Archive for the ‘Experiencing Life’ Category

Of Jangh and Afghanistan in Dilli

On a wintery, sun-warmed day, few pleasures of life are sweeter than Singh sahab’s gajjar ka halwa. There is a gram of ghee for every ten grams of halwa. Probably why it tastes divine! 

Singh sahab’s corner shop is tucked away in a dirty by-lane of Bhogal, just beyond Jangpura extension.

I was introduced to the kaleidoscope of this hidden world years ago. It started off with tagging along with Aunty to the Mangal Bazaar for weekly errands. Eventually it became ‘our’ thing. Her happiness to explore what’s new in the stores and my  joy to experience purane sheher ka bazaar-haat. There’s something very India, very 1980s about the Mangal Bazaar.  Bright, woollen salwar kameez ka kapda jostles for space with Made-in-China LED lights. The air is thick with the smell of aloo tikki  and fresh jalebis. The whitest of mooli and the greenest of saag patta  beckon you to taste winter in all its glory.

And just when you think that there’s not much to discover, voila!  The aroma of freshly baking bread entices you from the Afghani bakery. 2013-11-24 16.31.01I’ve often passed by Abdul’s shop, tempted by the warm loaves of yeasty goodness. But never really found it in me to stop and do justice to the cravings. Today however, the pull was irresistible. As we crossed the road, it was easy to see why his simple shop front was always three-deep crowded. They make just the naan roti!  Just the one product. And just so delectable!

2013-11-24 16.31.11 (1)What’s not to like about salty, slightly chew, 100% fresh, hot-out-of-the-tandoor bread, I say! So a naan  was bought. And the journey home was peppered with loud conversation debating the best accompaniment to the naan.  Of course it had to be tea. Of course it had to be sweet, ginger tea, replete with creamy milk.

Every time I am in Bhogal, I seem to discover a Delhi that’s well-hidden in full parade. From the sardarjis who grace the chairs outside ancient cloth stores, to the Janghis who still make the best shalgam gobi ka achar  this side of the border, this mini-world is teeming with life.

Death.

Such a taboo. Something we never talk about, if it can be helped. Euphemism for the holy silence. 

I suppose no one is actually afraid of death. Just that no one wants to be there when it happens. 

And why not. Change is always .. disturbing. Even good change.

With the growing emphasis on The Individual, the pressure to leave a mark, be someone, do something is here to stay. And to leave without accomplishing any of that – terribly lowering, isn’t it?

And then the grief. Not the one that’s mired in anger and fear. But the one that comes after. The deep grief of abandonment. Of the loss of hope. Not just of what one wanted but what can never be. Ever. 

Religion – and accompanying rituals. Cultural platitudes. The dogma of what is correct and what isn’t. Discourses on the soul. Of journeys beyond. They all gloss over the fact that grief is a terribly private affair. That death leaves an emptiness unless we anticipate it. And sometimes, even then.

Grief – not pretty. Not the wailing or the endless streams of tears. But the blackness of empty eyes. The hollowness of being. Yes – that is intensely personal. It is easier to shed tears than to face the void. And so, when unshed tears are encountered, it is unnatural. Unfeeling. Just not done to not show grief in the woefully inadequate language that society understands.

Death. Talk about it. Think about it. And if you have the courage, look it in the eye. That will leave your loved ones less bereft.

Chances

There’s a strong breeze that tosses his hair around.

How long? It hasn’t been a while yet.

Her eyes smile. Worry? Fatigue? They are care-worn and yet, they sparkle.

An unusual combination of a man. Different.

She smiles often.

An evening of fun. A little weariness.

Moments of silence, so quietly full of conversation.

The skyline glows with city lights.

Is this what dreams are made of?

 

When It Made Sense…

Epiphanies would be far commoner than they are if only we recognized them as such.

An epiphany in itself, one might say.

No amount of Jonathan Livingston Seagull or The Secret  can actually switch “on” the proverbial Light inside our heads until we’re ready to open our eyes. Life has been kind enough to let one encounter a Guardian Angel or two along its intriguing – if not always easy – meanderings. Such serendipitous meetings have given one a sense of … well… common  sense.

To those of us who ponder over the whys  and the hows,  maybe we need to accept a basic truth. We analyse ourselves more than we should and we analyse the world less than we must. Every thought, word and deed is mulled over in great detail – using up too much mind-space. This leaves far less time and energy for the really important nuggets where all we need are single word answers to vital issues – such as is it worth it? or does this person make me happy 80% of the time?  Instead of focusing on these, we spend endless hours wondering about why communication is non-existent or how to deal with mood swings. So maybe we need to shift focus on what to analyse and what to merely discard as background noise.

Added to this, is our innate need to throw the cross of responsibility onto an Undefined Power. Perhaps not in so many words (or a well-etched idea) of a god but some Parameter that will somehow predetermine the outcome. We tell ourselves that we need to be “sure” by applying certain rules/ideas/concepts to the situation; that our ‘faith’ in the situation should somehow be ‘justified’ by a predictable set of outcomes. Let’s get real – Life is unpredictable. So why would it make sense to try and predict how it will turn out? Make a decision for Now. Be happy Now. Be healthy Now. Tomorrow will be much better if we go to bed happier tonight. It’s quite simple, really, isn’t it?

And then is the Big “E” –  Emotion. One has long wondered why they exist if some of them are such a taboo! The very fact that human beings emote – to wit – connotes that they are – even if for some unfathomable reason! – supposed to. Then should not emotion be unconditional?   Whether a positive or a negative one. In our bid to protect ourselves for the Future (again that fear of the Unknown!), our survival instinct tells us to love only if we are loved back and morality, vice-versa, tell us to hurt only in self-defence. If the defining factor that sets up apart from Nature’s whimsical instincts is rational thought, then our emotions too, should lead an independent life. Love because you choose to – give because you wish to – and hurt because you need to. Life has a strange way of giving back in equal measure – love will come back (as does pain!).

And finally – this almost singularly human need to define ourselves in context of another being/ idea/ object, constantly restricts us on who we can be. We tend to tie up our happiness and well-being to one thing – be it a person, a set of ideas or a lifestyle. Again – Life is an amalgam of each of these and then some more. True – that only one may give us one particular kind of pleasure but is that single-dimensional pleasure enough of a reward to justify the price? Life has much, much more on offer. Judgements cost nothing and yet – are such a heavy debt to pay off. Where as experiences may cost a bit but in the long run, don’t incur Emotional & Mental Involvement – a.k.a. EMI. Let’s leave the conclusion-making for afters and enjoy the situation for what it is.

Maybe all we need, after all, is some Light…

The Magic of the Indian Summer

Mangoes. Watermelons. Litchis.

Pastel shades of cotton, Lucknowi chikankari  clothing.

Desert coolers.

Khus flavoured water from a matka. 

The smell of freshly watered mud in the evenings.

Long, balmy nights with faint strains of an old Rafi number wafting along.

Champa. Chameli. Mogra.

Aam ka aachar. Khatte aam ki chutney. 

Sleeping on watered terraces on old charpoys.

Drying papads  and red chillies in scorching day-sun.

Night-life and day-siestas.

Kulfi.

Evening outings en famille. 

The anticipation of the monsoon.

Weekend escapes to the relative coolness of Hill Stations.

Aam paanha. Lassi. Nimbu-paani.

 

 

Knocks and locks

After having sat through a rather disappointing watch of the movie “Fire”, one is left with a bunch of unsettling questions that seem to have no answers.

For starters – why is it that Indians just do not lock doors, especially when they are about to indulge or engage in activities that they do not want to be disturbed at? Have you noticed just how many lives have been ruined on celluloid, by accidental and not-so-accidental discoveries of what happens behind “un”locked doors? If one was to have a penny for every time a protagonist who was caught-with-a-sheepish/shocked-look thought “Damn! Should have locked that door!”, one would be very rich indeed!

Which brings one to the second question of knocking on said (un)locked doors. Why, O WHY, do people never EVER knock on doors before opening them?! It’s obviously asking for too much to pause mid-suspense scene in the slow-turning-of-the-handle-while-anticipating-nefarious-goings-on-on-the-other-side and KNOCK ON THE DAMN DOOR!  Besides, who are we kidding! Saying “please” and “may I” and “thank you” is considered being so formal. Aao-jao, ghar tumhara, so why bother with knocking-shocking, no?

*sigh*

Indians, as a whole, disapprove of thanking for a cup of tea. Or excusing themselves to attend a phone call. Or requesting permission to take a seat. Or knocking on doors before entering rooms.

Why are we like this only?

Notions of Infancy

Does India, as a culture, allow its Indians to grow up?

Think about it.

Twenty-five year olds stay at home with the ‘rents if employed in the same city. Laundry and food, gratis. To even suggest moving out into a single pad would be considered a heniuos crime-against-the-hands-that-changed-your-diapers. Even if such a move would actually ease the daily tension of living that is inevitable in closely inhabited areas.

In more households than not, it is unheard of to even shut the door of a bedroom – especially if it is to accquire some “quiet time alone”. Such a concept goes against the grain of Collective Indian Living – and no, one does not refer to the rural lifestyle. In modern, today-India, an average family of four, having a son and a daughter, where both partents hold at least post-graduate degrees, a two-bedroom life-space would be considered more than adequate. After all, why can a brother and sister not share the same room?!

Are we as a culture, really so smug as to deny human beings the fundamental right to personal space and privacy? What is this “liberty”, “freedom” and “independence” that the Constitution guarantees if each one of the members of the adult, middle-class Indians is denied the right to being an adult by his or her own family? Where is this liberty if something as fundamental as choosing one’s life partner is not to be one’s right but an imperial order handed down by the Powers-That-Be of every Family? Where is that freedom when all one can “choose” to be is an engineer or a doctor? Where is that liberty if a mere evening out to have a drink with friends is constantly monitored with phone calls and text messages of “Beta, we are awaiting dinner for you. Have made your favourite rasam.” Why are Indians so sold on the ugliness of emotional blackmail and its accompanying power play?

What does it say about the culture as a whole? That we are so insecure about living for ourselves that we will eschew every opportunity to be responsible. Schooling? Someone else’s responsibility. Choice of Profession? Fikar not, Appa will choose. Marriage? Oh don’t worry! GrandFather and Great-Grand-Uncle-Thrice-Removed have long ago come to an understanding. Where to live? Here only – why do you want to waste “apni zameen”? Which car to buy? – Arrey! Whichever is the biggest, after all, family has to be able to travel together, no? When to have kids? – Shaadi ke baad do saal ruk liye – now you must have your first child. How many kids to have? – Eklauti santaan achchi nahi – hum do humare do. Ek ladka aur ek ladki.

So on and so forth.

It’s interesting to note how we, Indians, are not expected to take any decisions for ourselves. As children, young adults, grown-up members of society. It’s always someone else’s responsibility to make our choices for us. In fact, one could go further and say even the degeneration of old-age and the following decline into the Final Oblivion is for someone else to sort out. Why else would you have children if not to be your “budhape ka sahara”? Self-reliance is a blasphemous notion and independence the germ of all that is evil.

In a society that is now adapting to its Audis and INR 5 crore apartments, it’s disappointingly disturbing to see that these are still, at the end of the day, property of the Hindu (Un)Divided Family.