Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Our kitchen wall needed some art work. Without it, our recent renovation wasn’t quite complete. How that renovation could have led to a divorce, is another story. Two people painting tiles together, especially grout, isn’t a happy scene. Especially if one is low in patience and the other is clinically panic-prone.  I am in a good mind to sue all the paint brands whose advertisements show a happy-looking couple painting walls with smiles on their faces….music in the background…wine and take-away pizza on the messy floor, casually splashing paint on each other just for fun. We tried all of that (except the deliberate splashing of paint; ours was totally accidental and the worst part of the project)…and trust me, it was a hundred miles from fun land.

Anyway, the tiles and the marriage were somehow intact at the end of the two-weekend long battle of paint, sweat and tears. But one of the walls looked naked without something on it.

It had to be a single piece (not a set of canvases) as I was reluctant to drill more than one hole on a newly-painted wall. It had to be somehow related to the kitchen theme.  And it had to be red, to match the rest of the d├ęcor. Needless to say, with such criteria, I was very restricted. Because I wanted it to be unique too, Ikea and the other popular homeware stores were out. What I was left with was expensive boutique stuff, way beyond our budget.

If I couldn’t buy one…surely, I could make one. So many of my friends paint, sew, knit, draw, and do all sorts of creative things. How hard can it be? With new-found confidence in my creativity, I walked into an art-and-craft store. I would need some paper, paint, brushes…easy. But nobody told me there were 342 varieties of brushes and 216 types of paint! Feeling like a complete idiot, I made my way through the different aisles. Yes, there were shop assistants around…but what would I ask them? “Hello, I want to paint something for my kitchen wall. I don’t know what and how. Can you help?” So I avoided that route altogether.

After a good couple of hours of browsing, I had practically read the instructions on all the different varieties of paint and brushes. Finally, I picked up some acrylic paint and some “normal" looking brushes (the kind I remember from my art classes back in kindergarten). Teeming with pride and the hope of creating something marvellous, I headed home. "A" was away on work that weekend; so I could have a quiet afternoon of creativity.

I had decided to paint a fork and a knife (see image above). Red ones, of course. Best to start with something simple, I thought. If I could find a decent frame for it, it would look nice on the wall.

I drew on the canvas with a pencil first, not trusting my shaky hands with the paint yet. Thank the Lord for erasers! I rubbed off my scribbles a dozen times until there was a hole in the paper. For god’s sake…it was just a fork and a knife! How hard can it be?

Pretty hard, it turns out. So I took a break….made myself a cup of coffee…and listened to some relaxing music. Back to the table…this time, I would nail it, I knew!

After four hours, I had something on the paper. It did look like a fork and knife. And it was red. I had nailed my brief. Now, all I had to do was to wait for A. I imagined the look of awe on his face when he saw this…and I was pretty damn happy with myself!

When he got home, there was a look on his face. But not quite of awe. More like a mix of horror and amusement. And all he said was “Let’s hang it on our wardrobe wall.”

Just so you know…that’s the only wall in our house that’s totally hidden from the public eye. In fact, even we don’t have a full view because of the way the clothes hang.

The rest of the evening was sombre.
Edited to add:
This is what finally hangs on that wall. When everything else fails....one turns to Ikea.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Mahalaya 2012

Contrary to last year, there were no major dramas this Mahalaya.

The Man-Who-Doesn’t-Get-Mahalaya actually made an effort this year and was surprisingly nice.

Not only did he not put up any fight when I told him I wanted to listen to the CD at 5am today morning, he actually downloaded Mahisasura Mardini (lost my CD again) for me last night! Believe it or not, I also convinced him to place the laptop on his side of the bed (saying that my bedside table was too cluttered already), which meant that he would have to hit the Play button at 5am. He agreed to that too (I am quite suspicious of the angelic behaviour).

Maybe I’m being evil. Maybe he was just too happy that I bought him a body pillow as a Mahalaya gift (and bought one for myself too). These are as tall as me and are just the right balance of firm and soft (not so soft that you feel like you’re hugging a squishy lizard…nor hard enough to remind you of a tree trunk). I would highly recommend it to anyone with back problems or partners who hate to be hugged when sleeping. I think body pillows make perfect Mahalaya gifts too. If you have a comfortable night’s sleep, you are more likely to be less reluctant to wake up in the morning. No?

Anyway, we went to bed last night hugging our new body pillows. And when the alarm went off, I nudged him lightly to see if a kick was to follow (like last year). Nothing. He actually turned to the other side and turned the computer on.
Suddenly, a horrible scary thought gripped my lungs. What if he had downloaded something else by accident? You know the weird things people post on the web these days with deceptive names! Damn, I should have checked. What if it wasn’t Mahisasura Mardini at all but yet another version of Gangnam Style? Can you imagine how scarred I would be for life if that was the case?

My misery did not last for long. The familiar voice sounded loud and clear and filled our room with the “pujo-pujo-gondho”.  Except that he had put it in a loop and the chandipath started again, just when it had ended.  

Would the goddess be angry for being invoked again, right after she has taken all that trouble to kill the evil forces? Does anyone know?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stuff that heroes are made of...

Now, I am the kind of person who carries a box of tissues even to a comedy movie…just in case there is some mush or teary moment. Been told a thousand times by embarrassed friends and family who have to listen to my sniffs and sobs “It’s just a movie…it’s not true. STOP crying!”

With Satyamev Jayate, it’s all true! The kind of truth that's stranger than fiction. But while I shuddered at the sight of dowry deaths and medical malpractices …..wept profusely at horrifying stories of ill-treated aged parents and female foeticides….shook my head in disbelief at the way we were treating our natural resources and some communities, I was mainly overwhelmed by the greatness and the goodness that still exist in our society. To me, the show was a celebration of people who have taken compassion to a whole new level…and have lived by the only thing that makes us different from other forms of life - our conscience.

This post is not about the epidemic of malpractices that seems to have crippled our nation. The show has covered that well enough. It’s about trying to analyse the how and the why behind those who are able to look beyond their immediate selves. In short, I am curious to know what heroes are made of….
While I haven’t personally come across female foeticide, I have seen/heard real instances (in varying degrees) of  dowry claims, untouchability, alcoholism, medical malpractices, domestic violence, resistance to inter-caste/religion marriages and sexual abuse. I am myself guilty of three things shown in the show – not conserving water as well as I should; not buying organic food (an indirect way of raising my voice against toxics in our food); not being able to support my Ma in her old age, as much as I would have liked to (being in different continents does not help). I have worked with children with disabilities….so it’s another subject close to my heart. That sums up my involvement with the 12 issues that were highlighted.

 Needless to say, I have mostly come across people who live privileged lives. That includes people from various socio-economic backgrounds. Mashi, an elderly lady who helps my Ma with her chores, has battled with poverty all her life…but I think even she is more privileged, when compared to most people interviewed on the show.

 We spend our entire lives as though we were made out of a template. Myopic with personal aspirations and problems, generations have come and gone living their lives in a certain pattern – chasing good scores in schools/colleges,  pursuing certain professions, paying off mortgages/loans, buying that dream car, saving for the occasional vacations, providing the best care and facilities to kids…and the cycle goes on.

But how do some people manage to break free from this self-centred pattern? What gives them the strength to have different dreams…dreams that will benefit not just themselves and their immediate family, but society at large?  What gives them the optimism and courage to do something about a problem….instead of taking the easy option of blaming others/government/infrastructure and saying “India will never change” or “What can I do?” or worse still “Why should I do it…it’s not my problem.”?

How does a Subasini Mistry dream to build a hospital for the poor, when she has just lost her husband to poverty and sickness? Doesn’t she have other things on her mind…like how she’s going to get the next meal for her little boy? Isn’t she a bereaved widow left with the huge challenge of raising her kid on her own, on the mere earnings of a roadside vegetable seller? Why does she think she needs to make a difference? What makes her think she can make a difference? Why not leave it for the government or the NGOs or the rich people, who clearly have the resources to do so (if not the intention)? Isn’t that what most people in her situation would do?

 What makes a Sunitha Krishnan dream of rescuing other rape victims like her? Isn’t the little girl of 16 scarred for life by the brutality of a gang rape? Shouldn’t anger and hopelessness be the predominant feelings tormenting her for the rest of her life? How does she detach herself from those feelings...or channel them for doing something positive? How does she overcome the temptation to “give up”? What makes her think that anything positive can possibly come out of her experience?

Why does a Sanjeev Kumar leave a promising MBA career to fight for the rights of unknown people in a distant village? When his colleagues and friends are perhaps fleeing the country and relocating to foreign lands that hold a better promise for the “house-car-vacation” dream…what makes him relocate to a village and spend the crucial years of his life there? Untouchability and caste system were not even “his problems”. Why not just shut his eyes to the suffering of strangers and chase the next “onsite” opportunity at work? Why does he want to be involved?

What makes a Naseema Hurzuk see beyond the helplessness of being a paraplegic and dare to help others with similar problems? She confesses how at one point in her life, she just didn’t want to live anymore. From there, how does she get to a point where she inspires others with disabilities to live happy, self-sufficient lives? Her words at the end of the interview provide the answers to a certain degree, “When you don’t feel like living for yourself, you must learn to live for others”.

This concept of “living for others” is almost alien to us.

For most of us, “others” consist of our own immediate family. The biggest sacrifices we are capable of making are the ones for our own children (like not taking a promotion that comes with a transfer or giving up a career to spend more time with them).  Sometimes, even making small life adjustments for our own parents seem too hard! At the most, we’ll lend some money to a friend in need…or sponsor the education of a few kids through our preferred charity. And we think that’s enough work-out for our conscience. We go to bed feeling happy that we’ve done something good for “others”. But we take care not to do anything that puts us into any sort of inconvenience.  Nothing that disturbs the pattern of our lives. While any sort of good is good, as the saying goes “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”

For our heroes, “others” could mean total strangers... people who were far removed from their own lives. It does not matter that they are themselves often in worse situations than those they are trying to help! Yet nothing deters them from their mission…not personal benefits, not inconvenience, not even big threats to their own safety and well-being!

What gives them this peculiar empathy that negates all their personal aspirations? Is it the balance of chemicals in their brains? Something in their DNA? Something in the environment they were brought up in? Something their parents did differently than ours when raising them? A life-changing incident that shook them from their very core?

What exactly is this strange, strong, beautiful species of real-life heroes made of? Can it be taught? Transferred? Inspired into others?

I am not sure what studies and surveys say about this…but if it’s something that can be taught or transferred, I want it included in our school curriculums. And guess what, for this one thing…am ready to go back to school.

 P.S. Apologies  if I have hurt anyone by using "generalisations" like "most of us".

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The BIO of a person who had no story to tell...

So, our company was updating its intranet and wanted all staff members to post brief bios.

I write for a living…but the idea of writing a bio freaked me out. Capturing in a few words what I have done for a living all these years, without sounding vain or frivolous, was clearly a challenge. Resumes are different – task-oriented and factual, detailed and often exaggerated. The person can almost hide behind their professional achievements or a fancy template. Moreover, you have a few pages to make your point. That’s my resume anyway…I don’t speak for everyone, of course.

Bios, on the other hand, need to bring out the essence of who you are as a person and as a professional. It’s like writing your blog profile, except that you can’t quite mention your OCD or your fear of cats. For a person like me, who’s not done anything that would make anyone raise their brows and say “Really! You did that?”, it’s even harder. No odd job as a poker machine technician or a cigarette tester or a window cleaner for a horny couple or a hairdresser at a correctional facility. Nothing that makes good stories. Nothing that makes even a bad story, for that matter. I remembered all the times when we had to write autobiographies of an ant or a shoe, at school. Autobiography of a technical writer clearly did not make it to the syllabus because it could scar kids for life (with boredom).

But it had to be done. And I managed to scribble this up, consoling myself that no one ever reads anything on the intranet anyway:

After completing her post-graduate degree in English Literature, D started her career in the NGO sector. Writing for the rights of children, she realised how powerful the pen indeed was. She was then offered a job as an Instructional Designer in the e-learning industry, and she took it up mainly out of curiosity to know what those words meant (some of her friends’ guesses were that an Instructional Designer would design charts/aids for teachers who were graphically challenged or would create fancy covers for text books no one wanted to read).

Ever since, she has pursued a career as an instructional designer, technical writer, content developer and report writer (for companies like Oracle, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the TATA group in India). No matter what the sector (finance, L&D, IT etc.) D's focus has been two-fold:
To create quality documentation fit for the target audience
To improve the way an organisation approaches and perceives its documentation tasks/processes
Keen to prove that good documentation ensures good communication, she has often been caught proof-reading bills, junk mails and post-it notes at home, much to her family’s annoyance.

 One day, she hopes to have her home-office in a tree house.

What do you think of it?
Must admit that this exercise made me think. Do bios become epitaphs when people die? Are visiting cards made from putting bios in compressors? Could a person make a living out of writing other people’s bios? Is there a Pulitzer equivalent for best-written bios? Was Tolstoy’s bio as long as his War and Peace? If Homer Simpson had a bio, what would it say? Would Joey copy Chandler’s bio and forget to change the name on the header? Things like that, you see. Important things. 
If anyone has answers to any of these, let me know. Until then, here’s hoping that your bios have a story to tell.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Of Jimmy Choo and All Things Profound

Warning – Some people may find this post shallow. Recommended for those in the mood for some mindless-profundity.

Where Am I?

  • If thy heart desires a Jimmy-Choo, thou shalt have it. Fake though it be.
  • If thy body aches and thy muscles twist, thou shalt be relieved. Massage is the cure for all.
  • If patting a tiger has been on the list of “top-10-things-to-do-before-I-die”, thou shalt be allowed a pat. And a picture with the cat.

If you have answered “Thailand/Bangkok” to the question above, now is the time to jiggle your backside in a “I-know-it-all” happy dance (the one you saved for your game-show win).

So Thailand was where I was in the second week of the new year. My 5-year wedding anniversary gift from A.

While I loved the shopping and the food and the massage and the tiger-patting, these were not my main take-aways from the trip.

The first thing my colleagues told me when they found out that I was going to Bangkok was “You will come back with your first fake Jimmy-Choo”. I did not quite comprehend what that meant, except that all of them had fakes of the biggest brands, courtesy their Thailand trips. Once in Bangkok, I was hit by a tsunami of fakes. You name it…they’ve got it. To my amazement, I wasn’t overjoyed. I was appalled. (Clearing throat and raising head to bring out the philosophical look.)

I believe we must all have wish lists of things we desire. In the petty materialistic world, these things can range from TAG-Heurs to Tiffanys to BMWs. If someone brought down the price of any of these so that everyone could afford them, would they still be our magical objects of desire? We yearn for them…work hard for them…save for them (ahem!)…so that one day (if we are fortunate enough), we can afford to have one, and rejoice at the accomplishment. It’s the journey to that illusive thing…the years of sighing in front of shop windows…the years of envying the lucky few who actually have them, that make the whole experience remarkable. If I could buy a BMW from a weekend visit to the grocers, I would value it as much as a bag of raw potatoes!

In Thailand, you can have a Jimmy-Choo at the cost of a bag of potatoes. It’s a good thing that everyone can have what they desire…some may argue. But at what cost (pun intended)? It’s a lie. Every time you walk out with the fake…you’re either making someone else envious with something that’s not even worth it. Or, being a joke to those who can tell the difference between real and fake (must admit, I usually can’t).

The shopping centres in Bangkok were gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. But I had to spend double the time looking for decent bags that did not sport some sort of fake branding. I remember asking a lady at the shop counter “Do you have anything without a brand logo on it?” And she looked at me as if I had requested to have her fingers for breakfast.

Now, I haven’t always been like this. Of course I have bought fake Gucci bags from New Market as a teenager. And I loved them to bits. But I am a teenager no more (said with a heavy heart). And it’s not like I don’t use anything non-branded. I have plenty of cheap bags and shoes to last generations (except that cheap things don’t usually last that long). But I have changed so much since I wrote this. I I hereby promise to never buy something that sports a fake logo.

And if this isn't the most mindlessly-profound post you've read, you surely need help with your reading list.