Covid – 19

What can clapping and banging thalis do? Nothing perhaps, but then this is a crisis the likes of which no one alive has perhaps ever seen, and no one has a ready-made solution. So it does not really matter if it is just symbolism or a token gesture to boast morale in absence of adequate resources to fight this war. This is a war, and an unshakeable spirit of togetherness, determination and positivity are essential weapons, though not necessarily sufficient.

Who would have thought that in this time and age we would face a crisis which invokes the basic instinct of humans, that of survival! These are the times when all other problems and worries of your life suddenly start seeming silly and the well-being of your loved ones is all that you can think about. While the chirping of birds, roads and sky looking cleaner or even the endless binging of shows on OTT platforms might help us divert our thoughts and stay positive, there is no denying that this is war time, and the government and health professionals even at their best do not have the sufficient weapons to take us to victory. The only weapons that can help us are self-discipline and determination– but it will work only if all of us exercise the same and take this seriously.

That’s what this loud exercise was – a war cry, a country declaring that we are standing (and mostly sitting) together and will set an example for the world to follow. The ‘Junta curfew’ should not be considered over, it has just started. Let us all remain indoors and inspire others to follow the same. Everything else in life can wait, now is the time to maintain social distance, in order to save the society itself.

Covid – 19

Needless to say, most of us have never in our lives faced a situation like this. All of us have, with the grace of God led mostly privileged lives where our real issues have been related to ups and downs in our academics, career or relationships, which would impact at worst our self-esteem, social standing, state of mind or quality of life to some extent. But this is the first time perhaps in all our collective living memory that our very existence is at stake. There is no fear greater than that of life – yours and your loved ones’. Hence if this cannot change the collective attitude of us and the society as a whole, nothing can.

As individuals, we should be ever thankful and count our little blessings that we live daily and take for granted. Personal animosities, jealousies, mindless rat-race and the materialistic evaluation of endeavours of life should give way for an as-of-now utopian attitude towards life where we prioritise and treasure people, relations and love – and do not need another quarantine to spend time with family and connect with long lost friends. If all of us as individuals take this call, world will become a much happier place.

As a community, we must realise that while freedom is supreme, it is only equal to responsibility. Following the orders issues by an elected government, respecting those who are serving the public and doing their duties, facilitating them, not spreading rumours and conspiracy theories – these are non-negotiable. A society can fight of any menace if it has discipline – self-imposed as well as that by a responsible authority. If 130 crore people strictly follow social distancing measures to the last bit, this pandemic can be beaten without any doubt.

As a nation, the governments must set their priorities clear – healthcare and sustainability have to be given due importance. All future establishments should be judged on this very important parameter. All scientific, technological and infrastructure advancements must ensure co-existence and sustainable growth with nature. Who could have believed that in 2020 the human race could be held hostage by a virus – putting entire world in a lock down! Now that it has become a reality – it will all be in vain if it doesn’t change the discourse of polls, public administration and services and the way we elect our rulers.

As a species, we should unlearn the old way of living and learn how to exist without damaging the nature. Sustainability should not just be a buzz word but an essential and foremost consideration of all our actions. It is not something that we can just leave for ‘specialists’ to do while leading our lives the way we want. While we are relishing and forwarding the messages about how nature is healing and wildlife is reclaiming spaces – we need to remember this and think about this in all our endeavours.

Kartik

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इन मासूम सी आँखों में

नव जीवन के अंकुरित होते सपनों की चमक कुछ यूँ बिखरी सी है

जैसे सूर्योदय की पहली किरण, और रात के स्याह पटल पर लहराती सुबह की आहट

जैसे शीत लहर के बाद की पहली धूप से मिलती अंतः को गर्माहट

जैसे सूखी धूल-धूसरित धरती पर

मेघ की पहली गर्जन से जीव जंतुओं की सुगबुगाहट

 

इन सुर्ख गुलाबी होठों पे

उस चमक से खिलती जो मीठी सी मुस्कान है

निश्चलता और सरलता से भरी, दुनिया के विकारों से दूर

भविष्य के सुन्दर पलों की कल्पना व अनुमान है

इस नटखट सी हंसी में

मेरे बचपन की कुछ झलक, तो कभी कुछ आज के अरमान हैं

वो एक नन्हा सा खिलौना , तो कभी इश्वर का वरदान है

इस एक हंसी और किलकारी पर, मेरा सब कुछ बलिदान है

 

इन नन्हे से हाथों और खुलती बंद होती मुट्ठियों में

एक पिटारा है, मस्ती और अठखेलियों का

मंत्र-मुग्ध सी और निश्चिंत सी बतकहियों का

शब्दों का आकार लेने की कोशिश में

मधुर संगीत सी अनर्गल निकलती ध्वनियों का

मेरे और हम सबके इंतज़ार में बैठी, असीमित अपार खुशियों का

 

कार्तिक में कार्तिक का आगमन

सहन कर रोग और प्रदूषण का प्रकोप

ठंडी शुद्ध हवा के झोंके के सुकून सा आया

प्रार्थना के संगीत सा, हमारा श्लोक

Quarantined

Caged by an invisible aberrant creature

We look inwards, and beyond

We talk to ourselves and bond

To our true selves, to our righteous heart

And shredding the skins of all worldly caricature

We bow down to the wrath of Mother Nature

 

In this exile from all the noise and trappings

We connect, we reflect on all our longings

And speak to them all, one for each day

For, beyond these 21 days,

Lies a world for which we pray

With hope of realizations and emotions tender

We bow down to the wrath of Mother Nature

 

My walls, my room and my balcony

Have become a cage for my sights and thoughts

Still free from the madness and cacophony

Of greed, of desire, of lust and of never ending expectations

With hopes just limited to basics

Desire just restricted to avoiding annihilation

Greed just limited to escaping elimination

Of self, of the loves ones

The lust of life never seemed truer

We bow down to the wrath of Mother Nature

 

All around, an eeriness and desolation

Nothing but chirping of birds, sight of animals as consolation

And an emergency siren on a rare occasion

Dwarf our existence and position

Ridicule our ungrateful and complaining disposition

Questioning everything that was taken for granted

Making us all but pawns in the hands of the creator

We bow down to the Wrath of Mother Nature

 

Forgiveness is what we seek

For selfishness and intolerance

For gluttony and lack of restraint

To go beyond the sickness and disease

We get rid of all vices within and exist at ease

With the myriad forms of nature and lives

With the promises of a world saner and safer

We bow down to the wrath of Mother Nature

 

Beyond these lock downs and quarantines

Lies a world of hopes and realisations

Rebuilt on our fallacies and learning from failures

Till then, we bow down to the wrath of Mother Nature.

 

Most Overrated and Underrated Bollywood movies of 2019

2019 in general has been a good year for Bollywood, with 17 movies in the 100 crores club, 1 in 300 crores club, 5 in 200 crores club and several other small budget gems scoring high on profitability. While opinions are always divided when it comes to movies, there are some that win unanimous praise or criticism from a large section of audience – as evident from social media and social interactions. Here I am listing down the movies of this year which were most underrated and most overrated according to me.  Do share your views – if you agree or disagree with this list.

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Most Overrated movies of 2019

URI – the surgical strike: Now, before the nationalists and patriots start getting angry, let me clarify. I have nothing against the movie and it was a decent watch with decent actors. But the way it caught the fancy of the nation and went on to achieve everything from box office collections to national awards had got more to do with the sentiment of the nation at that point of time which it resonated with very well. However, in terms of movie making as an art it didn’t have anything new, or which pushes the envelope or even excels in any particular area – in all of it, URI was an above average fare. If the box office success was a metric of right timing for a movie, then URI definitely deserves an Oscar.

Super 30: Without going into the debate of Anand kumar’s genuineness and authenticity of his super 30, this movie often bordered into caricature and cringe. When you are making a movie of a contemporary public figure whose life and details are easily available on the web, adding fictional incidents to dramatise and eulogise the protagonist isn’t just bad film making, but also raises suspicion about the intent of the makers. The movie was simply not a genuine biopic and only a less glamorised version of 2018’s hagiography Sanju.

War: Now I have really nothing against Hrithik. (I swear I had his posters on my wall after Kaho Na Pyaar hai) But while the world (especially the women) went gaga over Hrithik and Tiger in this supposedly the world-class action thriller, I just couldn’t go beyond the cliched plot elements like plastic surgery and back-plotting in loops, something which the Race series has made a life out of (You think you are being smart but I already knew it so I was being extra smart). While it was a decent watch, it deserves a mention here as most of the people seem to have overlooked the flaws and made it seem like the best action movie ever.

Most Underrated movies of 2019

The Sky is Pink: If it wasn’t sexist, I’d have said that biggest success of Priyanka Chopra after moving to Hollywood is Nick Jonas. (Oh wait, I just said it). Jokes aside, it seems that her stardom has faded in India after her relocation to LA; or maybe it was the pretentious title of the movie which failed to create any sorts of curiosity or popularity of this gem of a movie in the general public, leading to its dismal performance. Otherwise, it is a very well-made and desi at heart movie with tonnes of genuine drama and emotions about a couple struggling with their daughter’s terminal sickness. The handful of people who watched it (including me) shed bucketful of tears. Now if only tears were currency, this would have been a sure-shot blockbuster, like it rightfully should have been.

Section 375: In times of #Metoo, it was very surprising that this little gem, with a very sensible view point presented as a very engaging court room drama failed to make any waves at the box-office or even in the critic circles. Perhaps it was the non-star appeal of Akshaye Khanna or the Ayushmann Khurana wave (as it released on the same day as Dream girl) that removed this small movie completely from mainstream talks. But it remains one of the best courtroom dramas that you ‘will see in Bollywood, with its bold and non-judgemental stand on sexual harassment v/s power dynamics in workplace. Do watch it on Amazon Prime video.

Manikarnika: Now I might sound like Rangoli Chandel – the sister cum manager of Kangana (*shudders*), but even though the movie managed to touch 100 crores – it definitely did not get the success it deserved. As the first biopic of one of the most illustrious female (or otherwise) figures of Indian history, the movie re-told a part-historical-part-mythological story with beautiful detailing and sentiments. Kangana’s performance was fierce and phenomenal and she embodied the Queen of Jhansi like no one else could. If any movie deserved to be in the 300 crore slot and any performance deserved accolades and awards – it was Manikarnika and Kangana. But alas, it struggled to touch 100 crores and barely managed to, with much push by the sister-the-great!

P.S. Kabir Singh is missing from this list as it already is the most discussed, criticised, loved and perhaps the most rated movie of the year, so it doesn’t really fit either of the classification above.

Before Sunrise

1730 hrs, 14th February 2017, New Delhi

The sun was inching closer to the horizon, marked by the uneven skyline of the capital. From his side of the window of the car, the outsides seemed pleasant. A perfect balance of the afternoon heat and evening, the diminishing blue with approaching black, the road full of motor cars and the birds dispersed across a sprawling sky mixed to create an impressionable image.

‘’fir aamne saamne baat hogi…fir hoga kya kya pataa kya khabar…’’

The song filled the cab with a delightful feeling; or was it just him? It was not going to be his first meeting with her, just the first meeting in some 5 years, he reminded himself. Still he was full of excitement mixed with a bit of nervousness. The reasons ranged from juvenile (It was the Valentine’s Day evening) to nostalgic (sharing a classroom for a year does bond you in some simplistic but strong ways) to troublesome (he wished he would be wrong about this).  The surroundings around the cab were colourful, with a number of florists gracing the street sides. He stopped at one of those, and unsure of the colour, eventually picked up a bouquet of pink and orange roses. The heat dominated the breeze, the noise dominated the calm and diminishing sun was further blemished by dust and smoke. The illusion that the glass window had created was quite something, he thought. Just like the one he had created in his thoughts maybe, Or maybe not.

‘’Ghazab ka hai din, dekho zaraa, Ye deewanapan socho zaraa..’’

The cab sped towards the airport, and he received the message.

Hey, Just reached T3, waiting for my luggage. J

Oh, I will still take half an hour. In the cab. Damn the traffic L

Np. Yayy. See u soon  😀

The blues had started turning a shade darker with the approaching night. The concrete jungle had started being replaced by the real wildlings as the cab moved across the outskirts of the megacity. The airport was still a good half an hour away. The time would just pass away in a blink of eyes he knew, as had the years flew by, unconcerned, unimportantly, indifferently. The anticipation of a moment or an event only resulted in disappointment, he had learnt long back. The sepia-toned past always looked more beautiful than present could ever be. Hence he tried to control his thoughts. He wished he had his diary or laptop. But that was not going to stop the words from being etched in some corner of his mind, he knew. For, occasions like this were not often, when his thoughts became turbulent enough to be carved into words. It was going to be memorable evening and a happy night for reasons more than one, he was sure.

31st December 2012, Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

It turned out to be a re-union, a beautiful unplanned surprise. When his father asked him to accompany him for a day to the town where he was currently posted, he wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. Yes, it was the place where he spent the major part of his childhood and the journey to adolescence; it was the place where he had learnt most of things about life; it was the place where logistically and emotionally, most of his memories of school were based. But now since he would hardly know anyone there, he had almost decided to say no when his father pointed out that it was the winter break in most colleges around the country and many of his school friends might be in the town.

A good four hours later, he was sitting on a wooden chair in the room, which he could actually call his room again as his father had rented the same house where he had spent the 8 years of his life. Looking around on the walls, the shelves in the wall, the withered wooden window frames and the decaying gardens outside them was getting dull and increasingly unnerving. They must be here anytime now, he thought. Arpit, his school friend had said he’ll bring some other people who were in town. It was about time, and the bell rang.

It was actually a re-union. 8 class-mates, meeting after 7 years, in the same town where they grew up and at 5 minutes’ walk from the school. The initial hellos and introductions melted the ice and probably everyone was relieved and happy at the realization that despite a zillion changes, they were still the same group of small town teenagers who had parted ways to bigger avenues. The distance of years was visible in their hairstyles (and in some cases, hairlines) but definitely not in their chemistry with each other. Everything was the same, and as she smiled at him, with a ‘Hey!’, it became further clear, every single thing was same, except perhaps for that red streak in her hair, which added a whole lot of magic to her already magical self; and the length of those strands which had grown in restrained curls to shoulder length from the short crop as he remembered from the past.

‘’Hi! Long time’’, he said.

A few moments of silence followed which were anything but awkward, at least for him.

‘’Yes, almost a lifetime it seems. The last time I was here was almost 8 years ago. My cycle was tied to the pole of that swing outside. I guess today both the swing and the cycle are no more there. But I am one hell of a stalker. I read your blog- your poems, stories everything. Hey, when did you start writing all that? I mean other than those long essays which would delight Leela Mam and Kulsoom Mam? ‘’

‘’Oh, well I don’t know, sometime around that, Hehe, teachers! Those were some days, no!’’

“Ah, yes, you are the same, Mr. Confusion!’’

His insides leapt up in joy.  She remembered!

‘’So are you, Ms. Hollywood, only more stylish and pretty!’’

‘’Ahem, and you’ve learnt to flirt’’

‘’ Well, finally I did, thanks to you’’.

They laughed. And her laughter took him back to the thousand memories kept aside in the packed boxes of childhood.

2004, Winters. Stella Maris Convent, Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

‘’You’ve lost your mind, and even eyes I will say. She is not even pretty!’’ shouted Saurabh, as if it made any difference.

She had joined our class that year only. It being the big year of ‘board’ exams, the school believed in grouping the students according to their ‘potential’. I am not sure about potential, but she did manage to grab all my attention. The fact that we both were members of the school cabinet- I was the President and she the Discipline captain- ensured that we became friends easily and smoothly. Both of us had to inspect the ‘silence’ and discipline status of all the classes during the daily morning silence period, and award marks. These inspections and marks distribution ensured we had more than enough to talk, and gradually friendship took over, or so I thought. There were signs, which I being the bookish geek, didn’t really understand. But through my incessant raving about how wonderful she was, how great she looked, how wonderful it was to be with her, Saurabh read some signs apparently (as he was the smarter one, in these matters, and most matter, for that matter)

‘’Oh no, I can’t find my record-book’’, I said frantically searching for the notebook in which I recorded the discipline score of the classes, as she waited for me to join her for the morning watch routine.

‘’Oh, come on, there it is, below your desk idiot. Poor you, look at what all the studying has done to you. With great intelligence comes great confusion, I guess. From today, you’re Mr. Confusion’’ she laughed as I looked at her, lost.

‘’Huh, as if you are never confused,’’ I said (and the very moment I had to agree in my mind, yes she wasn’t). You think you’re so cool and some heroine, no less than the English ones, Ms. Hollywood!’’. The classes definitely got some generous scores that morning, and the names stuck with us, almost like I was accused by Saurabh to be with her.

The next morning, seeing her struggle park her cycle in the crowded school parking, I offered her to park it at my home. It was just at a 5 minutes’ walk from the school, and had lots of open space. From that day, my mornings became better. I would be on my gates at 6:45 am; she would reach there and park her cycle by 6:50, and we would walk to the school, discussing the upcoming board exams, teachers, future plans after the exams (since we didn’t have the senior secondary in our school) or the latest movies we saw. It became a daily thing, and yet something I would look forward to. She wasn’t the first girl I became friends with, but being with her was different. By the time our first pre-boards arrived, Saurabh had declared that I had a huge crush on her.

What did I do of it? That was not a question or even a thought then. I loved the feeling her company brought, the joy that seeing her in the morning filled me with and the happiness her vivacious voice and the interesting conversations we had gave me. The pages of my diary had become familiar with her name, and by the time we approached the end of the pre-boards (which also meant the end of school) we had to bring our duties as the score keeper of the school discipline to a culmination by announcing the total scores and hence the ranking of classes in discipline

Most of the class was in grounds either playing or watching others’ play. A few lurked in and out around the classrooms in hope of staying unnoticed.

‘’Oh, please, not again. It is just a notebook, how can you lose it every day! Wait, I’ll find it as always’’, she said as we sat together in the class to prepare the final rankings. But after some 15 minutes of searching frantically, we came to the scary conclusion that it was lost for real this time. After a few minutes of blankness when I fully grasped the weight of the situation, the horror stuck me. We had three days before we had to collate the yearly scores and present to the students committee to award (and shame) the classes for their discipline. While I started panicking with the realization of the disaster that seemed inevitable now, she sat silently with a patient and thoughtful face, as if strategizing the way out. Even in that stressful situation, I couldn’t help but notice how her short hair carefully traced the outline of her face and ended in perfect symmetry on both the sides.

‘’So, what do you think we should do now?’’ I moved my gaze quickly to meet her eyesight, and looked for a response.

‘’I…I don’t know, I am confused. Do you think we should go to Sister Irene and tell her? What do you think?’’

‘’Are you mad or what? You are the school president, you are the topper, and I am sure you will be the topper. Do you want to be that President who lost the score-diary? I have my dairy, I am sure we can make something up. Come-on we have three days’’, she said passionately.

‘’We can? I have the conciliated scores till October since we submitted that to the cabinet. We need to retrieve scores for last 2 and half months only. I will just do it right-away. Give me your diary’’.

‘’What’s the rush Mr. Confusion? Let’s do it after school today and tomorrow at your home. We don’t want anyone to get a whiff of what we are doing, or we will be the President and Discipline Captain who forged the score. I anyway have to pick my cycle, I will stay over for some time and we will finish this, what say? ‘’ she said with a smile. My heart just felt much lighter, and I could barely suppress my smile. Suddenly all the stress of the incident vanished and I felt happy that the diary was lost. I couldn’t wait for the evening.

‘’Wow, you really love your movies and your Hrithik Roshan,’’ she said, seeing the million Bollywood posters on my wall. As she sat on the bed in my room in my home, the realization that she was in my home, in my room sunk inside and a further wave of happiness rose inside me.

‘’What else do you like?’’ she asked me.

‘’You’’ I said, only to realize that the voice came only from inside my head. ‘’I love, whatever gives me happiness. Whatever makes me smile, or fills me with a positive and relaxed feeling, or makes me look forward to something, I like all of that,’’ I said, this time to her.

‘’And what are those things, apart from your books and topping in the exams?’’

I was used to being teased for being a book-worm and the typical nerd who topped every exam. But today I felt this strong desire to clarify to her that there was more to me, much more than just those damned textbooks and exams. ‘’Well, watching movies, reading novels especially Harry Potter ones, listening songs, meeting my cousins and spending time with friends,’’ I said, and for some reason felt conscious while saying the last part, hoping she wouldn’t read much into it. ‘’And what about you?’’ I added.

And we spoke about a lot of things – about her, her likes and dislikes, her family, her friends, her favourite TV shows, my friends (‘’Does Saurabh have a problem with me? He acts weird these days’’, she asked), the teachers, the church, the bad condition of roads in Sultanpur, the upcoming board exams and how life would change after it, since our school did not have senior secondary, which meant all of us would move out to same or different places after the board examinations.

The score dairy was almost done. We had taken the scores from her diary, and manipulated numbers to look realistically different, and basis the trends of final scores in mid-year, approximated the numbers. ‘’No one had to know – you are the President,’’ she said, and before my chest could swell of pride, she added, ‘’Correct, Mr. Confusion?’’ and laughed.

Oh, I would miss her, I thought, and wanted to tell this to her.

I mustered up all my courage. ‘’So, you would be moving to Central School from next year?’’

‘’Yes, and you will move to Varanasi’’

‘’ Hey, do you have my mobile number? Please share yours also, I will send you SMS daily. Do reply. I…I will miss talking to you’’. My ears were already red I could feel.

She smiled, and held my hand for a slow shake, ‘’I will miss you too, and we will stay in touch definitely. Don’t change, always remain like this’’

‘’And neither should you, Ms. Hollywood’’.

 

 

 31st December 2012, Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

The room was the same – except that years of layers of paints on the walls had removed all traces of all the posters that he used to have; the windows were the same, except that the frames were renewed and felt like a strange new outline to the view outside; the view outside was the same, that of the dishevelled plants and overgrown trees and the road outside with boundary walls of adjacent plots; though the walls were higher now and trees and plants even more distorted and trying to outgrow each other. But he realized instantly, she was sitting in same spot as she had that evening 8 years ago, and he was sure she was thinking the same thing, and perhaps wondering if she should ask or not.

He took the lead. ‘’Well, we couldn’t stay in touch really.’’, he smiled.

She replied, ’’Well, I think we did, didn’t we? I remember your SMS’es – some jokes and that your SMS pack is about to end, and even those websites that you used to send messages.’’

‘’Yeah, but then soon I started using Whatsapp, and I think you used a different number there so most of my messages weren’t delivered. Also, you joined facebook pretty late, right? I searched you there many times, but found only last year.’’ He said.

‘’Oh yes, to be honest I am not much of a social media person. One of the few things I visit all those sites is just to see the posts and pictures of you and some other friends. And truth be told, I have hardly been touch with anyone in this room, except you’’. He didn’t know if that should have made him happy or not, but a very strong desire to know something sprung up inside him, and before he could think of a way to ask her, the group gathered there and decided that everyone would talk about the personal and professional lives of last 8 years, since most of them were meeting for the first time after school.

Arpit started. ‘’Well, I cleared the medical entrance for the Army, and am now posted at the border serving the nation! Becoming a doctor is not easy, the jokes are all correct – we end up studying for most of our lives. No time for love!’’, he laughed. Saurabh added his own. ’’After IIT, I joined Reliance in Mumbai, worked there for 2 years, moved to General Electric in Bangalore. And in all this, I somehow found time to have 2 break-ups. But now I am with someone whom I will spend the rest of my life with,’’ the smile on his face told everyone that it was indeed true.

After a couple of people, she spoke. ‘’I am one of the confused ones! I prepared for medical entrance exams for 2 years but couldn’t crack it like some smart people here, and went ahead to join engineering in biotech in Vellore. Just started my job in Chennai, and yes I have someone special in my life right now, let’s hope it is meant to be forever!’’

He heard it, and for a moment had the feeling that he had when he was rejected in the final interview of his dream company, or when his much planned family trip to Europe was cancelled. It was the feeling of not being shattered, but feeling the pinch of unbecoming of something that he was looking forward to. What exactly was he expecting here, he asked himself, but it was already his turn to speak

‘’I did the most clichéd thing – engineering and then MBA. Despite that, I have always been alone, still looking for the right girl!’’ he heard himself say and immediately wondered – why did he have to say this?  Suddenly he thought of Ayesha, her face and voice, and how his B-school friends would react if they heard him say this. They, who had been accusing him all the time of being obsessed with her since last 6 months, and at the same time encouraging him to tell her how he feels- would most certainly have not appreciated such response from him and would have shot nasty looks at him. And suddenly bringing him out of this reflection was Saurabh’s comment- for which till date he is not sure to be angry at him or thank him.

‘’Well, since we are talking of special someones, Lokesh – I think its high time she and everyone knows about your special feelings for your Discipline captain, isn’t it? Or should I still not talk about it?’’ said Saurabh, with a wicked and full-of-satisfaction smile.

‘’What-the-f***, are you mad? Now don’t create stories, I will kill you for this’’, he could barely mumble over the loud voices of people laughing and giggling.

“Oh, that’s sweet. But guess what, I was crushing on you too, Mr. Confusion’’, said she.

It took him a moment to register if what he heard was not hallucination. Saurabh looked at him with a look that said it was not, and any remaining doubts were removed by the combined whoooo-ooo-ooo from everyone. He felt he would start blushing (Or was he already?), and avoided looking at her directly, but then everyone took over and the next person started talking.

For him, rest of the day was blur, what remained was perhaps only that moment, though neither he nor she bought it up in any further talks.

 

1815 hrs, 14th February 2017, New Delhi

He was about to meet her today after  about 4 years, and yet that moment still remained fresh in his memory. The descending planes had started being visible to some extent, and he was hardly 10 minutes away from meeting her. So, he tried to summarize the multiple thoughts in his mind – So, 12 years ago they both had secret crushes on each other, perhaps a first for both of them; 4 years ago when they met, she was seeing someone, yet admitted in front of everyone about her crush, and he lied about him being forever single to her and everyone; and now that they were meeting again, he was single, and so was she, as she had admitted to him a few days ago on Whatsapp. Wasn’t all this adding upto something which he felt was inevitable and what he maybe always wanted at some level? Her flight ahead was only next morning, which meant she would have to leave just slightly before the sunrise, they had the entire night to themselves and he was sure by that time, he will have all the answers!

..’kuch to hua hai, kuch ho gaya hai, do char din se…’

Well, I will find out – he thought as the cab’s playlist also seemed to be in sync with his mind, or heart, or whatever was it – causing him the anxiousness. He thought of the last image that he remembered of her. Somehow, that meeting 5 years back had not altered or added on much to his memories of her, apart from the mutual admissions of crush, that is. But was that a lack of confidence or the fear of rejection that kept him from perusing her in last 5 years, he was not sure. But if all goes well, before the next sunrise, I will tell her clearly, ask her how she feels and finally start the much awaited chapter of our story, he thought.

Well, there she was, looking her cool self. But maybe a 40 hour flight from New York had some effects as she was far from the radiant self that used to make him conscious while talking to her. The curls of her hair had turned straight and color looked like a confused mix of brown and black. Nonetheless, he felt pleased to see her and smiled as she greeted with a side-hug, and they got into the cab towards his place. The playlist continued.

..’Ek ho gaye hum aur tum, to ud gayi neendein re…’

‘’Oh, not again. This song is everywhere I go. The movie was just about okay, did you like it?’’ he said, feeling suddenly very comfortable.

‘’ No yaar, I hardly get to watch movies there in the states – there is only one multiplex which screens Bollywood movies in my town, and with the hectic schedules I hardly get time. I could have done with one tonight, but I am so jet-lagged that I just want to rest. Hey, thanks a lot for giving me a shelter for the night – I could not imagine spending 9 hours at the airport. ‘’ she said. He felt his anxiousness gradually reducing, though somehow he would have preferred if it stayed.

‘’Not a problem, I am happy that we could meet again. Remember that 2012 mini-reunion? I think I have never seen any last minute plan work this well after that.’’ He said.

‘’Oh yes, how can I forget that. Hey, did you have no idea that I was crushing on you in high school at all? I think I knew you were to some extent’’ She did bring up that. Was she also thinking what he was thinking?

‘’No, I didn’t know. Oh we were total kids, weren’t we?’’ he heard himself say, but a part of him bewildered, why did he have to say that?

..Yoon lagta hai, jab milte ho, ke aaya mausam dosti ka….

‘’Hey, Happy Valentine’s Day’’, he said, and just remembered the flowers that he had got and were pushed behind his back as they sat. He gave her the bouquet along with the Valentine’s Day wish. She thanked him. ’’Oh, what are the odds, today is 14th February and look at you, I ruined any possibility of your date night, didn’t I?’’ she laughed. ‘’Well, you never know!’’, he added. They spent the rest of the time in cab talking about their love lives or the lack of it; laughing at their experiences, teasing at the embarrassments and memories of school. He felt good, and started missing Saurabh, Arpit and some of his other friends. By the time they reached his place, it was already 9 pm – they had already called up both of them and spoken to them, and then made plans for the night – scrolling through school photo albums and stalking everyone they could find on the internet and creating an all-inclusive Whatsapp and Facebook group for their batch of SMC (Stella Maris Convent) and ensuring both of them take the responsibility of being the group admins as seriously as they did that of being the President and Discipline captain!

He will really need to straighten up his talk and tell her or ask her what he wanted to, before the night starts hinting of the sunrise, he thought as that cab took the last turn before reaching the destination. Why was he not feeling even half the anxiety of what he was feeling before he met her? He always thought the anxiety was what stopped him from doing things, but now he realized it was what pushed to go ahead and take chances. The absence of it was certainly not helping. But, he told himself, he will need to do it quickly without thinking now. Or, will he?

As he entered his flat along with her, the realization sunk in – they really were kids back then. Some memories do not only seem more beautiful in memories than if you were to live them again, but also the perception of the feeling from the lens of age and time changes it a lot. He certainly didn’t have to ask her anything.  The sunrise was still at good 7 hours away, but he had got reasons to be happy much before – two good friends meeting after long and reminiscing memories and connecting to other friends was indeed a happy way to walk into the sunrise. They were, and had always been very good friends and there was nothing else which would give him more happiness, at least in this story, his and her story.

‘’Let’s stalk the internet, Ms. Hollywood! We still have close to 6 hours for the sunrise’’

‘’Yayy! What’s the password for the wi-fi’’?

‘’Mmm…let me check, it was lokesh123 or was it lokesh1!’’

‘’Well, you haven’t changed, Mr. Confusion’’ she laughed.

Oh, I have Ms. Hollywood. He thought to himself, smiled, at that little realization about himself.

Banaras

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Pristine as the age-old traditions and contemporary as the new world order – if ever there was a perfect blend of two ends of the spectrum, it is here. Varanasi is, as commonly said – older than history, older than tradition, older than legends and looks twice as old as all of them put together. This being the poetic abstract of the spirit of a culture, an ideology and a set of people bound by it, takes its share of creative liberty, yet isn’t far from truth. A city located in modern times and geography by relativity, yet caught in a time warp of its own, Varanasi, or Banaras as its people call it affectionately – is a beautiful bundle of paradoxes, a curious collection of contradictions and a delicious design of dichotomy – of religion and spirituality, of advances and soul-searches, of faith and rationality, of Gods and humanity. As a result, what transpires is a beautiful bonhomie of various colors of chaos, bound together by as aspiration towards a common purpose – some call it salvation, some moksha, some nirvana, and some simply love.

The holy river defines, guards, purifies and herself becomes the city itself – Ganga is Benaras and Benaras is Ganga. There are many a cities that the mighty river has given birth to, by purifying and fertilizing the soils around it and inviting the native dwellers to reside by its side and develop their settlements, but none of them share a connection deeper than what links the soul of this city to the river. The eighty ghats (places for religious activities along the river side in form of stairs) that form the lifeline of the city may be the only land pieces which actually touch the holy Ganges, but the soul of every resident is drenched by the pious water, and as they reverently call her, Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganges) remains the most essential part of the people’s life and practices. The city that is sprawling now beyond its borders and stretching its feet to accommodate the growing influx of people from all over, is also at the same time striving to preserve the richness of its ancient form, and that is something difficult to take away from it. So strong are the footprints of mythology and history of world civilization here, with the ever lasting impressions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam among other faiths, that it is impossible not to feel the presence if you take a casual stroll along one of the lanes in the city. From the tales of Lord Shiva’s and Goddess Parvati’s union to the destruction of the 80 devils or asuras on the ghats; from being Shiva’s favorite place to place where Gautam Buddha first taught the dharma; from witnessing the attacks on its heritage by invaders to preserving the relics of even the faiths that damaged it, along the original symbols of its faith – this city has the tales of past written all over it so clearly that it always has and will keep inspiring the artists to express its story, and often finding their own stories in it, expressing it in most beautiful forms. No wonder then that the city has been the hosts to some of the most revered musicians, writers, dancers and men of spirituality in recent history. A city which inspires others to find themselves however, is not easy to find its own way. Varanasi is not easy – with its small lanes that try to fit the wisdom and history of centuries within them, it is easy to lose your paths here. With a temple on each corner, and lanes and settlements named after Gods, and often vice versa, it is often disorienting to adjust to the places here. With humans, cows and the river cohabiting a limited space, which also is trying to adapt to the progress in the worldly sense, it often screams of a chaos. But what meaning does peace hold without experiencing chaos? Who has even found his way without choosing some wrong paths first? And there was no one who attended salvation before unlearning all that was assumed true. Therein lies the soul of Varanasi, Benaras or Kashi.

Welcome to Varanasi, it is a world where you can lose yourself, physically and metaphorically, to the endless trips of all pleasures of life – sight, food, pleasure, love, lust, pain, injury, salvation and realization, that the answers lie within us. If a city from 11th century B.C. with its 2000 odd temples and the ghats that date to the period as old as humanity can cohabit its relics along with developing its new temples of modern times – of education, entertainment and employment, there is nothing that stops us from being what we want to be, without losing what we are.

Before I take the plunge

Before I take the plunge

Along the edge of a beautiful shore I sit

And play around with anticipation and excitement

Of the mystery that lies ahead, of the palpable vibrations in each breath

On the side of an ocean of endless possibilities and unfathomable depth

A few steps before I crossover, from one side of lighted charades

To the other of serene and monochromic shades

With the apparent calmness of the surface

Broken intermittently by the incessant waves

Which try relentlessly, albeit less vehemently to cross over again

But are stopped by an invisible pull to be contained and content

Only the content never seems to lack in passion

A strange palette of poise, passion, rebel and subversion

What is it, that makes it an enchanting, an irresistible invite, I wonder

And a breeze just caresses my face with a sprinkle of the sea

And hints of your voice, your touch and your being

The waves calm down, return to the sea

The shores suddenly are more enticing

Can’t wait to take the plunge, to discover and dive

Let’s begin, together what they call is a beautiful life!

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You

Once upon a time

In days of adolescence and thoughts so pure

Asked a question to myself, my version of yore

Who is she, the one of your dreams, the one for you?

A name, a picture or a thought out of the blue

The answer, it is here, through life and years

Through exploring myself and growing in layers

 

She is,

This painting of perfect colors

All my imaginations, dreams and fantasies

All my aspirations, hopes and necessities

Every little detail of my vivid desires

Rolled into one, and filled with ice and fires

 

She is,

The perfect poise to my chaos

The sonorous noise to my silences

The seamless rationale to my biases

An easy foil to my follies

A breezy cure to my pain

And an easy allure to a new world.

A world with her

That of unparalleled addiction, of reality and imagination

Of being with her, of feeling her touch

On my body and my soul

Of being with her, in parts and in whole

 

She is,

An imagination blending into reality

Off late, a clear picture of thoughts with a name

A voice, an opinion, a being and a face so pretty

Like the dawn of a morning with drops of dew

I think of all this, and love sprouts out of the blue

She is, need I say, my own precious You.

 

 

Let’s talk about rape

A few days ago while hosting a game of Tambola (housie) in the customary fun segment of an engagement event, as I announced – King’s corner: first and last numbers of top row; and queen’s corner: first and last numbers of the bottom row, something suddenly hit me. I stopped and re-defined the prizes – top row as the Queen’s corner and bottom one as the King’s corner, much to the amusement of my audience. Too much of symbolism here, and it doesn’t even qualify as a token gesture towards a cause; but what it stirred in me was a stream of thoughts, about the casual ways in which we perceive and propagate the gender (in)equality norms.

Rape, as has been often repeated (and cannot ever be overemphasized), is not about sex. It is about a gravely misplaced sense of power, superiority and control – over the other gender. Prima facie, and undeniably so, people who commit such acts are in themselves particularly vicious. But at the same time, as a civilization we need to analyze the roots of that sense of power, superiority, control and inequality. A society is like a person in the way its ethos and values manifest themselves and grow with time. In its collective view of people, issues, ideas it forms a certain set of beliefs and morals. These, when averaged over time intervals emerge as the accepted societal norms, which are not easy to change. These norms get so deeply ingrained in each and every aspect of the society, that we get accustomed to them as the normal way of life. This, my friends, is nothing but culture – something which we as Human Resource professionals obsess with day in and out, and for all the right reasons. In an organization, we define culture as the inherent values, practices and the way of doing things; for a society culture defines the way things happen. Rape – a grave offence against humanity, may not be directly linked to such token gestures, but this and various other components of the culture are responsible for nurturing and breeding a mindset which when combined with a lack of human spirit, manifests itself in ugly forms such as rape. So, when I talk of rape and how to sensitize our society to it and prevent any such occurring, I look at rebuilding the culture, carefully modifying, monitoring and developing a culture of equality everywhere – in my home, in my workplace and in my mind.

A casual glance at any aspect of society (not specific to ours) will yield clear observations – of how a subtle dominance of a gender has been hinted at. Workplaces are no exceptions, since they are more or less a simulation of the larger society we live in, just that in most cases our consideration set gets limited to the supposedly privileged set of people – educated and intellectuals. But does that mean they are devoid of such biases? Not really.

From the symbolism inherent in naming certain positions as male by default (e.g. chairman), to designing work spaces and practices without taking consideration of the comfort of both the genders, it exists. In all those times, where a woman riding high on the corporate ladder is often doubted upon, or the success is attributed to her gender, it exists. Things are changing, but is that change widespread? Can that change be attributed internally to our conscious or is it just something we are expected to do? As the answers to these questions will reveal, a lot is still left to be done. As the architect of the workplace policies and processes, it is on us to ensure the intent behind them is right, and more importantly, they are not seen as a favor or a benefit but a very natural part of an organic ecosystem. Every time, while looking for a suitable candidate for a job we come across this line – this work isn’t suitable for a woman – the bias persists. Instead of taking into account this apparent fitment, why can’t our efforts be directed towards making the work conditions suitable for everyone? This is where again, the external (to workplace) society comes into picture, where sadly the bias exists to a greater extent. It is right there, when we tell young boys not to ‘cry like a girl’, or when we complement our daughters by calling them ‘son of the house’. It is right there when we associate courage with ‘having balls’, and it is glaringly and disgustingly out there when we define a victory or failure as ‘raped/got raped’. It is right there when our movies translate rape into ‘losing honor’ (izzat lootna), and propagate victim shaming without a thought. This casual sexism, is in fact so deeply ingrained in most aspects of our society that it is mostly passed off as the norm and becomes acceptable. This affects most the workplaces which are not as regulated or sophisticated – the unorganized sector. But no, none of these are why rapes happen exactly. As said earlier, it an act of an unfit and disfigured mind, but all these aspects of the culture do feed that mind. That’s exactly where we need to begin the change.

Yes, we must talk about rape. But before that, we must wake up and shake away this delusion that we are not a part of this problem. We must, as professionals, as citizens, as parents, as students and most importantly as humans – take a conscious call to redesign the culture of the society we live in. It doesn’t really require much of us – just the belief in the cause will do for starters. We must talk about equality and act on it – in our life decisions, of marriage, of children, of career and sharing responsibilities, credits and even blames. We must tell our young generations in no uncertain terms what equality is, how it should manifest itself in their day to day activities – from sharing their food, toys, books to respecting each other’s choices, bodies and consent. We must teach our girls, but before that convince ourselves that women (or for that matter, men) don’t ‘have to’ be a certain way, they can be who and what they want for themselves.

Let’s take this as a project – perhaps the most important one ever – to remove this menace from the very root. As the flagbearers of culture, we have to make a start, right now – in our workplaces, in our homes, in our families, but most importantly, in ourselves.