Friday, December 24, 2010

This time of the year....

When the chilliness in the air brushes past my cheeks and nose, when the icy breeze moist my eyes, dry my lips, and numb my hands after an evening ride, when the thick fog leaves behind dew drops on my window sill and car roof in the morning...I know it's December, my favourite time of the year. Every year this time I travel down the memory lanes as far as childhood days. Being a December baby, I always longed to celebrate my birthday just like other kids in my class. But unfortunately I was never able to do that due to half-yearly exams in school. Most of the times I never got to meet my classmates due to change in the seating arrangements during exams. I missed all the attention that a birthday girl gets in her new dress. I went in my school uniform. Twice it got worse when I came home crying for messing up my maths paper, most dreaded subject. The traumatic mornings used to be taken over by evenings filled with oodles of love and attention by parents and siblings. However, wearing a new dress to school when everyone is in their boring uniform fascinated me and at the same time eluded me. I braved all these "hardships" and grew up to be a strong girl. December also meant 10 days of holidays when we spent most of the time lazying in warm morning sun, running behind butterflies, playing badminton in late morning sun and studying less. After many years I had one awful birthday when a dear friend of mine betrayed me with a bundle of lies and made me look like a jackass. Coming from a small town and protected family, I had a tough time getting into the groove of big bad world. But, I guess, I did a good job at that. It's the friends that become your second family. I had mine too. But little did I know that I trusted the wrong person. After a month long brooding over my short-sightedness and misconstrued notions, I came back to my senses with a jolt. I ushered in the new year with night long party with my close friends. That incident made me appreciate the people who have been in my life for a decade now. I refuse to get bogged down by the weaklings and selfish. I make friends even today, I trust even today, and I enjoy the attention of everyone even today. I made my first friend after moving to Bangalore 3 years back. I got a friend request from him through Orkut and I kept rejecting. He relentlessly sent friend requests till one day I decided to send him a curt scrap. He replied and so did I. Soon we were chatting, thanks to my long boring office hours. After a month we decided to meet. He turned out be extremely shy and I liked that part about him. But the triggering point of our friendship was we shared our birthdays. He helped me in finding a house and setting up my small world in a new city. He has been a family since then; made me happy with birthday gifts, lazy rides after dinner, outings, movies and planning my weekends. I didn't know what to give him and so whenever I asked what he wanted, he would say, "make a nice lunch for me." Kunju (I re-christened his name), I truely treasure you. I couldn't have asked for more when my school buddies and friends from Hyderabad and Vizag shifted base. We celebrated festivals together, had weekend jamming sessions, and went on trips togather. Last week my childhood dream came true with a twist. My school friends came home with a birthday cake. After the little sing-song on guitar and cake cutting, we relived our school days. As we spoke late into the night, the crushes, affairs and pranksters came to the fore. The revelation that quite a few had a crush on me almost tickled my funny bones. As I stand at the fag end of year 2010 and turn back to look at all those days past by, I can only think of good times - a new addition to the family, marriage of one of my closest friends, spiritual trips for soul searching, weekend getaways to exotic locations, bonding with old friends and new job and setup. I am going to carry all these people and good times to the next year hoping that it will ring in more happiness to everyone I care about. Contentment brings out forgiveness. So, I forgive my maths madam who looked only at boys in my class and taught; my games teacher who believed in punishments only, my parasite roomates; the mindless cabbies and frustrated autorickshaw drivers who scratched my car; a colleague who suffers from behaviourial disorder; the mean and weaklings who depressed me at times. Wow! I feel like GOD (I flicked this line as it feeds my big fat ego) Wishing everyone a beautiful year ahead.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The paradoxes I believe

I never really appreciated Mills and Boons while in school and college though read a few classics. A book worm since school days, I exhausted almost all books of Robin Cook, John Grisham, Daniel Steel and few others. But I enjoy watching a complete romantic movie. A true Sagittarian and hopelessly romantic, I so much believe in happy endings and fairy tales. I watched Wake Up Sid third time last weekend and realized that I can watch it any number of times.

Most of my friends and few in family have had love marriages. They clicked and it amazes me even today. In all their cases, one of the partners didn’t fit the “tall, dark, handsome” or “fair, slim, beautiful” bill. But everyone’s story borders on surrealism.

Beauty and the beast, dumb and intelligent, calm and noisy, pompous and modest. You may say opposites attract. But I guess, it’s the feeling of incompleteness that binds them together. My belief goes stronger whenever I see my uncle and aunt, the most odd couple, but married for 40 long years!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jail with a humane touch

.......I took a deep breath and stepped inside the compound. Advivaram Central Jail was a far cry from the sordid prisons I saw on TV. The 150-acre sprawling land overlooking the Ghats, was beautifully landscaped. The superintendent’s office was spacious with French window look-likes that gave a good view of the dormitories and nature. After exchanging pleasantries, he warned me not to move too close to the inmates. With three armed guards I was on my way to attend the Morning Prayer with the inmates. By the time I reached, they were done with their Sunday prayers and listening raptly to a discourse by one of the Brahma Kumari. The silence was broken by a moment of commotion among the audience. I felt their enquiring stares and heard their whispers. I greeted the speaker and stood in a corner.

The speech resumed in a few minutes, but Raju, who was sitting in the last row, looked distracted. I pretended oblivious when he stole a few stares at me. I knew whom to start with after the speech. I caught his eye this time and smiled. He was startled and looked embarrassed as if he was caught stealing. He didn’t move a bone in the rest of the session.

I introduced myself to Raju, he greeted me hesitantly and moved quickly to join his group of friends. I realized that it was the guards and not I who shooed him away. I asked the guards to wait, while I joined his group of friends. After the initial hiccups, the men opened up, talked about their village, job and family. I met others to know how they were finding the morning prayers. The prayers and discourses sure made a difference, when the Brahma Kumari told me that around 40% turned vegetarians after they started visiting Advivaram. Shifting to vegetarianism is just not a food habit change but a transition to calmer and peaceful lifestyle.

I met the vocational instructor who was training them to make almarahs, boxes, carpentry and wooden toys. When I asked the challenges he faced with his students, he was clearly offended. “There are many skilled artisans here. Just because they are here, it makes them no less than anyone. Will you ever know that they spent few years in jail if you had met them outside?” The middle-aged instructor annoyed me but it was his way of letting me know that I should not make his pupil feel “different”. I took a quick tour of the place where the shining tin boxes, almarahs and intricately carved toys were ready to be dispatched to the bazaars of Vizag and Vizianagaram. I had a renewed respect for the instructor who busied himself with his talented students.

I interacted with the gardener and his students in the sprawling gardens. “Few of them are so good that they can start their own nurseries,” said he. I spent time strolling, talking and laughing at the jokes cracked by the inmates. All this while, my temporary body guards never lost me out of their sight. It was time for me to head towards the kitchen to check out the Sunday lunch. I was pleasantly surprised to know that the chief and sous chefs are inmates! I got a welcoming smile from one of the cooks who was making “gongora chatni”. “We make more vegetarian food than non-vegetarian these days. Many have shifted to vegetarianism and the numbers are increasing faster,” he said. “Will you taste our food?” he asked hesitatingly. “Give me some rice with gongora chatni. It’s my favorite,” I said. The chatni was a bit sour to my liking. I walked into a dormitory which had 8 beds arranged in two rows. The inmates were relaxing after their morning work and waiting for the lunch bell. I was greeted by an inmate in his late 50’s. The cell looked lively as some were watching a movie on a portable color TV hung from the roof while the wining duo was noisy at a game of carom. Devudu, the oldest member of the cell, spent 15 years in the jail. “How many years left?” I asked. “I am here for double murder, so will be here for a while.” He stared at me a tad longer to note my reaction. He was relieved to see that I was nonchalant.

My next stop was the psychiatry cell, where a group of social workers, counselors, and psychiatrist deal with the most difficult part – helping the inmates to cope up with their new surroundings. “The first few months are the most difficult for a newbie. The newbie lives in denial and either gets depressed or hostile. We help him/her to come to terms with the situation.” Besides fighting the teething problem, the team is kept busy containing homosexuality and STDs.

It was late afternoon when I thanked the guards whose presence helped me to sail through the day. My perception towards the inmates changed. They were mere victims of a moment of weakness. Most of them regret for their actions and wished if they had been strong enough to withstand the testing times. But what bothered them was if they would be accepted in the free world. Families visit them often initially. Slowly the gap widens. Weekly visits turn to biweekly, then monthly, few months and subsequently once or twice in a year. They miss being at marriages, baby showers or festivals. Life outside the wall moves fast whereas inside it just stops.

The jail was thrown open for the public on Sundays for a month. “Are the inmates an object of amusement for the public to see?” I asked the jailer. “It is just an effort to let public change their perception about the inmates so that they get accepted once they go back,” he answered. This news was taken with mixed feels among the inmates. While some were happy that they get to interact with public, others were offended by their exhibition.

I went back to the free world with mixed feelings. I was glad that they live with more dignity than the ones languishing in other parts of the country. And sorry because no matter what freedom is priceless.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

One fine morning...

Mother was surprised to see me up so early on a Sunday morning.

It was when I was a sub-editor with an English national daily. My day used to start at 10 am in the morning with a hot piping tea and three national dailies. Yes, it was expected of every journalist to make a comparison of how a piece of news is carried by the competitors. After reaching home around 1 am, I had the habit of watching movie, if interesting or read for a while before calling it a day.

I did the usual on Saturday and returned home in the wee hours of Sunday. I was restless rather tensed and couldn’t sleep. Mother was surprised to see me dressed up at the breakfast table.

“Are you going out,” she asked.
“Yes. I have an assignment.” I said. I was unusually quiet.
“Where?” she asked.
“To the central jail. I have to do a story on the inmates.” I said. I was in no mood to talk, wanted time for myself to calm down.

Father lifted his face from the newspaper, looked at me and resumed his reading.

Mother threw a fit. She expected a bit more from my father.
“How could your boss send a girl to the jail to meet a bunch of thugs? Isn’t there anyone else left in your office? Give me his number. I will talk to him.” She was fuming.

I asked her to calm down but deep within I wanted her to stop me from going. I can’t remember the last time I was this scared. I was going to spend the whole day with the inmates, definitely, not an exciting one to look forward to.

“Are you fine? Do you think you can do this assignment?” inquired papa before I left home.
“I think I can,” I replied.
I so badly wanted to say no. I wanted him to call my boss and cook up a story so that I can be saved.

As the huge gates opened, I was greeted by one of the bodyguards of the jailer.
“Sir is expecting you,” said he.

A dramatic monolog

After Andrea Del Sarto and My Last Duchess, if I enjoyed any dramatic monolog in a long time then it was by Sridevi, my co-passenger in train a month back. A casual chit chat ended up as an intense one-sided monolog. I kept listening amused by her intonation fired by emotions.

Sridevi was heavy built with a passable face, too matured for a 23-year old. Even her tall figure couldn’t hide the roundish contour. She had to give up a promising career to get married to somebody 8 years elder to her. Six months into marriage, she was caught up between conservative husband and orthodox in-laws. Her gregarious nature kept going back to a carefree life that was quelled by a life without love. As she spoke, I recalled a lecture on writing techniques by my professor in university. It’s called Stream of Consciousness with a slight difference - Sridevi was thinking loud.

I wondered and in fact, envied her for letting her emotions out with so much ease in front of strangers. She left her melancholic mood as if it was never there, and jumped on to a lighter topic. I listened. In between she kept calling her husband who was recovering from fever. She checked if he saw a doctor, took medicines and had food. She harped on her favorite topics, and unfinished discussions. I listened.

She looks out of the window and gets up without warning. “You know what, I will make this work. Time for me to go,” she said and left.

I was impressed by her optimism. With such an infectious nature, she can make anything happen her way. Wishing her all the luck in the world.

PS: She didn’t ask my name, which I really liked.