Friday, August 15, 2014

The Fallen - A short story

There is a woman in every downfall and every woman has fallen. I am a woman. I have fallen and so has my mother. This is a story of our fall.

37 years ago my mother signed up to fight a lost battle. Today she is diseased and bed ridden… yet, every minute of life is another battle lost.

My mother was born in a tiny village of Punjab. From here on I will name her Ahana (Sanskrit n. First ray of Sun) and address her with that name for the sake of convenience. I want to disassociate with her so she could be what she truly is – an individual… not a mother, neither a wife, nor that who belongs to anyone but herself.

Ahana’s mother lost her entire family to the Independence struggle and escaped death to end up as the second wife of a man with no libido. Social vultures hollered outside in the open, until she forced out three man-children and a girl from an otherwise platonic marriage. The girl became Ahana.  She is submissive and submitting.  Life, she believes, is a series of misfortunes and acceptance is the only salvation.

Ahana lost her father at a young age and her mother sent her off with the first man who offered his hand in marriage. That man became my father and the biggest violator of our collective lives… or is the violator Ahana? Did she love too much? I often ask myself.

My father was a city bred, reasonably educated, conventionally good looking man in love with his friend’s sister. My grandfather denied him that freedom. Ahana became the subject of my father’s frustrations; a mere fixture in the bed, a cluster of burning skin under the furious sling, a tear that dropped yet the earth never cried. Forbearance became her defence as she continued loving him, who never loved her back.

In exchange for another day to live and to die, Ahana bartered the childhoods of her three children. I was the youngest and the only female; my father’s defeat and the victory of many a men.

He, who was the closest in kin, inflicted the greatest violence. In the hands of a few-too-many cousins, I was undressed and… un… sung. The only lasting music to reach my ears was my stifled cries and a resounding reminder that an entire age was lost to sexual abuse.

“Where were you then?” I asked Ahana, several years later… in a stranded moment of bitter pain.
She had but one response. In the momentum of love, she had failed to negotiate her freedom and now this cage was her only cradle. Wedged in between of her failed flights, were my innocent wings.

As I grew, the episodes of life started to appear disturbingly similar, only the characters changed faces. My father started to live inside my siblings and their wives wore Ahana’s fractured persona.

Today, the walls in the house have lost colour. There are strokes of cement and hardship everywhere. Sun is a forbidden guest and darkness has fearlessly impregnated the surroundings. Our lives stink of endless grief and dysfunction. There is disease and stigma and yet, Ahana ceaselessly loves, him, who has not and will not love her back.

Where did I go from here and where am I today is for you to think, imagine and believe, for I am not me. I am just a silhouette; a residue; a leftover; an end… of the saree that Ahana wore when I last saw her being dragged by her hair, on to the street, for the world to watch the cruel dance of destiny.

Suffice it by saying that experiences don’t change people, life finds a way to come full circle and women across borders and beyond times, still share the same narrative… just that some fight fiercely and some others never try.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Across the brick wall

“Remember that aunty I told you about in the letter I sent last November? This morning she looked such a faint image of what she looked yesterday. I had gone for a walk to the park but then I just decided to sit on that bench. Rains have caused considerable damage to the plaque that reads the name of the dead man in whose name the bench was installed. I would otherwise be quite interested to know who the man was, who died to make space for the rest of us thankless lot.

I sat there long. Leaves were beginning to melt into the diffused sunlight. The track was covered with their pale shadows. People were kicking about the ones that had fallen off the trees. They were staggering… drunkenly, unarmed… across the sky.

These street lights are beginning to annoy me. They stay on till late in the day. I am thinking of writing a complaint note to our council representative once I’m done with writing to you.

She, aunty wore the same taant saree today as well, but the thread work has started to fragment. Her white pallu had hues of blue on it. I think she is using too much fabric whitener. I was meaning to ask her today to go slow on it. But then I realised, who am I to say anything to her? I use it too.

Someone’s underwear fell on me, mid-way through the walk. A bunch of boys stopped playing football and started to giggle.  Honestly, I was really embarrassed. If it was a shirt falling or even a dupatta I would have been fine. You know what I mean na?

Robin… it is called Robin… the whitener that I use. It has a colourful bird on its packet. I think it’s a robin. Maybe that’s where they get their brand name from.  Funny, that whitener would be blue in colour. Haina!

I don’t know what to cook for lunch today. This is one question I never have an ideal answer to. Remember, how when we were together, I always left it to you to decide and you would invariably settle for either gobhi or bhindi. Even the sabziwala knew our kitchen drill.

 I had answers then. You gave some… but your questions were many. Stop asking questions Gautam. Sometimes silences make more sense.


Pal… the loose and perhaps the only definition of ‘love’ in his life… his superlative… the woman who redefined his boundaries and then forced him to disregard them… the sensual embodiment of freedom and yet his philistine captivator - Pal, in a moment of unrestraint, left Gautam behind, as mere residue of a fractured partnership. Monthly letters with no address to write back to, were offered to him as an insufficient pension in lieu of a long inning.


Moisture was reeling down his scarlet cheeks. It was hot. Light had gone off again. Someone downstairs in the building compound was cursing the government for all their sufferings. The ceiling fan was lazily motioning itself into a deathlike silence. Harish had fashioned his beard into an obnoxious stubble, lately. The mirror was standing over the bathroom washbasin to look straight into him… reminding him of his abject misery.

Harish… He was raised on the sprawling mustard fields of a small hamlet – Thathi Bhai in independent India’s Punjab. His father was an influential jaagirdaar – landlord, who had amassed ample property from the village poor over unlawful pretexts but no one had the courage to question the efficacy of his word.
Two days back he had publically accosted Harpeet Cheema’s fifteen-year-old daughter Preeto to be beaten with leather slings by ten men, under the grand peepal tree, in an obscure corner of the village. Her crime - she had fallen in love with a Muslim boy from Bhatinda, whom she met on a bus ride on her way back from her grandparents’ home in the same city. Harpreet and his family of a wife, ten other daughters and one son stood watching until the ordeal lasted… rest of the village recoiled into their comfort zones… a dust storm hit the scene of unrelenting drama as Preeto’s injured body was left to naturally be devoured by the earth. Harpreet’s family returned to their modest home that evening where ten other daughters were reminded of the consequences of falling out of line, over basic bread and daal (lentil soup). The son, youngest of the lot, meanwhile was wondering where the ten leather slings came from and how he could get hold of them… one each for the surviving sisters.

On the previous Sunday, Jaagirdaarji, as Harish’s father was reverentially addressed, read out Harish’s destiny in two lines.

“Go to some foreign country and work there. Bring pride to the family name.”

Pride – it was some crude logic that equated pride to one son living ‘abroad’ in many Punjabi families. The colonial hangover had the most lasting impact on this community.

Harish had passed matric from the only public school of the village, unsurprisingly named Guru Nanak Public School, after the founder of the religion. By the standards of the village he was over qualified.

The next day, a day prior to ‘the Preeto justice’ – as would the episode find name in the annals of the village history, Harish left lock-stock and barrel, for Delhi. Some well-wishers had given him the details of an employment agent and so he headed straight for Rajouri Garden in East Delhi after alighting at the Old Delhi Railway station.

“Afghanistan is the latest favourite of all you Sikh youngsters. Bada paisa hai vahan. Lots of money,” the agent emphasized; his office – a near mock brothel. “A very lucrative opportunity has come up in the construction industry in Kabul. You will earn $800 per month plus a trip to-and-fro India every six months, a place to live, food and clothing and a mobile phone with unlimited talk-time and sms.”

This last promise in the verbal offer came handy. Mr. Agent had hit the right spot with it. Harish was a victim of the mobile phone boom in India where the word ‘unlimited’ was used for pretty much everything, from the sex drive of men his age to the time taken in getting a customer care executive over the phone to resolve a simple problem with the mobile connection.

Faith was another permanent fixture in the long parody of the Indian psyche. Wherever electricity, technology, air and water failed, faith intervened. On the basis of mere faith, not a legal document, Harish accepted the offer and flew to Kabul with his father’s dream and cash in his secret pocket on the inside of his pants, placed between his groins and left thigh.

War had settled over Kabul’s fate like an enduring dust cloud. Life was surviving between sprints from one hide-out place to the other. A stopped heart stumped his toe like a sudden pebble, as Harish walked to the construction site where he was due to start work in a day.

Afghanistan has 10 million land mines. Kabul is the most heavily mined capital of the world. When one of those 10 million exploded, Harish’s amputated left leg became a number in the UN report on the War torn nation. His hopes were scattered across the street, alongside broken car windows and a gush of blood. Silence followed the explosion. It left behind questions.

Harish spent a lonely 15th August in a Sikh Temple in the capital, until the Indian Embassy made arrangements to crate him back to India.

He had promised his father Pride in return for the years and money spent on his up-brining. In his father’s mind his son continued to live ‘abroad’, as Harish sat rotting on a wheelchair, used by seven other deceased orphans in the orphanage across the brick wall that separated Gautam’s plush villa from Harish.


As Gautam lay dejected on his antique teak wood bed, in the care of an asylum nurse, the wreckage in Harish's world was pain too. Pain of a different nature, nevertheless, pain.

Yet for either, theirs’ lived to remain the only reality… the only suffering that could possibly, ever take a man down.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Virgin - Two wars. Bloods of a different kind.

June lost hope on Delhi heat. July was en-route. 

Abbu had to leave for duty tonight but first he would drop me to the train station where-upon his cousin, Ali would chaperon me.

Ali lived in a small town of Jammu, from where my late mother-Ammi hailed as well. I had been there several times, in Abbu’s stories. Today would be the first personal audience. But before that “Abbu one last time,” I implore.

“Your Ammi lived in a town called Akhnoor. In September 1965 the Pakistani army launched Operation Grand Slam to devour it. Ammi was going to see her aunt in a bus when some heavily armed men swooped. Her bus was hit by a hail of bullets, snapping a wheel off, forcing all to run pensively, seeking refuge inside an abandoned home. Ammi locked herself in a room and ducked in darkness, as the gunmen began their rampage. Suddenly, the door splintered open as those kaafirs shot the lock apart and burst in, plucking frightened Ammi, clamping handcuffs on her.”

“And then you tore in and broke the backs of those kaafirs like my hero.” I clapped feverishly.

Abbu dropped me to the station. He left with a promise to do as uncle says. I did.

I extended my frisky fingers out of the train’s window, hoping to scoop snow off the scalp of the distant Himalayas.

“Pass it,” Ali gestured towards the water bottle dancing on a hook by the window. Our compartment was empty. The Delhi-Jammu Tawi route was a busy link for tourists travelling to Srinagar. This was not the year for tourism though, as it was for war. Kargil War had cast its murky shadow. Winds were carrying blood back home.  

I passed the bottle and with that Ali pulled me close to him. An awkward proximity, I apprehend now.

“My back hurts. Press it, will you?” He was pounding it with clenched fists.

I agreed, but for seven minutes; my age.

Ali pulled his cashmere sweater and kurta over his head and said “Come on and I shall give you a magic marshmallow.”

He explained that the more I suck it, the bigger it will grow. It will be juicy he added.

I placed my hands against the train’s moving wall, climbed on him and began working his back with my feet, pressing the flesh in then relieving the pressure, like Abbu would knead dough. Ali moaned, or was it the train as its wheels strum music against the track?

My feet visited his buttocks. I felt his flesh throbbing under me. I lost my balance. He made me lose it. He grabbed my nascent breasts.

It wasn't the first time I had pressed his back, but never before, were we alone together.

There are some wars that aren't spoken of in history books and parental rhetoric. There are wars we are caught in the middle of… unaware.

Ali became my war. In this battle, I lost my virginity… my dignity. The winds carried blood back home that night.

Monday, August 26, 2013


That you will realise your mother all over again… that you will notice for the first time in 31 years , how unbelievably gorgeous she looks when she carelessly ties her hair, still slightly wet and crumpled from a wash, into a loose bun… that when she cooks something, she wants you to taste it every time and reassure her that she is still the best cook in the world… that the clothes you bought for her from your first salary and then the ones you got from your second and then those from the third, are still the same nine pieces of clothes she carries with her in the suitcase you bought  for her from your fourth salary… that the gold earrings you purchased for her from your first big paycheck are still hanging to her ears as a swinging reminder of those golden days of your life… that her earlobes have extended far and wide and can barely hold the skin together… that her radiating yet light brown deep eyes are throwing so much light on her wrinkles…

that it’s only now like never before… that you are beginning to truly appreciate… that time is ceaselessly… speedily racing in one direction – Ahead!

that she is aging… and that you have become a mother yourself… and that this time shall pass too.

Mummy playing with Aayat

that nothing is constant… not today, neither was yesterday… that one day an email from a stranger popped into your mailbox. He had written to introduce himself to you and to discuss marriage. You started to write back and forth regularly thereon. In the evenings, back in Bombay from your work trip, you eagerly awaited his next email as it would be his morning in London and he would as a recently developed ritual practice, be responding to your long email sent yesterday. A few months later you would speak with him for the first time over the phone and say to yourself aloud “God! He talks so much… I prefer him more in his long emails”. That winter, he came down to visit you in Delhi at the Surya Hotel – New Friend’s Colony. He wore jeans and a crisp white batman t-shirt and you wore the same colours, only your eyes were lined with kajal. Off his laser sharp memory (one of his many qualities you had fallen for) he remembered your love for Ferrero Rocher and brought you a box to impress. He ate chicken tikka and you ordered Dal makhani over blushing cheeks and feminine lure. On New Year’s Eve he dared to hold your hand, as blood rushed down your spine telling you that this is meant to be… forever.  

that when she is sucking milk while making those rhythmic gulping sounds, covering you with her tiny frail hands like she is punching her pin in an ATM machine, looking at you for reassurance… that when you are looking back at her that very moment, you will see in her eyes that she is you and him… that she is everything you built together… that, that which seems like just yesterday is long gone and now is not about him and you anymore but her, him and you.

that she will not be all bliss and beautiful… that many a times she will quite literally be full of shit… that she will strip you off all your space but guard her own like a true warrior… that she will cry hoarse each night and you will know not what to do… that she will make your life hell and you will tear your hair apart and you will wish this never happened and that this was the biggest mistake of your life and that you are so helpless… that you will weep in front of the doctor and tell him you can sense she is not well even though he is the 20th doctor in the past week who has had a look at her and confirmed she is absolutely fine… that indeed she was fine but you were just worrying because all those childcare books you had gulped down like exam preparation had assured you that you must trust your motherly instinct… that one thing those articles and those over imposing, friends and family members who give unsolicited, uninvited advice, will never ever tell you is that you are a first time mother and to worry will become your first skin but that this time shall pass too like all others…

that at 31 you are still exploring yourself, then how must you be expected by the forces of nature and the expectations of everyone around you, to certainly understand what she wants when she cries… that the decisions for your own life have been so daunting, how then can you decide for her without worrying… that when you become a mother, all other identities become your past… not wife, not sister, no more a daughter… just a mother you are and will be.

that you will experience her like no father can… that somewhere inside you there will be an alarm clock ticking, prompting you to wake up seconds before she begins to cry… that as a jest to life you will come off age and BF will no more mean boyfriend, instead breast feeding it will be. That your body will take a life-long leap and that you will not regret it because as they say, despite all its banality “it is all worth it.”

that silently you will hope she will become what you never could… that she will be in your wakefulness, that which you have dreamt to be, all this while when you were asleep… that she will hopefully be your tomorrow, that which you are not today.

“Oh! You mother,” I heard telling myself... “you had heard stories as you were growing up. That ONE story you had heard multiple times. But as you were reading it out to her last night, it all suddenly made sense to you after 31 years. You were wandering… directionless… in this life that was…”

“Cheshire Puss” Alice began “would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where --” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you sure do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough”

But now that you are a mother… you beckon the cat to say to you yet again:
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

For you know where you belong.


Monday, April 1, 2013

In death is the other world!

Each minute… every second… I was losing control. Every new relationship that I got myself into and it forced me to lose myself… more and more of it. Family, friends... marriage….

Strangely it wasn’t ever enough… it never is… never would be. The more my own life, my decisions and everything that is me deny me complete access, the more I am tempted to give a bit more away. So when it wasn’t enough lately, I decided to have a baby… Blame it also on me being abnormally rotund for my own sweet little height. After three quarters of my life going waste in trying to diet I knew I wasn't going to lose it anyway. Hence, I decided to legitimize it.

Sumeet did most of the work for the next few nights. One month bygone and three pregnancy strips going blue (just to make sure… Engineer wife sure!!), I pronounced Sumeet to be more a man than ever before.

Life’s already a bit less my own lately… Nausea came with mood swings and soon my house had turned into an abuse-ment park… but well it’s all for a reason now you see.

Besides, it’s worth it… this addiction to losing control… this free falling... I feel one with gravity now.

It is strange though, because whenever gravity pulled me towards it my default disposition was to fight… but now I simply laugh. I believe its pregnancy hormones and Sumeet merrily agrees. So when we decided to go holiday in Spain simply because travel was the cheapest amongst all our other options… I decided not to crib or fight… and Sumeet gladly accepted my acceptance acceptingly.

Spain to be honest was never my first choice. If anything, I wanted to go to Turkey or Morocco or even Egypt… but not Spain you see. I’m tired of castles and forts and fancy buildings and beaches but most importantly I am tired of white skin… honestly!  Besides, Schengen visa obligations for an unemployed home maker such as me, are bordering onto ridiculous. The lady behind the glass panel at the visa office sent me back home twice for lack of proper paper work. A third time around she complained that my insurance policy does not specifically mention that in case of my death in Spain my ‘body would be brought back to England and not buried/burnt in Spain’.  I swore on my dead ancestors to her that my mourning husband would make sure my last rites happen in my homeland but she wasn’t prepared to trust my Asian tongue.  No one’s ever been so concerned about my funeral… I’ll give it to her for that. Finally after much scrolling through the 93 page long policy I found the exact death clause she was after. It is believed that death is not to be feared as it takes you to another world. Well it sure did in my case.

Spain it was then in February 2013. Just a day before we had seen our baby on the ultrasound and now she was with us on her first international holiday. We were ecstatic, the Spaniards  however, weren’t very obliging. The tourist information centre was a continent and more away at the Madrid airport and the woman behind the counter gave us wrong information with an additional sneer for me being Asian (I would like to believe). So we took the tube and ended up at the wrong station… miles away from our hotel. We decided to walk it with our human sized suitcases each and my additional belly. Most people when questioned, feverishly started shaking their heads and saying ‘no, no!’ to us and running away in fear. Five such encounters down we realised we were being misunderstood for being beggars. That was reassuring. Sumeet wore his Okley sunglasses and gave it another go. This time around the man we approached to ask for directions pounced at Sumeet first and then ran for his life. I assured Sumeet that from being a beggar he had successfully graduated to being a blind beggar. Madrid, Ola Madrid!! They don’t understand anything but Spanish… English they can’t speak to save their life.

Somehow an entire lifetime later we managed to reach our hotel facing Plaza de España. 

Plaza de España
The room was studio style so I could cook breakfast every morning. Besides, you look down and the entire Madrid was kissing your feet. We stepped out that evening to buy dinner and to be stopped by some odd oldies who would point at my belly… not for the bump but for the giant Nikon D 800 that was sitting over it smugly and then go rattling in Spanish, expecting me to understand and respond. All I could say over and over again was ‘no Spanish… ENGLISH’, to which they would shrug like saying how sorry they felt for me and then go on rattling in Spanish again… until Sumeet would steal me from the scene. With the entire economy in dire straits its commendable how they still stick to their guns and believe Spanish is ‘The Way’ or there’s no way.

We wandered aimlessly in Madrid for the next two days and saw many fine pieces of architecture… 


Banco De España

Plaza Mayor

Mercado de San Miguel

Templo de Debod

La Puerta Del Sol be honest however, nothing moved the earth from under our feet until we reached a street named Calle del Doctor Esquerdo. Everything that Sumeet could have ever asked for was available in the narrow confines of that curious lane. 

There was a comic shop (Sumeet is a hardcore ‘pannapictagraphists’ or comic book collector) and there were prostitutes (I am assuming this would be of interest to him, if only second to comic books). Yet he was parched, as the former was all Spanish and the latter… transvestites. Such is life…!!

The next day we went to a small municipality town called Toledo. Where there would be nothing… there surely would be an Asian I assure you. Toledo… who would ever imagine a Pakistani running a Donor Kebab shop in damn Toledo? Have you ever even heard of Toledo before? If it wasn’t for facebook and the desperation to prove that I’ve been places, I wouldn’t ever step on damn Toledo and here was a Pakistani brethren running a shop there. Well what must I say in our honour… we from across seven seas and a million miles… we the Asians are the epidemic that will suck the world, this way or that… there’s no hiding from us. You hear us Toledo? You full of monuments, you obscure little, on the hilltop, inconspicuous, inglorious Toledo!! 



Next on our list was a guided tour to Avila and Segovia. Our tour guide spoke for two miles in Spanish and then 200 yards in English. Sumeet’s blood pressure was rising. When we ‘the Indians’ pay such hefty money for anything but spicy food then we like to get four miles of English for every two miles of Spanish. Somehow I stopped Sumeet from throwing our guide out of the bus that entire trip. Anyway we were in for another bucket full of monuments and the drill on how these cities were famous because Christians, Muslims and the Jewish coexisted in harmony there for ages.  Now don’t tell me about harmony… we have more than many religions coexisting and cohabiting and coquetting and copulating for ages and yet we are third world.

Well! All in all I really enjoyed my four days in Madrid… I was clearly high on Estrogen.

Castilla y Leon

On the fifth day we took a superfast train to Barcelona. Booking the tickets for that was nothing short of a bullfight. The website is in… you got it… SPANISH. So you go here for the English translation.

The view en-route

Barcelona unexpectedly was everything awesome. Despite its usual terrain and all those monuments, Barcelona has something to it that you can’t describe with a few borrowed words from any language. Barcelona has a heart and it breathes. It talks and it dances and it does all those lovely little things that you fall in love with. Like it wakes you up with the best orange juice in the whole wide world, each morning and then it serves you the finest fruits and nuts on the entire planet and then it smiles to you with a lot of sunshine and so many beautiful friendly faces and then it takes you to some of the finest dining places you’d have ever been to. Oh Barcelona can be only described in one juicy, seductive, luscious, exquisite, succulent, opulent word… Olá!! I love that word as much as I love Barcelona… or is it Estrogen talking once again?

Both Sumeet and I had a high tide of emotional orgies in Barcelona for the next five days. Whether it be the buildings made by this dead chap call Gaudi or the bizzare streets tucked deep into the pockets of big, fat and famous La Ramblas… Barcelona flirted with us and we flirted back. Our hotel (Eurostar) room’s balcony was sitting on top of the yummy-licious fruit market La Boqueria… what more could a pregnant woman desire.

Some of the best and worst food I’ve ever had, both made our experience equally outstanding. My top recommendations would be Udon, Rangoli, Mayura and Creps Barcelona. You go eat at these four joints and you wouldn’t want to leave that city ever… despite the fact that the moment you land there… two random (Asian) well-wishers strongly warn you against pick pocketing. Thankfully no  one picked our pockets in all those days or they would have found nothing… we Indian men and women hide our money elsewhere.

Hoardings across Barcelona informed us of the annual carnival in a nearby beach town called Sitges and it was meant to be massive.So, with our hearts full of forlorn excitement; with my poor pregnant self, looking forward to witnessing some serious junky skin show and sex at THE CARNIVAL (please beep this portion for my feminist friends dear blogspot) I took the train from Barcelona to Sitges…

What we saw there was half a street with one, half naked senorita and half a dozen bloodcurdling-ly clad Señors dancing to half a sorry song and a bunch of halflings jumping around in excitement… we cut short our trip to less than half the planned time. Yet I loved every second of the experience… Estrogen it is!

Our trip was nearing its end… By this time we had fallen so deeply for Barcelona and its curious charms and amazingly lovely people and the in-numerous Harley Davidsons and Gaudi and his crazy buildings that we had started to believe we lived there… besides, I had someone else clean my room and I didn’t have to bother about cooking either… I could last a lifetime there without batting an eyelid. But alas all good things come to an end and so did Spain… for us.

In good faith my friends tell me that I saw nothing and that the real Spain lies in the south. Well I believe that the real Spain lies in your heart. If you have one… you will fall in love with Spain…

Ola España!!