Why I cut my hair?

The answer to that one question that people never stop asking, “Why did you cut your hair Palak?”

When I was in school, I wanted to grow up to look beautiful. In my eyes, I wasn’t beautiful as a teenager. I detested sun screen, so I was tanned throughout the year. I was too late to consider threading my eyebrows and as I recall someone told me that my face looked slightly manly. I did not believe in the concept of make up and I still don’t except for eye liner and lip gloss. Importantly, for most part of my school life, I wore a medium/long bob haircut and to me short hair never seemed beautiful. Every woman who I admired back then for her beauty had long hair, so my idea of beauty coincided with long hair. Thus when I decided that I have to look pretty for my school farewell, the obvious initiative on that front was to grow my hair long.

For one year, I did not get my hair cut. I used to massage my hair with hot oil at least once a week. I used to wear two plaits to school every morning. Barring natural conditioners, I did not put anything on my hair. At the end of that year, I had grown my hair to a reasonable length. As I believe, I looked pretty decent for my farewell. That farewell kind of strengthened my idea about beauty and long hair. I decided that I’d keep growing my hair. With time, I grew more apprehensive of salons, haircuts and hair treatments. I remember walking into a salon for a hair trim at the end of my first semester in college where the lady who managed the salon showed me a short hairstyle in a magazine. I got so terrified that she’d inconsiderately chop off my hair that I walked out of there and began reconsidering the hair trim.

Every time, I sat on the chair for a haircut, I insisted that only the dead hair and the split ends be cut and the hair length should not be compromised. If the barber cut them shorter than my expectations, I would mope for an entire week. I was conscious about using a single brand of shampoo and conditioner. Any time I felt that my hair feel rough after a wash, I switched brands. Eventually I grew wary of store bought conditioners, because my hair felt weighed down, so I started looking up DIY conditioners online.

In my final semester, I remember walking out of my hostel room one morning and realizing that the girl who lives two doors next to me has cut her hair. She had gorgeous straight hair, the kind that they show in shampoo ads and now she was wearing a short bob. For that entire day, I could not come to fathom that someone with such lovely hair would commit such an atrocity by chopping them off. The idea felt strange.

I graduated from college and moved back home. That year is not one of my good years. All I remember doing was re-reading Harry Potter. In October that year, I went for a hair trim before some dinner party. After I got ready, my mother told me that my hair look the same no matter what I do. That night, when I looked at myself in the mirror I could see what she saw. I always looked the same. I kept my hair open at most times and at other times I tied them in a pony tail. I could not do those fancy Youtube/Pinterest braids. In spite of being this invested in my hair for 4 years, my hair never grew over a certain length and my hair texture did not improve beyond a point. In fact, my scalp grew oilier with time, forcing me to wash them every alternate day. On some mornings when I woke up, my head felt heavy. That’s how I decided that I have to cut them short.

I first pitched the idea to my mother who out-rightly dismissed it citing my efforts over the years and that my hair are beautiful. Listening to her response, I scrapped my plans but only temporarily. With time, my hair started seeming like a liability to me. No matter what pack I tried, things remained constant. They stopped making me happy and the idea to chop them off kept revisiting me. For six months, I pitched the idea to every person I knew, and the unanimous outcome was that short hair will not complement my face according to popular opinion is broad. I even took a couple of online quizzes on whether I should cut my hair. I believe it is human to seek validation before you act on a decision. I was looking for that validation because I was scared that this might turn out to be an erred decision. I had doubts that I’d look ugly or messy or that I would never be able to grow my hair long again. So, I just wanted one person to nod their head in agreement but no one did.

It was April and I was headed out for lunch with my parents. That day as I was getting ready, I frantically tried to make my hair look less oily and that is when I decided that I have to put an end to this every day struggle. I told my mother in the evening that I am getting my hair cut short. We walked to the salon together. Once my hair were washed, a guy combed my hair and asked me how do I want to get them cut. I gestured with my hand slightly above the shoulder. He looked at me baffled but I told him that I have made my mind. He suggested that I opt for a hair treatment rather than chopping off a good 12-15 inches. I politely declined his suggestion. The woman who manages the salon insisted that my mother should stop me from giving up on such fine hair. But I stayed firm and that is how I managed to walk out with a medium bob.

When I looked at myself in the mirror, the hair cut appeared much more pleasant than what I imagined it to be. It felt light and it made me look young. My mother approved of it, my father said it reminds him of how I looked as a child and my brother-who was sick of my long hair- said that I am never growing them back. I asked my mother to take a picture and shared it with friends and family. I put the picture on Instagram and captioned it, ‘Just like that the tresses are gone’. Almost everyone I shared it with was taken aback at the abruptness of my decision. A cousin called it a wild brutal move where I butchered away my hair without any qualms. I had a friend who exclaimed, ‘But you loved your hair, why would you do this?’. As and when people saw me in person or in pictures, they felt sorry that I let such gorgeous hair let go. Another friend made me promise that I will grow them back.

For days, it felt odd because every time I ran my fingers across my hair, I got to the end too quick. Plus, I had a lot of time cleared up that was previously involved in managing them. Now I just had to brush them once and they were done. I could blow dry them in 5-7 minutes. I felt this strange sense of liberty not only because of the convenience that short hair came with but because I saw through a decision and it made me happy.

What my hair taught me back then was that when you come to attach yourself with something, you continue to invest in it incessantly. But when that thing ceases to satisfy you or make you happy or feels like a liability, then you should stop. I had an unhealthy obsession with my hair because I had nurtured an irrational idea that beauty coincides with long hair. Now that I look at myself and my old pictures, I definitely look better with shorter hair. I have people tell me that I look cute something that I hadn’t heard in years. It makes me look young, it makes me look sorted. For six months, I toyed with the idea in my head only because I was scared. Just imagine, if I wouldn’t have gone through with this, if I would have simply listened to all the warnings that came my way, I would have never realized that short hair appeal my face more. And I would have never been able to save myself the time, effort and dissatisfaction that came with my pursuit of beauty.

I learned three significant lessons from that haircut:

  • there is always a time to stop ploughing into a venture
  • have the heart to act on your decisions independently- it might yield good results and if it doesn’t you can devote your efforts to set things right; either way you will have an anecdote to share
  • beauty should never be standardized, let it be more like, ‘to each one their own’

Who knew haircuts could be this profound? At least I did not.

Also, in case you are curious, these are the before and after pictures.

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Of food that spells home and hope

Poha. I don’t have a count of how many times have I cooked Poha. I don’t even have a count of how many times someone has rolled their eyes over how often I cook Poha. That’s how often I cook it. As a kid, I never enjoyed Poha. Between my brother and me, he was the Poha person and I was the Maggi person. Sometime he would accommodate Maggi in a meal, some days I would accommodate Poha in a meal. After all, that is what siblings do.

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For the uninitiated, Poha is nothing but flattened rice. I grew up in Madhya Pradesh where no matter which city you are in, the streets are flocked with Poha Jalebi stalls. Poha is among the staple forms of breakfast in the state and definitely the healthiest, given that the other options are all deep fried- samosa, kachori, bhedai, to name a few. Not only that, it’s simple to make too, all you do is stir fry mildly soaked Poha in with salt, red chilli powder and turmeric, add onions and roasted peanuts and top it with namkeen, some extra masala and lemon to taste. However, it didn’t seem as simple when I first made them.

I was 12 and my parents weren’t home for a week, which left me, my brother and my grandmother at home. There was a Sunday when I proposed that we would eat Poha for lunch because I was sick of eating all those North Indian takeaways which basically are differently cut cottage cheese in cream gravy. My brother had his reservations because elder brothers always have reservations and because he found the idea- of his favored Poha being subjected to my experimental cooking- quite discomforting. An hour, an errand to the grocer and a couple of arguments later, I served him Poha which he told me was dry, needed a little salt and a lot of lemon. To me, it was Poha which did need salt but it didn’t need the green chilies, coriander, fried potatoes and that dash of lemon and sugar. I couldn’t understand why the recipe needed so many small ingredients and why did the recipe span across so many steps.

Over the years, I have learned to cook Poha. A lot of Sunday breakfasts at my home are made up of Poha. My brother who once eyed my Poha with contempt often favors mine over my mother’s. To him, what I make is the virgin Poha; I stick to the classic recipe without any deviations. And we do have a couple of deviations at our home, one recipe has fried onions over raw onions, one recipe includes peas and tomatoes, one recipe is Poha bordering on lines of Upma. But what I make is the classic Poha, the one that we have grown up eating.

I often joked that if I were to ever go in a Masterchef Audition, I would make Poha for the judges and spin an emotional story on how this stands for my childhood and my first serious step in cooking. My mother would then point out, how my chances of making into the Masterchef were so bleak, given that I didn’t cook at all. I knew how to make a few variations of sandwiches, instant noodles and pulao. Primarily, I was comfortable with a recipe that required salt, black pepper, red chilli powder and turmeric. But beyond that cooking seemed like a different ball game altogether. Why my mother had shelves full of medium to small jars of whole spices, ground spices, mixture of different spices, dried herbs, perplexed me. Every Indian household has a namakdani, a circular container with 9-10 small bowls to keep everyday spices and when I opened ours I couldn’t tell the garam masala and dhaniya powder apart. My mother who is not only a brilliant but a zealous cook occasionally encouraged me to learn a few recipes citing concerns over what will I eat once I move out of the house and what will I cook once I get married. But I never succumbed to her persuasions.

I moved to Bangalore in November last year. For a month, fascinating food made its way to my plate. Like the beetroot at lunch every Wednesday, the Greek salad which had more feta than vegetables to even qualify as salad, bland under cooked lady finger, lady finger cooked in a tomato gravy, pale green scrambled eggs with a hint of salt, under cooked chick peas and kidney beans, fried rice that contained a whole star anise in every second bite and lentils that had no gravy and no taste whatsoever. Thus, what my mother could not achieve in years, Bangalore achieved in a month. I made a call to my mother asking her for the recipe of Dry Urad Dal. That evening, I bought split urad from DMart and marched into the kitchen to make something that spelled ‘home cooked food’.

I put half a bowl of dal in one bowl of water. I added salt, turmeric and baking soda to it and let the water boil on the stove. As my mother had explained it to me, the trick here is to let the dal cook in the water till it is al dente. This prevents the dal from being a mushy mess once it’s finally done. The original recipe requires asafetida and cumin seeds, however I did not have any of them, so I stir fried garlic, onions, green chilli and tomato in that order. I added salt and red chilli powder to the vegetables and tossed the boiled dal in them. I let the dal simmer on the stove. Once it was cooked, I added garam masala and finally like a true Sanjeev Kapoor patron garnished it with coriander. Since one day calls for one experiment, I decided to do away with making dough and chapattis; instead I bought a pack of ready to cook chapattis from a nearby store. At the end of the meal, I felt satisfaction. My dinner reeked of simplicity, flavor and a little bit of home.

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That night and on the nights that followed I sent pictures of my food to my mother. She was surprised at the transformation and so was I. But like they say that necessity is the mother of all inventions and my kitchen experiments were probably a result of my longing for home cooked food. On the night of lohri, I craved the achari aloo that my mother usually makes with the oil and the spices leftover after cooking stuffed karela. I called her for the recipe but maybe she was at the Lohri celebrations and hence did not take the call. Finally, I fried the potatoes and made the masala purely on instinct. I took a bite and felt that though it was close to what my mother cooks, there is something amiss with the taste and the color. My mother always warned me that if you add garam masala during the process of cooking, the final dish will be of a darker color; since I was aiming for dark color with the potatoes, so I added the garam masala and it elevated the color and the taste.

Then one day, I made chhole (chickpeas). Because no matter where I had eaten chhole in Bangalore, they were never cooked through; they always felt slightly undercooked as if they needed another whistle in the pressure cooker. My mother has two variations for chhole as well- the one that we call langar wale chhole because I first ate them in a langar and the one that she makes with bhature. Langar wale chhole are cooked in a gravy of tomatoes, onions, ginger garlic and turmeric. However I am biased towards the latter, because they are both spicy and sour and make for a comprehensive feast for the taste buds. So I made the latter sans the bhature because one experiment at a time. The most cumbersome vegetable that I made was ladyfinger perhaps. The amount of attention it demands in drying, cutting, cooking and keeping it from sticking to the pan is baffling. I mean, if lady fingers were human, their behavior would warrant therapy for being so attention seeking.

Not all days were triumphant in the kitchen. I made over cooked moong dhuli dal. I hate overcooked dal but how do you hate the product of your own hands. If you have made the mistake of keeping dal in the refrigerator and eating it the next day, you will know how lumpy it feels while gulping. That is how my fresh dal tasted. My cousin and I spent two hours trying to make besan ka chilla and we started at 10 in the night. Two hours of our lives were dedicated in getting one chilla whole out of the pan and when we did manage that feat, it tasted dry. We scraped off the scrambled bits from our plates, listing out all the other (read better and viable) things that we could have made for dinner.

I cannot identify the exact stimulus which sustained my interest in cooking over the last few months. Cooking at home is definitely simpler, cheaper, tastier and healthier (read less creamy and oily). I have always enjoyed eating what my mother cooked for us at home over restaurant food. Given a choice, I would never go to a North Indian restaurant because my mother’s food is a very difficult yardstick to match. So maybe I find comfort in the fact that there are a few modest recipes where I can come close to what I have grown up eating.

There was this day when I was making kadhi and I took out 7-8 jars of spices. My cousin laughed and remarked, “Didi ghar par jitney masale hote hain woh sare dalne hote hain kya?”. (Do we have to use all the spices that we have at home?) Remember how I felt about all those small ingredients and steps involved when I first made Poha. Between that day and this day, I have made a huge turnaround. I no longer find the expanse of the spices housed in my mother’s kitchen perplexing; in fact I have a 16 jar spice tower which houses a variation of ground, whole and dried spices. I have seen quite an eventful (read tumultuous) 2017 and if I can come up with even one thing to smile about, I take the time and appreciate it. My transition in the kitchen is undoubtedly one of them. Some things just require a little effort and commitment. Sometimes there are hidden possibilities in what we are inadequate at. I took a chance at trigonometry after 8 years and I understood that; the same topic that led me to believe I’d fail my class 11 final exam. But that is a story for another time. This was about my takeaways from kitchen- an open mind, an honest effort and a little confidence can yield happy surprises.

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What about you? What have been your lessons from cooking so far?


In case you are interested in reading more about food and hope, you should hop on to my previous two part post-

 

How to (not) live a healthy life?

Have you ever resolved to reform your habits to move towards a better life? Have you ever thought of making healthy lifestyle changes after watching that fitness vlog on YouTube? I have and so I decided to compile a small guide to what to expect when you attempt turning a new leaf in terms of health.


  • Decide to wake up early in the morning. Wake up early in the morning to veto against the decision and conveniently sleep for another hour. Nothing like the morning hours to flex those brain muscles, right?

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  • Download Headspace in your phone which has guided ten minute meditation sessions. Meditate for four consecutive days, then get busy with life and forget about your resolution to meditate. Open Headspace after two months with fresh vigor. Revisit the first four sessions because you need to brush the basics for the 5th session. And then again, get busy with life after 4 days. And then again, revisit the first 4 sessions after two months. If this is not the ‘circle of life’, then what is?

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  • Watch close to a hundred online videos on meal prepping for healthy eating. Get high on the idea of bento boxes. Apply the restraint to not invest in a bento box upfront; instead buy a simple lunch box. Make cucumber tomato sandwiches for lunch. Let it sit in your lunch box for hours. Open it to witness what a soggy mess has it become. Be more revolted with the idea of healthy eating.

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  • Find avocados in every YouTube video/Pinterest tutorial you see. Become fascinated with this obscure fruit/vegetable that the clean eating world is going gaga over. Buy two avocados for 38 rupees from Big Basket. Let them sit in the brown paper bag they came in. Take them out after a week to make a spread. Be confronted with a black skinned fruit with fungus growing over it’s body. Throw it away. Maybe some things are meant to remain obscure.

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  • Make a willful decision to include greens in your meals. Put lettuce in every toast that you make. Garnish all your food with parsley/coriander. Even go to the lengths of buying spinach, a vegetable that you’ve deeply abhorred since childhood. Put some of it in scrambled eggs and spend the next one hour puking. Because apparently, not only do you hate the taste of spinach, it gives you acidity as well. Also, don’t even get me started on the rocket science of storing greens to keep them from rotting.

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  • Buy mushrooms. Because all the time lapse recipes on salads and pot meals include mushrooms. What they do not include is the uphill task of cleaning them. Spend the next two hours researching on how to clean your mushrooms- to soak them in water, to clean them with a brush or to clean them with a paper towel. Add to that the debate of clearing the black hairy fiber on the inside of mushroom caps. To be or not to be, could this be any more difficult.

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  • Boil chick peas/garbanzo beans to make hummus. Why? Because you shouldn’t eat normal butter, you hate the taste of peanut butter (I once took 4 hours to finish a toast with peanut butter because I asked for it and did not like the taste of it, but I had been brought up to not waste food, so 4 hours of my life were invested in the act of consuming that godforsaken toast), so what will you use as a spread? Hummus. Let the chick peas sit for a day in the refrigerator. Fail to procure sesame and olive oil for making hummus because the time and economics involved in clean eating purely baffles you. Take the chickpeas and make kulche chhole maskha maar ke (smeared with butter).

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  • Buy yourself a fitness tracker and wear that everyday. Realize that you walk a measly 3000 steps on a usual day because man invented motor vehicles and desk jobs. Take an initiative to walk more steps every day. Fix yourself a target. Fail it on some days. But nevertheless keep walking because consistency is the key my friend. The day that the strap breaks, promise yourself to buy a new strap but do not keep that promise. Toss your tracker in the cupboard and go back to the measly 3000 steps because who walks without a tracker.

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  • Start working out everyday. Tell yourself that you are not concerned about the fat loss but about taking your health seriously. Feel positive about the small changes in your body, about the peaking stamina, about the improved flexibility, about the higher weight that you can lift now. Then one day look at the thunder thighs and witness your resolve melting right in front of your eyes. Why kid yourself, it was all about fat loss.

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  • Drink more water everyday. Take your body to a phase where it forgets what it is like to survive on two glasses of water every day. Just stay hydrated at all times. Then one day, walk to your cubicle, see that the pantry staff has again misplaced your bottles, the ‘supply’ opens at four and that you have to walk to the canteen every time you want to drink water, which is every half an hour. After all, you could not have failed at all fronts pertaining to a healthy life, sometimes your life has to fail you too.

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Bangalore: Trail and Beyond II

The first post that I decided to write on Bangalore was going to be titled ‘4 Weeks and 4 Houses’. Because my first four weeks in Bangalore were in four different houses. The first house was the service apartment that the company offered me. It was a 2 BHK furnished apartment and made for a gloomy welcome to Bangalore. Why, you may wonder. Because I have realized that vacant spaces accentuate the feeling of loneliness. I was just coming out of my home to this colossal space entirely at my disposal. Everything felt strange and confusing. I even deliberated on the room I should sleep in because choice my friend. In retrospect, that room was a good decision because as I realized much to my horror later that week, the other room had a balcony, the door to which had no bolt. Now imagine how peacefully I must have slept, constantly imagining all possible ways for an uninvited person to enter the apartment. Add to that, the experience of going to breakfast buffet the next morning and realizing that you are the only woman without a hijab in the room. By the time the waiter brought the coffee to my table, I noticed that everyone’s staring at me, so I rolled the pancake and sipped my coffee on the way out.

The second house was my cousin’s who opened the doors for me with home cooked food, good coffee, television and affection in aplenty- all things that I hold dear. It was a Friday night when I moved to her place. I remember how my manager had advised me to not travel late evening and wait till the next morning to move. But I had gone back to the apartment with open curtains in the living room and a switched on geyser- two things I would never do before leaving for work. Before my paranoia over the safety of the apartment could resurface in full, I booked an Uber, packed everything and left. Even Uber endorsed my decision because of all the cabs that I had taken in that week, this one was unbelievably on time and devoid of any arguments with the driver. Maybe I yearned to be rid of the apartment, maybe I yearned to see a familiar face, maybe I yearned to talk to someone in Hindi, or maybe it was what the driver who drove me from the airport told me, you should visit family the first time you are in a city, it is comforting and I cannot agree more to that.

The third house was my school friend’s. I had to look for a house. Before I moved to Bangalore, on a friend’s friend’s recommendation, I had a look at this website called ‘Colive 247‘. If you have heard of Nestaway, Colive parallels their model but seems more reasonable and has single accommodation options. So, I shortlisted two flats which according to their website were fully furnished flats in a gated society. Now when I actually visited one of them what I saw was a big room divided into spaces  to make it look like a flat, in a society which had a gate, a deserted foosball table in the middle of nowhere, a guy in the elevator telling me that the WiFi just doesn’t work and a worked up prospective flatmate (worked up because I walked in on her when she was spending some quality time with her boyfriend). The flat had a bed and a mattress in the name of furniture and felt like an over stuffed carton with no room for ventilation. From there I began the quest for a house in Bangalore again. In order to visit the flats during the week, I moved to my friend’s house. Of our six nights together, I think we slept on two. Because we talked, mostly involuntarily, as if talking was something as natural and inevitable as blinking. I discovered Truffles because of her, I discovered the ubiquitous ‘V-335E‘ route because of her, I discovered samosa kachori breakfast in Whitefield because of her, I discovered shared cabs because of her, I discovered that the touted ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S.’ life can exist in real life too but importantly I discovered her again and that people can bestow warmth on you even if you have done very little for them.

The fourth house was my permanent address in Bangalore- if 9 months qualify as permanent. I remember a sentence from my English textbook, ‘Television sets are selling like hot cakes these days’. If I were to use that idiom in Bangalore’s context, I would say, ‘rented flats in Bangalore sell like hot cakes’. I lost two flats because I needed sometime for consideration. Almost every flat that goes on sale during the week is sold out on the weekend. So in a desperate bid, I paid the token amount of 5000 rupees on a flat. Because the house hunting began looking like a race to me and I had to come first at the end of this week. But somehow I didn’t like the flat much, something about it didn’t fall right with my gut. Partly out of instinct and partly out of newly acquired habit I kept scrounging through ‘Flats and Flatmates Bangalore‘ in a bid to stumble upon something that I was missing all along. Magically, I found this old ad saved in my bookmarks. It was a completely new flat and magically, it was still vacant. I visited the flat on Friday and it looked perfect to me.  It was a completely new property, the balcony overlooked a pool, the block overlooked a lake, it was accessible from my office, there was a departmental store opposite the apartment, the deposit was 15,000 less than the earlier flat, it felt breezy and calm and it just seemed perfect. Endangering the token (which I recovered a couple of days and Whatsapp conversations later) that I had paid on the previous flat, I moved in to the latter on Monday and strangely, the house still seems perfect to me.

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I have a lot of memories of ‘breaking in’ in the house and Bangalore. One of the first decisions that I made after moving here were to make a choice between a bed and a bonded mattress because I had the money for only one. I went to a furniture store right next to my apartment and booked a mattress which was going to be delivered the next evening. However, my parents made me revisit the decision citing my OCD for cleanliness and by next morning I found a second hand bed with mattress. I visited the mattress store in the evening to cancel the order and the sermons that shopkeeper made me hear on negligence sent me on a guilt trip for days until a baniya friend explained to me that his sermon was only a sales tactic employed to make me sway from the cancellation. I remember convincing someone- passionate about the craftsmanship of making a mirror- to make me a wall mirror for 800. I remember going to the departmental store to stock up on essentials and coming home with new found respect for my parents because maintaining supplies is such a tedious task. I remember going out for food with a friend, always overeating, always laughing at our quirky college stories and quirky flat stories and always finding new scoop on our best friend.

In January, another cousin of mine moved to Bangalore for six months. Most of the ‘breaking in’ in Bangalore happened after she moved in with me. I am one of those fortunate kids to have experienced those fascinating old school summer vacations at nana-nani ke ghar (house of my maternal grandparents). She has been an essential part of those vacations and when she moved in here, she brought that charm of garmi ki chhuttiyan to this house and my life. We finished our dinners with mangoes, we took detours for ice cream and chips, we teased each other by eating our Maggi Chings slow so that the other person finishes first, we played Antakshari on nights and realized that even after a decade we still recall songs from 1990s and early 2000s only during Antakshari, we watched old cheesy Hindi movies on Friday nights, we spent Sundays sleeping till afternoons, we went to a Baadshah concert and bragged our Punjabi by singing along every word to ‘Wakhra Swag‘, we queued for 90 minutes to take a roller coaster ride at an amusement park, we went on a scavenger hunt 18 kilometres away at 7 a.m., we did ‘I don’t know how many’ pizza nights, we made bad restaurant choices and good chaat choices together, we walked to the bus stop from our offices with chips and muffins in hand, chattering all along without any care in the world as if we are still little kids and as if this is nothing but that coveted summer vacation. We even tried doing the ‘sagan ka lifafa’ act (exchange of envelopes of money between relatives typically seen at the end of a visit to a relative’s house or auspicious gathering) and we cried the day she flew from Bangalore, just like old times. I remember how we used to text each other in October last year hoping that we’d up end up in Bangalore together. However I never believed it would happen because when do you get this lucky that you get what you wish for. But I got lucky, in fact luckier than I ever imagined.

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I have never felt comfortable at any place other than my home in Gwalior. I have never warmed up to the idea of having an address away from my actual permanent address. I have been in Delhi for three years and ended up disliking a city that I was always fascinated with as a kid. I have always cringed at the idea of change, in fact I recall shuddering at the idea of Bangalore as I packed my belongings. However, as I was telling my best friend last week, I like Bangalore. Bangalore has been the home to the many ‘firsts’ in my life, including the first of warming up to a new city. At the end of sixty days, I might not be here and it will feel odd to not go through the Herculean task of finding a cab for office and flinching over the surge pricing, it will feel odd to not wander aimlessly in departmental stores, it will feel odd to not mentally evaluate distance in terms of kilometers but in terms of time and traffic, it will feel odd to not cook dinner and sending pictures of it to my mother because both of us believed that I cannot amount to much in the kitchen, it will feel odd to go back to weather that demands fans on full speed and air conditioning and to a June that doesn’t have blankets, it will seem odd to not have your North Indian perceptions of South Indian food being challenged as you are presented with idlis that melt in your mouth, vada that produces a crunch sound as you bite into it, sambhar that is sweet, coconut chutney that has mint in it and dosa that’s fluffy and thick on the inside but ghee roasted from the outside. I think I cannot explain it well, but overall, it will be odd to not be in Bangalore anymore.


This is the second part of the post that I started writing on Bangalore two days ago. You can find the first part here.

Bangalore: Trail and Beyond

I have wanted to write about Bangalore for a long time now. But the handful of people who read my posts, know how little I write; often once a month and twice in a few lucky months. Once every two months, my best friend complains how spaced out are the chapters in the story I started writing in April 2016– which I was meant to complete in that month but still remains incomplete. I am not going make any excuses here, I am lazy, undisciplined and I allow life and people to affect me. That’s how, the post that I wanted to write on the Christmas weekend is being written right now.

Bangalore happened in my life at a time when things were not only not looking up lately but in fact were looking grimmer and grimmer by the day. My mother often remarks that I complain a lot. Partly, I agree; I had seen better days at a time when I barely valued them. But this time in early 2016, when I decided that I had to move, move anywhere on the map, I had a solid ground and more solid sense of desperation. In 2015, I worked on an assignment that required me to move in and out of the many plants of a pharmaceutical manufacturing unit in 45 degree Celsius when the person I was reporting to constantly reminded me that somehow my gender makes me unfit for the assignment. I ended up having a knee injury, a doctor ringing a threat of an approaching arthritis and branded inefficient for denying doing something that did not fall within the purview of the engagement. I walked with a swollen knee for 6 months and resentment that I have carried far beyond those 6 months.

For the latter part of 2015, I worked on a lot of things that required me to manipulate, the kind of manipulation that challenged the value education lessons I had imbibed deeply. The more I worked, the more I felt that the concept of ‘choice’ is being forfeited from my life. No matter what work was assigned to me, I was expected to do that without any qualms. I was expected to travel 50 kms a day for a month even when I complained of motion sickness, I was expected to work for 11 hours a day for August and September including Sundays for 1500 rupees a month, I was expected to sit through midnight on the last date of every return filing in a year, I was expected to put up that farce of sitting in office for 7-8 hours even when there was no work and ultimately I was expected to fold my hands and ‘beg’ for a small termination letter- essential to make the move official- and put up with a couple of malicious remarks. Now you see why I hate my career so much? My work took a lot of my confidence and a lot of my zeal away. In case you are regular a here, you can see why I sing no praises about my choice of career. I was desperate for change. I was desperate to make a move out of that place. So I moved to Bangalore, for professional reasons and in search of ‘mann ki shanti’ (mental peace) that an astrologer once told me I will never find. So I moved to Bangalore violating a strongly held notion that I cannot function anywhere beyond 300 kms from my family. Surprisingly, I did and so here I am putting pen to paper about my little adventure in Bangalore.


Since the story so far have stretched beyond the original estimated number of words, I have split this post into two parts. The second part which I will be posting tomorrow details on my stay in Bangalore.

The one too many half wits we meet in life

  • The one who is a hungry fly

That time when you are in the kitchen and cooking something for yourself or spending some quality time with your food, this person will hover around you, eyeing your food with greed laden eyes.  They will incessantly comment that your food looks delish or gourmet even though it’s just instant noodles or a tomato cucumber sandwich.  Feeding them once in a while is okay but constantly having them in the vicinity with eyes fixated on your food does not count as a pleasant experience.

 

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  • The one who is always whining

Have you met this person who is constantly agonizing over everything and everyone? For example, they may hate their job, they may hate the process of looking for a job, they may hate the ‘good’ offers that they are getting and then they hate that they were rejected for those offers. I am not against hate, hate all you want. But what sets me off is how vocal they have to be about their hatred and how little do they do to improve their lives. These people are never satisfied with anything that they get and they pounce on first opportunity to complain.

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  • The one who is always arguing

These are another set of vocal ones. No matter when you look at them, they are constantly arguing. Be it for their desk that hasn’t been set up or on someone not complying to their standards of punctuality or for a certain compliance that they have to oblige to. The moment you say something to them, they will pick a loud argument in an attempt to assert their point and establish their superiority.

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  • The one who is not so subtly sexist

We all know this one person who constantly pitches the idea of marriage and mentally clocks the birth of our children. They come up with remarks like 24 is the best age for women to get married because any later than that makes them undesirable in the eyes of a man. When you ask them about their marriage plans they deny stating that they have better plans for life rather than ruining it by getting married. They talk about girlfriends generically and question how do men put up with their girlfriends. They tell you that you cannot single -handedly look for a house or assemble furniture or get a deed executed or walk a km to take a bus or talk about a sport or discuss stock markets because you are a woman. And if you do any of these or the myriad of other things that they deem women incapable of doing they wind up the conversation saying that you are different, that you are not like other women. When you try to point out their sexism, they tell you that they cannot be sexist because they have a sister. Wow.

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  • The one with the flawed reasoning skills

Let’s imagine you have cooked potatoes but on tasting them you realize that they are slightly raw. This person will suggest that the potatoes- the ones that you bought fresh the same day- remained uncooked because they were rotten. When you explain the concept of acid rain to them, they throw you a puzzled look and render the theory of gases infusing with rain water a myth. They believe that the refrigerator will stop functioning if you keep a warm dish inside and that the microwave will blow apart if something is overcooked accidentally. I don’t know how, but they have the ability to jump to the least logical conclusion in every situation.

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  • The one who is smugly uninformed

I remember a friend asking another friend (who is based out of Karantaka) what language did she watch Baahubali in. She replied Hindi, to which he further questioned that why did she not watch in South Indian. She replied that it released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi and since she does not understand the former two, she watched it in Hindi. He then looked surprised that why did it not release in South Indian. You see how ignorant that sounds.

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I have known someone who believed that Kolkata is a state and that Darjeeling is in Kolkata. I have known someone who did not know who our first President was. I have known someone who thought that BJP and Congress are the only two political parties in India. I have known someone who did not know that when you carry a number from the denominator on the left hand side of the equation, it goes to the numerator on the right hand side and they were in college. I have known a person who did not know what evaporation is and said that it is not a part of their syllabus, so they are not required to know the same. I think a lot of credit goes to Karan Johar and Kareena Kapoor movies for popularizing the idea that being dumb is cool, but really it is not.

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  • The one who is a senior with zero regard for young

Have you been in a situation where you were required to meet someone at a senior position and they kept you waiting? You fix an appointment, personally confirm the same with them and then when you take a good 50 km detour to meet them, they are busy. It is not about them being occupied that sets me off but it is about that blatant lack of concern for your time, that unapologetic demeanor and that absence of basic courtesy to at least send a small message to reschedule.

I remember applying for an internship where the recruiter failed to call me for the scheduled interview six times. Almost on half the occasions, he reached me after days for rescheduling. After the 6th time, I politely declined that I cannot go through the never ending series of rescheduling, he expected me to understand that he was a busy man. While I understood the same what he failed to see was that even I had commitments that I was setting aside to make time for his offer.

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  • The one who is obsessively defensive

Picture this: X is a young man with a very naughty son. The kind of son who drives him crazy on days by making screeching noises, by ripping apart soft toys, by crying incessantly in social settings, etc. On some days, X cannot help but wonder how peaceful his life would have been without the prodigal son.  But the moment an outsider suggests that X’s son is stubborn and may be causing them a lot of trouble, X will hold their guard and completely oppose such a claim. At that point, X’s son will be a kind soul who has given them nothing but contentment.

This is simply one example of how defensive can X be. They use this trick every time someone voices an opinion contrary to theirs.

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  • The one who markets your opinions as their own

Imagine you told a friend that you want to go to Wayanad for a vacation. The scenic beauty coupled with a lost world appeal would make for a fulfilling visit. The next day your friend repeats the same sentences word by word to another person branding it as their own desire. It does not stop there. Your opinion on a stand up comedian, your taste in music, your taste in sports, your impression of your colleagues, your startup idea, your evaluation of a business model, no matter what you share with them, the next moment on, they make it their own. Things get strange, when they pitch your ideas to you calling them ‘original’. Just like the gift reshuffling on Diwali in an Indian house, they come knocking your door presenting a gift that you had given earlier.

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  •  The one with the noble intentions

Your friend gets rejected in a number of interviews. One night, in a non drunk conversation, they tell you that their parents believe the reason for their failure in securing a job is the people they socialize with including you. They further state that they agree with their parents. Over another conversation they call you cheap. They constantly put you in social settings with people you despise. They call you smug because you believe in helping yourself. They tell you that your analytical skills cause them stress. They tell you that they had requested their friends to compliment on your appearance even if they believed otherwise. They even tell you about that conversation with a friend where they concluded that you are stupid for not liking a movie. Basically, they say everything that could be deemed unfit for a pleasant conversation.

The moment you show that you are hurt, they say that your hostility is hurting them and they have always held bona fide intentions for you. All you can do is silently wonder that how can someone with such benevolent intentions utter such unkind words.

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Honorable mention: All the Ola/Uber drivers

  • who accept your request, ask you for directions, reach your pick up point and then deny going to your destination.
  • who accept the request but don’t even start moving in your direction until you call and ask them to do the same.
  • who accept and cancel the ride because they don’t want to cross the Marathahalli bridge or the Kundanahalli signal or the Sony signal or the Silk board or anything that comes in your way.
  • who claim that they are at the pickup location even when they are in an entirely different block. When you tell them to come to the actual location, they demand you to locate them.

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This was a small list of all the people who add that dash of thrill and excitement in my day. No matter where I am in life, I always manage to find people who forfeit my faith in humanity and add to the list of interesting anecdotes. Just when I think that I cannot run into someone more stupid, my life throws another funny surprise at me.

Here’s a small toast to the never ending loop of half wits that I get to meet in my life.

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What about you? Have you had the good fortune to meet the people I have mentioned in this post or do you have even better stories to share? Let me know in the comments 😀

Take me to the hills or not

I don’t know how many of you remember those yellow boxes in our NCERT books. Yellow boxes perched in corner of the pages of our social science text books. Yellow boxes that housed interesting trivia revolving around the subject body of a chapter. Yellow boxes that every teacher emphasized on reading because they made a good opportunity for High Order Thinking Skills question.
I enjoyed reading them because often they were real life insights on topics like colonization, universal suffrage movement and industrialization; sometimes in symphony with the text and sometimes in conflict. Like there was a woman’s speech about right to vote highlighting that when we talk about suffrage it is only for half the human population that is men. There was a letter from a Marathi woman to Mahatama Gandhi explaining that she wants to endorse the Swadesi movement but culture calls for her to wear a sari that measures 9 yards and she does not have the resources to afford 9 yards of Khadi. There was a story in chapter on industrialization of Mumbai and London where the gods come to visit Mumbai and Lord Vishnu ends up being dwindled by a shoe seller. In the same chapter, a yellow box talked about the planned beautification of Paris. It included a remark from a poet that the city looks like ‘a tree, a bench, a kiosk, a tree, a bench, a kiosk and so on’. This line has stayed with me through the years.

I have been in Bangalore for 7 months now. My typical Wednesday looks like googling for a weekend getaway, the modes of reaching that place, the options on the accommodation, the popular haunts, activities in that area and at least one blog documenting the comprehensive travel experience. The catch here is that I don’t go to any of these places. Sometimes I am lazy, sometimes I am confused, sometimes I am scared, sometimes I have another plan and mostly I am not able to understand what I am looking for in terms of travel. But the first weekend of June was an exception because I went to Coorg.
Out of all the weekend getaways from Bangalore, Coorg is the most accessible in terms of the number of night buses that ply to and fro from Coorg and the distance. I was torn between Ooty and Coorg. However, that week I had two people tell me that Coorg is extremely beautiful and I read an article which called Coorg the Scotland of India. So I decided that I will go to Coorg. Amidst the boarding point shifting to 20 kms away, cancellation of my homestay booking, contracting a very inconvenient common cold and a couple of panic attacks later, I reached Coorg at 4:30 am.

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With no bed in the foreseeable future, a head riddled with Cetrizine and surrounded by a ubiquitous smell of cinnamon, I settled down on a bench and started making an itinerary in my head. I decided to walk towards Raja’s seat to catch the sunrise which was still an hour away. From where I was standing, the road turned into three different ways ahead. I followed the one that seemed closest to the directions on Google Maps. I continued on the circular path, reaching a point that offered a peripheral view of Madikeri. Behind me was the Madikeri fort and whether or not this was Raja’s seat remained open to debate because the navigation stopped working.
From the make believe Raja’s seat I walked in one of the other two directions. I walked and saw hills and houses, I walked and saw trees and arched ways, I walked and saw temples and churches, I walked and saw ‘Scotland of India’ before me. I looked at the view and remembered the hills I have been to and the landscapes that we find in our drawing books. I walked up to a modest looking eatery cum grocery store and helped myself to filter coffee. It was a small shop housed next to Ganesh Coffee House near the bus stand. It was a good cup of coffee, neither too strong nor too sweet, just the right proportion of everything. The vanilla sponge cake, which I tried later in the day, made for a good accompaniment to the coffee. I paid for the coffee and headed to the Omkareshwara temple.
The Omkareshwara Temple is situated in the centre of a water tank. It was built by a king who could not sleep peacefully after having killed a Brahmin. He was advised by his religious counsel to build a Shiva temple. So the king built the Omkareshwara temple. Barring a woman who was there for her morning walk I could not find anybody else. I wandered there for a little while, offered a small prayer and then found myself a deserted spot uphill that overlooked the hills and the temple.

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I stood there and thought about a number of things. I thought about that line on renovation of Paris. That line holds good for the Coorg that you see in pictures. We may not rework the places that we visit but we do recondition them in our pictures. In our pictures, we take the good bits of a place, the good trees, the good hills, the good roads and the good houses. But from where I stood, the air had a waft of cinnamon and a faint hint of dampness, the paints on the houses peeled because of the rain, the roads were muddy and there were open sewer lines. All of which evidence the existence of a community there, all of which form part of the narrative of Coorg. Then why do we use our fancy filters and tweak our pictures? Then why do we omit the less picturesque facets from our travel chronicles? Then why are we so obsessed with our travel destinations conforming to a certain standard of scenic beauty?

Standing there what I understood was that you never see what a place is in entirety until you visit it. No website, no travelogue can promise you the perfect landscape and the perfect vacation. It’s mostly individual. It’s mostly trial and error. That’s why I would like to travel again, for that little thrill of discovery, for that chance of stumbling upon what remains unspoken.


So that was my travel epiphany. What about you? What have you learnt from travelling so far?

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.