Friday, 12 March 2021

एक गुलाबी बनफूल

गुलाबी एक बनफूल

रुधिर गुलाब के पंखुड़ियों को सहलाकर तुम तो चले गए; 

उसी पगडंडी के छोर पर मैं भी थी- तनिक सी गुलाबी बनफूल; मरकत तिनकों के आड़ मे।

ना, तुमने तो कभी पलट कर नहीं देखा। 

अनकही, अनसुनी मैं फिर भी खूब गुलाबी हंसी हंस दी ; और तुम्हारे उन उदासीन कदमों के साए को समेट कर एक बसंत रात, गुलाबी नींद में लुप्त हो गई।

शायद इसीलिए समझदार, सहानुभूतिशील मृत्यु कभी जीवन से यह नहीं पूछता : तुम इतनी संजिदगी, इतनी तकल्लुफ, इतनी प्रफुल्लता से क्यों जीती हो ?

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Breakfasts at Nidhi's

Those few days had been bad, real bad. Other Half lay in hospital, a sprained back rendering him unable to walk. The experts had advised spinal surgery but even the very thought of it chilled me to the core. Old friends who were doctors would call up and each time I told one of them that a spinal surgery was needed, I could feel how they would go suddenly very quiet. Then, carefully,  tentatively they would ask me, " AiBee, is the surgery really necessary? Wasn't there some other way out? Have you considered taking a second opinion?"

Even in this day and age, surgery of the spine is something that we doctors too are very wary of. But there was no way out and that was how Other Half now lay nearly immobile on the stark white hospital bed in that huge hospital in Delhi, waiting to go under the surgeon's knife.

Delhi was foggy and dismal; the strange unhealthy cold burning through my skin and imprinting itself in my very cells. The hospital was state-of-the-art, but lacked warmth, it's long gray corridors paved with slippery, white tiles and sickly green marbled staircases doing nothing to dispel the gloom. Daily as I walked down those endless corridors, I could see the fog weaving into the precincts in eerie swathes and occasionally, I could hear women wailing from the depths of its numerous wards, mourning a patient's death and my heart would thud in anxiety and empathy for that hapless sorrowing soul. The ward where Other Half was admitted was no better, a grim, shabby place full of souls who stared at me with empty eyes, as I walked in each day to begin my twelve hourly vigil by Other Half's bed. I remember the fifty something man so aged by Non Hodgkin Lymphoma a blood cancer, that I had thought he was in his late seventies. Then there was the man with a Harry Potter scar on his forehead from an old brain surgery who kept wandering away and getting lost due to amnesia from the surgery. And of course there was that bad tempered very old man right on the opposite bed who kept coughing and coughing and coughing.......and driving the rest of the patients completely mad.

I was functioning on an auto mode as  there were too many things that were troubling me all at once: would Other Half be able to walk again? What if the surgery left neurological complications like paralysis or loss of bladder/ bowel control? Would he be able to successfully come out of the anaesthesia? Silly illogical doubts that assumed gargantuan proportions because being a doctor, I knew that they were not silly at all, that the possibility of their occuring was very chillingly real. Then post the surgery, the fellow began to have fever, great shaking chills which subsided with profuse sweating that wet the bed clothes and left the poor man completely drained. The doctors spoke in hushed tones of  "septicaemia", any physician or surgeon's nightmare, filling me with dread.

It was in these terribly trying times that Nidhi and her little family opened their home to me. I stayed with them for about four days as they lived right next to the hospital and it was very convenient for me to nip in and out of the hospital from their place.

Mentally, as you can guess, I was in a very bad place at that moment and the best thing that happened to me right at that point was the opportunity to stay at Nidhi's.

I didn't know her too well till then for I was a friend of her husband's, a polite helpful young man. But we did have a passing acquaintance and I had always found her to be a pleasant young woman. Here at her home, I came to know her better. Slim, with a quiet face framed by silky straight hair, Nidhi exuded an air of repose. Her quietness was very comforting to me, for she never prodded and was  never unnecessarily curious. Sitting with her sipping tea or watching television or chatting as she worked in the kitchen, I felt my anxieties quieting, ebbing..... But it was her breakfasts that turned me to mush.

In that cold, foggy Delhi winter, that too during Corona times when most people were working from home and all schools were shut, most households did not stir before nine thirty- ten o'clock. But I had to rush to OH's bedside at eight and hence on my first night there, I woke up at around seven. It was cold and dark outside; and as I got dressed, the clinks and tinkles from the kitchen told me that Nidhi too was awake. Clutching my handbag, phone and mask, I hurried out to the little dining hall, wanting to put on my shoes and get going: only to be stilled with surprise at finding breakfast laid on the tiny table: a perfectly made alu ka paratha, smelling as motherly as parathas have smelt for centuries resting on a spotless china plate with a blob of Amul butter melting in its bosom and a huge cup of steaming tea standing to attention beside it. The curtains were still drawn to keep the ghoulish morning at bay and on the shelf above the dishwasher, SaReGaMa's Carvaan softly played old bhajans....I stood for a moment overwhelmed before Nidhi's breakfast; then quietly retreated back to my room embarrassed by the sudden spurt of tears clouding my eyes...Bruno, Nidhi's German Shepherd who was at this juncture, still not quite decided upon as to whether he could be my friend, came and sniffed at my feet in a companionable gesture and went way. I composed myself and went back to Nidhi's breakfast. 

And so it was the same for the next three days that I stayed with them: every morning, sharp at quarter to eight the table would be laid with Nidhi's breakfasts: nothing very sumptuous or complicated, bread and omelette or maybe upma; all very simple and homely and made with care.

When one is going through a rough patch in life, I've personally found that it's not the reassurances and platitudes that friends and well wishers offer you, the "don't worry, sab kucch theek ho jayega" kinds or the wise advice/gyaan that many offer like "be strong" that are of any benefit. What works are small, very small, seemingly very inconsequential gestures like the offer of a hot homely breakfast or a tall cup of steaming milky tea or maybe idlis and sambhar packed in a hotcase....

They give you a space, a space full of warmth and comfort, a space where you can retreat for a tiny while, away from the cloud of fear, anxiety and sadness enveloping you to rest and to recoup. 

This last one month had been a tough experience for me but the burden was made lighter by innumerable  kindnesses of innumerable friends acquaintances and even strangers.

Amongst all the memories that I  cherish, there is one that will always hold a special place in my heart: of eating hot, straight-off-the-tawa parathas topped with molten butter and washing it down with great warming sips of milky tea as Saregama Carvaan fills my ears with fondly remembered bhajans on a cold foggy January morning.......

And I'll always, always be indebted for my Breakfasts at Nidhi's..

Sunday, 25 October 2020

The Listener


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The Listener


I’m a Listener.

People give me the tinkle when they’re short of lent ears. Or have run out of them. 

No prior appointment, no booking; no advance payment:I’m all ears, notwithstanding.

There is never need to hesitate: I’m respectfully, empathically attentive, by default.

I listen without interruption, interject with compassion, intersperse with soothing benediction.

An anguish bothering you?

A sadness cloying you?

A doubt clouding your mind?

No fret: send word for the Listener.

I will give you top class listening: silent, soothing, uplifting; I will empty the air around so that you can vent to your angst’s content; I will arrange my countenance to suit your want: pity, reassurance, support, disbelief, shock…whatever……

It’s a 100 % guaranteed genuine-feeling professional listening…..No questions asked, no judgement passed, always gratis.


At night, the Moon climbs down the late night sky and dangles her beams from atop the bottle brush tree.

The world sleeps.

 I sit on the rusted swing and talk to my heart’s content.

To the Moon who is my Listener.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

The Endless Knot


I spot you at the airport and a gust of breathlessness blows through me.

Tiptoeing up to your turned back, I whisper in muted eagerness, “Hey!”

You look up from the cell screen; and time stands still. Very still yet very fleeting; but long enough for me to sunbathe in your happy surprise.

“Hey.” You echo and take my proffered hand. Hands have memories and mine remembers: roughness and a faint imprint of heat.

You ask the polite usuals; and I answer with the proper usuals. But time has resumed its flow and I feel an urgency welling up: there is so much I want of you but time is sliding, like play-slime through a kid’s fingers…….

“Could we sit?” I interrupt, impolitely abrupt.

“Sure.” You are still the ever-courteous. “Coffee?” Then you correct yourself, “Tea, isn't it?”

Yes, tea it is; the plebeian kind: chock full of milk and lashings of sugar. Quite unlike your coffee with its chic black bitterness.

The paper cup is hot and the chrome seats are cold. The tea scalds my mouth but you are here and I pacify the burning with the pat of my cooler tongue.

“So,” you ask, “how is it going?”

I don't like the way you say it, as if you couldn’t care either way. Maybe its only your acerbity, an old ill; but then, no one is perfect.

“Very well, thank you.” My studied politeness doesn't escape you.

You look amused, the amusement deepening the hills and vales on your face. “No really, tell me how is it going?” You repeat, eyes  this time conciliatory, concerned.

I am at a loss as to how to answer your innocuous query. How do I choose what parts to tell and what parts to omit: whether to talk about the job, the family, the past-times, the city, the parents, the car, the friends, the health, or the kids………or what? How do I condense a lifetime into these paltry moments?

I choose counter-attack. “And you, how is it going with you?”

But you deflect, choosing silence. You were always the smarter one. I smile within and let you lead, opting for silence too. Side by side, we sit with silence and watch the airport flow around us; here where meeting, partings, goodbyes and welcomes play out all day and night, like a never-ending prime-time soap……..

I so like sitting thus beside you, not touching; no never touching, but the warmth and the want that wells up and wafts around us makes me woozy…………………….

And the wooziness makes me wanton. I touch your arm, but carefully with a single finger, lightly……. “Tell me, what if….?”

You move ever so slightly away from beneath my touch. “Don’t. Touch me and I’m mortal.”

I make a face. “So then, what are you now? Immortal?”

How you learnt to smile like that, I could never know. Your smile, heavy with an ancient knowing yet light, playful like butterflies on a summer day, pulls a thousand laughter lines to your eyes, making them dance with tender amusement…….. All I do know is that it is this smile that draws me to you, every-time………………………..

“We could leave this question of mortality aside and go back to your 'what if'.” You offer, still sparkling your champagne smile at me.

“What if you loved me?” I blurt. The champagne smile pushes the wooze two notches higher.

“But I like you. Very much. A lot.”

I feel let down. Goddamn, that’s it? “And here I am, all in………..”

“You like me too. A whole lot.” You pause and then challenge, “Why, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course I do.” I’m petulant. And surprised how brazen I am with the expressing of my feelings.

“Love is over-rated don’t you think? Isn’t this so much better?” You ask.

“This ‘liking’ ?” I snort. And mentally slap myself for daring to be so careless in my demeanour before you.

“Yes, just this liking, sans the baggage of expectations, responsibilities and all the hidden, heavy agenda of love?”

“Yes, it is.” I concede. But I cannot resist a rejoinder. “And it gives you freedom. To always go away.”

“You go away too. Every time. It's not just me.”

"These going aways are so terribly, terribly sad," I am now thinking. 

“Your eyes are great lakes.” You remark kindly; and then point to the gallery lining the first floor of the lounge. To take my mind off reality.

“See that?”

“Yes.” I see it, though wavy, refracted. 

The eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, carved in huge panels of wood and painted with beautiful bright colours, hang against the wall of the gallery. I recognise the lotus, the conch, the fish and the wheel. The others are unfamiliar. Your finger is pointing at one particular carving: a loop, entwined over itself, again and again.

“That is the Endless Knot.”

I’m both intrigued and amused by your sudden interest in spiritualism. I tell you so.

You run your gaze over me, carefully. “Well, I’m happy that it has at least helped dry the great lakes from your eyes.”

I dab at my eyes self-consciously. “So then, what of this Endless Knot?”

You run your finger on the back of your palm, tracing the pattern of the knot.

“See how the loops of the Knot have no start and no finish, representing eternity.” You explain. Your voice comes from somewhere far-away. “Like the interconnection between all sentient beings in this Universe, between life and death……”

“Yeah, like between you and me……” I finish for you, sarcastically. “So, this is your measly excuse to go away every time?”

You look towards my girls, standing a polite distance away but making great exasperated eyes at me. Our flight is boarding too and the gate is all the way at the end of the terminal, a good half a kilometer trudge. All the boarding passes are with me.

“It seems you too are going away. Again.” You accuse but I know it is in jest.

Yes. It’s that time again. But this time, I don’t offer my hand. “I prefer your immortality.” I tease. And wonder whether you picked the catch in my voice.

I hoist up my duffel and hand you your case.

“Thanks. See you then.” You smile and walk away with rapid measured steps.

But I linger. For a bit; to watch you pass under the gallery, beneath and beyond the Endless Knot.



That morning, all e-papers of any worth had carried your obituary. I came to know of it the moment I awoke, thanks to the Twitter notifications on my mail.

I had thought no one wrote obituaries any more, had thought it was passé, a relic of the British Raj. But for some reason, they had made an exception in your case. And they all had nice things to say about you. I had gone through a few, reading carefully, savouring the bits that I had not known and reliving those few I was aware of; till the great lakes spilled over and hid everything from view.


And ever since that morning, we meet every now and then, here and there....

At train stations.


At the Metro.

At airports with Tibetan auspicious signs carved in wood hanging from their walls.

At all such places where going away is the norm.

But then that's quite ok.

Because now, every time you go away, along the twists and turns of the Endless Knot, you always find your way back to me.





Wednesday, 7 October 2020


I had told myself that for my next blogpost, I'd write a gentle love story just to take my thoughts and after-thoughts away from the angst ridden last post (which by the way, was hugely unpopular, getting only about 30 views). But no, the universe is no mood to give me a breather. The state and fate of women on this earth and more specifically, in my country continues to haunt me.

A young woman, barely 22 had a disastrous labour from which she was extracted safely at the nick of thanks to the expertise of her gynaecologist. Though her child, a strapping 3.1 kg bonny baby boy is healthy, her errant uterus had to be removed to save her life. The whole episode was  an achievement of sorts for the entire team of  doctors and I thought, chalo, all's well that ends well: the young woman's life was saved, she had a happy healthy baby and she was already looking forward eagerly to the future when she would be appearing for a professional examination in a few months time. But of course, my relief was premature. It seems not everyone was happy with this purported win-win situation. But before I tell you more, I must tell you that in the Army, when an equipment malfunctions and cannot be repaired, it is given the epithet " condemned" meaning it is to be discarded. The gynaecologist who was the young woman's doctor is my friend and today as we took our morning walk together, she told me, "Aibee, you know what that woman's mother-in-law declared to me last evening?"

I looked at her askance.

My friend gazed back at me with resigned despair, "She said, meri Bahu to condemn ho gayi."


A young woman pregnant with her first child had a complicated labour which resulted in a rupture of her womb. Thankfully, once again due to the surgical skill of her doctor the womb was repaired and the baby delivered safely. A second pregnancy in such cases is a trifle tricky and all such women need a mandatory caesarian section. Her present baby was a girl. Hard to say what was running through the young mother's mind and what psychological pressure she was subjected to by her family, but today morning she took her own life.


A woman can be a fighter pilot, a CEO, a DGP, a pioneer doctor, a successful businesswoman, a weightlifter, a football player, an award winning scientist....anything....But those are merely hobbies, time-pass, of no consequence. She must never be made to forget that she is defined by her reproductive functions,  that her primary task in this life is to procreate and therefore, God forbid if her womb malfunctions, she is a "condemn" item.


"Will it ever stop?" I ask the mirror as I do my hair . The woman in the mirror shakes her head hopelessly, "No. Never. Not until we stop linking the value of a woman with her ability to procreate."


Saturday, 3 October 2020

Hey You!

Hey you!

Yes, that's right. You! You, the one because of whom she lost her life.

Yes, yes, you.

You, the supercilious in trousers, kurta, dhoti, jeans, lungi.

You, the overbearing in cravat, tie, skull-cap, shikha.

You, the oh-so-smugly secure, brandishing your Y chromosome as passport to privilege.

You should know that she paid with her life because of you, the you who hides your precious honour in the space between our legs, turning the unimportant bit of blood & sinew filled emptiness into your bank vault. 

....and chains us forever as keepers of the crypt of your honour.

Since aeons thus we die for your honour: your fragile, brittle, labile, affected, sensitive, susceptible honour; burning on pyres, hurling into depthless abysses, shredding our innards with swords, feeding on poison..... strangled, stabbed, tongue ripped, and spine broken....

Father, brother, son, friend, lover: you've professed your love for us, have you not? Then why do you do it, turn us thus into repositories of your honour; and then watch us die for it, day after day after day?

Don't tsk tsk at the news of her dying. Don't hashtag meribhibeti. Don't expound on the need to teach gender-sensitivity to sons. Don't debate on the need for harsher laws, stricter enforcement. Don't announce crores to compensate.

Just muster up a little courage. Only a mite. 

And take back this your honour from between our legs.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Mask Hai Na Ma'am

When I say "soldier" what is the image that appears before your mind's eye? I'm quite sure it is that of a tall, strapping young man in a bulletproof vest worn over combat fatigues with a gleaming AK 47 rifle slung across his shoulders.....

Well, I know of a soldier, a soldier who is very different from this picture. This one is about five foot and zilch, with a single hurriedly constructed plait hanging over her petite back and of the wrong gender. I've seen her mostly in drab navy-blue trackpants worn with crumpled grayish T shirts walking briskly for her evening rounds at the hospital. She doesn't have rifles and nor bullet proof vests; and if given one, she would be very awkward with it. She's more at ease with the stethoscope she hangs around her shoulders, her steadfast, dependable weapon. I know also that she has limpid eyes and a flawless complexion but that secret is hidden safely behind large thick framed glasses. I'll call her Anahita, not only because it rhymes with her real name but because when it comes to pseudonyms, I am, for some reason rather partial to this name. So this Anahita is the youngest doctor in our hospital and without doubt, the spunkiest. She is only a graduate doctor but hopes soon to clear her NEET and join the hallowed ranks of the specialist and then God willing, onward into the folds of  a superspeciality. But till that comes to pass, she is on the forefront of our COVID battle. All patients:  young or old, anxious or resigned, breathless or not are first attended to by her. She is the one who talks to them, examines them, pacifies them, scolds them, advises them and decides whether they need to be tested for COVID, whether they need to be hospitalized or whether they could be let off on their own at their homes. Everyday numerous patients line up before her COVID clinic: talking, coughing and sneezing, filling her tiny room with aerosols, microscopic droplets of phlegm some of which may be carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus piggyback. Anahita has been mistress of the COVID Clinic for the last five months and I've never ever known her to complain or ask for a break from her undeniably risky duty. Ever smiling, ever in good spirits and blessed with a loud unselfconscious laughter , she is my favourite youngster in the hospital. So yesterday when I was speaking to her for something else, I thought I'd enquire after her well being.

I asked her, "Anahita, you ok kid?"

Her laughter-tinged voice floated to me over the ether, "He, he, mask hai na Ma'am."

Cowards there are many on this planet and great heroes too. This pandemic has pulled back the veneer of civility that we all wear and  revealed to the world our true mettle.  Over the last five-six months, I've come to know of cowards: people so scared of the virus that they turn their faces and walk the other way when they encounter a doctor acquaintance. I've also known of older, experienced doctors who have taken to hiding behind N95 masks and PPEs and looking for excuses to avoid seeing patients. And at the same time, I've also known little heroes, those very ordinary frontline workers who are the true soldiers of this COVID war: little five foot and nothing soldiers who march unflinching into battle laughing and reassuring you, "Mask hai na, Ma'am....!"

एक गुलाबी बनफूल

गुलाबी एक बनफूल रुधिर गुलाब के पंखुड़ियों को सहलाकर तुम तो चले गए;  उसी पगडंडी के छोर पर मैं भी थी- तनिक सी गुलाबी बनफूल; मरकत तिनकों के आड़...