? Are you from Infosys beta?”

 We looked at each other. We had the same one thought in our minds.

Let’s buy a property and give out every floor on rent!

I had a sudden vision of our newly posted advertisement on BB for our very own new flat:-

Immediate accommodation available in a 2BHK flat at Panchkula:-

Following are the amenities provided:-

1.       Double beds with mattresses
2.       Wooden cupboards in each room
3.       TV with a Tata Sky connection
4.       Samsung Refrigerator
5.       Kent RO water purifier
6.       Four-burner gas stove
7.       15.1 kg cylinder
8.       Fans/Lightings/Curtains.
9.       AC in each bedroom
10.     Attached washrooms
11.     Geyser in each washroom
12.     Inverter

Ø  No interference from landlords
Ø  Infosys bus stop is a 10 mins walk.
Ø  A park is outside with a walking track.
Ø  Grocery shops are nearby. 

Preferences to all- men, women, small families or big families! Security deposit for one month! And rent is negotiable! If interested and would like to know the undisclosed rent, contact the owners!