Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chitra, my friend

Some people walk into your life and leave their footprints on your heart. For me, it was Chitra. I didn’t think much of her when I met her in Net Savant, a web-hosting company in Vizag. It was her first day in office and so was mine. The calm doe-eyed girl used to transform into a gregarious and vivacious girl during lunch hours. She giggled, laughed and never missed a chance to take a dig at somebody in amicable way.    
She was proud of her younger siblings and fondly talked about them on our way back home. It was difficult not to like somebody like her who was full of life and saw the brighter side in the gloomiest of situations. Once when someone from our group sulked about the insensitivity of the boss, she said, “Not everyone can be fun-loving like us. Just be happy that this place brought all of us together otherwise, how else we would have met?”

After spending little over a month at Net Savant, I moved back to Hyderabad to work on an assignment with a software company. I kept in touch with her and others as much as possible but as I got dragged into a fairly new field of work, the frequency of calls decreased until one day when I was told that Chitra was unwell. Both her kidneys failed. Concerned, when I called, the chirpy girl sounded just normal. She teased me that I was more worried than her.  
Chitra: Can you plan a trip to Vizag soon?
I: Yes but promise me that you’ll take care of yourself?
Chitra: I have so many things to tell you, Sudha. I didn’t think you would leave Net Savant so soon.
I promised her that I would come as soon as possible but then it took me few months. Her brother informed that Chitra was in hospital and I could meet her there. I knew that she was getting her dialysis done regularly, so I wasn’t surprised. I started getting uneasy when I got to know at the hospital reception that she was in ICU and I can meet her there.

I saw my friend, emaciated, looked like a grown-up child clutched in a web of tubes. Clad in a white gown her body was tormented by violent spasms.  I was dazed, frozen; nothing made any sense to me. A nurse walked up to me and said casually that she didn’t have much time left.  I watched my friend slipping away into nothingness. Everything looked like a crude joke. 

I met her mother and brother outside ICU who were waiting for me. Her mom grabbed me and asked if her son was fine; if her son was coming back home? Chitra was the son to her mother and brother to her siblings. While her father washed hands off his responsibilities and left them to fend for themselves, she stepped into his shoes. When girls in their 20s’ spend time in beauty parlours, theatres, shopping malls and with love of their lives, Chitra worked in night shifts in a hotel as receptionist, accountant and other such jobs to run the house. In my 2 years association with her, I never heard her complaining about her father or life in general. When times are not favourable, how many of us wouldn’t think, “why me?”, “life’s no fair”? And blabber about our sorry state to a close friend or family. She never believed in eliciting sympathy or empathy from others.

Chitra never returned home. Even though her life didn’t come to a full circle, it was worth more than those who live long wasted life. She will always be an inspiration to her siblings and friends, and a priceless memory to her mother. It’s been 5 years since my friend’s gone but there’s not a single day when I don’t think of her especially in testing times. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The day WTC was attacked

While driving back from work yesterday I was listening to “I’ll remember you” by Amy Grant, a tribute to WTC victims. It brought back the memories of that crazy night when I was still a sub-editor, trainee at The New Indian Express (TNIE) in Hyderabad.
I was 4 months into my training and still learning to get over the uneasy feeling every time I entered the Desk (editing section). Generally I was put in the peak shift between 3 pm and 9 pm. Even though the shift used to start on a relaxed pitch but by 6 pm it used to pick up momentum and by 8 pm it used to reach a crescendo when everything around you cease to exist. Before leaving for work, it became a habit for me to say a silent prayer that the evening should pass without any event.
On Sept 11, 2001, the evening seemed to be usual and I was able to finish Page 9 after few last minute changes. Page 9 is the second most important page after Page 1, where usually either news items related to Page 1 or Page 1 “continuation stories” are carried. Relieved, hungry and tired, I was ready to call it a day. Around 9.20 pm, my edition in-charge walks in after a quick meeting with Resident Editor and announces, “World Trade Centre is attacked and we’ll have to re-do the edition.” We all rushed to the TV and watched with disbelief as the terror unfolded.   
We threw our bags and started rummaging for the latest stories as news started pouring in from the news agencies all over the world. For a second it felt like the shift had just started. Discussions begun around new page layout, bigger pictures, victim stories, eye-witness stories, nation’s and state’s reaction. Generally, stories are selected by a senior and a trainee’s job is to edit and place it on the page. But looking at the urgency and shortage of time, I was asked to shortlist few stories by going through the ever increasing number of stories that started to flood in. This was one of those times when there’s no time for your copies to be reviewed and you cannot afford to make a mistake. Otherwise also, this is one profession where there is no scope of correcting a mistake. You are in no control once newspapers hit the streets. The last 4 months taught me the style and feel of TNIE. For some reason, I perform better whenever I’m pushed to the wall. This was one of those days. The next 2 hours felt like few seconds. It was 11.45 pm when I finally emerged out of the office but the night was far from getting over. As I strolled out on the empty street to get some fresh air, I heard the TV blaring out the live telecast of WTC crumbling from every household.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beginning of an affair...

"Have you ever been to Goa"

"Oh! then you haven't experienced anything."
Finally it was time to put all those questions to rest. Jo and I decided to meet in Goa in the second week of October, just before the beginning of the tourist rush. I woke up when my bus entered Karwar. The dawn was yet to break; the sidewalk and everything that met my eyes seemed to have bathed in the silvery moonlit night. I wasn't sure what woke me up; whether it was the continuous banter of my co-passengers or the warm moon rays that teased me through the window pane.
The initial excitement was replaced by disappointment with unnecessary delay. I decided to take the bike ride to Baga from Panjim. The salty sweetness of the fresh catch, friendly smiles, and colourful houses infused with Portuguese and modern architecture was enough to lift my spirits. A clean 1-BHK apartment at Gypsee's Cove and a visibly excited Jo were waiting for me. The next 3 days in Goa was like a beautiful dream. The delicious food, awesome weather, friendly locals, carefree visitors, neat but narrow roads, and a dash of history infused with modern lifestyle.
I did not spend much time on beaches, night clubs or on the poker tables - the reasons why people flock to Goa. I roamed around in the streets, interacted with the locals at restaurants, juice shops and those numerous shops that sold souvenirs. I didn't feel like a stranger from the very first minute I landed in Goa. No, it has nothing to do with the place but the people - the locals. They mind their own business; the locals are neither in awe or feel intruded by you. They maintain a neutral stance towards the hordes of people that flow in and out of Goa. You are completely on your own, and this feeling is so liberating. May be that's why everyone feels at home here. The invisible shackles of certain 'obligations' are broken. I remember telling Jo that I could ACTUALLY live here. What's the reason that makes Goa so different from all other tourist destinations? You are made to feel like a visitor/outsider in most of the places no matter how long you live or how well you know their language or culture.
What makes Goanese unique? Is it the Portuguese that made Goa their home till late 60's? Is it the cultural upheaval though marred with a dark history but eventually evolved as a balanced culture imbibing the best of East and West? There may be more than one reason but I know for sure that I have fallen in love with Goa and thus, begins a long affair with it.