Why 13 Reasons Why

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When I was 8, there was a girl in my class who all of us mocked because she was fat. Nobody liked her much, so we never had any qualms in making a joke or two on her being plump. One day, during recess, she told me that if she was fat then, so could be any of us in the future. Then we might realize how it feels to be mocked on a daily basis. However, that did not stop me or anybody else. Nobody knew who started calling her ‘Moti‘ in the first place, but we all continued because at that time, it seemed normal.


When I was 13, I went to Jaipur on a school trip. One night, after calling home, I was walking to my room from the lobby when a group of 5-6 girls appeared before me as if they were going to perform a flash mob. They began teasing me by making weird faces and calling me names. A few minutes later, they walked away. For that night and for the next few days, I kept on wondering who these girls were and why did they pick on me. I was scared of crossing paths with them because I did not want them to make fun of me again. I recognized their faces but I did not know them personally, I had never argued with them or talked to them. I could not understand their intentions. However, I never spoke about that incident.


That same year, I was after a pair of pink jeans. It was 2006 and I used to spend copious amounts of time watching Disney shows and playing games on the Disney website. I think I saw those jeans in Lizzie Mcguire and then I wanted them. I wore my pink jeans and a pink and white sweater to a friend’s birthday party. I did not know most people there. We were all seated in a round table fashion and while I was eating I saw two girls from the far end of the table sniggering at me. I ignored them. The next day at school, a friend told me that some people at the party found my attire queer; they devoted some time discussing how strange I looked and how strange I behaved. I never wore my pink jeans after that year.


I had access to a broadband connection and a printer at home. I remember that on our way back to our autos after school got over, we would sing songs sometimes. Among our favorites were ‘Kya Mujhe Pyar Hai’, ‘Dhoom Again’ and ‘Whenever Wherever’. I could never understand lyrics of English songs and I still can’t. I remember telling a friend that I simply Google the lyrics and sing along. She asked me, if I could get a print out of the lyrics for her. Then another friend asked for the same and then another 4-5 of them. Odd as it may sound, I recall a friend’s friend telling me that people in school believe that I am trying to win friends by handing out song lyrics. I felt sad, I felt like no matter what I did, it would always seem odd to someone.


It was in 9th, when I read Word Power that I realized what the problem was. I learned the word ‘Introvert’. I was an introvert. I was a person who was concerned with her own thoughts. I faced difficulty in communicating with people. I still can’t make sense of my first day conversations. Sadly, I assumed that when you do not talk to people, they do not know you and hence they do not concern themselves with you. However, the contrary was true in my case. Most people in my school believed the reason that I keep to myself is that I am arrogant about my grades or how they liked to put it ‘I was proudy’ (sic).


I remember waiting for a friend after a computer practical. She had come late and was perhaps one of the last few to take that exam. As we were heading back home, she said that she overheard a teacher telling another that my face reeks of arrogance, no wonder not many people like me.


In class 10, I was talking to the girls sitting in front of me. Then suddenly, one of them apologized to me for what happened on the Jaipur trip. I was taken aback. She explained that her friends were told by their friends that I was vain, that the reason I did not speak to a lot of people was that I was arrogant about my grades. So they took it upon themselves to teach me a lesson and poke fun at me. However, now that she has talked to me, she does not find me arrogant. I laughed it off and said that it did not matter. But at that point in time, it did. I found it hard to digest how easily people misjudge others purely on the basis of hearsay.

She was not the only individual to have come to that realization and confess that to me. In fact, a lot of people between classes 8-12th walked up to me to tell me that they have spoken unkind words about me on the basis of how others portrayed me. I always smiled at them and told them it was okay. I never knew what I should tell them. Should I tell them that their words had hurt me, should I tell them that their words had made me feel isolated, should I tell them that their words had forced me to render my personality unacceptable, should I tell them that I devoted almost 4 years on being pleasant to people who I knew where the chief conspirators of the rumor mill, should I tell them that I still cannot say ‘No’ to people, fearing that they will consider me to be arrogant, should I tell them that I still seek reassurances from good friends that I am not mean.


Why am I talking about all of this today? Because I want to talk about the show ‘13 Reasons Why’. For the uninitiated, it is a show that revolves around a teenager who commits suicide and leaves behind a box of cassette tapes recording the reasons behind committing suicide. The tapes contain narrations of incidents when she was bullied at her high school. Every day, I find an article in my Google Now condemning the show for its portrayal of violence and handling of teenage depression. Every time I read these articles, I feel that while some of the choices that the protagonist makes during the show are questionable but the show cannot be completely written off.

Throughout the run of the first season, you can find the characters saying that whatever Hannah faced at school was normal; whatever happened with her was nothing new or extra ordinary that she decided to kill herself. Thus it hit me that it is normal for people to be insensitive to other people in school. We have all been around a group of individuals in school who believed that they were entitled to pass unwarranted comments on others, to mete out ill treatment because of an assumed high ground. We have all spoken unpleasant things about people behind their back. Knowingly or unknowingly we have hurt people and to us, our words and actions seem inconsequential but to those they are directed at, our words and actions could be damaging. We must have made people cry on one or more occasions and we did not even bat an eyelid because thoughtlessness is deemed normal.

My parents always listened to the good bits from school not because they were unapproachable but because I always felt that they had their share of troubles to tend to. My problems seemed tiny in light of theirs. I am more open with my parents now while it was more essential to be vocal back then because I constantly yearned for assurance that my introversion is not an anomaly; that I do not have to reform myself to be more acceptable.

There is a tape where Hannah says, “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own.” And it’s true because at a young age, it’s difficult to understand if there is a need to share our problems with others and if yes, then who should we approach.

I am not saying that ‘13 Reasons Why’ is an exact reproduction of our high school lives. But, it does depict correctly the callousness of high school children in their words and behavior. Callousness, that never opens for discussion in front of our adults. One of Hannah’s classmates mother constantly confronts her son with one question, “Have you been bullied Clay?” and he counters her asking, “What if I am the bully mom?” His question challenges an assumption that every parent holds dear to their heart. His question sums up why instead of dismissing the show entirely, it deserves to be watched and talked by parents and teachers alike. Because children howsoever unfettered they seem on surface, might be surrounded with a number of anxieties. Because children, howsoever innocent and beautiful they seem on surface, might have wicked tendencies. What ‘13 Reasons Why’ shows is that we are all capable of evil and we never fully comprehend the effect our evil bears on others lives. Because we are equally likely to be perpetrators and receivers, just like I have been both, a perpetrator at 8 and a receiver when I was 13.


The image has been sourced from Flickr.

 

 

 

 

Deep Waters

When I was 17, I read a chapter in my English textbook called Deep Waters. It was an account of a man’s intense phobia of swimming. As a child, he had attempted to learn swimming. However due to some unfortunate circumstances he lands on the deep end of the pool struggling for life. ‘Deep waters’ is an account of that man’s fresh attempt in the pool as an adult, his constant labor to emerge triumphant against his deepest fear. I could never relate to that chapter. There were other chapters as well that I could not relate to. Like the one on resuscitating a still born or about two Armenian boys and their fascination for horse riding or that poem by Kamala Das called ‘My mother at 66’. I could never associate with these stories.

Within the past six years, I have come to one understanding that you have to be at a certain age or maturity to appreciate some stories. You have to witness that certain trajectory of experiences or that nuance in your emotions, to feel what the writer feels. Now, I understand some stories better but even now Deep Waters seems an alien territory to me because waters have never troubled me.

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I was 11 when I learned swimming. My mother and I, both of us had zero faith in the prospect that I will shine at any activity that requires me to make use of my physical faculties. Yet, we both believed we’d give it a try. By the end of that week, I could swim freestyle. My mother was so surprised that she came to the pool next day to confirm with coach if I have managed to overturn history. The coach confirmed that I indeed have. I swam for that summer and for the next summer. And like that I learnt my first sport and my last so far.

My hometown houses the National Institute of Physical Education. For my 15th summer, I went there for swimming. That marked my transition from looking at swimming as a recreational means to a formal sport.  Our session began with a ten minute warm up session, after which we were taken to the pool. Depending on one’s skill level, we were divided into three groups- beginner, intermediate and advanced- found swimming at different depths of the pool. I wanted to relearn swimming so I joined the beginners, pretending not to know how to swim at all. Swimming here was strict business; there was absolutely no room for sauntering in the pool or making small talk. So for 45 minutes everyone just swam. Given this level of dedicated concentration at the sport, my act did not last for more than a week. The instructor believed that I was picking up the sport much faster than the rest and within another week I found myself at the intermediate side of the pool.

I was in class 10th that year- the year that every Indian student first appears for the board exam, read, the first level of academic validation for every Indian student. I was an academically inclined individual then, who believed that marks could make or break your life. During those summers, I had an early morning science class followed by a mathematics class- that surfaced in my life courtesy lousy Physics and Maths teacher at school.  Every day I would sleep after attending the class and then leave for the swimming class in afternoon when the summer sun would peak at its extreme best. On some days, I would be exhausted and in spite of being inside the pool I would not commit to swimming because at the point it would never seem significant to me. The instructor started teaching me the backstroke and as far my memory helps me it came fluidly to me. I showed no signs of effort on balancing my body over the surface. And like that, I stepped up a level at the only sport I have known.

Eventually, ten minutes before closing the session, another instructor would gather us to dive into the pool from a height of 5 feet. On my first time, he told me that he wanted me to stick my arms close to my body and jump straight into the pool. But I did not jump. He coaxed me, but I did not yield. Ultimately, he warned me that he will have to push me and to that I smiled and said that I wouldn’t mind. So he pushed me and I landed in the pool. This became a routine. Every day he would coax me, every day I would not yield and every day he would have to push me. One day, he tried explaining to me that my rigidity is finally hurting me. Because every time that he pushes me, my body cuts across water in a non streamlined position resulting in an agonizing soreness on my limbs. He presumed that I was scared but he did not know of what. It was never the water or the height that I feared, but I feared having to take initiative, I feared that I did not know how to jump, I feared that I would do it all wrong and that is the fear that I have carried all along.

The institute arranges a closing ceremony where the parents are invited to see their children swim and in the end the students are given a certificate. I missed the last two days and the ceremony because I had an extra class. Being the academically inclined student that I was, I placed marks above swimming and skipped those two days where the instructor was going to help me focus on my breathing pattern- my Achilles heel at swimming. You may ask me why? Because I had an extra class on the chapter on electric current those three days. At that point in life, it was more important for me to understand what resistance and potential difference meant. To me, that was going to be of more aid in future than swimming could ever be to me.

This Sunday I swam after 9 years and all I remember is how to kick my legs in the water. I cannot use both my arms and my legs together. If I try to move my head to breathe, I end up completely disoriented with my limb movement. I cannot balance my body on the surface while attempting the backstroke. And the funny thing is that I don’t even remember what I learned in those extra classes except for that the unit of resistance is ohm and there are two types of circuits- parallel and series. And that is how I unlearned the only sport I knew.

For all my life, I placed my education over everything that life had to offer me. I cried in the classical dance class, I forgot how to do paper mache crafts, I rushed through my strokes while coloring, I skipped the physical education periods conveniently, I prioritized text books over all the half read novels and I lived under the illusion that I will be able to build a life on the basis of my education. With every passing day, that illusion is falling apart and forfeiting a piece of my mental peace in its wake. Every difficulty in my life currently stems from the education I chose for myself some six years ago. I am standing at the final juncture of my education and while I merrily make jokes on how by the end of this I will be rid of this gigantic albatross on my shoulder but inside I am not even half convinced that I want to continue this for another year. The problem is that my choice of alternatives are scant and even if they aren’t as scant as I have deemed them to be, the bigger problem is what it was back then, I still fear taking an initiative. I often think, that I could have done better at my life, had I been more agile with my choices and actions.

While I may not find deep waters troublesome, I have found my very own deep waters in breaking the status quo. And while the author managed to turn the tables on his fear, I don’t believe if have the ability and the luck to do that.

I will not be going to the fair this year

I don’t remember how young I was, maybe 9, maybe 10. But I distinctly remember my brother’s excitement as he pulled me to the fair’s newest ride. It was called the ‘Dragon Coaster’ – a miniature Roller Coaster. Unlike the Roller Coaster, this ride did not turn upside down rather it took side-way turns which made for 3 complete rounds. To my younger self, that seemed such a great high. I was thrilled and that thrill was matched in my brother’s eyes as he rushed me for a second time on the ride.

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This is the story of my last ride at the fair. I have been going to the fair every year but not once have I taken another ride, not once has my brother accompanied me and not once have I acknowledged to anybody that I go to the fair. You may wonder why is that? Because I grew up and the fair did not fit the bill of being cool. There were cooler options like the amusement park or the mall. Then, why would someone want to go the fair? The shops no longer excite, the bubble blowers no longer excite, the food no longer excites and the dolls that dance on threads also no longer excite. So, no one ever talked about going to the fair. But anyway, I have been going every year because my parents enjoy the fair and their company still excites me.

What fair am I talking about? The trade fair that runs in my hometown during January-February every year. We are not a traditional family per se but we do uphold ‘our’ traditions seriously- like the mandatory after pooja drive on Diwali, Friday night movie and our Saturday visit to the fair.

The Trade Fair has something to offer to every person. Divided into sixteen segments called the chhatris -canopies- there are local electronic, furniture, automobiles retailers running great discounts on their products, there is a Shilp Bazar (Craft Fair) that features dainty artifacts, hand woven carperts and rugs, varieties of silks and pashmina, there is the infamous ‘Bombay Kitchen Gallery’ and other not so famous kitchen galleries displaying fancy tools for the kitchen, there are the pastel shaded kurtas with Chikan embroidery from Lucknow, the Kashmiri embroidered long phirans and ponchos, pashmina shawls and stoles from Jammu, every possible manifestation of street food and very cheap rides that fancy amusement parks boast of.

My father who is a ‘I don’t walk I drive’ person will enthusiastically walk for a good 2-3 hours as we move across the chhatries, picking groundnuts and popcorn on his way. We walk into electronic stores to see a certain appliance let’s say an induction plate but end up being hooked on a coffee machine that produces a brilliant froth during demonstration. Throughout that evening we toy with the conflict of need vs greed on the coffee machine. Every year we hunt for our favorite bhel puri vendor, every year we make a mental note of the chhatri he sits in and every year we end up forgetting it. We check into blanket stores to quiz the vendors on the prices and then my mother very smugly informs them that she is from Punjab where she gets a better quality at 3/4 the price.

We know of a Pashmina vendor who comes from Jammu to set up a stall here. The mark of a true Pashmina is that no matter how long it is, it can pass through a tiny ring. We visit this stall every year and every year the old man passes a shawl through a ring, expecting for us to be fascinated like it is the very first time. This act is then followed by him showing us his treasure- a silver embroidered Pashmina shawl which he has to dishearteningly keep aside once we tell him that we are eyeing something less luxurious. Sometimes, I think that he is constantly on a hunt for a match for the treasure- that being a self actualization milestone for him. So, it is customary for him to show that shawl to every one who comes with the hope of finding the one who can truly appreciate it.

My mother ardently looks forward to the Crafts Fair. A part of the clothes section operates on the Flea Market principles, the deeper you go, the more likely you are to find finer printed fabrics at throwaway prices. Our eyes are constantly on alert for interesting pottery crafts that can make their way into our living rooms. There is a swing that I see every year, the more I see it, the more I yearn to own it- if only we had a bigger balcony. For the last three years maybe, I see these low coffee tables and chairs-that are all the rage currently-that I place in my imaginary garden for imaginary high tea coffee. When I am done doing that, we peruse through the many warm stoles and silk pieces to zero in on the subtle colors and patterns.

Another mandatory visit is a stall that my mother stumbled upon an accident, a happy accident because they sell Pinterest worthy bedding, rugs, mats, mittens, comforters and covers again at very reasonable prices. You think of a home furnishing item, they have it, provided you are willing to spend some time looking because like everything good in life, their intricately embroidered pieces demand effort. If my hometown had a Little Black Book website, they would necessarily feature this stall as the Commercial Street of home furnishings, and of course the Crafts Bazar for offering some dainty artifacts.

I have been going to the fair every year. Like anything that you have been doing on a constant basis, the fair has made for many memories across the years. The reason that my nostalgia has surfaced today is because my parents went to the fair today but I did not. In fact, I will not be going this year because I am 1800 kilometers away from my hometown. But even if I cannot go this year, at least I can talk about the very little talked about fair, about the skilled workers who travel thousands of miles annually to find a market for their art, about the unappreciated labor that goes into organizing and running a fair every year, about how family dates can be fun too and about how the humblest of places you visit can make for a number of stories to tell. Among other things, I will sit on my imaginary swing in my imaginary balcony sipping on to coffee and munching cookies, till it is 2018 and the fair opens its doors again.

Mine

How easily do they tell you in stories, that under the night sky all that you can see is magic but all that she sees is mountain, her mountainous marriage that is. Namrata shifts her gaze at him and asks him, “What do you want to talk about?”

Pranav wished he was as  systemized on this conversation as he is otherwise but his reflexes were betraying him, so he casually answered, “Anything and everything that we haven’t talked about.”

“Wouldn’t that be two years of our lives?”, she questioned him.

“What if I have been keeping things from you much before that?”, he asked her with a hint of jest.

“Have you?”, she inquired.

“Do you trust me Nam, at all?”, he asked her meaningfully.

“There is precedent to support that I should not.”, she replied sternly.

“Why do you think did I come with you?’, he proved her.

“I have wanted to know that.”, she answered.

“I love you.”,he tells her.

“I don’t know if that is enough Pranav.”, she replies.

“I try Namrata.”, he reasons with her.

“I do too. I try to believe that this is what love is going to be from now on. Love is sleeping in different rooms, it is avoiding each other every day for the fear of what our mutual contempt may tell us about our incompetency at this relationship, it is taking a trip holding on to the belief that we can redeem our marriage; it is walking in the woods discovering each other anew as if we haven’t been together for the last 5 years, it is looking for symbols in flowers, in songs, in a bottle of rum, it is hoping that simple words hold a deeper meaning inside. But I don’t know if this is enough Pranav. Because I don’t like that it will never be what it was before, that it won’t be Pretty Woman and champagne and cherries, that it won’t be unrestrained flow of words and emotions, that it won’t be rings of laughter that echoed across our home, that it won’t be going to sleep with my head on your shoulder fingers intertwined, that it won’t be the impulse to hold you purposelessly but possessively thinking that you are mine. I don’t know how to be satisfied with this when I have had more.”, she articulates to him.

Pranav looks at her, smiling  subtly he says, “I quit my job to come to Kashmir with you. So may be I am still yours.”

This is the 13th chapter of the story I had begun to write as a part of AtoZ. To make more sense of it, hop onto the page Anniversary and Kashmir.

Lessons

“Why did it have to rain today?”, quizzed Namrata.

“I wish I had an answer to that.”, replied Pranav as he flipped the pages of the menu,

“Why does it always rain at the wrong time?”, Namrata wondered.

“Maybe because rains have not stumbled upon the concept of time.”, Pranav told her cheekily.

“Why do my plans get soiled every time?”, she asked him.

“Excuse me, my plans?”, he remarked.

“Okay our plans, why do our plans get soiled every time?”, she corrected herself.

“Isn’t that a question that the Dark Lord should have asked the death eaters?”, added Pranav.

“Can we not do anything?”, she asked him.

“You, for one, can stop fidgeting.”, he suggested.

“Fidgeting, you call this fidgeting. This is a normal human reaction to a problem.”, she replied infuriated.

“Ah, how can I forget your penchant for ‘normal human reactions’.”, he said recalling her restlessness at the airport when their flight was delayed.

“Never miss a chance to take a dig at me, do you.”, she pointed out.

“Try my best not to.”, he affirmed.

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“Why haven’t we ordered already?”, she questioned trying to divert his attention from her.

“Because apparently you have better things to think about than food.”, he answered. Looking at the crimson in her cheeks building up, he decided not to test her fury any further and asked, “What do you want to have?”

“Momos”, she answered.

Shaking his head in denial, he told her, “I will choose to ignore that.”

Shaking her head back at him, she told him firmly, “Seriously, we cannot come to Leh and not eat momos. That is a crime.”

“You know I don’t like momos, unless they are fried and fried momos aren’t on the menu.”; he tried reasoning with her.

“My bad, I had forgotten about Punjabis and their penchant for fried food.”, she said playfully.

“Fine, we will order momos.”, he said before she could play another joke on his North Indian attributes.

“And?”, she asked him.

“Thukpa? I think we should try Thukpa; both of us can use some warmth.”, he replied.

She smiled at him and said, “Getting strong at your puns Pranav, but I am ‘not’ impressed.”

He smiled back at her and pointed out, “But, when have you been?”

“Never, really.”, she added.

“Let’s add crispy noodles and spring rolls to that.”, he suggested.

“How can I say no to that, ever?”, she remarked.

“Never, really.”, he added further.

 

She shifted her attention to the downpour again and said, “Imagine, had it not been raining we could have been in Booklover’s Retreat sipping onto a warm cup of latte and reading.”

With a hint of surprise in his eyes, he asked her, “Is that it Namrata? That is what you want to do in Leh, be in a book store that doubles up as a cafe. We could have gone to Cha Bar in Connaught Place instead, would’ve saved our parents a lot of money and us a lot of time.”

“Being in a book cafe in Leh counts as an important experience.”, she said in her defense.

He could not believe that she was worried about not being in a book cafe right now and she was defending herself on this. He then said, “There are a number of other cafe experiences that Leh has to offer. Right at this time, we could have been scoring some chocolate momos and sipping onto jungli chai in Bon Apetit as the day changed its colors, we could have been in Gesmos gorging onto Yak Cheese Pizzas because you do not get Yak Cheese any place else in this country, we could have been in the Apple Garden Restaurant and eat amidst an apple orchard because it is not everyday that we get to be in an orchard, we could have been in Old Leh walking our way to Lala’s Cafe where coffee and cake comes with a history lesson, we could have been in the German Bakery and eating possibly the most delectable apple crumble. So you see, it is not always experiences with books that are the ones to look out for.”

Namata could not comprehend if he was trying to lift her spirits up or subdue them further by apprising her of the many things that they could have been doing presently. She woefully added, “And now I feel worse, for missing out on everything that this place has to offer and dining in the hotel because it had to rain on this vacation.”

“Dining in the hotel does not take away from the fact that we are still in Leh which is perched at an altitude of 11,000 feet; the restaurant we are sitting in offers a fairly good view of marvel that this place is and if you could just relax and open your eyes to what are we surrounded with, this might come across as an experience to you.”, he tried explaining to her.

Namrata did not argue further, rather she was smiling. He asked her, “Why are you smiling now?”

“I was wondering that I have always been this impatient -which evidently is quite irksome to you-then how is it that you fell in love with me, at all?”, she quizzed him.

“You weren’t this impatient.”, he answered not sure of himself.

“Dates back to my childhood, I believe, impatience is thy second name.”, she told him funnily.

“Haha, I don’t know about impatience but it isn’t every day that you are this good on self assessment.”, he joked.

“Tell me Pranav, did my restlessness not bother you then?”, she questioned him seriously.

“I always managed to talk you out of it or redeem for a cancelled plan.”, he answered.

“How?”, she asked.

“Do you remember your convocation?”, he asked her.

“Ah, you missed it.”, she recalled.

“It was a long day at work, I could not bail out early. I missed the convocation and also the grad dinner date I had promised you.” he explained.

“I was infuriated.”, she exclaimed.

“You weren’t taking my call., he reminded her.

“Call? I had resolved to not look in your direction again.” she told him.

Pranav added, “So at around midnight, I came to your friend’s apartment with a cold pizza, a britannia cake and a bottle of coke to make good on the grad dinner promise and to make you reconsider your decision of never looking at me again.”

“The minute you started talking, my rage began to dispel and we ultimately ended up having a date in the parking lot.”, she confessed to him.

“That was a good date.”, he remarked.

“That was an amazing date. Come to think of it, we made a cute couple back then.”, she admitted wistfully.

“Come to think of it, ‘our love back then’ sounds so ancient.” he admitted with a sense of hurt in his voice.

“Sometimes the answers lie in ancient tales.”, she said purposefully.

“What are you talking about?”, he inquired.

“Maybe, we should talk.”, she suggested.

“Talk about what?”, he asked further.

“Everything that’s going on with us.”, she answered.

“You think that will help in dispelling our rage?”, he inquired.

“If not, relationship reconciliation talks in Leh sounds like an experience in itself.”, she responded chuckling.


This is the 12th chapter of the story I had begun to write as a part of AtoZ. To make more sense of it, hop onto the page Anniversary and Kashmir.


Image has been sourced from this link.

Presently from inside my head IV

  • Conversations are not my field of expertise, but I have a small advice. When someone calls you, talk to them properly. Talk to them without that air of withholding information, talk to them without giving them the impression that the call means nothing to you, talk to them without rubbing on them that you do not have time. If you are really busy, do not take the call or drop a message or make time later on and give them a call. Because on their end, they had made the effort to reach out to you and hostility was not what they were looking for.

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  • Have you realized that we are constantly surrounded by people who want rationalize everything? It appears as if we have this unspoken obligation to analyze anything that is placed before us. For example, two months ago the internet was going gaga about the success of Pokemon Go- how it has managed to generate the numbers that it did within the first week of its realease. However now, every third day there is an article trying to unearth that why  have the numbers fallen so quick. My point is that it is not necessary for every game to appeal to all sorts of people alike. Just because a certain set of people do not enjoy it does not make the game flawed or the entire segment of augmented reality banal. I never found Temple Run or Subway Surfer or Angry Bird interesting but that does not raise questions on the game. The same goes for Pokemon Go and a lot other things that are incessantly being analysed every day rather than simply being accepted.
  • Something that probably most people do not realize about me is that all it takes me is a minute to feel sorry for people and their problems. I was watching the new Nescafe ad where a radio jockey is struggling to garner listeners for his morning program. I was sad for him. Like I was sad for Roger Federer when he broke into tears on losing the Australian Open to Rafael Nadal in 2009. The interesting bit is that I had never followed Tennis or Federer and his game. I just saw him crying and began thinking if there was anything I could do to save this man from this pain. I don’t know why I am writing this down but often I think that I should covey to the world that I am not as cold and unmoved you perceive me to be.
  • People have a checklist when it comes to looking for a soulmate; I do too. The person that I settle down for, should qualify on those fronts. Among other few simple requirements it includes a good sense of humor and  a patient ear to the many (albeit repetitive) tales I bring home every day. Lately, I have realized that one of the most important (and less talked about) considerations is that he stands by you during shifting homes or a white wash or wood work or any other renovation. He should help you in moving things, in sorting out what to keep and what to give away and in making space for perennially expanding belongings in perennially shrinking cupboards. That is the kind of person I want to be with.
  • There are days when I want to write to the Human Rights Commission talking about how my earnings befit below poverty line citizens and how my apprenticeship leaves no time for something as small as running an errand or how little is my work being acknowledged or how many explanations do I have to give for sick leaves. September is the busiest month at my work. For the uninitiated, I am working in Tax Audits and 30th of this month is the last date for filing of Tax Audit Reports. I have longer working hours (double of my usual) and working Sundays. Most people I know find the months of August and September exhausting. But here’s a secret, I relish Septembers. I enjoy that sense of urgency, the rush to get things done, that tension in the atmosphere- all of which you will never experience on the 1st of October.
  • Here’s a small something else about work. Last year at this time, all I wanted was to be better at what I do, to have a comprehensive grasp on taxation. I have that now, I understand things better and I have a more effective approach to any audit that I do. But I miss how work was last year solely because of the people I was working with, how light the ambiance was around this time last year. This goes on to show how conflicted I am as a person.

 

Transience- Tales from school

Apartheid; I read it again and it reads ‘Apartheid’. I don’t know what it means. I remember reading it in my social science textbook in class 10. I remember the word being thrown in a number of answers in school. I remember a teacher repeatedly explaining what it means and I remember thinking that given the frequency with which the word is brought up in this class it will take some hard work unlearning this. However, here I am, having completely forgotten the meaning of Apartheid.

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I remember having participated in an inter school competition in class 11th. I was sitting in the waiting area with my team when a girl walked over and beamed- yes, literally beamed- at me. She was a friend from my science tuition in 10th. She hugged me and said, ‘Milna nahi hota kya’. I remember feeling warm in that cold foyer. I remember feeling welcome. I remember making a mental assertion that welcomes ought to be this affable, not any less. However, here I am having lost her and  her warmheartedness over the years.

In that very competition, there was a quiz round where in my desperation to win home a few points, I had given two extremely foolish answers. I remember growing red in embarrassment at the sheer stupidity of the words that had escaped my mouth. I had a ‘Sita’ moment, that is, all I wanted was for the earth to break upon so that I could rest inside its folds. However, here I am having forgotten that quiz, those answers and the desire to disappear over the years.

Once in class 7, I had stained my skirt on the second day of my period. The teacher who noticed it behaved as if she had never witnessed anything close to a period. Everyone in my class looked at me with an other worldly expression. I felt stung that day. However, here I am , having completely moved over that emotion.

I had moved to a different school in class 4. I was a quiet kid and I still am, meaning which seldom did I take initiative to participate in class discussions or in interacting with my classmates or a teacher. Often, my teachers would show surprise on how someone with such little zeal in class could score so well. My science teacher in class 5- who taught me Chemistry through the next six years- took special interest in me. She would constantly nudge me to answer in the class or pick a conversation with me or ask me for my notebook which no other teacher has done in my life. I always believed that I shall remain in touch with her. Maybe, I am too lousy at sustaining long term contacts or maybe I am incompetent in conveying my emotions – both the quantum and the content- to others, so here I am, not having talked to this teacher for for a good five years now.

I used to have a best friend in school. I called it quits with her in class 11. It felt how adults feel when they walk out of relationships. It happened because she never meant well or she never meant as well as she tried portraying. At that point in time, I had come to believe that I will never be able to trust another person, their words and their intentions. However, here I am, having set aside those beliefs and having fostered deeper connections in the aftermath.

In English, we were once taught a chapter called ‘The Address’, where a World War II survivor visits her former neighbor- who her mother had trusted with their belongings. However on coming across the artifacts , the cutlery in that cramped, strange environment she finds them alien. So she leaves the house abruptly and resolves to never see them again. I had written a short note on the story, trying to rationalize the myriad of emotions that take hold of the protagonist in that house. That answer was dear to me at that time. However, here I am, reading it again and again, but it just doesn’t appeal to me now. I stand as disassociated with the answer as Marga was in ‘The Address’.

You may wonder, why am I writing of all these long forgotten instances from school; only to bring home the point- that everything passes, whether good or bad, whether dear or heart wrenching, everything in our lives fades, first out of sight and then out of memory. As we make space for newer experiences and newer beliefs (and newer words) in life everything from our past grows smaller and smaller. Things in life have a shelf life and come to think of it, howsoever despondent my present seems to me presently, this too shall pass, soon.

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These days, I am trying to be solicit hope, be it in positive experiences or in an odd trail of thoughts, like this one.

My life is a Red Velvet Cake- II

Here’s what happened so far,

Last December, I had decided to make a Red Velvet Cake on a whim. After a day of recipe hunting, when I arrived in my kitchen to do the actual baking, a new difficulty materialized at every step. Finally, when the butter was posing to be too tough to mix, I gave up and walked out.

When in Masterchef Australia, things don’t go well, contestants conveniently discard the batch of under cooked food and start afresh. But life isn’t Masterchef Australia; there was no way that I could walk out abandoning the half done ingredients without a huge bout of guilt taking control of me. That was a good 200 gm of flour, butter and sugar bound for trash only because I did not have the sanity to melt the butter before using it. So, I took a spoon and slowly began folding the curd mixture into the butter and sugar. I would swirl the butter, then even it with the spoon and then repeat the swirl.

As soon as the butter and curd made peace in the bowl, I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence and beat it with the electric blender once. One monumental task done, it was time for another, I had to add flour to this mixture. The consistency of the mixture was thick already, so I decided to approach with the flour in small portions because I did not have the time to afford another almost walk out session. I split the flour into 4 portions and added it one after the other, moving to the next portion only when the first incorporated well and smoothing out any lumps that occurred. Fifteen minutes in the calling a truce of the thick skinned ingredients, the batter seemed done. For the next step I had to mix 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda to 1/2 a tablespoon of vinegar and wait for the froth to rise before I add it to the batter. That is how the batter was done.

My brain still wasn’t convinced that I had come this far. So I continued to match the appearance of my batter with the pictures on Gayathri’s blog. Every time I looked at mine, it felt as it wasn’t destined for the oven to rise as a Red Velvet Cake but to solidify as bricks. There wasn’t anything wrong with my batter but that is how anxious I am as a person, I obsessively chase a catch in an entirely catchless situation. I lined the cake tin with copious amounts of oil and flour because now that I had inched so close to the victory I’d prefer it to be out of the tin. I emptied the batter into the tin, leveled it and placed it inside a pre heated oven.

Now that the cake was left to the mercy of thermal energy, I had nothing else to do but pray. Any prudent individual would begin working on the frosting however I decided to frantically walk between the bedroom and kitchen in the half hour that followed. Sometimes, it amazes me that despite of all those business studies lectures on aiming to be efficient – maximum utilization of time- my efficiency has only come to deplete over time. I checked on the cake once after it had been in the oven for 20 minutes. A gooey red line streaked the knife. I pushed the tin inside the oven again and then googled if opening the oven door during baking affects the process. Google cautioned me to keep calm and let it bake but given my impatient reflexes I checked on the cake again after ten minutes. The knife was slightly streaked this time. I shoved the tin inside, set the timer afresh for 7 minutes and turned away. The oven beeped as the timer hit zero but  I did not approach it as anything worthwhile in life demands standing time; if time is all it wants I will give it that.

I took the tin out of the oven, placed it on the platform and ran a knife through it which came out spotless.That, folks was nothing short of a miracle for me.

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That’s how it came out of the oven.

Now that I had a red cake all I needed was cream cheese frosting for it to be Red Velvet Cake. So I opened the tub of that packaged cream cheese, scooped half of it into a bowl. I added half a cup of white butter, half a cup of sugar and a tinge of vanilla essence to it and began whisking it. I accept that this was not an Amul Cream advertisement where I whisk it once and the it fluffs up but I most certainly did not expect it to dilute further every time I beat it. On a closer look, I realized that the packaged cream cheese had tiny bits of ice in it which were melting with the whisking and making my frosting runny. I tried improving the consistency with more cream cheese and more beating which helped slightly but I never achieved the thickness and lightness that defines frosting.

What was done was done and for the lack of any handy hacks, I proceeded with the same frosting. Once the cake had cooled down, I cut into half laterally and spread the icing on top of one layer. I then placed the second layer on top of the first and with a wooden spatula covered the cake with cream cheese as best as I could. I continued spreading the cream cheese icing generously because there was a possibility of the icing to run down. Once the icing was done, I placed it in the refrigerator over night for the icing to set.

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I made it to the finish line, (most importantly) with the cake 😉

I does not look very exquisite but it definitely tasted well and surprisingly so because cooking and I never go hand in hand.

Why I called my life Red Velvet Cake in the title was because presently my life is huge chunks of butter that I am trying to incorporate with flour and sugar and curd. On days, I feel like abandoning everything at hand. But I come back, make fresh attempts and even though the prospects don’t appear to be promising, I hope that their taste will not be any less heartening than my cake’s. So here’s to a shabby Red Velvet that holds the promise of a dainty future.


On a side note, my experiments in kitchen have made me realize that had I been in Hogwarts I would have failed horribly at potion making because of my lack of subtlety and my callousness with exact proportions.

What have your kitchen experiments taught you in life?


Read part one of this post here: My Life is a Red Velvet Cake-I

Pokemon Go is like Campus Placements

I was one of the earliest victims to have caught on the Pokemon Go bug. I had never watched Pokemon as a child. The only instance that Pokemon surfaced in my life was in class 6th, when I had to make a cartoon character on a chart paper as a part of holiday homework (don’t think of the rationale of that, holiday assignments are never meant to make sense). Being the artistically challenged soul that I am, I passed it on to my cousin who made a Pikachu and that is when I registered the existence of Pokemons.

Earlier this July, a friend told me about Pokemon Go, that how one can find Pokemons in real time as they move around in their city. And  from what I recall, I told him, ‘That is so cool’. I have read many articles on the game, talking about the rise and decline and the rise of Pokemon phenomenon, about how it affects our economy, about how the game is the fulfillment of every fan’s childhood dream- to become a Pokemon trainer. Everyone is trying to rationalize the breakneck success of the game, but if you’d ask me why I decided to play, the answer is simple, ‘that it’s a cool idea’.

The day I downloaded the game, I wanted to take a long stroll and familiarize myself with the ways of the game. But for two weeks I just could not materialize on that plan. I caught 3-4 Pokemons within my home but outside was quite a dismal story because I did not have time. The only way to accommodate it in  my day was to take a morning walk which I kept on avoiding for the risks involved. Yes there are lecherous men but at the same time there is a likelihood of bumping into many Aunties that I know. All it would take are a couple of namastes and halfhearted grins for my Pokemon Hunt to transform into a Main Milansar Hun Mission (I am Social Mission).

So last Sunday, my dad had a few errands to run; because I am jobless (or mostly deemed to be jobless) I accompanied him. While I was in the car I decided to try my luck at the game. Somehow, luck favored me- which is rare with games and me-because I continued to find Pokemons everywhere I went. That stroke of luck lasted the entire day. In between grocery shopping , catching a movie and dinner outside, I managed to find 40 Pokemons, right from the comfort of my car seat, which is ironic because the whole point of the game is to get people walking but hey I am lucky and lazy.

Yesterday was Sunday, the day when I am deemed to be most jobless in the week and there I was again, in the front seat of our car. I had opened the app and was watching the screen like a hawk. Yes, I know the phone vibrates when a Pokemon appears on the screen but I have spent a lifetime being wronged by games, I could not risk missing any Pokemon. In the 40-45 minutes drive, I could only spot Rattata, Pidgey and Spearrow, that is, the three most non exotic Pokemons out there. The oddity is that it was the same route as last week, where I had caught a Venonat, a Krabby, a Poliwag and an Eevee and today all that buzzed my screen was Rattata. On my way back I missed a Staryu because my screen froze (read, that last year’s update to Lollipop is a gift that never stops giving). The morning drive turned out to be a great disappointment.

Come evening and I was out again, this time with a definite goal- catch whatever that comes your way Palak. Before I initiate further, you should know that I am always running short on Poke Balls, owing to many injudicious throws in the beginning of the game and a general fault in my assembling when it comes to sports/games. So I had 10-12 when I left home and I continued catching Pidgey after Pidgey. With some 5 balls in my hand I took an aim at a Pidgey with Combat Power (CP) 57; it was a great throw  (this is a game terminology and not an attempt at gloating) but it broke free from the ball. I took another great throw but that wretched Pidgey escaped again. I had already seen a fair share of disappointments with the game since morning, so I was in no mood take a wound at my ego by the likes of a Pidgey. I took another aim, it dodged the ball. I took a deep breath, measured the throw and when I flicked the ball, the Pidgey was inside the ball. That is when satisfaction hit me, that I had a decent Pokemon to speak for the last 5 minutes and 4 lost Poke Balls. It was then that I could peacefully walk into the store my mom had taken me to.

I was helping my mother look for clothes when my screen buzzed. I was shocked to see that I was surrounded by 2 Zubats, a Pidgeotto of CP 146 and a Horsea of CP 76. Without waiting further I pressed on the Pidgeotto, took a aim at it and caught it. I kept my eyes closed for a second praying that it does not escape, is is likely for a Pokemon of high combat power. Unfortunately it did break free and when I moved finger to take another aim I realized that I had no Poke Balls. Being surrounded by 5 Pokemons and having no Poke Balls in hand, if that is not hard luck, I don’t know what is.

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While I was moaning over my loss on the way back home, I remembered college and placements. We had three tiers of companies for placement, the highest paying super blue, followed by blue and then light blue (because I don’t recall what that category was named). Any student could accept only two offers. Come to think of jobs like Pokemons, initially we save our efforts for exotic offers because who likes a Rattata right at the beginning. However when nothing good comes our way, in a desperate bid, we take a leap at the blue companies. Now picture yourself ecstatic at having earned two offers from blue companies and there comes a super blue Pidgeotto striking at your doorstep. But what can you do do now, there are no Poke Balls left.

What you have, is a curveball thrown at you maybe because life wants you to understand the virtues of patience or maybe because life is that insensitive friend who never misses a chance to take a dig at you. I don’t know what it is for certain, but I have decided to not squander away my Poke Balls in haste in Pokemon Go and otherwise in life.


This is my Pokemon Go story, maybe a tad dramatic but wholly authentic. Do tell me about yours in the comments.

My life is a Red Velvet Cake- I

Over a certain lunch in December, someone said Red Velvet Cake and by the night I had decided that I want to bake one. Before you read any further please note that I am not a sweet tooth, I am a morbid calorie counter, I have no special affection for Red Velvet Cake and my association with cooking begins and lasts with  watching Masterchef Australia every year. I simply acted on impulse because someone had recently pointed out that I never do a thing on a whim. But that is a story for another time. Right now, I want to talk about how I decided to bake a Red Velvet Cake on an impulse.

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So this was Monday midnight, when I had set myself a goal. To cook something, you need a recipe or be that skilled at cooking that multiple impulses lead you to culinary perfection. Since I fall in the former category, I began looking for a recipe. I needed a recipe that did not require eggs because my mother is a vegetarian. I found many, courtesy Pinterest and patiently read through each one of them to single out one from a blog called Gayathri’s Cook Spot. However her icing was quite an Achillean task to achieve for someone like me who displays not an iota of finesse in the kitchen. My search for a frosting recipe culminated on a recipe from Martha Stewart, which required me to whisk cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla essence. Seems easy, right; however not that easy if you have no clue as to what cream cheese is. Yes, that is how alien I was to the world of red velvet cakes. I did not know what the velvet stood for. From what Google told me, making cream cheese requires two days and I did not have two days because the things with whimsical decisions is that they vanish as swiftly as they occur.

Come Wednesday evening and I went looking for packaged cream cheese. A friend told me about a store that he believed certainly sold cream cheese. I believed otherwise because they had once given me clueless stares when I had asked for Parmesan cheese.As it turns out, they did sell cream cheese, however in a tub of the size that could easily last for two cakes. I bought that because I believe in excess and I did not have an alternative.

It was six when I walked in the kitchen. I opened the recipe on my phone, placed it on the shelf.  I took out three bowls, a cup for measurement, a cake tin, a hand beater and a couple of spoons. I took two deep breaths and contemplated if I should be getting into this. Before I could think any further, I peeked onto my phone for the first step. It said that I mix the essence and cocoa powder in one bowl, mix the flour and the baking powder in another and beat the sugar and butter in another. I measured out portions for the first two steps and mixed the ingredients. For the third, I wondered if I should opt for yellow butter or white butter. Lesson for life: never give yourself a choice Palak, because other people may rationalize between the options but you will go on to over think and you do enough of that already. Yellow butter it was in the end.

When I looked at the pictures on the blog, Gayathri seemed to have mixed butter without melting it. I followed suit. It took me two minutes to realize that this could be the downfall of this entire exercise, that there was no scope for refrigerated butter to mix with sugar, howsoever aggressively I beat them. So I let the butter rest for a couple of minutes and then tried softening it with a spoon. It took me a good half hour to beat the butter and sugar and I still wasn’t confident if it was the right consistency.

Next, I had to add curd to the butter mixture.That got me thinking, if I had enough curd or any at all. One glance at the top shelf and there was half a bowl of curd placed behind the milk container. I needed 3/4 cup of curd and I had 1/2 a cup. It was going to be 7 which meant I won’t be able to get anymore from the nearby market as well. Here is what I did, I beat the curd with a spoon for a minute and deluded myself into believing that this is enough, this is exactly what the recipe calls for. I then added the curd mixture with the beaten butter and sugar. The butter and sugar was a thick lump and I was having trouble in completing one round of mixing the curd into it. What the consistent effort of moving the hand beater gave me was red butter smeared hands, that began to slip every time I tried mixing and since I am not blessed with promising biceps, my arms began to hurt. I then took an electric blender but the blade continued to get stuck in the lump of butter.

One hour down, all I had achieved was butter on my hands, butter on the hand beater and butter on the electric blender. I wiped the butter on the mixers with my hand, washed my hands and then gave another try at it. It just wouldn’t mix. I wiped the mixer again and washed my hands. As I wiped my hands with the already crimson towel, I wanted to cry. Cry at my stupidity on believing that I could bake a cake, that too a red velvet. Cry at my stupidity on forgetting that I am not cut out for kitchen.

Enough had been done, I could not foresee any fix that would make this process easier for me. Lesson no. 2 of the day, some things are meant to be seen from afar and admired and not to be reproduced by your own hands;  Red Velvet Cake was that for me. If life was nothing but a piece of cake, then I could see nothing but trouble ahead.

On that note, I walked out of the kitchen.


Have you ever tried anything out of character? Did you succeed at it? Or did you give up on it as I did with the Red Velvet Cake.


Image has been sourced from Sally’s Baking Addiction.