Saturday, October 29, 2005


Another experiment with words and poetry...
Instead of finishing up the work I was supposed to have done yesterday, instead of preparing for the arrival of my uncle, instead of Saturday morning cleaning, I sit down trying to write Haiku. All I know is the basic rule - it has to follow the 5-7-5 syllable meter. I know that sometimes a mention of a season is deemed necessary, that Haiku writers avoid the use of the personal pronoun...I don't know much else beyond this. With that half-baked knowledge, and no real determination to stick to even these rules, words flowed pretty easily :)
Here are some samples:

Winter closing in,
Threatens to
Freeze these moments soon.

Ev’ry day the sky
Is pretty
In a diff’rent way

The fall sky is pink
And so is
My face flushed at your gaze

Naive drops of dew
Don’t they know
That the sun is out?

The season changes
A child laughs
Life goes on again

Work remains undone
I escape
Into Haiku world!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mere desh ki dharti

[Warning - a post that's about nothing and yet, about everything. About identity and about losing it. Guaranteed to sound like a conversation you've heard or had sometime in your life. Feel free to skip this one.]

It's around that time of the year when I miss India a lot.
Ganesh Chaturthi, (which was always a big deal for me, growing up), Navratri, Diwali, Christmas, New Year. It wasn't the religiosity of these festivals, or the fact that we'd get off from school, it was just the spirit and the air of celebration, as if nothing could go wrong then....these 3 months were filled with a buzz and energy that I've yet to see in this country.
On the other hand, rarely in my 22 years in India did I feel as hyper-aware of being Indian as I feel right now. Take for instance, the fact that I'm reading Vikram Seth and R.K. Narayan, a feat which is almost easier to accomplish here than it was in India - I just ordered them online from the public library and went and picked them up, instead of buying them pirated or at an expensive store in Bombay. And as I read, I listen to Rafi croon on while I cook paneer on the electric stove. I've watched and heard more Hindi and Tamil songs and films here than I ever did, and I now recommend them to my mother in Bombay!!
I think it boils down to a combination of two facts:
1. The Indian diaspora is a highly resourceful and determined group. We might have left Indian soil, but we carry India in our accent, our bearing, our lunch dabbas and our jholas.
2. America is indeed a land of opportunity, where dreams can turn into reality at a higher rate of probability than many other places.
Today, at worst I am one of countless confused NRIs who will always be a foreigner wherever they go. At best, I am a fortunate girl who has learned to appreciate the magic of ghazals, Madras slang, old filmi music, Amma's cooking and the wonder of the perfect pani puri thousands of miles from 'home'.
At the same time I am not one to cling desperately to Indian traditions because I feel lost or lonely, it's more about being able to celebrate and appreciate who we are. In fact, my desi friends and relatives here can attest to the fact that I blend in much more easily to the American social/corporate world than many others. I now have friends who hail from all over the world, be it Coimbatore or Singapore, London or Copenhagen, Shanghai or Chicago. I truly feel like a 'citizen of the world', and that boundaries matter little.

tere des ko maine dekha tere des ko maine jaana
jaane kyon yeh lagta hai mujhko jaana pahachaana
yahaan ki vahi shaam hai vahi savera
aisa hi des hai mera jaisa des hai tera...

P.S. I still miss the kachori from the Ghasitaram Halwai on station road in Chembur. And the wise-cracking sabziwaala under the flyover. And the curious questions from absolute strangers in the train about my shoes. And the colors of the saris and ghaghras under the yellow display lights. And Monginis' blackforest pastry. And Dileep the sandwich waala outside college. And the way VT station looks at 9 p.m. when the crowd is thinning down and the lights are up and a cool breeze blows and my mind is still and happy in the great buzzing craziness that's Bombay.
Yes, it's around that time of the year when I miss India a lot.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The birth of an emotion

Long ago, someone lent me a book called "The Kids' Book of Questions", which contained questions that kids often ask, that strike at the very heart of a matter. Like "What happens when someone dies?" and "If I color my hair green will you still walk with me to the mall?"
In my then-energetic state, I wrote down many of those questions, and I've gone back to them sometimes and watched some answers change over the years, while some remain the same.
One of these questions was, "If someone gave you a magic potion that will take away pain forever, would you drink it?" (Sort of like the blue pill-red pill scenario in the Matrix, maybe?) My first impulse was to say hell yeah! Until I discussed it with a friend, who as vehemently said no. That surprised me, because he was one of those soulful brooding types who struck me as being constantly depressed. He then wisely pointed out that if he obtained the magic to never feel any pain, how would he feel any joy?
Because isn't that what most emotions are? The absence of their opposite emotion? Happiness is more obvious to someone who has experienced unhappiness. Siddhartha became the Buddha only because he witnessed death, disease and suffering in a life that was completely devoid of it till then.
Thus, we come to Aarti's Third Law of Emotionality*:
"There cannot exist an emotion without an opposite, if unequal, and maybe hitherto not experienced, emotion"

A corollary: "The greater the intensity of experienced emotion, the larger the hypothetical space comprising the possibility of experiencing its opposite emotion"
*Important Note: These laws are utterly volatile, subject to change at whim and fancy of law-maker, and if not changed, possibly apply to her alone!

There will be laughter after pain;
There will be freedom after strain;
Lost chances will return again;
Although every boon has its bane,
Not every effort is in vain!

Sorry about semi-manic-depressive-incomprehensible ramblings...felt the need to unburden a little and rhyme a lot today!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Dreaming Tree

And the story goes on..or does it??
Parth tagged me on an interesting tag doing the rounds. A story-building exercise - each person pastes all the previous 'branches' of the Story Tree and then adds their own 'branch'. My branch is so adds neither twist nor character...It could be the end of the story, or a good in-between pause before the next chapter. I made a conscious effort to do two things I suck at:
1. Sticking to the word limit (it's exactly 100 words!)
2. Try and take it in a positive direction
I don't know whom to tag, so Aparna, Tarun, and other assorted regulars (and others dropping by!) , consider yourselves tagged. If you want to take it up, follow the rules which are pasted at the end.
P.S. With my love for Dave Mathews, I rechristened the tag after one of their songs! Completely optional if anyone cares to take this up and change it!

He thought it would be an ordinary journey. Standing behind the pillar he watched the train snort arrogantly into the station. With each snort he was reminded of his grandfather's words "You will fail in the city and return penniless"; with every heavenward whistle, he heard his cousin, "Don't worry. Come here and I will get you a job at the construction site." Now he had a 34-hour journey to prove one of them wrong, and he expected the excitement at the end of the journey. He looked at his ticket once again: compartment S9 berth 23.

Pushing his luggage under the seat, he sat close to the window. "Papa, when will you be back?" - his four year old daughter Munni asked innocently. He stared into those soft brown eyes of the motherless kid. He held her frail palms in his, through the window. "Munni, Papa will get you a nice gudiya from the city..Say tata," his sister spoke to the kid, to avoid an emotional outburst. In a minute, the train pulled forward, and Munni's little fingers parted from between his. "I need to go..", he thought, "I have to, at least for Munni's sake.."

The humid summer breeze and the rattling train coaxed him into an uncomfortable state of drowsy consciousness. He dreamt that Munni ran away, the closer he ran to her, the farther she was, like a mirage. He woke up with a start and squinted at his watch."What is the time please?"A smallish woman, a meek voice as if she was scared that her existence would annoy someone. Her only noticeable feature was her rather large, expressive eyes."4.30"Something made him look at the woman again. He had stopped noticing women long back. Ever since Meenakshi passed away...

Four long years. His daughter’s birth. His wife’s death. Joy and sorrow in an instant. A heady cocktail. He had hardly recovered from it. He barely had a chance to. You can’t be a poor farmer in Andhra Pradesh and have time for emotional upheavals.Life betrayed him once with the death of his wife. Life betrayed him again, three years in a row, with the failure of his crops. Every year, the debt increased and it felt like a noose tighten around him. Tightened till he could not breathe. He shivered with the memory of the night, where he took a bottle of poison in his hand …
He threw the bottle away when he heard the small voice behind him, “Papa, what’s beyond the big well? Sanju says that’s where the world ends.”
His then-preoccupied answer had satisfied Munni’s innocent curiosity, “No, beta…That’s the railroad to the city…There’s a lot of world beyond the big well.”
He had repeated the answer to himself, “No, it’s not the end of the world”.
Maybe some of that same innocence in this woman’s voice or eyes made him rephrase the answer to her question. “What is the time, please?”
In a crystal-clear flash of certainty he realized…

It was time.”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------(Everything below the dashed line above should be copied and pasted with every accepted tag)This is a Story Tree and is best nurtured as follows:
1. A blogger can add only 90-100 words (not more or less) at a time
2. All previous snippets of 90-100 words need to be copied before the new set of 90-100 words are appended.
3. Each entire snippet should be linked to the respective author (and not just the first sentence or so)
4. Characters, scenes, etc. can be introduced by an author
5. Bizarre twists, sci-fi, fantasy sequences are best avoided.
6. A tag must be accepted within 7 days else the branch is a dead branch
7. After appending 90-100, the Story Tree can be passed on to at most 3 bloggers.
8. If more than 1 branch leads to a blogger, s/he is free to choose any one of them but cannot mix the snippets of the individual branches.
9. The Story Tree is best left to grow than concluded
10. Please attach the image of the Story Tree below with each accepted tag (the link address can be copied and used)

Saturday, October 15, 2005


It's happened. After some surprisingly frequent entries, I've finally run out of steam. I don't know what to write. Every sentence I start seems stupid and meaningless. I suppose it's writer's block. I suppose you need to be a writer to have writer's block. Whatever :(
That's not the only thing. I also have been facing reader's block of late. I hate to admit it, but I can't seem to read anything new with anything nearing the enthusiasm I used to have for books. I have had this Arthur C. Clarke book for over a month now, and have sooo lost momentum that I have forgotten the beginning of the book! That hasn't happened too often.
You know what else was blocked? My entry into the apartment. Our friends dropped us back tonight after dandiya, and as soon as they started driving away, I realized that the apartment keys were in their car. We ran after the car, stopped strangers and asked them for their phones (middle of the night, middle of nowhere, two young women looking dressed up and pretty, asking strange men for their phones is certainly not my passtime of choice!), called people who knew our car friends, woke up half the town (yeah, all five of them!!) and finally, after waiting a while, got them to come back with the keys. So much guilt, tiredness, cold weather and being irritated with myself doesn't mix too well.
On the positive side, I got a job offer at the company I'm interning with. After only two months :) I'm going to have to make the decision over this weekend, but regardless of what it is, I am pumped about it!! I plan to indulge in some good food or at the very least, some good Tiramisu or ice-cream tomorrow. So there'll be something else of mine that'll be blocked - my arteries!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Arz kiya hai..

"So what if today's gone, there's always tomorrow"
What she couldn't find so far, how will she get tomorrow?

Time is not very fair in matters of death or love
The dead and the loved ignore today and forget tomorrow.

She sits alone today, with little hope or clue
That they didn't today, but would have met, tomorrow.

She had always refused Time to have his way with her
Her dreams await her, if only she would let tomorrow.

If she could only see the future today she'd know
Her unknown destiny will be met tomorrow.

Do not despair that Time is running out.
Faith, Zaara, for there is hope yet, tomorrow.

My oh-so-feeble attempt at writing a ghazal in English, which sadly, is the only language I dare experiment in. Please don't be too critical...I know that ghazal-fans are very passionate and will probably see this as blasphemy. I only plead ignorance and a naive exploratory impulse.
I have started a rocky affair with this beautiful art form only recently - me of the "gender-free Bambaya Hindi and snobby English only" fame is falling crazily and surely in love with Urdu thanks to ghazals. I was given some reading material on the history and technique of ghazal-writing, and tried to follow some of those rules here. I know there are others I may be ignorant about, so any help will be greatly appreciated!

1. "Radif" - Every verse or couplet must end with the same word or phrase (which ends both lines of the first couplet - "Matla")

2. "Kaafiya" - The word before the Radif in each couplet must rhyme
3. "Maqta" - The shaayar's (poet's) name or pen-name appears in the last sher (couplet). Some of you know that I sometimes call myself "Zaara", like at a restaurant making reservations to some idiot host who can't pronounce "Aarti"!
4. Each couplet should be able to live on its own. No story telling then, no links from one verse to the other. The idea is that if you wanted you could drop one or more while quoting/singing it.
5. "Beher" or meter or length - In case you didn't notice, I didn't even try to follow this one. The others were hard enough to keep in mind!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Curry Rock, anyone?

"Dollar Income...sellavvu adhikam...nelamai kevalam..kevalam..KEVALAM!!"
("Dollar Income...Extra Expenses... Horrible state.. horrible.. HORRIBLE!!")

The melodious (???) strains from a new multilingual album by a group of Indian-born American techies from Virginia calling the album "H-1 Bees" (as in worker bees, get it????). The few lyrics I heard on this radio program clip made me laugh but also nod in agreement. They seem to have captured the essence of countless 'potluck' conversations and e-mails and blog entries...The Indian worker in the US is a unique specimen, (rivalled only by the more unique Indian grad student in the US). They've termed their style "curry rock", a little contrived if you ask me, but I got a kick out of "H-1 Bees" :)

The Washington Post did a piece on them, from which the following snippet is taken:
"On the surface, they were not unlike many others who have left India over the past decade on the H-1B visa, a guest worker program for highly skilled professionals. They wore glasses and mustaches and collared shirts. (Heehee!*) They could exterminate Y2K bugs and code Java and link Unix. But as they toiled in cubicles, they dreamed of banging on keyboards of a different sort*, of a world where C-sharp is just a musical note, not computer code. And then their worlds became one. "H1Bees," an album recorded in a basement-turned-studio and released Sept. 10, is a mix of Indian and Western beats with lyrics exploring the high-tech immigrant's experience in the United States."
* Laughter added by me :)

Let's watch and see if the "High-Tech Immigrant" Bees drone on or buzz off...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Milkshake Challenge

Okay, I am going to play spoil-sport now. Tarun and Aparna both tagged me on the 23-5 tag. But since I feel stubborn and uninspired, I'm going to twist that around to a tag that I am going to start, for once! Sorry guys, play along please :)
I call this one The Milkshake Challenge. There's a scene in a certain movie I love (that I've mentioned too many times on this blog so I won't again, for fear of overkill)...A couple walking by a river is beckoned by a pseudo-beggar-poet who asks them for a word, with which he'll make a poem, and if they like the poem they can pay him some money.
I like that. The idea of picking a word and creating a home for it in the form of a story or a poem is appealing and literarily challenging.
I have no money, however, so I urge people to do this for kicks - it can be a limerick, free verse, a funny rhyme, a ballad, even an epic if it pleases you. Pick a book or magazine (or journal article, like I did!), pick the first word you see (no articles allowed!) and create something out of it. I hereby tag my taggers Tarun and Aparna and also Parth and Anoop. It's a fun way to occupy some time...And the rule is to not put too much thought into it.
By the way, the name of the challenge, and the post, comes from the original idea (the movie) because the word the couple picks is 'milkshakes'.
Alright, my word turned out to be 'preferences'. So here goes.

Coffee, tea or me?
My way or the highway?
To be or not to be?
Never, tomorrow or today?

Do you feel the weight
In each of those choices above?
Can't escape at that rate
Though that's exactly what you'd love!

Term a choice a preference, and
Watch the change in your mind
It's like fate dealt you a bonus hand
So you don't always get left behind

Preferences give you leeway
A return to the fork in the road
Allowance to change your mind halfway
A lightening of a heavy load.

A choice, like a diamond, is forever...
Chiselled in time, bound to fate.
A preference for a choice isn't, however,
Regret and guilt it doesn't create.

You can take me up on this game, or you may not.
The choice is yours, you know my preference!

Monday, October 03, 2005

On the 8:58

She sits in the same seat everyday. Her hair is scanty and red, her clothes are bulky and old. She chats with the driver about her cats and the weather. I call her Mrs. Bella Figg (she's probably what the Harry Potter character Mrs.Figg looks like).
There's the intriguing guy who looks like Jason Lee's character Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous. Except for the glasses. Bebe didn't wear glasses. Intriguing Guy never looks up from his book, not even to catch me staring at him fantasizing about him.
And here she is, a striking unforgettably beautiful woman if there ever was one. She has straight blonde hair that is always let loose, and which reaches just below her perfectly cute butt, and she carries a bright red bag, as if she's afraid people won't notice her otherwise.
Mr.Eyebrows has just entered. He looks different everyday, and I suspect he does something to his eyebrows to change his look daily. It's like a new hairdo...I suspect its the only hair on him he can do anything with, sadly.
The oriental-looking lesbian couple are always dressed in black. They don't say much to each other, but hold hands and occasionally giggle softly at a private joke.
Next stop, and two more people enter.
She looks happy in her pink corduroys and white Girl Power tee, and smells of bubblegum and a fourteen-year old's optimism. He could not have been more different. His clothes and tatooes and hairdo spell G-O-T-H, with black leather and chains and gel. His discman screams adolescent angst for three surrounding rows to hear.

And so we all sit here quietly for the next ten minutes. Just for a little while, we are all together, headed in the same direction - Bella, Bebe, Blondie, Brow-Man, the Babes, Bubblegum and Bad-ass. And me. Only to get off at whatever stop life picks for us to continue our individual journeys alone.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bridge over troubled waters??

  • Inches of rain in New Orleans due to hurricane Katrina... 18; Inches of rain in Mumbai (July 26th).... 37.1
  • Population of New Orleans... 484,674; Population of Mumbai.... 12,622,500
  • Deaths in New Orleans within 48 hours of katrina...100; Deaths in Mumbai within 48 hours of rain.. 37.
  • Number of people to be evacuated in New Orleans...entire city..wohh; Number of people evacuated in mumbai...10,000
  • Cases of shooting and violence in New Orleans...Countless; Cases of shooting and violence in Mumbai.. NONE
  • Time taken for US army to reach New Orleans... 48hours; Time taken for Indian army and navy to reach Mumbai...12hours
  • Status 48 hours later...New Orleans is still waiting for relief, army and electricty status; 48 hours later..Mumbai is back on its feet and is business is as usual
  •'s most developed nation; India...third world country..oopss...did i get the last fact wrong???"
I got this in an e-mail recently - I don't know how much of it is true, but regardless, it gave me some food for thought. Of course, this report, even if true, obscures some possible reasons for the differences it goes to great lengths to outline (like the difference between a hurricane and other rains, perhaps?). I was thousands of miles away from both places when these tragedies struck, but I heard enough from my friends and family in Bombay to imagine the destruction and havoc caused. Also, having grown up in Bombay, I know fully well the spirit of the city - its never-say-die spirit, its enterprising enthusiasm, its unexpected beauty and generosity of spirit that is often hidden beneath its ruthless business-minded exterior. So maybe there's something to the crude generalization this e-mail tried to make...I don't know. Any thoughts?