Friday, December 08, 2006

What women want

A brief attempt at unravelling the great mystery. In honour of my friend Rishi who gave me the idea. Dedicated to all the confused men around. Just say sorry :)


She: ' Just say yes or no. No ifs or buts'
He: ' Ok... No.'
She: 'No????'
(pause)
Fine!'
He: Ok. Bye
She: Fine! Gbye and Gnite!

She stares at her fone secretly wishing she could bang it down. 'Men!'.

She wakes up, by habit trying to remember what she dreamt of. Then she remembers the argument. What a loser, she thinks. Wonder if I'll see him at the parking lot. She does. Walks away, avoiding eye contact.

'I wonder if he ever realises what he did. Hurting me like that. I bet he's regretting it right now'. She turns on her laptop trying to immerse herself in the jargon and matrices.

It's around the time he has lunch, she thinks, picking her keys and staring out the window. No sign of him. A second helping? Maybe he'd be here by then. No sign. Some fruit juice? No sign.
'What an absolute moron. Maybe he just doesn't like to say sorry.'

3 pm. No email. 4pm. No offline messages. 5 pm. Nope- no phone calls and no smses either. And then suddenly footsteps outside her door. She holds her usually heavy breath, trying to concentrate and recognize the steady sounds coming closer. A knock. On the neighbour's door. She heaves a disgruntled sigh and goes back to her wired world.

9 pm. 'Maybe I should call. Maybe that will open him up. Give him an opportunity to realize what a fool he's been. Or maybe I should just pay him a visit.' She gathers her books, her keys and her phone and then stops. She puts them all back and waving her hands, walks up two flights of stairs. She steadies her breathing, goes to the door and puts her hand on the knob and turns it.

He turns to look at her, an expression of relief crossing his face. She walks in, trying to suppress her smile and look angry. She sits down at his table waiting for him to speak.
' Ok. Here goes. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I was just worried about what the others would ..'
' It's okay. But I was upset too. I'm not totally devoid of emotions, you know!' she smiles. ' I just had to come and see you. I was thinking about it all day and I knew things would become alright if I came.'
' Thank you. You make me feel much lighter. Dinner tommorow?'

How nice that would be, she thought, brushing her dreams away. She turned the knob, it only went half the way. She paused, then turned it the other way. No luck. She rushed back to her room, picked her stuff and walked to her car. ' Well, he's getting more time. He better come around by tommorrow.'

Next morning she meets him at the parking lot.

She: 'Left early yesterday?'
He: ' Yes, Around 8'
She: ' I came to your office. Around 9'
He: ' Oh. What for?'
She ' What do you think?'
He: ' It's ok. Your apologies are accepted.'

She: 'Whaaaattttt?????'


Monday, September 25, 2006

Pieces in a Kaleidoscope - II

This post and the one before is my attempt at trying a new style of writing fiction. Pieces of vivid descriptions to be stitched together by the reader's imagination. A thousand patterns can be formed depending on what you perceive, much like a kaleidoscope. Do let me know what you see.

***********************************

She waited on the wooden bench, quietly checking the people walking across. She strained her eyes to see the end of the platform. It was empty except for a naked boy of about 2 crawling to his sleeping mother. Maybe it was a joke, she thought and looked straight ahead. And then she saw him. A sigh of relief, a joyous smile.

***********************************

They sped down the road, under the shadows of the tall neem trees, her childish laughter resounding for miles. She giggled loudly as the first drops of rain hit her face, her brown eyes gleaming with excitement. A pothole unsteadied her. She caught on to his shirt, screaming in delight. They stopped at a closed shop, waiting for the rain to stop. He looked at her shivering in the cold and kissed her cheek, affectionately.

***********************************
She stared at the screen. Her nimble fingers flew across the old keyboard and she typed furiously, trying in vain to put all her thoughts into words. Then she found the backspace key.
She froze for a moment, thinking if she would regret this later. She fiddled with the keys, her hesitant fingers matching up with her wavering mind.
She hit 'send' and gathered her belongings. She slowly walked out of the room, making up tales in her head to convince herself that everything was alright. Nothing was wrong. No one was drifting away.

***********************************

The light was dim. The music was soft, almost non existent. There was nothing to stop her - it only took a question to bring it on. From a million miles away she opened up to him, and he to her. Nothing mattered anymore and neither remembered the backspace key. Excuses, misgivings, battered feelings. Assumptions, reasons and explanations.

It had all been over 7 years ago. Yet, this was closure.

***********************************

When was innocence lost?



Pieces in a Kaleidoscope - I

She rested her chin on the grill and looked out. Myriad of bright green hues battling for sunlight. Childhood memories ran in her head and she smiled, turning to look at him discreetly. He met her gaze, his laughter travelling all the way to his eyes.

************************

She looked ahead, words floated by, she wasn't listening. He held her close for a brief moment and whispered into her ear. She closed her eyes and shut the lone tear out from the world as the cold wind ruffled her damp hair.

************************

He looked up at her, unsure of what to say. She paused, suddenly concious of how much she had spoken. He shook his head and gently rested his head on the wall behind, thinking of the days gone by. Deafening silence marred by insignificant voices behind. She fiddled with a piece of paper slowly, looking down at it with intent.

A few seconds or a dozen hours.

She felt his eyes on her and looked up. A tiny tear gingerly made its way down her cheek as she bit her lip. Fears of the past clouded her mind, she brushed away her thoughts as she picked a strand of hair off her dress. She prayed, dont let it happen again.

************************

Does every relationship have a name?

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Holy Trail

It was the morning of the wedding of my close friend. To be celebrated in the temple town of Trichy or Tiruchirapalli, it would've been a sin to not visit the temple. So that's quite precisely what we ventured out to do at 6 am. A middle aged brahmin couple cheerfully volunteered to accompany us and guide us through the labyrinth of the ancient temple. We didn't have the heart to tell then that all we needed was a hi-bye flying visit that can be declared to the outside world as an extremely devoted trip to the Sri Ranganathar Temple.

After forty minutes of waiting in the queue that led to the sanctum sanctorum, we reached the entrance to it. The ancient carvings on the stones had lost much of its beauty since someone had decided cement and paint would be nice to adorn the upper end of it. That the waiting area made me claustrophobic and I was squashed between two aged grannies was of not much importance. We finally reached God. Or so we thought.

The priest near the gold-covered stone idol was hurrying everybody who had waited long for the moment. He would let you a super short glimpse of the deity and barely enough time for you to clasp your hands together before showing you the way out. Just as we were about to step in, we were blocked to let in a family of 6- they had paid Rs 20 for a shorter wait and a smarter detour. We waited and looked at each other wondering if we should've paid too, for a second happy of the existence of the hurrying priest.

We slowly inched our way into the tiny area, stole a quick glance at the idol and hiked up our skirts to hurry out when the inviting voice of the priest caught us by surprise. He not only gave us welcome smiles but also a patient explanation of the God there , his wives and the temple's history. He went on in sudden fervor as we exchanged bewildered looks among us- wondering what could've brought out this surprising change. And then we got our answer.

Clasped in my friend's hand was a 500 Rupee note. The priest finished his talk, looked at her hand and said ' Pray and keep what's in your hand as an offering to God'. She didn't. As we came out we were stopped by another priest-like man with a receipt book asking us to make donations. We hurried out in silence, disgusted with the experience.

My relationship with God. It's a task to describe it.

My earliest memories of praying include learning shlokas or hymns from my grandmother- not knowing the meaning or even the right words. To this day that's how I recite them- like Udit Narayan sings in Tamil. No feeling, no emotions, nothing. But if a God does exist, I'm sure he'll know me by name.

As a school going kid, I used to visit the nearby temple every single school morning, discussing with Her ( no, not a feminist, just that it was a Goddess) my daily worries and little triumphs. As was the norm there were tiny bribes involved - like the deal to walk around the temple three times every Friday in exchange for a full score in Math. I have been to Sabarimala four times- the last two of which I had to be carried part of the way since I ran a temperature- now I'm officially banned to enter there till I'm 50. I have distinct memories of regular visits to the school chapel, kneeling down closing my eyes and feeling the space around, the sheer silence of which still enchants me. And the cool white marble of the Saraswathi temple at Pilani, reminiscences of sitting on those steps and waiting, waiting for I-don't-know-what. To this day, most of my visits to Kerala involve a trip to Guruvayur where I would not just encounter another hurrying priest, but also be forcibly dressed in skirts/ sarees and accept my untouchable status. A couple of months back, when I felt a burning desire to go to a temple, I took a 9 hour journey to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The simple 'langar' food was the tastiest I had had in a long time.

Somewhere in the transition between a girl to the half girl- half woman I am now, I may have lost some faith. I stopped believing in the numerous rituals that did not make sense the thousand Gods of the Hindu faith and their few thousand wives. I stopped praying everyday, those hymns were now reserved for rare temple visits and disturbed nights. Maybe it was science, maybe it was sheer arrogance -but I didn't believe in paying thousands to astrologers who claim to be able to appease the Gods. It was not just about God, suddenly it was about astrology, about religion, about customs- anything that could be held at ransom by my logical self. If I was born equal to the holy priest, why would he have to perform a purifying ceremony if I touch him? Why does he drop the Blessed offering into my hand from atleast half a feet above? It was perhaps the blurred line between God's so called agents and God himself that now became clearer.

I could be talking for many people in my generation and the one after. For us, God is a possibility. There could be a supreme power - but the power certainly has no name, no form, no gender and definitely no agents. Your life is what you make it to be and your peace is when you think it to be. The simple calm of a church and the power from the holy fire is what emanates from us and what we attribute to it. Not the other way around. We honestly don't care if our soul goes to heaven or hell- or even if there is such a thing as a soul at all. What would perhaps make perfect sense is a silent conversation with God, on all things bright and beautiful, stupid and silly, frivulous and inane. For us, God is in ourselves, in our family and in our loved ones. We look into ourselves to find courage- and in those unimaginable times, hestitatingly seek the unknown God. Other than that, the supreme power would only be a faithful companion, that voice in the head which silently listens when you want it to. And shuts up when you want it to.

I would probably teach my kids about the big power up there and the thousand gods and goddesses that go with it. The hymns and the idols and the holy priests. Not to mention heaven and hell and their admission criteria. I would give them the peaceful secure childhood I had with God to lean on and then slowly let them figure it out on their own. Maybe its unfair of me to latch on to God for so long and now lessen the faith. Whatever it is, God, I think you might owe me a blessing.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Crossroads

Some call it the beginning of adulthood, some call it the quarter life crisis. A girl’s journey to become a woman is, more than anything, highly puzzling. What follows are the thoughts I put on paper for the forthcoming issue of my alumni magazine- Sandpaper.

As I looked at the mail that had just landed in my inbox a few million random thoughts crossed my mind. Attached were wedding pictures of my close friend from college and standing with the happy couple was another friend with her husband, visibly expecting their first child. As I regretted not being there, my eyes instinctively landed on the wall behind me. My old poster of a cozying couple with much torn edges and very visible creases stared back. I don’t even know why I chose to hold on to the one relic my college hostel room was identified with. It had no place in my life and certainly none in a B-school. I told everyone it makes me feel at home. Frankly, I think it just makes me feel younger.

Is the honeymoon over, I wondered. Twenty four is a funny age to be. It’s when your opinion has suddenly begun to matter and strangely, you don’t seem to like it. It is the age when they stop forgiving you for acting like a kid and start expecting you to know how to handle one.

Friends of mine think they might still be a little too young to marry. But of course, you really cannot be taking competitive exams now- for when you graduate there might not be many eligible bachelors left. A corporate woman then? Maybe not, because for all the gorgeous women of this generation, three years is a long time to be working on the same job. For the thousands of women who joined the workforce three odd summers back, the crossroads of life are now taking form.

Is there such a thing as too many choices? I thought about my close circle of friends. As independent young women with the freedom to step forward in time or back into domesticity, we are a lot pampered for choice. Gone are the days when working women were the toast of the day. Today it’s suddenly cool to stay at home, look after the kids and make aromatic candles. We can study at the best colleges, get the highest degrees, give up everything for the man we love and move to unknown lands. Who is to stop us? Hot shot careers could well be giving way to chocolate chip cookie baking lessons.

As we needle our way out of our protective environments, the comfort of being the new employee, the junior student, the blushing bride, there’s an overwhelming amount of challenges and decisions thrown at us. We grapple with them, mostly alone, too independent and proud to ask for help. The truth is, we may not be as tough as we claim to be. We wax eloquent in public on how strong we are. And yet we crumble at the thought of calling a close friend to condole the death of his beloved.

Today no one raises as much as an eyebrow when I tell them of my plans to start a restaurant and author a book. Another close friend just made a successful shift from a software techie to a well paid finance executive- with a one year MBA. Except for some student loans, there’s nothing to stop her now. Just as I write this more and more women are changing lanes faster than we can imagine, all to pursue something unusual and more fulfilling. We are breaking stereotypes to form niches of our own. We want to be fashionable and comfortable, silly and suave - all at the same time.

It is true. We now like to pay our own bills. But we aren’t going to deny men the pleasure of opening our
doors and pulling out chairs for us. After all, there can be nothing wrong in a little pampering and that’s exactly how we like our lives too. Among all the generations of women on this earth we are probably the easiest to live with. And the most difficult to understand.

I thought of the bright and sunny days spent at college. When the next quiz and submission used to be the big obstacles to our carefree life. When girls would huddle around the night canteen at midnight to discuss the next hot topic of discussion. When most of our plans for life ended with the campus job or a flight to the states. When the next best thing to look forward to would be the next movie, not the next wedding. And how much things have changed since then.

As we stand in the way, with the million others zooming past us, there is only one big question. What is life all about? Each of the paths we take may lead us to some kind of successes, but what is it that we are putting at stake? Our careers? Our families? Our capabilities? Or plain personal satisfaction?

I closed my laptop and reached out for a glass of milk. If this were ‘Sex and the City’, now would be when the camera pans out and the credits roll. Like many others, I wonder what the next episode holds in store.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Winter, wedding and six new sisters

I wouldnt know how to describe the last two weeks of my life. It's one of those times which you wish would play over again and again. It's the few days you have planned and waited for a whole year ahead. It's the moment you try and picturise a few hundred times before it actually happens. When your only sibling gets married and you are endowed with new family from a different culture, it's nothing short of a breathtaking experience.

When my brother told me about Ruth three years ago I was more amused than anything else. A white sister- in-law. Now that would be something, I thought.
Even without the novelty, I've always dreaded the day I'd have to share my brother with another girl. (Special thanks to Bollywood and Kollywood for all its stereotypes and sob stories). It's not that I've spent my entire life with my brother that I would hate the women who'd change that. I havent. In about 7 years Ruth wouldve spent more days with him than I ever have. It was about meeting the person who'd now be the most important woman in my brother's life. I couldnt wait.

A couple of fone calls, a few battles and many months later, the wedding plans began. It was exciting to plan for a wedding which would just have your side of the family and a handful from the other side. It was more like one big birthday bash. Mom and me wanted to extend the normal mallu wedding to beyond its usual ten minutes. (Mallu weddings are more like the instant versions- if you are in a hurry you know where to get married). We incorporated the mehendi and the sangeet and personalised it so that they would have a more 'Indian' experience. Besides we now had to live up to the 'Monsoon wedding' expectations. ( Special mention to Karan Johar for letting everyone think we always have dancing damsels and grooving grandmoms). Every wedding is a celebration, that of love, new family and of the event in itself. And we wanted it to be just that.

Looking back now everything seems like a big blur. The difficult run up to the wedding, when I had end term exams and everyone else was having fun. The relatives raving about Ruth. Me annoyed on being the last to meet her. And finally meeting her.
Meeting her was like catching up with a lost friend. In a coupla hours we were shopping for accessories like we'd done it all our life. The salespersons looked on as the multi-racial gang laughed and hopped around like children in a candy store. In half a day I had an accent which I annoyed most of my friends with. Everyone fell in love with Angela and Greg, Ruth's best friends. They loved to try every kind of food we had and at times while my eyes were tearing with the spice, they would return the dish asking for more 'chilly'. Adventurous, very.

It's tough to explain India to anyone else. How do we explain people standing just half a millimeter away from you in a queue. And the same distance between a couple in love is taboo?! Why do people give cash gifts of Rs 1001 and not in rounded off figures? Why is it that we dont hug people when we say goodbye, but cry and wail over their bodies when they are gone? What is it that keeps us from being natural and shedding tears in public? The best thing about my new family was that they could accept ' It's just like that' as a satisfying answer. ( I certainly couldnt).

The wedding was a ball. We danced, we laughed and we lived through all the chaos. I havent even been to any other 'mehendi' before but this one really rocked and at the reception we even got our otherwise-stiff-family to shake some leg. At the wedding my friends took the place of her family and welcomed us, the groom's family, into the hall. The decorations were lovely. The glowing bride looked more beautiful than any Indian bride I have ever seen. She glided in her saree exactly like I'd told her, as amused onlookers smiled on. I played the role of the sister, helped my brother tie the 'thali' on Ruth and whispered in her ear that this was 'the moment'. I dont think she heard it amidst all the noise but I thought it was one beautiful wedding. And it was just how we wanted it to be for her.
Me describing the wedding wouldn't be half as good as Ruth's or Debra's descriptions ( click on their names to see them).

The wedding was an experience. Not more than having Ruth in the family. And her lovely mom, Debra. The difference in this wedding was not that it was a mix of cultures, it was more about everyone being so eager to fit in and to make the other happy.


I'm really glad this is the way things had to happen. I'm happy my brother found Ruth for him and for all of us. Ruth and Debra are now officially family as also Ruth's dad and sisters and brothers. I now understand what my Dad meant when he said Indian weddings are not about two people getting together but about two families. This was truly one of those. Everyone from the US ate with their hands the entire trip and my family has now began hugging to say goodbye. When it was time for me to leave them, for the first time at any 'goodbye', I was in tears.

When I look at all the pictures I wish some moments would never pass. I wish we could always stay close to the people we love so much. I wish we never had to say goodbyes. But I guess that's just the way things are meant to be. Ruth- I'm glad it's you and noone else.