Friday, April 30, 2021

Mughal E Azam 2.0 - Brick in the Wall

When I decided to write a modern-day fictional adaptation of Mughal-e-Azam a couple of years back (still writing it BTW), I didn’t realize my art (if you can call it that) was going to imitate life. Cut to the present. April 2021 - the condominium in which I live, is inching close to being sealed by the authorities in Gurgaon as we have had a significant outbreak of coronavirus infections. 

Now I truly understand what Anarkali must have felt like when that first brick was laid. 

Okay, I guess I’m being slightly dramatic here. I’m not being walled in. One of our gates has just been sealed and residents have been asked to clamp down on visitors and domestic help. Not just that, there are a couple of Plods manning the main gates and several inside the condo making sure folks don’t break rules. So if you are out without a mask or two, gossiping in a group or trying to sneak out after curfew hours for a drink with your buddies, you will be marched to prison. Do not pass go. Or collect the 200 dollars. Straight to prison I expect. Or worse, the entire condominium will be sealed off from the world at large. 


Mughal E Azam 2.0. Except my Salim is sitting beside me, balding and spectacled, completely zoned out from being on zoom calls with clients. On my part, I’m jumping around from one room to the next like a cat on hot bricks. I don’t think that qualifies as dancing.


I’ve been told our condo is a containment zone. That’s what they call places that have a huge spike in infections. By policing it, the authorities hope to bring down the cases. A few of my friends whisper conspiratorially (over the phone) that they are in Large Outbreak Regions. All of these sound like names out of a dystopian novel -- so you have to excuse me for hyperventilating a wee bit.


Breathe in, breathe out.


I haven’t had any visitors or domestic help for over a year. From the first week of March 2020 to be precise. I’ve been scrupulously washing my hands using up gallons of liquid soap, wearing an array of masks and staying away from everyone and her aunt. Other than minor episodes of cabin fever, things have been mostly fine. But now, things are getting tricky.

In my version of the story, Anarkali escapes by taking a flight out of Gurgaon. I’m not sure that will be possible in real life. Perhaps I could be a fly on the wall instead?


(To be contd)





Friday, July 17, 2020

The Perfect Girl

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Ma’s head fell back against the pillow and I heard soft snores. She had finally fallen asleep after tossing and turning in pain for several hours. I stared at the clock mounted on the wall. It was nearly four in the evening. I hadn’t eaten anything in hours and my stomach had begun growling angrily in protest. If I rushed down and grabbed a quick bite at the cafeteria downstairs, I’d be back in time for the doctor’s evening rounds. Picking up my bag, I made sure ma was fast asleep and made my way to the tiny café crammed between the reception and the pharmacy on the ground floor. 

As my rotten luck would have it, the café was jam-packed. People were spilling out of every corner, all the tables were occupied. I walked up to the counter looking back over my shoulder to examine my surroundings once more. Perhaps there was an empty table I’d missed? But no, there wasn’t an ounce of space free anywhere to have a cup of tea and croissant in peace.

“Should I pack it for you?” the boy stared at me expectantly over the counter.

“Why don’t you sit here?” someone called out from amidst a sea of faces. I looked to find a woman sitting by herself at the one of the tables. I hadn’t noticed her before. She pointed towards the empty chair in front of her. “There’s no one with me, you can sit here and eat if you like.”

Now I don’t really like sharing tables or eating meals with strangers. But I was ravenous and there wasn’t much time to spare. Besides I didn’t want to appear rude. So I agreed albeit slightly reluctantly. She seemed pleasant enough. Small with a thin, drawn face and laugh lines around her eyes. Medium length brown hair framing her face. I could see a faint line of vermillion at the parting of her hair and a black-and-gold mangalsutra around her neck.

“You have a patient here?” she enquired as soon as I sat down opposite her. Oh no, what have I done, I thought to myself. I wasn't in the mood to make polite conversation with her. There was too much clutter inside my head. I was worried about my mother, anxious to meet the doctor. Exchanging pleasantries with strangers that one randomly meets at hospital cafes was not something I was prepared for.

I didn’t say anything out loud. I smiled weakly and told her that my mother was admitted and she’d had surgery. She nodded sympathetically. I felt as though I was obliged to return the favour by asking her the same question. So I did. “Are you here to see someone?”

She stared at me for several minutes as though formulating what to say in her mind. Finally, after a longish pause, she said, “I’m here with my husband. He had a biopsy done.”

Over the next fifteen minutes or so, she proceeded to tell me about her husband and how she had noticed a lump in his throat and the family doctor had advised a biopsy to rule out cancer. She told me that they lived in a joint family with her in-laws and no one had a clue that the two of them had come away to get the biopsy done. She didn’t think it right to alarm her husband’s elderly parents. “If cancer is detected, we will have to tell them. Why worry them unnecessarily?”

I nodded. She was right in a way.

The croissant had arrived. But I wasn’t able to eat it. She hadn’t finished talking. Her husband’s biopsy wasn’t the end of her tale. She told me about her husband’s soda bottling plant and her two sons who were gearing up to take over the family business from their father. The eldest chap was ready to get married and she was looking for a bride for him.

“You see,” she said, taking a sip from her coffee cup. “My son is perfect. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He has no bad habits. I can’t find a single girl who matches up to him. Besides we live far away from here, in a village on the outskirts of Gurgaon. I can’t find anyone who is prepared to settle there. All the girls we meet, the young and modern girls of today, want to live in the big city, go to malls, do shopping. I can’t find anyone willing to leave the pleasures of the city and live with us in a village.”

I nodded my head as though I understood. I mean, what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t believe that she was telling me all this. After all, I was a complete stranger, sharing a table with her in a hospital cafeteria. Why on earth would anyone blurt out so much about their personal life to a stranger? 

I realized that I had to make a quick getaway without hurting her feelings. This was getting way too awkward. I wrapped the croissant in a napkin, drained the contents of my cup and got up quickly. “I have to go now,” I said glancing casually at the clock on the wall. “The doctor will be making his evening rounds and I don’t want to miss him.” It wasn’t a lie.

She looked disappointed and I felt like a heel. “Oh yes, of course. No problem. Take care. I hope your mother gets well soon.”

“I hope your husband is okay too. Don’t worry too much. I’m sure you will find the perfect girl for your son.”

I think about her a lot. I wonder whether she did find that girl after all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Techch Me Not!

Photo courtesy: freepik

I wish I had the money to afford all the vacations I take each year during Holi. Then I could have really taken a vacation. * Wink Wink *

Last year, I went to Mauritius. I think it was Europe the year before that. I’ve lost count of the exotic holidays I have taken over the years. Thank heavens for the dog-eared Lonely Planet on my bedside table. Each time I am at a loss for which spot to choose, I play book cricket and land on the perfect page .. erm .. I mean holiday spot.

The truth is, being AWOL is the perfect way to avoid the chaos that is Holi. I’ve hated the festival and everything it signifies from the time I was a child. The damp, the colours and the obnoxious revelers who just don’t take no for an answer. Bura Na Mano and all that.

This year, the dreadful Corona virus has helped keep the enthu cutlets at bay. But it’s more like being out of the frying pan into the fire. Though to be honest, Corona or no Corona, I’d slap anyone who breached the three feet distance rule on Holi day. I don’t play and that’s that. Besides, how can anyone bother you when you are away on holiday? There’s a lock on my door, if you don’t believe me.

My neighbour, Mrs M is really worried, unlike me. She loves playing Holi, dancing to the terrible remixes and drinking thandai till she’s out stone cold. But this year the Corona scare has put a damper on her plans. “Arre did you know about this new virus in town?” she tells me the other day over the phone. “Techch karne se daaeth ho jata haye,” she sighs. “Mr M has told me that we will not be playing this year. I’m just so sad yaar.”

I tell her to play online. Google has new Doodle and she can burst bubbles all day long on her computer. No techching and certainly no daaeth. She is not amused and disconnects the phone with a rude click.

As for me, at least this year I can save my money and put it where it’s worth - towards a real vacation that is. If I survive the virus.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The rustle of brown paper and smell of new books

Are you overwhelmed by a flood of memories when you encounter certain situations in life? A situation similar to Proust's 'madeleine moment' though in my case, the instances have nothing to do with food - most of the times.

Each year, at the start of my daughter’s school term I find myself thinking of my late father. He died when I was eight years old and my memories of him are quite foggy. 
Yet, as the books and labels come tumbling out of the packet, I have a vision of him, hunched over the table (he was a very tall man), enfolding each book gently with brown paper and sticking labels, that he had written out neatly, on them. He was quite fastidious about the ritual. Even had a label maker he had bought from one of his ship voyages abroad.
The other day, while cleaning out my desk, I found the last label he had written for me. School started in January that year. He died a few months later. 

It's uncanny how similar our handwriting is.

Blurry and frayed memories of long - lost routines. The rustle of brown paper and the smell of new books bring them on. Makes me wonder what my daughter will remember about me.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Flamenco Season is Here Again!

Flamenco season is here again.

No, I’m not taking up dance lessons. Nor am I planning to fly to Spain to watch blonde-haired Jesus Cortes in action at the Patio Andaluz in Barcelona.

My life is nowhere near half as exciting.

With temperatures spiking, I have been gearing up for the latest season of the Lizards are Coming. It’s not a new horror show on Netflix. More like a live performance. The reptiles will be crawling out of the woodwork, in shades of brown, speckled, black and grey. 

Still, if they stayed put on the walls, I could have tolerated them. Thought of them as installation art on my walls. Jamini Roy. Lizard. Bernard Hoyes. Lizard. You get the drift. But when the damn creatures decide to go all pedestrian, “oooh let’s walk on the floor and all that” -- that’s when the problem starts. One minute, you are walking barefoot to get a drink of water from the kitchen in the middle of the night. Next minute there is a wet ssplishsquidge under your feet. Ughhh. 

The instant Gurgaon starts getting warmer, I steal furtive glances all over the place -- at the bathroom walls, behind the electrical appliances and under the beds. Any sign of movement and the frantic foot-tapping and hand-clapping begins. Instead of castanets, I have armed myself with Hit Spray.

I will do anything to get the damn lizards out of the apartment.

Though while I’m at it, I might as well get myself a red frilly dress and some exotic headgear. Make some money while I do pest control doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all. Oh and don’t worry, I will be careful with the Hit Spray. My eyesight is not that bad.

Tap Tap Tap
Spray Spray Spray
Stop right there
Don't you dare say Olé!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Clean-Up Quandary!

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. I’m normally not a melancholic person. But I’ve been writing and reading some really dark stuff so there’s been a cloud hanging over me. That aside, some of this ruminating has been triggered off by a curious thing that happened the other day.

A man I knew briefly (we had exchanged a few emails relating to work and were connected on social media) seems to have died a few years ago and I had no clue. His updates and tweets (possibly auto-generated) had continued over the years. How on earth was I to know? A few days back when I was online on a business networking platform, I noticed an update from him on my newsfeed and beside his name, there was a line mentioning that he had passed on. I couldn’t believe it. I zoomed in and read the fine print again. It wasn’t a mistake. He was dead.

Since then, every time I spot a tweet or an automatic newsletter from his handle, I get a jolt. It’s odd when someone who isn’t around anymore sends you a notification. Gives you a turn, doesn’t it?

That’s when I started thinking. We leave the physical world when we breathe our last. What about the digital world? Do we ever leave it? Our profile, auto tweets and other random things we might have set up for business or pleasure go on forever (giving our friends and acquaintances) the jitters every now and then. 

I mean, imagine if I died and you got a reminder from FB to wish me on my birthday? Or got an automatic newsletter from me with the best news of the day. How would that make you feel? Even if you didn’t actually know me, had never ever laid eyes on me and were only a virtual acquaintance. Even then, it would give you quite a shock, wouldn’t it?

With everyone so protective of their privacy, passwords are not casually bandied about either. So my near and dear ones may not have a clue how to set things right. Not that I’d want them to. It would be the equivalent of going through my clothes and books and giving them away. I couldn’t have them go through the trauma of sorting through my digital rubbish.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the poor man and I hope wherever he is, he is at peace. I wouldn’t have been able to rest knowing I had left such a mess behind for people to clean. My house is bad enough. 

It’s time I cleaned up my digital act. As Queen had famously NOT sung,

Who wants to live forever?
physically or digitally? 
So better now than never! 
Clean up your act today.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Not on your Boat!

I am extremely wary of the sea. That I haven’t inherited my late father's seafaring qualities might have something to do with the fact that my earliest memory of him (and one I remember vividly) was going to see a movie called Poseidon Adventure when I was three. It was about a ship that was overturned by a tidal wave and almost everyone on board perished.

Now my father (whose ship had been run aground by a tidal wave in Hachinohe on the northeast coast of Japan in 1968, he survived by the grace of God) thought it would be a fabulous educational experience for his children. 

It wasn’t. 

It scared the living daylights out of me. And since then, I have kept a respectful distance from the sea. Ships and boats make me quite uneasy. Even slightly queasy.

Imagine my horror when I receive a gaudily designed whatsapp invite to a Titanic-themed Valentine's Day party in the condominium from my neighbour Mrs X a few days back. Once my eyes were able to focus on the rest of the card (after being temporarily blinded by the shining red hearts that filled up my mobile screen), I noticed a picture of Rose and Jack, hands spread out on the deck of the ship. The text said: enjoy a special evening with your loved one, dancing the night away on board the Titanic. Charges: Rs 500 plus taxes for dinner. A sumptuous fare of kali dal, paneer, chicken tikkas and biryani will be served. Booze unlimited.

Now, I am not sure why anyone would want to spend Valentine's Day on board an ill-fated boat that sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. That isn't remotely romantic, it is a recipe for disaster. I certainly wasn't going to. 

So I sent a polite message saying I was busy.

It should have ended there but the woman just wouldn’t take no for an answer. She sent me a message back saying “Why you are being anti-social?” She wrote that I should come with the hubby. He would enjoy it. They would be playing songs like Gallan Goodiyaan from Dil Dhadakne Do (a number I really love) and there was going to be red vaalvet cake for dessert.

Woman, even if you fly down Leonardo DiCaprio all the way from the US, I still wouldn’t go! No amount of chicken tikka and red vaalvet is going to convince me. I will listen to Gallan Goodiyan on YouTube and do a little jig at home. Perhaps if my father hadn’t taken me to see Poseidon Adventure all those years ago, I might have turned out differently.

So no, thank you. I'll pass.

In fact, the only boat I’m likely to set foot on is an ark should the world come to an end.

The End.

Mughal E Azam 2.0 - Brick in the Wall

When I decided to write a modern-day fictional adaptation of Mughal-e-Azam a couple of years back (still writing it BTW), I didn’t realize m...