Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Unbiased Love

'The child is deformed'.

That’s the first thought that crossed my mind when I first saw him. The mouth hanging open, rotund belly, protuberant saucer like eyes, muddy complexion, disproportionately thin limbs and a very questionable hygiene. He wore a blue sweater stained with the contents of his breakfast.  I surveyed him as I walked towards him to monitor his vitals before the morning clinical rounds. His case file said he was ten years old; it was hard to judge from his appearance.

My approach scared him. He perceived the stethoscope hanging around my neck with apprehension often seen in young children but not usually a ten year old. He put his thin arms around the old man’s neck who was sitting on his bed. His grandfather, I presumed. I gently pried him away from around his grandfather’s neck and put the cuff  around his thin arm to monitor his blood pressure. I tried not to look at his face with the saliva drooping from the corners of his mouth and remnants of his breakfast still stuck on his face. Something wet hit my hand. I inwardly cringed as I rubbed away a drop of saliva that fell onto my hand from his mouth. I hurriedly examined him and went out of the room.

'I love children', I reminded myself. 'All children deserve unbiased loving'. But even during evening duties, relatively less hectic and allowing me the leisure to chat and play with the children admitted in the ward, I never could bring myself to approach his bed, caress his cheek and ask him how his day went. I avoided looking at his bed, at him, at his grandparents who looked defeated by everything in the world. I didn’t despise him, but I couldn’t feel the love and care that gets naturally evoked towards all children.

The day after Christmas I had night duty at the ward. At one-thirty AM I lied down to rest on the creaky bed in the room assigned for interns. Hardly ten minutes later I heard loud cries of a woman coming from a distance. I presumed it was from the adjacent female medicine ward. But just to be certain, I opened the door of my room.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lost and Found

It feels strange typing these first words after neglecting my blog for so long. I actually fumbled around the blog dashboard to find the 'New Post' compose button. I had been busy. But not so much that I couldn't have squeezed in a few minutes of writing every week. I could have but I chose not to. I had started doing what everyone else around me were doing, mimicking their pastimes and their routines. It was work, studies, watching movies, getting together with friends, eating out...the usual stuff. Not just my habits but my whole personality went a sea change. I became more 'social'; not extrovert, just more open to mingling with other people, small talk, taking the initiative to talk to people around me. I actually chatted up random strangers, which is so unlike me, given my total lack of social skills.

I got so involved in this routine, this 'new' me, I had long neglected the things I loved to do. Writing, watching obscure foreign language films, reading and re-reading the authors I cherish, traveling, amateur photography, sketching...stuff that had always created and contributed to my happiness, a world I loved escaping into. But once I got stuck in this new web of superficial pleasures and pastimes, I became too lazy to get back to doing things that I love. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation, when I'm unusually chatty, I halt and mentally stare at the person I've become. And I realize it's not the real me. Being more confident, the feeling of belonging to the 'normal, everyday' people has been fun. But who am I fooling? It's just so not me.

There had been surprise in their eyes and an awkwardness in the air when I interacted with the people I'd known for long and who were well-acquainted with my introvert nature. And there had been moments when my 'friendly' attitude, new and clumsy, seemed too upfront to people and created misunderstandings that were totally uncalled for and embarrassing. And my idle mind crammed with just exam MCQs and small talk of the day, devoid of any creative pursuits, fell prey to daydreaming. I did few pretty stupid stuff. I don't like this new change anymore even though I had secretly always craved it!

Each person is unique with their unique quirks and flaws and passions. I am a shy person. I prefer catching up on my reading on a Saturday night. I freeze at the thought of making small talk. I don't like reading novels about vampires and girls addicted to shopping. I don't like rowdy parties and large crowds and prefer small, intimate gatherings. If I fall in love, I love to love alone, cherishing the secret. I love being silent and contemplating a thousand thoughts even amidst a crowd. And in the past few days my mouth hurt from grinning inanely at jokes that I didn't even find funny. However boring it may sound or is to others, but that's me. That's who I am; and who I have been in the recent past is totally contradictory to my real self.

Be true to who you are and do what you love irrespective of what the world thinks about you. Life's too short to be wasted on pretense of any sort.

This post was my advice to myself. It feels great blogging after a long gap and to have finally found and accepted me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On an emotional brink

Yesterday I broke down into tears at a rude comment passed by a colleague I hardly know or care about. Caught completely unaware on being spoken to in a harsh tone for no fault of mine, I was definitely hurt but it shocked me when tears welled up in my eyes. Was I that hurt by the rudeness of a random stranger? I wasn't and I didn't care. But I still couldn't stop the tears from falling.

This wasn't even a case of sudden outlet of some pent up grief. I have no worries at present, no stress factors. So, the sudden emotional outburst shocked and embarrassed me a lot. I remember an incident that my best friend told me a few years ago. She had gone out with a few girls from her hostel and one of the girls in the group made a totally uncalled for and rude comment about her and for no apparent reason. My friend called me up and cried a lot and it took me a long time to calm her down. Later she felt embarrassed for this outburst over a nearly non-existent issue and brought about by a girl she hardly knew. I too wondered about her behavior which totally contradicted the emotional strength she possesses that never faltered at very trying times. But it did falter at a stray incident!

I am an emotionally sensitive person but not to the extent that I'd cry at the drop of a hat. I didn't cry when my father felt seriously ill, or when I lost out on very important career opportunities, or when my close friend expired, or when my cousin relapsed while on cancer treatment, or when I see human suffering at close quarters while working in the hospital. It saddens me immensely, but I don't break down emotionally. But it had happened to me once earlier too when I couldn't stop tears from falling over minor issues. I had gone shopping with my family and my father rebuked me mildly about wasting too much time. What was highly embarrassing is that my tears rolled down in front of my cousin and his wife in a crowded shopping mall in Bangalore and for the next couple of hours had to shop around with puffy red eyes!

I wonder at times whether it's just PMS! But then guys I know too have these unexpected breakdown over non-existent issues. In this fast paced world where no one has the time to stop, collect and reflect upon their thoughts, emotions and their impact is painfully short. Work pressures and busy lives don't allow us the luxury to brood over how we feel or what might be bothering us subconsciously.

This apparent lack of getting in touch with our emotional self, makes us experience only the obvious reasons for being happy or sad. An expectation fulfilled, a pleasant surprise, a goal reached, a long craved object attained makes us happy. These reasons of happiness are obvious, measurable and looked forward to. Simple, everyday moments of happiness are taken for granted and they pass by unnoticed. No time to reflect and relish. Same with sorrow. It's always a job gone wrong, illness, failure, lost love and more such obvious reasons. A subconscious mental conflict might be the cause of that unexplained sense of gloominess that sometimes mar even the brightest of our days or brings about a sudden emotional outburst. But a lack of connect with our emotional selves keeps us totally ignorant of these issues flooding our subconscious mind.

I was in a bad mood while coming back home after yesterday's tiff. I was angry at myself for being emotionally weak and allowing myself to cry in front of a group of people for such a trivial reason. When my car got caught in a heavy traffic rush I positively fumed with anger. Looking out of the car window I saw two kids, around five to six years old, on their way home after school. Missing front teeth, blue and white uniform streaked with dirt patches, an orange lollipop in one hand, water bottles hung around their necks and chubby cheeks; they jumped over puddles and pushed their way through the afternoon crowd. The radiant smiles on their faces and the infectious joy they exuded vanished my anger in a flash! I couldn't help smiling.

Laughter and tears, their unpredictability truly amazes me.

Photo courtesy:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Last Day of August

They shake their heads grimly
Eight stern eyes follow her heaving chest,
A hand shoots forward to feel her feeble pulse,
She’s barely there, a wretched existence;
Plagued with a disease the poor can’t afford,
She peeps at us through her half-closed lids,
And attempts a weak smile for her saviors.

Her knight in shining armor had left at fifteen,
Impregnating her with a son at thirteen,
The son abandoned her at twenty-eight.
Mere numbers became agonizing milestones.
Her wrinkled mother seated at her side,
Pats the hand of a daughter without a youth.
The rush in the general medicine ward,
Masks their sighs and silent tears.
I look away; it is just another ‘case’,
One I can afford to allot ten minutes everyday,
Ten minutes that haunts me the rest of the day,
Her mother searching a sign of hope in my eyes.

The doctors pronounce their verdict,
A day till she leaves covered in a shroud.
I knew it would happen, but it breaks me,
5:45am, 31st August, 2010;
I check her death certificate,
She died an old woman of 30.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Losing a childhood friend to a rare and fatal post-operative complication of a minor surgery or hearing the news of second relapse of my cousin to breast cancer would have broken my spirits had it occurred a few months ago. I would have been a nervous wreck.

I can't adapt well to stress and bad news. Anticipatory anxiety, fearing what might happen, over-analyzing little details, brooding over hard facts of life that can't be life at 24 was a never-ending series of worries of varying magnitude.

I used various adaptation ( mostly immature) techniques to avoid stress; avoiding confrontation with the real issue and procrastinating indefinitely, whining and cursing my fate, perennially questioning 'why me?', retreating into a self-created cocoon; and the worst, obsessing over the worries and compulsively acting out irrational acts in an attempt to negate the bad thoughts that came to my mind. Like if I let the books on my shelf remain disorderly, scary thoughts that come to my mind regarding my loved ones will come true! So, I would spend a lot of my time arranging and re-arranging the books alphabetically, or by author, or by genre and spend a good 2-3 hrs unproductively! Absurd? Yes Irrational and impulsive? Yes. I knew it? Yes. So, I stopped doing it? Hell no!

Life had come to a standstill for me. Growing up with a strong sense of cleanliness and organization, it never occurred to me that severe stress will create havoc with this very organization fetish! It started gradually with breaking of basic discipline of my priorities;studies and household chores. I got distracted by superficial, fickle gratifications rather than a sense of satisfaction of completing my responsibilities well. Once distracted, it was hard to go back to my earlier routine. Acceptance of this problem and seeking help didn't cross my mind. Anxiety built up during exams, family crisis, expectations not met...the cumulative effect of which I couldn't anticipate. I felt if I did everything 16 times, bad things won't happen to my family! I studied each line 16 times and completed a mere two pages of studying every day. I was busy with 'pseudo work'. Making schedules and time-tables, procrastinating and again making new time-tables. Vicious cycle!

I had emotional breakdowns, woke up in panic, had insomnia, suffered from hormonal imbalances, gained weight, was lethargic, had hair loss, joint pain and an incurable headache; which a string of physicians couldn't cure. My self-confidence had taken a beating. My obsessive-compulsive habits increased, fueled by my anxieties and in an effort to negate them.

If my mother was late in coming home after her weekly shopping trip, the first thought that crossed my mind that she had met with an accident! Not that she could be caught in a traffic jam, or she ran some other errands on the way, or that she stopped by a friend's place on the way home. If my father had a bout of cough and sneezing at night, I would remain awake whole night dreading that we would have to again rush him to hospital like the time when he had sepsis! A mere cough and cold equated in my mind to sepsis! I became suspicious of people's comments and doubted ulterior motives because of few inaccurate judgments on my part earlier. Generalizing men and their intentions became a habit modeled on my exes and their flaws!

Then came a time when  my career and personal life started getting seriously hampered by my inability to deal with stress and acting out as OCD. I sought help, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to recognize, halt and remove obsessive anxiety-inducing thoughts. It took me few months of CBT, a healthy diet, a yoga regimen, deep breathing exercises, a conscious and deliberate desire to overcome my problems and reach out to others, like I used to earlier.

Now I'm back to leading a normal life; the competitive streak in me returning, self-confidence boosted up, and anxieties a thing of the past. Sure, I get anxious but I know now where to cut it. I'm the master of my mind and not the other way round anymore.

A big help was the book, "How to stop worrying and start living" by Dale Carnegie. A single quote from the book kept me going through all hurdles: "Every day is a new life for the wise man."

Past regrets, future worries, what could have been, what might happen...erase all these from your mind. Just concentrate on today. Live 'TODAY' well. Make 'TODAY' worthwhile. Love, laugh, work, have it all today. It's the only thing we've control upon...'NOW', the present moment. Live it well. Rest will take care of itself. And when obstacles threaten to overpower your resolve to keep going, just remember that 'Every man can carry his burden, however hard, till nightfall...".

One day at a time, one step at a time, forget multi-tasking...That's the mantra. And seek help if you have OCD. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's a disease you've to combat, just like diabetes or hypertension, but which can be paralyze your life more than a physical illness. Don't be bothered about social stigmas associated with consulting a psychiatrist, or being branded weak-willed. You can control your mind, you just might need guidance during stress.

Leading a happy, fulfilled life with OCD is not just a possibility. It's my reality.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Flawed can he be?
When he unfailingly corrects my mistakes,
Even the ones I never knew of.
‘You can never do anything right’,
A pitying smile across his face,
He reminded me ever so.

Disrespectful can he be?
When politeness exudes from his every pore;
As he instructs how I should behave,
And the millionth time I should touch his parents’ feet.
After all one can never be too well-mannered,
He reminded me ever so.

A pervert can he be?
Calmly explaining that true love yields to groping hands,
How eye fucking every passing female is a male right.
Describing his past in uncalled for sexual detail,
Explaining how my prudery can’t be true love
He reminded me ever so.

A liar can he be?
When there’s a reason behind every mistake,
Reasons that put the wildest imagination to shame,
Fully sure of acceptance by a loving heart.
‘I never lied, I never lie, and I will never lie’,
He reminded me ever so.

Fake can he be?
As his self-proclaimed virtues become never-ending,
Every detail about him gets shady each day.
But he knows a foolish heart would overlook it,
Dare he lie to my heart about his whole existence?
He reminded me ever so.

Excruciating shame,
Unparalleled anger,
When my foolish heart finally saw through,
How I’d loved a scum,
How I’d hurt my family,
How precious years were wasted,
How self-respect was belittled,
How I fled too late,
His memories reminded me ever so.

Let go of the dirt,
Uncluttered my mind,
Snipped off memories,
Of mistakes, wrong choices,
Healed, Healed, Healed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Change

Rrrrrrrrrring. The alarm goes off. Eyes half-shut, I fumble to hit the 'snooze' button. But I'm denied those blissful five minutes of extra sleep. My mother noisily draws the curtains open; the sunlight nearly blinding me. Then starts the usual early morning lecture, primed to perfection by twenty years of uninterrupted practice, about the horrors sloth will inflict upon my future. I grudgingly accept defeat and get out of bed. And the day starts just as grudgingly. Why should I wake up early?  What for? What awaits me today? Unlimited rest, boredom, uncertainties about future, battling my own personal demons each day.

Two long years pass by...each moment of inactivity weighs heavy on my mind.
Rrrrrrrrrrrring. The alarm goes off. Eyes wide open, I fumble to yank the curtains open and greet the morning light. I stretch my arms, and get out of bed. A quick shower follows. Read the news, gulp down my breakfast, pack my bag. My mother watches me half-smiling. I love this morning rush, the spring in my step, the revival of a long lost enthusiasm. What awaits me today?

A day at work. Finally. The long craved change has finally begun. :) :)

(Photos: )

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Asked For It

The blog link said "I will fucking tear you apart". And the temptation to submit my blog for review at this site was overwhelming. That was five months ago.

And finally, my blog has been reviewed at "Ask and Ye Shall Receive". The reviewer thought my writing was "reasonably well" although in serious need of "some harsh editing", "more paragraph breaks" and fewer posts about self. My blog title was subjected to severe criticism, everything from the word "quirky" to use of an exclamation mark at the end! (There I did it again.) The blog title, "Quirky alone...and happy!", came off as an attempt to hide underlying misery and bitterness at being single! (Wow, was I THAT obvious?!? ;-)) And the reviewer "pretended not to see the poetry". (I tell you, they really "fucking tear you apart"). But apart from that I was spared the horrors they inflict on most bloggers who dare to submit their blogs for review. The reviewer took out time to direct my attention on how I could improve this blog and my writing. Thank you for reviewing my blog, 'Forcemeat The Clown'.

Check it out here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

April Musings

The curtains, billowing in the wind, brush against my bare feet; a gush of cool air enveloping me momentarily. The cuckoo bird’s call, the dulcet breeze, the soft morning light, and the smell of the rain-soaked earth; April mornings are a delight to wake up to. Before my mind acts on the urge to sleep in late, I get out of bed. Drops of wet gleam on the window at the foot of my bed; I walk towards it. The lawn outside glistens with dew drops, and the smell of the previous night’s rain is overpowering.

I put my foot across the window ledge, climbing out into the lawn. The softest grass touches my feet; its wetness is strangely comforting. The earliness of the hour offers me few precious moments of silence that will become elusive during the rest of the day. I gaze down at my feet as I walk across the lawn. The red nails against the green grass and the tiny jewels in my anklet, gleaming in the sunlight, paint a pretty picture. Birds flit through the shadows of the trees; their intermingling calls producing a familiar melody. Pied daisies and roses break the monotony of the greenery. I sit down at the lone weathered bench at the corner of the lawn and try to grasp everything that meets my eye. The whole ambience screams poetry.

The stillness is deceiving, as if it would remain so forever. I know it’ll break as the day progresses, and this uneasy anticipation holds me back from fully enjoying the moment. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I notice the lack of chaos in my thoughts. For a change I’m not thinking about anything else, but the serene present. It’s such a rarity, and such a relief to focus only on the present. As if on cue my mind mockingly fleets to past reminiscences and imaginations of the future.

Glimpses of the view from my window, in the house I grew up, with the treetops swaying in the wind; the sunset I turned back to watch as I walked back home tired and sweaty from playing long hours with my friends; the sound of heavy rain captivating my attention for hours as I sat in the veranda during the long, monsoon days; random memories cross my mind. Nothing significant, but sharing the commonality of not so obvious moments of happiness. But today I am highly aware of the beauty that surrounds me, registering every detail in my memory, knowing fully well that I’d recall and relish it for long.

I remember a song.

Aane wala pal, jaane wala hain; ho sake toh is mein zindagi bita do, pal jo yeh jaane wala hain”.

(Each moment that comes, will soon pass; so try to live a full life in each passing moment)

The lines so aptly impart one of life’s most important lessons. Small moments of happiness pass us everyday and we remain completely unaware as we hanker after that one big success or goal. The race to attain these supposedly more important goals and thence to attain happiness is cruel and unforgiving. You pause, you lose. I break this disturbing chain of thought. Instead I start humming the song I just remembered. Solitude dilutes my earlier inhibitions when it comes to singing out loud. Only when the pair of birds next to me flies away, startled, that I’m reminded of how bad a singing voice I possess. I look around, more out of habit, if another person had the misfortune of hearing me sing first thing in the morning. Thankfully, no one in the house has awakened yet.

A butterfly lands on the edge of the bench I’m sitting in. An array of bright colors adorns its body. I want to touch its wings but its fragility scares me. I’m reminded of the movie I watched last night, ‘The Diving Bell &The Butterfly’. It’s about a busy writer, a family man whose life is brought to a standstill by a stroke that paralyzes his whole body except his left eye, through which he communicates by blinks. His life is suddenly filled with unasked for solitude and stillness. I compare that absolute stillness to the few of moments of pleasing solitude I’m enjoying now, and it scares me.

Suddenly I yearn for company. Voices. Laughter. I walk back into the house. Coffee and conversations await me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Wondrous World of Bhaona

My father’s childhood tales were an integral part of my growing up years. Every weekend after lunch I would lie on his tummy, and listen to these tales which were occasionally filled with funny Bhaona anecdotes. Growing up in a village, my father’s family was intimately involved with Bhaona (a play based on mythological events and staged in villages usually). All my uncles and aunts took part in it during their childhood, with the exception of my youngest uncle who continued to act in it till he was thirty-five.

One of my aunts played ‘Raja Harishchandra’ and her moustache fell off during the act; a student playing ‘Rama’ took full advantage of the chance to beat up a mathematics tutor, who played the ‘Ravana’; and many more. My father once played ‘Krishna’ and his elder brother played ‘Balaram’. When the time of their entry into stage came, ‘Balaram’ was missing and even after a frantic search backstage they couldn’t find him. Without further delay, only ‘Krishna’ entered the stage and while mouthing the dialogues his eyes suddenly fell on his mother (my grandmother) sitting in the audience. My eldest uncle, who was playing ‘Balaram’, was sitting in my grandmother’s lap and nonchalantly chewing ‘chanaa’ while still wearing ‘Balaram’s costume!! He evidently felt bored and decided not to act at the last minute! Such goof-ups, wrong or forgotten dialogues, and funny wardrobe malfunctions made these locally staged plays totally entertaining.

My father’s native village is in Teok, and every year we would make it a point to attend the Bhaonas held there. My youngest uncle was very much into acting in theatrical plays and every Bhaona season he was flooded with offers to act in it. He was always happy to oblige. He often ended up enacting roles of ‘Asuras’ or demons, owing to his 6’2” height and bulging muscles! He played ‘Kansa’ (during Raas Leela), ‘Hiranyakashipur’ (in ‘Bhakt Prahlad’), ‘Ravana’ (in ‘Ramayan’), ‘Duryodhan’ (in ‘Mahabharat’) etc. How he relished portraying these evil characters! Creating terror in the audience, nearly making the kids pee out of fright!

As the Bhaona night drew near, my excitement knew no bounds. Every night I would sit with my uncle while he rehearsed his lines in that deep baritone voice of his; looking smug at having such an enthusiastic supporter near! My mother dreaded the approach of the Bhaona season because it would mean the sacrifice of an expensive sari from her wardrobe. My uncle would ‘borrow’ a sari to wear it as a dhoti, as Bhaonas are famous for gaudy attire. He would sheepishly return it the next day with tears and cuts that were usually beyond repair, much to my mother’s dismay.

And then the day of the Bhaona arrives. I would see off my uncle in the evening with a thousand “All the best” wishes. At around 7pm the whole extended family would miraculously fit into two cars and drive off to the Bhaona venue. We would endure a two hour drive sitting in the most awkward poses to free up space to squeeze as many individuals in the car! There would be a stop over at a road side Dhaba (a food stall) to eat delicious ‘tandoori’ food. Post dinner we would pile into the car again and indulged in a mellow conversation; the effect of a tummy filled with delicious food.

A huge tent would be erected at the Bhaona venue; a central stage around which the crowd, seating on the ground, happily jostled for space. The atmosphere was replete with laughter and conversation, and the anticipation was palpable. The lights would dim; artificial smoke filled the stage; sound of drums (Dhol) announced the entry of the ‘sutradhaar’, welcomed with hearty applause. Then for the next hour or two the audience remained mesmerized as the drama enfolded. Collective shouts of joy greeted the entry of the ‘hero’ (Rama, Krishna, and Prahlad etc; depending on the play) and collective gasps of fear marked my uncle’s entry! It was indeed a fearful sight; the painted face, the long-haired wig, the huge moustache, the heavy costume, the weapons he carried (even though fake), the careful lighting and the dramatic sounds of ‘Dhol’ and ‘Taal’ made my uncle look scarier beyond belief. His entry was cue for the little kids, including my sister, to hide their faces in their mothers’ laps. The fights were funny with psychedelic red light portraying flow of blood and the costumes were amateur; but the dialogues were riveting, and the acting good. The audience was thrown into laughing fits when the 'ladies' entered, because very few females participated in Bhaona and the ‘heroines’ were mostly reed-thin, slightly effeminate men dressed as females.

During the intermission I had special access to the actors green room backstage because my uncle always kept the Bhaona organizers informed that his family might visit. A family friend once went to visit my uncle backstage. The organizers inquired his identity and he replied, “I’m Kansa’s brother, let me go” (“Moi Kansa’r bhaiyek, muk jaabo diyok”); and the organizers burst out laughing at this weird identification!! My initial euphoria of a peep into the Bhaona backstage died when I saw the actors, in their frightening costumes, towering over me. The actors with heavily painted faces, wearing ladies costume and leisurely puffing a cigarette looked more frightening than those playing the demons. Surrounded by ‘Hanuman’, ‘Sita’ and ‘Surpanakha’ sharing a smoke; ‘Ravana’ and ‘Rama’ in an animated discussion, backslapping each other; ‘Vibhisana’ quietly eating pakoras at a corner; it was one surreal experience to go backstage in a Bhaona. The Bhaona would go into the wee hours of morning, and the sleepy but happy audience would give the actors a standing ovation at the end. And then it was dozing back in the car for us on the way back home, and waking up at noon the next day.

Gradually things that had been an integral part of my growing up years and had brought me so much happiness are slipping away. It’s been nearly a decade since I last saw a Bhaona. My uncle doesn’t act any more; the families that happily piled into the car have scattered all over India; and things just aren’t the same any more. But the memories of Bhaona are still in vivid in my mind with its endearing eccentricities.

Photos: Of my uncle during his Bhaona performances.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Joys Of A Common Childhood

A sister smiles when one tells one's stories - for she knows where the decoration has been added. ~Chris Montaigne

Her childhood was terrorized by the fear that I can read her thoughts if I keep my hand under her pillow at night. I had told her that and she believed me. Just like the time when she tearfully kissed her fingers goodbye and signed a 'No Objection' document (so that she can’t sue me later) and permitted me to break her fingers because I had told her that’s the punishment for losing a bet.

Sisters by birth, best friends by years of co-habitation and rivals by choice. I was four when my claim of exclusive attention from my parents ended. I distinctly remember holding the lump that was my sister covered in what seemed a zillion baby blankets and wondering how soon she will grow up and I can make her do all my work! And for the first ten years my wish did come true, forcing me into a false sense of security of my dominance; and then when I least expected it, role reversal! And it has been that way ever since.

She was an unusually quiet child and her obedience irritated me no end because my parents expected me to follow her example. No fuss, no tantrums, very kind, always smiling and had all the virtues that I lacked. My scheming mind took full advantage of the situation. If she chose something I liked, I would start acting as if I absolutely despised that object and she would promptly give it back to me, not wanting to keep the ugly thing anymore. I absolutely doted on my sister and was very protective of her but as an elder sister I felt it would be criminal not to utilize her obedience! One day she saw through my evil schemes and I can’t express in words my shock on the rebellion that followed. The fights that she earlier won by mere crying and thus earning my parents support, now she won by pure strength and evil strategies. I was literally dragged around the room when I angered her! So much for respect of elders!

When we were kids I’d often walk in on her wearing heavy jewellery, a black skirt over her head (to substitute for long hair, and if the black skirt had been sent for washing, she would wear a yellow skirt and pretend she was a blonde), dark red lip color and advertising a shampoo before the mirror. These things were normal, and didn’t induce any laughter or humiliation. Mathematics terrorized her, and tutoring her in math were the only blissful moments when I could scold her without her replying back.Once she scored good marks in math and she literally treasured that report card by ironing it every week to smooth out the creases and preserved it for years. (She’s so going to kill me for this!) Only I knew her quirks, and only she knew mine.

And there are the jokes, the conversations and the coded glances; that only sisters share. Our private jokes are a result of highly weird imagination and victimization of unsuspecting people around us. We laughed till we cried almost daily. It did help that my sister is a born mimic and comedienne. Growing up was never so much fun.

We didn’t have privacy while growing up. Sharing was the unspoken, unchallenged rule. One bed, one bathroom, one wardrobe. We would divide our space in bed equally by careful mathematical assumptions and even if my leg crossed over to the her territory it would be mercilessly kicked back. Just like the television remote use was divided into two halves of the day, till 5:30 pm mine and after that hers. While I gloated at first over the abundant number of TV hours I had, I soon realized that I was duped. I reached home by 4pm after school/college and barely got to watch any program when the clock rushed to 5:30pml and she would come towards me in a slow triumphant walk and with a sadistic smirk on her face and take possession of the TV remote. Even though we shared the same wardrobe, we had very strong territorial rights and I had to take due permission before borrowing her clothes.

The similarities of our interests we took for granted and the differences always shocked us. How can she not like reading books! I spent half of my life poring over novels and she prefers only 'Archie comics', that too on rare days when she felt like reading! And then she would watch few mind-numbingly boring movies (which I called 'tertiary' because that' the degree of preference those movies received from me) that I won’t even recommend to my worst enemies. These differences made me wonder whether her birth was 'staged', and she was actually adopted. She is quick to retort that it was high time I started looking for my 'real' parents. She has a huge number of friends while I have a small intimate circle. She can adapt to any place instantly, while I take my own sweet time. Our mercurial temper and love for potatoes are shared vices though. And our fights as kids are legends in the family! Pillows sacrificed, hairs uprooted and on one instance she even chased me around the house with an extra-large ladle (‘heta’ in Assamese)!

We are sisters, secret-sharers, best friends, rivals, co-conspirators; all at the same time. After twenty years of being so, she had recently shifted to another city to pursue her higher studies. I was dreading the moment of her departure for months, and I felt worse than I had anticipated when she finally left home. But the very next day she started issuing orders over phone, fighting with me, cracking jokes and things were back to normal. I miss seeing her every day; but we have to follow our own course in life now. The bond we share is too strong to get affected by mere physical distance.

Even now we would rather have red ants crawling on us than admit how much we love each other. But I can’t deny the fact that she is the most important person in my life, a notch above my parents even. I look to her for sensible advice because my rashness often leads me to trouble, and she doesn’t disappoint me. There are times when I finally get to play elder sister and correct her wrongs. Even though I complain about her asking me to do her class assignments occasionally (that too, long-distance, damn e-mail!), I secretly enjoy being indispensable to her in these small ways.

We have shared a childhood; carefree, happy times; nitty-gritty of life as adults; and a lifetime of memories. I thank God that I was fortunate enough to share my life with a sister, even though I wanted to sell her off when we were young! I love you, Poochki!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Walk Between Sunset and Moonrise

I halt at sunset, forever it seems;
The darkness unsettling,
Mirroring the shadows I take refuge in.
Caught in a tiring dilemma;
The day I cannot return to,
A night I dread to enter.
Past failures, present indecisiveness,
Future unpredictability haunts me.
Time is past, the battle lost;
And I must never emerge from my shell.

And then a brave new hope…

I walk towards the moonrise,
Stepping on, are those past failures?
Emboldened each moment,
I take small steps, surer steps.
Something brings hope,
Blows away uncertainties.
I search for my old self,
Perhaps looming in the distant horizon;
But a better self is mirrored back,
Now, this moment; I am she.
Unburdening the inferiority and pessimism,
I break into a run.

Is that a brighter light I see?

I run towards the dawn.
Time’s ticking away;
No use mourning the moments lost,
I would lose some more.
To catch up would be tough,
To surpass, euphoric.
I see it now, my goal, definite and clear;
The remoteness doesn’t scare me,
Nor will that darkest hour before dawn,
The one with wagging tongues, critical stares,
Deadly impatience and relapses into self-pity.
Translating this strong self-belief into action,
I shape my destiny;
And I run, like never before,
Towards the inviting new day.

Photo Courtesy:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And Chlorine Became My Perfume

They say the plunge into unknown depths is like love. It will bruise you if shallow or its depth will give you the most wonderful dive of your life.

After the initial screams of panic, muscle stiffness, being nearly blinded by the chlorine and awkwardness of being in a bathing suit died down (which nearly took a month), the swimming pool stopped being a thing of terror. I never thought myself to be hydrophobic until I was pushed into the a four feet deep pool and thought I was going to drown. I never knew how self-conscious I was of my body image until my first awkward walk out of the changing rooms for my swimming lesson. I never knew how my initial fear and pre-conceived notions held me back from trying out new things until I took my first dive after two weeks of climbing up and down the diving board.

My decision to take up swimming last year was one of the best lifestyle changes I ever made. During my childhood I swam in the pond (yes, a pond, not a fancy pool) at our home, especially during the summer holidays but it wasn’t too deep and it was more frolicking in the water than learning how to swim. Moreover, I was no longer pleasantly plump and bordered on being  obese. Swimming seemed the perfect solution to lose the extra flab and cross off one item from my 'things to do before I’m 30' list. I browsed through nearly a dozen shops in search of a modest swimsuit and also the swimming cap and the goggles (which never failed to fog up). And the next day I was at the pool.

I took it up for fitness. A heightened sense of self-awareness, a calm mind and losing my fear of tackling the unknown were added bonuses. I still haven’t lost the flab entirely and at times the prospect of sleeping late seems more inviting than a frighteningly early morning swimming lesson but this is one activity which I will try to pursue as often as I can.

It’s a pain waking up at five in the morning for exercise and I pack my bag and head out to the pool half-asleep. But the moment I’m in the water relishing the slight shiver, breathing in the crisp morning air and floating in the crystal clear water, I’m home.

After a few laps I feel my body become lighter, the breathing regular and enjoying the the silky touch of the water on my skin. I don’t compete and rarely keeping tabs on the time taken to make a lap. I swim at my own pace. And within minutes I am not aware of the movement of my limbs. Just like breathing, barely perceiving. The mechanical strokes become almost meditative and my mind is free to ponder on my thoughts, often gaining new perspectives. I take in the beauty of the early morning, soaking in the warm sunshine; feasting my eyes on the blue water; it’s a state of pleasing serenity.

Then there is the joy of people-watching too. The pool is the meeting ground of a variety of people. There is the paranoid young girl flapping her arms since for more than a month at the shallowest end of the pool. There is also the “I-feel-I-am-God’s-gift-to-womankind-because-I-have-a-super-toned-butt” guy who strides leisurely around the pool looking very pleased at the beauty he exudes. The young lady of seventy who competes with her grandchildren, the professional swimmers hard on their training, the rowdy kids occasionally kicking me in the head in their enthusiasm to race each other, a giggling gang of fat funny females and few disturbingly attractive women who shine with the confidence that cellulite and stretch marks will never be a part of their lives, and lastly the instructors who have their own personal quirks; all these people are a part of my swimming experience.

I’m longing to go back into those blue waters after a prolonged break during the winter.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Unrest Cure

I needed an “Unrest Cure”.

Saki (H.H.Munro) had mentioned it in one of his many delightful short stories. Stressed and harried individual retires to a relaxing environment, enjoy the sunshine, take a few long walks, laze around with some music or a book, spends some quality time with family and goes back to their usual hectic lives well-rested and with renewed vigour. That’s the “Rest Cure”. The exact opposite is the cure for those people who feel annoyed if the disturbing monotony of their lives gets altered, even the minute details. They find comfort in the predictability of what the day holds for them; they become mere spectators of the outside world and all the excitement it involves. It is such people who need an “unrest cure” to jolt them out of their routine and often complacent existence.

The past couple of years, I found myself getting more inclined towards leading a life planned to the last detail; soaking in the comforts of home and the known. I sought solace in the fact that I have my life planned to what I’d be doing five months and three days later (the answer: what I’m doing today!). I googled for articles on “How to wake up refreshed in the morning”! I had a hard time fighting Monday blues, and Tuesday blues, and you get the idea! I heard about, watched, felt awed and delighted in the spontaneity and excitement in the lives of those around me. But I was reluctant to disrupt my quiet existence. And I was just 23. It’s sad. But sometimes one gets addicted to the sort of days when nothing happens, and living life in a leisurely pace (which is highly over-rated!). It’s not so that I was seeking constant excitement or thrills. I just needed a break from this mind-set of seeking comfort in the familiar and the known.

I’ve started making small changes in the career front. I know I’m taking huge risks in terms of money, job security, and time in veering away from the expected (read secure) options. I admit I am scared. Not “what-was-I-thinking” scared, but “this-is-new-but-I-am-so-going-to-do-this” scared. Travelling, taking up new hobbies, learning a new language and meeting new people are small steps towards my “unrest cure”.

Two things had been of huge help in adopting these changes. The first is a healthier lifestyle (less mental and physical lethargy, more zest). Secondly, there should be perseverance and belief in following your passions without being bothered by those who ridicule your non-conformity.

I love this restlessness.

Photo Courtesy:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

As I Chew On Bon Bogoris...

I ate wild plums today.

Bon Bogori, for my Assamese readers. Red, juicy, salted ones.

Food can be a source of comfort and often trigger nostalgia. I think 'wild plums' and I am transported back to my school days. The ride back home from school, shirt sleeves finally rolled back, tie knot loosened, slouching on the backseat of the car (a white Fiat), listening to the same cassette of Kishore Kumar songs and eating wild plums I had bought during lunch break from the vendor outside school. This routine rarely varied during the half an hour ride. Except on Thursdays when my sister and I got pocket money to buy an ice-cream. I would keep reminding her from the previous evening onwards that we had to collect the ice-cream money before leaving for school the next day. Because there was a high probability of forgetting it in the early morning rush of bathroom queues, last minute homework, reading my favorite Archie comics while having breakfast, jostling for space in front of the mirror while combing our hair, tying shoelaces (a pain even now), packing my school bag and lunch box; and I used to wake up just an hour before school started!

I remember a very comical situation I got into (and I have an innate talent for such kinds) during that 7am ride to school once. There was this girl in my class, PKY, whom we used to call tubelight owing to her much delayed understanding of what was being said. Once on the way to school, I saw PKY waiting for the school bus. I told her that I'd give her a lift but she smiled and replied that she doesn't want to bother me. But I was insistent and she agreed to travel the remaining three kilometers to school in my car.  I had to buy a notebook on the way and stopped at a stationery shop. While waiting for the shopkeeper to find the two-lined notebook, we saw PKY's bus go by and we smiled and waved to our friends in the school bus. But when it was time to pay for the notebook, I realized I had forgotten to bring my purse. And my purse was in my school bag! I panicked. I had no option but to send our driver back home to get my school bag while PKY and I walked two kilometers to school and reached quite late. She never took a ride with me to school again! I still remember the look on her face that day, trying hard to suppress her anger and mumbling curses against me while I was trying very hard not to giggle. I'm still not able to suppress my giggles every time I'm reminded of PKY.

Friday, February 5, 2010

When Was The Last Time You Did Something For The First Time?

She asked me.

I thought. The minutes ticked by painfully slow. But I still couldn't recall.

And it's a sad thing.

In the past two years, I'd undergone a disillusionment towards the way my life has shaped out to be. It'd been a gradual process; stifled emotions squeezing their way out from the depths of my heart and thoughts I'd vehemently refused to ponder upon all these years.

A middle-class upbringing grounded on its own definitions of success and a future planned out to the last detail for me-a secure job of a doctor, a job in the US, a six figure salary-painted a pretty picture and I took the plunge.

In junior college my friends opted for biology as an elective. I wanted to continue hanging out with them, so did I. They brought application forms for medical entrance exam. Again I was scared of exploring new territory so, I stood in queue to get the application form. I cleared the exam at one go and my friends didn't. It was only when I was sitting among unfamiliar faces in a class of a hundred and fifty students on that first day of medical college taking the Hippocrates oath I realized that I had chosen my career. This was it.

Hectic classes followed. I was forced to be a part of the race to survive the grueling years in medical college. I played my part and well too. I loved the power to heal that the doctors held. It's the most powerful thing of all. You can give a new life to others. Some doctors realized the great responsibility that this power brought along and humbly offered their services to people. Rest were a bunch of inflated egos and a smirk, a retort, a snarl were the first things they had to offer to patients.

Many factors contributed to my disillusionment; the stifling and rigid curriculum, few biases, my own gradually escalating obsessive compulsive disorder and the most important of it all, I was finally beginning to think for myself.

I was a good student in the sense that I molded myself well to any situation you put me into. My parents could have put me into any career and I would have survived in that just by the inherent desire of trying to do well whatever I do. I could've been an engineer, a lawyer, a businesswoman, a teacher. Anyone. Whatever was the flavour, as a friend rightly put it.

I wasn't the only one who had this mind-set while growing up, many of my peers and family has the same story to tell. Conservative Indian families have rigid rules about what a girl ought to do. Success was defined to me as a good job overseas, a few cars, a grand house, a flourishing career; this was the benchmark set before me. A close friend recently told me her parents had told her to enjoy her life once she passed the hurdle of matriculation exam. Then there were the hurdles of engineering entrance exam, engineering exam and now a MBA degree that she had to overcome before getting a chance to enjoy life, by which I'm sure she meant exploring her own hopes and aspirations and just for a moment enjoy the simple pleasure of not thinking about the next exam to clear. I wonder if she'll ever get the chance.

We have mastered the art of loving what we do. During the past two years when I struggled with the thoughts of a life based on my own wishes, I was startled by my own and others' responses. I am no writer. But I love to write. I want to learn the art of creative writing. I want to give serious thought to my interest in history and ancient scriptures. And I want to travel. Not fancy spas and luxury vacations. Just travel for the sake of travel. Maybe even the previously unexplored nooks of a nearby town. Travel is a liberty I crave for. But solo travel is still a dream. I only get to go on planned vacations to the usual tourist spots. And yet again, I have no option but to love what I get.

I still haven't been able to cut my umbilical cord. My parents are the best parents I could've asked for. They have given me everything I want. Pampered a lot. But their over-protectiveness have led to such a situation now that I can't go anywhere without another person accompanying me. It's not the travel restrictions, it's just that I'm still not allowed to be self-reliant even at the age of 24. I'm leading the life of a dependent 12 year old! And I haven't been able to do anything about it. I can't hurt my parents. I've tried discussing with them this problem, but there was no change in their protectiveness. Everyone comments on how it's high time I pave my own life path. I know I should do that too. It's already too late. My whole life has been sketched to the last detail by others. My whims were catered to but major decisions were already taken for me. Abandoning the noble profession of a doctor to pursue writing was frowned upon. Who in their right mind does that? Is success guaranteed? No. Will you make as much money as a doctor does? No. Is it a secure job? No. Are you aware of the hard life out there? No. Do you have the talent? Not yet. "So, shut up and concentrate on your career as a doctor. Time runs out fast for a girl. Your friends are getting married. Concentrate on getting PG in a good hospital, get married, have kids; and then you'll have abundant time to follow your hobbies". Will I?

I don't have an aversion to being a doctor. I feel blessed that I'm given a chance to serve people in need. I have gone through instances in the past where I came close to losing my father to critical illnesses but it's through sheer dedication and skill the doctors overcame all hurdles his age, his co-morbidities posed along with the critical illness. I have nothing but true devotion to this skill bestowed on doctors and which I've been given a chance to be a part of. But who goes to a "simple" MBBS degree holder these days? You need to have a string of degrees behind your name, fight out the fierce competition in private practice or positions in reputed hospitals. Do you know many hours of studying brings about these? Your entire youth. Do you have time to pursue on the side-lines your so-called "hobbies"? As an amateur? Yes. As a professional? No. They remain just "hobbies".

I'm finally taking a stand on how my life is run. I deserve a say in that, don't I? I'm officially not in the race anymore. My life, my pace, my dreams, my aspirations. Will the people who talk now about their idea of success and condemn me for losing the competitive streak provide a solution to the ever-increasing emptiness that grows with time in the runners of this rat race? They won't.

So, why should I live my life according to what the world wants me to be? My definition of success: Being myself and doing what I love in a world that is constantly trying to make me do something else.

And here's a huge thank you to Priyanka, my friend who asked me this question today. Thanks for being so supportive :)

Photo courtesy:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

For my best friend :)

August 2003:

The humidity and the heat was making me angrier by the minute. Hyperactive sweat glands fueled an irritable mood. I was waiting in the queue for admission into the medical college of my choice after I cleared the entrance examination. The nervousness of being cross-examined by the professors on the counseling panel was adding to the sweat glands working even faster! Then I glanced back at the tiny, petite girl standing behind me in the queue. I hated her for looking all aglow and fresh, not a drop of sweat! I was wondering what antiperspirant she used! We exchanged a few words, don't remember what, during that long wait to get into the colleges of our choice. Little did I know then that she's going to end up being one of my best friends!

First few days of medical college, fear of ragging in the air, the task of making new friends, trying to get a grasp of the hectic schedule of classes; it's all a chaotic blur now. Things were just settling down to what will be routine life for the next five years, when I saw that tiny girl again who just refused to sweat.

A month rolled by, an occasional "hi" lead to more conversations and slowly she and another girl became good friends of mine. The first year of medical college along with these two friends was the best year of my life. From stealing brains from anatomy hall to bunking classes to making home movies to doing the weirdest possible things in our own weird way; we had a great time together. Everyone in class used to think of us as aliens. We were. Our talks were different, not superficial. Our jokes were different, only we got them! We were different, and extremely glad to have found each other. Happy memories that I'll cherish forever.

The years went by, Devi (the tiny, sweat-proof girl) and I became close friends and confidantes. We weren't like those air-kissing, party-hopping, giggling girlfriends. The comfort level we shared, the quality of time we spent was something I'll always treasure.

Everything wasn't smooth running all the time. We had fights. Ugly fights. Wasted months sometimes in not letting go of ego hassles and grudges. Then we would miss each other way too much and happily resume our friendship again. We had seen each other through many tough times, a lot many tough times. And even though it wasn't expresses explicitly always, her presence was a source of silent comfort. Sometimes we took each other for granted because we knew deep down in our hearts, we'll always be friends no matter how many ups and downs cross our lives.

Now, distance has crept into our friendship. Thousands of miles separate us now. I miss her presence in my life. I miss calling her up and boring her to death about every tiny detail of my life. I miss my confidante. I miss my best friend. I am doing a bad job at describing how much I miss her. I know nothing has changed in our friendship, rather we have become more vocal about expressing our emotions. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Hence proved.

She's getting married in less than a month. And I won't be able to attend her wedding because it is being held  in another continent. I can't express in words how missing out on being part of that important day in her life is affecting me. To say I'm sad will be a huge understatement. But here's wishing her all the happiness and joy life has to offer.

Devi, happy birthday!Miss you! :)

Hugs and love,