Tuesday, February 18, 2014

(Step) Motherly Treatment Indeed

18th September 2011. Approx. 6:00 PM. It was a peaceful and quiet evening. Sipping chai and sinking our teeth into crispy hot pakoras, we watched the evening mist shape into clouds and kiss our window pane. A blissful moment that we wished would stay forever. But as the proverb goes, our happiness was short-lived. We had just drifted away, down the rabbit hole into a wonderland when we felt the floor beneath our feet begin to shake and the tea cups start to rattle. 

The mist enveloping the mountains
just before the first tremors were felt
For a few seconds, we couldn't gauge what was happening, was it the music next door causing the vibration? But then we saw the walls crack and we knew there was much more at play here than just music. Reflex took over and we both reached for the door simultaneously, bumping into a housekeeping staff member who was about to bang on our door. No words were required; his expression was enough to tell us that we were right. The three of us ran downstairs and out of the hotel, to join the rest as the tremors strengthened. Yes, we were caught in the earthquake that rocked Sikkim in September 2011 on a Richter scale of 6.9.

The first set of tremors probably lasted a minute or so. Honestly I cannot remember. Once the vibrations had subsided, we braced ourselves for the aftershocks. Would they unleash more terror or would they take some pity on us? We weren't disappointed. Within the next thirty minutes Gangtok experienced three more aftershocks; all we could do was hold hands and wait; hoping and praying that we had seen the last of them.

September is a lean season in Sikkim as far as Tourism is concerned. We were but the only guests at the hotel that evening, having planned to visit the northern parts of Lachung the next morning. 

It wasn't long before the electricity gave up and the whole of Gangtok was plunged into darkness. But in the midst of all the apprehension and fear that had taken over every mind, what touched ours was the hospitality the locals displayed. Despite all odds and the danger of the roof collapsing over their heads, they placed us and our needs above all.  In between the tremors, Mr. Thapa, the F&B manager walked up to us and asked what we would like to have for dinner. Yes, with the earthquake looming large on our lives, Mr. Thapa was worrying over what meal he could feed us. Despite our protests, he stayed adamant, saying that we had a long day and he couldn't see his guests go hungry, whatever the situation might me. Finally we gave in on the condition that we would have only “bread omelet”. All of us shared a meal that night. 

Post dinner, a slight tremor saw us outside again. But this time we were not alone. People were to be found everywhere, some squatting while others hunching against cars and scooters. Mothers tried to keep their children warm with blankets, while some men were busy lighting up tiny fires to chase away the chill. There was a chant in the air which had been absent earlier. We strained our ears and realized that every person out there was praying for a basic need – to keep all of us safe. The hotel invited folks in, to rest and pray. 

For safety reasons we along with the housekeeping staff slept on the ground floor. We were occupying the sole guest room on the floor and the rest along with some locals made the reception area their bedroom; including the hotel manager.  It was a long night and not a soul slept; all awake wondering every single second what was in store in the next. For the first time, we understood what uncertainty truly meant.  

A set of tremors later, the night finally decided to give way to the morning. Mother Nature seemed to have calmed down but everywhere we looked we could see the impact of her fury from the previous night. Trees had fallen, cables were dangling all over, roofs had collapsed and there were gaping holes in the walls. Our hotel too had seen its share of damage; cracks had developed across the rooms, with one gaping wide open near the entrance, silently exhibiting proof of what we had been through. 

Going to Lachung was now out of question, every road entering or exiting Gangtok was blocked by landslides. All we could do was spend our days around Gangtok city and evenings watching that mist against the hotel window pane. Quiet evenings they were, but this time they were accompanied by an eeriness that was tough to ward away. 
With Mr. Thapa and the hotel staff,
they defined hospitality for us

Mr. Thapa served us a limited menu for the next three days that we were there. Despite constraints such as a continuing power cut and restricted produce availability, he served us lip smacking meals which always comprised of dal, rotis, sabzi and rice - a complete indian meal. Come what may, he ensured we had a proper meal at all times. 

We walked around Gangtok, taking in the damage the earthquake had left behind and getting overwhelmed by the hospitality we encountered wherever we want. Yes, the roof over their heads was taken away but that did not stop a single local from extending a warm welcome to us, sharing with us whatever little was left behind and most importantly giving us a peek into what truly formed the elements of their existence. To the naked eye, their living would seem humble and their education minimal. True, they were not educated the way we were, but the knowledge they had to share surpassed ours by all measures. Despite the limited exposure to formal education, their views on the country’s political landscape, infrastructure and development was progressive. They faced threats on a daily basis, not just of natural calamities but disasters from across the border. But their inclination to stubbornly stay put with the land they called their nation was one to be proud of. We did not get to see the natural beauty this north eastern state had to offer, but the exquisiteness of its people more than made up for it.

Finally the roads to Bagdogra were cleared and we set to leave. A couple that was stranded in the landslides made it to the hotel, things had begun to fall in place. As we settled the bills, we found the figure given much smaller than what it should have been. Something seemed amiss. On rechecking each bill, we realized that there was indeed something absent – the food bill. When questioned, we were told that the hotel wouldn’t charge us for a single meal because they couldn't provide us with a choice. When we tried to argue, Mr. Thapa exclaimed “I fed you just an Omelet and bread that night, I can never forgive myself for that”. We were lost for words.

Source: Hindustan Times
Yes, we looked different from them, but that did not make them treat us differently. Yes, we had traveled miles to get there, but they did not ask for our passports to check our identity. Yes, they sympathized with what Tibetans went through but not once did they stop considering themselves as Indians. Yes, our hairstyles were different from many there, but they did not taunt nor pull daggers out at us. They treated us like family.

So why do we treat them any differently? An extremely peace loving and all inclusive community, why this continuing outcry against them? What have they done to deserve such abhorring treatment? They have always been sidelined, treated as foreigners and ridiculed at every opportunity. Why? And now, we kill one of them us? Why? They demand an anti-racism law, in their own country. Isn't that a shame on the rest of us? Yes, ever region has its own culture and distinction; does that mean we drive our fellow men and women from each state away? On what basis is this racial slur imposed on them? Who gave us the right to treat them so? And how on earth are we justified to decide their future? Doesn't all of this reflect our ignorance and inability to treat our own as an equal? Doesn't it make us feel small? It should – smaller than we can imagine. 

We left Gangtok with a heavy feeling that day. It was not the vacation we had signed up for, but it was one that we would never forget. Sikkim had taught us an important lesson. A lesson the rest of the country will probably never learn. 

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Birthday Party

Source: www.teddybearcollection.blogspot.com
She yelled at him. It had become a daily ritual. “Raj! For Pete’s sake, why can’t you keep an eye on Kuhu once in a while? She has crawled under the bed!”

The day had started for Reena, like it always did. With a lot of chaos interspersed with the mess Kuhu created, accentuated by her heavenly gurgles. She went about, tripping over a fallen book as she cleared the toys and got ready to leave for work. With the mess cleared, she rushed into the kitchen to get breakfast and her lunchbox ready, throwing a stony stare at Raj as she went by. “I am going to get late again today” she muttered under her breath, as she spilled the warm milk onto the floor and saved the feeding bottle from crashing into pieces. As usual it was past nine when she left the house with Kuhu in tow. 

It was but a fifteen minute drive to work. Quickly she dropped the obliviously happy munchkin at the day care center and stealthily entered her office, hoping fervently that her boss Mr. Mudit was not around. “Reena! This is the third time in a week that you are late, and it is just Wednesday!” she heard the devil scream from behind. She turned around with an apologetic look plastered on her face which she knew would melt Mr. Mudit’s anger. “Sir, Kuhu ….” “Yeah, I knew it had to be that” he cut her, but in a much calmed tone. “Try not to repeat this ok?” he said, giving a warning look like he did every day. “If only Raj would help her with the morning chores” she groaned as she made her way to her desk. 

The morning went by in a jiffy, save her lunch visit to check on Kuhu, she hardly got a minute away from work. The kiddo was busy gurgling, making a mess of everything around her. Things were normal. Heaving a sigh, Reena suddenly remembered the chores she had to get done. Buy groceries, pick up the laundry and get Raj a couple of tees. His wardrobe seemed so outdated these days! That sealed it for her, she had to steal an hour away from work and run to the closest mall. 

As she heaved the bags, Reena’s phone rang. It was her mother-in-law calling. It must be three, thought Reena; it was the same time every day.  “Beta, how are things? How is work” asked Sheela. “Hectic as usual Ma, I just stepped out to buy Raj some clothes, he still has those faded tees, can you believe it!” After a pause Sheela replied “I understand beta, but did you have to take time out of work? It could have been done some other day…” “It has been long overdue Ma… you are coming tonight right? And baking Raj’s favourite chocolate cake?” Again there was a pause… a much longer one this time. “Yes Reena, we will be there and I’ll get the cake”. Happy, Reena cut the call, only to hear it ring again. This time it was Raj’s and her college mate and best friend Neil calling. She discussed the surprise birthday party she had planned with him. It was going to be a small gathering, all of Raj’s closest friends and family. He would be pleased she thought.

It was five by the time she picked up Kuhu and made her way back home. On reaching, she got Kuhu settled in and went about cleaning the place, to get it ready in time for the party.  She felt Raj’s eyes smiling as she went past him. “It’s just too messy” she said quickly, hoping that he wouldn't guess what she was up to... An hour later she and Kuhu were ready, in time when the door bell rang. Ma, Pa, Neil and his family were all there.  She knew Raj would be happy. The morning irritation was forgotten.

Sheela gave her a tight hug and placed the cake on the table. Slowly, she looked up and saw her eyes glisten in the reflection from the photo frame. Her son looked back at her with a smile, as he always had ever since that ill fated day, six months ago. Turning around, she saw teary eyes trained on the wall behind her…she was not alone. A loud yell from the kitchen broke the silence; Reena was jumping up and down ecstatically “Raj! Kuhu just said her first word, did you hear that??” her screaming was interjected by Kuhu’s babbles “Mamm Mamm”…. 

We tell ourselves stories in order to live… in order to come to terms with the emptiness the loss of a close one leaves behind in our life, thought Sheela. This, was Reena’s story. 

This post was written for Women's Web's Muse of the Month writing theme for January 2014.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

So, my teacher was wrong

Source: www.theage.com.au
The chaos is like it has never been before. In its sixty seven year old post independence history, never has this nation seen the kind of disorder as is prevalent today. A country that has been witness to years of humiliation and bloodshed is today being subject to a fate much worse – callous behaviour, orthodox mindsets, selfish motives, idiosyncratic acts and above all a blatant disregard for the betterment of the land and its people. Branded to be the largest democracy, the nation today belies its very definition with nothing but conflict and a sense of anarchy invading its political system.

Be it the television, the newspaper or the social media, anywhere you look, you will come across something that makes you roll your eyes or hang your head in shame. Ninety percent of the time, a politician will be the reason behind it. A vague outlook coupled with an ambiguous approach seems to be the way ahead as far as their vision for the nation is concerned. Yes you might laugh momentarily at the buffoon like behaviour they exhibit but deep down you cringe, at the thought of these “leaders” leading our country and representing us.

Years ago, I was taught to believe that Leaders were those individuals who had a clear vision and the ability to inspire and guide people. They knew what it took to direct their people in the right direction, towards what would be beneficial and progressive in the long run.

Rather than focus on solving the problem, political leaders today prefer playing the blame game. Solutions don’t matter, what does is how much mud I am able to splash all over that crispy white Kurta that you wear every day. Or maybe that’s how they define progress, through mudslinging.

So today I wonder if my teacher was wrong; because everywhere I look, I see an entirely contradictory definition; that of power and greed laced with ambiguity and tied together by immaturity.

“Modi belongs to Gujarat but not once has he referred to Gandhi” screams a Congressman. It matters a lot as far as national security is concerned. Yes, that is definitely the sign of a leader. 

It’s all about empowerment, RTI and women safety, urges the Gandhi scion for every question thrown at him by the uncommonly subdued Arnab Goswami. That takes care of all the issues the world’s second largest population faces. Yes, that is definitely the sign of a leader. 

BJP politician’s party at a Zoo potentially causing the death of 21 Cheetals- probably a new way to ensure public safety. Yes, that is definitely the sign of a leader. 

An AAP minister goes on a midnight raid, making a woman urinate in public. The intentions were good; but the method of execution? … Yes, that is definitely the sign of a leader. 

“Blame women for getting raped” says an NCP woman leader. What could be a better way to deal with the monstrous issue of women safety if not this? Men need not change, the fault lies with women. Yes, that is definitely the sign of a leader. 

Duel over the 1984 and 2002 riots; demand an apology. Because crying over the past and attacking each other over history is the right way ahead. Yes, that is definitely the sign of a leader.

I can go on, till the cows come home. But that’s not necessary. You see, I get the picture. My teachers were wrong with their definition of leadership. Yes, their description flickers in now and then, usually when Kejriwal is not sitting on his Dharna. But this definition overshadows that hands down. If I had any doubts till now, they have been cleared by Mamata Banerjee announcing TMC as the “real”alternative at the national elections. 
I rest my case. My teacher was wrong.

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Heaven On Earth

Having our own house was a dream we had since the day we met. From the days of courtship till we tied the knot, if there was one reverie we both indulged in, it was that of owning a house, one that we could call our home.

Two individuals from diverse cultures coming together to build their dream home. He who had lived his life in compact flats in the crowded and bustling city of Mumbai and She who had spent her entire childhood by the seaside, amid swaying palms and melting sunsets in picturesque Goa.  He had never seen bathrooms bigger than a cubbyhole and she couldn't imagine balconies that were less than a couple of yards long. The hunt for the ideal home couldn't get any more complicated could it?

With his roots firmly grounded in Bangalore, it was but the chosen city. The hunt took months with both of us refusing to see eye to eye on almost everything. Finally we found a place that neither could deny an attraction for. The Goan in me and the Mumbaikaar in him; both had fallen in love. It was an apartment constructed in the north of the city, in an area yet untouched by commercialization. A two bedroom apartment with a study and a tiny terrace - we had our hearts set on it. After years of wait, our house was handed over in 2013, ready to furnish and decorate and create the home we always wanted.

Initially we decided to look around for interior designers who could help us design our home. We had ideas, but the confidence was amiss. Space optimization, streamlined usage of wood and an elegant design was what we hoped for, but after interacting with multiple designer houses, we realized it was easier to define it ourselves. The realization gave birth to the much needed confidence and we went ahead with our own ideas and a décor firm that believed in designing homes collaboratively.

Living room – the living area was edged with French windows opening towards the east. Given the space constraints for this room, we decided to avoid bulky furniture sets and instead opted for a sectional that would seat a decent number of people, yet not make the space look overwhelming. To add to the minimalist feel, we dropped the idea of showcases that are typical of Indian living rooms and instead brought in a lamp that served both lighting as well as décor purposes.  An apartment that opened its doors to the east meant a beautiful sunrise and abundance of morning sunshine. To accentuate the rays that hit our floors, we brought in light shaded curtains. The finishing touch was an Asian paints wall fashion which we had adorn one of the walls, giving it an elegant look.

Kitchen- An open kitchen meant a big no to messy and crowded counters. To allow a clean and clear feel, we opted for a semi island kitchen that gave plenty counter space and helped reduce the oily and spicy mess Indian cooking is so well known for.

Dining area- We owned a beautiful 4 seater dining table that we decided to continue with in the new apartment. It was more than enough for our dining needs and could double up as a buffet table whenever we had guests over. The fact that it was compact made it our choice for this area. We designed the crockery cabinet such that it fit into a cavity in the wall rather than occupy more space on the floor.

Bedrooms- Both bedrooms were designed with a minimalist look and enough cupboard and storage space. Handwoven bed covers were used to give an ethereal feel to the rooms.

Study – This room was one of the reasons we decided to go with this apartment. A spacious study that on one hand could fulfill my dream of having a library and on the other could double up as a guest room if required. We designed a corner unit as a work area with two bookcases on either side. The work area was built such that it could be kept closed when not in use. A diwan was brought in which could double up as a bed when need be. A chair and a lamp in the corner brought to life my idea of a reading corner.

Terrace and Balconies – layered with terracotta flooring, these gave a rustic feel to the house. With each open area waking up to the rising sun, these were the ideal accessories to the apartment. We put in a few Rajasthani chairs on the Terrace to enjoy our evening cup of tea. In the days to come, we intend to landscape the space with lots of greenery.
Asian Paints Wall Fashion

The finishing touch was the painting that we got done. We specifically asked the builder not to put his own coat of paint; instead we approached Asian Paints and decided to get the final touch done through them. We had the entire house painted in a shade of cream to allow the morning sun to light it up as much as possible. In addition, we added the wall fashion to create an element of décor. The advantage of doing so was simple – quality and elegance. The radiance the paint added to the house gave it the much required glow.

It took us over Six months to complete the wood work and painting and make it ready to move in. But decorating the home has been an ongoing process. Every day we come up with a new thought or a new idea to add to the décor. While that experience is a continuing one, there are a few aspects we feel helped us get things to where they are today.

Guidance – Though we decided not to use a professional interior designer, we did require help from an Architect to decide the structural modifications that we would need. The reason for not using interior designer services was that most wanted to implement standard décor concepts rather than consider innovative space saving ideas. If you decide to use a designer, always go with one who is willing to think out of the box and truly give you the home you are looking for.

Budget- As your dream project takes off, your wish list will keep changing and so will the numbers on that excel sheet you so carefully created. That sheet is extremely precious and it is up to you to do your permutations and combinations to stay within the limits or maybe just toe the line a tad bit. Typically these decisions should be governed by practicality.

Deciding a theme – Decide what is it that you are really looking for- Space optimization? Minimal usage of wood? Lots of storage space? Luxurious décor? How do you want it done- Indian traditional look or a contemporary fare? Or would you prefer a fusion? It could be something as simple as deciding a common shade of colour for your wood work, like we did.

Play the leader- Yes. There will be hundreds of suggestions thrown at you, slippages in schedule and last minute feasibility debates that will become the order of the day. It will be key for you to stay on top of it all and be sure of what is it that you want.

Time Management – This will be crucial. Be prepared for taking time out from work at times and busy weekends almost every week. There will be a lot of running around to do – meet the carpenters, select the granite, furniture, paint and the lights; the list will only grow longer. Remember to value time, yours as well as that of the team working on your project.

The time spent is grueling, and often tests your patience and tolerance levels; however the end result gives a satisfaction and happiness that is beyond comparison. This is a project undertaken to build memories of a lifetime, so take your time to make your home, your heaven on earth. 

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