Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The young woman is pretty and impeccably dressed. I size her up. She has come a long way since those days from when I had known her. I knew she was ambitious but at that particular time, she had been stuck in a rut and her life had not been going anywhere. I had known she was struggling to emerge out of this doldrum. She had always been what we call a ‘go-getter’, a woman of gumption, a woman driven, a woman with a single-minded agenda aimed at success. I know she would have fought, tooth and nail and today I see that she had finally won.

She is now a successful young woman with the world at her feet. Her career is flying, her little son cute as a button and her husband handsome and kind, as always. It is good to see her like this, totally on ascendant.
But I am wary of successful people. And I do not hold them in very high esteem. I prefer people who have fought and failed for failure softens a person, humbles him, makes him humane and human. Well, mostly. I have seen too many successful people, erstwhile friends and acquaintances zoom past without even a sideways glance, seen them mercilessly prey on others less fortunate, seen them turn blind and deaf to those who lag behind, seen them never to suffer the weak gladly, have little patience and only contempt for those left behind. No, I am disdainful of successful people and do not hold them in high regard. {I know, my bad. Perhaps, grapes are truly quite sour.}

This woman too, with the chic veneer of success that she wears, has migrated to my notebook of people I do not like that much.

They have stopped for a bit at my home, in deference to old times. It’s a sudden, very brief visit and they have no time to sit. Once the preliminary Hello- How-Are- Yous are completed , they rise to leave.

But the woman stalls. “Aibee, may I see Kuttush?”
I’m taken aback. Kuttush??? 

She had never been fond of dogs. Not at all. In fact I could not recall her ever even petting my Labs. Instead I remember her distinctly making it a point to keep well out of their way. After so many years, I wondered why she wanted to meet my old brown Labrador.

I take her to my bedroom. Inside, Kuttush is fast asleep on my bed. The woman walks up and gently places a pretty palm on the dog’s head and pats him. “Kuttush, Kuttush.” she says, softly, “Kuttush, kaisa hai?”

I am frozen with surprise. Kuttush wakes up, looks around with a quizzical expression on his face, wags his thinning tail in acknowledgement of the gentle hand on his head and then promptly goes back to sleep.

But the woman stays, her hand on the dog’s side. There is an expression on her face which even I, the expert of expressions, cannot quite fathom. There is affection, yes, but there is something much, much more. But whatever it is, I know that it is something good, something beautiful and something very precious.

And I am intrigued beyond description. What is it that draws this young, successful, fulfilled woman who is definitely not a dog lover to my senile half blind, fully deaf and slightly smelly dog? Whatever it is, it warms me towards this woman.

I know, that in spite of all the heady success that crowns her today, her heart is in a very, very right place.  

Thursday, 22 March 2018


Don’t blur her face with your two-bit pixels.

Don’t. I need to see it. I need you to see it.

Not the photo where her purple kameez is burnished like velvet, her eyes like bright black orbs and her smile like Monalisa’s.

No. Not that picture.

(By the way, have you seen that one?
In it, she’s a little girl, 
only a poor, undernourished, tribal shepherd girl. But still, she’s alive in it. All bright and alive and her face shines. A Purple Girl!!!! 

This picture was taken just before she went into the forests to graze her herd. And was abducted and raped and killed.
She was eight.)

An after-thought: Shouldn’t she have been in school, instead of in the forest with her herd?
Or was it a chutti  day? 
Perhaps it was.

Every Sunday and on other school holidays, Gungun comes to my home. To play with Mimie, my plump white Labrador. They are great pals, Mimie and Gungun.

Gungun is not yet eight. She is my colleague's daughter and a chatterbox to the hilt. She lives only a few blocks from my own home here in the hills. She is not yet eight but looks just as tall.

They sit in the sun, Gungun and Mimie; Gungun combing the dog’s soft, silk-like fur with a broken comb and the dog’s eyes droop with the pleasure and the comfort and the camaraderie.

Then she asks me, “Aibee Auntie, toffee?"

So I climb up the stool in the kitchen and reach behind the forest of jars and packets and baskets in my pantry to extract a tin full of ‘toffee’. Chocolate filled.

Now, we both sit in the sun, chomping on the toffee and watch the noon turn into evening. Mimie sits at our feet, head resting on front paws as Gungun takes to gently patting her head again. Orange speckled brown butterflies flit around us, sparrows chirp, the sweet pea is fragrant, the tulips bloom happily and the calendulas are brighter than the sun. I watch and think: What a wonderful gathering of life around me : a living doll, an adorable dog, bright flowers, brighter butterflies, pretty birds.........

All God’s creatures, Her most beautiful creations and some of the reasons that make life worth living.....................

The toffee is done and Gungun wants to go home. She looks at me. “Auntie, ghar jaana hai.” 

The sun is setting and it’s getting dark. I take her hand and walk her down. These hill roads are as safe as a baby’s crib; yet.....I cannot convince myself to let her alone.  I hand her over to the safekeeping of her nanny and still wait, watching until they are both within the safety of their home’s gate. Only then, do I turn back.

Did anyone watch the Purple Girl’s back as she left for the forest to graze her donkeys? Maybe not. And today she lies face down on the hard black earth, her purple kurta splattered with mud, her Monalisa smile erased and her face blurred with your two bit pixels and their easily hurt sensibilities.

Don’t blur her face. Don’t.

We all need to see it. 
Me- Gungun’s Aibee Aunty. 
Gungun’s Mumma. 
Gungun’s Papa. 
Sana’s Mummy. 
Aisha’s  Dad. 
Naheed’s  Apa.  
Tanvi's Di.
Cheryl's Ashish Bhaiya. 
Chomchom’s Thamma.
Mehak’s  Mum. 
Sofia’s Daddy.
Paramjit's Virji
Neelu's Physics Sir
Sunita’s Ma
Adira's Principal Ma'am.

We. Each one of us.

Unblur her. Now! Right now!

Then splatter her face all over this amnesic, aphasic country. Strew it all over the World Wide Web. Fling it over the prime time debate on television channels. Splash it on the newspapers and the bill boards. Let it suspend from grim thunderclouds over our villages, towns and our cities.

Unblur her face.

Let us see that death-swollen face without the shroud of your pixels. Let us see the vacant eyes stopped forever in mid blink. The bloody lips, rodent scratched. The excoriations, the dried phlegm, the rusted blood on her cheeks. The mouth frozen in a distorted O, the remnants of a silent dying scream. 

Force our denying heads to turn back and look upon that death mask of the little doll.

And make us keep looking till its dreadfulness churns up our indifferent stomachs and we puke with the horror of it all. Let it remain in our line of sight till ire roils our apathetic blood and it boils up and over. Let it remain, un-blurred till we rise up- we, mothers and fathers, teachers and neighbours, aunties and uncles, brothers and sisters and together, shout from the tallest roof that no longer can the perpetrators: these monsters, these fiends, these mutants lay claim on their own right to Life.

PS: The Purple Girl is Asifa, an eight year old Bhakarwal tribal girl from Jammu who was kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered over issues over land. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Innocents Abroad

You know what the problem is with these mountains? They fill you with an insatiable curiosity to know what's there beyond the next bend. The deeper you venture into the folds of the hills, the greater is that urgency. So yesterday afternoon, we took a drive deep into the hills behind my home, up on a road that we had never yet taken. It meandered up and up, past scraggly lantana covered slopes, past pine groves that looked like giant broccoli gardens from afar, past dried river beds and brownish sides of mountains lining the road. It surprised me that people actually lived at these remote heights and that there were numerous little villages tucked into the mountain bends and hanging on its precipitous slopes. At one of these villages, our car came across four (or maybe five) little boys, about four feet (give or take a few inches) playing on the road. The moment they spotted the car, one of them ran deliberately across the road, as if daring us to run him down. Nothing surprising that, as we all know what little devils boys are. I didn't give it a second thought, because Other Half is an excellent driver and having driven in places like Ranchi, Amritsar and Jammu which are all Meccas of the Jaywalker, he smartly skirted the little devil with invisible horns without a hitch and we were soon on our way. But then suddenly, he braked jolting me out of my time-pass reveries. I turned to find him frowning into the rearview mirror, his jaw muscles in hyperdrive, always a very ominous sign. I glanced back to find the four feet devils scrambling away from the car.

Okkk, I knew. They had pelted our car with a stone.

The moment the realisation hit me, I felt as if I had been betrayed. I have been staying in this part of Himachal for the last one year and I've formed the opinion that this is India's best corner to live in. It's exquisitely beautiful no doubt; but more important than this is the fact that the people of this place are simple, friendly, God-fearing and law abiding. I love this place so much that I seriously wish I could settle down here for the remainder of my life. So to have these Himachali little boys, throw stones at our car felt unreal and worse, it felt like a betrayal of all my beliefs in the nice-ness of this mountain town. I couldn't quite take this and stepped out of the car. With my oversized sunglasses tucked over my hair and my Angrez attire, I reeked 'tourist' and the boys probably stopped running out of sheer curiosity. They now clambered up on a large black stone and were waiting for this funny looking woman to reach up to them. I trundled over and quaking with indignation asked the nearest little boy, in my best 'totally betrayed' voice, 'आपने हमारी गाड़ी पर पत्थर क्यों फेंका?'
The boy replied confidently, 'It wasn't me !'
I turned to another four-footer, 'Was it you?'
'Nope.' Replied this one in a pink shirt.
I threw the question at another one. This one was sitting on top of the black stone and giving me amused looks. He said firmly, मैंने तो नहीं फेंका।
I was wondering as to what track I should adopt next when the tiniest of the bunch, peeking from behind an older one volunteered earnestly, 'मैंने फेंका।'


This one was barely four feet, and had a tiny face that was the sweetest I had seen for a long time. Red apple cheeks and such terribly naive eyes....... His confession was so disarming, so guileless, so earnest that I was completely floored. I just managed to ask him, 'Why DID you throw that stone, beta?'
'It wasn't a stone.' Came the prompt explanation. It was the cap of a bottle!
Oh! went my thoughts. I felt just a little foolish and
with nothing more to say, I walked back to the car.
But, as we drove back, I found myself feeling unnaturally elated because   my mountain boys were not guilty (well, not in the strictest sense of the word) and my belief of the nice-ness of the people of my mountains was not at all misplaced.


Moral of this Story: Come to Himachal. It's truly DevBhumi, the Abode of the Gods.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Two More Haikus: JLT

A Haiku is a verse with seventeen syllables, in three lines with the strict form of 5-7-5 syllables in the three lines. Originally a Japanese form of poetry, it has now been adopted by poets in other languages.
Now, read on......


On his back, my cheek-
The wind frolics in my hair.
A road flows downhill.


Take one walk with me
Before the memories fade
And the spring snows melt.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

War Game: A Haiku


Inside, tin soldiers
Play war on foolscap paper;
Outside, a bird sings.

A Haiku is a verse with seventeen syllables, in three lines with the strict form of 5-7-5 syllables in the three lines. Originally a Japanese form of poetry, it has now been adopted by poets in other languages.

Monday, 5 March 2018

The Winner Takes It All..

'Supersession' is a word that's been on my mind often these days. A little more frequently than is healthy, but then wallowing-in-self-pity provides such masochistic delight that I cannot quite stop myself from indulging in this exercise. I love the word 'wallow', for it paints visions of this great pool of soft, gooey, orange clay into which I sink as it engulfs me in its warm embrace. It's cathartic, this 'wallowing' exercise. If you ask me about the 'pain' portion of the masochism, I'll say that that the pain is trivial: a few sniffles here and there, a bit of something rising up your throat and occasionally your heart doing that weird somersault; but other than these, the pleasure is without doubt, oodles more than the pain, for seasoned masochistic 'wallowers' like me.

Now that the operation of supersession has been completed successfully, I suddenly woke up one day to an insane urge to find out the etymogy of this word that's successfully punctured the gung-ho of my committed-to- Hedonism life. Oxford English dictionary says 'supersession' is the replacement of a person or thing previously in authority or use. Not completely convinced, I sought a second and a third opinion from other websites. These, I found were more elaborate but in no way any more comforting. One gave the meaning as 'obliterate'. 'Obliterate' as I understand, is to wipe out. I had to actually look into the mirror when I read this one. Far from being wiped out, my mirror reflected an Aibee much increased in volume. The second meaning I found said 'To replace'. Well, this too was perplexing, because Aibee still remains very much in her old haunt, here under the mountains. She has till date, as far as I know, not been replaced, leave alone by a superior being, not even by a better version of herself. The third definition said 'To make useless'. This was not confusing at all. On the contrary, this was absolutely crystal clear. In fact I had been experiencing a feeling quite akin to it for quite some time now. So all it did was to make me dive into my wallow pool of self pity once more. Being rendered 'useless' or being decorated with this epithet is not at all nutritious for one's metabolism. It is wont to give you dyspepsia, dehydration and depression all at once, a dangerous syndrome. And worse, it tends to open the floodgates of self deprecating ruminations and then refuses to close them.

So I ruminated from deep down the bowels of my wallow pool: Now that I have been certified 'useless', should I attempt to dig out or fashion lateral ways of making myself useful? Or should I just let it be as has been ordained and continue to remain 'useless'?  The temptation to persist playing useless is very great. It's like playing the part of that peon in the public bank who sits at its gate, the one who is short and fat with a three day stubble, who spends his hours in fruitful pursuits like poking his ears with a match stick, scratching his ample paunch, taking an afternoon nap at nine in the morning with his mouth open and then taking a well deserved break from it all by digging his nostrils with his stubby fingers. Yes, I could do playing 'useless' quite easily (less the nose-digging bit).

But there are other angles to this 'supersession' ball game beyond the 'playing-useless' portion. That is the easy part. The difficult part is dealing with the entity called 'ego' which the creator has generously placed within every man's brain. What makes it worse personally for me is that I have quite a tagra one with a voracious appetite for the gourmet dish called 'achievement', a dish that is expensive and rare and difficult to source. Every now and then Ego sits down, places it's halfmoon spectacles at the tip of it's nose and pulling out its humongous bahikhata, takes an inventory of Aibee's achievements. For the last few years, the khata's pages have only a few sparse entries and hence Ego is underpaid and underfed. And when this hypoglycemic, slightly emaciated Ego surfs through the Yearbook of others' lives i.e. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and is subjected to a barrage of glossies of the near and not-so-dear ones flaunting their career advancements, corner offices, designer kids, topper kids, foreign holidays and the unkindest-cut-of-all, an all new washboard-flat tummy, the Ego has a breakdown and sinks into the wallow pit, with me in tow.

And from the depths of the wallow pit, I can't help but think: ABBA was SO right-
The Winner Takes It All...
The Loser Standing Small...

I hear Other Half yelling from the front porch: Heyyyyy, Aibee....come quick. Quiiiickkkkkk........!

The wallow pit doesn't let go easily, clinging, clutching...But his voice is insistent and I can sense the undertones of a deep delight and a happy excitement. So, I manage to heave myself out and totter to the porch.

Shhhhh, he whispers and points. Look!

I look. On the veranda, between the purple pansies and the sunlit calendulas, a Plum - Headed Parakeet is busily gorging on the bird seed that I strew every morning for the sparrows. I've been doing this for nearly a year, hoping that the wild parrots would come down from the mountains to my garden; but till now all that I've got are those rambunctious sparrows. Of course we have become good friends but this plum headed beauty is a surprise treat for me, a real treat. I watch enthralled as the beautiful bird pecks at my birdseed, the iridescent plum coloured plumage on its head reflecting the morning light in hues of magenta, red, blue and purple.

Behind me, the Dhauladhars are bathed in a thick blanket of pure white snow.

Another treat.

The Winner Takes it All......

Or does he?

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Why is the Shame All Mine?

My body. My womb.
My blood.
Yet you rule that the Shame's all mine.

My body. My breasts.
My child.
Yet you say that the Shame's all mine.

My body. My curves.
My pain.
Yet you decree that the Shame's all mine.

Your eyes. Your gaze.
Your thoughts.
Why then, is the Shame still mine?

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Of Machher Jhol in the Mountains

What’s a Bong without Fish? Nothing.  So, even though I hate fish, here’s a fishy post that’ll do all Bongs proud.


Here in the mountains, some evenings are what I call rain-cosy. De-constructed, it refers to a rainy evening with grave looking clouds gathered over the mountain top and then ponderously moving into the valley beyond. There’s a drizzle of rain in the air, of a few naughty drops that have toppled out from the cloud without proper authorisation. There’s a breeze too, not too high but still cold enough to chill your nose and your bare toes. The evening has fallen early and a cloudy darkness has embraced the world all around you. You stand out in the open facing the valley and enjoy the little prickle of rain on your cheeks and watch the last stubborn pink of the sun being faded out by the clouds. Inside the home, the curtains are drawn, the incense lit and the radiant heater glowing a confident orange.

The evening is rain-cosy and Other Half has a dinner invitation somewhere. On such evenings, it’s my instinct to cook Maggi and then snuggle into my electric blanket heated quilt and spend the remaining evening bombarding my suffering-silently WhatsApp contacts with rot. But tonight the Mater is in town and even at forty-five I shiver with fear at the thought of her response to the suggestion of Maggi for dinner. I can recall quite clearly the time in my youth when one afternoon I was observed by her to be eating bread with ketchup. The steel-cured admonishment that she had directed at me that noon can turn my blood to jelly even today. So scarred was I for life, that forget eating such a medley, I have never dared to even store bread and ketchup near each other in my pantry.

So since the prospect of a Maggi dinner was thrown out of the window, I didn’t demur when Other Half offered to fish some fish out of the Bluebeard’s Cavern that is our freezer. My Mater too gave her go ahead for a Maccher Jhol and Bhaat (Fish Curry and Rice) dinner.

I must confess that even though I abhor fish, I love cooking and the prospect of Maccher Jhol and Bhaat for dinner on this cosy rainy evening seemed as good as comfort food and and  so I set to work.

First, the fish.  It was rohu from the beautiful Pong dam, fresh and sans the toxic industrial effluent that laces all fish from the rivers of Punjab. After thawing it (naturally, not in the microwave), I sprinkled it generously with turmeric (my present store of turmeric is from Shillong, the famed Lakadong haldi) and some salt. After the rubbing the fish with this very Bong mixture, I let it rest while I prepared for the curry. First, I sliced some small red onions into thin slivers. I don’t really know why Indian chefs on TV specifically mention ‘red’ onions, considering the fact that all onions that I have seen in our local markets are red. I think they do it simply because it sounds chic. Then, sniffling with the hydrochloric acid fumes from the onions, I dry roasted some cumin and coriander. I love my spices fresh and rarely ever use packaged ground spices. If you are into using packaged ground spices, try grinding some yourself and then let me know whether you felt any difference in the aroma and the flavour. Still sniffling, i transferred the roasted spices into my little chutney grinder, blitzing with vengeance and inhaled deeply the memory laden aroma of the jeera-dhaniya mix. The fish now marinated enough, were calling for attention; so I warmed my kachchi ghani mustard oil in my iron wok, a gift from my Mother-in-Law. This wok is small and battered and has been subjected to much abuse over the last decade. I specially remember the time, when having left some rohu to fry on full flame, I was gobbling down some silly TV soap and my neighbour summoned the local fire brigade when she saw smoke coming out of my kitchen window and from below my living room door. But the wok is a hardy chap and still delivers a sterling performance. Now, once the sarson ka tel had been warmed, I let slip the turmeric coloured fish slices carefully into the oil now sizzling with excitement. I fried the fishes, carefully adjusting the flames: now sim, now high, now medium, quite like the conductor of the London Philharmonic, to achieve that perfect reddish brown skin on the fish. If done correctly, though red-brown on the surface, inside, the fish-flesh would be soft but firm and a pristine white.........(Do I sound like Matt Preston from MasterChef Australia??)

With the fished done it was time for the curry. I removed the fish pieces from the wok on a slotted spoon and lay them to rest, to cool off before the next step. Then into my still simmering oil in the wok, I added the secret weapon of the Bong Cook, Kalonji or Nigella seeds.  I know they are physically no match in voluptuousness to Nigella Lawson, but trust me ladies and gentlemen, the flavour of these little flea like seeds is as full bodied as the beautiful Ms Lawson. I added a few bay leaves ( green, from my garden, not the dry ones), some battered ginger (again from my garden) and sloshed them around for a bit till the ginger turned darker. Then the onions were toppled in followed by some plump green chillies. I dimmed the heat to sim and stirred the whole lot around, a technique called ‘bhunno’. Nothing new here I know, but thought I’d mention it nevertheless. Slowly the onions turned golden and it was now time for the ground spices to join the gambol in the wok. Jeera, dhaniya, black pepper, turmeric and a pinch of Kashmiri mirchi powder for the red glam.....I stirred them all around and then added the potato halves. Once everything seemed well adjusted to each other, I poured in the water. Then covering the pan, I let the jhol or the curry simmer, quietly joyful.

The rice tonight was special, the small grained and fragrant Gobindobhog, a Bengali special. I measured the rice, then washed it carefully, inhaling the typical wholesome fragrance and let it rest in a bowl of water for about twenty minutes. I have still not perfected the technique of cooking rice in an open pan or even in the pressure cooker; so I always use the microwave, 720 watts for twelve minutes. So in the rice went after the mandatory twenty minutes of being dunked in water. By now the previously quietly  joyful curry was positively ebullient. I dunked the fish pieces in and turned the heat once more to sim for another round of simmering, this time about ten minutes.

My microwave whistled (rather peeped) after its twelve minutes were over. I removed the lid of the casserole and gave a quiet thanks to the Goddess of chefs for once more ensuring that the rice had turned out perfectly cooked, all fluffed up and smelling divine.

Dinner was great last night, redolent with childhood memories. Fragrant fluffy Gobindobhog and comforting Maccher Jhol with top notes of rohu, middle notes of jeere-dhone and bottom notes of fresh dhaniya patta. And of course how can omit to mention the mandatory accompaniment of a slice of lemon, a pinch of salt and one single shiny green chilli?

If you are a fish eater, why don’t you too try it out, tonight this festival evening and bring back forgotten memories.

PS: The recipe given above is not just for cosmetic purposes but is fully functional. You can try it out without any misgivings. 

Alu and the Crown God

I had rolled barely a hundred metres down the road when I spotted her gambolling in the adjoining park. "Heyy Alu," I called ou...