September 12, 2014

Hope Floats

There has been so much devastation and loss in Kashmir recently. I can't even begin to imagine the horrors of being trapped on the terrace of your own home or school or shop, as it lies flooded, all your belongings having floated out with the raging water. To fight for survival not knowing whether your family and friends are okay, or if your children are managing in the school where they are trapped. To wait to be rescued for many nights, with no food or water or medicines or company.
In the midst of this heart wrenching nightmare, there is a sliver of hope. It isn't much, but it does exist. Hope has come in the form of our people. People who have come out in hoards from neighbouring villages to help the stranded. Who have taken time out from their jobs in order to help as much as they can. The army officers who are tirelessly rescuing people from all sorts of tricky situations and rowing them to the safety of overcrowded hospitals and dry ground - some who themselves have loved ones missing. There are people like my housekeeper here in Gurgaon, who has donated her hard-earned money so that medicines may be bought for the Kashmiris, because she wants to help in whatever way possible. Money from all over the country is steadily coming into rescue funds for the flood affected as citizen groups are reaching Kashmir to try and volunteer at camps and hospitals and assist the army in their boats.
I pray, as do prayer groups across the country, that the water recedes soon, and the damage is as minimum as possible. I hope we remember as a nation how it feels to come together, support each other, put the needs of others above our own for a change. I hope it doesn't take another national disaster to remind us of how good we can be.

November 27, 2012


We were at a housewarming party. Standing with me was a Dutch lady, a French gentleman, an American lady and our British host for the evening. 
Our Brit friend has been making the most of his time here, going out into the city, meeting new people, celebrating the festivals and generally having a good time. He seems to take everything in his stride, and not get into the ponderous nitty-gritties of what happened and why. Probably a good attitude to have when oceans apart from home in a country radically different to your own. He was telling us about the Ram lila celebrations he witnessed during Dussehra and how the cops let him into the VIP arena without a pass because he was a foreigner. It had been an experience he wouldn't forget.
At this point the Dutch lady took off about Indians, and how bad her experience has been here, how everyone says one thing and does another, how everyone oggles at her, language is a problem, everyone is so inefficient, and you get the picture. She put her hand into her pocket and pulled out her cellphone, saying 'Does this happen to you when you order pizza?' The text message she showed me read 'Hello mam. I took yr ordr. How r u njoying? Will u like 2 spk?' Domino's seemed to be changing their service style. I told her this had never happened to me or anyone I knew, but she wasn't really listening. She was already narrating other harrowing incidents to the American lady, who by this time was rather tipsy, and started telling me not to have children for another 5 years. I don't think she absorbed (or cared for) the full magnitude of Dutch angst that was being vented. The Frenchman happily offered everyone wine every ten minutes, and contributed to the discussion in delightful French-accented expletives and admiring gasps that ze pizzah man try thees.
Looking around I realized that one's experience of travel really is so closely intertwined with one's personality. No matter where you go or what you do, if you're wired a certain way your experience is bound to be affected by it. There are some who come to India willing to immerse themselves fully into the madness and chaos of it, letting the good experiences stay with them and the bad ones fade away such that later when they recall them it is with humour. There are others who vow never to return to this land of crazies. Either way, I imagine India to be as much of a shock to the senses as Europe is to mine. I cannot judge - we are everything the Dutch lady said. But, there is so much more to the country that someone like her will never grasp, that our friend the Brit will enjoy and laugh about and take back to England. 
How we travel - it says so much more about us than we think.

November 20, 2012


‘To me, my husband was my son’s murderer. He was also my daughter’s molester. A parasite nibbling on the Holy Book. He was Lucifer holding me by the throat and driving me to sin every night. He was Bhai’s destroyer, Amma Sain’s tormentor, Ma’s humbler and the people’s exploiter. He was the rapist of orphans and the fiend that fed on the weak. But over and above all this he was known to be the man closest to Allah ... the one who could reach Him and save us.’

Blasphemy was the first work of fiction written by Tehmina Durrani, published in 1998 by Ferozsons. A highly controversial book, it looks at the lives of the Muslim clergy and spiritual leaders or pir through the eyes of the main character, Heer, who is married off as a young girl to a prominent pir
While this treated as a great honour to her poor widowed mother, it slowly reveals itself to be the worst decision ever made for their family, and especially for her. Heer is subjected to violence, cruelty and extreme sexual abuse at the hands of her highly respected husband, a man ‘closest to Allah’, and soon discovers that she is not the only victim of his tremendous ego and megalomania.
I felt chills go down my spine as I read portions of this book; the writing is so brutally simple it makes everything you read seem that much more real. I could not put the book down, and am sorry to report that I actually felt sick once I was done reading it. I just wasn't able to digest the horror the book presented. To add salt to my wounded mind, I read that Durrani had based her novel on a true story, only changing names to protect the identity of Heer.
I know that all religious clergy and men of God are not to be painted with the same brush, but realizing that if even a small percent of the population is able to garner enough authority to act like Pir Sain (which can and does happen, unfortunately), makes me terribly afraid for religion and where it’s headed . . . 
Definitely not closer to Allah, that’s for sure.
Author and activist Tehmina Durrani

November 10, 2012

I Agree, It's the Same Thing

'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing 
you say to yourself?'
'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?'
'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?' said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said. 

― A.A. Milne

November 9, 2012

Peacocks and Sunshine

This morning I woke to the sounds of excited giggles outside the window. I looked out to find my cook’s daughters pointing and staring at two peacocks that had very calmly decided to strut around our lawn. They looked unimpressed by all the attention the kids were giving them, and more keen on discovering the hidden gems that lay in the shrubbery to the side. Quite magically, as we looked at the peacocks, the sun came up bright and strong (unlike what we’ve seen in days) and lit up the garden; almost a tribute to our morning guests, the smog gently pushed away so their colours could shine. After a few minutes everyone went off to where they were needed; the girls to school and the rest of us to work but I was left wondering . . .
These glorious creatures that drop in to visit our homes sometimes are so special – they’re quiet and lovely, minding their own business yet able to break out a serious dance move when the mood strikes. I hope we realize how lucky we are to still see them around the city. It’s like they’re there to remind us of what we could potentially lose if we’re not more careful with our planet.
Peacocks and sunshine – the right start to the day.

November 2, 2012

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

I don’t know when Karvachauth became a trendy event, but till I got married I was always annoyed by the women I saw laden with bangles and mehndi making such a celebration of it. I wondered why they couldn’t be more subtle about doing what they needed to for their husbands. Couldn’t they wear mehndi at home? Was it really necessary to wear that many bangles? The flashiness of it all put me off.
Now, in my second year of being married, I have a slightly different opinion. I’m still all for cutting down the flash factor but hey, this is Delhi and I doubt I’ll see flash leave here in my lifetime. What I’m more on board with now is celebrating the day. Why not? If you’re going to be hungry and thirsty all day at least be in a good mood. I’m all for making it as fun and special as possible, so if that means you need to sit around getting mehndi put all the way till your neck, go for it. Anything to not get hangry (angry because you’re hungry).
So, to everyone fasting for a husband or wife – you can do this! Have fun and before you know it the moon will be out.
Dinner is going to taste so good tonight.

November 1, 2012

Mountain Afternoon

You sit under pine trees, the breeze cooling your face and damp blades of grass crushed under your feet. The book you ambitiously carried to read outdoors sits forgotten next to you because everything else is so much more appealing – the clouds, the birds, the flowers. 
You have to make sure to breathe in all that fresh air so your lungs can hang onto it. Clear blue skies stretch for miles above you, making you wonder how people get any work done around here. It’s all so distracting; the beauty of everything. The rather persistent chirping of crickets that would normally annoy you feels like a pleasant background score. The tea you would have gulped down in the city takes on a magical quality here: it soothes and refreshes and makes you pause. 
You doze off, wake up and are still very much on schedule. There’s no hurry to get anywhere, do anything, be anyone. You stare at ants briskly moving in line. How ‘city’ of them.

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