I have forced myself out of bed for it, even on holidays, especially on holidays ! I have braved the winter chill and gusty wind for it. Rubbing sleep out of my eyes and ignoring my weary body which begged to rest some more. Sometimes perched on uncomfortable stone benches and parapets, sometimes with no place to sit, standing, people bustling around, everyone lost in their own thoughts. Like many of my kind, I have chased the perfect sunset and sunrise all my life. It has been on the itinerary of most of my vacations. Tour operators would obligingly pile us in vehicles and take us to vantage points to witness the grand spectacle.

FAACDB7B-C192-48B9-8984-E6A60FBC0D31Armed with cameras and smart phones to show the world what we had seen. Witnessing a daily event, eyes glued to the horizon, each moment filled with anticipation. The eternal question looming large,  will it appear in full splendor or will clouds mar its beauty? In the company of people who were similarly inspired, oohing and aahing or sitting in silence, appreciating the miracle which is the reason for our existence. 

Once my daughter sleepily asked what drove me to see reruns of the same show? Whether it meant something more than the burst of color she could see? Does a sunset have to mean something? Isn’t the assurance that the sun will rise again in its full glory enough? Isn’t the message of impermanence that the rising sun gives enough? That what goes up will come down. Isn’t it wondrous  that dawn and dusk which are opposing ends of the spectrum appear so alike? Is it merely a coincidence that each day the sun arrives and leaves as a red disc, becoming a yellow ball of fire in between? Isn’t it reassuring that the sun and moon give opposing messages. While one teaches clockwork regularity the other says it is alright to have phases.

Inspired, I continue my quest. I have seen it across the sea, peeking through mountain peaks, above grassy flatlands and over the barren salt fields of the Rann of  Kutcch. Recently driving down the west coast in California I caught the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, vibrant and vivid as ever. The  sky a canvas of orange and red. No matter where I have seen it. It is always  splendid, always spectacular.  Back home from Oia, Greece which is famous for its sunsets my dad took pictures of the setting sun from his balcony. Ordinary camera, ordinary setting, and the less said about his technique the better. And yet it was an extraordinary picture showing the vibrant red and orange sky of dusk.  That is when I first understood what makes the phenomenon special. The fact that we took time out to pause and notice.

Since then I try to catch a glimpse of the  sun whenever I can from wherever I can. I have made sunrise a  part of my morning constitutional and rerouted my stroll so that I walk towards it. Although few will make it to the hall of fame and the ‘ to do list’ of tourists,  none  has ever disappointed. Four minutes of wonder as it appears as a red disc, ready to burn through the day till it leaves in a burst of color. Four minutes to thank the universe for what is has granted me and what it hasn’t….

( published as a Spice of Life in HT on 8/7/2019)


A Dog’s Life

A Dog’s Life

A dog died in my neighbourhood recently. No, it wasn’t my neighbour’s dog. Actually it wasn’t  anyone’s dog,  belonged to no one. Just one of those lowly strays that wander in  our cities.  Born on the street, surviving on random acts of kindness, till they die of disease, starvation or are run over by some speeding vehicle. So how do I know about it’s demise? I wouldn’t have, had the rotting carcass not raised a stink. The sickening stench, a final act, a desperate effort to draw attention to the plight of its kind.

3A94C13F-C5AC-4178-9EA4-3C7B2E6ADE5DTheir number seems to be increasing. Or it could be that more  cross my path as I walk my pup. I meet packs of them, ready to pounce  on my unsuspecting baby. Any dog owner would know how  stray dogs detest this mollycoddled, domesticated version we keep in our homes. They bark, they growl ( a full blown threatening belly rumble) and they bite ( seldom, as the idiom says but frequently enough to be a nuisance). 

World Health Organization states that  every year approximately twenty thousand Indians die of rabies caused by dog bites. This  accounts for 36 percent of rabies deaths worldwide. Urban India has two features which create and sustain street dog population: open garbage and large amounts of exposed animal carcasses. Both provide a food source to help them thrive. Countries which keep garbage in bins that are cleaned regularly see lesser number of stray dogs. We, being a nation of litterers make no bones about trashing public spaces.  This garbage which we conveniently throw is not always picked up. In  Mumbai alone  five hundred tons of garbage remains uncollected daily. No wonder thirty five million stray dogs inhabit India. 

Although maiming and mutilating stray dogs is a punishable act, the government does little to keep them alive, out of harms way and  from harming others. India  has very few dog shelters. Adding to the woes is  a sluggish sterilisation drive.  Animal control policies, like spaying and neutering to control dog population are implemented sluggishly, if at all.  Dog vaccination to prevent the spread of rabies is not a priority.

C1D1EBB2-E903-440E-A8C5-5D64B0B92B07Till something concrete is done to control them, here are a few tips to coexist with canines. Don’t disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or nursing it’s pups. It could provoke a bite. Ignore a barking dog and avoid eye contact.  Don’t run or you will be chased. An unprovoked bite, specially  by a frothing dog is not to be ignored. Wash the wound but don’t dress it and promptly visit a doctor. 

The other day a bunch of youngsters stopped to pet my pet. As Amigo, my dog, grunted with satisfaction, enjoying the attention, three strays ambled up and started barking.  Not the usual ‘barking for nothing’ bark but a complaining almost pleading whimper. The boys laughed and told me that they treated those strays like free roaming pets, fed them regularly, hence they were threatened by the attention my pup was getting. Amigo would  have behaved similarly in a similar situation. Labelled as man’s best friend, all dogs are alike, but there are stark differences in their circumstances. 

As I write this, I glance at Amigo, sleeping peacefully in his cot, ‘well fed’ belly up, his head resting on his favourite chew toy, and conclude that a dog’s life isn’t too bad. Then I envision the flattened dog I saw on my way to work,  blood spattered, his entrails smeared on the highway and am reminded why  kutte ki maut marna ( to die like a dog) is the worst death of all!

( carried in my column in the Tribune  on 6/7/2019)

Breaking Doctors ?

Breaking Doctors ?

While the entire medical fraternity is trying to draw the nation’s attention  to the Kolkata incident  I would like to focus closer home. Not because I am not outraged by what happened there but because it would be akin to flogging a dead horse.

So I will skip the incident in SNR Medical College and  recount what happened in my alma mater PGIMS Rohtak instead. A final year post graduate student in Paediatrics department succumbed to the pressure of medical education and committed suicide. The media projected the professor as an unreasonable meanie, stating that among other atrocities, she didn’t grant him leave to attend his sister’s wedding. This was the final straw that broke the  ‘already overburdened’ camel’s back. My intent is neither to fix responsibility nor condone the conditions.  I am just using this opportunity to give an insiders glimpse into the making of a doctor.  So while my colleagues are trying to tell society that it is  difficult being a doctor….. I want to emphasise that becoming one isn’t easy either.

Most people know that it entails cramming thick tomes through the night. But that is a very small part of the training. Overcrowded, understaffed hospitals result in overworked residents who often work thirty six hours shifts. Despite such impossibly gruelling duties only the best is expected from them. Bosses are unforgiving. It is continuously reiterated that since human life is at stake,  mistakes can’t be made. Long duty hours means not getting time to prepare for exams or write thesis. Along with this stress comes the humiliation of never quite making it to the high standards set by teachers. It isn’t surprising then, that suicide crosses the mind of many students. It crossed mine too. I survived because I didn’t have the courage to die…..or perhaps, because,  I had the courage to live.

E719E6EC-1A61-437A-AE3C-60C647C066D5My own boss was a hard task master, never relenting in her quest for perfection. If we ever dared complain about the long hours or the excessive workload, she would say that she was preparing us for society which wouldn’t be any easier. Not getting leave was a recurring theme. My friend couldn’t get leave for her own marriage so scheduled her wedding on one Sunday and reception on the next. I had labour pains induced so that I could deliver in time to use my  week long winter vacations for some postpartum rest. Something as basic and imperative as maternity leave was not available to postgraduate students till recently. It is just one of those things, along with regular meals and a good night’s sleep, that doctors prescribe to others but can’t afford themselves. Once when I was visibly upset over a cancelled trip due to an emergency duty, she sternly said,” Get used to the idea of ruined plans, you have chosen this vocation.” Briefly put, she thought I was a slacker ( mild understatement ) and I felt that she was a sadist! ( mild overstatement) 

Almost a decade after I had left the institute and was in private practice, my boss dropped in one day. Impeccably dressed as always, she said she was passing and thought of checking in on me.  She was disturbed by the vandalism and arson  in the hospital of one of her ex-students. After the death of a patient the relatives had gone on a rampage damaging property. My boss was appalled that neither the administration nor her non medico neighbours and friends had helped her. Looking concerned she told me that I should relocate if I couldn’t count ten people who would rush to my rescue. After some thought she added, “ Take pictures, make videos. Leave the premises but make sure that someone else documents the incident. If ever something like this happens be sure to collect proof. It will help you get justice.”  

It’s a well known fact that only doctors support doctors in such a crisis. Gharaunda, my hometown, had a negligible medical fraternity at that time. I secretly wondered  if she had visited because she found me in a similar, potentially dangerous situation. This rushed lesson on self-survival when the patient dies, was it a part of the ‘continued medical education’ she continuously recommended?

As teachers resign en masse in West Bengal, and doctors all over the country join the strike in an effort to make their work place safer, I wonder what my boss would say had she been alive today. In these difficult times would she discourage us to treat the gravely sick and risk the aftermath of a death? Would she tell us to forgo empathy and sympathy and save ourselves first ? Would she advise us to not try anything heroic, lest we end up a martyr. Probably not. No doctor would like to recommend shunning the core values of this profession. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to save lives at the risk of losing your own.

Two decades later,  her  parting words still resonate in my mind.  A tad remorseful for not having  equipped us to deal with the ‘next of kin’ anger and violence, getting into her car, she had wistfully said, “And I mistakenly thought, I had taught you people everything……… ”

( published in my column in the Tribune on 22/6/19). 


Auto Mode

Auto Mode

My son told me it’s called Google 15. The fifteen pounds that Nooglers supposedly gain  from gorging on the omnipresent free food. Its said to take a year for new recruits to realise that the buffet won’t shrink but their midriff will expand !

When I had visited his office cafeteria, I was  floored by the diverse multi cuisine menu, dutifully color coded according to their calorific value. Having always been a foodie, and with the space in my stomach at a premium,  I struggled to decide what to eat and what to leave.  The perfectly uncooked sushi or the perfectly cooked waffles, the crisp dosas or the oh-so-soft doughnuts, not to mention the expensive cheeses and exotic nuts lying around. 

0960DDCB-8A8B-455C-B9A4-B6ADF1F11613That is when he said it, while dispassionately eating his daily ration of six boiled eggs, sans yolk. He didn’t even glance at the ‘Day’s specials’ ! I looked around, there were a  hundred other employees at various counters, all young, all fit, none overweight  having their breakfast…..eating for subsistence …eating to live…not living to eat. By the G15 definition they seemed to be old employees,  must have lost both interest and weight, after the initial gain.

I had heard that food is never more than a hundred feet away in a Google office and now I was experiencing it first hand. With the multitude of cafeterias, themed restaurants, snack bars, micro kitchens and refrigerators laden with beverages I was amazed that obesity was not an epidemic. Intrigued, I did some research and discovered that the fifteen pound weight gain is more of an insiders joke, an exaggeration. It seems that Google had done some research too. Concerned about unhealthy weight gain in their employees, a special ops force of behavioural science PhDs conducted surveys of snacking patterns, consulted academic papers on food psychology, and launched an experiment. They noted that if  cookies were kept right beside the coffee machines many took them mindlessly while passing. Simply moving them a few meters away resulted in a calorie reduction that led to an annual loss of half a kilogram weight.

Many similar subtle changes were introduced. They started putting out smaller plates with  suggestions that more food on the plate meant more food in the stomach. Dessert serving size was reduced to three spoons, just enough to cure a craving. They started keeping water at eye level and sweetened sodas in the lower shelves in refrigerators, positioned salad and fruit bars up front in the buffet, removed  M&Ms and candies from transparent dispensers and hid them  in opaque containers.  In nutshell Google didn’t take away any unhealthy products. They simply moved them to less visible locations and their consumption dropped leading to weight loss.

One  doesn’t have to be a google employee to benefit from this research. We make hundreds of choices every day and the majority are more or less automatic. No one has  time to actively think through every little choice about mundane stuff, like what you should and shouldn’t eat. That is why planning is so important, it affects the unconscious decisions we make. By planning grocery shopping, food preparation and placement of food at home it will be easier to stick to healthy habits  when we’re tired, hungry or stressed.

And now the million dollar, or perhaps, billion dollar question, the question you are dying to ask. Why do they do it? What does the company gain from indulging it’s employees so much? Well it  seems to be a calculated move,  not just for philanthropy and goodwill. Research shows that when food is provided on site, employees take shorter breaks. Similarly turning up for breakfast and staying late for dinner means longer office hours and hopefully more output.  Most of all it ensures loyalty, people are less likely to leave an organisation that cares. Remember Sambha pleading, “ Sardar, maine aapka namak khaya hai” in Sholay. It seems Google got inspired.

( published in my column in the Tribune on 8/6/19)


Wedding Woes

Wedding Woes

It grew louder with each passing moment. It had started as a whisper, a soft uncertain voice. Now it was a continuous chant,  reverberating in my head, heard loud and clear over the din of the shlokas. “It’s a scam….it’s a huge scam,” it echoed. I was sitting in the pheras of my nephew and listening to the Pandit’s interpretation of our holy scriptures.  I was trying to make sense of his instructions on how  weddings should be performed.  The pandit dutifully invited the entire pantheon of Gods and Goddesses to preside over the function. He greeted them with flowers, washed their feet, offered paan, urged them to partake the feast and bless the newlyweds. Of course everything was symbolic, a figment of imagination, only the dakshina was real.  So we paid crisp new notes for various hypothetical expenses including a saree for Goddess Lakshmi !

1D0A8E4D-B61C-4895-BF37-28925BC7A455It had all started pretty innocuously.  My nephew had decided that he had found the girl of his dreams and we had decided to let his dreams come true. When we started planning the wedding we were practically coerced into performing the function with in the  limited ‘saya ‘ period,  before the ‘ tara doobna’ ( star set?). This forced  us to hunt for a venue in the heavily booked shaadi  season and pay much more than the usual rates. The printer of our choice was too busy to deliver the cards on time so we had to settle for someone of lesser repute, the same applied for garment makers. Flowers were more expensive, as was food.  From the horse carriage to ferry the groom to the pandit to marry him to his sweetheart, everything came with a huge high season surcharge.  After paying for all the rituals we chose to forgo the post wedding blessings of the neighbourhood eunuchs. At a non negotiable price of fifty one thousand we couldn’t afford them. So we risked their wrath. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and not count on blessings !

Apart from the financial aspect there were other logistical problems. We  were in the middle of what is called a bhari saya in local parlance. It seemed that half the  world was getting married and the other half was invited. So there were traffic snarls and gridlocks causing unheard of delays. Due to the congestion some of our guests never made it to the venue and were forced to return midway. All in all, my prudent, rational mind felt that limiting marriages to a few

‘ auspicious’ days in a year was both inconvenient and unnecessary,  totally avoidable.

The same prudent, rational mind took a back seat, when on my well wishers’ insistence,  I went to the temple to get my new car blessed. I stood patiently as the pandit drew a chandan  satia on the steering wheel, installed a small Ganesh idol on the dash board, lit incense sticks and tied sacred red threads on the wing mirrors, all the while chanting some incomprehensible verses. I obligingly gave him dakshina and feeling suitably protected drove off. Was it a mere coincidence or were the forces above mocking me, because when I switched on my car stereo, Jagjit Singh crooned “Mere jaise ban jaoge, jab ishq tumhein ho jayega, Har baat gawaara kar loge, mannat bhi utara kar loge, tabeezein bhi bandhwaaoge, jab ishq tumhein ho jayega”

I secretly wondered if I was a hypocrite or simply scared. Why do we go along with such sham if we don’t believe in it ?  Most of us have grown up ‘touching wood’ and ‘ eating dahi cheeni ‘ for good luck. Life is so uncertain and mishaps are so many that we grab on to anything that is  remotely reassuring. This futile attempt at self preservation is ingrained in our DNA. We like to play it safe and save ourselves from regret, the ‘ if only we had…..’   remorse that follows any untoward incident. It is this fear of the unknown that is exploited, but it doesn’t condone our own role in the scheme of things.

So am I an educated illiterate or an average human with a reduced  appetite for risk?  Seems  some introspection is needed…just waiting for an auspicious time to begin!

(published in my column in the Tribune on 25/5/2019)

No Takes

No Takes

“No take” comes the voice from below and the pedantic me cringes. “No take,” he  repeats, sometimes sternly, sometimes gently but always in a calm authoritative voice. Before I confuse you further, let me begin at the beginning. My friends had gifted me a Cocker Spaniel on my birthday. It hadn’t required too much guess work. They knew that I wanted to adopt a pup ever since my Lhasa apso walked away. In the intervening five years, I had mourned him and missed him but couldn’t get myself to replace him.  I constantly talked about it but was reluctant to take the plunge and risk another heart break. In any case, there never seemed to be a right time to do it. There was always something significant looming in the horizon, something that demanded my attention more than a wagging tail.

F38AC9EC-654C-4989-9909-0F1F37AA7674So my friends took the matter in their hands and did the deciding. They had heard me debate endlessly whether  Lhasas scored over   Cocker Spaniels. The latter known for their optimism, intelligence and adaptability are considered extremely loyal and affectionate and rank  18th in Stanley Coren’s canine intelligence scale. The  Lhasa’s position is a dismal 68 and is manipulative and moody, but can kill with its cute looks and adorable ‘puppy’ eyes.  They chose brains over beauty and Amigo scurried into my life.  The breed is claimed to understand new instructions with 5-15 repetitions and obey the first command 85%  of the times.  Perhaps the statistics are inaccurate because Amigo failed to live up to these high standards.  He wouldn’t take no for an answer, nipped and bit ankles, chewed furniture and pee’ed and poo’ed all over the place. Frustrated, I decided to seek professional help and engaged a trainer. 

The trainer is an earnest young boy who my dog adores, although part of the lesson is keeping him on the leash for increasing intervals of time, something Amigo vehemently detests. I sometimes watch the two from my balcony. The trainer keeps a favourite chew stick on the ground and teaches  him to not take it until permitted. For the first few days Amigo strained against the leash and gobbled it up in a flash. Slowly he learnt to sit and wait till he was asked to dig in. But the class wasn’t over. When inquired,  the trainer pointed at his tense ‘ ready to pounce’  stance and said it wasn’t acceptable. The next lesson was to make him disinterested in something which was not his. After a fortnight the trainer was dangling the treat right above Amigo’s nose and expecting him  to look away.

Bored by the monotony of the lessons and the slow progress, one day I asked the trainer if this was the only thing on my dog’s syllabus, the only command he would teach. I hinted at more fun tricks like playing dead or rolling over. And the trainer said, “ Ye aa gaya toh  sab aa jayega.” ( If he masters this, he will learn everything else.”) So simple, yet so profound. If we apply this to the human race, the world would be a better place. If we could teach our progeny self restraint, the rest would follow. If they could control greed and stay focused amid enticements, they could live meaningful lives. 

Sadly, we teach them the exact opposite, with our words and deeds. We teach them to grab what they can, to focus on the result, whatever be the means. Between ‘ dummy’ schools, tennis lessons,  coaching classes and fake philanthropic projects, they learn ‘ to take ‘, without thought or consideration of what is right. Is it surprising then, that we are what we are? And since  politicians are our representatives, isn’t it natural that they are the opportunists that they are? How can we expect them to behave differently, when they are a product of our society, with  much more scope for corruption.

Someday Amigo will become a dog of good moral values albeit poor English. Meanwhile, as the polling date approaches and heated debates about the right candidate do the rounds, my mind is made up.  I will gladly give my vote to anyone who has been trained to “ No take.” Any takers?

( published in my column in the Tribune on 11/5/2019)

Fringe Elements

Fringe Elements

As I return to my column after a longish break,  desperately  hoping that I was missed, I am numbed by a recent happening and intrigued by the coincidence. I had last written on how we Indians live precariously. Now I am compelled to write this one about falling off the edge. It seems, if you live on the fringe, falling through the gap is inevitable.

88514677-7A97-461D-9D7F-65C4658EFD01He was  still practicing paediatrics at the age of eighty one, mostly for charity. He was a published writer and had authored many books. His last one Amrit Kalash about practical tips on infant care and breast feeding, was just out. When he had visited a week before the incident he was  busy making copious notes for his next book. He had mellowed a little but still lived up to his moniker ‘Garam Chacha’,  a name I had given him as a child and that had stuck because of his temperament. He hadn’t lost his firm, somewhat opinionated voice and his dry sense of humour. After dinner at our place he told me that though the kadhi I had made was nice he would have to teach me how to make spongy pakoras with holes on the surface.

On his journey back home he slipped while getting on the train and was caught between the platform and the train. His right leg got crushed before the chain could be pulled and the train stopped. He lay bleeding on the platform, writhing in pain while his  gynaecologist wife who was traveling with him tried to do what she could. There was no first aid box, no splint to support his leg and no way to start an infusion. After waiting for the ambulance  in vain, he was  shifted to the district hospital in a three wheeler, the only available vehicle that could accommodate a stretcher. Further delay was caused by  the numerous rallies and religious processions slowing traffic on the way. The district hospital  wasn’t equipped to deal with the emergency so he was taken to the military hospital. Valuable time was lost  on the  logistics of this transfer. By the time he reached a centre where something could be done nothing could be done. He bled to death, all the while offering suggestions on ways he could be saved. 

This lack of basic medical amenities could have been forgiven had this happened in one of those villages or small hamlets that dot rural India, but this occurred in a district, a place of great religious importance. As we gear up for elections and are surrounded by promises of bigger hospitals with more sophisticated equipment, we should probably just  ask for basic medical services, not on paper, but in place! Services that are readily available when needed. 

Meanwhile like all average Indians, the family has made peace with the situation. To the extent of saying that he was fortunate to have died in the holy city,  where people camp for years seeking deliverance. That the pain and agony he suffered in the last hours of his life would rid him of any past sins and ensure salvation. While I don’t fully buy that theory I do agree that he had lived a full and fruitful life. But this fact  doesn’t reduce the despair or excuse the mismanagement.  He had so much life left in him, so many dreams for the future, so many unfinished poems and untold stories. He shouldn’t have died, and in any case, not the way he did.  It will always hurt me that a person who spent his entire life treating others and fathered three doctors, one a neurosurgeon in the army, died for want of basic medical care. 

Why am I writing about this, because although he was my chacha  he could very well have been yours. 

( published in my column in the Tribune on 27/4/19)

Recipe for disaster

Recipe for disaster

Standing in a sea of pink,  I calculated the chances and hurriedly went over the check list. I was waiting to run (  walk ! ) for  ten km and mentally preparing myself, not to ace the race but to survive a stampede. Pinkathalon was a  state sponsored mini marathon to celebrate International Women’s Day. Like all such events which are used to show political clout,  despite  the use of much government machinery, it was a chaotic affair.

12D3DD8E-8BF6-4AD4-893C-9189B7E5895CClearly the event, being the first of its kind in the region, had caught the imagination of the public . The media hype and publicity had worked. Roping in schools and NGOs further ensured a good turnout. And now they were all there, waiting. I am not sure whether all  thirty five thousand who registered had turned up but there were enough for the dreaded human rush and crush.

My cautious, cynical mind evaluated the situation and tried to identify exits in case things turned ugly. Both sides of the road were blocked with flex posters which could be torn down if necessary but were a hinderance nonetheless. To worsen things, there was a choke point ahead. The road was partially blocked by a high stage to create a gate from which the chief guest was to address the gathering and flag off the race. I shuddered at the thought of the crowd pushing and shoving through the gateway when the race started. Dreading the worst I tried to turn back but it was impossible to move against the  forward  surge. With no other option I  decided to go with the flow and  looked around  distractedly.

The  enthusiasm and joy was palpable. Laughter was everywhere, as was pink, an integral part of everyone’s attire. The mood was upbeat as females of all ages sang along with the singers and shouted patriotic slogans. They enthusiastically waved to the photographers on the ground and the drones flying above. Packed like sardines, some were even doing the warm up exercises being demonstrated as a prelude to the run. Most were busy posing for selfies. Happy women, trusting women, unsuspecting women! Without a clue of the danger they were in……

As the sun heated up, the crowd expanded and started jostling, the impatience slowly mounting, ticking like a time bomb. Fainting from the heat causing a dominos effect of ‘fallen’ women seemed inevitable. “Isn’t swooning integral to ladies?” I wondered. On top of it,  very few were carrying water as it was to be provided by the organisers further up the road. That is if they made it that far.  My chain of morbid thoughts was broken by the arrival of the chief minister who spoke briefly and flagged off the race. We were effortlessly carried in the human tide for the first few hundred yards. I got separated from my friends and it was difficult to locate them in the ensuing mayhem. So our plan of completing the marathon together was dashed.  Mildly put, it was a badly managed event, but it could have been much worse. 

Luckily  by Indian standards the chief guest came on time, and chose to be concise. 

Luckily no one slipped, tripped or fainted during the rush.

Luckily tempers didn’t rise with the temperature and there was no pushing and shoving.

Luckily no one stopped to pick up a fallen phone, tie a shoelace, adjust  a Dupatta.

Luckily no one’s garment got tangled or caught, choking the wearer in the chaos.

Luckily nothing went wrong, not too wrong that is…..

Perhaps due to the collective past Karma of all the ‘herded’ women we survived unscathed.

In the end  it turned out to be an ordinary day in India, another day of living on the edge and  fighting the odds.  

A recurring thought has been bothering me since. In our country, so much  luck is needed to survive an average day.  Is that why we  keep running out of it?

( published in my column in the Tribune on 16/3/19)

Women’s Day Special

Women’s Day Special

63B266F0-1AF9-471F-900D-D8D38B7631C2I take great pride in my daughter’s confident strut, her head held high, ready to express her views, striving to be seen and heard. My grandmother, on the other hand, spent most of her life bent over. She was trained  to walk with her eyes downcast, aiming to melt into the scenery, never to be seen or heard. So yes, over generations, there has been a definite change in the way women perceive themselves. 

It is also true that the patriarchal mindset has not changed so much and till society accepts intelligent, well informed women as an asset, being an assertive, opinionated female will always be a struggle. Still  the rise of women power despite this adversity is worth celebrating. They maybe few but they are on the rise, this breed of women with wind in their hair and dreams in their eyes.

With due apologies to Sh Jaishankar Prasad my message (to myself !) and others of my kind is “ Naari tum kewal shraddha nahin ho, Manav ho is adhbhut dharti par. Harpal jee bhar jiya karo, samtal mein, asamtal mein. “

( Carried as a part of a special feature in The HT on 8/3/2019)

Virtually Speaking

Virtually Speaking

Jab we met, it didn’t seem like it was for the first time. She said that I was exactly the way she had imagined, I felt likewise. She is a prolific writer based in U.S.A who prefers Hindi medium. I am comfortable writing in English though I reside in apna desh. We had been following each other on social media. Facebook categorises her as a friend of a friend, actually she is my cousin’s classmate from school. As we had a heart to heart chat I silently thanked Mark Zuckerberg for another ‘life enriching’ gift.

474A1473-D0C5-4356-A9D6-11EA0E5E52BCLet’s face it, Facebook and other social networking sites receive a lot of flak for disrupting lives, disturbing focus and wasting time. Most of these critics are parents who try to keep their kids away from it although they might be quite active themselves.

I disagree with this view because I have a lot to thank it for. To put it simply, you are reading this because of Facebook.  I always found the question,” What’s on your mind? “ intriguing. And one day, almost a decade back, I gave in. When Mark Z. asked me I unburdened myself and unleashed some thoughts.  It started with a single line, a stray comment. I was bowled over by the almost instantaneous response I got. Slowly, with increasing confidence, the frequency and size of my posts increased till with constant encouragement I wrote a full length article. On the suggestion of a friend I sent it to the Tribune where it was published as a middle. That was the beginning, four years and more than hundred published pieces later, the role of social media in my life,  fills me with gratitude.

Apart from helping find the writer in me, I find it to be a wonderful platform to meet like minded people, exchange views and seek opinions. This is specially important for people like me who live on the fringe of civilisation, where lucid adult conversation is a rarity.  Besides meeting new people it is also a great way to stay connected to old acquaintances. Before the advent of social media, school and college buddies would slowly fade away, everyone busy with the business of living. Now it is easy to chat virtually to plan a  real meeting.

I agree, the need to show everyone what you have seen and tell everyone that you are living a good life does reek of exhibitionism, but look at the plus side. Check anyone’s pictures ( including mine!) over the years and you will notice  a certain improvement in the appearance, the attire and the attitude. If social media makes us take better care of ourself so that our profile picture looks more presentable, then I think it’s a good thing. I, for one feel younger courtesy these social networking sites, and admit it, so do you!

So youngsters ( if any of you read this ) you have a big supporter in me. But my support comes with a caveat. Don’t let these sites dictate their terms and conditions. You should never love something so much that it takes over you. You should love it enough so that you can never be controlled. It should be your strength not your weakness. As my dad would wisely say, “ Everything in moderation.” Or in my son’s words,” Be your own boss.”

( published in my column in the Tribune on 16/2/2019)