Friday, January 12, 2007

Between Chamique and me...

In between the freelancing and taking on multiple projects, the training course for Elementary Education, and the ongoing domestic restyling of our house the landscaping of the school and garden, the potential Spin Instructor status that means setting my body clock alarm to the rising of the sun, all elbowing their way through the urgency of sending out applications for a masters degree and the niggling reminders to myself of needing to get started on more serious, development-specific writing…

In between this and that, I think I’m all blogged out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dilli ki sardi

While in Delhi, a place I have declared my love for already, I met Sou one evening. We laughed with our eyes and drank through our laughter, dipping deep fried goodness into mayonnaise as we played fill-in-the-blanks with news and gossip.
E-group catfights from fellow journalists, Delhi weddings and what the rest of our tribe was up to. And then, Woman, how come you didn’t include Delhi in your post about your favourite things to do in cities? And all I could see was a frown as she sipped at crushed ice soaking in a minty mojito.
What? I dedicated an entire post to why I love the place.
No good. I demand a Delhi post. And you must move here soon after.

This last week was a slow winter seduction.
Firstly, there was the stunningly gorgeous Neemrana. Made even more breathtaking by a fabulous (and remarkably tasteful – I mean, come on, Delhiites, show me some bling!) party. If the view from a 15th century fort palace can’t take your breath away, imagine fireworks that drop down towards you from a pitch black sky while you crane your neck and lay back in brocade and high heels, sipping wine to warm your insides as the winter air pinches your bare skin.

Then there was an embarrassingly large amount of food. Of which much was had. Street chaat stalls, upmarket hotels, roadside dhabas, take-aways, ordered-ins, home-cooked food by tipsy dancing chefs, Dilli Haat counters and coffee shops. Blr Bytes and I have come to the conclusion that Delhi has more for the die-hard foodie than Bangalore does. But everytime we’d go out to eat, my companions would roll their eyes as I gasped at the prices alongside meal options. Delhi may have options, but Bangalore restaurants let you have your fill without having the check spilling over to five figures for a group of four.

Also, given my traveling companion, I was urged, nay, forced to use the metro. I think a tiny part of me wanted to believe that the Cal metro was the real deal in an old city. I was very impressed, despite my worldly air (I mean the metro in Cal is ancient, and Delhi’s all excited about this?) as we rode yellow lines and blue lines just for the heck of it. So yes, I agree, Delhi’s done a great job with that. I only hope Bangalore will follow suit, but all I see is those green metal sheets being moved from one end of the road to another. (Metro station here. No, here! Here! Now you see it, now you have to wait for us to make up our minds. Uhm, just keep watching, you irritable pedestrians. Gaping holes in the national highway are meant to be dug!)

And then there was the cold. Which Delhi friends described as a gentle nip, quietly whispering the winter’s imminent arrival. To me it was nothing less than a scream. Shawls and sweaters and socks were procured for me to wear indoors. Though I eventually did get used to the slap in my face upon stepping outside. Soon, I could sit through an entire sound and light show at the Red Fort with just a jacket. At night. *cue superhero theme song*

And then I came back to Bangalore. Where cold is a sickly distant cousin of the Delhi model. So now, with my newfound resilience, I skip and toss my hair carelessly about, feeling a light spring breeze where others feel a harsh, mocking threat.

So now I have strappy tops that must be worn on terraces for open-air nights out. Take that, you empty threat of an approaching winter.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


When I heard that my best friend was going to have a baby I don’t think I really believed it. I don’t think I allowed myself to meditate long enough on what carrying a tiny, fully formed human being inside of you actually means.
Hetu and I watched the seventh month scan with wide eyes and our jaws hitting our toes.
And Zo asked me to go with her for her last scan since the next scan I’ll get to see will be my own. See, this is why you need a sister, she said with such sisterly authority.

Her baby, whom I have named Lovechild, has a nose just like hers and is busy sucking its toes and hiccupping these days.

It’s been 37 weeks already and I might not be here to see her holding her newborn. Although, I’ve given the tummy and the mother strict instructions to hold on until I get back from traveling, I’m not so sure the baby heard me properly. The mother promised she’d try ‘holding it in’, at least until her real due date, but the doctors told her to keep her mommy-bag ready for the birthing suite.
I can’t wait.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Doing it right, right now

Strangely, there is a series of frantic workshops and consultations underway about the rehabilitation of the tsunami-affected in the Nicobar islands. (Yes, affected by the tidal wave which hit two years ago.) After I was done clicking my tongue and slapping my forehead I ended up representing a landscape architecture firm that was at Katchal in Nicobar four days after the tsunami struck. Four days.

The firm designed homes in consultation with the Nicobaris and most of the designs incorporated locally available material as well as using much of the debris that was left all over the island. Eco-friendly, indigenous, low-cost and with minor curing and a little change of techniques, the designs were ready for implementation. By the architects and by the communities. They were ready to get started within a week.

But then there was much deliberation and consultation and frowning and clearing of throats at the mainland. That would be where I’m typing from now. The mainland. So far away from the islands that we really can’t comprehend how different and far away the Andaman and Nicobar islands are. It seems that the A&NI are a part of India only by an accident of history.
So the powers that be at the mainland have finally realised that much of the relief money hasn’t reached the Nicobaris. That they have been living in ‘temporary shelters’ made of tin sheets and tarpaulin for two years now. The designs that had been approved by the government are proving uneconomical and unpopular amongst the island communities. Steels beams and cement flooring is alien to the community and we aren't making them feel resettled at all.

It's difficult for some people to understand that it isn't earthquakes that kill people, it's buildings. And the tribals know that. They experience earthquakes every other week. Ask them and they'll say, Haan, zameen hila tha kuch-kuch. (Yes, the earth moved little-little.)

As an aside, it’s funny how good intentions are not always enough for effective rehabilitation. I’ve written about culture-appropriate development and resettlement measures before. Here are some of the things that happened in Nicobar soon after the tsunami.

  • We sent 500 fishing boats from the mainland to the islands, immediately making connections such as islanders = fishermen. The Nicobaris, however, do not fish for a living. One person from a tuhet (extended family comprising of 80-100 people) goes out, catches some fish and they all eat. Sometimes they don’t fish at all. The 500 fiberglass boats still lie anchored to the shore and children play hide and seek.
  • Relief workers were out identifying orphans and grabbed the children whose parents were killed by the tsunami. The tuhet doesn’t consider anyone as an ‘orphan’ given that the entire community raises children as their own. The Nicobaris had to row their way to Andaman, covering distances as huge as 500 km between islands, in order to bring back the children.
  • Donations in kind included thousands of saris, which the Nicobari women don’t wear. The men, who wear sarongs, couldn’t even use them because they wear thin cotton, not chiffons and synthetic blends. However, given the tiny bushy mosquitoes that could fit through the Indian standard mosquito nets, the saris were effectively stitched into custom-made Nicobari mosquito nets.
  • The Nicobaris were sent over ten thousand sanitary napkins. Not knowing what to do with the tidal wave of winged and lined sanitary pads, the tribals stitched some saris closed and stuffed them with the pads, making pillows out of them!

Plans have been (re)circulated and there is much frowning and clearing of throats still. I only hope the proposal gets cleared and we can get started right away. The right way.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My real life seems to have crept up on me and when I did recover from the Boo! moment, I was left with a long list of to-do things. Each of these Things To Do has an empty circle next to it now, (instead of a hierarchical number) waiting to be filled (instead of being obliterated by an arrogant tick mark). Little round full moons waiting to be made dark by ballpoint pen ink and satisfaction.

That, incidentally, was my excuse for blog neglect.
We will return to our previous irregular programming shortly.

*fade to black*

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Suddenly sexless

It’s interesting how men avert their eyes most conscientiously when a woman is breastfeeding her baby on the bus. When there is soft brown skin being exposed from beneath a sari blouse.
Connections are instantly and unconsciously made - motherhood, family, wholesomeness, duty, purity - and eyes to dart away reflexively. Suddenly breasts become asexual.

My own body is undefined. Almost invisible through layers of gym clothing, yet it still draws stares as I buy my ticket and find a place to stand, leaning against the side of a metal seat. One arm raised to hold on to the bar above. Backpack strapped purposefully over my shoulders.

There are eyes that suddenly look at my chest, authoritatively, intrusively, searching. When there’s a bare breast not even two feet away from me. (No sports bra, camisole and cotton jacket to hide naked skin.) Unlayered-upon, unhidden. Just sheer chiffon leaving little to the imagination. But still, there are eyes searching for mine.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Greasy choices

Last weekend Angana was in town and being the media celebrity that she is (she actually has people stop her on the streets and ask – Don’t you anchor for such-and-such news channel everyday?), a conversation with her is like a personally delivered, live scoop on the fourth estate.
On one of our nights out, she told us the story of a certain Well Endowed Starlet who was in no real need of further exposure (pun obviously intended), but who was happy to have been asked to appear live on air. She stepped into the studio, demurely dressed as compared to her onscreen persona, ready for her interview.

The producer took one look at her and barked, ‘What the hell is she wearing?’ And instructed one of the anchors to take her to the green room and dress her more appropriately. Well Endowed Starlet was handed a tiny ‘inner’ that news anchors wear under their sophisticated formal jackets.
So, did she do it? Those of us (two of us, actually) who strayed from mainstream media long ago asked, wide-eyed and hungry for greasy media kibble.
Angana gave us a look of pity reserved for stray dogs.
‘Then what? The top Hindi news channel, dahlings. She’d be an idiot to refuse.’

At that we sipped contemplatively at our spiked juices; all of us readying to launch into an animated conversation about feeding the gaze and media ethics and gender discrimination at the workplace. But suddenly we sipped so much that it didn’t matter for the rest of the night.

Because we’ve come to understand a few things between us. Things that J-school doesn’t teach you, but you learn once you leave the shelter of the crowded computer labs and shared apartments and the comfort of a crowd that becomes your family in the course of ten cramped months. We’ve learnt that we’re all idealists, only that some of us are more practical than others. We’ve learnt not to question each other’s choices so much. Especially since our reunions are so few and far between.
Media is media. Non-profit work is non-profit work. Columns will be read and forgotten. And documentaries will be made and watched only by those who care.

And sensationalism is what sells. It’s what we buy, you and I. Even if it’s only to wrinkle our noses and express contempt at what passes for news today. It’s why my editor used to tell me I’d never be taken seriously. It’s why Angana quietly hands over her inner to Well Endowed Starlets who will never be seen as anything else. It’s why women as individuals are seen as one-dimensional and only when it serves a purpose, they acquire (or certain parts of them acquire) a 3-dimensional reality. It's why our tolerance levels for scandal have shot up so much that we’re in need of a bigger fix everyday. There are no more raised eyebrows anymore.

Because greasy fries are a hard habit to break, dahlings.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Ananya the six-year-old smiles with her eyes before the corners of her mouth begin to dance.

One of the first times I met her was when she came to the office with her backpack stuffed with entertainment for the day. Her parents were both at the office and she didn’t have school, so she was instructed to busy herself and not disturb anyone else.
I was almost done with the newsletter and had some free time so we went for a short walk and picked up some leaves. I showed her how to colour over the veins and make patterns through paper and she showed me how to wrap a dupatta around my head and transform myself into a queen.

Another time she was visiting, I heard singing. I grabbed my tea and peeked into the conference room and Ananya was dancing around the table with flowers tucked behind each ear and scarves draped over her hands.
‘Whatchu doing?’ I asked.
‘Ohfo,’ she turned around impatiently, ‘Can’t you see? My husband and I have been married for seven years and I’m doing a puja to see if we still love each other.’
‘Oh, okay,’ I said casually, ‘Can I watch?’
And when she nodded I quietly sat down in the nearest chair.
‘Can’t you see?’ she said, her eyes as big as saucers, ‘That’s where my son is sitting.’
I quickly switched chairs and asked how old her son was.
‘He’s six.’
And then she danced and sang and swished her scarves around and chanted Om most soberly, indicating the ceremony was done and that I must conclude by saying ‘shanti shanti heee.’

I told my Project Coordinator - her mom - about the love-test puja later and she rolled her eyes. I think it has to do with being an only child, she said. And then she looked at me and asked if I was happy as a kid.
I was, I replied. And I’ve never really missed having a sibling because you find that you’re an interesting enough person to spend time with, I smiled, signalling to Ananya reading softly to herself.

Ananya’s in school now, learning arithmetic and pottery and the life cycle of butterflies.
Soon she’ll learn too much. Her smiles will be reserved for those she knows, never for strangers. Her treks down the road in search of the perfect flower will be bartered for tuitions.
Her wide-eyed belief in the tooth fairy, who sneaks into her room and slips a five rupee coin under her pillow, will be traded for gift coupons at the mall. Her screeches of delight at having her father announce it’s time for swimming class will be swapped for crossed legs and polite thank yous.
Soon she’ll grow up and she’ll remember what was. Maybe she’ll have a blog and write about first crushes and head rushes. She’ll meet friends of her parents who’ll tell stories that embarrass her in front of her friends.

Now Ananya sings songs out loud whether the people in the room are real or imaginary. She instructs me not to pick up completely dried leaves from the ground because the ritual of dying is complete and mustn’t be interfered with.
She runs into the room and removes my headphones that cocoon me from the rest of the world so that I can pay attention to her latest masterpiece in crayon and photocopier paper. She tosses her hair authoritatively over her shoulder and grabs the latest Down to Earth, tucking it under her arm like it’s a purse. She announces that her children have to be dropped to school (the balcony). She slurps iced tea with her legs dangling from the chair.

But I love best that she smiles with her eyes before the corners of her mouth begin to dance.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Five things

Another tag.

This one requires one to post five things to do in one’s city - not touristy stuff, but what one loves to do.

I know, I know. Five things in one city.
I suppose this is fraudulent, but I couldn’t make up my mind. Noting down all my favourite things made me realise how much I love each of my cities. So I’m posting the entire ordeal that I went through in choosing just one place. And that’s why I could leave out none.
So here’s a list of my five favourite things to do in the cities that have been home to me so far.

I keep coming home to:

  • Full meals at RR
  • Bus-ing my way around the city and looking at the traffic without an ounce of road rage
  • Fish curry-dosa at Pecos
  • Disappearing for hours at the invisible Select Bookshop
  • Walking the streets of Indiranagar/Jayanagar/CV Raman nagar when it drizzles

Home base and respite during my work in Orissa:

  • Diesel fry
  • Sitting on the wall of the Dhauli looking over the expanse of paddy fields between the stupa and the city (must be done again before Bbsr starts eating up the empty space and engulfs Dhauli altogether)
  • Multiple share autos
  • Badam kulfi at Unit I market
  • Sleeping on the terrace during sweltering summer nights

ACJ and an insane schedule permitted the following:

  • Iddiappams at Vasantha Bhavan
  • Frozen yoghurt at Amethyst
  • Turtle walks
  • Watching local and amateur rock bands perform at the Unwind Centre
  • Lingerie shopping at Mermaid with the girls

The following make me feel at home:

  • A corner table and conversation at Dolly's Tea Shop in the Dakshinapan shopping complex
  • Phuchka
  • Elaborate breakfasts at Flury’s
  • Stopping for maati bhaarer cha at a corner tea stall, asking for refills in the same earthen cup until you’re entirely satisfied
  • Tram rides (because nobody’s ever in a hurry)

And now, Arka, Gee Baby and Aristera may consider themselves tagged.