Thursday, November 6, 2008

These People Need Help

Urmila, in her thirties, a poor widow and the mother of two small boys, studying in the 5th and 8th stds in government-run schools, used to earn her living by working as a domestic maid in the Lajpat Nagar area of New Delhi, India. Her old parents stayed nearby – they earned their living as neighbourhood press-wallahs (who presses or irons clothes). Being old, they frequently fell sick and Urmila was their only support to take them to a doctor and get treated. Our house was one among many where Urmila worked as a cook and I and my wife marveled at how she managed to support so many people with her paltry income. Urmila herself was not physically very strong, malnutrition and life’s constant troubles having taken their toll on her body.

Urmila recently died (on the 3rd November). After an illness (probably affecting her kidneys, because her body got swollen during the illness) that kept her hospitalized for about two months, she finally lost her battle.

Now, what worries us is that who is going to look after her orphaned children and parents. Urmila wanted to give her sons some education so that they can have a decent living.. she must have suffered a death-before-death worrying about their fate from her death-bed. Will they now simply be devoured by the cruel world? And what about her parents – will they die out of hunger and illness without anybody to look after them?

I write this because in our small capacity we can do very little, peanuts actually, and what these helpless people need is long-term assistance. Is there anybody/any organization who can stand by them in their hours of crisis? Can anyone help in connecting these people to kind individuals / organizations who can act as their long-term benefactors?

My email address is: Another email address is given in my profile I think. I do understand that anybody who wants to help will need to verify the genuineness of the circumstances I described, and I shall do my best in this regard. At present we ourselves do not know much about them…did not have to while Urmila was alive. But we can always find out more about them now that they are in dire need of help.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Among the all pervading universal, national and even personal gloom, the successful launch of Chandrayaan-1 today morning leaves the heart filled with ecstasy. Shall be keenly watching its progress...

Congrats and three cheers!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Terrorism in the Indian context -- I


Responding to my anxiety over the well-being of my near and dear ones in Bangalore in the wake of the multiple blasts, my wise colleague assured me: “Don’t worry . . . nothing is going to happen to them, unless of course it is written in their destiny. If it is so, unfortunately, then no amount of taking precautions will stop it from happening”. I had to very strongly resist my urge to ask him why then he goes to a doctor when sick – isn’t it useless to gulp down those pills when everything is in the hands of destiny, after all?

It goes without saying that we need to shed this fatalistic attitude completely. Safety and security is our birthright, and also being vigilant citizens is among our most fundamental duties towards our country. I must admit that fatalism has its plus points too, in a morbid way. In terrorism-stricken situations, India behaves like a mammoth that refuses to respond to pin-pricks, which is surely not what the terrorists desire. They want India to suffer visibly, to moan, to try to get up and fight back, and in the process suffer even more. Not much pleasure stabbing a corpse! To make India stir, they need to hurt it in a grand scale… and this is what they are up to now.

Having said that, what a citizen has every right to demand is answers to why even a single life has been lost, why a single family has been destroyed. Is it not the responsibility of the state to provide safety and security to all its citizens, irrespective of religion or ethnicity?

The Policymakers

Our policymakers – the lawmakers and the bureaucrats -- they either cannot think of a comprehensive policy because they personally live a well-protected life (do they know how it feels to live everyday in terror, as scores of Indians have to do?) and therefore cannot comprehend the situation, or do not really want to act pro-actively (to turn the table on the terrorists, to hunt them in their own dens and not to wait till they hunt us), as this will affect their oh-so-important vote banks. Our PM famously spent sleepless nights worrying for doctor Haneef who was arrested in Australia (a country where you can expect a fair trial), but was he so forthcoming with his anguish at the plight of Indians working in Afghanistan or even in the Indian states of J&K (the Hindus) or the North-East (the Bengali and the non-locals)? At least I do not remember him (or for that matter anybody else) doing that. The so-called nationalist opposition party, the BJP, seems unable to rise above municipality-level politics – they have even invented a conspiracy in the recent attacks, hatched by their political opponents, to divert attention from the cash-for-vote scam in the Parliament!

Hopeless situation -- needless to say!

The Intellectuals

Come to the most deplorable part – the role played by our bleeding-heart intellectuals. It seems their hearts bleed truly only for the terrorists (never heard of organizations like SAHAMAT shedding tears for the victims of terrorism); it is the human rights of the perpetrators what they are only bothered about. Many so-called human rights groups are actually frontal organizations of the terrorists.. we hear of the MASS (Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti) of Assam. I also cannot forget that a leftist Bengali intellectual once acted as an independent election observer on behalf of the Hurriyat Conference of J&K a few years ago, knowing fully well whose interests they represent. I can remember those times when huge rallies marched through Srinagar streets and letters dictating leave-the-valley-or-die were slid under the doors of the Kashmiri Hindus by the mob … did any human rights-wallah’s heart bleed then? Again, did it do so when Hindus were dragged from buses and gunned down in Punjab? Or when Assamese youth mobbed Guwahati’s city buses to hunt out the Bengali passengers and then play football with them (the method used to sort out was simple -- passengers were told to count from 1 to 10 in Assamese – the accent was always a clear giveaway to who were non-Assamese, particularly Bengalis).

(More on another day…)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


As usual, baba was in a hurry. He was getting late for his college. Mother said wryly, just wait a minute, he will back soon. And of course she was right, within minutes he was back… he forgot to carry something. This time it was his umbrella. It might be something else on another day -- his handkerchief, his glasses, the bunch of keys – anything.

So he was that much forgetful. We grew up under the shades of such a person, and we adored him more for this endearing quality of his. I remember him once groping in the dark for the torchlight with the flashing thing in his hand, or on another occasion looking for his glasses with them on – our initial puzzlement used to give way soon to queries like: think you are not looking for the torch? Or your glasses? “Yes, yes, can you find them for me?”

Mother could not match baba in this front, though I do remember her cooking her most delicious dishes and then simply forgetting to serve them, or preparing to go to a wedding in her best attire but with rubber sandals on! It was always didi’s job to have a final checkout before dear mom left the house!

My cases are no less legendary. I’ll cite the two most embarrassing episodes. long back, in my hostel days, we friends watched the movie Chit-chor, a superhit movie of that time, and I was so bowled over by it that I invited my uncle and aunt (who were my local guardians there) to see the movie the next Saturday, on the evening show. I was supposed to buy the tickets in advance and wait for them in front of the hall. To this day I hang my head in shame to think of it that on that fateful day uncle and aunt enthusiastically returned early from their offices and flocked to in front of the movie house, but I was nowhere there in sight! They had to go home after waiting for an hour for me. I remembered my promise just before going to bed that night and did not show my face to them for almost a month!

Next comes the li’l gopal’s birthday to mind (his parents were our landlords then). It happened here in Delhi. The celebration was a low-key affair, inviting only a few of gopal’s friends for the evening. We went out of home early to save them the embarrassment of not inviting us. All the same, when we returned at night, they called us to their home, just to have a little refreshment. A plate was served before us (probably they were short of plates!) with pairs of each item –cake, sweetmeat, etcetera, on it. I immediately attacked it with gusto in front of the watchful eyes of our hosts. At the same time I continued talking gibberish as, for some unknown reason I always tend to feel that it is my responsibility to continue the conversation in an assembly.

Wife did not get a single bite that evening. It did seem a bit strange to me why they served so much to a light-eater like me, but it never occurred to me that half of the stuff served were meant for the wife! That night, after coming back to our home, I had to skip my dinner and she had to cook a full meal for herself (because she cud not skin me and eat me lock, stock and barrel instead). To this day, she cannot forgive me!

So this is my family and me.

Under the circumstances, I got a little rattled after my marriage on finding my in-laws not being forgetful exactly of that grade. There were little incidents now and then, but nothing to write home about. Chalo, you cannot expect all to be similar, I said to myself.

It occurred that my parents-in-law paid us a visit recently and stayed with us for a month during which period we were pampered to no end. But as all good things have to come to an end, their day of departure also finally arrived. A taxi was called and I and father-in-law carried the luggage downstairs. Surprisingly and a bit annoyingly, my wife and MIL were taking a much longer time to come out of the house than usual… we saw them locking the door when we started. They arrived at last and my wife shoved something quickly into her father’s pocket. Not being a good observer of things, I did not take much notice of it. The secret was revealed to me by my wife after their train left the platform….. Papa-in-law in fact forgot to take his money! Wife remembered that just in the nick of time and had to go back and fetch his wallet from the almirah – that was the reason for the delay.

Oh, I sighed in relief! After all I married into the right family….:-)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wifeless in the City!

The stark fact stared back into my face from the liquid contents of the cups that I laid before me today morning. Shash was away from me for almost twenty-four hours now and I began believing that I got used to her absence by this time! Also, looking back, I didn't make any mistake while measuring the rice for my lonely dinner last night -- measured just enough for one person. But today morning, still feeling sleepy, I prepared the usual two cups of tea, and only when I was finished pouring that I noticed I have poured an extra cup!

Shash, my wife of eleven years -- I noted with a chuckle when I returned to an empty home last evening -- was all over the place. Her office sent her to Punjab for a couple of days under the shortest possible notice. She had to hurry back to home from office and just had half an hour in all to herself to pack and change dresses. Her train was to leave at 2:40 PM. The resulting mess was all over there . . . the shirt she changed lied on the bed, one of her purple socks on the floor, her trousers casually thrown atop a bag nearby, some tissue papers and one of her business cards strewn on the floor. Apparently she changed her handbag; I picked the one which she left behind from the floor and carefully put it inside the cupboard. I clutched her shirt and smelled it, as I always do when she is not with me for days. This smelling business is something I picked up form her only – it was what she told that she did when I was away to office and she was alone at home … that was long back, we were just-married and she was not on a job then.

Funny how husbands go all ashtray when their wives are not home for days. On other days we reach home almost at the same hour and after that it is quite a disciplined life till we hit the bed. But last evening I again indulged in cigarettes – bought not one but two – after an abstinence of almost a complete month! Lighted one of them and then talked to Shash on the mobile (she was still on that train). Then a feeling of emptiness gripped me. Totally forgot that I had planned earlier in the day to make good use of my lone hours in the evening by finishing the task of washing all dirty bed sheets piled up in the clothes bin for quite some time. Instead I jumped into the bed with the Dog Stories of James Herriot and it was not before 8.00 that I stirred again! Husbands like me do badly need a wife by their side always to keep them on track, it seems!

In the meantime, Shash has reached her destination and made herself comfortable in a nice hotel -- she told me over phone. It was raining there while we had an overcast sky but with no rains. We talked again before going to bed and wished good night to each other.

What I forgot to mention was that I also once made faces at her last night, in absentia, and I wondered, on the side of certainty, if she also did the same at me there! Chuckle, chuckle!! Since our marriage we have been at it, and now it is quite a developed art between us! We have devised various shapes of grimaces over the years, and also have spiced them up with matching sounds!

Good heavens Shash will be back by tomorrow noon. We will be hugging and cuddling, and above all, making faces at each other soon again!

Thursday, May 15, 2008


People often talk about getting their life’s shock after coming to Delhi. Not only foreigners, but Indians too -- from east, west, south and central -- whoever has to visit this city, gets an initial jolt.

But what happens when the table is turned? When a migrant like me gives a Delhiite his life’s shock which the latter will take time to forget? Hear out my story….

Many years back… I was a newcomer to this city, a bachelor who was going to lose his bachelorhood very soon. I came to work in the city and was put up at our office-provided mess, somewhere in west Delhi, which was (and still is) a predominantly Punjabi-infested locality.

Let us walk back into time to one of those days. My hesitant steps were taking me towards the local market. To Sahib Tailors, to be precise. These people are really good -- I got a suit and a couple of trousers stitched there and have been impressed with the outcome each time. This day, however, I was going there with an altogether different purpose. My would-be in-laws have asked for some information which only Sahib Tailors can provide me.

However reluctant my steps were, they finally reached the doorsteps of Sahib Tailors and I entered the air-conditioned insides of the shop. I and the young Punjabi owner of the shop exchanged smiles exuding familiarity and extreme bonhomie.

“Tell me sir, what you want us to do for you this time”.

“Nothing of much import, I am afraid”, I disclosed, “Just a little information”.

Aap mera punjabi ka maap de sakte hain? -- I somehow managed to blurt it out.

The look on the face of the owner was not very helpful. He looked perplexed a great deal. “Punjabi ka maap? Punjabi ko maap? I cannot really get you”. His mind must have been reeling… he was trying to fathom what this blighter Bong was trying to convey by expressing his wish to forgive a full-blooded Punjabi!

I was at my wit’s end, too. After having our fifty-three seconds of mutual perplexed-look break, I tried to communicate through the time-tested and guaranteed-for-failure sign language. Did not help, of course. Suddenly the eyes of the owner shone with a new light -- a light that usually shines in the eyes of Hercule Poirot. He beckoned his Master-cutter, who was a Bihari fellow, and told him to deal with my case. The owner must have reckoned that by the virtue of our being from neighbouring states, his Master-cutter and I will be in a much better position to communicate. I repeated my requirement to this new guy. Luckily this time, nothing I was telling seemed Hebrew to him. An understanding smile spread over his face.

Yeh saab to kurta ke naaf mang rahe hain!” (For those who did not understand a thing, the word “punjabi” in Bengali means kurta and “maap” means measurement.)

The mystery was solved… I came out with my measurements and that is the end of the story.

Punjabis talk a lot about punjabification of India -- in terms of salwar kameez, bhangra, butter chicken. But have they ever imagined that the Bengali bhadralok was adorning their upper torso with THEM for quite a length of time already?

What we call it? Shock and awe?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nipped in The Bud!!

This time I go further down the memory lane. To my childhood, to be precise.

We (I and my elder sister) were very young then. Mother always encouraged the creative spirit in us, so she gave us, among many things, also a couple of exercise books to write and draw. These books were more than diaries – we wrote in them our daily experiences, created stories, poems, drew sketches of trees and dogs and human faces -- anything that came to mind. Needless to say we filled up those books as soon as they were handed to us, and the pile of exercise books that built up is still safely kept in the mother’s trunk which I fondly flip through whenever I visit our ‘home’.

Those diaries were written in Bengali and I remember making a great distinction between ‘Kahini’ (story, fictitious) and ‘Ghatana’ (true narrative). I shall give an example. A stroll through a desolate pine forest (in Shillong) on one cool summer morning excited me so much – I don’t remember now what I was my object of excitement – I rushed back to home, got hold of my pencil and diary and jotted down these starting lines: “Today I am going to describe a Ghatana, not a Kahini, something as true as the Ramayan or Mahabharat you enjoy to read so much”. I wonder what Karunanidhi’s take will be on that!

Among our many friends, Bapu was a very bright one who was closest to both of us and also literarily inclined. He was one year older than me and one year younger than my sister. We shared story books and excitedly talked about the new stories we read in the latest Puja (Durga Puja) editions of children’s books that mushroomed during the puja time. We even invented games drawn from those stories. Playing detective was one such game where the ‘criminal’ was to commit a crime (steal a paper or something) and hide the stolen item, but before that he was supposed to leave ‘clues’ for the ‘detective’ to find out!

When we reached the age around ten, we decided to take out a monthly magazine. Hand-written, on foolscap sheets stitched in the middle. I wrote an adventure story set in the dangerous backdrop of Africa, a comic strip, some jokes, a poem; Bapu wrote a ghost story with lots of dead-man-coming-to-life strewn everywhere and with even a tragic undertone in it, a crossword, some more jokes, definitely a few poems (he sill writes poetry and attends kavi-sammelans at odd places when he gets time out of his high profile job). All pieces ended with a ‘to be contd.’ note, making our intention clear that we were not going to be finished with the first issue, we were for the long haul.

I cannot remember what didi’s contribution was in the magazine, but with the sure knowledge that she is not going to read this blog I can tell that it was negligible. But to be fair to her, I must say that she made the maximum number of copies. We made about fifteen copies, priced fifty paise apiece if I am not wrong.

The biggest mistake we made was we did not keep it hush-hush. So when we were giving the final touch to our baby (probably naming it), Ratan, a friend who was older than all of us and never known remotely for anything that went with a pencil and paper, declared smugly that he had written a long poem some time back and might agree to part with it if we badly needed it for our magazine.

Strangely, Ratan still took a couple of days to deliver us his poem. It was a very long poem, even after substantial pruning it underwent at the hands of its author. Its name was, as I vividly remember to this day, “Patni-Laabh”. We were mystified at the strange name, and our bewilderment was heightened when we read the whole thing. It simply carried no meaning! How could we sell this thing to our parents (who were our obvious target customers)?

Now don’t blink if I tell that I was not as dumb then! I smelled a rat, and I knew where to find it. Probably reading so many detective stories helped. It was so a work of a few minutes for me to rush to our attic, gather the complete works of Rabindranath Tagore (Rabindra Rachanabali), pick up the third volume (Poetry) and browse through the chapter called ‘Katha O Kahini’ (containing sagas – poems depicting a story). It was not long before I found a poem named “Pati-Laabh”! In a nutshell, Tagore’s poem narrated how a young woman who just lost her husband was preparing to jump into the funeral pyre of her dead husband when a saint appeared in the scene and taught her that Lord Krishna was the universal sweetheart and that she was not to sacrifice her life but to divert her love to that eternal ‘Pati’ henceforth.

Now, Ratan was not a fool – he cleverly made a few changes here and there. Krishnadas was made Ramdas, the widow was turned into a widower (I mean all ‘Pati’s were changed to ‘Patni’s and “Patni’s to ‘Pati’s wherever they appeared), the name of the river was changed from Jahnavi to probably that of our local river, and the horror of horrors, about thirty-three percent of the stanzas were mercilessly removed to reduce its size! You can well imagine the outcome!!

Nothing much was left to us as the way forward. We were too timid to be able to say No to Ratan who was at least three years older than the eledest of the lot, my sister, and also muscularly built; moreover, he was our playmate – something which is so supreme to children of that age. Refusing to publish Ratan’s poem was not an option at all.

We gave our unborn magazine a decent burial… do not remember how we explained the change of events to our parents and most importantly, to Ratan. Anyway, take it that our magazine never saw the light of the day. And my ambition of turning into a writer was nipped in the bud…

I do not find the remnants of it in my mother’s trunk. Were the sheets damaged in the subsequent floods?

This is a true story, as true as the Ramayan or the Mahabharat ……..