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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A stranger to love

"...We are not criminals. We are not disillusioned. We are not drug addicts. We are not naive children... We are one massive, global, tribal village that transcends man-made law, physical geography, and time itself. We are The Massive. One Massive. We were first drawn by the sound. From far away, the thunderous, muffled, echoing beat was comparable to a mother's heart soothing a child in her womb of concrete, steel, and electrical wiring. We were drawn back into this womb, and there, in the heat, dampness, and darkness of it, We came to accept that we are all equal. Not only to the darkness, and to ourselves, but to the very music slamming into us and passing through our souls: we are all equal...."
- Unknown

It is highly implausible but true, I have learned more about love from a stranger than most people I have known for years.

It was one of those days again, when Murphy's Law is the only adage that holds true. The perversity of the universe nauseates you and you want to break free of every possible norm. A thousand desires and a thousand more. And yet, I saw myself standing alone.

When DJ asked me if I wanted to join the gang to go clubbing, I didn't say 'no', I wanted a break. I wanted to dance like no one was watching. Dance and release all the demons that were gnawing into me. I wanted to feel free.

There were seven of us, four guys and three girls. DJ got me a drink and we hit the floor. Initially, the group was closed and we danced in a circle, the guys nudging away anyone who wanted to dance with the girls. But soon, they lost interest in their roles as protectors. And when I saw DJ dancing with some babe who seemed to appear out of nowhere, I smiled at him and winked, glad that he was having fun.

And then I saw that guy again. He didn't seem to have budged from where he was standing some twenty minutes ago. Right behind me. I wasn't intimidated. Far from it. He amused me with little eyes and a ready smile. He held out his hand for a dance.

DJ looked at me but I couldn't read his expressions. Maybe he just wanted me to be careful. The little guy whispered into my ears: You dance like a Bollywood heroine. Indian? I laughed at the outrageous comparison and nodded. We had fun dancing together and I even showed him some Big B dance moves when the Disc Jockey played some desi music. He seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

He asked me if he could buy me a drink, and I thought another Long Island Iced Tea wouldn't do me any harm. The bar was too crowded and I was feeling suffocated. We decided to go out for a walk.

The open air was refreshing. There were couples sprawled on the park in front of the club, most of them in intimate embrace. It was little embarrassing for me to walk down there with a complete stranger. We sat down at a bench, and he looked at me the same, warm way. Suddenly I asked: What color are your eyes?

I don't know what made me ask that of all things. He laughed aloud: What is that? My eyes? Brown, I think. What do you think?.

I peered hard, it was too dark to discern. They look green to me. Can't really say. Maybe I am high.

Oh no! You are not. You are doing fine.

I gave out a snort. The truth was - I didn't feel fine. And it had nothing to do with my being tipsy. I was feeling lonely. I wanted some kind of assurance. And I was not going to say that to this strange guy whose name I didn't hear well in the glaring music on the dance floor.

I said to him: My friends might be looking for me, why don't we go back?

He said: If you want to.

I would like to.

The crowd at the counter had cleared by now. I had a tab open, but he insisted on paying for my drink. We hit the floor again and I felt I was really enjoying dancing after a long time. He held me by my waist while I bent backwards in abandonment. He was strong. Ruby whispered into my ears: He is so decent with you and so gentle. She almost coveted it. I asked her if she wanted to dance with him. Oh no ! You guys make such a cute couple. I laughed at the thought.

I went to the restroom once and asked him to wait. One my way back, a hunk stood in my way, asking me for a dance. I said: Someone is waiting for me.
Are you sure?
he asked, with a incredulous look on his face.
Yes. Not sure if he was still waiting for me. But there he was, looking like a lost puppy.

I thought you'd never come back

Why did you think that?
( And I thought, you wouldn't wait)

Soon, it was time to close. I didn't realize it was 2 AM already. He asked me if I'd need a ride home. I said I'd rather go back with my friends. He said: As you wish. And then, he asked me: When can we meet again?

I teased. Tomorrow. The day after. Maybe next week. Maybe never. I will call.

The following day he smsed me. It was a great night. Waiting to see you again.

I felt like a teenager again. There was so little excitement left in my life. Everything seemed predictable and dull. But his eagerness was so fresh, I felt enlivened by it. I told my guy the story. He seemed entertained, asking me if it was a French kiss. I was shocked and humored at the same time.

Debating whether we should meet, I replied to his sms the day after. He wanted to show me the pedestrian bridge at Harvard. We met up at Tavern on the Square on Massachusetts Avenue, where he told me about a Hindi song he had heard as a kid: Jaane tu ya jaane na.

I translated the lyrics for him. Then we walked by the bridge and took some pictures. And we talked. He cracked some delightful jokes about his workplace - how one of his colleagues exaggerated his French accent and copied him, while it was usually him who would imitate others. I had a pleasant evening and promising to meet again, I left for my home.

Back in my apartment, it was the same tense environment between my roommates. I hated coming back. I felt I should have stayed out longer. Soon, I found myself seeing him more often. He'd make me eat like my mother does, always insisting I could eat some more. Now, where would you find a guy like that ! He'd tell me tales of his ex girlfriend, his colleagues, about a young girl battling with cancer.It was around that time I had met someone getting treated for cancer, whose positive attitude has changed my perspective towards life.

In a lot of ways, we were different. But in a lot of other ways, we were very similar. We were foreigners in a country that we had chosen to live in. We both wanted to give back something, but were not sure how much our roots would hold us back.

One day, he emailed me saying:

..I might go back to France by summer, not sure yet, but possible. I know you are a wonderful girl and you are full of love and life and a very smart girl too. We both have a great time when we meet, but I don't want to be selfish and continue doing so if you are seeing a relationship and I don't.

I hope to hear from you,


I assured that there was no such danger. He seemed relieved. And I was relieved too. We were like two ships meeting at a harbor on a dark, stormy night. The following morning, we had to set out on our own journeys. There was no 'together forever' for us.

Sure enough, it was time for him to leave. I knew I was going to miss an amazing friend. He advised me on matters of my family, my love life, and teased me about getting a 100/100 even if I did not study for a test. He taught me a few of his recipes, got me to develop a taste for White Zinfandel and French cheese, most notably the creamy Saint Marcellin. It was he who reminded me that : If he doesn't love you the way you want, it doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't love you.

* Dear D, the last day we had met, you said that SG is a very lucky man. And the best thing about me is that it is not hard to make me happy - 'cause I can cherish the little things someone does for me. I said that I will write about you. It has been a while, but I have kept my word. Bisou*

A desert rose. A parting gift from D.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Hayden Affair

Lara's account
I can feel the devilish snake raise its ugly head again, a venom fills me from within. I need my pleasure drug to boost my dopamine levels. J will not hear of it. He will probably take me to another quack or a rehabilitation center, or worse still -refuse to give me a divorce.

J's account
Ever since I returned from my trip to LA, I have noticed Lara's carelessness about her personal grooming- dirty fingernails, unkempt hair, a flaky face, coupled with bouts of euphoric planning about our future together and then depressions and long stretches of sleep. Many a times, I have come home to find her snoozing with the patio door open and the cold breeze freezing the room. How much I miss the warmth of the home we had and the smell of a freshly brewed broth when I came home for dinner after a long day at work. I hope she is not on crack again. If she is, I will kill the bastard who is giving it to her.

Andy's account
The Haydens lived at Emrose Avenue, just a few blocks away from the new Carribean cuisine restaurant. Jimmy Hayden was a well known comedian and made terrific impersonations of some of our former presidents. Popular for his good humor both on and off screen; his loyalty to his friends was legendary. He was the last man on earth you'd think of seeing the name of in the lurid headlines of your morning newspaper. Maybe there is a dark, morbid humor in all of it, if only I could see it.

When Lara came home late at night, I could hardly believe what she said with her convulsive efforts to breathe. She said she had killed her husband. She showed me the gun she was carrying. I wrapped it up in a plastic bag, not sure what to do next. I asked her to rest for a while and hoped it was all a bad dream or she was on crack again and hallucinating.

It seemed like yesterday when J met Lara, an aspiring actress then. She had the face of Madonna, but her talent at acting was weak. All these years, I haven't seen more than two expressions on her face. J had great faith in her.He said she just needed her lucky break. It never came. I was the best man at their wedding and the godfather of their elder son.

I saw her sleep, but couldn't rest peacefully. I decided to visit J. I entered the front garden, the garden gnome still held its lantern. There was a huge stoneware mushroom near the vestibule. The main door was open. I had an uncomfortable feeling and entered his bedroom on the second floor almost immediately,instinctively.

J was lying on his bed, in his night pajamas, drenched in blood. He would have hated to have been seen this way. Always dressed for a dance he was. When one of the major networks cut down his airtime, thinking it was not bringing enough revenue, he stood his ground and didn't care to call back the headhunters who were wooing him for their Network TV. Soon, the channel owners saw their mistake and gave him exclusive one- hour prime time airtime. They say the least number of viewers J ever had was 4.5 million. He had dignity, that guy.

He must have been sleeping when he was shot, and still wearing his Mickey Mouse watch which he loved so much. I often teased him about it. But he said it was his first gift from his grandfather. I often asked him which time zone it displayed, and he would laugh and say, he didn't wear it to track time. I understood. But I loved to see him defend it. This and many of his idiosyncrasies made J so lovable. He was not perfect, far from it. But his imperfections drew people to him. He could crack a mean joke and he would still be loved. His practical jokes almost cost me a fortune once, but it was a good laugh.

I dialed 911 from my cellphone which seemed to be the only thing I could do. I was sitting on the stairs when the police arrived. There was a barrage of questions. I replied to what I could, wishing I could faint. When I reported Lara's narrative, I had uneasy feeling that I have made a mistake somewhere. Accompanied by some officers on the way to my house, I was at the last traffic light when I realized it was too late.

Sprawled on my Persian rug (it was a gift from the Haydens) was Lara's listless body. She had shot herself through the mouth. They found traces of alcohol, cocaine and antidepressants in her blood. She had shot him thrice- on his forehead, his chest and his forearm. Strangely enough, it was the shot in the arm that killed him. It had reentered his heart through it.

The verdict was murder/suicide.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I am upset

Recently, I viewed the works of a press photographer who had sent me an invite on an online community.Some of the visuals were very disturbing. They were of realities I will never know, I should never know. Of malnutrition and hunger, of a woman injured in a bomb blast, blood drenched dead bodies of soldiers, a farmer dragging a wooden plank on his shoulders to level his field. Made me wonder how superfluous my life is and how superficial my needs are.

I am upset.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I try not to waste food

.. but things need to be organized more large-scale, like United Nations World Food Programme. Now, I know which charitable events we should focus on this year, and why.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Eyewitness

Manas Uncle, Dad and me form a mutual admiration society. He writes very effortlessly and his articles in The Times of India have always worked up a voracious appetite, making me want to read some more.

Recently, Lancer Publishers ( published his book The Eyewitness - Tales from Tripura's Ethnic Conflict; ISBN 1-935501-15-1.

Here is an excerpt from one of the two incidents that feature Dad.

Out of the jaws of death
“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.” 


On July 5, 1984 the sun had risen burning bright and the mood was happy. Despite the summer heat that was already in the air and would evidently set in with searing fury as the Thursday morning would proceed to noon, Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Amarpur Amitabha Kar needed to travel to Ompi to verify information about movements of militants in Ompi-Amarpur area and plan his operations. There were reports of TNV militants’ movements and the 26 kilometer stretch between Ompi and Amarpur was indeed dangerously replete with ambush points, but then, the duty calls. Besides, the SDPO posted here for the last two years had himself driven from Amarpur to Ompi several times and he knew the road with all its treacherous ups and down, bends and turns well enough -like his own palm. Today however he would not be alone. His new found friend Vinod Kumar Khullar, Assistant Commandant of 13th battalion of CRPF wanted to accompany him to Ompi where he would visit his own camps.

The visit to Ompi was important as only on June 28, 1984 TNV militants had set aflame Laxmicherra market under Baikhora police station and waited to trap the advancing police. The militants were successful as they way laid and killed a Sub Inspector Dinesh Ghosh - the first casualty of an SI ranking officer in the militancy related incidents in Tripura. Two days later reports of militants’ movement poured in from Sarbong area under Amarpur police station where they had killed a non tribal and waited for advancing police to ambush. This time, however, police did not fall into the trap.

Kar and Khullar set off with two jeeps. Kar was in the lead followed by Khullar. In those days shortage of vehicles was a serious problem for counter insurgency operations. Almost all the police jeeps were diesel run and old that would roll down the road with too much of sounds but virtually with no speed. However, only recently the then SP South Tripura AC Rama Rao had given Kar his own jeep as the SDPO was almost always on the move hunting the militants in remote areas. But Khullar was traveling on an old diesel jeep that was evidently finding it difficult to keep the pace of SDPO’s vehicle.

Kar said:

At 9.10 am we crossed Tetuibari and saw some tribal women were working in a patch of paddy field on the western side of the  main road. The road ran straight through paddy fields and then steadily went to upland. As our vehicles passed the women in the field they looked up and smiled to us. I felt something amiss in their smile and had an uncanny feeling. I took out my 9 mm pistol and kept it ready in firing position. I did not know why as I never, in my life, had such an uncanny feeling. We hit the hills and moved. We were near the 21 kilometers point and only five kilometers were left to reach Ompi. And then there were hail of bullets from road side raining down on us. My first reaction was –‘so, the nightmare has come true. I ultimately got trapped and ambushed facing the death’. Instinctively I kept on firing on my left though I could not see anyone there.

My two personal guards were instantly hit by flying bullets before they could retaliate. But by this time my driver Manoranjan Debnath despite being caught in the storms of bullets flying from every side did not lose his nerve and just pressed the accelerator with all might. Later I found that my jeep was damaged in the front beyond recognition but as the luck would have it the engine was on. We whizzed past the ambush site and took a turn taking us out of ambush coverage. My guards were injured but none killed.

But unfortunately Khullar’s jeep which was already showing problems could not pass. His one body guard was instantly killed. Khullar – later we found- tried to fire back from his pistol but it seemed his pistol got stuck and as he was trying to clear the pistol lock by taking out the magazine he received brush fire from LMG and the magazine fell on the jeep floor. He was also killed on the spot. He, in fact, took all the LMG burst in his stomach and right arm.

His driver also armed could not fire back. He however tried to zoom past but was hit. Khullar’s jeep in terrific speed skidded off the road and banged down on the road side milestone. In fact, later we found that the jeep had almost tumbled head on over the militant who was firing from the LMG. The LMG tripod mark was only about a foot away from the jeep.

What was intriguing was that the militants ambushed from under the deep cover of deep and dense roadside bushes. They were lying almost parallel to the road. It was not at all a conventional ambush point but in guerilla warfare you are to expect the unexpected only. The militants succeeded in killing a senior CRPF officer for the first time. Meantime, two of the Khullar’s body guards did something spectacular which can only be dreamt of in films. Trapped in the hailstorm of bullets they reacted in a manner that even stunned the militants. The ran straight through the several meters of ambush stretch dodging automatic gunfire, now directed at them, and jumped on to a ditch at the other side of the road. From there they opened up their SLRs and fired back to the militants. One CRPF jawan was hit and died. The other jawan did not loss courage and continued firing. He emptied his own magazines and then picked up the slain jawan’s magazines and kept on firing.

By this time, Kar reached Ompi and regrouped security forces so fast that when they returned to the ambush site the militants were still there. Kar came back to the site with CRPF personnel posted in Ompi police station. Reinforcement from another CRPF camp at Tehshil Kachhari also rushed to the spot. Officer In charge of Ompi police station Haripada Bhattacharjee also ran to the spot with one jeep and one 3-tonner vehicle with his policemen.

There was a Rajasthan Armed Constabulary camp –about one kilometer from the site. The RAC jawans did not come out but started blind firing from the camp

As we reached near the ambush spot we could hear the gunshot still reverberating from the ambush point. The militants were firing at the lone CRPF jawan who continued with his encounter. But when suddenly there were firing sound from the side of the RAC camp we were befuddled. We thought this could be another group. But soon as we understood it was the RAC we climbed a hillock overlooking the ambush point and sought to fire at the militants. In the mean time the CRPF reinforcement arrived and it fired a grenade from a grenade firing rifle. The brave CRPF jawan fighting from the ditch shouted for not firing grenades and there was eerie silence from the side of the militants. The militants by then started slipping out though we could not see any movement in the jungle. Our prompt reaction however prevented the militants to loot the two SLRs from the CRPF personnel. Though Khullar’s pistol was found missing.

By this time as the news of TNV ambush on us spread police forces fanned out from all directions. SP Rama Rao also proceeded to the spot and in fact saw the militants crossing a paddy field near Nagrai. But they were out of firing range, Kar said.

The ambush on the SDPO and the CRPF Assistant Commandant was led by Kripasadhan Jamatia. Later, it was found that the militants were actually way laid the Education department’s jeep that was expected to travel on the road with employees’ salaries. During this time it was always on the fifth day of the month that the education department salaries for Ompi were taken from Amarpur. It happened to be that the SDPO and CRPF officer appeared in the scene before the Education department vehicles.

Many years later Kripasadhan Jamatia came to Kar for a personal help. Jamatia after surrender got a vehicle which was rented out to the police. The former militant visited Kar –then Commandant Provisioning - for early payment of his bills.

Looking at him I was just thinking ‘you had almost killed me and now you are here asking my help’. But, well, this the way of life of a policeman” said Kar, now IGP.

He still feels it was for Rama Rao, the then SP he was saved.

“Had not the SP given me his new vehicle I would have been killed like a sitting duck in the ambush. He saved my life. When I thought of my friend Khullar a jolly good Punjabi with two angelic daughters I feel depressed till date. It feels like escaping the near death was guilt on my part when my close friend got killed. Khullar’s wife was later inducted in the CRPF as die in harness case.

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