Yes we can…

First Black President of the United States…Yes we can.

Iran.Afghanistan.Cairo.Multilateral ism… Yes we can.

Barack Obama: Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2009…Yes we can.

Even though I agree to have been surprised with Obama’s selection, and agree that he hasn’t really done anything yet to be able to equal the numerous people awarded the Nobel for their lifetime of contribution, I cant help but sympathise with the Nobel selection Committee , ’cause haven’t they too voted for that hope that Obama signifies – the hope of a diverse yet united world working towards a better future? The hope that the impossible can yet be possible…that dialogue and diplomacy can take the place of aggression & war? The hope of a newly humble United States leading the world , together, towards a greener , safer tomorrow?

Maybe I am just an idealist..but well, thats the audacity of hope…

I will be waiting…

I met Coretta for the first time waiting for a call from home at the solitary telephone available for students at our engineering college. She was my junior at my engineering college.. came all the way from Shillong to study computers. It was a first in a series of inconsequential meetings spread across almost a year. We would say a quick hello and go on with our lives. People told me that she was good at debates and had a good voice… I smiled and bided my time to show her who was the boss around the campus when it came to taking the mike in front of a hall full of people.

It was quite a contest the day I finally got to take her on in a debate. We argued over something to do with the usage of computers in the development of India. Being the dedicated computer engineer I was to become, I declared computers inconsequential to the development of India, while she thought otherwise. I tried every mean trick in the book to put her down, ridiculed her and even got a bit personal in my arguments. Finally, with the boisterous and loyal support of my batchmates shouting at the top of their voice I managed to convince the judges that I was the better speaker amongst the two. I won the debate, just about.
In the weeks that followed, both me and Coretta found time to talk to each other and began a friendship that is more than 10 years old now. Along with the rest of some very special people, we started a student group at college called SAVI, something that I am proud to say sustains till date. Coretta was one of those people in college who supported me blindly in whatever I did, and we did some pretty interesting stuff I might add. We managed to push through the first newsletter our college had ever seen, and tried to follow it up with a college magazine that I could not get to the printers for the life of me. We even sang a song together in Hindi, with her reading the lyrics written especially for her in English, Vinay on the guitar and Manish teasing us. Some of my sweetest memories of college have Coretta somewhere invariably. How easy it is for you to share your lives when you are young. My friends in college were truly the best thing that ever happened to me. Vinay made me realize that I could sing, Katto brought out the best side of me, Joshi taught me the joys of walking the rains, Samit became the guy I want as my roommate when I am hungry, Nauti is the only guy who can look graceful when being utterly drunk… and Coretta egged me on to do whatever I want….afterall, you can only fail.

I cried hard the day I left college. Leaving behind friends and a life that had given me so much. The tears gave way to phone calls, trying to recapture at least a part of the magic that we shared together a long time ago. We got on with our lives and ran out of things to talk to each others about…fell in and out of love, got our first jobs and then opted for better ones.Today, I don’t even have the phone numbers of some of the people who were so dear to me at one point of time in my life.

Last week, Coretta almost died in a car crash. I came to know 3 days later when a mutual friend called and informed me. She now lies in a hospital bed with shattered limbs, painful wounds and forbiddingly long months to recovery. All of us managed to find time to go out and meet her. We flew in from different cities, some of us travelled down from the next block. Most of us had not met for years. It took a disaster for us to find time and reach out to friends and speak to people we once held so dear in our lives.

Coretta will recover fully in the months to come, am sure of that. She is right now busy cracking jokes while being tied down to her bed. Am glad that my friend is still there to reassure me that nothing is really wrong with the way I look at life. This will be the first post in ages that she would not be the first to comment on, but am sure it’s a matter of time before Coretta will be back to her normal cheerful self commenting on my blog and writing long testimonials for everyone on Orkut.

Till then, I will wait.

Get well soon buddy !

Please help if you can…

Abhishek is a guy my age battling cancer. He is an alumni of the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, a Product Manager with Brittania. I was forwarded the link to his site (http://www.helpabhishek.com/) by a friend of mine. As I read through his story, I realized that this could have happened to any of us.

I know what it is like to be 30 and have a family. The money is just about enough to cover the dreams that you have dreamt and fulfil some more by the side. Am sure, this couple is not too different. They are now faced with the daunting task of raising close to Rs. 1 Crore for treating the cancer.

These folks need all the help they can get. They are educated and young, and their personal story is very similar to the life we live ourselves. Please help Abhishek if you can. The different modes for making the contribution are listed on his website.

http://www.helpabhishek.com

In case you have a blog or a webpage, please carry this link on your site. Am sure, this help will not go waste.

The home we left behind…

It completes the cycle… it really does. There is some kind of a poetic justice in the fact that I type this blog post sitting at the very table where it all began. It’s an old table…. teak wood… stained with ink spots and smoothened with use. See that oblong spot over there? The one on the right hand corner, yes, the black one. That’s where I used to keep my ink pot. We used fountain pens at school….

Remember?

How could you not remember, when you had been trying so hard to forget.

Lets start with the gates, the white painted wicker gates. They were not white to begin with… the carpenter crafted them out of common logs of wood one long summer afternoon… the sounds of hammers and saws in the garage reverberated through the house and set our teeth on the edge. We painted the gates white, to match the jasmine flowers that blossomed in the bush that surrounded the house. And our house remained the only one in the neighborhood with a white wicker gate, protecting all that remained in the confines of what once was, the only place I called home.

We once had a lawn, covered with Chinese grass, the kind where you measure the thickness by spreading your thumb and index finger… like indicating a Patiala peg. We used to water it in the evening, keeping an eye out for earthworms to tease and ant hills to smother. The grass was deceptively soft, especially around the periphery of the patch… and like most things in the world, the outward prosperity yielded to scorched patches in the center. It was not a happy day when the lawn was bricked over to make way for the garage, but then, we were getting a car.

A car. That four wheeled contraption that made us transition that gaping crater between the haves and have nots in 1980s. A gleaming second hand Premier Padmini that was in my opinion, the prettiest car on the planet. Come to think of it, I still would not mind driving it. Wonder what did they do with the steel body of the car at the scrap yard… or the velvet upholstery. No, it was not air-conditioned car, nor was it really new. It was dented in patches, and gleamed in places like it had been never sullied, almost like a real person… Age and shine, for us who stayed in an airy house that was more than a century old, these trivialities hardly mattered.

Our front yard-that-used-to-be-a-lawn was the place where our family used to sun in winters and tie out dogs to dry after their baths in summer. The place where a chair under the guava tree (did I mention that before?) was the best place to indicate defiance, self sufficiency and a general disdain for your family after an argument. Where on the pretext of a crowded house during a dinner, you found space to cozy up with your girlfriend by the side of the garage door.

Forget that I wrote that last sentence, I am a much married man now….

How do you begin to let go of a place you called home for 20 years. 4-B Staff Colony CTC, Lucknow was my address in all the admission forms I ever filled up,…it was printed neatly on multicolored card envelopes I received on my birthday from my cousins, and was my permanent address in the first passport I ever had.
I was 4 years old when we moved into this house. Me, my elder brother, my parents, a dog and a whole retinue of people who came and went through the day. Lets see… we had a gardener, a person to sweep and clean the house, a guy to wash the utensils, the washerwoman for the clothes, the milkman with his aluminum containers balanced on the sides of his bicycle, the vegetable vendor who would slip you wilted greens if you were not looking, the newspaper Walla though honestly, I was never woke up in time to see him around. So many of them moved from house to house during the day plying their trade.
Strange, I don’t even know what happened to the guy who provided me with my daily quota of stories each evening as he scrubbed the pans. We were best friends. Really. I honestly meant it then.

It was a rich childhood, the kind you read stories about in the memoir of NRI authors writing about forgotten Indian towns. Full of hot and dusty summer afternoons, sibling fights, next-door friends and oh so many scraped knees and elbows. A gang of kids living in a century old school campus could not have had more fun than we did. We played in the sun and made paper boats when it rained. Winters meant eating bel fruit plucked and roasted to smoky perfection in burning leaves… Racing with a vengeance through our colony of houses till forcibly taken back to our homes when darkness fell. The day we saw a long dead snake, and then a live one… or when my brother crashed through the floor of a derelict bus rotting away to glory in our back yards. No, we were not supposed to play on that bus, but we always did anyway. The broken shards of its windscreen made an excellent treasure trove for thieves and robbers, and can you name when was the last time you sat in the driver’s seat of a bus?

And there were the dogs, ours and our neighbors. Most of them so annoyingly friendly that I was shocked when one day a dog bit me in the calf. I am yet to get over my inherent trust of dogs. In my eyes, a dog can never be wrong….Ever.

Notice that pattern on the table, the circles intersecting each other randomly. That had been me practicing my geometry skills. It used to be a big deal, having an all new geometry box, a shiny orange Camlin one…not one with hand me down compasses and dividers placed in a plastic box. It was expensive, used to cost Rs 32. I would open mine and see the contents several times during the day at school to ensure that everything was safe and sound.

I studied at this very table when I was studying for the dreaded board exams and the competitive exams after that. Wrote my first serious letter to a girl, updated my first diary, painted supersize Disney characters, and organized my school satchel for classes the next day. Made neatly tabulated Time Tables with a different color and motif for each day of the week. A smiling sun for Sunday, and two fried eggs in a frying pan for Friday. Go figure….

The empty corner on the left was reserved for my terracotta Ganesha, the one I inherited from my brother when he passed on this table to me, like so many other things. I took that Ganesha to college with me… where we spent four happy years frolicking in a beautiful Himalayan valley… and that is where he decided to stay back at a junior’s study table. I think he never really liked the weather at Lucknow… Kumaun suited him just fine.

Making memories is so easy… it is the forgetting that wrenches your heart.

We have dismantled this house, the furniture and fixings taken away… all that remains are cobwebs and memories, tangled, broken and waiting to be swept aside by the new occupants of the house as they start anew.
Am sure this table will do fine, being the solid and steady character it has always been. It was stoic when 3 of my school friends sat on it, or when I rested my head on the cool wood in the evenings and let the tears flow for my dead mother.
Tomorrow morning, this table will be taken away. It will find a new corner in a new house, and someone else will spend his summer afternoons painting pictures at this desk while waiting to grow up.

Am sure we will move on too…

To new cities and towns, searching for new beginnings and places to put down our roots again. Finding new corners to rest and trees to tell stories under. Gathering our lot close to us and building a wealth of memories and laughter and tears all over again.
It may take time, but I can feel it in my bones, it will be done.

Farewell my old house… Goodbye Lucknow….

The Red head

A head turner – that’s what she is….a head turning, heart stopping, absolutely ravishing beauty. She bursts on the vision of the unsuspecting traveler who is simply looking out the window, thinking no thoughts, seeing but not seeing, and then…..he catches a glimpse of her – the riveting, glorious red head.

He is unable to take his eyes off her, but he is a traveler, he has to go on. He enters the city, and is a bit put off with the sea of concrete & chrome & glass, when he glimpses her again-there! A flash of red- that’s her, isn’t it? Yes! Standing tall and alone, lending a vibrancy, a pulse of life to the drab city.
Who is she?
Tall…dark…her firm body lending style to whatever pose she holds, long sinewy arms, her crown being gently cajoled by the light breeze, a head of such glorious red as to set his heart on fire……
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THE GULMOHAR.
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For Shivani…

I met her on the first day at my new job. We were forced to acknowledge each other when we found ourselves bumping into each other for the fourth time during the day at the coffee machine. “I am Shivani, you seem to be new around here…” and just with that, I found a friend. We never really worked together, we were just workers in the same company working on the same floor. Over the last one year, we got to know each other. She read my blogs and commented on some posts… and loved the one I wrote about my father. “It reminds me of my own father” she said. She was from Chandigarh, her family half a sub-continent away. She went home last week, and had been smiling about it for the last 2 weeks. “Me and my dad are very close… once the dinner is done and the dishes put away, we go on long drives. Me and my dad, I just cannot wait to get back home”

We all got to eat the sweets she brought from home. We had planned to visit each other outside of work, swap books, and introduce her to my wife. And I was supposed to bring her a slice of my chocolate cake again.

“Sweets at my desk” said her email yesterday. We all went down for a bite and learnt it was her 28th birthday. We wished her many happy returns of the day and told her that she should not be in office and that it was time to leave and party !

Leave she did…. Shivani passed away last night.. A person so fondly known that when she went on leave the entire floor at work noticed her absence, breathed her last with none of us by her side.

Rest in peace Shivani, I wish we made that meeting outside of work happen at least once. And I wish I could have taken you to the Art of Living sessions with me… as we kept planning to.

Nice people have a habit of leaving sooner than expected… leaving those around feeling cheated and helpless.

Of all the dreams dreamt, and wishes hoped for, some come to horribly abrupt endings. Among all the colors life strews across the world, some grey patches remain unpainted.

I will miss the forwards, and the banter at the coffee machine. And I will miss eating the sweets. And I will miss knowing that there is a friend sitting in a cubicle at the far end of the hall the next time I spend a late evening at work.

With all my heart, you will be missed Shivani…