Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Six yards of grace

I was watching a Bengali movie some weeks ago. Swade Alhade. It was about how a woman steps up and takes charge of her life after leaving her abusive husband and in-laws. While it was a truly heartwarming movie and did send across a great message, one thing struck me.
As soon as the protagonist decides to achieve great things in life, she ditches her beautiful saris for a salwar kameez and western clothes. And this transition was not specific to Swade Alhade alone. The names of a host of other movies come to mind where empowerment of women is portrayed, either directly or indirectly, by her moving on from the graceful and traditional sari to salwars, kurtis and western wear.

Not just on the big and small screens, we see this syndrome spreading in our own lives too. Wearing a crisp white shirt with fitting trousers is the preferred alternative to a cotton sari in the boardroom. Even the shyest of us prefer a kurti and leggings to a sari for a lunch with the girls.

While I'm always pro-choice and never, at least consciously, judge people on the basis of their attire; and have nothing against any form of clothing and do wear all kinds of clothes myself, I do lament the decline of the sari. The gorgeous six yards that has graced our women for generations is now relegated to the background and is worn only on special occasions- that too with so many mutations that some forms are almost unrecognizable.

Of what I've seen and heard, many women shy away from donning the sari due to preconceived notions of it being a difficult garment to wear and manage.  All I'm saying is- those ideas aren't really true in most cases. The difficulty is often just in our heads. Let's give it a chance to get a revival. Let's give it a shot. Let's ask our moms and grandmoms if they didn't wear a sari while cycling, swimming or even climbing trees.

The sari does not make a girl frumpy or too traditional. It is not a symbol of repression and submission. One can be as much a strong and independent woman in a sari as she can in any other attire.

It is graceful, beautiful and liberating. Just like any other attire.

Remember, it is not your clothes that define you but you that defines your clothes.

Yours Sincerely, in the whole six yards, smiling away to glory!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tiny Thought4: Intolerance

"Intolerance is on the rise in this country", said the superstar, "my wife is wondering if we should leave the nation because of what she sees in the news everyday".

The young girl who heard of this wondered if her parents could afford a sex-change operation for her.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Tiny Thought3:The Prostitute

"Those Randis!! Even hell won't accommodate them when they die!", the politician declared at his campaign rally, after the state police "uncovered" the prostitution ring in the city.
After the rally ended, just like he'd been doing for the past year, he paid the policeman 30% of the amount he'd earned from the pimp, as he ordered the khaki-clad servant to ferry said Randi to his home that night.

Monday, November 16, 2015

TinyThought2: Expression

Heartfelt words are oft left unsaid, out of fear.
Fear not of your probable reaction to them, but of your imminent lack of a reaction.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

TinyThought1: Love and Adjustments

And in the end they hated one another, not for who the other person had become, but for who they themselves had turned into.
They'd changed themselves for love, but now there was no love left.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Latch

"Arrey baba, you should go! Silly girl! It's been three days now, and you are still not going. You'll fall ill again. Again that means I'll have to sit at home looking after you. Just because my memsab is a kind lady does not mean I should keep taking leave because of you na! Chal chal, go now! Such a darpok you are!!"
How many times did she have to tell Aai that going right away was not needed? Why did she always eat like a bird if she was okay with going regularly? To top it off, it had rained last night. Who was going to jump across the now overflowing gutter a couple of feet from her house and walk all the way to that lonely place behind the bamboo grove that marked the end of the temple premises? It was bound to be all slushy and the disgusting; the wet mud imprinted by the feet, bare as well as chappal-ed of the many women who went regularly, and the grass squashed by the pots of water they brought along . The last time she went, an earthworm had begun crawling up her feet and had already made its way to her left calf when she spotted it, before she sprang up and sprinted homewards, leaving her job incomplete.  Just the thought of it made her recoil in disgust; as she got up from the floor where she sat, nibbling on a few grains of barely-cooked poha.

Sonali remembered those lecherous eyes that were not supposed to be present, but there anyways, when she or any of the young girls she knew, went. She vividly recollected the disgusted looks in the eyes of the passers-by, especially the temple goers, when they saw a woman emerging from the bamboo grove. She remembered how she had to hurry away many a time just because the sun was beginning to rise.  She remembered the stench surrounding her, she remembered closing her eyes to shut out all the dirty sights, she remembered keeping her ears open to detect even the faintest of footsteps approaching her. She remembered the flies buzzing all around her, she also remembered not being able to shoo them away because her hands were occupied in holding up her skirt with one hand, and holding the torch with another. 

She wondered how Rekha, Veena and the rest of the girls went with such regularity. “What is there to be scared, ha? Who is looking at you, everyone is busy in their own business. The ones who do look, will look at you no matter where you are and what you are doing, they are like that only! What to do, we only have to adjust!” Rekha had once told her, giggling. Sonali was appalled! Shameless only this Rekha was.

Sonali proceeded towards the public tubewell at the corner of the street, with a plastic pitcher pitcher on her head and a smaller bucket in one hand. Five trips to the tubewell, and she’ll have gathered enough water to last hr family till the next morning when she’d repeat her routine. At the tubewell she saw the men from the neighbourhood, dressed in nothing but their underwears, all lathered up with cheap soap, clamouring for their turn at the spout, to get washed. She saw women doing their dishes at a frenzied pace a little away from the tubewell, catching up on the latest gossip doing the rounds in the slum.  She saw girls like her with pots balanced on their waists and hips and in their hands.  There was a cacophony, everyone was eager to get to the tubewell first. Sonali did too, for she wanted to get away from the almost naked men bathing in public.


Panna Tai had once taken her to a public toilet. There was a queue outside, but Sonali didn’t mind- she’d heard that the doors here could be latched from the inside. But no sooner had she ented, than she realized that the latch was just for telling people. It was broken. She had told Panna Tai to make sure no one opened the door while she was inside, but Panna Tai suddenly spotted Aruna Tai in the queue, and the two had begun chatting. All of a sudden the door in front of Sonali had swung open and a bulky woman almost entered, her sari already held up to knee level. When she saw Sonali, legs quivering and hands busy pulling down her skirt, she shouted to her, “Moorkh mulgi! Kadi gele aahe tar dwaar bandh dhaaran! Hold the door shut if the latch is broken, you stupid girl!” Sonali had bolted out of the public toilet and vowed never to go back in there.  She preferred eating less to keep her bowels under her control.

Sonali looked at the hoarding behind the bus stop near her slum. It was advertising a brand of bathroom fittings. Not like she could comprehend how there could be curtains in somebody’s bathrooms- the only fabric she saw in hers was the jute from the gunny bags her brother had strung up on about four bamboo poles to make a makeshift place for her and Aai to wash inside. You couldn’t take off your clothes and pour a couple of mugs of water on yourself, somebody or the other was definitely looking. The loafer boys who roamed about aimlessly were ever on the pry. Her attention went back to the hoarding. There was a huge bathtub and a gorgeous girl in it- covered in soap and bubbles. Here in the slum, Aai cursed her because she demanded to use soap daily . “You are some raajkumari or what, that you want soap daily? Renu’s aai was telling me, in their house, one cake of soap lasts for a month. And here, the fair lady wants to make the soap company richer by finishing one cake in twenty days!”

Sonali shuddered to think of what would possibly happen in a few months. Veena and Renu had started getting their periods a couple of months back, and they had told all the girls what a pain it was. Not just a physical pain, which by itself was unbearable, but it was also a big problem to go out during those days.  Panna Tai had told her that it would happen to her also. Sonali was shocked and scared- having to deal with more filth meant having to deal with more scoldings from Aai…


There is an exhibition being held in the municipality maidaan today, at a considerable distance from her slum. Craftsmen from all over Maharashtra will bring their wares- marble jewellery, stone artifacts, and kolhapuri chappals. There will also be food stalls where vada-pav, bun-maska and cotton candy would be sold. Rekha, Renu and Veena were all going with Panna Tai, but Sonali’s Aai was reluctant, lest she spend a hundred rupees there. It took three days of persuasion from Panna Tai to finally get her to agree. Sonali oiled her hairand tied it into two tight pigtails. She wore the frock her Aai’smemsab had gifted to her last Ganesh Chaturthi and almost emptied the small pink tube of Pond’s powder on her face. Then, she held Panna Tai’s hand tightly and tucked a fifty rupees note into the waistline of her skirt as she proceeded maidaan-wards. The girls ate cotton candy and bhelpuri, after which Panna Tai took them to the bangles and bindi stall. Sonali decided to buy a dozen of green glass bangles for Aai, and one of those little boxes which held multiple bottles of liquid kumkum in various hues, for herself. As she reached into the waistline of her skirt to pay the seller, someone from behind collapsed upon her.

Before she knew it, everybody was running helter and skelter because the camel that was used for providing joy-rides, had started running around. Sonali was now separated from Panna Tai and the rest of the girls. She shouted for Rekha and Veena and Renu many times, she screamed for Panna Tai to hear her, but in all the noise and confusion, she wasn’t heard. She stood there, darpok Sonali, ready to cry, when a fat old aunty caught her by the wrist. She was a kindly looking lady who tenderly stroked her head and left the maidaan with her. She comforted Sonali, and asked her who she was and where she lived. She then aksed Sonali if it was fine if she herself dropped her home. Sonali was more than grateful to this angel who’s appeared out of nowhere and promised to take her back to Aai. “But I have to go to my home first, need to pick up money for the auto ride to drop you off. Don’t be afraid, I live right here, across the street.  Come.”

With her hand still in the old womam’s hand, Sonali went to the bunglow the woman lived in. She was strangely not afraid of this woman, maybe because she looked to sweet. There was a big porch in her house and huge, wooden doors.  There were about seven rooms surrounding the courtyard with housed a Tulsi-aangan and a hammock. The aunty who got here here now went into one of the rooms to bring her money. Sonali looked at the rooms around her. There were exquisite rangoli patterns in front of each door, and bewitching red and white curtains at the windows. She heard a young child memorizing a Hindi poem from inside one of the rooms, and she saw one of the curtains move briefly.  Out of nowhere, a young woman about the age of Panna Tai walked into the courtyard with a basket of mangoes that were evidently in the process of being pickled.

“Panna Tai”, Sonali remembered! She would have searched for her at the maidaan after the stampeded had died down. Would she be waiting for her till now? No, she’s have gone home along with the rest of the girls. They must have told Aai that Sonali was not to be found. Aai would be worried. She’s be cursing herself for letting Sonali go to the exhibition.  “Such a frail, darpok girl”, Aai would be lamenting, “she must be crushed in the stampede by now”. Her brother would even have gone to the police, but she knew the police had better things to do than to look for a twelve year old slum girl gone missing. Sonali’s stomach suddenly began churning.

She didn’t know if it was the bhel-puri or her anxiety that was causing her stomach to hurt. Oh, wait! She felt the familiar pressure in her abdomen. She knew she finally had to go, after four days of holding it back. She looked at the big house once again. Such a big house, the toilets had to be good, usable. The aunty who got here was an angel, she surely wouldn’t mind if Sonali asked to use the toilet. Besides, if she went today, she’d be at peace for the next four days. So, when the aunty came out with her purse, Sonali asked her…

Zaroor Zaroor”, the aunty said, “arey Bindiya, just take her”. The girl with the mango basket came back and lead Sonali to a big room and opened the door. Sonali saw beautiful pink tiles on the walls and smelt a divine smell of the pink soap that made huge bubbles. “Go in”, Bindiya said.

Sonali was overjoyed. Panna Tai, Renu, Veena, Rekha, even Aai and her brother could wait.

As if in a dream, she did a little happy dance as she entered. And then she fastened the shiny new latch on the door behind her- really tightly! 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tapasya- A Penance

She was huffing when she reached the bus shelter. She glanced at the Rado on her wrist as she saw the office bus ride away. She had missed it by less than a minute. And that’s when the bike stopped in front of her. The tall guy riding the bike stopped in front of her and took off his helmet.

“Hi, looks like you missed your bus, eh?”

Radhika was taken aback. “Yes”, she said, “but do I know you?”

“I saw your ID card. I’m Rahul Shukla.”, he said, pointing to the ID card hanging down her neck. “I work for Ad Mania too and I was at the traffic signal on the other side of the road when I saw you sprinting for the bus. I think you could do with a lift. We’re both headed there anyways!”

She scanned him. He had an athletic physique and a warm smile. His slightly overgrown hair was tousled, probably because of the helmet. Brown, puppy dog eyes; and a clean shaven face that reminded her of Ranveer Singh – masculine, yet boyish. She thanked her stars and accepted his offer.

“Radhika Banerjee”, she said, as she got onto the bike. She looked at his fingers from the pillion seat- no rings. That was a good sign. She was fast beginning to develop a crush on him.

“So Radhika, what department are you in?”

"Creative. You?"

I’m in marketing. Recently bagged a three year contract with Huggies. Can you believe it? A grown man writing jingles that he hopes will help sell diapers!”

She laughed, and told him about her client- the toothpaste company whose sales AdMania had helped increase twofold, following which she was honoured by them with an award. They spoke throughout the ride to office, and Radhika knew that her kajal lined eyes and mellifluous voice had made the desired impact on Rahul when at the end of the forty minute ride (which, by the way, felt like it lasted for about seven minutes), he took her number down and promised to give her a call when he was going for lunch that afternoon. The day had started unexpectedly well for both of them. She hummed her favourite song as she walked to her desk. She was good at flirting. Really good.


June’s blackberry beeped. It was Daksh. Finally.

Bby u leave now, ls ul b l8. M almst @ Foody. Wl b der in abt 5 min.

She had been waiting for his message for more than an hour. She was hungry, and almost angry with Daksh for being so late. Nevertheless, she rose from her desk and proceeded towards Foody, the cafeteria at AdMania.

Daksh came over every afternoon for lunch with her from his office which was located in the neighbouring building. Theirs was a perfect college romance that grew into a mature love story, with them even getting to work in close proximity of each other.

As she approached Foody, she spied Daksh waiting for her. Tall, muscular, clean shaven. He looked like that Ricky Bahl guy from a romcom she had seen lately. His longish hair swooped down his forehead and she loved the way she swept it back with his fingers every time it fell in his eyes. He was the epitome of brains and brawns. He hugged her, and they went to their favourite table, the one by the window that overlooked the lake right behind the office building. She had long stopped placing her order at the cafeteria. The guys here knew what she’d eat- one paneer roll, and a glass of her favourite musk melon juice. On the days she was really happy, or really stressed out, she’d ask them for a double chocolate pastry.

Daksh had once asked her why she always had the same food. She always went for what she liked the most, she had replied. Why go for something else when you can have your favourite? Same food, same boyfriend- she knew she would like no other dish better than her paneer roll and musk melon juice; and no other man better than Daksh.

Same boyfriend”, thought Daksh, with a smirk in his head. He let the topic go. He didn’t want to talk about it.

They had a nice lunch and spoke of their imminent wedding. He showed her pictures of wedding halls he found online. She told him about this place that specialized in customized sherwanis and lehengas and suggested they check it out asap. He nodded his head in agreement. Then they discussed their wedding invitation card. It would read:

June Kejriwal Weds Daksh Kasbekar.

After lunch, they walked hand in hand till they reached June’s office building. He planted a kiss on her head and walked towards his office as she went to her desk.

On his way to his office, Daksh kept thinking what a big joke this kind of wedding planning was. As if the marriage would ever happen.


“Tapasya Ramachandran”, said the beautiful lady at the hospital reception.

“I’m here to check on my mother, Mrs. Mamata Ramachandran. She’s in the Oncology ward. I also want to have a word with Dr.Soni, please. ”

“Yes, Tapasya ji, Dr. Soni is with your mother right now. Please proceed towards her ward, you can meet both of them.”

Tapasya was a wonderful daughter- every mother’s dream baby. She had lost her father to a massive stroke when she was 15, and ever since, she had taken it upon herself to take care of her widowed mother. The void that her father’s demise had left in their lives brought mother and daughter closer to each other, and now they were the best of friends.

This cancer was a bull she intended to take by the horns. She had already lost her father; she couldn’t let go of her mother yet. The sudden news of the disease had shaken Tapasya and turned her from being just a friend to her mother to being a guardian angel. She barely stayed at home as she divided her time between her job and being with her mother in the hospital. Often, she skipped going to office and just worked from home. She had a super supportive manager who kept her updated about work office via IM and e-mail. Rudraneil Srivats was the best boss an employee could wish for. He worked from the client location in Canada, and didn’t fret much about the location she worked from.

Tapasya moved from the receptionist’s desk towards the oncology ward when she bumped into Dr.Soni. He had good news. Her mother was much better today, and he said that it was Tapasya’s care that had brought Mrs.Ramachandran on the road to recovery. A tear escaped her eye. She was overjoyed.

Dr.Soni was an amazing man and a gifted surgeon. He was also her childhood friend. Romil Soni.The guy she knew she’d marry one day since she was five years old. The guy who stood steadfastly beside her through her father’s death. The boy who grew up to be the most handsome man she knew- tall, athletic, charming, with a head full of thick hair he wore a little longer than most men do- like that irresistible conman in Lootera. The guy she loved, until she began working with Rudraneil Srivats.

She was smitten by the way Rudraneil spoke to her over the phone, by the way he handled critical work issues with a degree of calmness and composure she never knew existed. He was a charismatic man, and in many ways, similar to Romil. She had contemplated talking to her mother about her confusion, when one day, out of the blue, the cancer demon stepped into their lives, changing them forever.

She was lost in her thoughts when she realized that Romil had suddenly caught hold of her hand. “You look starved, Tapu! Come let’s grab a bite while your mom is asleep. We’ll come back and meet her in half an hour.”

Tapasya looked at the man who had loved her for close to two decades now. A barrage of questions went through her head. Would she be able to completely ignore the attraction she felt Rudraneil and remain in love with Romil? Would she ever tell Romil about her boss? If so, then when? What would mom say? Most importantly, would mom ever feel well enough to talk to her anymore?

The tears broke through the dam that were her eyes and made their course on her cheeks. She couldn’t think anymore, as she hugged Romil and wept her eyes out. Her exhaustion and lack of sleep overcame her determination as she moved towards the guest room in the hospital and fell into a deep sleep. She became oblivious to her surroundings as Dr. Romil Soni pulled a blanket over her and sat on a couch next to her bed. He pulled out his laptop and composed a mail using his fake e-mail ID. It went something like this:

Hi Tapasya,

Hope your mom is doing well.

This mail is regarding the ongoing deal with the campaign strategy for Johnson & Co. They have reverted to our proposition saying they loved your idea and thus wish to go ahead with it.

The design team has begun working on it. We’re fortunate to have a brilliant Creative Associate like you on our team. You’ve done a great job once again. Congratulations.

Rudraneil Srivats, Creative Head, AdMania Media Group.


Romil Soni shut his laptop. It had been a long, hard day. As usual. Mamata Ramachandran walked into the room and sat next to the supine Tapasya, as Romil moved towards the balcony. The cool night breeze felt soothing on his face. He was tired. He thought of the good old days. It felt like a century had passed since then.

Yet, just seven months ago, he was a completely different being. He was just a doctor with a loving girlfriend, Tapasya. They had had a long, happy courtship, and were all set to be married. The wedding was to be a low scale one because Tapasya’s mother had recently been through cancer in its initial stages. It was the kind of cancer that could be completely cured, but Tapasya had not wanted a grand event when clouds of illness were threatening to loom large over her family.

It was a bright morning when she had left for office on that fateful day seven months ago. She had a major seminar to attend that day, where she, along with a colleague, was to deliver a speech and present their company’s achievements to the CEO. Her mother’s final report too was due for that morning, after which she would be declared cancer-free. She had a lot on her mind that morning.

Tapasya Ramachandran and her colleague got into the car to reach the seminar, with Tapasya at the wheel. These two women were known to be not just achievers at AdMania Media Group, but also good friends. Such good friends that when The Solitary Reaper decided to visit them, they were together. Tapasya's thoughts, for a fleeting moment, escaped to her mother's reports- and for that lone second, she wasn’t looking at the road. There was been a crash, and the duo never made it to the seminar. Radhika Banerjee was declared dead when she was brought into the ER, while Tapasya was taken to sugery with severe head injuries.

When she woke up and heard of the death of her dear friend, that too in a crash where she was driving, she fell unconscious. When she woke up again, she was Tapasya no more. She was more than one entity.

The shrinks said the shock was too much for her, and that she had developed Multiple Personality Disorder. The massive guilt she felt at the death of Radhika had manifested itself as the disease. The pent-up stress she had felt at her father’s death and mother’s diagnosis only added to the severity of her condition. Her memory was limited to the morning of the accident and now she knew nothing of her life after the disaster. She was unaware that her mother’s cancer reports that day came clean, and that she had successfully beaten the disease. MPD was a complex syndrome, they said. Shifting her to a mental asylum was the best option according to the shrinks. But Romil disagreed. His love, with Mrs.Ramachandran's 'mamata', would be more than enough to take care of Tapasya.

She now woke up every morning as Radhika Banerjee. Sometime over the course of the day, she imagined she was June Kejriwal. Nobody knew who June was. The shrinks attributed it to be the woman who had lived the love story Tapasya Ramachandran had always wanted- the woman who was engaged to Daksh Kasbekar, the kind of guy who wooed his woman like she wanted Romil to. And then, at the end of the day, she goes back to being Tapasya.

With every different identity that she had, Romil had to adopt a new identity too. The oncologist woke up every morning, and got ready to drive Radhika to the AdMania office. In the afternoons, he donned the garb of Daksh and took June out for lunch and to go over their wedding plans. In the evenings he reached the hospital half an hour before Tapaysa got there, looking for her mother. He recollected the pains he undertook over these months, discussing her condition with the people at AdMania, who agreed to fully support Romil in his quest to stand up for Tapasya. He remembered those e-mails he sent to her and Radhika’s IDs at regular intervals throughout the day, so that she would still think she had a job. He had dedicated his life to Tapasya- to a strict penance.

The sound of mild snoring broke his train of thoughts. He looked towards Mamata Ramchandran who had dozed off while stroking her daughter’s head. He realized it was time for him to sleep too. He woke Mrs. Ramachandran and made her shift to a more comfortable bed. He looked at Tapasya and hoped he was now more than just the romantic that Daksh Kasbekar was. He hoped Tapasya would not have any more complaints with him and his lack of romanticism.

He then drew the curtains and got into his own bed, ready to sleep, ready to wake up next morning as Rahul Shukla.