Friday, August 8, 2014

Why its awesome to have younger siblings

1. They are your earliest sub-ordinates to run errands and delegate work to.

2. They are the best source for free downloads, especially after you have moved out of college.

3. Need to spy on parents? Who better than the innocent looking kid in the house?

4. You get to eat from their share of chocolates, long after people have stopped giving you any.

5. They make you feel important - especially when they ask you for advice and you can show-off ;)

6. They indulge your kids to no end.

7. They are the only ones with who you can share the memories of your parents.

8. No matter how old you are, they make you feel like little kids all over again.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Happy Cafe

How happy we were in Mumbai! We both had high-flying (read well-paying) jobs on weekdays and friends and family to get together with over weekends. It was a place we grew up in and absolutely loved. And we both looked forward to settling in the city of dreams for a long time. Then came the day when Ravi got his promotion. There were subtle hints at taking up a bigger role and before we knew it, he was asked to move.
I was almost in tears the day he left. We had spent a good deal of time living away, traveling over the week and this movement was supposed to be a cakewalk. I had planned to shift my base and move in with Ravi in a month's time. I took two weeks off to pack and prepare for the move. Those were depressing days. I missed him terribly in every place I went and everything I did. And the non-stop rains added to the gloom. Finally one evening, the downpour stopped. Even the rain Gods need a chai-break once in a while.

I decided to take a walk around the block not knowing this was about to change something in life. It was one of those moments when Destiny takes control of your life and resets a few applications, closes down some long running ones and changes the wallpaper. But I did not know this. I pulled up my sneakers, put on a windcheater and trotted off down the lane. I walked for quarter of an hour and it became cloudy again. Fearing a downpour, I took a hasty left and started looking up  for a place to park myself for some time. 'The Happy Cafe' it said. "I had not noticed this one before", I thought pensively as I stepped in. It was empty save a couple of tables and a smiling lady behind the cash counter.
"Did I carry my purse?”, I wondered as I looked at the menu placed before me.
"I'll have a glass of water", I said with a nervous smile praying that the waitress does not guess my predicament.
"A cup of lemon tea will be better", chirped the waitress with a smile. "I recommend it in this weather. It makes you happy".
 I nodded with a hint of embarrassment.

I fumbled in my pockets for a while hoping there would be at least one bit of currency left carelessly somewhere. I found five. At times like these, I do not resent anyone being disorganized or sloppy. 

As the waitress went behind the counter to brew my cup of tea, I gazed at her. She was in her mid-forties, or late forties at worst. She had a frizzy mane of salt and pepper and the wrinkles around her eyes and lips had begun to show. She moved her stout frame slowly behind the counter, almost as if preparing for a ballet, while humming a tune I did not recognize. Soon she got me the cup of tea.

"Enjoy your tea", she said with a smile.

I smiled back. I wondered why she was so happy serving me tea. As I sipped the hot concoction, I shot an anxious glance around. Had I had entered a lunatic's lair? I had watched enough movies to believe that this is possible and happens to good, unsuspecting people all the time; more so on a rainy day.

But people around looked quite normal. There was a group of three teenagers at a table chatting happily. It looked like a long awaited reunion. There was a young couple at the table in the corner talking nervously. "Arranged marriage", I smirked. That brought an end to my unwarranted suspicions. "I watch too many movies", I told myself admonishingly.

"Happy place, isn't it?" I darted at the chair next to mine. The lady from behind the counter had seated herself near me albeit surreptitiously. My nervous twitching resumed.

"I always like to surround myself with happy faces. That is why we called this The Happy Café. My husband started it 20 years ago". 

I smiled. "Here comes another story", I sighed inwardly as I braced myself to endure another sob story.

"My husband was very fond of this place. You see, it belonged to his grandfather. He had a very happy childhood here. When we inherited it, he said to me, Suzie, I want people to be as happy here as I was. And so we decided to start this cafe with our little savings. We did not have any children and it gives me joy to see kids like these come here. On hot summer afternoons, many kids from the college nearby gather here to write their assignments. How boisterous they are! And I feel so lively watching them laugh. Fali would be so happy if he were here".

At this point, she wiped an absent tear from her eye.

"Are you new to this place? I have not seen you around much", she pressed on.
I had hoped to nod through this conversation, wary as I was. But here was a question I had to answer.

"I live a few blocks away", I said cautiously.
"I’m glad you came today. I am shutting this place down, I can no longer afford it", she said. "The movers might be here any minute”. She looked at the window.

"You must have some more tea, you are almost shivering", Suzie went back to being the gracious host.
"I sure could", I replied. It was true.

Suzie got up and walked over to the couple. She poured them some coffee, said a few words and laughed aloud as they smiled at each other.
"Do you kids want anything?" she asked the reunion members with a genial smile.

I felt a strange sense of warmth. While Suzie brewed another cup of 'Happy Tea', as she called it, I looked around the place. It really did have an old-world charm to it. I could imagine the young couple struggling hard to set up this cafe, finding solace in each other's company as the day ended and spreading good cheer in a world where worries and anxiety are ubiquitous. Suzie got me my tea, we chatted pleasantly for a few minutes before the movers started coming in. I pulled out my 100-rupee note.
"I don’t have any change", I said. Suzie shook her head.
"I am sorry, but I don’t have any change".I repeated.
"No, no", she said. "No money. We don’t charge anything."
Now I was really shocked. Suzie sensed my amazement and went on.
"You see, Fali's grandfather also left him a lot of money along with this place. It kept us very well off. But not anymore, that’s why I am moving on".

I was truly touched. I had never seen anyone go to such lengths to spread cheer on a gloomy day. I shook hands with her warmly and walked back home with buoyed spirits. It was true; she had made me a happier person. All my gloom of the past few weeks had receded and I felt confident of taking on anything in life. I walked around the block for another hour thinking of Ravi and all the happy times we had spent together. Life was so beautiful.

I was humming a song when I turned the key to the door.
"Oh good you are back. I was worried", my mom-in-law quipped. "Singh Aunty from next door just left. She was very upset. You know their Happy Café? Part of their Happy Singh chain of restaurants? It was robbed today evening".

I stared at her.

"Singh Uncle and Aunty had returned today from a 3-weeks Europe tour to find that the thieves had taken everything. There were only some used plates and cups on the tables. The rascals must have had a tea party after the robbery". 

I started laughing nervously.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Definitive guide to a great vacation

Everyone dreams of a vacation. Don't we bring it up almost every week - the much needed break? It is funny how the idea of a vacation has crunched down to 2 weeks a year, 3 if you are lucky or getting married. Whatever happened to those long vacations we had during school? They were really times for breaks, a series of fun activities envisaged for the whole 2 months.

As I got back to work on a Monday morning, the only thing on my mind was a vacation, not a 5 day break, but a 6 months long vacation. Its a wishful affair, but hey, you never know when the Gods smile down upon you!

So here's a definitive guide to things that you must do if you get a 6-months holiday.

1. Travel

Not a quick, round-the-world-in-5-days kind of trip, but a leisurely 4-5 weeks spent in one or at the most two locations. Leisurely trips give you a glimpse of life that a tourist usually does not get. It gives you time to settle down to the place, savour its local life and get to meet and know people as one of their own. You have more time to explore the eating joints, hang out at the local watering-hole, revamp your wardrobe to the prevalent styles and meet a whole bunch of new neighbours. You are no longer the tourist that they make money from. You are more of a fellow human sharing their life.

2. Unwind and rejuvenate

From beaches to mountains, family gatherings to quiet walks, make these a part of your life for the next 2-3 months. It gives you time to break the monotony of worry. You will be surprised how few your problems are if you merely slacken the pace of your life. Go for long walks with your significant other. Spend time with your kids and parents. Meet friends, visit your old haunts. Just sit back and watch the sunset. Spend the day without a schedule, without timelines and deadlines.

3. Do a technology detox

This is perhaps the hardest to do. Whatsapp comes naturally to us, so does checking emails and sharing pics. It is hard to imagine a holiday or family get together without the customary uploading of pics and sharing of comments. I tried it for a week, or rather was forced to. A week of no calls from work, and from anyone else, no social media networking. The only person to talk to was the one present with you. It surprised me how much mindshare we give to our little hand-held devices inspite of sitting across with loved ones. So a tech detox is a must-have for vacation. Try reducing your exposure to technology and savour the little things that life brings. Spend time more creatively, with the nagging worries now quietened.

4. Serve

Help someone in need, go teach or volunteer for some charitable cause. There are so many people in need of help and we usually  have plenty to give. The very act of doing something without any benefits attached is a liberating feeling. It makes you feel noble and above the breed. You will start counting your blessings. In the process, you might discover what you are really good at, what you like to do or rather want to do, and what difference you can make to the world beyond.

5. Document

This is as important as the others if not more. Not all of us are good at writing, so we prefer the pictures. Write it down, if only for yourself. All that you did, all that you felt. If and when you go back to you work and your world as you knew it, there will be times when this document will remind you what your life is and what it is worth living for.

If you have done something great on your vacations, share your ideas in the comments.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Under the Stars

It is a strange day. I am supposed to be happy, but I am not. All I think of is the imperfection of my life, how chaotic it is and how things don’t go the way I want them to. I decide to walk. One of the self-help books I had read long ago recommends walking as a sure way of alleviating anxiety and sadness. The walk takes me through a canopy of dense green trees. As I walk on the path strewn with bright leaves and pretty red flowers, I stop and take a deep breath. I stop worrying and then start again. I feel guilty of not worrying at times and pretending that life is good. I keep walking on, my head hung down, gazing steadily at the road. A few minutes of walking brings me to the end of the road which opens up on a beach. The sun is about to set. Twilight is the time when old memories pop up, the mind is restless with uncertainties and fears, and one dislikes being alone to face them.

I sit on the beach, my toes wriggling in the still-warm sand. It is very reassuring. I take a deep breath again. The smell of the sea captivates me and the sound of tides crashing on the shore calms my sore nerves. There is no one around.  I decide to take a break from my routine of worry and soak in the moment.  Soon the sun sets, giving way to a thick blanket of stars. I lie on my back and look up at the starry sky.  It is a beautiful symphony on the pitch black background.  I gaze at them and feel the earth slipping off. The stars beckon with their music and glory, and I am drawn toward them. As I stare into the night, I find myself relaxing. My mind is surprisingly thoughtless and I like the tranquility in my head. The Universe unfolds before my eyes and I feel silly about all the things I fret over. I smile. I came here with a trembling heart, worrying about how messed up my life was. And yet, as I sit under the stars, gazing at their infinity, I am amazed at how I am no longer worried. Every nagging thought, every anxiety is miles away. At this moment, I feel blessed. I want it to last forever.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


She remembered Appibai. Every summer when Abha visited her grandmother, she also visited Appibai, the hunch-back old lady who lived next door. She was cocky and foul-mouthed, but there was a huge mango tree in her backyard. She piled Abha with the mangoes every time she went there; and that was all that mattered.

Appibai had two sons and seven daughters. All had moved out for work and settled with their families. Abha had never seen them around the house. Appibai's spiteful tongue had a role to play, or so her grandmother would say. This made Abha wary of the old lady. She never spoke when Appibai was around. She would silently eat the mangoes, praying that Appibai would not notice the mess she was creating. After eating the mangoes, she would wash her hands and arms at the well and walk home.

"It was a long time ago, I must have been all of five then.", thought Abha. She stared at the note accompanying the box of mangoes on her dining table. Every year she would receive a box full as was bequeathed to her. "Did Granny send mangoes Mama?", squealed her 5-year old daughter in delight. "Yes love", said Abha, as she wiped her tears.


Monday, December 17, 2012

On 'The Fourth Protocol'

It is great to read a book and then watch a movie based on it.

I favour the order particularly. A book is an insight into the writer's mind. It is full of details, explanations and a great deal of elaboration. The writer has the liberty to proceed at any pace that the reader finds suitable.

A film maker on the other hand is constrained by time. He has to use pictures and actions to convey the same emotions that a writer uses words for. The idea has to be evident to the viewer without any elaborate explanation.

A book leaves a lot to the imagination of the reader. Though writers do create the entire setting, it is all upto the reader to imagine the place, the exact features, the clothes, the emotions, the colors! And readers generally do a good job.

A film on the other hand constricts the flights of the mind by forcing it to accept things as they are portrayed. There is very little work for the mind, except perhaps listen to the dialogues carefully.

I recently was watching the movie 'The Fourth Protocol'. I absolutely adore the way Forsyth has created a web of mystery around the story of a middle-aged MI5 agent versus a suave KGB Illegal. So a comparison with the book was inevitable.

There were no Jim Rawlings or Billy in the film. The brilliance of the theft in Berenson's apartment loses its charm in the film. All the details of how Rawlings works with the skeleton key, works his way with the alarm system, of Billy's excellent work the previous evening and the use of CLC and water as the shock absorber vanish in thin air. I am sure anyone who has seen the movie without reading the book has missed the relish of a mind-blowing robbery.

Then the excellent ferrreting in Pretoria to discover Jan Marais, constructing the nuke by breaching the Fourth Protocol, the entire stint of tying the goat and waiting for the tiger, they all vanish into ether in the film. Michael Caine is good, so is Pierce Brosnan, but the flavour of the book is lacking in the film.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A ten-rupee note

I was shopping for groceries with Mom one Saturday. It is the local vegetable market. Unorganized and yet organized in its own way. The vendors spread their offerings on gunny sacks in neatly piled heaps of french beans, cucumbers, beetroot, carrots, onions and coconuts. Men and women haggled alike to get a good bargain. People moved slowly from one vendor to another, enquiring about the prices, picking up a potato here or a cabbage there, checking if was worth its price and moving on with a this-is-so-damn-expensive pout. It was a welter of humanity with its myraid forms.

We stopped to buy vegetables from a lady. She had her son besides her, a lad of five. Crowded as the street was with people, vehicles played their role in adding to the commotion. BEST buses, cars, autorickshaws, and bikers trying to snake their way through the traffic, were aplenty. As we were sorting and picking up cauliflowers, a car crawled behind us. I did not pay any heed, but the little boy perked up. 

"Can we ride in it?", he asked his mother. 
"Hmm", said his mother very passively, as all mothers do when they see a tantrum coming. 
"What does it take to get a ride?", the child went on, "only money, no?". 
"Yeah", said his mother with some irritation as she tossed the cauliflower in our grocery bag. Life had perhaps taught her the hard way to avoid day-dreaming. But her son went on.
"Is a ten-rupee note enough? That thing is not as big as a bus!". 

I smiled. It was innocence at its best.