Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations.
I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty,
believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.
– Louisa May Alcott

Dream Big. Always.

What growing up means

Picking your clothes off the floor so that mom doesn’t have to.

Standing in a queue for an hour without whining.

Walking no where in particular; because you know how to find the way back.

Calling dad up for advice and not cash.

Missing the first-day show and realising it no longer matters.

Bringing a gift when you meet an old friend.

Having old friends to meet.

Smiling at life’s vagaries because you know

The glass is already broken.

Winter Sun

It was cold. The sun a mere disk
Of iridescent white;
a moon against the morning sky
No clouds. A funereal shroud
Thrown afar, rooftop to rooftop
Pigeons roosting on the satellite dishes
Taking flight, twirling and swirling
Crazed and confused.

Eagles soaring; smooth and powerful,
their outstretched wings
Cutting clean the frigid air
Knowing, with no sun; where to go.

The pigeons don’t. They keep turning round.
And settle back on the rooftop.
They hear everything in the streets
And behind closed curtains
And gossip among themselves.
Wonder what they heard today?
Whose wife cheated on him, who beat his kids
Who died of aspirin overdose;
Who loved, who lost; who struggled in the fog
That luckless winter afternoon.

Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am, As You Wish Ma’am

(Written during my final year of college…)

7.30 pm, 26th July 2006. We were all bundled into a room and given a hair oil massage. How generous, you might say. What I mean is that oil was dumped on our hair (“hair in oil, not oil in hair”, being the motto); along with a barrage of do’s and don’ts. Don’t talk in the mess, don’t look a senior in the eye, etc etc. What followed was a month of pure mental torture. We were not allowed to question seniors, nor refuse to do anything, no matter how embarrassing or difficult it was. It was just “Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am, As You Wish Ma’am.”

The funny part is that if you ask any of my friends about those days now, they would grin and say, “Those were the most unforgettable days of college life.” In fact I pity my juniors, who never had to face such an ordeal. They have never known a hostel like we did, where every senior was your big sis. Because after that initial bonding, our seniors really spoilt us. We got treats anytime we caught them at the canteen. If one of us fell sick, all the seniors would come to see her. They would take us to the doctor, and scold if we did badly in the exams. I’d like to fuss over my juniors too. But they don’t even smile when I meet them somewhere outside! I can’t blame them. They probably know little more than my name.

Most importantly, my first year taught me a lot.  I learnt how to stand up for myself. How to not wilt under pressure. Trust me; a pressure cooker bursting at the seams is calmer than a mass call! And I imbibed all the traditions that make me what I am. The point is, I moved from school girl to college woman in that period. And all those memories we built! Even today, if you get one of us started on about our ragging days we could reminisce for hours. About how we would cook up excuses to wriggle out of assignments, banging utensils outside each room to wake the inmates at five in the morning…

I know how ugly ragging can get. No one can possibly condone hospitalizations and ear drums ruptured from incessant beating. But have we erred in doing away with ragging altogether? A little disciplining is needed to maintain decorum. It could be about basic manners, like waiting for everyone to finish before leaving the dinner table; to helping out for the college fest. That’s how things work in everywhere: as juniors you learn the ropes; and later on take on the onus of managing college affairs.

Today the rules scream, “Seniors should not be seen interacting with the juniors.” How sad! Most freshers are away from home for the first time. They need someone to teach them the rules of the game, to tutor them, and to basically look out for them. The first meeting with seniors often sends a message to know your place and to know when to shut up.  But guess what? That introduction also says, “Well, hello! Welcome to the family!”

Beautiful

You’re beautiful.
Don’t let anyone say otherwise.
A little fairer, a little thinner…
Would it really change anything?

Some days you feel like
A mannequin in the window
The bouffant, the smoking eyes
A glam show for some likes.

It’s ok to look plain.
It’s ok to walk out
in loafers and tees
And hair flying out of place.
That’s what hair did
Before chemicals arrived.

Ever thought how men sell
skinny jeans and stilettos
To stare at when bored?
It’s ok to be you.

You’re beautiful just so.

The Wandering Acrobats

One Sunday afternoon I settled on the couch, adamant not to budge until I had penned something note-worthy. A bag of chips by my side and surrounded with a legion of journals, I puttered around in the ostentatious hope that something would ‘inspire’ me to write. My concentration was broken by the sound of drumbeat outside. Ta ta ra ta ta ra tun tun tun… like a marching brigade. It would run for a while and then turn to a rolling drumbeat, then stop… and start again. Intrigued, I rambled to the balcony. The spectacle saddened my heart.

A circus act was taking place in the street below. A rope had been tied between two bamboo poles; and a sickly girl walked the rope, balancing herself with a beanpole. A boy sat on one end of the rope, ensuring that the bamboo didn’t move. A gauntly man, probably her father, was timing her beat with a dhol; a woman in a cotton sari stood beside him. I watched her traverse the rope over and again, first bare foot, then on slippers. The final act was one of pure daredevilry. She placed one foot on a metal loop, pushed it forward, and very carefully put her second foot on it. In this fashion the child walked ten feet high in the air. I hurried downstairs. The drumbeat rolled to a stop. The girl walked to each person standing, holding out a bowl. Her younger brother did the same. The moment she caught sight of me, her hand reached out. I fumbled in my pockets for a ten rupee note. People watched from the balconies. Some brought food and clothes. But no one said a word to the little family. I noticed there was a baby, wrapped and bundled in a basket.

The performance over, the father untied the bamboo poles and rope and put it in one side of a pair of baskets, hanging on a pole like a huge balance. The baby lay precariously in the other. He lifted both on his shoulders, everyone pitching with a little bit of stuff. And I stood watching, like all the other colony-wallahs. Suddenly I felt an urge to talk to the girl. I followed them for a few metres, not sure what I was doing. Then I patted her head and asked, “Tujha naav ki?”. “Brajesh”, she said in a sprightly voice. I didn’t catch the name correctly, so I asked again. “She thinks she is a boy, that’s why her name is Brajesh”, her mother laughed and replied, in chaste Hindi. “Where are you from?” I asked. Chattisgarh. Have you been away from home since many years? No, we go home every Holi. And suddenly, I was lost for questions. Suddenly conscious of walking down the road with a bunch of vagrants, me in my tracks and “One India” tee, I stopped in my tracks. The neighbourhood aunties eyed me oddly. When I turned to look the family of itinerant acrobats had disappeared down the bend.

I wish I had walked down the road and carried the conversation to its end. I wish I had bought the little girl a chocolate, that I had not let  myself be shamed into thinking that she was any different from the shiny faced kids in the vicinity.

When one of the kids in the colony sings a song for Children’s day celebrations, what do you do? Pat her on the head and say “Very nice, beta”? This child was surrounded by so many people who watched a truly breathtaking performance; and they put money into her hands like they were afraid of contracting some disease. Why? They were not beggars. They were earning a livelihood doing something.The little they knew. The little they could pass on to their children. Making a spectacle, a circus act of their lives; so they could save enough to be home for Holi.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers bound the wayside
Thistle flowers and forget-me-nots
No one watched them. They grew
Of their own accord.
No one cared. They willed themselves
Into existence.
Tenders shoots peeping out
Feeding on the morning dew
And the fire to meet the sky.

                                         Purple wildfowers