They are on the road again

I was 15.

It was early evening.

Maybe 5 – maybe 6.

That time of day when you don’t really know if the sun is rising or setting

Unless you look at your wristwatch.

 

I was on my TVS scooty on my way to Biology tuitions.

Where we studied life and such.

I was about to experience it firsthand.

An unsolicited practical.

 

I took a turn into a lane.

There was a mob of men.

Young. Old.

And that funny age when you don’t know if you are young or old.

 

They spread out across the road like a giant organism

I stopped. I had to.

They came forward.

As one

They pulled me off my vehicle.

They looked menacing.

They had something in their hands.

They rubbed something on my face.

They were screaming something.

They were reeking of something.

They touched me.

Not one

Not once.

Maybe five men

Maybe ten men

Or did I imagine it all?

In the middle of the street.

 

I remember my eyes burning.

I remember crying.

I remember touching my face and thinking I am bleeding.

And yet I saw everyone was smiling.

Even passers-by.

Some even laughed.

 

Then they left.

Just like they arrived.

As one.

 

Was it 10 min ?

Was it 1 hour ?

I don’t remember.

 

I remember running.

I remember howling.

I remember a palatial house

I remember barging in

I remember curling up on a stranger’s sofa and crying like a baby.

No not a baby.

A baby has no real sense of loss.

I cried like someone who has had something precious – something irreplaceable snatched from them.

I remember a kind faced lady

I remember a glass of water

I remember a soothing voice.

 

Then I left.

Was it 10 min?

Was it 1 hour?

I don’t remember.

 

That lane was not lonely. It was a busy road beside a very prominent college.

It wasn’t late at night. It was evening. Before dark.

I wasn’t wearing a mini skirt. I was in full length baggy jeans and an oversized t-shirt.

I wasn’t a sexy looking woman. I was a skinny gangly teenager.

Those men were not menacing. They were celebrating.

That was not blood on my face. It was my tears mixed with the crimson powder they had rubbed into my eyes.

 

They weren’t screaming in rage.

They were screaming Ganpati Bappa Morya

 

 

It is that time of the year again.

It is 2 decades later.

The beasts are on the road again.

They have forgotten me.

 

 

A 15 year old remembers.

I remember.

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Abhimanyu

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I am a legend in the house with regard to cleaning.

In that – I don’t.

If a pile of paper is lying in the corner. It will lie there sometimes for weeks. Even months. Little people come to live on them. Every time I look at the papers – I will tell myself – no point putting them back now – I need to read them and sort them. But I won’t really get round to that unless the papers themselves waddled up to me on their cute little paper legs and tapped me on the head saying – READ from here. Also if I moved them it will disturb the little people and I cannot be that mean.

But some days when the mood strikes me – I become a cleaning maniac. Think Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider avatar with a mop and a dust cloth. My mother’s words in the tone of the sternest nun at school –  ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ rings loud in my ears. I clean cupboards – and bookshelves. I clean table tops and drawers. I even would scrub a face if it entered into my zone of cleanliness.  I dust and adjust and arrange and reaarange.

However this Avatar of mine is dreaded more by my partner than the other.

The reason ?

Hubby dearest says I am ‘Abhimanyu‘. As most people already know – he was the son of Arjuna and Subhadra in the Mahabharata, the nephew of Lord Krishna. ( I learned all of this through the Holiest of Holy – Google) Abhimanyu was trained in all types of warfare by Lord Krishna and Arjuna themselves. Abhimanyu learnt the art of breaking into the chakravyuha (formidable battle formation ) when he was in subhadra’s womb. It was when Arjuna was narrating the art of breaking into chakravyuh to Subhadra whilst she was pregnant. But Abhimanyu did not learn how to destroy the formation once he was inside, because before he could hear the end of the story Krishna had stopped the conversation and taken away Arjuna.

So apparently my partner says – I learnt the art of cleaning ( Breaking into the Chakravyuha)in the womb itself like Abhimanyu because my mom is a clean freak. But like Abhimanyu I never heard the story to completion hence I do not know how to complete the task 😛 . Hmmfff ..Cheeky brat.

So basically my mom is to blame for this handicap of mine – since she didn’t listen/tell the whole story. Sounds like her too. Too impatient for long drawn conversations.

So the protocol is –

I start with my cupboard – overflowing – and decide that I need to discard the unused stuff –  pull all the clothes I can see on to the floor and start sorting…see a dress I haven’t worn in ages – say wow – I had forgotten all about this…try it on – parade in front of the mirror…like how it looks…then want to try shoes that go with them – find that the shoe rack is messy – so start sorting that – find some old worn ones – go to throw them – check my reflection on the way there.. realize the mirror needs cleaning … go to find an old newspaper to clean the mirror with…notice a piece of paper among the newspapers – realize its an important document – decide to file it – find that there is lot of filing pending – start that – find some shopping coupons – almost about to expire – decide i need to use them – and leave everything and go shopping for more crap to fill the overflowing cupboard that I had decided to sort out today !!!!!

So whenever the hubby realizes I am on a cleaning spree – he quietly tiptoes into the other room and watches TV at low volume with his fingers crossed, steeling himself mentally that inevitably in about 1-3 hours he will be summoned. And when he enters the room – he will see a war zone not unlike the Mahabharata. Bedsheets lying dead – paper bags injured – clothes breathing their last breath – sprawled all across the room. Something or the other will come flying his way much like those gravity defying arrows.  He will try his best to maintain gravitas and say his one and only dialogue which he will ALWAYS say even though he knows it makes me so mad and serves no purpose whatsoever.

Why do you have to start everything at once? Why not do one section at a time?

Hmmmfff. Because I am me. You know me. I can’t do one thing at a time.

Yes I do know. 

Silently picks up clothes and stuffs them into cupboards muttering Abhimanyu under his breath while a pair of pants come flying at his head.

Skiing Lessons

20170408_1727061So this isn’t the first time I have tried skiing.

The first time was in Gulmarg,Kashmir where after a couple of hours on the ice I was taken aside by my instructor and told very softly in Hindi.

Maydam. Agar aapko kisine puccha ki kisne apko skiing sikhayi krupaya karke mera naam na lena. ( Madam if anyone asks you who taught you to ski please don’t mention my name)

Clearly he thought I was beyond salvation.

Hmmff.

Determined to prove him wrong I am now in Bansko, Bulgaria outfitted quite professionally in freakishly tight ski boots and heavier-than-me skis.

The coach insists I carry the skis on my shoulders while walking ensuring that my right shoulder now is permanently a quarter of an inch lower than my left. As I trek up the slope – I am imagining a whole new chapter of my ski history. I am imagining getting my balance just right, and flying down the slope in perfect harmony with nature as the coach watches his star pupil, fascinated. The air blowing through my hair and my body graceful as a swan.

Sigh.

The image lasted 30 seconds.

I fell while standing.

While.

Standing.

I hadn’t even started down the slope.

Just. Just.getting.into.my.skis.

I think it was right about then the coach wrote me off. But anyway.

The other coach with another group was patiently teaching them to start with one ski and showing them the ropes gently and step wise. For some reason our coach felt we don’t need that. We were born to ski.

So he just gets us into our skis and says – Slowly. Lean forward. Keep skis parallel.

The first real fall I had should have been recorded. As I took off from the start position I leaned in determinedly and the moment I started to pick up speed as usual I panicked and leaned back. Then in slow motion style – better than Neo could ever do it in the Matrix – I bent backwards and stayed there defying gravity. The ski boots hurt like hell but they also help you do the matrix move beautifully.

After that I spent the better part of the hour on my back and then proceeded to watch, humiliated, one by one – every other member of the group sliding down the gentle slope in style. A few even mastering gentle turns.

Finally the coach realized he must focus his attention on the ugly duckling – the swans were doing fine – so he comes back to me with a vengeance.

The next 30 min was mainly about him yelling pizza pizza. And the moment I would fall he would catch up and yell- Spread your legs wider – wider – Pizza…

Exasperated I thought to myself – Hello Mister… quite forward you are… I am Bharatiya Naari haan.. this is not how we do things there…we have just met!!! First you will have to follow me all over town on your two wheeler, then ask me to do Fraandship with you, give me corny archies cards, buy me overpriced flowers, and finally come meet my parents. Then Maaaybe!

And moreover I ain’t spreading nothing for of all things – Pizza!! The least you could begin courting me with is Champagne and strawberries!!!

My expression didn’t really get the message across because he still spent the rest of the lesson yelling the same thing. Finally he led me to the edge of the slope. I thought he was going to take me back to the basics. Tell me a few tips. But he just got me out of the skis and pointed me in the direction of the restaurant bench. And said – Lesson over and then left. I lay down my skis – picked up my shattered pride and limped over to the bench to sip ice cold beer while I watched the rest of the group get on just fine.

As I watched 5 year olds ski past me – it finally dawned on me that I had lost the most important blessing of childhood.

Fearlessness. Abandon.

I couldn’t ski because I couldn’t let go.

I couldn’t think past falling.

I wasn’t comfortable with losing control.

I was frightened of leaning forward .

It was easier to lean backward.

But maybe its reversible.

Maybe being fearless isn’t so tough.

Maybe we need to stop worrying about every stupid little consequence of every indulgent action and just start focusing in the moment.

Open up your mind and Close your eyes.

Stop worrying about –

Falling

Hurting

Crying

Losing

Just Spread your legs wider and eat pizza.

Of Bikes, Bravado and Buffoonery

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Somewhere around the age of 14 I initiated and won my first major campaign – That of persuading my parents to buy me a bike. There were only two two-wheelers in fashion those days. They were the very ugly Scooty or the very tiny Sunny – of course considering the limited choice available – I choice the bigger one. So we brought the scooty home – fitted with a proper guard for the front of its nose and all. My uncle took me for a spin in the nearby ground and with the supreme confidence of youth – I decided I was ready to tackle the world after one test ride.

The very next day I get ready to take it out and go for my tuition classes on it. And of course immediately my mother piped in with – ‘why do you want to take it out – this class of yours is merely 5 min away. You can walk. Also you should practice a couple more times with your dad or uncle’. But me being me – I said no – I shall take it out today. To top it – I decided to wear a dress. One of my favorite ones at the time. A pretty beige hand-me-down from one of my aunts in Canada. It fit me beautifully and ended at my knees in a flourish. Then my mom interrupts the mutual admiration club meeting I had going on with myself in the mirror with a ‘ And you are sure you want to wear a dress? Why dont you wear trousers or something more comfortable and practical?’. At 14 – when you hear the word practical – you usually discard the idea immediately.  I just hmmfffed and walk off.

So I take the bike to class and sit through it – all the while patting myself on the back mentally for riding so well and imagining all the looks of envy I was getting from the students who were still cycling to class. At the end of class I walk back to the bike and then begin the real heroics.

I had to enter the main road from a bylane and turn left to go home. At the junction of the bylane and the road was a small speed bump. So when I reached the speed bump driving extremely slowly (trying to be overcautious and responsible – never has this done me any good)- the bike wouldn’t go over. So I revved the engine a slight bit but it still wouldn’t go over – so I gave the accelerator a proper twist. Of course that ensured I shot out from the bylane and jumped and landed smack bang in the middle of the road – where instead of stopping and turning – I panicked and accelerated further – taking me flying across the road into a ditch ( what we love to call nala in hindi) waiting with open arms. The bike dove in nose first followed by me flying over the handles – perfect dress and all. All of this of course happened in my mind in slow motion – matrix style – though to an onlooker must have seemed like 5 sec.

I remember vividly my first thought. ‘Do you think anyone saw my underwear?’

As people rushed to help me up – I was silently recalling what I had put on after my bath. Five min later I remembered – heaved a sigh of relief – I was reasonably presentable – and then went on to worry about minor matters like what had happened to my bike. As people struggled to get the bike out of the ditch – I smoothened out my hair and gathered up the pleats of my dress which had torn somewhere around mid thigh and were now touching my feet. I then held them with one hand around the place they should have been attached, picked up my bag with the other hand and started to walk home. I remember somebody asking ‘what about the bike’ – and I said leave it – I will come back for it later. My extremely shy Math professor who must have been around 23-24 years old himself – asked me if I was ok – and I said I am fine. I think he was debating in his head about how appropriate it would be to drop me home with a torn dress – and finally he decided to play it safe. His concern for his reputation triumphed helping random student who falls into ditches with no external persuasion.

So I walked home amid some very obvious stares and practiced the prologue to be recited for my parents especially my mother. After all I had crashed the brand new bike. When I rang the bell – and my mom opened the door – I was finally beginning to feel a bit worried. I needn’t have bothered. She took one look at me – torn dress and all- and burst into tears – ‘what happened what happened’ – she hollered into my ears.

Nothing serious ma – I crashed the scooty.

She let go of me – and burst into laughter. And you are ok she asked ? I said yes… I am – a couple of bruises thats all but the bike is ruined. And she continued to laugh – at the time I thought she had gone cuckoo.

I repeated – THE BIKE IS RUINED. CRASHED. BROKEN.

No worries she sang… that can be fixed. You are ok.

Cuckoo. Definitely Cuckoo.

A week later  my bike was home after a fancy nose job and my mom had recovered her motherly senses enough to chant ‘I TOLD YOU SO’  loudly twenty times a day.

 

All was well with the world again.

Of Massages, Masseuses and Madness

Steaming Pig.

Like every other touristy place, traveling to Kerala is fraught with cliches. And you have no choice but to succumb. And believe me – it is not always bad to do that.

The cliches usually involve a houseboat, the back waters, fish curry and a customary Ayurvedic massage.

Now massages in general involve a lot of undressing and creams and rubbing etc. But you haven’t experienced a massage until you have experienced a true blue Ayurvedic one.

It began innocuously enough with the dainty little woman telling me to get undressed. She handed me a little white handkerchief and I thought how very thoughtful considering the balmy weather until I realized that was not a handkerchief. It was a strip of cloth which is supposed to conceal the one part of my body that won’t be massaged. At least not in the respectable establishments. Now considering I am not an overly endowed woman I was still wondering by what stretch of imagination did they think that that fabric was enough to conceal anything ! It was something that would give a G string a complex. Anyway to humor her I went along with the idea and tied the little fabric to myself and then realized –  they mean it as part of meditation. You are supposed to relax to the point where the fabric feels like it has expanded and engulfed you and shrouded you with modesty.

So I lay down on the smooth table and waited. A lot of shuffling later she came back with a barrel full of oil and then began the massage, complete with my squeals because well… I am ticklish.

By the end of it – I felt like a deep fried croquette of sorts. You could have put me out in the sun, warmed me up and eaten me. If you weren’t on diet of course.

At the end of the massage she pointed out a little black box. I was supposed to get up and walk to it. Walk ? Walk ?

As I raised myself to sit up and swung my legs to the floor… I literally SLID off the table. Slid! and then swoosh skated on my bare feet in the general direction of the box… arms flailing all over the place. The horror struck woman tried to grab me to prevent me from falling to the floor  but instead slipped on a pool of gooey oil and went slippery sliding after me.

Now imagine if an outsider were looking through a window.

An almost naked woman..Oh who am I kidding … A naked woman slipping and sliding around a room followed desperately by another oily looking woman trying to lunge at her (Shakti Kapoor would have been proud).  This fracas lasted all of 20 seconds perhaps but for me, looking to avoid landing on the hard floor butt naked – it seemed like an eternity. Finally ugly black box saved me as I lurched towards it and held on for dear life. And did not move for a whole minute as I thanked all the saints in heaven who protect hapless naked women.

When I finally got my breath back, the masseuse came up to me sheepishly and with big doe eyes said something in malayalam which  I assumed was an apology. Either that or judging strictly by the tone, she was saying “How you doing?” Joey style 😛

She then proceeded to cocoon me in the Black box. One of those funny looking steam baths where you are sitting in a box with only your head protruding out.  As I sat there looking like a corpse trying to wiggle out through its coffin I contemplated the scene of the crime. The oily table, the greasy floor, the unctuous diminutive woman… my pinguid head minus the body( the reverse of a headless chicken)… I started to giggle. And couldn’t stop for the longest time.

It was the most eventful massage I had ever had.

Forget the oily smell that wouldn’t leave me for 2 days – the laughter was well worth it.

I tipped her well and promised to return. This time with anti skid slippers.

Oh and I finally understood the purpose of the little strip of cloth.

It was like one of those charm bracelets. Only difference is that you wear it around your waist.

You don it for luck and laughter.

I enjoyed both.