Thursday, December 08, 2005

To the kid who always got into trouble

I never really did get down to saying sorry.
You will probably say it isn’t important now. And perhaps you’re right. But I’d really like to go with impulse this once.

Did you know then, that I’d been watching you that day? I was hiding behind the curtain, you couldn’t see me. But I saw you, working assiduously, every nerve and tendon concentrated upon the task at hand, as you scribbled furiously. I remember that tiny 3-foot-nothing, bright yellow-chaddi clad, black skinned frame with its back to me, working on the television screen with Amma’s lipstick. And do you know something? Secretly, I was thrilled – I was to be the harbinger of this event. I’d get you in trouble. Perhaps I’d be rewarded. I’d gloat.

Squeeler, Gloater, Reporter of all your nefarious deeds. The good child. Me.

There you were now, your plump bottoms trembled as your fingers pressed and scratched upon the screen infront of you. You had eyes and ears for nothing else, all attention was rivetted on that stick of red, now broken in two, in your hands, and the screen in front of you. So you didn’t hear me as I crept up noiselessly behind. I watched you as you opened the fine control section and plastered it with sticky red. You’d still not noticed.
And I smiled. There was no getting out of this one, boy. I tiptoed out as silently as I’d entered.


Amma was horrified. There was lipstick everywhere – the screen had it, the speakers, the inside of the fine-tuning section, even the remote control. So yeah, you’d pretty much ruined our brand new television. The television that Acha hadn’t yet finished paying installments for. Our 25-inch, colour, wide-screen, pride and joy.
You spun around as rapidly as if it were reflexive, the moment you heard her voice. Your eyes swimming with horror as you looked from me to her to me again. I remember your eyes – wide with fear, rounded, goggly black discs darting madly in white. They lingered on at me for just a moment longer than I’d have liked them to.

Betrayer, Deliverer into enemy hands, Wolf who had no need of sheep’s clothing. Me.

She watched, horrified and silent for a long while.

“ come . here . you . little . devil .”

Her voice was just audible – I’d never heard her this angry. And her face. Her face had many colours – all those hues that make up what they call Rage.

I knew the moment your eyes darted around the room. I was ready. You made a desperate attempt at flight from under her arms and around me. But I’d sealed the entrance already. I wasn’t going to let you go. No way. That’s what you’d done the last time, do you remember? You’d run after scribbling on the Kashmiri carpet with your crayons, upstairs to Granny’s room. Your ever-safe haven.
Not this time. I grabbed hold of your bright-yellow chaddis and yanked you back with both hands and all the might in my 7 year old body, while you kicked, pummeled and bit my arm. And I handed you to Amma, squashing all your hopes of clemency. No clemency for you, boy.
Do you know how much I hated all that you used to get away with? I hated it - always being the kid who did everything right. While you just did what you felt like. Every time. And never got punished enough. There was always a neighbour, an aunt or a grandmother coming to your rescue. And yet, all your antics notwithstanding, you were still the 'delightful bundle of wits' whose imagination while carrying out the systematic destruction of expensive household items made people laugh.
Of course, I was appreciated for being the ‘responsible one’, the more ‘sensible’ older kid, but that just didn’t seem enough now. Defectors must be punished. Especially when defecting was so much fun.

Catcher of escaping boys, Preventer of clemency through grandmothers, Ensurer of adequate punishment to TV ruiners. Me.

I knew what would happen next. You’d be locked in the study till Acha came back and then you’d be caned 3 times on each leg. Thinking of that made me happy. And why shouldn’t I be happy? It took a great deal of effort to be the good child. But what would you know about that?

You’d been locked up for 2 and a half hours when Acha came back from office.
And now, here’s what you don’t know. You don’t know, do you, that I did feel sorry. The moment Acha took his cane down after Amma had told him. I thought maybe locking you up in the study without a fan for 2 hours and a half hours was enough. Maybe you’d get hurt more than I wanted you to, if he caned you. Maybe you’d never speak to me again.
Oh. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want you never to speak to me again. All I wanted was you to be punished just enough so you’d mend your ways. And cross over, perhaps, to my side.

So I went to him. “Acha”, I began. “Let Mon go. He’s sorry and won’t do it again”.
But he wouldn’t listen. He was even angrier than Amma had been. I didn’t like him at all. After all, I’d caught you. Who was he to decide I didn’t have anything to say in what was going to be done to you?

So you did get caned, in the end. I heard you cry, saying you were sorry and that you’d never do it again. Trust me, if I could have rescued you then, I would have.

Me. The wicked elder sister. I was sorry too.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Blue Suede Shoes (short story)

She bent down and wiped her hands. And stared long and hard at them. They had been dulled, ironically by disuse, and were slightly frayed along the edges now, but in perfect condition otherwise. That deep shade of turquoise blue remained still, as mesmerizing as it was years ago.

Mesmerized. Yes, that’s what she’d been when she’d first set her eyes upon them. That was when she was seven. She’d stand, face pressed, nose squashed, against the glass pane and stare at the shoes for hours everyday, while her breath turned to mist on the window pane in front of her.
This Sunday, the icicle she held dripped and melted away in the October sun, but she was oblivious to that. And so, while the other kids returned home after finishing their Sunday icicles, she lingered on. At the shop which had those soft, blue, flat, suede shoes. Prince Shooz, the signboard said.
And she’d wonder among many things, how much they cost, whether Aai would buy them for her if she pleaded hard enough, and why they spelt ‘shoes’ that way.

“Maybe you’d like to take a look at them …?”
She swung around, startled, and recognised the man from the counter. She hadn’t noticed as he opened the door noiselessly, and slipped up behind her. Middle aged, of medium height, with slick oil soaked hair parted sharply in the middle that looked like it was pasted to his scalp. He wore a dull, grimy shirt that had once, probably, been white, over worn out jeans, and she could see curly tufts of hair peeping out from his chest where the neckline of his shirt began. She wondered why he spoke through his nose; reminded her of the newspaper boy, when he tried mimicking Donald Duck.
“No, I have to be home…” she began ; Aai would be furious if she knew I’ve been talking to strangers, Maya reminded herself.
“Only for a minute”, he continued… “wouldn’t you like to try them on? They’re just the right size for you too.”
The longer she gazed at them, the louder they beckoned her inside.

The store was empty at this time; it was a typical lazy Sunday afternoon. She entered, and stood infront of the counter while he removed the shoes from the display window. She stared at the unattended tumbler of cold tea that stood on the counter top and watched the thin web-like film of brown coloured cream that had covered the surface.
“Here, come and sit with me…” he motioned to where he was sat on the floor behind the counter, shoes in his lap.
And she followed, behind the counter, to where he sat.

Maya awoke from her reverie to the wails of a hungry baby. Sara was three months old now, and growing more beautiful by the day. Almost as beautiful, Ravi would say, as her mother. And Maya would smile.

She put the shoes aside; Sara needed to be fed.
Ravi walked in as she was putting them away. “Sweetie, dyou remember where you’d kept the Olive Oil after last week’s dinner? It’s not on the second shelf anymore.”

Sunday afternoon was the one time of the week she was treated to her husband’s culinary skills, far superior, she admitted wistfully, than hers. For Ravi, Cooking was an Art, his ultimate Stress Buster. Russian Salad, her favourite, featured on today’s menu.

“I think we’ve run out of it… check the bottom shelf. Gimme a sec, lemme get Sara”

She cooed softly as she picked up the crying baby and put it to her breast. The cries subsided almost instantly, turning to content, intermittant murmuring as warm nourishment flowed into the baby’s mouth, and down her throat, flooding her senses.
The gentle pressure of the infant’s mouth against her breast began to dull Maya’s senses and bring on drowsiness…

“Surprise!!” Aai yelled, as Maya ripped off the wrapper and lifted the lid off the box to pull out a pair of shiny new deep blue suede shoes. “Happy Birthday, my pudding, I know you’ve had your eyes on these forever. Dyou like them?”
She looked up at her mother to answer, but felt a nausea sweep over her. She retched, and vomitted, finally, all over her birthday present.

“They’re beautiful. How old were you when you got them?” Ravi was at the door, holding the shoes in his hands.


“You’ve had them for ages now. They must mean a lot to you."

"Well,” he continued as he sat down on the bed beside her, “we’ll do them up a bit, and when Sara’s old enough, she can wear them, what dyu think?”

She put the baby down abruptly, and looked up at him, eyes ablaze with the memory of a thousand, perhaps more, nightmares, all jostling for space within the frustrating confines of her mind.

“Never”, she said, in a voice she didn’t remember, “will any child of mine have anything to do with those shoes”

And with that, she turned her back on the wailing baby and walked out of the room.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Grey is just not a nice colour

3 years. And a ‘dishonourable discharge’. That’s all she’s got. 3 years. After that, she’ll be out. And a nation will rest assured that they’ve fulfilled their obligation to the protection of Human Rights. Well, maybe not the entire nation…, just it’s upholders of law.

Sometimes there’s so much anger that I tire myself just thinking about how to let it out. I do not want to start imagining how those closer home to the issue feel.

During the trial, Lynndie England apologized for the pictures, but blamed her then boyfriend and father of her son, Pvt. Charles Graner, calling him the ‘ringleader’, and saying she did it to ‘please him’, referring to photos of her holding a naked masked detainee by a dog leash, posing before a pyramid of naked detainees, and pointing to their genitals, cigarette dangling from her mouth. England’s defense maintained that ‘officers in charge at Abu Ghraib failed to control the guards, creating stressful conditions that disoriented England and led her to take part in the mistreatment’ . An expert defense witness also stated that England should be punished lightly because of the ‘poisonous environment’ that existed at Abu Ghraib. She was convicted of 6 charges, carrying a max sentence of 9years in jail. She got away with 3 . Graner along with some others, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison last year. These are the soldiers. The officers, however received ‘administrative punishment’. Not one went to trial.

She’s part of the last batch of soldiers being tried for physical abuse at Abu Ghraib. Soon the chapter will close, the world will forget. Almost the world. For it will be seared forever in the memory of a nation that cannot forget. A nation that is bursting with outrage now. Outrage at the hypocracy, the double standards, and much worse, the utter helplessness. For them, it will be a never ending cycle of outrage, utter helplessness and cynicism.

This is it – the curse of our millenium - that we live in a world that is so unipolar that nobody, but one, counts anymore. Changing benchmarks, anbiguous criteria, we’re seeing it all. And there’s definitely much much more to come. Why maintain this farce of being a champion of Human Rights, though? So many Iraqis languish in Guantanamo Bay, on the basis of mere ‘suspicion’, and Lynndie England gets 3 years in a classic case of blatant hypocracy in the name of justice. Whatever it means to them.

It’s strange how I, not very long ago, safely ensconced in my home, far far removed from situations of these hues, could dispassionately pass harsh judgement on issues such as terrorism, religious fanatacism, even violence. Now, I don’t have an opinion. My eyes are slowly opening to the other side and its going to take me a while to figure out if there really is a difference between black and white. Or if they are in reality, merely different names for the same colour?

Monday, July 11, 2005


We had always ‘stamped’ her as ‘a little weird’ . Skinny, stooped and extremely reserved, she looked more like a young boy than the 18year old girl that she was. We started college together, and while the rest of us busied ourselves mingling, making new friends, and taking in all the new sights and sounds, so to say, of ‘college life’, Satchi would sit in a corner with her rucksack, occasionally rummage in it for a book, or just simply stare into space. Her face always had a peculiar , expressionless look on it – like Mona Lisa minus the hint of a smile-(I told her that , much later) –as if she had nothing to say or contribute to anything. If that face could communicate, hers would probably be saying- “Leave me be to see the world go by...” . And we gladly obliged.

But don’t get me wrong here. This isn’t your regular ‘dowdy-girl-enters-college-and-is-shunned-by-the-pretty-snobs’ story (we weren’t that pretty anyway!). Any attempts at conversation form our side would visibly put her on ‘alert’, and the only information we could get out of her in the first 2 months of college was that she was from a quaint village in the interiors of Nagaland. Her English was broken , and so heavily accented that it was often impossible to understand. Besides, the girl looked like she just wanted to be left alone.

Satchi wasn’t friendless , though. She had an exclusive set of friends outside class- a group of North-Eastern Indians like herself, who would huddle in the same corner of canteen everyday at lunchtime.

But the everyday hum-drum of class and after class college activities invariably forces intermingling down one’s willing/unwilling throat, and slowly, it seemed as if Satchi was opening up and becoming less wary of people around her. By mid-sem, she had started speaking in class, could sometimes be heard laughing loudly, and wouldn’t hesitate to ask me for a pen if she ran out of ink. She had moved her seat to next to where I sat , and we used to talk a lot; about our families back home, boyfriends, pets, and more. By second sem , she was quite comfortable with everyone in class , and the class, with her. She was often the butt of jokes centred mostly around her accent, or her gait, which she laughed at, as much as the rest of us did. People often joked about how dogs that ran into Satchi’s kitchen were never seen again! Political correctness had never really struck us much then, nor did it strike her. If she got really peeved , she’d tweak my bottom or kick some one else, playfully. And so, ‘that funny girl from … what’s that place again?’ soon joined the ‘club’ , serving as full time entertainment with her ‘funny’ language and ‘strange’ ways.
Satchi and I, notwithstanding our personalities, which were poles apart, strangely hit it off better than I had imagined. She was quiet,shy and always a little inhibited, and I was, as my mum often put it, ‘more exuberant, loud, and noisy than I should be growing up to be’. Through the next one year, we hung out at camps, shopped, went to parties , concerts, and holidays together. You wouldn’t call us best friends because at the end of the day, we each had our own well-established circle, and friends to go back to and hang out with. But when I think back now, I know she was special to me , and I to her.

After fourth sem, when college closed for summer most of us headed back home. I decided to stay back to work at an advertising agency in Bombay. Satchi left for home with a long list of Naga delicacies to bring back for the rest of us – ‘titora’(pieces of pickled herbs) , sunflower seeds (a very useful diversion during boring classes) fermented beef pickle, and yes, even dog pickle!
Through summer, I was busy with my internship, which I found extremely challenging ,a lot of fun and an opportunity to meet a lot of interesting new people . Time just flew as it always seems to , when you’re having fun, and soon, it was time to start our last year of college. And to tell the truth, I was really looking forward to college again.

Final Year meant new subjects and dropping some old ones ; it also meant a whole lot more work . Classes picked up from exactly where we had left off without much of a breather. No one noticed Satchi’s absence; it wasn’t really a big deal since outstation students came a couple of days late all the time. College and assignments took up most of my time, along with my sports and music commitments.
A week later , there was a report in the newspapers, about a train from Assam to Bombay which had been stopped in Bihar a few days back , it’s passengers dragged out , beaten , some raped. One passenger had reportedly died. The whole issue originated because of reservations in Assam Railway Employment for Bihari candidates, because of which unemployed Assamese youth cried foul about being denied enough employment in their own homeland. The issue had apparently attained mammoth proportions and eventually precipitated into the train-looting incident. As I folded the morning paper shut, I shook my head in disapproval and muttered something about how regressive our society was even after 56 years of independence. That much said, I proceeded on with my day’s activities as usual.

Later in the day, the class was abuzz with news about Satchi , and how she had been caught in ‘some terrible incident’ and was in hospital. Satchi had been in the train I read about. A group of us went to see her and learnt about the nightmare she’s just lived through.

Life had changed. And not just for her.

Adversity often does that to you, I guess, when it comes up, close and personal- it changes your life. There was sadness, a few tears, and genuine sympathy but the visit was very short. Probably because it was overshadowed by a underlying feeling of distinct discomfort. Discomfort all of us were feeling at having been shoved into circumstances we weren’t ready for, far removed from our perfectly happy , carefree existence. I didn’t know what to think. Or whether to think or not. I didn’t want to start because there was so many questions exploding in my head with no answers anywhere in sight, that without exaggeration, I can say that I seriously thought I would go insane that day. I returned and just stopped thinking about my friend.

She started attending college a month later. And everyone gathered around her with flowers, well wishes, cards, asking her superficial questions about how she was and updating her on the latest teacher-temper-tantrums. Later that day, we had a small ‘Welcome Back Satchi’ party with all students and staff. The question – ‘How are you doing, really?’ was carefully steered very much clear of. And can you blame us? That was, I suppose, our way of dealing with the tragedy. We were only 18 and unprepared to handle anything of this magnitude.
As she tried to put her life back together and move on , I think all we did was make the task a little more difficult for her, unwittingly. There were no more jokes cracked at her expense. Plastic, mechanical smiles that masked the discomfort we were feeling in her company, always greeted her whenever she turned to face anyone of us, and we became too polite too suddenly. Too much had changed too soon. It wasn’t long before the inevitable started - she started retreating into her shell . She started coming to college infrequently and frequently fell ill.

I never really talked to her beyond the occasional ‘hey, how ya doin’ . Maybe there wasn’t an opportunity, or maybe none of us wanted to make one. I often wondered how she was doing, really. We stopped hanging out, and things went back to the way things were, before. It was almost as if I’d woken up from a dream, back into real life. The year went by fast.

One day, at the end of the year, I was cleaning out my locker. Satchi walked in 5 minutes later and was rummaging in hers. After she had finished , she came up to me and said- “Nayan, I had got you the pickle you wanted from home, but I lost it in that confusion….” She paused. “my mum just sent me some by parcel- would you like some?” I couldn’t find words. I simply nodded.
It’s been a while and we’ve both gone our ways from then; we did exchange addresses but neither has kept in touch.
I often wonder if Satchi ever asks herself if life is fair. How many times she must have been plagued by the ‘Why Me’ question? And how does she sleep at night? And who does she go to for the answers?

Sometimes I wish I had some of the answers myself.

I got a letter from Satchi last week, a reply to my birthday card and letter I had sent on her birthday, September 29th last year (!) Lazy procrastinating bum...! Maybe, I told myself, there’s still a lot that hasn’t changed. Satchi’s trying for the Civil Service exam next year, and has promised to visit me this Christmas

Sunday, June 19, 2005

One of my favourites

"... for in its innermost depths, youth is lonelier than old age..."

- Diary Of Anne Frank

Poignant. I loved this the moment i read it

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Not Such A Splash ...

Yup, I’d definitely, ahem… ‘filled out’.
“ Hey Nayan, thank God for lycra, huh?” yelled Tara from over her cubicle. You bet woman. You bet. What are those tyres doing on your stomach, Nayan? I asked myself. That’s it. Baby hippo has GOT to go; we’ve got to get that svelte , curvy, hottie from last summer, right back.
“Tara, dyou plan on getting out of the dressing room and into the pool anytime this year?? You’ve been in there for an hour”
“Goddam suit!! WHAT’S IT GOING TO TAKE, HUH?!? WHAT?”
“Who’re you yelling at, you madcap? Get out of there.” I don’t think she’s in a mood to answer questions though…
“…How the HELL am I expected to get into this thing?? Oh, I know, I’ll just dismember myself, and shove myself through this bloody suit, piece by piece. Hand me my swiss knife, Nayan…”
“Tara, stop overreacting and get out of there, everyone puts on weight. We’ll lose it before you know it.”
Glory be! The bolt is moving. “I’m coming out. One single squeak of a giggle, and my swiss knife will make contact with your jugular. You listening Nayan?”
“Yessss, ma’am. Now get your fa… umm… yourself out of there. Please!”

Tara is fat, bengali, and adorable. Her most serious vice is probably verbal diarrhoea; once she starts ‘opining’ , a nuclear war wouldn’t be allowed to interrupt (‘oh, go away, how rude!’ she’d probably say to it, and resume her theorizing). It’s taken me a month to get her to come swimming with me every morning for the whole of this vacation, and this is our first day. I doubt we’re ever going to get out of the ladies room today though…

Anyway, we finally make it into the water. Wasn’t counting on so many kids landing here at 6:30 am, though. Never mind that, we’ve got a job to do, I tell myself, and start on my first length. Thankfully, I haven’t lost touch although a whole year has passed
Ahhh, wonderful… slices of cool water flow all over my body, there’s a light breeze at this time of the morning that makes all this perfect. Just perf… “AAARGH!!” I holler; I’m convinced my eye’s been gouged out or something. I rub the water out of my remaining eye, and open it – I’m face to face with my assailant – a three-foot-nothing, kid of about 5 or 6, flailing his arm-float strapped arms wildly in all conceivable directions. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the wading pool, junior?” I yell at his retreating back.
“WHO’RE YOU CALLING FATSO, YOU LITTLE SNOTBALL?” I look around to see Tara screaming her lungs out at a bunch of 10-yr olds, who promptly spray her with water, and swim away.
“I suppose it’s asking for the moon- a pool without pesky kids who use profanity when they’re not trying to blind you or cause severe head injury with those bloody frisbee things.”, she fumes
“Fatso, profanity…?” I start…
“…Almost makes me wish I could fling the whole lot of them over the wall or something. Remind me to get my swiss army knife into the pool next time…”
And so the morning wore on, with us trying in vain to swim uninterrupted stretches; there’d always be a dysfunctional limb jabbing into us, we’d get hit by a variety of objects : Rubber tubes being flung around, plastic balls, a Water pistol(!), rubber ‘duckies’, Tara even got her arms entangled in a tiny XXS sized swimming costume.
Help! They’re taking over! When we finally got out of the pool, it was in the foulest of moods. Day One didn’t exactly go as planned, I muttered to myself under the shower. I felt like shaking up some of those brats myself…
“ Nayan, how does this thing come off? It’s stuck, I’m going to have to have this thing on me forever. Speedo, I’m going to sue you…”

Till tomorrow morning then…