Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Things I wish I hadn't said in school" aka "What was I thinking?!?"



1. “I am absent”

(In response to the query why I’d not submitted my homework the day before)

2. “Miss, she took my copy and (longest pause of my life as I’d the sudden realization that I didn’t knew about the existence of the word ‘tore’) fali dile.”

(‘Fali dile’ is the Assamese translation of ‘tore it’)

3. “My mother is blind”.

(Because I couldn’t explain to the teacher that my mother is myopic and had difficulty helping me with the school project at night)

4.“Pride has a fall.”

(Because the two guys sitting immediately in front of me were making a huge racket and I wanted to say something to quieten them!)

5. “Sir, I can’t attend the sports drill today.”
“Why?”
“Personal problem of a girl, Sir.”

(And worse…I used the ‘personal problem’ excuse nearly three times a month and felt smug about conning the PT teacher!)

6. Teacher: “How come you failed on the spelling test?”
Me: “Because I was trying to fail the guy who sat next to me!”

(Once there was a spelling test, and the guy sitting next to me didn’t know anything and was trying to copy from me. I thought I would mislead him, and deliberately wrote the wrong spellings which he copied while I was sniggering all the time. Then the teacher announced we have only two minutes left to submit our papers. I panicked. I erased all the wrong answers and she took the copy from me before I could write down even a single spelling. The guy who sat next to me and I, both of us scored ‘zero’ on the spelling test. But the teacher said at least he attempted to write the spellings, while I submitted a blank sheet! My parents were called to school the next day!)

7. “I couldn’t wear the sports shoes today because my mother gave them to the barber.”

(Self-explanatory!)

8. Teacher to me: “Nice Haircut. Who cut it?”
Me: “Mistry!”

(I was seven, and my father used to take me along with him to the local saloon, where the barber was called ‘Mistry’ by everyone as is the habit in India to call the common workmen so. I hadn’t learned the word ‘barber’ yet!)

9. My friend: “He called me names. He called me a cow.”
Me: (in all seriousness) “Don’t feel bad. At least he didn’t call you a lizard or crow. Cow is a useful animal. You can give milk and dung to everyone!”

(Our friendship wasn’t as strong as earlier after that pep up talk I gave my friend)

10. “Avoidable reasons” on my absent note.

(I missed school one day because I overslept. I vaguely recalled a friend once writing "avoidable" or something on her absent note. She had written‘Unavoidable reasons’. It was a big word for me and I could only recall it entirely. Thankfully, the teacher had a sense of humor and didn’t scold me)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The soaring temperature is indirectly proportional to the longevity of my life!



I love summer. While growing up, it meant my favorite things in the world. Days get longer giving me and my cousins abundant time to play out, those two blissful months of summer vacations, no school or college, going for a swim about ten times a day; ice-creams and mangoes and water-melons, summer specials for kids aired on television; lying on the cool, tiled floor for a long siesta; the sun shining bright on our beautiful garden, resting under the shade of a tree after hours of playing in the sun, summer camps and catching up on my reading.

Cut to adulthood. Summer means the following: prickly heat, sweat, dehydration, sweat, lethargy and exhaustion, sweat, loss of appetite, sweat, insects, sweat, humidity, sweat, and scalp nearly ablaze!

Cut to 28th April, 2009. I woke up early, very early; okay, midnight. Studied, surfed the net. The sun rose at around 4-30am. And by 6am, it was already quite hot. I dreaded thinking about the rest of the day. The temperature hardly rises beyond 40 degree Celsius in this region, but the humidity alone is enough to kill you. Brimming with optimism as I always am (?), I decided to start the day by exercising the old, flabby muscles and sticking to my fitness resolution. BAD idea! I nearly died of exhaustion despite taking all the precautionary measures to avoid dehydration and muscle exhaustion. It wasn’t anything strenuous; just the heat and humidity seemed to have put my heart pump on 5th gear and I was huffing and puffing in just 20 minutes!


And since I was completely drenched in sweat by the end of the exercise routine, I decided to take a shower. I stood under the shower and awaited the cold stream of water, but instead my skin got scalded by boiling water! I frantically turned the 'cold' water dial, only to be showered with a greater gush of boiling water. The water tank on the terrace had heated up!

After that disastrous experience I spent a good one hour lying perfectly immobile in my room, when my mother asked me what I would have for breakfast. That’s another advantage of summer for the wafer-thin people whose diet consists of a slice of fruit for breakfast, a bowl of soup for lunch and a carrot or whatever for dinner. They don’t have to put in any effort to go on such an obnoxious diet. But I don’t want to go on a diet, never been on a diet longer than eight hours! But the heat had killed my appetite and I can’t even tolerate looking at my beloved carbs. I am on a lemonade and salad diet at present. Anything 'heavier' than that and my tummy does a somersault! Forced to diet, another evil of this season.

Then I had to drive my mother for shopping in the sweltering heat of midday sun. I noticed that the other drivers on the road were extremely temperamental and road rage predominated. The heat again, no doubt. After two hours of walking the streets and getting into what seemed like a thousand shops, I was dangerously dehydrated. When I panted all the way down to the last store, I noticed the doorman give me a strange look. I checked my reflection in the store window. I looked hideous; hair plastered to the skull, sweat drenched kurta, and the tan of spending weeks in the Sahara sun without sunscreen. It was a wonder they let me into the store. This is the aspect of summer I hate the most. Sweat is okay if it occurs while playing sports or exercising. But I sweat while walking just about 200m! And how I envy the girls whose sweat glands appear to have become extinct and who look fresh as a daisy even after hours in the sun! I could even hear a few guys tittering at the sight of me. But it was too hot to care.

I decided to buy a super size tub of ice-cream on the way back home but the store was out of my favorite flavor and had only butter-scotch, which I hate. Seriously, Murphy must be having a field day today!

I reached home only to be greeted by the sight of the neighborhood 'aunties', who found this afternoon to try and sell us cosmetics and insurance policies! Just the sight of them in their heavy silk sarees and decked in jewels from head to toe was enough to make me faint. All I wanted was to rest for sometime and sip on some ice cold aampana. But they refused to leave despite the pained expressions on our faces. It was six in the evening by the time I got to my room and decided to take a nap. Only to be attacked by insects who always manage to get in around this time of the year, despite the netted windows.

And it’s only April. Four more months to go!

Photo Courtesy of http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1210/526448338_6257f2452d_o.gif 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

North -East India...Where does it stand compared to the rest of India?



This is the first discussion on this blog. I recently read an article about the neglect that North East India has faced compared to the rest of India. And the questions that plague my mind are "why is it so", and "why for so long"?

Here's the link:

N(orth) E(ast)-glected

I'd like to know your opinion on this issue. From the people of this region to the ones from rest of India on how they view this region, and their awareness and interest in knowing about the eastern most part of their own country. Awaiting your comments.

And here's a link of a travel blog on North-East. Discover the wonderfulness that is this region, people.

Musings from the North-East

Friday, April 24, 2009

Riches to Rags- the shortest trip ever



MONEY! CASH! BUCKS! MOOLAH! PAISA!

I don't crave for billions or a 60 storey residence or even a luxury jet on my birthday. I'm talking about having a fortune enough to lead a life of comfort by my family and myself, and enough savings to overcome any unexpected crisis. In today's world money is the most important requirement for survival. "Roti, Kapda aur Makaan"- is too outdated. If you don't have enough savings to see you and your family through bad times, it's going to be a very difficult life ahead.

I do crave for and are accustomed to a few luxuries- a car at my disposal, frequent travels, indulging in my love for buying books etc. That's it. Nothing fancy. No addiction to extravagant expenses of jewelery and designer apparel shopping. I come from a regular middle class family, and have led a comfortable enough life without having to experience the want of something essential. It's all about how much you crave for, and fortunately my needs are few. But even though I've never faced a financial crisis, growing up in India made me a spectator to poverty right from my childhood. You can't help but see it on the streets, in villages, and it is even rampant in urban India.

I've grown up hearing, "Money can't buy you happiness". But it sure can buy a sense of security and comfort to a family. Education, pursuing your dreams, looking after your loved ones; money is not the only criteria in achieving them, but it is the only basis. Recently I've been a close witness to how even family and friends tend to distance themselves from the one on whom bad times have befallen. No matter how close a person is to his family, once he becomes financially dependent on them, resentments tend to develop in a scale varying from "you better be thankful that I'm providing for you and be happy about whatever you receive without voicing any opinion" mindset to downright alienation.

A distant uncle, my chaachi's brother, who was suffering from cancer expired yesterday. He was a distant relative, but had been an important part of my life while growing up. He lost his job about a decade back, lost all his savings and house to deceitful and conniving siblings, and since then he and his family had been surviving on odd jobs and occasional financial help from relatives. But gradually, even the relatives used to dread his visit because he'd obviously ask for money. My father used to give him money whenever he visited. I used to resent the fact at times about my father offering help to every person in need of money. I felt people took Pa's generosity for granted. He draws a fixed salary every month and is the sole earning member of the family. So, the fact that he spends nearly half of it in helping others and supporting two additional families in our Jorhat home every month, irritates me no end. Because I am scared of lack of savings for my sister's and my education, and having a tough time in case some calamity befell on our family. But my father comes from a very, very poor family and he and his siblings had struggled very hard in life to reach the positions they are in now. Therefore, Pa can't tolerate to see anyone struggling for the basic amenities in life. Moreover, he is a firm believer of the fact that if you help others, God would see to it that you won't be in need of anything ever. Sure enough, despite Pa's habit of financially helping others by giving away more than half of his income, our family had never been in a severe cash crunch. Somehow, we always manage to sail through any crisis. So, I can't even argue that my father's belief is irrational!

My uncle, who expired yesterday, were avoided by relatives because of his compulsive borrowing and to be honest, even I resented his visits at time. He was a good man, had always helped people around him, adopted a girl child, and was liked by all...when he wasn't financially dependent on others. But within two years of unemployment, his very existence became a burden for his brothers and he was out in the streets with his family. He did odd jobs to support his family. But recently when he fell ill, I realized the importance of money and its value not only to sustain life but also it's power to dilute and distance even blood relations. He was diagnosed with cancer and was looked after by his wife and two daughters who stayed in the hospital, as they had no other place to live. My father footed only the medical bills, as it was all he could afford to spare at that time. But for daily expenses, his wife had to take up the job of a sweeper in the hospital! This is a woman who comes from a well-to-do family but had been alienated over the years. I shuddered to think how times change. This is what happens in real life. And until now, I used to think such things happens only in Bollywood formula movies. His own sister, my chaachi, offered to pay only a measly 1000 rupees because that was the only amount her husband could spare! His other siblings refused to even visit him in the hospital, in fear of having to financially help him out. Our family, even though distant relatives, were the only contacts of them at this hour because Pa considered him as his younger brother.

When it was diagnosed that he had terminally ill, the hospital told the family about the futility of any further treatment. So, they shifted to a lodge awaiting his final days. His wife called my mother at 3am yesterday and told that my uncle was on his deathbed. My mother rushed to the place where they were staying, but by the time she reached there he had already expired. She called us from there to inform us about it. None of his relatives visited him, except for his wife's brothers. The cremation was done by his youngest daughter, hardly twelve years old. His siblings inquired about his death only after the cremation was over, because they didn't want to bear the expenses of it!

By the time he was diagnosed with cancer, he was past the stage of getting cured. Money wouldn't have helped to save him. But it would've ensured he died a peaceful death, satisfied of his family being financially secure after his death. But he died a difficult death and has left his family in a very bad financial situation with no job and no home. My father would help them in any way he can, but having a fixed income puts restrictions in his ability to help their family only to a certain extent. Pa and I had a long talk yesterday, about the importance of money. He emphasized on the importance of savings, helping others in need, and also warned me about how lack of cash can reveal the true identities of people around me, an ugly side I may not be prepared for. He told me the most important thing in life is financial independence and the capacity to take care for self and loved ones. Money can buy happiness after all, just like the lack of it can make life a living hell. Sad, but true.

Photo Courtesy: http://www.targetwoman.com/image/money-saving-tips.jpg

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Letters I Forgot To Send



I’d seen this being done in several blogs. Indi’s and Tasha’s at first, I guess. It consists of letters to certain people in my life without revealing their identities. What I’d really like to say to them, but couldn’t do so for whatsoever reasons.

1) I was so proud of you always. Everything you’ve achieved till now. The way you’ve achieved it. The love you showered on me. Then slowly I discovered that even you were flawed. And that you had continually hurt the person who loved you the most. I detested you for that at times, wished you’d change for the better. Sometimes I even wished you’d die in the moments when you hurt her a lot, but the very next moment I prayed hard that nothing bad happens to you ever. I can’t even think of my life without you. I never hated you. Can never hate you. I cherish each and every moment I spend with you nowadays and prefer not to think about the bad times anymore. You’re a good person, but one single flaw of yours made me lose the respect I had for you. I’m regaining it again. And I like that as an adult, I can talk to you about anything that had bothered me in the past, without feeling weird and that has changed the whole equation of our relationship. I like our relationship now. It’s what I’d always wanted. You wonder aloud whether I’ve forgiven you. I can feel it in the way you look at me at times, but had never gathered the courage to ask it yourself. I have forgiven you. And I’m still proud of you.

2) If I’m asked to choose just one person whom I can’t live without, I’d choose you. Always. You know me inside out; you’ve seen me make a fool of myself, you’ve seen me stumble at various phases in my life, you’ve seen me at the worst moments of my life. And you had stood by me, listened to me, offered advice, and never once judged me. You were the one dancing with joy at all my achievements, even the not too significant ones. I can be goofy with you. I can tell you anything. I can be plain stupid. I can watch corny tearjerkers and even the "No. 1" Govinda comedies with you, knowing fully well that you’re not judging my IQ. You have an uncanny sense of knowing when I need you, and when I need my own space, without my even telling you so. You love me a lot, but would rather have your toe nails plucked out before admitting it. You can always make me laugh. We think alike, but it amazes me that still we’re so different. You know all my secrets. And although I’m much elder to you, I look to you for advice on anything bothering me, because I know it’d be genuine and heartfelt. And even though while growing up, there were angry moments when I was ready to sell you off, but then I would have lost the sole witness to every little detail of my life and the one who loves me despite my shortcomings. I feel blessed to have you in my life.

3) I don’t know your name. And I don’t ever wish to know it. I dread seeing you ever again in my life. Not because I’m scared of you. But because I don’t know whether you’ll survive if you cross my path again. You are the lowest form of being on earth, I pity your existence. I wonder how you can look yourself in the mirror without wanting to kill yourself with shame. I presume it’s not difficult for you, because you obviously lack a conscience, and repentance is something one doesn’t expect from your kind. You probably will have a long life, a long marriage to an unsuspecting wife, and maybe you even have kids, and I wonder whether you lust after your own daughter even!

4) Thanks for introducing me to the world of books. That’s the best gift I’ve ever received.

5) I take your presence in my life for granted. And it’s such a comfort. Eleven years of friendship. No matter where life takes us, the bond we share will grow stronger each day. It’s one of the few things I can be sure of in life.

6) If I could go back in time, I’d make sure I never let you in my life. Lies, deception, fraud; your whole life and existence can be summed up in these three words. Now, when I think back on our time together, I realize I was never in love with you. I did care for you. I believed when you professed your love for me, and thought it was my DUTY to reciprocate your feelings! It felt good to be loved by someone with such strong intensity. I reveled in that attention and care you showered on me. And when your deception began to unfold gradually, I couldn’t bear to lose the one who said he loved me so much! It hurt my ego that the love I received was a farce. And since I had begun to be so much emotionally dependent on you, the very thought of being alone scared me. I devoted years to the relationship and everything turned out to be pretense. I was ashamed of facing friends and family because I had let you into my life and didn’t recognize your true nature! I was feeling guilty for your mistakes. You are living proof of all that’s bad in the world, and it's not just because you broke my heart. You have made me too cautious to fall in love again.

7)You were a lot of firsts for me. I loved you. And now I miss being friends with you. And that quirky humor, and that shy smile, and that confused frown you always wore on your face. Hope you’ve a good life, “genius reborn”. If we ever meet, hope we can be friends again. I’d really like that.

8) Distance and time has crept into our relationship lately. Job, new friends, new place. I’m possessive of our friendship, and I’m afraid of losing the one I grew up with.

9) I’d hurt you so many times. I had a bad day; I took out my anger and irritation on you. For no fault of yours, just because you were always there, the available target. And you never mouthed your disapproval. I had been unreasonable, cranky, and plain intolerable. And I’m so sorry for all those times. You’d led a difficult life, devoted your whole life to the happiness of others. And often these people took you for granted. You never complained. And I hated you for being so weak, and was angry with you instead. I was wrong. I realize your strength now. Your enduring power marvels me. Not everything is as simple as I think. Love is a complex emotion, and the extent we tolerate for love is something I’m beginning to fathom gradually. I understand you now. I realize my anger was misdirected. I’d never be able to repay for what you’ve done for me. And even the thought of repaying back, you’d perceive as an insult. But, I want you to know that I’m everything I’m today because of you, and I love you so much. Thanks for giving me my life.

Photo Courtesy http://www.crane.com/content/images/letters-you-keep.jpg

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The dreaded "C" word

Someone’s got fever or stomach ache or his head hurts or loss of appetite or bleeding gums or a weak heart, whatever be the ailment, you hope it’s going to be alright after a course of medications and in worse cases maybe surgery. You tell them, “Sure, everything’s going to be okay. Get the required tests done, take the medicines and you’ll be up on your feet in no time”. That’s what we tend to think when we or our loved ones fall ill. But when the dreaded “C” word looms large on the horizon in some cases, all hope drains out of us even if for a moment. Cancer. It still evokes the same horror in us when we hear about it, as it did when the disease was first discovered.

We all plan our lives assuming we would live at least till the age of seventy or eighty. “In ten years I’d be doing this, and in twenty years after the kids have grown up I’ll be doing that”. At that time the thought doesn’t cross our minds that our lives maybe cut short any moment by some accident or illness. And cancer is the cause for many a life cut short. Recently, Jade Goody’s death has increased the awareness of cervical cancer. A few years ago it was breast cancer awareness that had started on a massive scale.

I lost my grandfather to cancer twenty years ago. He used to complain of irregular stomach cramps, a couple of routine tests didn’t yield any results, so the doctors gave him some antacids and let him go. But the stomach cramps continued, and one day while he was teaching me how to make paper planes (I was three years old then), he collapsed. By that time his gallbladder cancer had reached its terminal stage, and the doctors predicted no more than a month to live. My father worked in Guwahati then, while the entire extended family lived in Jorhat. My youngest uncle wrote a letter to my father telling him of my grandfather’s illness. Telephones weren’t too common back then. My father arrived by night bus, and that was the first time I saw him cry. He didn’t cry when my grandfather died a month later. Two of my younger uncles got married within two weeks of the diagnosis of the disease, because my grandfather wished to see them settle down into family life. I didn’t even realize he was gone forever. I remember I was so irritated I took my drawing book and crayons to sketch, away from all the hue and cry going on in the house! It started to sink in only when I sensed his continued absence that stretched beyond a month.

This year my elder sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s just 39 years old, and a mother of two wonderful girls. She called me up a couple of months back and told me she had felt a tiny painless lump on her breast. She was worried because on my mother’s side there’s a history of breast lumps. Even in our family, my mother, my younger sister and I had battled with fibroadenomas, but we got away with just a minor surgery. She repeatedly kept asking me, “Since it’s painless, it’s nothing serious, right?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s the “painless” lumps that were mostly malignant. I was hoping it was a benign lump, and asked her to get a mammogram and a FNAC (Fine needle aspiration cytology) done. The tests came out to be positive of malignant cells. The whole family went into a collective shock. This can’t be happening to her, she’s so young and fit. But my sister was so brave. Her husband and her entire family’s support and her own will power helped her tide over this crisis. She lost a breast, she went through a harrowing period of diagnostic tests to detect the spread of cancer to other parts of her body, and she lost all her hair in the post-operative chemo and radiotherapy that she’s undergoing now. I marvel at the courage with which she has fought the situation. I was shocked and crestfallen when I first heard about it, but she is the one living the ordeal, and each moment of her battle with cancer has been a lesson to me. About the unpredictability of life, about how insignificant and petty our everyday troubles seem compared to these battles with death, about the strength of human spirit, about hope, about tolerance, about perseverance, about the support a family offers, about love that endures such tough tests and grows only stronger by the end of it. She had relapsed again after three cycles of chemotherapy. But I pray that she doesn't suffer much agony.

Then there’s this uncle, my khuri’s (the wife of my father’s younger brother) brother, who had been a constant presence in my life while I was growing up, even though our interaction has lessened in the past few years. He was the one who accompanied me and my father when I went to watch a movie (‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’) on the big screen for the first time, and he had got all the scolding from the audience when I got scared and started howling when the fight scenes were on. He was the one who brought me a square tin box as my first school bag! And I happily carried it through kindergarten. He fell ill a month back, lost his appetite and became reed thin. The doctors in his town ran a lot of tests but nothing was found wrong with him but still his condition worsened every day. I asked him to get transferred into my college hospital last week. The doctors here suspected a colorectal malignancy and the results are due on Saturday. When I talked to him and his wife today, they expectantly asked me if he was going to be alright. They had never ever even heard of the word “biopsy”. I said he would be alright. But with the “C” word again popping up, I am praying each second that what I assured them would be true. Whatever the test results maybe, I hope he gets over this hurdle in perfect health.

There had been an immense development in the field of oncology (study and treatment of tumors) in the past two decades, be it research for causative factors, treatment, surgeries, diagnostic techniques and screening procedure for cancer detection, study of the magnitude of the disease. The survival rate has gone up. But it still kills a millions of people every year across the globe. The lifestyles we lead today, toxic agents in the environment, addictions like smoking and alcohol, familial factors etc contribute to the millions of people affected each year. It has slowly stopped being the disease of the old age. A frightening number of children and young adults are being affected by it every year. And although there’s increased awareness among people nowadays about cancer and they go for tests at any suspicious symptoms, some cancers hardly show any symptoms till terminal stages and remain undetected. That’s the sad part of this disease. It can hit you anytime. But people have started fighting hard against it. Their families too. And the fight for survival leads to successes, miracles. A cancer survivor knows what’s it’s like to be alive. Their bravery astounds me every second. Few of these brave people’s chances of survival become bleak, but they fight on till the end. Every time I visit a terminal cancer ward, I can’t explain the gamut of emotions I go through on seeing these people’s calm courage at the face of death, trying to live as normal a life possible with tubes and pipes restricting their movements and confining them to beds, pain affecting most of their waking moments, living on with the knowledge that death is close by, carrying on normal conversations with friends and family. They’re living wonders of hope, bravery, and perseverance.