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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The autobiography of a peppermint candy


I was born in a candy factory with a thousand others. Packed in a group of 60 and weighing approximately 9 oz (255 g) collectively with our plastic wraps, we waited at a candy store to be picked. The box above us was taken by a fussy grandmother, who cautioned the boy beside her that sweets ruined teeth, and he would need dentures like her. The boy said: It would look kind of cool Grandma ! She said: Ok! Ok! I will get them, but do not forget to brush everytime you eat one.

One day, a sad looking man came around to the aisle where we rested. He picked us, smelled us and caressed us. His eyes moistened and he sniffled slightly. I wondered what made him so sad. Then, I remembered seeing him before with a little girl with golden hair and blue ribbons. It had been a while since she did not come with him. Some of my brothers and sisters said that she had probably died. Some said that others had taken her away because he was a bad father. I contemplated whether a bad father would weep for his child.

It seemed like we had been waiting for ages. Even in the comfort of the store, we felt we would outlive our shelf life. Our neighbors changed. The decor of the store changed. First, it was a Halloween theme, then Thanksgiving, and soon it was time for Christmas. Chocolate reindeer and premium assortments filled up every stack. The gummy bears and worms grew increasingly thin in population. We still waited for our fate.

The day before Christmas, the store was about to close early when two girls came. A brown and a white one. The brown girl said to the white girl: It was so nice of you to get us that tree. But I am sorry, I don't have much decorations. Maybe we could pick up a few candy sticks and ribbons to make the tree look happy. They both smiled and the brown girl grabbed us while she walked fast.

'They look really neat' she said to her friend.
'They taste great too' her friend said. 'Peppermint candies always get me nostalgic.' She smiled. And they both looked at each other like they knew what the other was feeling. They soon ushered us to the counter where the lady said: $13 for the candy, $5.60 for the rolls each. Total $ 29.80. The girls paid hurriedly: 'I can't wait to see the surprise the guys are gonna get when they see the tree' and they both giggled their way out of the store.


I waited patiently while the girls tied knots with the ribbons and unwrapped a few of my siblings to hang on the branches of a Christmas tree. A few of us were still remaining in the box, when one of the girls declared : I am tired. Let's get some sleep now. Did we hang the stockings yet?

One of them confirmed and then they switched off the lights and went away. Only the tiny light bulbs danced and the fairy on the tree looked so real that I thought it would fly away. I looked at the star on the tree top and I believe that is exactly when I fell asleep.

The next morning, there was a lot of commotion. The girls kept cooking the whole day and by evening, the guests arrived in groups. Two guys particularly caught my attention. The girls seemed to pay more attention to them and giggle more often at their jokes. At night, I saw one of the guys kiss the brown girl under the mistletoe. And I realized that like us, brown or white, at heart they were all candies too.

I also learned the name of the two girls - the brown one was called Anouska or Anouk and the white one was called Lisa.


Two days after Christmas, Anouk packed her suitcase and bid Lisa goodbye. Lisa said: I wish you had stayed for New Year's.
Anouk: I know, I wanted to go to New York too. But my Grandma is ill. I will see you soon.
Lisa: Did you take everything?
Anouk: Yeah. All the documents. I have to come back to this country. My life is here. She laughed.
Lisa: Maybe you should take some candies too. Wait, I guess there are still some from XMas.

She collected us from the tea table and shoved us in Anouk's back pack. Anouk hugged her and went out in the snow.

I don't know how long we waited to see light again. Anouk unpacked us as soon as she reached her home. She said: Ma, is Hari Kaku still around?
Anouk's Mom: Yes, he comes once in a while to visit us, though he is too old to work now. And he has grown a bit weird since his daughter died. His grandkids live with him now. Even his wife is growing old. I don't know how long they will sustain. The kids are too young. Your father and a few of his friends give him a monthly allowance, but it must be difficult with that meager sum.
Anouk: How many of them?
Anouk's Mom: Three kids I believe. Two boys and one girl. And Hari Kaku and his wife.
Anouk: Will he be coming to see me?
Anouk's Mom: I guess so, when he knows - he sure will.
Anouk: What if I visit them tomorrow, the first thing in the morning?
Anouk's Mom: But a few people are invited for lunch, don't be late.
Anouk: Ok Ma.


The following morning Anouk got up early. She had a tired face and I felt that she needed rest. She put on her jogging shoes and her gym attire and looked at us for a moment. She thought for a while and picked us before she jogged out into the foggy street.

After some time, I felt a stench fill me. I tried to imagine what horror or hell was that. But I realized that people lived in that fetor. It was filth everywhere. And the houses were so small and close together that you couldn't say one from the other. I even wondered if they really were houses at all. They had canvas walls and open latrines. I understood where the malodor came from. Soon the muddy roads gave way to a brick scattered path. Anouk calculated each step to reach the only concrete house I saw from her pocket.

She knocked at the open door twice and called : Hari Kaka, Hari Kaka.
The torn curtains waved a little and a tiny, dark man came out. His vision didn't seem very clear. He had cataract in his eyes. And yet, he recognized the voice instantly.

Anouska Mamoni ! Come inside !!

Did you have anything to eat?

Anouk nodded in negative
Would you like to have some ginger tea I used to make that you loved so much?
She nodded again. An affirmative.

Her eyes brushed around the room. It gave the impression of a curio shop. A nightmare for an interior designer with even the simplest taste. Anouk had seen elaborate designs and mansions, but she knew the love these frail walls harbored couldn't be found in a King's palace. Warm tears rolled down her cheeks while she stealthily took out a bunch of currency notes and hurriedly shoved it between the sheets of the small bed.

Soon Hari came round with his wife and his grandchildren. She sleeps in the kitchen now, with Jaya. You know my granddaughter?' Anouk remembered seeing her when she was a kid. Now, she had grown up a little. She had the long sad face of her mother and those big black eyes.
Anouk: How did it happen Kaka?
Hari: What to say Mamoni, it was my fate. I couldn't pay them enough dowry and so they burned her to death.
Anouk: What??? But she had been married for eighteen years now !!
Hari: I had been giving my son-in-law something or the other before. But now, I have grown old and incapable.
Anouk: Did you report it to the police?
Hari: Your father insisted that I should. But I begged him not to. At least, they let me have her kids.
Anouk: But I am sure they would be able to take better care.
Hari: It is a good thing to think but reality is different. He is getting married again. I don't want my Ratna's kids to grow up with a step mother.
Anouk: But then....?
Hari: Don't you worry sweet Didimoni. Your father has promised Tapan - the eldest a job if he passes school this year. And he has been working hard.

Anouk studied the teenager. Did he comprehend fully the weight of responsibilities he had on his shoulders? Of his old grandparents? Of his siblings? Anouk looked away. Kakima had got her the tea in a cup and some biscuits on a plate. She wondered if this was the only one in the house to serve guests. Anouk offered the biscuits to the kids who had hovered round her. They smiled and refused. She smiled knowingly. They were like Hari Kaka.

Suddenly, she remembered something and gathered us from her pocket. ' I got these.'
The kids shouted in unison. 'American chocolates !! '
Anouk: Yes. Only they are called peppermint candy sticks and sometimes they are used to decorate Christmas trees. She offered each one and she unwrapped one and took a bite herself.
I was given to the youngest kid. A boy about the age of six. He clutched at me and ran away. I could hear the others laugh.


We are destined to please, but temporally so. We die in the mouth of our devourer and that is our ultimate fate. Or so we are made to believe. But I have lived - way beyond my shelf-life - in a small box full of hidden treasures. I share my new house with a broken compass, a stringless yo-yo, a dry leaf from an unknown tree, and a spinning top. I survived the attack of an army of ants and oppressive heat when I almost melted, before I was shifted to this abode. Maybe this was my destiny.

* Note: For more short stories, click on the label 'short story'*

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day and Night

All characters and incidents in this story are imaginary. Similarity to any person or situation is highly regretted.


'I love him and I hate him to the same degree. I have to let go of one emotion.
But no. It can not be. I seek indifference. That is letting go.'

An year ago, I didn't think I'd be saying this to myself. We were happy. A newly wedded couple, blissfully unaware of what the future might bring. It was on a fateful night we were walking down the street after a late night show when the muggers cornered us. They look his wallet and our belongings. But when they turned to leave, one of them saw his most precious possession- me.

He tried to make a faint effort to save me, but they were armed and dangerous. I saw them fist him to a bloody pulp before they came for me. And yet, I imagined that a miracle would give him the strength to save us both. But no help came. He lied beside me, with his limbs twisted ominously. I can't say who I was more scared for at that moment.

They ravished me one after the another, until my tired screams turned into stifled whimpers. The last thing I saw before I lost my senses was a vague outline of his body. I was hoping he is still alive.

The morning came, I opened my eyes in a white room. I wondered if it was all just a bad dream. But the pain in the body was real. And I saw scratches and teeth mark everywhere. My body disgusted me. I felt warm tears tickle down my face and onto my pillow. For a while, I lied on my wet pillow, forcing my eyes closed- imagining, like I did as a child, it wasn't true.

I saw a plump woman in uniform. I asked her about my husband, not sure what to expect. She said he still hadn't come round.


The harrowing details of our reporting the incident and our endless wait to help identify the culprits can be spared. When we came back home together, we felt like strangers to each other.

He wouldn't look at my face, the face that he once loved. I wondered if he despised me. Months passed, we lay beside each other without him turning once. I felt he is awake, but even in the darkest hours, he didn't make an effort to touch me or look towards me. I felt I wanted to cry. And I cried. I cried till my tears dried the inside of me. I couldn't feel the pain anymore. It was a void, empty feeling.

We went on about on our lives as usual, but something had changed. Something which I alone could not set right.


I looked at her when she was not aware- while she fixed breakfast for me, with her wet hair hanging loose on her back. Sometimes, when she was not at home, I'd take a whiff of her clothes to feel her presence. But I couldn't look into her eyes or touch her or make the slightest effort at a conversation. I felt my voice would give away my guilt. Yes, my guilt . Of not having tried enough to save her.

Sometimes, I wondered if she knew that I was still conscious when they devoured her. I heard her calling my name, trying hard to look at me amidst those dirty hungry fingers. Her mouth being torn apart, and bit by bit her whole body.

She kept crying and calling my name. But I lied like a coward. Afraid of more blows, of the knives, of being shot in the head. Afraid of ending my miserable life, instead of rushing to her and holding her hand and telling her that she was not abandoned. That I felt her pain. For a wretched moment, I even hoped she would just stop calling my name, lest they should think I was still alive. And for that I have not forgiven myself. I never will in my whole life.

* Note: For more short stories, click on the label 'short story'*

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Watch it till the end and maybe, like me, you too will marvel at what a change of perspective can do.

Friday, December 19, 2008

For Mark

and Arko.

Priorities: When you are down to your eyeballs in your coursework, the only thing that matters to you is an A or A-. But I heard someone say - the most crucial thing in the morning for him was to make sure that his poop was alright.

For a moment, I was taken aback - you only consider it in mirth- the possibility of your fecal matter becoming your prime focus. In a passing comment- you might even say to a close friend, 'You look constipated today.' But to hear it in a serious undertone, even if said very matter-of-factly, something strikes you.

It was an unusual meeting resulting from an unusual request. I had just got back from my July 4th weekend in New York and my gtalk status read: Back to Boston. Prompt came a ping, from someone I had not spoken to since ages. And never met.

He told me, quite concerned, about one of his best friends getting treated for cancer in Massachusetts. He was living with his sister currently in Cambridge. Now Cambridge is just 15 -20 mins on the T from where I reside and is one of my frequent haunts. I didn't think it'd be too difficult to drop by and pay a visit to his friend. Arko furnished me with Mark's address, mobile number and a photograph so that I could identify him.

I wanted to make sure that I didn't appear like a salesgirl trying to sell laundry detergent at his doorstep,so , over a text message, I duly introduced myself, my intended purpose of visit, and mentioned the person on whose behalf I'd be visiting.

There was a certain discomfort, as you can understand, regarding the way I'd have to get around to ask Mark about his illness and treatment. I am grateful that Arko believed I had the delicacy.

When I took the bus to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, it was raining. And I seriously considered my sanity with suspicion. But when an hour later I walked down to Binney Street and met him, I felt it was worth it. He made the conversation easy to make and while we sat at the institute cafeteria, he offered to let me have something. I didn't mention that I had skipped lunch that day in fear that I'd miss the inbound bus, and be late for my appointment, immediately after which he had a treatment session scheduled. I wasn't really hungry anymore but I picked a box of fruits.

We clicked some pictures so that he could send them over to his friends. He told me about his cancer treatment, his stay with his sister, his house renovation, how much he missed playing basketball and California.

It was like talking to a person you have known for sometime. By the end of our meeting, I was praying that he got well soon. By September, he was much better and back in CA. Though he'll be visiting Boston next August again for some extended treatment, his cancer is almost untraceable now.

Lesson for me: Living someone else's life for a moment lets us make more allowance for the other person's predicament and infuses humility in what we otherwise take a vulgar pride in. Maybe even a certain amount of reverence in what we consider our mundane life.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I kicked a purse snatcher :D

The Incident:
I was walking down at William Street, Cambridge and about to enter SG's house when a man approached me and asked :'What time is it?" I stopped to look at my watch. 6:25 PM. He tried to snatch my purse - once, twice, three jolts. But the loser didn't know I could scream so hard. Neither did I. I kicked him left and right- and when he got confused and stepped back- I looked at him, still holding it - breathing heavily and asking- "You want my purse? Come, get it." You should have seen him bolt like a rabbit.

He snapped the sling of my favorite purse though he couldn't take anything.

After math:
By the time my friends came out, he had run towards Auburn Street and vanished. SG was a shirtless rescuer when he was out on the street - still trying to figure what had transpired, and apparently went back to ironing clothes when I said : 'No point chasing him in the cold like this.' Finally, the neighbors peeped out to see if everything was all right. It had all happened in just a few minutes.

I reported it to the Cambridge Police an hour later. Taking some time to gain resilience- it was upsetting. The routine query and my describing the guy followed. The officer looked at my shoes when I told him that I had kicked him, and he remarked: 'That must have hurt him !' I said :'I hope so.'

He asked me if I could identify the culprit if I saw him again and said that a detective might get in touch with me later.

We duly thanked the officer and went to the potluck. They loved the baked chicken legs I made. It was a great party. I specially liked the making of "Feuerzangenbowle" (fire pliers punch)

Don't worry, we didn't have to drink it with the fire.

My analysis:
We had an ad shoot at Prudential, and I was dressed in formal and killer boots. Probably that incited him. Only if he knew I am a Poor Indian Graduate Student (PIGS), carrying everything in my purse- including my new phone and my camera for the party. And of course, my wallet with cards and cash in it, key rings, a perfume, comb, a DVD I had to return. I thought I was carrying my passport too. I wouldn't have given it away for anything.

I had the potluck to attend so I was carrying some food - that put me at a disadvantage. Usually they target women with infants or heavy loads.

He looked like a drug addict to me - in dire need of some cash.

One of my friends said : He was too slow, if it was your purse.
I said: I probably look less dangerous than I am.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Congo Crisis

Thanks to Rutger

And I agree to his saying :'People worry about the wrong things in life... period.'

For more, read this.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Red Line Fight Sports

I owe this one to Sangram (in blue and with head band below).

One of the girls exclaimed: 'You look excited !'
I checked my body language to see what gave out that message. Sitting on the edge of the sofa, leaning forward, fingers clasped up to my chin, intense vision, and my face squirming at every punch- you don't need to be Tonya Reiman to interpret that. I had to get up to have a closer view of the guys practicing in the ring after they had rehearsed some new techniques on the floor.

'You can't be tired and you can't be sorry' said the instructor, Lyle, when one of his students said 'Sorry', after hitting his opponent on the face in a practice session. He summoned the rest of the clan to 'be a good friend' and share the punishment of push-ups. He joined in too. They were already tired from hours of practice but admitting it meant added penalty. To top it, he had them stop mid-way, and while they tried hard to keep pace with him, he looked up at me, smiling complacently. I have to admit that he is a seasoned sportsman and physically more fit than kids half his age.

It is not just about venting your frustration when your boss is a pain in you-know-where, or your significant other misunderstands you or the economy is taking a nose dive. It is something you would probably like to join in when you have been a gym inhabitant for years and intend to take yourself to the next datum plane of existence. ( Darn, Jonathan keeps haunting me !) Less philosophically, and more practically - it is a good way to learn a few defense techniques even if your are not planning to enter the pro- league.

Just off the T-stop at Central Square, between Dunkin Donuts and the liquor store, the entrance is easy to miss if you are not paying attention. But once you are inside, you know what's going on.

I couldn't help mentioning this from a Marketer's point of view: they have rebranded themselves from 'Boston Sanda Kung Fu' and relocated to Cambridge from Downtown. Very strategic ! Now, that I have done my free WOM (Word-Of-Mouth) advertisement, I can get back to my public policy case study. See you there !

Link: Red Line Fight Sports

Offered training in : Kickboxing, Kung Fu, Wrestling, Brazilian Jujitsu.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The most romantic thing

...I saw in a long time was while coming back from my Business and its Environment class in Wheatley today. The walls of the whole hallway in the first floor near classroom 0055 was filled with handwritten posters, saying the same thing in different languages:
"Will You Marry Me?"
I discerned English, Hindi and French among others. At the end, it was signed Daniel Louis Sullivan. I don't know what the girl is going to say, or if she's going to see it before the housekeeping staff decides to take these off from the walls. But I was amazed by the amount of effort it probably took him to do that, in spite of translation tools and helpful friends. Dan boy, you rock!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Only for gadget lovers: my new baby : G1

And yeah, I think it's much cooler and more compact than the iPhone. Steve, no hard feelings. :D

Friday, October 24, 2008


I'm sure every culture has a code for that one (following up on my post on 'The Culture Code' :D)

It brings to my mind a mosaic of images- Mom and Dad cooking for me, Grandma's caresses, lying on the grass lawn with my parents and watching shooting stars in the sky, Beena Didi, Ashu Kaku, my pet dog which lives no more, the treasured suitcase full of Tintin and Asterix comics under my bed, the cupboard that has all my soft toys and Barbies, the book shelves and movie collection, pictures on the wall and a myriad of other things. People and possessions.

But most of all - it means 'security'. In my childhood, however, I detested the idea of being driven around everywhere I wanted to go or have a home guard trail me everytime I stepped out of my house. Probably, an aftermath of a kidnapping attempt on me and my elder bro when we were kids. I wanted to explore the world on my own. See the colors and sights, try to sense what's good or bad myself.

When my parents came to drop me off at my hostel for my undergrads, I was excited. But then my cousin brother (Misti Da), who was residing in Delhi at that time, said: 'Don't worry, we'll be there if you need us.' It was antithetical. I knew I wouldn't be seeing my parents for a while. I had not taken this into account ! It was a beginning and an end.

Sometimes, kids start living outside their homes earlier or later than I had. Nothing new. My point is - most of you know how it feels to be away from home and probably attach a different meaning to 'home' now. It might not mean what it meant before. For better or for worse.

Growing up the way I am, being 'homesick' is considered a repugnant weakness or the aftermath of illness or inability. My mother always told me success stories which inevitably ended : '...and then he went to live there* (variable) and is doing great professionally.' Fairy tales were my own vicious indulgence. I don't remember my parents ever buying me Cinderella or Snow-white. Little Red Riding Hood - maybe.

So, when your éclat is judged on the magnitude of your well-being away from your home, it becomes a little embarrassing to admit how much you miss 'home' at times. Or the home you had as a child (contrasted with the possibility of your owning one yourself )

Anyways, all that rambling spurred from the likelihood of my going home this December. A toast everyone, to home, sweet home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

There's no Plan B. This is it.

If you have a plan B you are planning to fail in A and that's not an option. Agree?

Friday, October 10, 2008

In Pursuit of HappYness III

Unlike some sages of the old, I believe- you can't be happy by secluding yourself. You might not get hurt by being passive, but you won't be happy either. When you want happiness, you have to involve yourself in what you do. And since just one thing or one person can't give you all the happiness, you have to engage yourself in numerous creative activities that make you happy. Naah, more.. that get you ecstatic. Whether it is composing music or working for the less privileged- you have to give yourself a chance to bring out the best in you - in something which you probably didn't know existed as a potential.

And then you can channelize you energy into the selected few- to maximize your happiness- or state of well being. The criteria for choosing them might differ from individual to individual. In the end, everyone defines happiness for himself/herself.

In a lot of ways, I find the Indian education system flawed in this regard(at least during the time I was a part of it). I don't think there is ample scope for a child to choose her area of expertise. Most parents often have preconceived notions about success and they direct their offspring to attain those standards of excellence which they deem to be correct- or are the fruition of their own failed aspirations.

'Let me be like a river. Let me have the right to choose my own path. ' - is what every child should say. I have been fortunate in this regard. My parents never imposed their biases on me. They just suggested alternatives. However, it pains me immensely to see some parents in my immediate family struggling with their kids to excel in domains which they have no talent at.

In Bengali they say - Gaadha pitiye ghoda kora jaay na ( You can't transform a donkey into a horse by beating it) But that is for a farmer who doesn't know the uses of a donkey. Fortunately, there are parents with better discretion.

I wonder what Leonardo Da Vinci's mother (*disregarding/taking into account the historical conjectures made about his personal life) would have had to say about this?

(* Leonardo was the illegitimate son of Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine notary, and Caterina, a peasant who might have been a slave from the Middle East. Source : Wikipedia)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

My thoughts on Agartala blasts

This is a word-for-word copy of a group mail I sent home.

Thanks for the update. The media could have been more responsible in handling such news. But when the headlines along with 'Agartala Blasts', is "SRK watches Drona premiere', you can imagine how callous we have become towards such things.

Worst of all, we play the blame game. The government for not having more stringent anti-terrorist laws. The police for not being omniscient. And the mainland media for covering blasts in Mehrauli more than in Agartala during prime time because they don't have enough correspondents in the fringing states.

What we don't realize most of the times is the worst effected- the common man - me and you are the most responsible for it ourselves. I understand that during the frenzy of a festive season, it is difficult to be alert. I, personally, seem to be lost in my thoughts most of the times. For those to whom it doesn't come intrinsically- they can excuse themselves.

But the ones who can- specially the young - in body or mind - can volunteer to form core anti-terrorist groups - at least temporarily until the Pujas are over peacefully.

Last afternoon, I was having almost a heart attack (not exaggerating but I stopped breathing for a while) when I read the sms***: 'Hope your folks are all same, there were serial blasts in Agartala." No one ones to see their hometown being ripped apart. What we fail to see is - Mehrauli or Jaipur or Agartala - it is our home. Whether it is religious fanaticism or political agenda- it's equally inexcusable

Without sounding too pedagogic, I'd recommend you to take some time out of your busy schedules and watch , 'Mumbai Meri jaan', which seems to me a realistic depiction of the Mumbai blasts ands its aftermath.

Have a great week ahead. And enjoy the Pujas. My humble wishes.

*** Thanks to Shashi, who tried calling first. I was outdoors when I got the news

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What is in a name?

..or a post-name?

I am a member of a certain group in Google, which is pursuing a noble mission back home, and I resort to using first names when I reply to the group mails.

Most people in the discussions refer to each other as 'Da'. (short for Dada= elder brother) Though I do not know most of them personally, I know for sure that there are some people for whom the appropriate suffix would be 'Kaku' or 'Jethu' (Uncle)

When I first joined my B-school, my Program Director insisted that I use his first name (that too Bill, instead of William) and not 'Sir'. It took me some practice.

That reminds me of the time when I was in middle school and I used to dig this tv series called 'Blossom', where the daughter called her father by his name. I demanded that I be allowed to call Dad 'Amit' (short for Amitabha)

Mom was scandalized( who had once shocked her mother-in-law by calling Dad by his name after marriage.) Dad, as usual, indulged me saying: It's not what you call me that matters. I don't think you'll respect me any less if you call me by my first name. I didn't continue with it- partly to save Mom from concussions, and partly because the fad didn't influence me enough.

However, I have a severe aversion to the pronoun 'tui'. (Hindi: equivalent 'tu') I feel it is derogatory. Though I use it to address my elder brother and some of my really close friends, most of the times, it is ' Aap'. In fact, we still laugh about the time I called my roommate ' Aap' the first day I met her.

Tumi or Tum is relatively safe. What do you think?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seasons of love

Click on image to enlarge
A : Chori Chori jab...

You need a little background for this. At least, you need to watch the song Chori Chori from Kareeb in this video around 1:45-2:27.

Back in 1998, when the movie got released, I was in the eight or ninth grade. My elder brother, who was pursuing his undergrad from Allahabad, had come home for his vacations. Needless to say, this song was a hit among youngsters and my brother insisted : Sis, you gotta watch this ! one day when it was being played on the TV.

I made a weary face and demanded: What is there to watch? A girl and a boy are getting wet in the rain and are getting paid for doing it.

I probably loathed the unnatural depiction. But my maternal uncle who overheard the whole conversation, looked at me in great surprise : Rashmi, tui boro hoye gechis! (Rashmi, you have grown up!)

Didn't know about that. Don't feel so sure even now.

Love was commercialization by dream merchants.

B: Bawre se is jahan mein, bawra ek saath ho,
Is sayani bheed mein, bas, haathon mein tera haath ho

Then came the age of miracles, when the diet of romantic comedies that HBO and Star movies fed me with, finally began to take their toll. I did begin to believe in a Prince Charming. Not necessarily a knight in a shining armor on a white horse, even a rugged looking chap on a mule would have sufficed- but it didn't happened.

I probably made the mistake of giving into that nudge of looking for Mr.Right.

Listening to Annie's song transferred me to a world where I'd lie on dew kissed grass, with a starry night sky above me- imagining the face of a stranger, lying beside me and holding hands.

But I soon got disappointed. My imagination imposed unwarranted virtues on a person- raising him to the status of a demi-god, and I felt let down easily. Maybe I 'expected' to be disappointed.

Love was Annie's Song.

C: The melody stops here

Now, I feel that it is not possible for one person to be everything you want to be. In fact, you shouldn't expect perfection from anyone else except yourself. Focus on evolving yourself. When you pine your hopes on someone else, you are likely to get hurt easily and unnecessarily.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back to being the dreamy eyed creature in Phase B but I can't fool myself. Yet, I smile when I see old couples holding hands or kissing each other.

Love is something that stands the test of time.

Disclaimer: 'Love' has been used in the strictly romantic sense. It is not the emotion you experienced when your mother gave you an extra helping of your favorite rice pudding. Thank God, I believe in that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Culture Code

The author, Clotaire Rapaille, an internationally acclaimed cultural anthropologist and marketing expert, shares some techniques he has employed in scores of Fortune 100 companies to effect the bottom line - profitability.

Freudian philosophy dictates that individual unconscious guides each of us in unique ways. Jungian philosophy professes that collective unconscious guide us as members of the human race. The book illuminates a third unconscious - the cultural unconscious.

He stresses that emotion is the energy required to learn anything. For example, when parents forbid a child to go near a hot pan, the child might not fully comprehend the magnitude of danger until he touches it- experiences the pain and learns actively. The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion creates something widely known as an imprint. ( A term first applied by Konrad Lorenz )

The author was working with autistic children in Paris. The following is an excerpt from the book:

After one particular lecture at Geneva University, the father of a student approached me.
"Dr. Rapaille, I might have a client for you," he said.
Always intrigued at the possibilities offered by another case, I nodded with interest. "An autistic child?"
"No," he said, smiling. "Nestlé."

At the time, focused on clinical and scholarly work, I barely understood what the word "marketing" meant. I therefore couldn't possibly imagine what use I would be to a corporation. " Nestlé? What can I do for them?"

But he did when he went ahead with the assignment on a sabbatical. The Swiss company was trying to sell instant coffee in Japan without much success. During his sessions he discovered that most Japanese, in a tea drinking nation, didn't have any imprints of coffee.

Nestlé devised a new strategy and created desserts for children infused with the flavor of coffee but without the caffeine. The younger generation embraced these desserts. Their first imprint of coffee was a very positive one, one they would carry throughout their lives.

Similarly, when Chrysler wanted to launch a new vehicle, American consumer surveys mentioned gas mileage, handling, and cornering ability etc. None of which the author believed because he claimed the answers were driven by logic. However, after his discovery sessions, which inevitably include:

One hour of playing the alien or 'professional stranger' where he asks the participants to explain what a product is and for what purpose it is used. By the third hour , where participants lie on the floor with pillows and listen to soothing music - people separate themselves from their cortex or the 'logic brain' and finally begin to say what they mean.

The American code for cars is IDENTITY. And this gave birth to PT Cruiser, an aggressive car but with average gas mileage and safety ratings. When the Stuttgart based company Daimler-Benz acquired Chrysler (I'd say around 1998), PT Cruiser was under production and the new executives of Daimler Chrysler predicted it would fail, because the German code for cars is ENGINEERING. Believing it would be a marketing disaster, they relegated production to one plant in Mexico.

This turned out to be a huge (although understandable) mistake. German executives responded negatively to the modest quality of the car's engineering. American consumers responded positively to the car's high level of identity. The plant in Mexico was ill equipped to keep up with demand, and there were long waiting lists. If the new executives at Chrysler had understood the American Code for cars, and had relied on it rather their own Code, they would have avoided the many problems they had getting the desired number of PT Cruisers onto American Highways.

The pages are filled with many such wow moments and you are fascinated by the acknowledgment of differences in target markets based on cultures. A chapter in every basic Organizational Analysis class, but something we often overlook while formulating business strategies. This book makes an interesting read for both Marketing majors and non-business folks alike.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A birthday present for me

I don't expect you to feel the way I felt while reading it, but maybe you'll know why it is such a special gift. Thank you Dad, I'll treasure this for years to come. And yes, I don't think anything else speaks of me so completely- including my greatest vice.:D

"She is like a multifaceted diamond, meaning many things to many people, but to me she is a daughter and good friend. Today, on her birthday, she is thousands of kilometers away from her mother and me and this testimonial is the only present I can offer her.

Do I know her from the first day in her life? No. When she had been born I was away and controlling a law and order problem created by an awful S. H. O. under me and my boss would not just allow me to leave my headquarters. Add to it, a flood which washed away all the bridges around my headquarters. I came to see my little new-born angel fourteen days after her birth. My wife was not, naturally, what you would call an idol of calmness to see my face. Little did she know that day - or for that matter- knows even today- that I had to drive my jeep, do more than some balancing acts twice across iron beams placed as improvised bridges over two turbulent rivers. My driver was hardly interested to drive the jeep across the rivers saying he did not want commit suicide so early in life.

And then, I saw my little darling slowly grow up and blossom into a lovely creature any father would be proud of. She is a great loyal friend to her friends; gorgeous and adorable goddess to some; has two solid shoulders to cry on and is a wonderful listener of sad tales to some people. She is conscientious from her childhood and did not have any confusion about gray areas in life – she knows whether an object is black or white.

A dreamy girl, she always had some dreams, dreams of different kinds and some of them may make her laugh now. After watching ‘The Sound of Music’ she decided that she would become a nun, someone like Mother Abbess. I am sure she has given up the idea now. After she has been to the USA for her MBA she has changed a lot and has become a more pragmatic woman. She has been pursuing a dream of a different kind now. I know that she is faithful to her dreams and will pursue them till she achieves them.

She is highly possessive of her near and dear ones. Only about ten years back, one day, she saw a little neighbor girl hugging me (I was not hugging her). She became livid and demanded to know the reason for showing so much affection to a neighbor's daughter. She was so angry that she misjudged her steps on the stairs and fell down. Imagine! If there is a word beyond ‘livid’ the word has not been invented yet. And this little story is only a warning to my future son-in-law – be prepared to be killed for infidelity.

When time demands she is ready to work 24/7 and at times she can be very relaxed and lazy, enjoying herself. Probably that’s how life is meant to be. When she got her book, ‘The day I was proven wrong’, published she really worked very hard to change the SMS lingo of her blog to proper book language. After reading her blog and then the blook a journalist friend of mine remarked, ‘She is our own Arundhati Ray’. I know she does not like such comparisons and wants to become only ‘Aparna Kar’, but there is a long way to go before she becomes ‘Aparna Kar’. She is a natural story teller but needs a good publisher with aggressive marketing, lots of which are in attendance behind all best-selling books.

Well, I can keep on writing with no end in sight but there has to be an end to everything. At the end I must say that she is a rare character in the present age because you don’t always find people who are ready to tell the truth even at the cost of harming themselves. Yes, that much of impracticality is there within her but the moment you know her you know that she is not a fake creature, she may be intelligent, smart but she is just natural herself, simple and reliable – and I am proud to be known as her father. I don’t believe in rebirth – otherwise it would have been easy for me to say that I want a daughter like her in every birth. "

Monday, September 08, 2008

When tomorrow comes: chapter 3

This is the third installment of the series.

It was years ago, but it felt like it had happened yesterday. The smell, the sight, the colors were so well etched in her mind- she could almost live them again. Suddenly, she was glad to be going home. Even if it meant that a lot of things would have changed over the years, and the snapshots from her memory would have hardly any semblance to what she would see. She knew of the possibility- but it didn't disappoint her anymore.

Truly enough, a lot of things had changed. The airport of the small town had expanded and gnawed into the surrounding forest. She didn't remember seeing so many flights taking off or landing either. It was the mark of progress -or that is what some would have liked to believe.

She met her parents at the airport lounge. Her father brought her a bouquet of her favorite flowers and her mother smiled and hugged her quietly. She had always been a silent woman- appearing almost stoic. It took Pri years to realize that she was conditioned to be so. Expressing emotions openly was considered vulgar in the family her mother was wed to.

Pri loved the way her mother smelled. She had a unique fruity fragrance- her body esters. As a kid, she missed her when she went out to work and Pri would cling to her clothes and go to sleep in the afternoon.

She walked out with her parents. The luggage was taken care of. She greeted Dinesh Kaku who had been driving for them since she could even remember. She sat in the back seat between her parents. The usual questions followed. Dad asked if the flight was ok and the food was good. Mom kept smiling and looking at her with a smile that only a mother knew how to flash.

They crossed their old school on the way and she promised herself to find some time to visit it and the teachers who had taught her. She saw a yellow bus with her school's name on it. She looked at her father questioningly. He said: It's a State Government regulation now- all school buses and other forms of public transport are to be painted yellow -has been almost years since they have implemented it.

She sighed and thought of the bright colors the buses had when she was in school. Each one was painted in a different color- red, green, yellow, fawn. And each one had a name- after the sisters of the missionary school. The standardization made them look all alike and soulless. They lost their individuality.

Individuality. Identity. Those had been the mantras of her life. Her parents had made it very clear to her as a child that the only way a middle-class family kid could make a mark was by excelling in something. She look the advice seriously, and all her life till then, she had tried to raise herself to the next datum plane of existence - in every possible way.

Her father had gifted her the book ,'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' on her 16th birthday. And she believed truly that Jonathan lives each one of us. Now, she looked back and felt maybe it wasn't enough. She had done everything possible to be a perfect woman- and yet she wasn't happy. Something was missing. Something she couldn't put her finger on.

And then she knew..

(to be continued)

Friday, August 29, 2008

When tomorrow comes: chapter 2

This one is for DJ ("Part 2') and Kapil ("..take chances")
Starting from where I left it.

She closed her diary and shut her eyes. A thousand thoughts came rushing in. There would be some time before she wrapped up her work here and joined the new account office in Europe. Good enough to visit home in India. Why not?

Home. She often wondered where her home really was. It had been a while since she visited her parents in their hometown. She called them up almost everyday and had sponsored their visit to US twice in the last two and a half years, but she hadn't really been spending much time with them even when they were around. There was always too much work.

Honestly, she didn't feel much attached to the bungalow they now lived in. She had grown up elsewhere- in a small, cozy home which had windows facing the southern winds. The new house was in a posh locality, glamorous and decked up like a new bride - but it lacked the soul and the memories she had of her childhood in the older house. The guava tree that bore fruits all year long. The white, fragrant jasmine flowers she picked from the dew-clad grass on Autumn mornings. The Banyan tree that changed its color and form with seasons. It had a betel nut tree growing from inside it which she considered a wonder of nature. Pri asked her mother once how it was possible. Her mother surmised: 'I think a bird eating a nut might have sat on that tree and you know...' She didn't want to accept that something as beautiful could be born of pure shit. Now, she reconsidered a few things she disbelieved as a child.

She thought more of the green fields and the cows grazing in the meadows, and the narrow mud lanes that ran amuck. She heard herself laugh and giggle with the neighbor's kid as they sat on a brick wall with their legs dangling in sync. On Summer afternoons, they ate watermelons and spit out the black seeds to see whose went the farthest. She proudly claimed him to be her best friend until she joined middle school. And then, suddenly, his running nose, his loose pants and his inability to converse fluently in anything other than the vernacular seemed to matter. Her new friend was a classmate who had fancy clothes and the poorest grades.

She wouldn't have befriended her but Nita's mother had come over to Pri's house one day and asked her mother to help them with their ward. Pri had felt disgusted initially. She had sat next to her in an English class once. Nita wouldn't note down the homework the teacher marked for the following day. When Pri asked her the reason, Nita rolled her eyes and said: 'I don't want to!'

In the following years, when she got to know her more, she saw her do that often. Everytime Nita didn't want to do something, she would roll her eyes, make a tortured face and say: 'I don't want to !' Nita's mother was a very good friend of Pri's maternal aunt. That made things difficult. Maya aunty thought her daughter to be 'a little soft on the head'. But Pri knew that Nita wasn't stupid- she just didn't want to work hard. She had a severe aversion for studies. Maybe she had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Who knows? She didn't learn the name of the syndrome then.

With Pri's help, Nita's grades improved but it didn't last. Soon she moved to a different school, which Maya aunty considered to be 'more humane with the kids' in terms of homework and discipline.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Odd couples

A police dog carries a cat when ordered to, in a display of skill, during a show at the Russian OMON riot special police training base outside Moscow, May 10, 2007.
(Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

Dema, a 26-day-old male endangered Sumatran tiger cub, cuddles up to 5-month-old female orangutan Irma at the Taman Safari Indonesia Animal Hospital, on Feb. 26, 2007 in Cisarua, Bogor Regency, West Java, Indonesia. Irma and another orangutan were rejected by their mothers while two Sumatran tiger cubs, including Dema, also born in the hospital, were also rejected by their mother, Cicis, and are being looked after by staff at the Animal Hospital.
(Dimas Ardian/Getty Images)

A little macaque nestles its head on a pigeon that responds peacefully on Neilingding Island, China. Three months ago, the macaque was born on the island, but strayed from its mother. Luckily, it was taken in by work staff in the protective station and made the acquaintance of the pigeon. More than 2,000 macaques live on the island.

Isabella, a yellow lab at the Safari Zoological Park east of Caney, Kan., has adopted three white tiger cubs that were abandoned by their mother in this July 30, 2008, photo.
(Rob Morgan/The Daily Reporter, via AP)

Courtesy: ABC News. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When tomorrow comes

This short story is dedicated to Candid Diary who asked: 'Do you know how some of your readers feel when they don't get a regular dose of your posts?' Like I said: '.. if there is even another reader like you, then I will feel that my blogging has not gone to waste.'

In some other cross-function of space and time, maybe this snapshot is the reality for someone. At least, I hope.



'It is a great relation and all that but I miss the sex.' She thought to herself and looked around the subway compartment. A young, blond chap was smiling at her. She smiled back. He got up and sat next to her. The usually crowded Boston red line was sparse today.

'You have a great smile.' He whispered into her ears. She smiled again, not sure what to say. 'You are gorgeous you know. I wonder what a guy has to do to please you.' She felt her whole body stiffen. He was definitely trying to pick her up. He looked good- healthy, clean. Good enough for a fling- but she wasn't ready for it. She was still trying to figure out what she wanted from life.

Siddarth appeared so distant recently. They hardly got time to see each other, though they were living in the same city. She had hinted at the option of living together. But he was not so enthusiastic about it, so she let it pass.

The guy next to her was still saying something- she looked blankly at him. He miscomprehended her expression: 'You speak English, don't you?' - he asked desperately. And she saw a way out. She smiled again- as vacuously as she could. He was almost pleading now; 'You do understand what I am saying- don't you?' She kept a smiling Buddha face- like she had just attained Nirvana.

He got up flustered and went back to his companion : 'But I'm so sure that she understood me !' His friend reasoned: 'Oh it's nothing wrong with you, I think she is engaged. She is wearing a ring. ' He looked at her one more time. She looked away, the smile still lingering on her face.

Rajiv had called up. He was coming to US the following week for his project. She could never decide whether she loved or hated that man. You can't hate someone irrationally until you have loved irrationally. At one point of her life, she believed that Rajiv was 'the one'. They shared a comfort zone like the best of friends and they were passionate like honeymooners. But it didn't last.

The 'Why?' would have no definitive answer. Maybe it isn't a 'Who' but a ' When' that matters. Siddarth was a good man. He tries to make her happy. Though, sometimes, she wonders if it is enough. She was past that mental age where she felt she would die without someone. Now she knew- life finds a way.

'Pri, did you hear me?'
'I am coming over next week.. and.. I'd like to meet you.'

What does he want? But most importantly, what does 'she' want? She had asked the same question when she had broken up with Rajiv.

There are two kind of lovers: one who overwhelms you the instant you meet - and the passion continues in every aspect- when you agree, disagree, fight or make love. And then - there is the other kind- the quieter, more subdued type, who think expressing emotions in unmanly and public displays of affection is for school kids. They support you silently in your endeavors, and resist you active passively. They half expect you to understand them even when they say nothing. She had known both.

She wondered if she really missed Rajiv's presence in her life. The question was redundant now. He had been married since the past three years. And yet, he wanted to meet her. Maybe he repented having let her go. But did it matter anymore?


She tried calling Siddarth but it was his voice mail instead. He was probably working - in a meeting or hitting the gym. She wished he did something crazy for her sometime - like dropping by at the dead of a night to say that he was missing her. Or send her a box of chocolates without telling her when to expect it. But everything they did was planned in advance. And love was a matter of convenience.

Rajiv, on the other hand, was full of surprises. He would pick her at odd hours to have an ice-cream together. Once, they had a fight and he had waited for hours outside her office until she agreed to meet him.

She was not ready for a relation after her break-up with him. She wanted a friend to confide in. Siddarth listened patiently and his innate goodness brought out the best in her. Maybe she wasn't in love, but she had accepted him as an integral part of her life. His calling up at the end of each day mattered, even if she couldn't say,'I love you' with the same conviction he could.

Life was good until Rajiv turned up again. Yet, she couldn't help thinking how it would be to meet him after all these days. She wanted to find out and told herself,' Thinking is such a waste of time', like she did everytime there was a conflict of interests.


She saw him waiting at the station. He looked older since she last remembered him. There were patches of gray on his sideburns. He smiled when he looked at her. She thought to herself: 'What the hell am I doing here?'

They tried to talk about everything - from weather to sports, carefully skirting around what they really wanted to talk about. And then he said suddenly : 'I miss you.' She knew that he meant it. He touched her hand and she felt an instant blast of desire hit her.

She could read his face and she wished she couldn't. Driving down to his hotel was difficult. She tried not to look at him. When they reached, she excused herself to visit the restroom- one last attempt to resist what she knew was about to happen. She took a deep breath, unlocked the door and walked into the bedroom. It was dark. Her heart was pounding. She knew his style, but didn't know where to expect him coming from. He pounced on her, pinning her down to the bed, kissing her neck. She felt almost anesthetic and her senses went limp. It was inevitable. He whispered,' I love you.'

She opened her eyes and looked at him.'You are a tad late in saying that you know.' He nodded. She dragged herself up. Then they sat together side-by-side on the bed, not sure what to say. She looked at him and smiled affectionately, kissed his cheek and said:' It was great knowing you.'

Then she picked her purse and got out of the suite.


She walked into Siddharth's office, he was bent over his MacBook Pro, unaware of her presence. She sneaked behind him, and touched his shoulders. Startled, he turned,' Oh Hi !'

She held his head in her arms and ruffled his hair, 'I was missing you.' He smiled and asked -' Want some coffee?'

They walked to his favorite coffee shop across the street. He picked shots of bitter Italian roast coffee for himself and cappuccino for her. 'Sorry I was a bit cranky last night.' he said,'Some codes are giving garbage output.'

She smiled,'Hmm.It's ok. I'm sure they will turn out fine. Btw, I have to be in Europe for a few months, you think you can manage without me for a while?'
'I have my work and gym... and your memories to keep me warm in this long winter here.'
'Wow, that was romantic !' she said.
'I know' he grinned.

She hugged him and knew it was alright.


That night she went back home and wrote something in her diary after a long time.

'It took me many kisses to realize that I wasn't looking for a frog to turn into a prince. I was waiting for someone who could transform me. But more than that I have realized - that person has to be me. I promise to love you next after I have learned to love myself first.'

* Note: For more short stories, click on the label 'short story'*

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Auguries of Innocence

I was walking down the street yesterday when a kid came running and hugged me before I could realize what was happening. Barely till my waist, that little charmer gave a shy smile when his mother managed to disentangle him from me. She apologized, probably thinking that I was offended. I wasn't. It was a pleasant surprise. (Other such incidents: here) And I was reminded of one of my favorite cousins.

When he was in Kindergarten, he liked one of my youngest paternal aunt's classmates (who had completed her Masters then), Kakali, so much so that he insisted he'd marry her.( Aami tomake biye korbo) What would Kakali say? She promised she'd when he grew up- he was a little young.( Tumi boro hoye nao- ekhono to tumi chhoto)

Another of my cousins had a record of chasing his best friend with vermilion (the mark of Hindu married women) in his hands. Precocious? Maybe. But endearing all the same. And innocent. To think so simply: you marry the one you like the most and then you live happily ever after. Sometimes, I wish I could still believe in endings like those.

Picture this: A couple is smooching in the subway when a toothless girl tells her mother,' Mom, look ! They are doing like birds do.'
Her mother tries to explain,'They love each other. They are kissing.'
'But you don't kiss me like that !'
Her mother tries to distract her by saying,'It's not polite to stare.'
'Why are they doing something in front of everyone which we are not supposed to look at?'

Now, answer that ! I wish I knew what her mother had to say, but my station had arrived.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hierarchy of Needs

In his paper, 'A Theory of Human Motivation.' (originally published in Psychological Review, 1943) A. H. Maslow says that, 'Man is a perpetually wanting animal.' and adds that ' need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives.'

It is interesting to note that he studied exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass rather than mentally ill or neurotic people, writing that "the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy." (Source: Wikipedia)

Maslow's theory, also known as the, 'Hierarchy of needs' describes at least five sets of goals, which we may call basic needs. These are briefly: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.
(Source :Wikipedia)

"These basic goals are related to each other, being arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency. This means that the most prepotent goal will monopolize consciousness and will tend of itself to organize the recruitment of the various capacities of the organism. The less prepotent needs are minimized, even forgotten or denied. But when a need is fairly well satisfied, the next prepotent ('higher') need emerges, in turn to dominate the conscious life and to serve as the center of organization of behavior, since gratified needs are not active motivators. "

So, when you are at the cross roads of life and wondering - 'Why does the address, which once meant a hallowed precinct to me, is just another milestone in my life now?' -you probably are waiting to rise to the next higher datum plane of existence. Find it and be it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And the 100,000th visitor to my blog is...

Wow!!! I am the 100,000th visitor of your blog.
I was waiting for this moment for quite some time.
May your blog flourish everyday and may your writings reach
new people making them happy, jubilant, positive and most importantly
let your readers feel that you are speaking their minds.

Oh btw, incidentally, he happens to be my Dad too :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Travelogue: Niagara trip and NYC

They say that we all need to separate ourselves from our comfort zone and go to new places and be open to influence, to change. It also helps us to see the world and the self in a different perspective. When I was leaving Boston and everything that I consider important to me, I was not aware that I'd see the trip in this light.

Four days filled with travel and fun - it was a kaleidoscope of activities which I can write a book on, if I mention just the highlights. I will try to shoehorn some snapshots here and I hope you feel a little of what and how I experienced.

Day 0, Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008; Destination New York City

My backpack was stuffed with random assortment of clothes- mostly casuals. It was a last minute confirmation from Sejuti that we were going to NYC this weekend for our Niagara trip. I would have chickened out thinking of the to-do list I had, but she got my tickets without arguing with me. (Good girl) When someone is so gung-ho about it, you tend to catch it too.

So, after my class in the evening, I met Sejuti and one of her friends at South Station, where we took the 9 pm bus to NYC. The journey was uneventful, except for a guy sitting right behind our seat, who kept singing through the whole journey and I suspect he had serious vocal problems and misconceptions about his singing skills. But then, we were quits. If you have sat next to three chirpy girls going out on a vacation- you'll know what I mean.

It was 1:30 am when we reached NYC and it took us a few minutes to reach RC's place at Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. We chatted till 3:30 in the morning and when Seju said : 'I'm not sleeping, I need to close my eyes- they are burning.' we decided to call it a day.

Day 1 Thursday July 3rd, 2008; Corning Glass Museum and Maid of the Mist

At 6 am, three alarm clocks buzzed one after the other. And RC was right, I heard the most irritating alarm clock of my life where the radio starts automatically. By the time we got ready, the others joined in. I had met ADB before, Adak and Sayantan (nick:Gere) were new acquaintances. When RC took a fancy for his iPod and decided to upload some songs, we (the girls ) started whining about how we would miss the bus at 8 am.

RC had told us that it takes an hour to reach Canal Street from Battery Place- which was of course a lie- to get us ready early. ADB tried to pacify us by saying that it takes only 5-10 minutes. When we screamed about RC being a liar, ADB added: '...if you have to wait for the subway- it might take an hour.' Lesson#1 Never trust a guy. Lesson#2 Never trust a guy who vouches for another guy.

It took us a while to get to Canal Street anyways, we kept messing up the subway trains and the platforms. Finally, when we reached, Seju's friends from her undergrad days- Kinjal and Arun had reached from Brooklyn(which was further) before us.

We occupied the seats in the following order: ADB-RC, Sayantan-Adak, Sejuti-me, Arun-Kinjal. Not that it had any particular significance, now that everyone knows who put the sticker on Adak's hair before it ended up on RC's back. Unfortunately, when we were at Corning Glass Museum and I tried to put a sticker the tour guide had handed me- Seju freaked out thinking I was up to my nasty tricks again. :D

The Glass museum was beautiful for those who love work of art in.. well.. glass. At that moment, however, I was more interested in reaching Niagara. (Another of my faults- I think of the destination and forget to enjoy the journey)

But Niagara didn't disappoint me. The mist rising from the falling water could be seen from miles away. The still river suddenly gains momentum and runs like crazy. And you begin to feel the thrill in your veins, waiting to see how the plunge is. I don't know anything less than spectacular to describe what I saw.

We took the Maid of the Mist ferry ride to the falls, draped in Blue.

When we got back after our dinner at an Indian restaurant - the vision had changed. Niagara was an enigmatic woman by the night.

Day 2 Friday July 4th, 2008; Cave of the winds and 4th July Fireworks at NYC
From here, I can stop using words and make it a photo blog instead, but if Maid of the Mist allured my sense of sight the previous day, Cave of the Winds touched me. We splashed in the waterfall and were drenched from head to toe.

Soon, we started our journey back to NYC, just in time to catch the 4th July fireworks, celebrating American Independence.

Day 3 Saturday July 5th, 2008; Century 21 , Central Park, Angon and Tonic

Try cooking egg curry with paanch-phoron. These guys need help, lot of help. When I asked: 'What spices do you have?' RC promptly replied : 'Jeera (cumin)' and handed me Paanch phoron. His argument probably was that cumin is one of the five ingredients of Paanch phoron. However, he challenged my culinary skills by stating: Radhuni bhalo hole - ghore ja aache ta diye e ranna korte paare ( A skilled cook can concoct something with what is available in the house.)
Izzat ka sawal tha !

After lunch, and with a 'different' taste in mouth, we set out to shop at Forever 21. The only thing remarkable about it was the fitting room alley- they saved tons of money with curtains that don't cover you. I guess it was exactly when I decided to start gymming.

We roamed about in Central Park then, before dining at Angon. The food was good. I specially liked the traditional kurtas worn by the guys serving us.

I was tired and reluctant to head for Tonic by the time we got back. But a quick shower woke me up and Times Square was a visual treat at night. But the crowd was a bit pushy that night. Seju slapped a chap who was being obnoxious. When we were about to leave, someone tried to pick me so I told him: 'I'm sorry -I'm with my BF.' and hugged RC. You should have seen his face when he said : Oh I am sorry! I didn't know.' I have said weirder things actually. Once, on Seju's birthday in a pub it was: 'Sorry, my girlfriend wouldn't like it.' :D

At 6 in the morning, when we were sitting by the Hudson bay, Adak was almost on the verge of tears, pleading: Aebaar bari chol, bhishon ghum pacche. (Let's go home now, I am feeling very sleepy.)

Day 4 Sunday, July 6th, 2008; Back to Boston

Sunday went by in a blur. Seju cooked aloo-posto. And we waited in the longest queue ever to get our bus tickets to Boston. While we waited, I showed Adak my book and let him read a few side notes I had written for myself in the author's copy. RC tried to peep in, but I didn't let him- lest he should make fun. His victim was Adak then: 'Can he read English???' We laughed aloud and soon it was time to bid them goodbye.

I am bad at saying it so I never try. When we were about to board the bus, the guy at the door asked me what if there was a seat available only for one? I smiled: 'I couldn't leave her (looking at Seju) behind, so I guess I'd wait for the next bus.'

I knew I'd be glad to be home- but I'd miss NYC. Strange, eh?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mr. Right

As usual, I had no clue what this short story was going to be all about until I scripted the last word. I wanted a Shakespearean comedy where everyone is happy at the end. Styled, of course, in my own little way. * snickers*

Ok. This was an emergency (again). My best friend, JQ, broke up with her bf, Neal for the nth time. Actually, I counted till 20 in the past eight months and then lost it. It is always the same thing. He needs space. She prefers breathing on his neck. Finally, when he can’t take it anymore- he asks for some room. And she inevitably breaks down into tears saying that he doesn’t love her anymore. She has given the best years of her life to an unfeeling man yada yada. So when it happened for the 25th (or was it the 26th time?) time on a Friday, she declared that she was not going to waste her weekend crying. Instead, she would attain freedom from emotional bondage by exercising her right to sexual liberty by sleeping with a random guy picked from a random pub.

Till here, it was fine. Until she asked me to aid her to find a suitable prospect, at a suitable pick–up point. We zeroed down to ‘The Caprice Lounge and Bar’, which promised ‘people watching’ as one of its specialties. ‘You have more probability of getting watched where you can watch others’- she argued.

We called up Bob and Pam – two of our other friends from Grad school, and set out for a wild night to party-to slosh out and puke until we felt we were at Hell’s door. I am usually not prejudiced about people, except when I am prejudiced. For some reason, I think Bob is gay. He shows little interest in girls and keeps talking about a fictitious ex, who incidentally, in his opinion, smells like Pam. I have the greatest urge at times to point out that it’s probably Chanel No.5, but something holds me back.

I was late at arriving for the evening, caught up with some last minute wrap-up of a project that was expected to be over eons ago. For some reason, my boss kept extending the deadline while I had this strange voice speaking inside my head: It’s better to finish things before they are expected. When no other team member felt like coordinating and the holiday mood of Christmas was still continuing in February, I decided to put my foot down and define the client requirements myself. I could have been kicked on my smart-ass for this, but Jeff (my boss) said very complacently: ‘We have done well.’ I hate it when he uses first person-plural without contributing a rat’s tail worth of efforts. But that’s why he’s the boss. And someday, I’m going to be ‘The Boss’ too. *sigh*

Bad week at office was reason enough to want to get stoned. But recently, my very Indian mother had been injecting other worries into my head. She suddenly had a vision that I was growing old and past the marriageable age of a well-bred Indian female. I wanted to say that she had different views when I wanted to date that hunk of a guy in high school. Then I was too young. Now, I am too old. And in between, I had been too busy preparing for a life that never happened.

I had lost my father at a very early age. Earlier than he could have had any influence on me. My family consisted of my mother, my well-settled elder sister, married to a Financial consultant in New York. A marriage arranged by the two families- consummated by horoscope matches and all. I had different ideas about love and marriage. It was the order I preferred them to occur.

Growing up fatherless gave me a very blurry vision about the many perfections and imperfections of the male sub-species. And I often found that I imposed virtues on men I dated and was soon disappointed. The Mills and Boons men don’t exist in real life. And I could settle for nothing less. So, I contented myself with watching and weeping at the romantic classics from the 60’s with a bucket full of my favorite chocolate chip cookie ice-cream and Fluffy ( my cocker spaniel) licking my face off. Whether it was ‘cause he wanted to lick my tears or chocolate chip cookie was his favorite too, was difficult to say. I settled for the former and I believed that at least one male living thing loves me.

JQ says I have ‘Fuck Off’ written all over my face. Somehow dating men at my office was never even an option. I like to maintain a professional distance from my colleagues. I can’t think of sleeping with a man, waking up next to him to grab a coffee and drive down to the same place to work. It took the charm away from romance. I wanted time to miss my guy.

I shrugged to see the long queue outside Caprice. There was no way I could wait that long to get inside. I called up JQ and asked her if she could sneak me in. The bouncer at the door was extra nice and let me in saying, ‘Have fun ladies!’
I thought, ‘You bet’ and got ushered by JQ inside the semi-dark lounge with shadowy figures hovering around. The music downstairs was too loud so I asked her if we could go upstairs to find a quieter spot. Bob and Pam were conspicuous by their absence. 'I dunno, they had come with me but I guess they have gone to fetch a drink or two.’ JQ winked.

I wondered if she was wearing the new lingerie she had bought at VS with me the other day- her bosom looked so puffed up. I asked : That padded stuff? She hushed me: 'Ssh.' I often wondered how most people fussed about their secondary sexual characteristics; more than the opposite gender really cared about.

When we waded past the ocean of human bodies tangled with one another and got some oxygen left in the room to breathe in, I felt it was time to get drunk. There was no way I was going to enjoy the horrible noise and the crowd while sober. JQ opined that I was a lot more fun when high. I opined: Then you should keep me high all the time. She snapped back: Oh you are high all the time anyways. On your work. I have never seen such a good piece of ass wasting her life at her desk the way you do. Get some banging done babe!’ I figured she was drunk already. She is usually very conservative with her speech. I smirked and took three tequila shots with the customary lemon and the salt. ‘Aah! Now, I am ready.’ I declared to no one in particular.

We hit the dance floor and JQ tried to squeeze to the center where a couple of gorgeous guys were trying to move their limbs. I almost laughed at them but then I thought it might spoil JQ’s chances and swallowed my guffaw half way through. They looked younger than her- but who bothered. I closed my eyes and wondered if I should have couple of more shots.

I realized I didn’t have my wallet about me. I must have left it at the counter when I tipped that kid. The thought of having to drag myself through that crowd again nauseated me. I looked around to find JQ. But she seemed busy. Suddenly, I heard a whisper, or it might have been pretty loud at another place–in this clamber it was difficult to know what I was saying to myself.

I turned and saw a tall, brown guy with a shy smile- holding out my wallet: Is this yours? I fancied he had pinched it just to be able to talk to me. But I let go of that notion and thanked him appropriately. I offered to buy him a drink as an acknowledgment. He said that he was a teetotaler and was in the pub on a friend’s insistence. Then he waved to a couple of guys sitting at the edge of the dance floor. They smiled at him. I am sure I looked stupid.

I put my finger inside my stiff collar and unbuttoned the first two buttons of my shirt. I coughed: It is smoky and suffocating in here. Would you fancy a walk? He seemed uncertain. The voice in my mind said: Come On **** I am not a homicidal maniac !

He smiled shyly again and acquiesced. We went out on the streets and a gush of fresh air blew my hair away. Nothing pisses me off more than unkempt hair. I rummaged through my bag for a comb and hastily tried to fix it. But the wind grew stronger and wilder and I thought aloud: There must be a storm brewing somewhere. But there wasn’t any weather alert. Was there?

He said very philosophically. Not all things can be predicted. I proposed: We should go inside. He asked if I’d like to wait till it rains. I thought: Wait a second. Guys don’t like to wait for rain. Or he’s straight out of a novel or trying to act too nice. I was on my guard again. That little voice kept nagging me: Don’t trust a stranger. I shooed it away saying: Go back where you were when I asked him out for a walk! He said: I beg your pardon? ‘Oh nothing’ and I smiled at him.

‘You look beautiful when you smile. You should do that more often.’ Now, I blushed. I knew he was flirting but I was enjoying it. The tequila had burnt down my defenses. I thanked the blue agave and the Mexicans.

Soon I found myself talking to him- about books, movies, and my favorite genre of music. It was pleasantly surprising to find that we had so much in common. I almost squealed with delight when I discovered that ‘An Affair to Remember ‘, ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Pianist’, and 'La vita è bella' (Life is beautiful) were his favorites too. He opined that if I wanted to experience neorealism I should watch 'Ladri di biciclette' (The Bicycle Thief) by Vittorio De Sica. He told me it was a landmark film, like Rashomon for Akira Kurosawa or Pather Panchali for Satyajit Ray. I listened spellbound and I thought: Where had you been all my life?

The cloud gurgled and said something to the thunder and it started pouring. I felt like standing there as long as I could. I spread my hands wide, looked up to face the sky and let raindrops on my face. I felt so liberated at that moment and so unlike my usual self. He watched me and smiled again and suggested we race back to the pub. I nodded with a wink: ‘Only, I’ll race you to that tree the other way. Go!’ And I rushed. Suddenly I stopped, opened my high-heel sandals and started splashing on puddles that were collecting momentarily in the heavy rain. They’d soon dry out- and like this moment, would vanish too. I had a sudden urge to hold onto this second forever. Whoever my companion was, I stopped trying to judge him and was being myself. And I felt I had never been so happy in a long time.

The storm stopped and we decided to walk back. Then I said, I’d rather be going home. I called up JQ to say the same. She sniggered when she picked the call: You got lucky first, huh? I hushed her up and said it was nothing remotely like that. He was still beside me, and I didn’t want him to know what we were talking about. It was an awkward moment. I didn’t want to leave- yet I had to. The longer I stayed, the harder it would be to let go. I smiled awkwardly. ‘I had a long week- I guess I will go home and get some sleep.’ ‘Oh ok.’ He said. The voice in my head was back again: ‘Told you- he is an idiot!’ I snapped at it: ‘Shut up!’


Umm.. nothing

Btw, if you plan to fall ill- why not give those germs a better diet?


I was thinking of an ice cream.

There was an ice cream parlor near by. He ordered two chocolate chip cookie ice-cream cones. I hoped the ice cream lasted for eternity. But those kiddie cones had grown smaller since the last time I had them. I asked: What next?

How about breaking some rules?

I looked at him. And he said : Let’s jaywalk on the road.

I reminded him: They can penalize you for that.

He laughed: I know. "What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn't come every day."

George Bernard Shaw ! Pygmalion ! He was too good to be true.

We walked criss-cross for a while and then marched: Left-right, Left-right. But there wasn’t any car around so we soon got bored. We sat by the pavement and looked up. The sky was clear and a little star or two peeped from behind the dark blanket of sky.

He said: I wish this night would never end.

I whispered: So do I.

He continued: I am afraid that I might not live to see tomorrow.

I looked at him with a blank face and he said: I was getting treated for an advanced terminal disease. When the doctors gave up, I decided I don’t want to die in a hospital. I want to live as much as I can.

My shock was evident on my face: But you look perfectly healthy!

Some ailments are not so evident on the outside.

You are kidding!

He said very seriously: Of course I am.

I felt angry and hit him on his back.

Now, now- see I told you I am afraid that I might not live to see tomorrow. He gaggled.

It’s not funny.

Really? I thought it was. At least, for me.

My furor was renewed and I wanted to hit him again but I did not. I clammed up like an oyster.

He laughed and teased me- imitating my expressions when I frowned. I laughed till my stomach hurt and when he headed towards the direction of the pub, I wished he would look back once. He did not.

I drove back home thinking if I still had ‘Fuck Off” written on my face. I stood in front of the mirror for a while but I couldn’t figure it. So, I finally broke down and cried.

The door bell rang and I thought it must be JQ with her catch of the evening. It was her all right, but he stood right behind her. JQ said: Ok guys, Neal had called up and I have to hurry.

He scratched his head when she was gone: I thought I could watch “An Affair to Remember” with you again. You said you had the DVD.

I giggled: Crash on the sofa.

With all these wet clothes on? He smiled.

I woke in the morning and saw him sitting on the bed, watching me. I said: Good morning. He smiled ‘Good Morning’. I realized my hair must be looking unkempt and I tried to scramble out of the bed to go the bathroom. But he held me by my waist and kept clinging on to me. I said: Let me go .

No I won’t.

Let me…

Make me…

I tried to tickle him but he kept a straight face saying he doesn’t feel tickled.
Not anywhere?

Uh-huh- not anywhere.

Let me find out.

He said: Ok ! That’s enough! He laughed.

The doorbell rang again. I was alarmed: That must be mom ! I was supposed to pick her from the airport today. Quick ! Hide into the closet.


Into the closet !

I picked his clothes from the floor and shoved them with his shoes beneath the bed. And then I broke a record sprinting from my bedroom to the door.

Mom looked at me: What’s wrong with you?

Me? What?

You look horrible. What’s wrong with your hair?

I breathed heavily. Oh, I must have slept too long. What time is it?

Past noon. I thought Neena had asked you to pick me.

‘She did. She did.’ I repeated myself unnecessarily. ‘But I completely forgot.’

I don’t have enough change on me. Can you pay the cab downstairs?

I tipped the cab heavily for no reason. Probably hoping that this act would redeem me from the sound explosion I was going to experience in a while. I got upstairs reluctantly and opened the door. But she was in the bathroom. He was sitting in the living room sofa with a smile.

I gulped: How did you manage to dress up so fast?

He smiled again.

Mom came out in a while and said: Hemant was telling how much he adores your paintings.

You know him?' Now, it was my turn to feel surprised.

Of course I do. He’s Neena’s brother-in-law. Nishant’s cousin. He wasn’t here for the wedding. But I had met him last time I had gone to New York to visit your sister- didn’t I tell you?

You did. But I didn’t realize..

Now, the voice was back again. ‘They are all in it.’ It said spitefully.

I looked at him unbelievingly, my words came out in installments: Did.. you... know... this?

Yes, well –I had seen you in Nishant’s wedding album and I had recognized you at the very first instant but..

I sat down on the sofa and tried to put my thoughts together. The whole night was a sham then? He had known all about my likes and dislikes from my sister and pretended to be Mr. Right and had swept me off my feet away like no one had. It was all an act! I felt cheated.

He asked permission from my mother to leave. She insisted that he should stay for lunch. But he reminded; I’m going to come over with my parents in the evening anyways.

When he was gone, I asked her what he was talking about.

Mom said very nonchalantly: You have a strange idée fixe about falling in love first and marrying later. When I got married to your father…

I know. I know. The third day you met was your wedding. The second day was your engagement. And the first day you had met only for an hour with a houseful of people.

And yet, we were happy together. She sighed.

Then she reasoned: Marriage is a gamble. You bet on a person to keep you happy, forever, or as long as it lasts. You have to take a few risks. You have to believe. And this guy isn’t a stranger- he belongs to a good family, has a good job, and has been in love with you ever since I have known him.

I looked at her: You sound like you just watched "What Happens in Vegas".

'This isn't a movie. This is real life. You have to script your happy ending yourself. At least, give it a try.' She pleaded.

I decided to give it a try. It hasn’t been perfect always. But I have realized that the perfect relation is not ready-made. You have to make efforts to keep it working. At times, I feel what should I do with him? But most of the times, I feel- what would I do without him!

My mistake has been that I have sought perfection all my life, and subconsciously imposed virtues or vices on people. But these biased opinions took me away from reality. And the closest thing to reality is : We are all humans with our flaws and idiosyncrasies.

Spending a few hours or a few days together doesn't acquaint us with the real person. I believe that when you have seen someone hot and sweaty and cooking a meal for you, throwing stuff at you because he has a sudden urge to clean the house; he is flexing muscles in front of a mirror and you are thinking, "He's more self-obsessed than I am ! ", ; when you feel that "He's a complete pain in the ass"- the next moment he calls up and you feel "OMG I missed him so much ! ",- it's then you begin to truly love someone. Or are on your way to it. If I can’t find happiness with him, there is no way I can find happiness with anyone else.

Btw, JQ told me that Bob isn’t gay and Pam can vouch for it.

* Note: For more short stories, click on the label 'short story'*