Monday, January 30

Honey I shrunk the 'kid'!

There was something special about this weekend. Apparently it was just like any other, but somewhere something has changed. I have changed.

I have known this feeling before, as if you are an actor changing characters. I have known this feeling when my sister got married and left behind an unexplainable void that I unknowingly tried to fill up. When I first stayed over for more than a week with my in-laws-to-be, feeling the love that an entire family can shower upon you just because their son happens to love you; and you respond instinctively.

Today looking into the mirror I once again knew I had changed. To what extent I cannot say. But why? Yes. Because this Saturday I cut my hair. And cut it real short. It’s been seven years since they were so small. Over the years I had cared and seen them grow as a mother would her children and feel happy that all was fine. I had cried when they showed even a trace of being unhealthy (the reason why I cut them now). I had beamed when my mom-in-law praised them and looked at me with such loving eyes, it saddens me to tell her I cut them. I had been proud when everyone complimented them and loved them, just like when your kids are loved and praised by your neighbors. But they are all gone. The waist length deep black beautiful lustrous hair (ignore my immodesty, in this regard I am all indulgent) that refreshed me with its smell when I was feeling low, taught me that darkness can be beautiful, made me realize that ‘split-ends’ can mean growth ………… all that is gone now. All that remains is the sweet and sour memories of it.

And yet I am happy. Happy because this new ‘look’ is making me feel new. I suddenly seem to be more confidant than before. I am looking and feeling younger by a more than a couple of years and suddenly I have these teenage feelings dwelling up in me again. This haircut means that I have done some things which I never thought I would. I never dreamt I would cut my hair this short, and cut it without consulting my parents who adored my mane, without asking my mom-in-law who had explicitly been against me cutting them, my fiancĂ© who knows everything I do as soon as I have even thought about it. It is the first time I did something on a total whim, the first time I ‘informed’ my parents about a decision and not ‘ask’ them, first time that I kept a secret from my fiancĂ©! It was the first time I realized how much emotional strength (it was a tough 20 minutes for me as I sat through the haircut, closing shut my eyes tight as if hoping that I would open them and my long hair would still be smiling at me) I derive from my sister’s presence (she was the one who readily supported and accompanied me inspite of the the fact that she cannot see my hair being cut so short).

A simple thing like a haircut and a vista of memories, a new understanding about myself and those around me. Another reason to fall in love with myself once again!

Friday, January 27

Just an hour and a half

Its been quite some time since this last happened. Today reliving those moments I suddenly felt as if something long forgotten had come back to me. It was only a matter of one and a half hours beyond normal time, but it brought back so many memories, that the discomfort it caused escaped attention. It was totally unplanned, as such things usually are. But it was also unavoidable, as sometimes these things are.

Staying back after office hours, working that extra hour, can be so invigorating. I never knew it before today. Invigorating not in the physical aspect of it, but the mental. Stepping out of office set in motion a series of memories, some pleasing, other not exactly so.

My last job involved late hours and reaching home at 11pm was 'usual'. Driving home with the cold breeze playing through your hair on the almost empty streets, was something I really loved about my old job. The tension, physical and mental both, of the entire day was lost before I reached home, all fresh and ready for anything you said. There were days when there would be some colleague driving along and the non-office chat lead to many a wonderful friendships. Even in office, as the world around you gradually prepared to go to sleep, you were busy and excited for that was your peak time (I worked in a newspaper and newpapers start bustling with activity only after 6pm). The evening tea and snack, the gossiping and giggling, the teasing and laughing........ even as you keyed in your stories for the day......... it was all so wonderful. And as the hours passed by we all looked forward to going home and the excitement of it (I sometimes wondered if we were schoolkids!) led to work gaining greater momentum and so also the chattering. It was as if your brain had changed gears and was roaring at full speed. And if it was someone's birthday......... cakes and samosas and pav bhaji........ those were some of the immemorable days of my life.

I remember going out for my first dinner date with 'him', when I was so caught up in office that he had started wondering if I would ever make it. It was fun! I was dying to leave and 'boss' would not let me go. And so I played a little trick. I was carrying a different dress to be worn for the date (now this in itself was so unlike me that I had almost forgotten I was carrying it. And the look on 'his' face when he saw me in a different dress was simply a kodak moment!) So I quickly changed into it, adjusted my hair, packed some of my stuff and with the most innocent look on my face asked boss if there was anything more for me to do that day. Well, he got the hint and finally at 10pm I left office for my historical date. (Now that is a different story and will tell it some other time.)

But today as I left office I couldn't help feel that happiness all over again. Actually I am not fond of working late hours. I like to do my work on time and leave on time. But today was different. The work was suddenly alloted and with not much experience in that particular thing, it proved to be though task in the pre-lunch session. My best friend and I work together and sit next to each other, which meant that between us we had a 100 questions to ask of our boss. After a lot of to and fro of mails and files, we finally settled down into the thing and though I still have a lot of questions, they can wait till Monday. Today I have other things to look into, especially my Pensieve!

Monday, January 23

Woh kon thi?!

A typical college setting. A girl clad in green salwar-khameez with matching earrings and bangles, hair tied in a plait and a 'damsel in distress' look on her face and scarf walks in through the gate. A boy in blue jeans and yellow T-Shirt, sports shoes and the 'just-out-of-the-bed' look standing in a group of similar looking guys and talking on this latest mobile, laughing. The guy and the girl bump and she is flustered and he excited. Repeat scene for the next couple of shots. Love blossoms. Guy and girl meet everyday at restaurants, riverside, movies, coffee shops..... go around hand in hand, for long drives on the bike with girl hanging like a sack to his back.

One year later.............

Soft dimmed lights in a room decorated with marigold flowers. Girl in ‘ghungat’ sitting on the bed. Guy enters all excited for the upcoming ‘event’. He sits down next to her. She lowers her head in shame (sharam/lajja/laaj?). He takes her hand and kisses it. Goosebumps. Sweet nothings and lots of coaxing later girl agrees to 'mooh-dikhai'. Guy lifts the ghungat and (freeze frame on guy's face).......

Guy: Who are you? (Repeate thrice for that startled effect.)
Girl: Why? Its me of course. (Girl looking lost and damsel-in-distress as usual.)
Guy: No that cannot be! It can't be you!
Girl: What's wrong with you? Are you drunk? Its me, your love, your darling, your sweetheart!
Guy: No. You are an imposter mimicking her voice, taking advantage of the dim lights. I am putting on the big ones. (Switches on the two tubelights and the room is brightly lit.) I have been duped. (Sob! Sob!). You are not my sweetheart. You cannot be. She had these wonderful black eyes (looks into her eyes)....... you are wearing black lenses to fool me! Oh God! My love, she had these wonderful black eyes that I have been in love with for the last one year. She was my 'sharmilie', never once did she go around without her scarf covering her head and her face. Such sanskar! And you........ you are sitting here smiling at me without anything to cover your face with............. you are not my love! (cries)
Girl: But I......
Guy: Shut up! Oh God! Why are you punishing me? We had such wonderful times at the coffeeshop, sitting hand in hand, legs brushing one another....... we had only one coffee everytime (flashback to coffeeshop, the two sitting in the said position. Girl wearing her scarf and looking around with scared eyes of a deer once in a while.) I was so much in love with her as we walked along the riverside (flashback. Camera from behind. Walking, Guy's hand around her waist, close enough to not let an ant pass through between them.) And from the riverside to the bridge on bike, to that dark corner on the bridge, crowded yet so secluded! (Flashback. Guy parks bike and they sit behind it. Girl wearing scarf.) I remember the trembling of her hands, her scared eyes, her husky scarfed voice........... (Flashback. Guy holding hand, girl looking around. Guy holding her close and moving his hands closer to strategic places. Girl looking around scared and searching.)
Girl: And that trip to Sinhagad. It was so romantic!! Sigh!
Guy: What? How do you know? You must have read her diary! You cheat, you *****!!!! What have you done with her? (Sob. Sob.) It was such a wonderful day. We rode on my bike, she was holding on to me tightly. Then we went behind that little temple and............. Ohhhhhhhhhhh the warmth of her body, her softness ..............

Next morning. Guy still dazed. Girl all in tears. Enter ‘sasuma’.

Sasuma: Aren’t you people supposed to go over to her place? Come on leave now. (Calls out to ‘bahurani.’ Girl enters in a green sari, managalsutra, matching bangles, hair tied in a plait and tying her scarf.)
Guy: (Looks up) What you? Oh where have you been? I missed you so much. You know there was some other girl trying to fool me into believing it was you. She even knew our little secrets! (Girl lowers her head. Blushes inside her scarf covering her face!)

Ok now don’t think I have lost my mind to be writing that story. I was just wondering how it would be for those innumerable couples who love to court and roam around hand in hand. But at the same time they lack the guts to be brave enough and face the world and not hide their face behind some stupid scarf tied as “protection from the pollution.” If you look around you will come across numerous such couples where the girl covers her face and at the same time they are coochi-cooing in full public view. You must have seen ‘these’ couples during your treks as you stop for snacks at the ‘restaurant and permit room’ at the foothills. Darting you scared and ‘thank-god-I-don’t-now-you’ looks.

What infuriates me and what I really fail to understand is that if ‘these’ people are so scared of being found out and spotted, why go and attract public attention by being ‘physical’ with your lover in public? These same people, especially girls will carry the ‘holier-than-thou’ look and at the same time cover their faces and let their lover touch them ‘so far’ sitting on a bridge, a park and go to dicey hotel rooms with them and step out with their faces covered! If you are a Marathi speaking person you will understand my feelings when I say “chyala jaraka himmat nahi tar prema tari kashala karat hindatat!”

I have no problems with people falling in love. I am human enough to understand that when in love you feel a need to get ‘close’ to your lover. My problem is if you are not prepared to face the consequences of being in love, of being spotted with him/her, why go around attracting public attention? What will attract more attention a couple where the girl sits wearing a scarf or a couple sitting chatting in a carefree manner? And whoever said you cannot be identified with a scarf around your face? Any person who knows you for sometime will identify you even with a scarf. I really fail to understand the entire funda behind such behavior. It is extremely irritating and foolish to say the least. Really “jarka himmat nahi tar prema tari kashala karat hindatat!”

Wednesday, January 18

Five point, someone?

I had heard a lot about this book and like many others who read the reviews, wanted to read 'Five point someone' as soon as possible. However it did not happen till yesterday.

It so happened that my brother was reading something with a newspaper covering (or so it looked like) and knowing that he would never cover his books thus, I had to find out what book it was. That is how I landed up with this book. (Now its up to you to decide if a book with a coverpage that looks like its been wraped in newspaper invites you to read it.)

'Five point someone' is a story about three guys in college (IIT, Delhi), the 'fun' they have during their fours years together (Hmmm.....) and how they almost 'screw' up their degrees in the process. It begins with how a guy (near death) is being rushed to a hospital and then flashback (Hmm..... I know this?!) The author, Chetan Bhagat, takes you through the four years of the three guys, Alok, Ryan and Hari (supposedly the author himself) starting off with a ragging episode. Ryan saves the other two from some impossibly obnoxious thing during the ragging and their friendship is sealed. Ryan is this rich, smart and handsome guy who apparently has 'everything going for him', while Alok is this poor, intelligent, fat and (almost) ugly guy who has 'all the problems in the world'. And Hari is somehwere in between, an ok-to-do, intelligent and ok-to-look-at guy, who is narrating the story and so we hardly have any insights into his background. In the first semester itself they score a five point something score in their exams and that is how they come to be known for the rest of their stay, 'five point somethings', the underdogs. Ryan is irritated with the 'system' because it does not allow one any freedom to innovate things, but rather produces human machines. He proposes that the three friends have all the fun they can have as 'these are the days to do it' and so between movies, food, chess, porn and vodka they 'screw' up their studies. They never rise above their five point something. In the meanwhile Hari falls for the daughter of the Head of Department (a very strict guy who does not allow his daughter to talk with guys or receive their calls) and to impress him he wants to score an 'A' for his course. And the easiest way to do it is steal the paper! (Ryan's idea) So Hari goes to the professor's house to meet the daughter and with no one at home they end up having sex and he also manages to get the keys and go out (in the father/professor's shirt) and duplicate them and come back and bump into the father and meet the daughter clad in a bedsheet at the doorstep............ and in general have a blast! With keys in place they sneak into the office at night and get caught and are expelled for a term. Due to the expulsion and tensions at home, Alok jumps from the roof and breaks himself at a hundred places. Having 'screwed up' their degrees and chances at a decent job, they come to their senses and work hard on a project........................ You get the drift.

Now. The book is not as great as the reviews I had read claimed it to be. The story is good and it could happen to anyone. As such it is realistic. The characters are however very stereotypical. Ryan for example is goodlooking and smart and rich and hates the system and wants to have fun - it seems too much out of a bollywood film and stereotyped. The whole book has been written in a very 'yuppie' language to give it that college fun feel. But, as Hari says at a point in the book, "It kills the effect"; the yuppieness of the language does not flow naturally but seems to have been brought in after a some real effort. The yuppieeness is not as natural as the film Dil Chahta Hai, which seems to have inspired this book (Hmm..... now I know). Comparing notes with a friend we were unanimous that it seems to try to do a 'Dil Chahta Hai'.

I will not say dont read it. Go ahead and read it. Its a quick read with only around 250 pages and definitely not 'crap'(a word which has been used too many times in the book.) Read it to see that IITians are not all bookworms and studious, they have their share of fun and 'college life'. Read it to realise how its important to know where to draw the line. Read it and let me know!

Monday, January 16

Signing Off

I have been writing quite a few letters lately. After all those scores of letters I sat down to write one to my friend today. Dear Aparna,…………………… with reference to………………….. considering the circumstances……………….I would be glad to ………….. Regards!?” I suddenly realized how mechanically I was writing all that stuff. It seemed more a collage of all the letters I had been writing, than a new year wish for an old friend. God forbid had I sent it to her………. For one it was supposed to be a new year greeting letter (“today is 15 Jan you idiot! ***********) And I had signed it off with regards. She can take nothing but ‘Luv’ from me. ‘Regards’ is blasphemy! (“Regards! who the hell do u think were you writing to?”)

That got me thinking. How many of us actually think twice before signing off a letter. Generally for official/ formal ones we blindly sign off as ‘Yours sincerely/faithfully’ or ‘Regards’. With more informal ones it is either ‘Luv’ or ‘Yours truly’. And how many of us care to read how a person has signed off? Hardly. We know who has written us the letter and we assume that it would be either of those above. And so it is blindly ignored. And yet there are guidelines on how to write letters and how to sign them off; what should it be for the President and for the CEO and for the Queen. Yet that fussy teacher scolds you for writing ‘Yours truly’ and not ‘Yours sincerely’. Yet my friend would have let hell loose had I written ‘Regards’. Yet your boyfriend/girlfriend would be ‘hurt’ if you don’t sign off with a ‘love you’. And yet you cannot expect that if you sign off innovatively that would be noticed!

I have a journo friend who’s into a long distance relationship. So their main form of communication is emails. Once she happened to attend five lectures on IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) in 2 days flat and was so saturated with it, she signed off a letter saying “Yours IPR (Incurable Prem Rogi).” Another time she wrote “Love you. Mrs U”. I am sure that must be adding so much romance to their communications over miles. And then there was this HR person I communicated with at one time who signed of as “Cheers”. Another friend who wrote “God bless you!”. And there must be innumerable others out their who write innovate stuff to sign off their letters. Something that is probably forgotten after that one instance. Something that they consider a stroke of brilliance. Something they have put a lot of thought/love/time into. Something that was never noticed!!

Sunday, January 8

A world without Sharon

With Ariel Sharon struggling for life after a recent hemorrhage, the world is busy speculating Israel after him, the possible leaders who could take his place – if any could at all- and what Sharon’s exit from politics at such a crucial time of Mid-Eastern peace could mean for world. While many are praying and hoping he recovers enough to return to active politics, the PLO and other anti-Israel factions are hoping he ‘dies’. What has sparked such deliberation and concern is that Sharon has been one of the few charismatic and ‘capable’ leaders who in recent times pulled out largely of the Gaza strip, signaling a big step towards peace in the Mid-East.

Looking at it from an Indian perspective is also very important especially after his visit to India in 2003. Speaking during his visit Sharon said, “We regard India to be one of the most important countries in the world; we share our belief in democracy and I hope that my visit here will contribute in strengthening our relations with India and developing them...We believe we can do many things together in many fields...”

Though India and Israel gained independence almost simultaneously (Aug. 1947 and May 1948), diplomatic relations between them started taking shape only after 1992, when the then PM Narsimha Rao initiated dialogue between the two countries. India and Israel are seen to be ‘natural allies’ what with both being functional democracies hounded by large scale terrorism from across their borders and Islamic insurgency and both being home to large domestic Muslim populations. Both countries have made significant progress in combating insurgency and mutual cooperation in anti-insurgency tactics and defense preparedness as a whole is a very important factor of this friendship. Since 1992 various treaties have been signed and deals finalized in not just arms trade but also other areas like intelligence, information technology, agriculture, environment, pharmaceuticals, human rights etc. In an in depth analysis of the Indo-Israeli relations Harsh Pant elaborates how it is a mutually beneficial relationship and India should follow the course it is treading now.

Now with Sharon’s exist almost decided, who his heir would be is of importance to India too. Tough none of the probable leaders display anti-India stances and understand the importance of Indo-Israeli cooperation, a totally anti-palestian leader would not be exactly easy to handle. India had been one of the first countries to recognize the PLO and it was a deterrent in furthering ties with Israel in the early years. If the new leader is to rake up the issue, it could damage the relations severely. Also India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world and an anti-Arab stance on part of India would not go down well. Considering the geo-strategic importance of the alliance – the region between Israel and India is seen as one whole region of influence with two functional democracies ‘restricting’ the politically volatile countries and their influence between them and could in future even aid democratic setups in the region – it would be loss to India, who is trying to emerge as a global player, if ties sour over any issue.

Though India does not have as much to worry over the matter as the Mid-East and probably the US, it does need to keep track and take the right steps at the right time. Change in the leadership of a country of strategic importance to another nation, is an important point in that nation’s foreign affairs and it is best not overlooked.

Tuesday, January 3

Black Friday

I am dumbstruck and its taken me long time to actually get down to writing this post. I just put down 'Black Friday' by S Hussain Zaidi, an amazing account of the 1993 serial bomb blasts the rocked not just Bombay but the entire world.

S Hussaun Zaidi has been a crime reporter and this probably gives this account of the barbaric act a feel of credibility. Hussain takes us through not only the entire conspiracy as it appeared to the public eye but actually behind-the-scenes, into the dealing of those involved.

The book starts off by giving a brief background into the communal riots in Bombay prior to the blasts and establishing a causative relation between the two. He then recounts in impressive detail how Dawood Ibrahim along with Tiger Memon, though in love with Mumbai, actually masterminded the entire bombings to avenge the riots that killed hundreds of muslims and inflicted torture on the women folk of their community. The process of smuggling in the explosives especially RDX and AK-56, the recruitment of ‘volunteers’ to do to the job and their training in Pakistan, scanning of Mumbai for strategic sites for blasts such that they would inflict maximum damage, the D-Day preparation and the last minute preponement of plans as a member of the team gets arrested are very well researched and send a chill down your spine. You realize that those bombers were no dumb men who struck at a whim, but rather carried out a carefully and minutely organized plan to commit cold-blooded murder.

The author should be credited for his writing skills that nowhere smell of any bias and all through the book one can see a very objective and fact-stating tone being maintained. Nowhere does he use judgmental words for either the conspirators or the investigators (like I am doing right now and cannot help it! It was such a gruesome act, my blood still boils at the memory of those times.) Inspite of the seemingly flat tone of the book it is very gripping and spread across a mere approx 300 pages, you can read it in a sitting. It is successful in creating an atmosphere such that you feel yourself actually traveling along with the actors from Mumbai to Dubai to Pakistan to Mumbai etc. The book makes a interesting read as it has first person accounts by some of the conspirators like Badshah Khan and a reconstruction of the interactions between Dawood and Tiger Memon and theirs’ with other conspirators.

The account of the investigations is also lucid and makes one appreciate the amount of work the police put in during such dire situations. With the 13 blasts occurring between 1.30 pm and 3.40 pm, one can but only imagine the running around and tension that must have prevailed within the law enforcing agencies. Destruction of such proportions and carrying the potential of communal riots breaking out, the police personnel, the fire brigade and bomb detection squad were kept on their toes for the next God-knows-how-many days. The author does complete justice to the efforts of these men instead of going on a police-bashing spree as the media is usually prone to.

The plot of the book is too highly published for me to go into the details of it. I will very strongly recommend reading this book not just to understand and ponder the blasts, but also to appreciate the use of language which does complete justice to a real-life account of events objectively, without creating any bias.

Black Friday

The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts

S. Hussain Zaidi

Penguin Books

Price – Rs 325,