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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

She walks alone...

 It's 7:00 a.m. and my alarm goes off for the tenth time. I was supposed to wake up at 6:30 but I kept putting it on snooze. My real alarm hasn't woken me up yet! I actually surface when my helper, Megha knocks on my door and walks in carrying my morning coffee. I look at the time groggily and get irritated; she is late again! I am not a morning person at all; in fact I'm a nightmare when I'm jolted out of my pleasant dreams. For me, morning would be post 12 noon ideally! Unfortunately, I have to work to support myself and have to be in office by 9 a.m. Cursing Megha and everything else, I struggle to sit up dreading having to enter the kitchen and making my own coffee.

   Just then I hear my familiar gentle knock on the door and Megha's small round face peeps in. I am ready to give her a piece of my mind but her cheerful 'Good morning Didi' and the smell of the heavenly coffee that only she can make, pacify me somewhat. I grumble and give her a surly good morning in return, taking the mug from her hands. She gets busy picking up and folding the clothes I've strewn around, separating the ones that need to be washed. I sip my coffee contentedly and observe her in silence. She normally hums some Bollywood number while she works but is totally silent today.

 Megha always wears a sari and keeps her head covered. She had left her small village Kanakpur in Madhya Pradesh some years back and moved to Delhi with her husband and one year old son in search of greener pastures. Her husband, Ashok works as a driver for the CEO of some company while her son goes to a small private school close to my apartment.

  Like most village folk, used to working outdoors, she was dark skinned. An average looking woman, she had beautiful black eyes and she highlighted them by putting lots of Kohl. I noticed that today she had not only covered her head but also the left side of her face with one edge of her sari. 'Megha, why have you covered your face?' I asked her feeling curious. She murmured something noncommittally and continued working. My curiosity got the better of me, I got out of bed and turned her around to face me. Gently, I removed the covering from her head, dreading what I was about to discover. Somehow, I knew what to expect and my worst fears came true when I saw that her left eye was purple and swollen up. The left side of her face was also badly bruised. Alarmed, I asked her what had happened though I knew all the tales about her alcoholic husband who would come home inebriated every night and physically abuse her.
Megha sat down on the floor and said nothing, she just stared at the door with a vacant expression.  

    This was totally unlike her, she normally starts crying and tells me how her husband had beaten her up or had forced himself on her but today she said nothing. I was getting really worried now and asked her to accompany me to the doctor. She refused and told me she would be fine. I looked at the time and realized I had a spew of meetings lined up. 'You go Didi, You are getting late for work', she said as if reading my mind. I looked at her guiltily one last time and rushed off to get ready.
  That night when I got back home, I couldn't get Megha off my mind for some unfathomable reason. I completed my work, had the delicious meal prepared by her and subdued my misgivings. After a hectic day of meetings and conferences, it didn't take long for me to fall asleep.

  The next morning, I wake up at 6:00 a.m. long before my alarm went off and went to make my own coffee. I was filled with a strange sense of foreboding. I got ready for work and then sat down to read the paper and wait for Megha. I spent a couple of fretful hours waiting for her but there was no sign of her. Calling her cell was in vain as it was switched off. Finally at 9, I got into my car and drove to her house. She lived in a small house in a colony very close to my apartment. I parked my car outside her colony and walked towards her house. When her house was within eyesight,  I was filled with a sense of dread.  I could see about fifty people assembled outside her main door. Rushing forward and pushing past people, I entered her house. There were people dressed in white, crying silently. In a trembling voice, I asked one of the relatives where Megha was and she pointed to a garlanded photo of Megha which had been put in the centre of the room. My world came to a standstill at that very instant.

The only sensation I had at that moment was one of numbness. Dumbfounded, I stared at her photo and then at her family and relatives. Ashok was sitting behind the photo and crying copiously while her son sat in a corner with a lady relative, clutching a ragged teddy bear. With great effort, I managed to shake myself out of my shell shocked state. Walking up to her husband, I opened my mouth to question him but I could only get 'Ashok' out of my mouth before he got up, held my hand and started a fresh bout of wailing. "Didi ! Didi! She has gone! She has left us! She consumed poison last evening and ended her life. How could she do this? What will happen to us now? This is so unfair!" I looked at his hypocritical face and fake sorrow with disgust and walked out of the room. I walked out of the house and back to my car as fast as my legs would carry me. This could not be happening! Surely it was just a horrifying dream! However, reality wouldn't let go of its grip on me.
 My hands on the steering wheel, had a mind of their own. Half an hour later, I found myself outside Balliwada, the nearest police station. The chaos and noise inside reminded me of the local vegetable market. In a dazed state, I asked for someone to help me lodge a complaint. I was taken to a rotund police officer who looked half asleep. He listened to me or rather pretended to while I told him about Megha's case and that I suspected foul play. "Madam, we will investigate and get back to you" , with these words he dismissed me.
Days followed and weeks but the police did not get back. All my follow up calls were greeted with the same reply " We are investigating and will get back to you shortly". Finally, six months later my call was greeted with a different reply , "The case is shut, the victim was mentally unbalanced". I put the phone down and stared out of the window, wondering whether I had actually expected a different reply, wondering whether I actually had faith in our law enforcers, the judiciary and the system, wondering whether I could have helped her in some way.

We are so caught up in our lives today that we have no time to spare, no time to look around us, no time to find out whether those around us are in pain. Does a Megha have to happen to shake us out of our complacency? Or does it leave us unaffected as we live out our superficial lives chasing superficial dreams?

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Woman In Me

I love to walk in the sunshine, I love to walk in the rains. I can scale mountains, I can soar high with the eagles. My life is a rainbow of smiles, tears, experiences, fears, hopes and dreams. I am a birdsong, I am a starry night. I am a woman, I am ME!

Dancing in the rain and singing away under clear blue skies with not a care in the world; sounds poetic, idealistic and totally impractical. However, deep down that is the essence of a woman, especially the daydreamer kind of a woman. Every woman longs to be free; free to follow the desires of her heart, to chase magical rainbows and spin impossible dreams.

I am a 21st century woman. I am educated and articulate, I have a job and a family. I walk the tightrope everyday and try and balance my work and home, my children and my friends, my in-laws, and my parents. It is challenging and I succeed but at what cost? 

Keeping awake till 3 a.m. with a child tossing and turning because he is suffering from flu and very high temperature while the rest of the family sleeps peacefully. In my sleep deprived state it is quite an effort to look presentable and turn up for work.  I end up reaching a little late and get a disapproving look from my boss. I try and explain my situation to him and I get a suggestion that maybe I need to stay at home since I can't concentrate on being a career woman. Brushing off the comment with a polite joke, I get to work and manage to stay awake till office  hours are over. Endless traffic jams and a couple of hours later, I reach home to see a grim faced husband sitting in the living room with our son's head on his lap. He might have got in five minutes earlier but I get to hear how disappointed he is that I put my career before my family. Oh! I am a woman, I can deal with that.

   I wear a dress and I party with my friends at night. Maybe, I enjoy having a drink and a smoke. Hey! That does not mean that people have the right to judge me and say I do not follow Indian traditions and that definitely does not mean my values are questionable.
Happy and chirpy one day, dull and gloomy the next, I have mood swings, I am a Woman! Putting on a brave front and facing the judgemental society is something that comes naturally to me. However, deep down I'm scared and lonely and need constant reassurance that I'm loved and appreciated. I am a a Woman! A wife, a mom, a daughter-in-law, a working woman; some facets of my personality but deep down I'm still the little girl who wants to be taken care of and needs to hold a reassuring hand.

Try not to judge me for the things I am unable to accomplish, look at those that I do. I love my work but that does not mean I love my family less. When my family needs me, work takes a backseat, but that does not give you the right to question my work ethics. Partying with friends is fun but celebrating festivals with family and relatives is equally important. If I stay at home one weekend and don't want to go out, it does not make me a boring old housewife. If I go out with my friends I am not a rebel. I have to live up to impossibly high expectations and I do it with a smile. Do take a moment to notice the unshed tears in my eyes that I camouflage so well. These are the tears for the ambitions and dreams I sacrificed, the freedom and carefree days that I relinquished in order to fit into your mould!
Whisper in my ears and tell me I am doing just fine. Give me your shoulder the day I decide to shed those tears. I can be the starlight, I can be the sunshine, I can be the rainbow, if you don't clip my wings. Love me for what I am, Celebrate me, I am a Woman!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Reflections page: Mom, I understand...

To Mom

   I love you Mom. When I wake up in the morning, the first face I see is yours and when I get into bed at night, the last one I see is yours.
  I wake up to your smiling face, full of tenderness and love. You give me a kiss and ruffle my hair and I respond by pinching you or hitting you. It's not that I don't love you Mom, I really do but I can't control my responses. I want to hug you back and tell you that I love you too but my irritation at being woken up for school takes precedence over these feelings and I can't help it. I see your face turn from a beaming one into a sad one as you ask me why I hit you when you were just showing me your love. I feel like kicking myself and apologising to you and giving you a tight hug but I just can't do it. Those responses are locked inside me, somewhere deep down.
 You drop me to school and I am supposed to wave and say goodbye to you. How can I do that when all I want to do is rush back to the car and go home with you? I put on a brave face and say goodbye to something behind you because I cannot make eye contact. You drive off and I fortify myself to go through the six hours of school, surrounded by normal, happy screaming kids who look at me as if I'm an alien. It's not that they are bad but they are also kids and don't understand why I'm different.  Some are really kind and give me a hug and help me follow what is going on in the mad world around me. But there are some who take advantage of the fact that I cannot talk and falsely accuse me of hitting them and I get scolded by the teacher. They derive some sort of pleasure in causing me pain. I do not blame them as I am the one who is unable to speak for myself.
  The teachers are understanding and they try and help me study even though most of the letters of the alphabet look the same to me. How are b and d different from each other or for that matter P and 9? I'm sure they can all be interchanged. The teachers and special educators clap for me when I do well but every now and then I sense their disappointment when they feel I'm regressing. I manage to get through the day looking forward to the time when you will come to take me back. I don't need the school bell or any clock to remind me that school is over. I just know it, I have an internal body clock that is as accurate as any clock in this world. I rush to the exit gate where I know you will be waiting for me, because you are always there before time. The loving mom that you are, you will not let me wait for even a second because you know that will scare me. You pick me up and give me kisses all over my face as if you haven't seen me for days. I respond by giving an inadequate smile looking somewhere in the distance.

You give me lunch Mom and teach me how to eat independently. This is a task I actually perform very well because I love to eat. However, I'm trying to follow your instructions and eat without spilling and dropping any food. I have changed and am tucked in bed ready for my afternoon nap, when my elder brother and sister return home from school. They go to a different school which has longer hours and a different curriculum. They enter talking excitedly, say hi to me and start telling you about their day. I try and make sense of what they are saying but I can't concentrate for too long. I want to be a part of this commotion but I'm somewhere far away and there are invisible walls between me and my family members. I turn my face the other way and play with my doll.

 I love to scribble and paint and draw even though you can't discern what I've made. I love to put make up on my face and dress up even though my brother and sister laugh when they see my made up face and say I look like a clown. You scold me Mom for slyly using your make-up, for breaking your lipsticks and ruining the walls but the minute you look away, I do it all over again. I know I'll be reprimanded but I can't help it; the colours and shades beckon me. They seem to be more alluring and colourful than the world around me.
I have been taught to say I am eight years old but I feel like a two year old. I am taught how to behave in public. I scream and shout, I hit and cry and I am scolded by all of you. I can't confirm to society's behaviour norms and I am aware of people giving me strange looks, whispering, making fun of me and laughing. People don't understand me and call me a retard or mad or spastic. But you and Dad know me Mom. How then can you talk about me in my presence? You say she will not be able to do it. My brother and sister call me 'Dodo' affectionately, Dad says she doesn't understand anything. Oh but I do understand Mom! I know that all of you are talking about me. You know that I have perfect hearing so I do hear. I hear all that is said about me.
Mom, you get teary eyed every now and then when you discuss me with Dad and your close friends. You lose hope at times and say where did I go wrong? Why me? Why my daughter? I want to tell you Mom that I understand. I want you to have faith that things will eventually be alright. I know that you are very strong and I know that my family loves me. One day I might just surprise all of you and the world by doing something extraordinary. I still haven't discovered my forte but the day I do, there will be no holding me back.

  I am not a retard, in fact I am very intelligent and have an extraordinary memory. I do not have social skills but I am not spastic or mad. I live in my own world unlike the rest of you and I do not know the meaning of deceit and treachery. I have an innocent and pure soul. I am AUTISTIC.
  Hold my hand and walk with me Mom, till you can. The day you are unable to, I will take your hand and walk with you. The world might desert you but I never will. I will be there for you Mom, forever and ever...

Monday, 10 August 2015

Wanderlust: Dubai Page

I love travelling; well who doesn't? There are many like me who are full of wanderlust. We return from a trip and instantly start planning the next one. We can't help it, you can blame our stars. There are so many places on this planet that we haven't been to and they all seem to beckon us.
Well, let's put people like us, who are gypsies at heart aside for the time being and talk about all you normal folk. Even the most staunch homebody and the worst kind of workaholic does need a break and does step out of his comfort zone at some point or the other.
   Now that the seeds of a holiday plan have been planted in our heads, the first question that arises is - Where does one head to? What is a perfect trip? Everyone has certain criteria in mind when it comes to holidaying. Topping the list is of course destination. Some like the scenic hill stations while others prefer sunny beaches and still others like wild party places and shopping havens.
   One of my favorite destinations is Dubai. From pristine beaches to opulent shopping malls, breathtaking architecture to wild parties, Dubai has it all. However, if you are the lonely traveler who prefers solitude, Dubai is not the place for you. This is the land of the wealthy sheikhs and happening parties.

 I went to Dubai this April and was a little skeptical about my choice of a holiday. What would I do in a place which is known mostly for its shopping malls? I am not a shopaholic myself and actually go on shopping trips a couple of times a year where I buy everything I require at one go. It wasn't the normal sun, sea and sand kind of holiday that I favour. However, at the insistence of some friends who live in Dubai, we started planning our trip.
  The day prior to our departure, the house was a flurry of activity. The usual packing, trying to find lost clothes and finishing last minute paper work.  Our kids are very small but they carry their own strolleys and backpacks. They have minds of their own and know which clothes, shoes, toys and story books they want to carry. To the average onlooker, it would seem like a very bad idea to allow kids to carry their own luggage as it increases the number of baggage items. However, take it from us that its the best travelling idea we ever had. Our kids carry  their own luggage everywhere and we never have to help them. From the airports to the cabs, from the cabs to the hotels and then again all the way back home, the kids are responsible for their own luggage. Apart from making them more responsible, this also allows us the convenience of shopping a little more at the duty free shops because our last minute shopping can be easily accommodated in their strolleys which go as cabin baggage. Another plus point is convenience. We have always booked two separate rooms at every hotel we ever stayed at and the kids' luggage goes to their room; they don't need to ruffle through

     We took  a flight from Delhi to Dubai. For those considering Dubai as their next destination, there are many options available in most parts of the world. DXB is one of the world's busiest airports and for good reason. It has a constant influx of tourists, immigrants and business people.
Taking a morning flight is always a good idea as you have had a good night's rest and still have the whole day ahead of you. We reached Dubai at around 11 a.m., it was a convenient two hour flight.      My love for new places and people caught up with me on landing. I wanted to get the feel of the city and unravel its secrets. I looked in wonder at the good looking Arabic men and women in their traditional flowing robes talking in fluent English. There are so many notions we have about a certain place or a certain people and they normally turn out to be false when you actually visit the place and experience its culture. We had thought Dubai was a place with stringent Arabic laws, traditional and narrow-minded natives and not much to do besides shopping. We were in for a pleasant surprise. The native people of Dubai are mostly well read and very courteous and there are so many activities for families and even solo travelers. The laws are definitely stringent especially those prohibiting drinking, drugs and eve-teasing but that's what makes it a safe place and crimes almost non-existent. I could pick up a cab from anywhere in the city, party till 4 am in the morning with my girlfriends and come back home safe. The cab drivers are honest, upright and very polite. Most of the cab drivers are from Pakistan and India and are very friendly and helpful folk.

  My first impression of Dubai was that it was a city of skyscrapers and six-lane highways and gleaming Ferraris, Maseratis and other fancy cars.  However, there is so much more to the place. Apart from its impressive architecture and first-class multi-lane highways, Dubai is a child's paradise. Every mall had numerous kids' centric activities. My kids loved the Wild Wadi Water Park, Ski Dubai, Bounce (a place full of trampolines), The Aquarium and under water zoo, Sega Republic, Kidzania, Ferrari World (Abu Dhabi) and a huge inflatable bouncy that has been put in  the water at Jumeirah beach. These entertainment parks are fun for adults too.

  We also enjoyed the magnificent sites like the Burj Khalifa (one of the tallest buildings in the world), the Burj Al Arab, the picturesque Palm Jumeirah (the artificially planned island), the Atlantis Dubai (themed on the myth of Atlantis) amongst others. The Atlantis has attractions like Aquaventure water park, The Lost Chambers Aquarium, Dolphinarium, a long stretch of spotlessly clean beaches and numerous restaurants.

  The Jumeirah beach is a wonderful place to hang out with friends and family. Clear waters and clean sands add to the allure. The beach is dotted with numerous eating joints offering every cuisine possible. Alcohol is prohibited on the beach and in most public places and you need a license to keep alcohol at home. Only five star hotels and pubs with a license can serve alcohol. However, hookahs are freely available everywhere and come in numerous tempting flavours.
  Dune bashing is another must while in Dubai. For those who are in the dark, it is a term used for desert safari. A visit to the UAE is incomplete if you don't experience this. We booked an evening safari and were picked up from our place at around 4 pm. We were driven across the deserts and were taken on thrilling rides up and down various sand dunes. There were several photo stops to ensure we captured the beauty of the place and had memories to share with our folks back home. We were taken to a camel farm and we watched the breathtaking sunset before proceeding  to our campsite in the middle of a desert. The campsite had been done up in Arabic style and the red carpet had been rolled out for all the guests. There were 'mashaals' (flaming wooden sticks like the torches used in ancient times) along the way and everywhere inside and they added to the ethnic flavour of the place. We went on camel rides there and tried our hand at sand boarding. Women of all nationalities flocked to the Henna stalls and got traditional motiffs and patterns painted on their hands and feet. There were mattresses and cushions on the ground so that visitors could laze around in the colourful tents in true Arabic style and enjoy 'hookahs in every flavour possible. There was a delicious buffet spread for dinner and consisted of many Emirati delicacies'. I loved the traditional bread pudding. Post dinner all the guests gathered around the centre stage where lovely belly dancers and native dancers with costumes full of lights entertained and enthralled the audience. We got back home by 11 pm, tired but totally satisfied with our experience.

 For those with a penchant for eating out, Dubai offers a plethora of options. From the quaint cafes to street foods, beach side shacks to five star restaurants, there is something to suit every palate. One of our favourites was Kaleidoscope in Atlantis. We went with our friends for lunch and were treated to a buffet which consisted of five hundred and fifty dishes and desserts. The spread set everyone's taste buds tingling.
  The best way to get a feel of Dubai is to probably do the 'marina Walk'. The Marina is home to some of the newest and most awe-inspiring buildings which look even more mesmerising when illuminated at night. The walk along the marina to the Marina mall with the twinkling lights reflected in the water and a view of the numerous sleek yachts moored there, is a very refreshing experience. The walk is lined with hundreds of family friendly restaurants, boutiques, cafes and super markets. Lively carousels playing nursery rhymes, quad bike rides and many other such rides ensure that your little ones are thoroughly entertained.
 My account would not be complete without a mention of the night life in Dubai. Dubai has a rocking night life and its a party paradise especially for ladies as you are sure to find ladies' nights at the top pubs on all days of the week. We went to rocking places like The Address, Ndulge, Studio one and Velocity. However, my favourite party place was Barasti, a beach bar. They have bands playing and bars on different levels but most of the action can be found on their dance floor right on the beach where huge television screens and DJs play the trendiest and topmost songs. There are loungers and Divans on the beach where you can relax and enjoy a cocktail or a flavoured hookah. But who wants to sit down when the place is pulsating with energy? The best thing to do is to kick of your sandals so that they don't get stuck in the sand and to dance the night away. The drinks are reasonably priced and the ambiance very quirky and fun. The crowd includes the hip and happening expats from every possible country.

Once you have entered the giant melting pot where every culture in the world is mixed, it is difficult to leave. A trip to Dubai is a must for every traveller. It has activities to suit every budget and the tag, 'playground of the rich and famous' is just a myth. So what are you tourists waiting for? Its a tailor-made package for one and all.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

About Me...

There is a writer inside each one of us... Some of us actually put pen to paper and start expressing our thoughts, while others just keep procrastinating. I have been writing short stories and poems since I was a kid, though I never actually published any of my works. My writings normally reflected my mood. On a happy day, my poems would be full of cheer and on dull days, very poignant. More often than not, they ended up bordering on the melancholy. It is actually amusing how we as teenagers are full of sorrow as things don't go right in our worlds. It could be our parents who never seemed to understand, peer pressure or silly heartbreaks and romantic notions in our fuzzy teenage heads.
 I can sit back and reminisce about those days with a smile on my face and think of them as silly but ask any teenager today and he will tell you these issues are as important as the cliched world peace.
    I've started many a story which never saw completion. To redress this shortcoming of mine, I've started this blog and made a resolution to myself that I would complete my posts. In today's fast paced world where we have a million things to do, it is almost impossible to find time to write unless it is a full fledged career. However, if writing is your passion, you will somehow find time to do it.
   Running a bed and breakfast and a theatre academy, managing two small kids and my house and a very active social life leaves me with very little time to indulge my writing fantasies. However, blogging is any day better than writing on scraps of paper while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. There are always a million thoughts churning in my head and I need to voice them. This blog is an attempt to share my views on things that fascinate me be it travelling, reading, creative writing, romance or just some personal reflections.