Blogger's diary

My 77-year-old friend

FOR THE last eight years, each time I’ve strolled into my home compound, my eyes have almost instinctively darted to the balcony on the opposite side, of my building.
Sitting there, always, was my good old friend. He is 77 now, and possibly, the only friend, riding into the sunset. I still remember the one time he had stayed up for me, when I was returning from an ungodly hour at the newspaper, where I worked. It was 1 am, and he startled me, as he called out my name in the pitch black of night. “Jane, goodnight,” he yelled out. hands-699486_1280

The next day, I rang him up, and chided him for being so silly and scaring the wits out of me.
“I thought it was a ghost,” I had said.
“But, I wanted to surprise you kiddo,” he explained.
“No, please don’t do that ever again,” I told him.
I was angry. And, I still don’t know why.

Having said that, he and I share a different bond. Sometimes, he tells me the most absurd things, enough to leave me amused, and anyone else scandalised. I, occasionally, let him know, when he is going overboard. Once, when he asked, “Why I hadn’t been born 50 years earlier”, I gave him a cold response, “You know, we’d still ‘just’ be friends, right?” He never asked that question again.

Then, there were those emails, which he proactively sent me, once in a while, when he saw me, walk out of my building. “Saw you in a red top, yesterday, rang in the evening. Were you at work?”, one mail with the subject Red Riding Hood read.
Another read: “Waking from my siesta yesterday I saw you, grey top on black jeans, going to work, followed five paces behind, by your two brothers. Walking tall, you were dwarfed by them, but never mind, it’s all in the family. Take care kiddo.”

Sometimes, I would tease him for stalking me. “I am the untitled watchman of the building, don’t you know?” he’d say in feeble defence. “I don’t get paid for the job, though.” We’d laugh together.

The last time, we had met was sometime in mid October. He had seen me come home from work, and called out as usual, “Baby girl, come over, if you’re free. I am getting bored as hell.” A year before this, he had lost sensation in his left hand, and that had made him miserable. He couldn’t write emails or share those fine film reviews, he wrote for publications — he is a noted film critic and a former news editor with a leading newspaper. The vacuum was taking a toll.
That day, We had sat in silence for a good five minutes in his balcony. I was browsing through all his handsome, black and white photographs from his 30s. “Why didn’t you marry?” I asked. “So many beautiful women Jane…How do you settle for one?” he joked. That day, he also shared many stories about playing in the cricket club of Cavel (where we live) in the mid 60s and 70s. I promised to come back to hear more.
“Come soon, though. You know my mind… it’s been playing tricks.”

Three months ago, he stopped showing up at the balcony. Initially, I didn’t think much of it, assuming he had gone for a short break to Goa. “But, without letting me know? That would have been impossible.”
It was only in early December that I learned that he was now, bed-ridden and slowly losing memory. Yet, when I met him that day, his pale face immediately broke into a smile, “Jane, right? How are you, kiddo?”
That day, I told myself that I would muster the courage to meet him again – probably the very next day and every day after that. I confess, I waited on this tad too long. It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just that I didn’t know how to.

When I decided to see him again, two days ago, nearly a month after that broken promise to myself, I was ready for the worst. He would have forgotten me for sure, I thought. “Steel yourself,” I assured my anxious nerves.

It broke my heart to know that the man, who waved across to me from his balcony every evening and who’d call me if he hadn’t heard from me for more than two days at a stretch, would not remember me or recall my name anymore. It also hurts, because, honestly, in all these years of knowing him, he genuinely cared for me and I doubt, his affection was ever returned in equal measure. To this day, he hasn’t forgotten a single birthday of mine. I, unfortunately, cannot boast of the same lucidity of the mind. Even as I write this, I can’t seem to recall the exact date of his birthday.  The last time, I made up by taking him to Starbucks in my recently-purchased car. He loved the coffee and relished that cheesecake, but he could not stop at how uncomfortable he felt at enjoying small pleasures in an over-priced coffee chain. I am glad that’s one thing we agreed upon. I promised him another date soon, but again, I reneged. My sorry excuse: work.

A week ago, during a chat over coffee, a friend had mentioned to me, how in every relationship there is one who is always giving, and one, who’s receiving. At the time, I had over-confidently proclaimed that this hadn’t been the case in my life, and that I had little to complain about the friends I’ve had and those I have kept. Little did I know, that here I was, doing not just as much as my old man – always receiving his kindness, but grudgingly parting with my own.

As I entered the bedroom, where he has been lying for the last three months, I could feel a wave of emotions, engulf me. There, he was, shriveled, smaller and nothing of the glorious, old man, I remember. I sat on the sofa opposite his, he darted a cold look, then, stared at the ceiling, and looked back at me again. “You finally came,” his voice was hoarse and incoherent. I nodded. I really had nothing to say. “I love those polka dots on your black top,” he said, looking at my shirt. “But, I think you always looked better in red kiddo.”




Blogger's diary

For the love of a simple man

THERE WAS once a princess, who serendipitously encounters a frog in a pond. She didn’t know that it would transform into a young and handsohum1some prince, if she kissed it. The frog didn’t tell her so – it wasn’t part of the deal. But, if I remember the fairy tale vaguely, the unrelenting frog managed to befriend the reluctant damsel and seal a magical, happily ever after for both of them. Right now, heady from the after effects of watching the lovely-in-bits film Simran, this story just came to mind and how.

While everyone is going hammer and tongs about Kangana Ranaut, who undeniably stole the show with her jaw-drapping portrayal of the gambling addict Guju girl Praful Patel, I went home feeling good about one more character – her love interest Sameer, played by the uncoventionally-striking Sohum Shah.

Sameer’s character, which my friend aptly described as being very loose and artless on paper, came to life with Sohum’s startling rendition. It brings to mind a man, I would love to know.

The fault in our stars is that we so very often don’t take to such men. Bollywood has taught us to find hope in the glowing, loud, witty, often commitment-phobic, sometimes boorish, and handsomely cut, who can strike a conversation effortlessly and break into a dance to woo the woman he fantasizes. But, what about the man, we’d define as being too simple to make an impression on the 70 mm screen? He is ambitious, but not greedily so. He wants a well-paying job, a suitable career, a home of his own and a lover, whom he knows he’d marry someday. He understands love, not like we know it – to him, it’s an amalgamation of great conversation, warm company and a person, to come back to. He can’t dance to save his life, and isn’t someone, who writes fabulous poetry. He is god-fearing, disciplined and makes no bones about hiding it. Overall, there is zero pretense about the way he lives. And, because of all this, and more, he comes across as boring. Sameer is real, because he exists, and we don’t want to find him because it’s easier to not give him a chance, than creating the snazzy, smacking-of-intelligence, pelvic-thrusting guy. And, we don’t like easy right. At least, Bollywood doesn’t. Machismo wins, hands down any day.  sohum

Thanks to Sameer, I found some break from this clutter. Sameer is the frog to our Simran. Even in the prim and proper image of the innocent (aka paavam) guy-next-door, you see traits of infectious charm and intelligence. He makes the lady smile, not because he is flirtatious or feeding her with his wit, but because he is a good observer of her. He pursues, without being too pushy. He cares, without judging. And, most importantly, he sees the wings that make her fly (remember, the river scene), and doesn’t mind being the wind beneath them. There is a moment in the film, where you see his heroism, and it becomes too difficult even for our protagonist to handle. And, all I want to know is why.

backpacking, gokarna, Hampi, Travel Diaries

In Hampi, we trust

NOW that I am 30, let me share a small secret with you: I keep no secrets at all. We all remember Chinese whispers right? I hated that game as a child. You tell friend 1 something, then friend 1 goes and tells friend 2 something else, and then people extend the favour by sharing it with friends 3, 4 and 5. By the time, friend 10 knows all about it, the story isn’t meant to be same. So, if I said ‘I loveeee Leonardo DiCaprio (whom I do btw)’, when friend 10 learns of it, it turns out to be more like, ‘Jane’s star sign is Leo and she hates capris because it makes her look fat. She also loves Titanic and believes that Rose should have drowned.’

Thank you friend: The one who forgot the plot, changed the story or was simply, plain deaf and could not articulate whispers into simple English sentences. You got the Titanic bit right though! Let me put it mildly: Jack deserved to live. Rose: I am not so sure.

To save myself from the grief that such games cause me, I have never been hush, hush about events and people in my life. I probably have like just ten close friends, half of whom are my BFFs, and mostly, they all know everything about me. So, everyone knows I’d like to write another book someday (now you know too). All my girls know whom I am absolutely crushing on lately (Clue: Could be DiCaprio). The world also knows I just turned 30 (I made it a point to do a pre-birthday announcement on my blog). And of course, those who really mattered knew I was heading on my first backpacking trip to Hampi and Gokarna.

My mum, who isn’t one to let me go, attributed my ‘backpacking condition’ to quarter-life crisis. But, surprisingly, she didn’t stop me this time and that was such a big relief. I am no crazy traveller. I like breaks, mostly short, because I get homesick very soon. And, I enjoy soul-stirring conversations, so, I choose my travel company very, very wisely.

Hampi was within shouting distance (a night-long bus from Mumbai to Hospet in Karnataka) and suited my travel plans. I had heard about the temple ruins of Vijaya Nagara – once among the richest in the world and the jewel in the crown of Krishnadevaraya’s Vijaynagara empire – through a friend and it had been on my mind for a while now.

Part of growing old is reminding oneself that everything in life will someday be okay. And, of course, we all want things to be fine, right? A month ago, when I was at my ridiculous best, I made a call to one of BFFs, and asked, ‘Would you like to elope for a few days?’ I like people who don’t say ‘no’ when that’s exactly what you want to hear. Because, I think I might have been a mild wreck when I asked her that, and I probably just made that proposition to assuage what or how I was feeling. Had she said, ‘NO’, I already had Plan B up my sleeve, which was mostly on the lines of ‘let me try and get busier at work’ or ‘write more feature stories that only I read’. But, all thanks to her, she didn’t. Other best friends, hers and mine, also joined later. This trip happened. And so, onward we went, first breathing the history of Hampi, doing yoga on the mountains (à la Taal), gorging on Nutella pancakes, sipping ginger honey lemon tea, before cooling our heels off on the beaches of Gokarna – a seven-hour bus ride away from Hampi. I found three other travel sisters. I got time to go clickety clack with my DSLR and because, I barely managed to take my own pictures, I am now sifting through photos of my back taken from other people’s lenses.

I also met Anjaa, a rickshaw driver, who was the first person we came across as soon as we got down from the bus at Hospet. I knew instantly that he would be our best friend through this short journey. He has a charming smile. He is extremely shy of women. He can also use a DSLR. And, he knows Hampi like he knows his Gods. There’s something reassuring about people who understand God. They treat everyone well – not out of fear, but for the love of what this supreme force created.

Hope you enjoy the filter-free pictures.

With love,

A 30-year-young





Blogger's diary, nostalgia, Ranting

Turning 30, having babies, and other big plans…

30kmIN ABOUT two weeks, I’ll be turning 30 and, I’d be lying if I said that I am not looking forward to it. I am not among those, who shy away from getting older. I like to celebrate that day, sometimes ridiculously and embarrassingly in grand fashion. In that department, I’m still a five-year-old. Those close to me would know, how my birthday has me excited at least two months ahead of time. Of course, now, with age and work, that countdown process seems rather tedious. Between ‘work-eating-gym-again more work-eating-sleep’ time, my brain finds little space for ‘50 days to go’ reminders. These days, my girlfriends do that job for me, and I’m like, “Aah, yes! Is it?”

Point is, it’s finally happening — That Big Three Oh. And, I am not dreading it. But, the mind has to day-dream, ponder and rue occasionally. During one such contemplative moment, I looked back to the start of the decade, one that’s soon ending. And, that’s when I figured that as happy as I am now, my 21-year-old self wouldn’t have liked this version of me. Naah! Not at all! In fact, she’d hate and resist me!

When I was 20, I had big plans, like really, really big plans for a woman of my age. Tell me, which person would otherwise have their life chalked out so clearly, year for year, date for date. I remember once, how my mum had broached marriage talk, and I defiantly said, “I am not going to get into this jhamela until I am 25”. Then, to make my stand very clear, I doled out juvenile predictions: Marriage by 26. One kid by 27. And, another may be, just before I hit 30. Quit job at 35, freelance soon after. I was also going to have a house of my own, a big Xmas Tree (irrelevant how this detail was important) and an awesome make-believe life in Canada or Australia. So, typical, right!

Of course, I had conveniently forgotten to fit a lot of things into this ‘big plan’ – like what would my career look like, would I ever be able to rustle up a meal for myself [let alone for my family], how would I deal with rejections in love or any unexpected failure in life.

Living like I had, fresh out of college, naive, inexperienced, sucker for mush and fairytale endings with crazy maternal-instincts brimming, I thought I could conquer my fantasies at the snap of my fingers, when and how I wished.

But, it’s this same immaturity that saw me through my 20s. The desire to have all that I had wished for – earnestly hoping each birthday that this year would be different from the last – only made me more purposeful. Surprisingly, this goal set me up on another, unforeseen plane.

Some two years ago, when I dived into a pool from the perilous edge of a mountain, while undertaking a rather, brave canyoning trip in Oman, I thought all my plans were going to come undone. In that moment of sinking deep and hitting the rocky crevices of the natural pool, I feared I would break my leg and never rise again. But, I did wade up and swim back to the surface.

Now, that I am here, safe and out of danger, I realised that in between wanting to have a dreamy wedding and so many babies, I had also written a book, moved countries, churned inspiring bylines, cooked meals in the kitchen, walked down the cobblestone pathways of Greece, trekked through the mountains, broken my heart (probably unknowingly broken someone else’s), bought a car, chatted with my favourite writers, introduced hundreds of young girls to the world of journalism, returned to my first love Mumbai and made many, many new soul friends.  One of the other bigger lessons I learnt in my 20s, was to stop resisting or opposing the idea of something, no matter how much I disliked it.

And, because this 21-year-old version of me had never thought that this decade would pan out like this, she would look down at this life with great trepidation. She’d think I had been defeated and lost. Obviously, then, she wouldn’t have known that I was hoarding beautiful, little memories that I would eventually hang on that big Xmas Tree — the one I wished to have someday.

Until then, I am making new plans for the 30s. And, I probably already know it will look different when I turn 40.

Blogger's diary

Let us leave the single woman alone…

HOW I landed here? Last year, this time, I was in the throes of writing a story, which I thought was taking good direction. It was a story that had a girl, another person, and may be a few more. The cast was good, the plot riveting and had me completely invested. Then, something happened, and I lost control of this tale. Within a few hours, the ice that I held in the palm of my hand melted, and the water began to trickle out, swiftly. I tried locking my fingers into a fist, hoping that something would stay, may be a drop or two. But, nothing, nada.


It’s been nearly a year, and I don’t have the courage to look back at what I have written. Right now, there is only me. The other characters are a distant memory. How I landed here, I don’t know. But, here’s what happened. Here’s how it probably went wrong.

My protagonist is a woman. She’s confident, intelligent and gorgeous to the eyes that don’t stereotype. She’s not copiously talented, but is a Jack of all trades – always accomplishing in order to keep busy. She could have been a decent musician, but never pursued it with zealous passion. She loves long walks, and secretly, thrives on day dreaming. She is mostly indulgent: she loves coffee, books and chocolate. She is single (somehow, has always been). She is also a writer, like me.

To me, my lady was perfect, well-rounded, sharp and non-malleable.

But, I made an egregious mistake. Even before I could complete creating my beautiful character, I introduced a few men to this story. They were all rough around the edges. For some reason, I hadn’t bothered giving them the kind of traits I had gifted my lead character. For instance, one of them was cute, and that was where it ended. The other was a liberated soul, even my pen couldn’t tame. The third one was well turned-out, but I forgot how to define this person beyond that.

When my protagonist meets them at different points in her life, she believes she is in love. Each time, she thinks, FINALLY. But, with each finally, comes another one, and then another one. And, suddenly, she realises there is no ‘finality’ to this. She is falling in, she is falling out. She is meeting men, she is seeing them out. Nobody stayed. Nobody was meant to.

Around her, life was moving, fast, faster, fastest. Someone suggested that she see a doctor. Someone told her she needed to get married. Someone asked her why she showed zero interest in men. Someone advised her to quit her job, and go travel. She tried little of everything, but met with no success. Then, one day, a sense of hopelessness overcame her and she broke down.

And, this is when my ink ran dry and my plot deflated.

This evening, I went back to this story. It was hidden for nearly a year in a personal folder on my D drive. What a terrible plot. What a lovely woman. What was she doing, when she was so complete? Why was she searching, when there was nothing to be found? Who was she appeasing? What was she craving?

I looked at my character one more time and on an impulse, handed over my pen to her. She is a writer, like me. Somehow, I trust, she will do a good job.

Here’s a bestseller you should be awaiting.

Blogger's diary

One more year. A few more lessons.


Thank you 2017!

AND there we go again. My Facebook timeline is bursting to the seams with people bidding good bye to the old year, talking about lessons they have learned, the loves they have lost, the new ones they gained and the travels they have made. It’s surprising and almost overwhelming to see how most of us look at December 31st as that day in the time of year to look inwards and introspect. It’s like that report card you got in school; just that the grades aren’t marked on paper. The failures, the Bs and As are visible in the way you lived your life, through the measure of your successes professionally and personally, and how you healed from the emotional or physical upheavals (if any) that the year brought along.
Personally, I loved this year. It wasn’t dramatic. It wasn’t life-altering. It wasn’t disturbing. It was happy in bits and parts, and upsetting on a few occasions. Nonetheless, as I write my last post for this year, I am smiling. And, that possibly to me means that this year held great promise. Like most of you, I also took back a few lessons that I hope to carry forward to the next.

Appreciate the dusk and dawn:
I mean, literally, respect the rising of the sun, and the coming in of night. For those who follow me on Instagram, you’d have noticed that of late, I have been obsessing over sunrises and sunsets. One reason being that my job with the evening edition of a newspaper requires me to wake up very early each day. When I leave home for work, I often witness the spectacular view of the sun, rising out. By the time am home, it’s ready to sink down and disappear under the horizon of the Arabian Sea. Might I mention that whatever I see is so beautiful that it often holds me captive, even if for a few odd seconds. Often, we tend to get so caught up in the grind of our daily chores that we forget to see what surrounds us. Somewhere, though not within close proximity, this could be someone’s last sunrise or another person’s first. Let’s not forget to savour the colours every new day brings. Thank the sun for it woke you up that day, and be grateful to the stars, because it didn’t wrap you in complete darkness.

Don’t stop falling in love:
And when I say this, I just don’t mean the romantic kind of love. Learn to love people, animals, books, cooking, music, your home, your life. Don’t make excuses for what happened in the past, and how someone spurned you, and did not reciprocate the way you wanted them to. In doing so, you’re only limiting your own experience of love. I know so many people who take a step back, wrap themselves in a cocoon and hibernate for a while, till they feel they are ready to love again. They forget that a handful of people are waiting for them and patiently holding on. Latch on to them before it’s too late. You never know if they are coming back. Meanwhile, tell yourself that each year, you will learn to love somebody or something new. The newness in love is as pleasurable as love itself. This year, I met so many new people that it was impossible not to fall in love with them. I also learned to love the idea of jogging. That experience has been liberating. Yes, find love that gives you those imagined wings and leaves you beaming from ear to ear. Not the kind that suffocates you, and forces you to be someone else.

Learn to forgive and say sorry:
People come and go, and some leave you hurt. It makes sense to hold a grudge against those who don’t leave behind a good aftertaste in your life. But, I’d rather forgive and move on than hold on to that bitter pill. What I can’t help, however, is forgetting the pain they have caused me. And, that’s important to shield yourself from future hurt from the same person, or somebody else, who shows an indication of vexing you, and robbing you off your peace of mind. Just this Christmas, a former friend called up to wish me after suddenly disappearing from my life without any explanation. I remember how upset I was on receiving the call, but politely wished the person back without making my anxiety known. Truth is, the people who hurt you don’t deserve to know that they pained you. What they need is help. And because they don’t know that, the least you could do is mask your own grief and move on.
Meanwhile, accept your faults too. Learn to say sorry, when you have knowingly or unknowingly upset the people who matter to you. I consider sorry to be one of the most powerful verbal weapons. They say that it cannot bring the dead back to life, but it can do a world of a difference to those living.

Take care of your health:
“You” is always priority. And, this is one of the greatest lessons I took away from 2016. Earlier in the year, when my mum fell ill unexpectedly, I knew how much it had rattled all of us in the family. It’s then that I realised that her well-being was so important to us. My mum had forgotten to prioritise her own health, in the process of giving. It’s so important to snatch an hour each day for yourself, only to listen to your body and mind. Meditate, exercise, dance and do everything it takes to create a healthier and happier version of yourself. I started the year with jogging on Mumbai’s roads, and have now taken to gymming – something I reluctantly took on, following an injury. I have learnt to appreciate the fragility of my body, and I’m slowly nursing it back to health. Eat like a king, exercise like his army. Do whatever it takes to keep your kingdom happy.

Thank people:
Learn to be grateful. It doesn’t take much to say a thank you. I say most of my thank yous to my parents, brothers and friends, not just because they help me sail through each day, but also because they add meaning to my life. Most importantly, I say thank you to God. I firmly believe that there is a miraculous power out there that’s constantly guiding and shaping our lives. One might not be religious or pray enough, but it would be a pity if you didn’t acknowledge a miracle that happened to you. If you can’t say thank you, the least you could do is return the gesture with a warm smile. Any sign of genuine gratitude is always welcome. And its effects are far-reaching and the consequences, beautiful.

All in good time
My best friend and I joke about how each New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight, we assure ourselves that this is going to be our year. We will find true love, take up a job that makes us happy, go travel, write that book, probably get married and what not. Not everything falls into place, and I guess that’s fine. In 2015, I was halfway close to completing my book, but the very next year, I couldn’t move beyond a chapter. It made me sad, and I knew I was struggling with it. But, I think when we invest too much energy into the hows and whys, we loose track of the goal itself. Things will happen to us, only when the time is right. We need to keep faith, observe the changes around us, allow things and people to happen to us and appreciate life as it plays in front of us. While all dreams and desires take its own course, we forget to see all the other new things that weren’t part of our plan, attach to us like a magnet. This year, I enjoyed a coffee date (over an interview) with my favourite author Jerry Pinto. It wasn’t part of the plan. At least, I hadn’t entered 2016, assuming this secret wish would get fulfilled. It happened, and so do other things. Keep the wishes going.

Here’s wishing you a gorgeous, blissful and healthy 2017. Savour another new year, and the lessons and people it brings to you. Don’t forget to dream, smile and live.

Spread the love,


Blogger's diary

How about some old-fashioned love?

IF a man wrote you a letter, professing his love for you, what would you do? If you shared his sentiments, would you write back to him, letting him know that you felt the same? If not, would you still consider writing to him, explaining your point of view? Or, to cut matters short, finding absolutely no meaning in such a wasteful exercise in penmanship, would you drop him a WhatsApp instead:

“*Smiley face*. Sweet letter. But…*Smiley face again* You deserve better. *Another smiley because I don’t know what to say*. *Puzzled look..God this is now getting very awkward.* Okay, I don’t think I am ready. *sad face*.”

Truth is: Nobody is ever writing any of those letters to you; at least, not in the day and age of Twitter, where 40 characters are just about enough to tell your side of the story. Anything more is considered negative marking. To see my self-worth reduce with every extra word I type on that Twitter text bar hurts, so, after struggling with it for years together, I eventually quit that space. Now, my Twitter handle is a showpiece with no added meaning or value — just a silent proof of my existence in the larger scheme of things.

letterGetting back to where I started, my parents just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary yesterday. I asked them how they feel about crossing another glorious benchmark and they both looked at each other and smiled. I’ve seen them do that before — that smile I mean — and this silent communion feels comforting. They fell in love at a time when phone conversations were a privilege enjoyed only by a handful. Their affection for each other survived despite no computers to Skype call or smartphones to exchange minute by minute Whatsapp updates. If they missed the other, they wrote poetry. And, they didn’t have Facebook to share these sweet-nothings. They still don’t understand what it means to wish your better-half Happy Anniversary or Happy Birthday on Instagram, because they’d rather kiss and tell instead. They courted for three years, before they got married. In those three years, they met sparingly because they lived in different countries. My mom can actually count the number of times they met, on her fingers. But, she tells me that before she married my dad, she had never known anyone so deeply. I always wondered how that could have been possible.
Ten years ago, after endless prodding, my mom finally revealed their backstory. Digging into her old treasury, she handed me a sheaf of letters that they had written to each other over those three years. I was spellbound. Sometimes, they had a fight, and the arguments would continue for months at a stretch through the letters, until the issue was forgotten. On other occasions, they would be so diabetically sweet, that you’d find it very hard to consume such mush. Come to think of it, they expended a lot of energy into these meticulously written letters. But, that was how they experienced love. Oh! How I romanticize their story. But, trust me, there isn’t an iota of exaggeration to this.

Some days ago, I read a heartwarming book. It involves an Indian theatre artiste and a simple Irish lady. The book is a collection of letters he wrote to her during a span of 10 years, somewhere in the 1950s, when they enjoyed a whirlwind romance. He loved her, he claimed. Though, I personally believe, not as much as the woman. She raised his love child with little animosity for him. He, instead, chose to cut-off, afraid of how such news would be received back home in India. They would eventually keep in touch, and continued to remain good friends till before he died. But, there was love, and this, she is confident about. It is only love that can keep a soul in denial of his affection still attached to a person, who is so fully aware of what and how she feels, I gauged from what the lady told me when I reached out to her, out of sheer curiosity. I read and re-read the letters he wrote her, and I probably know where she got that assurance from. He immortalised his love for her in words, when he most felt it for her. Everything else then was secondary.

As I write this absolutely meaningless post, while trying to jot down the random conversations in my head, I am thinking about the love that my parents experienced while being together for three decades, and the love this Irish lady enjoyed sparingly. I find no difference. May be, that’s what’s absolutely adoring about that old-fashioned love. It doesn’t rely on bizarre emojis or memories made on Facebook, to make a point. It’s methodical, poetic and enduring. Patience today is hard to come by. We are an age that loves to swipe – right or left, but we have to make it quick. For everything else, there is block or delete.

PS. Meanwhile, all isn’t lost in this world. My girlfriends and I are obsessed with writing letters to each other. It’s a timely reminder of how much we care; it’s the gift we want to give to the world, but hold on to, for only a deserving few.

Are you a closeted racist?, Blogger's diary

All Things Dark

Mera Laung Gawacha

Credit: Steven Borges

In the midst of all the clutter on the many WhatsApp groups, which I have foolishly chosen to be part of, I recently found a ray of hope — a real, meaningful conversation that was taking place on one of my chat windows.
My close girlfriends were discussing how growing up with a certain kind of skin colour, made many kids, subject to bullying by their peers.
One of them mentioned how because she has a dark-skinned brother and was privy to all the small, vacuous jokes directed at him (when he was a child), she grew up to become fiercely protective of him and dark people, in general. Another one spoke about how her mother was the only dark girl, among four other fair sisters. And while, she wasn’t really bullied, the insecurities she faced were quite evident.
The recent outburst by my friends was triggered by a story, shared on Soup (, which carried stories of 14 ‘beautiful, confident dark-skinned women’. Incidentally, half the women featured were rather wheatish than dusky, and hence, my friends’ angst of it not being an honestly represented story. I agree.
But, while I am surprised that the writer couldn’t find 14 such women, who would actually fit the argument being made through this otherwise, good piece, I was rather amused with the need to insist upon the existence of “beautiful, confident” dark women in this world. Of course, I know they exist. And if anyone had to go by my standards of beauty, all of us would be beautiful, in our own way.
I grew up in a family, where being ‘dark’ was never considered a significant subject of discussion. My mom married a man, who was 10 shades darker than her, and went on to have her first-born (me), who shared the skin colour of her father. My two younger brothers are reasonably fair, just like my mom. We are a healthy, racial mix, and at the cost of sounding vain, a gorgeous one that too.
Yet, outside of this family, there were many people, who would remind us what it was to be vulnerable. I was one of the easy targets, ALWAYS! Folks and ‘apparent’ friends of the family, would often tell my mom, that it would have been nice if her daughter had taken on from her. “But, it is fine, she is at least beautiful,” they would assure her. Even at school, teachers would often point out in surprise, and sometimes also out of shock, “How are your brothers so fair?”. I innocently justified it, exposing my family’s physical traits to unworthy strangers, “Ma is fair, Dadda is dark. That’s how it all happened.” I would say.
As a child, my colour riled me. And no matter what my parents said to pacify me, to the outside world, I was still dark. Unfortunately, at some point in my life, all of this had mattered. People don’t realise how horribly they scar kids, when they say what they say. And, sometimes it takes years of unlearning and learning to heal those wounds.
The good thing is that the colour of my skin doesn’t affect me anymore. I remember how recently, when I went on a fort visit in the peak summers, my friend, who had accompanied me, asked if I had a tanning lotion on me that he could borrow.  No, I didn’t think about carrying one. He was amused because he thought that girls were always petrified about tan. But, honestly, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.
All grown up now, I am so ashamed that I allowed people to engage with my colour, and that I thought that their stupid questions deserved an answer, and that I thought that I needed to justify why I was so brown, and that I thought that people had the right to
label me.
Yes, 29 years hence, nothing matters. But, it took 29-long years for this girl. And there are so many troubled souls, who are still waiting to heal and feel beautiful. We don’t want your sympathy! No, we don’t. We just want you to understand that what you wear, and what I wear, has the same purpose. It shields our flesh from the harshness of nature, and lets the blood flow without being exposed. It glows when we run, it wanes in the sun. And when we grow old, it will wrinkle, and remind those, who don’t know how we feel inside, that we are losing the battle with age. It’s skin after all. Don’t forget it has a larger purpose!


Bombay Stories, Journalism

Survival Is An Art: A peek into Mumbai’s Mujra haven

The long, winding road that comes to a halt below Grant Road’s Kennedy Bridge, is a different picture after dusk. The daytime buzz of students from the nearby Queen Mary High School, and shopkeepers selling electronic wares, is sharply missing. So is the din of homemakers and vegetable vendors.


Actress Rekha played a tawaif in the 1981 film Umrao Jaan

The street would have resembled any other residential pocket of Mumbai that lulls and slackens in the face of twilight, had it not been for the taxis that stop outside Beg Mohammed Compound. First, a girl appears in a shimmering lehenga; then, another over-decked damsel. They rush inside the rusty compound gate, without trying to draw attention. Slowly, a few cars endorsed only by the rich gather outside. The men, who step out, follow in the same direction as the girls.In the city’s only surviving mujra den, Mumbai Sangeet Kalakaar Mandal, often mistaken for Congress House because of its proximity to the former headquarters (established 1925) of the Indian National Congress, this scene has been playing out on Vitthalbhai Patel Road for over half a century. Only now, it is a faint shadow of its former self, an old patron Deven Patel (name changed), tells us.

In the city’s only surviving mujra den, Mumbai Sangeet Kalakaar Mandal, often mistaken for Congress House because of its proximity to the former headquarters (established 1925) of the Indian National Congress, this scene has been playing out on Vitthalbhai Patel Road for over half a century. Only now, it is a faint shadow of its former self, an old patron Deven Patel (name changed), tells us.

For many, the Mandal, like the mujra houses in the nearby Kamathipura area, has long been stripped off its iconic history and is witnessing a cultural decadence that would put its previous admirers to shame.

Suketu Mehta, in his book. Maximum City, had infamously described the place as “the biggest whorehouse in Bombay”. The pimps, who throng outside the gate early evening, are a testimony of this deteriorating canvas. But, then there are a handful still holding onto the past, and a stroll inside the dingy alley is a reminder that there may be something missing, but it is yet to disappear completely.

A glorious past
Traditionally, mujras were performed by the tawaifs (courtesans), only for royalty. The art form traces its origins to the Mughal era and was commonplace in the erstwhile princely states when nobility was entertained with classical song and dance sessions in special houses called kothas or mehfils (gatherings). In return, the women would be rewarded generously, in cash or kind.

The tradition was passed down from mothers to daughters, and became the source of income for the courtesans’ families over centuries. “But, post-independence, when the women lost many of their rich patrons across the princely states of Uttar Pradesh, they migrated; some came to Mumbai,” says history enthusiast Deepak Rao.

Their shift to the city was accelerated in the late 1960s. “In 1971, after Privy Purse (a payment made by the Centre to the royal families of princely states as compensation to integrate with India) was abolished, the nobility no longer had the money to spend on lavish gatherings,” added Rao. And hence, the women had to look out for alternative places to pursue their art.

Farah (name changed) who runs a mujrakhana inside the mandal, belongs to one such family. “My mother who was struggling to make ends meet in Agra after Partition, came to the city in the late 1950s and started her work here,” she recalls. “I took over from her, because this is our khandani pesha (family business).”

Patel, a cloth merchant from Kalbadevi, who was a regular client at the mandal between 1961 and 2000, remembers the place during its heydays. “Only the rich could afford it,” he says. “The show of money was essential to the entire affair.”

The “programme” as he calls it, would begin at around 8 pm, where two or three girls would greet you inside the kotha and get the customers to sit on the divan. Special paan (betel leaf) would be offered to the guests, before the performer would sit down on the rug and wear her ghungroo. “The wearing of the ghungroo was a beautiful affair. It was a kala (talent) in itself,” says Patel, now in his late 70s. An orchestra, which included harmonium, bansuri and tabla players among others, would perform live along with the dancers. Songs from Pakeezah, Mughal-e-Azam and Umrao Jaan were most popular and remained in demand for years together.

Patel used to spend around Rs 10 to watch a mujra session during the 1960s. By 2000, the going price for a show could run into lakhs. The one protocol that, however, had to be maintained between the guest and the mujra performer was no touching the latter. “But, with the coming in of dance bars, discotheques and pubs, the mujra culture took a beating,” says Rao, adding that a lot of women from mujra homes at the mandal moved to performing at the dance bars, some even to prostitution, because of a drastic drop in their clientele. The reputation they earned didn’t help the art form, but only marred it further.

Nothing like the old
“Mujra is dead at Congress House,” another old customer Ravi (name changed) says confidently. There is reason to believe him (and not), because the real story is locked inside. After a few days of struggle, we manage to get access to the fortress, which is otherwise guarded by pimps who gate-keep from dawn to dusk. The alley opens to two rickety buildings, with a small store and dargah within the compound. On the first floor of one of these houses, mujra performances still continue.

A row of mujra halls sits next to each other on the floor, with mirrored walls and chandeliers, embellishing its spacious interiors. The women, who are all dolled up in traditional lehenga-cholis and caked in make-up for their performance, walk past us indifferently.

“We have business for a change,” says Farah, who has been running the show at the mandal for more than 35 years. “It’s not like before, when you had a mujra performance every day. Now, we just dance, when we find takers for it. Our business has dropped by 75 per cent because people don’t understand what a privilege it is to enjoy a mujra show anymore.” The girls, however, are still in demand at weddings and special gatherings, where mujra is still duly recognised as a respectable art, Farah claims.

Before 2000, there used to be over 50 rooms where performances took place. Now, there are barely five halls within the entire complex; the rest have been converted into spaces for “other” activities.

Farah’s cross-dressing Man Friday Rakesh (name changed), who hails from Gwalior and came to Mumbai in 2002, whines about how they don’t have money to feed the many homes that survive on this art form. “But we will continue our work, because this is all we know,” he insists, moving his hands agitatedly.

Even today, a guruji comes in each morning for a two-hour riyaaz with the girls. The duo claims that they play the traditional instruments only for customers, who want to enjoy traditional mujra.

“But, people like Bollywood hits these days. Who has the patience for ‘Dil cheez kya hain?” says Farah, referring to the iconic Asha Bhonsale number from the 1981 film, Umrao Jaan. Straying from the original, there is also skin show, and if the dancer feels like it, she may tease her guests with a brush of the arm. Anything to flesh out that extra cash.

After a restless conversation, Farah asks us to leave. “We are going to begin any moment,” she says, and leads us outside the hall. As we step out of the gate, a Sunny Leone number blares from the speakers upstairs. The party has just begun.


Note: This article first appeared in the 37th-anniversary edition of Mid-Day (Mumbai). For photos, visit:

Blogger's diary

The hospital is a great leveller

You cannot plan your week, like you plan a holiday. You cannot plan hunger, like you plan a meal. You cannot plan when to fall in love, like you foolhardily plan how to fall out of it. You cannot plan health, like you meticulously plan wealth.

These thoughts, as random as they are, have been eating into me since the last few days, especially after I was thrown into a situation that though humbling, momentarily shook the ground beneath me. Last week, a close family member unexpectedly fell ill. For sometime we had all misjudged it to be a regular bout of fever, until the doctor at the clinic said that the issue was grave, and required the patient to be immediately admitted to the hospital. The very thought made me go numb.



I recall running back home from the clinic, my legs trembling after I broke into a nervous fit, because I wasn’t sure what this meant to me and my folks. The person concerned was just as important to us as breathing would be to any living object. The immediate concern, however, was to make the patient feel that all was okay, and that this sudden hospitalisation was just a cautionary move. Fortunately, it all panned out fine. After an edgy 24 hours, we were told that the patient was recovering positively. Three days on, she was back at home, recuperating well, and I can’t thank God and our well-wishers enough.

Those three days, however, put so much perspective to this life and the people, we take for granted. I am not a fan of hospitals. In fact, it scares me to the core – right from the bed to the doctors and nurses, because no matter how beautifully they smile back at you, there is always something unsettling and mechanical about their approach, and how they deal with their patients. Occupational hazard…I guess. But this time, I could not avoid the hospital. And having refused to move an ant for a better part of the 72-plus hours that my family member was here, I learnt a lesson that will always remind me of the vulnerable nature of our existence.

Here I was in the General Ward with people from different walks of life, all there, in the hope of surviving this ordeal and trauma that the sudden alarm of poor health had brought upon them.

There was this woman named Shruti, besides my own relative, who had been in the hospital for over a week. She appeared to be in the pink of health, but we soon learnt that this sprightliness had come after four days in the ICU, where she had been battling for life after her body was unable to cope with a severe form of pneumonia. She has a 15 year old son, and her husband works as a bus conductor in the state-run bus service. Shruti had travelled over two hours from a place in the back of beyond to get herself treated. Having defied her illness, she kept motivating our patient and the rest, to stay strong. “If I survived this, you will too,” she said in fluent Marathi.
Then a day later, the nurses injected her in order to remove the extra water in her body. And the woman, now in great pain because of the injections, suddenly began to falter and lose hope. She spent the whole day crying, remembering her son, whom she hadn’t seen for over a week. “I don’t know if he will ever be able to see me,” she said. I smattered in half-broken Marathi, trying to reassure her that it would be fine, but there was no telling how much pain she was going through. My own family member had been witness to Shruti’s slowly breaking and diminishing confidence, and was sincerely hoping that her troubles would end soon.

Two beds away from us was an 80-year-old widow, who had been rotting in the hospital for two weeks, and much against her doctor’s wishes. Her two sons are based in the US, and her daughter lives in another city. Though swell, she refused to leave the hospital only because she has nobody to look after her. That she had become a pain in the neck for the nurses, whom she would irritate every five minutes for medicines and the patients with whom she would break into a conversation at a whim, wasn’t helping. She was lonely and scared for her life, and though she had become quite annoying to deal with, I could empathise with her. Her isolation had caused her to slowly come undone.

Exactly opposite our bed was a young mother of two, who had been waiting for a surgery since a week. She was on a strict a liquid diet as her stomach had developed knots that needed immediate attention. The wait had been getting too long for her because a slew of public holidays had come in between, and the doctor wasn’t available for surgery. When her children visited her on Sunday, they stood put in front of her bed. They had only one question, “When are you coming home?”

On the day, we were leaving, I knew I had seen more than my share of a life, held by a thread. Shruti’s bed was empty. No, nothing terrible happened to her. She had been discharged, and the day she left, she had been as sprightly as she was, when we had first come to the hospital. She promised us some mouth-watering Malwani pomfret curry and sol kadhi (kokum curry), if and when we dropped by to her village.

The 80-year-old woman too had some good news to share. “My daughter is finally taking me home, with her,” she said, adding, “I am going tomorrow.”

Later, as we were heading towards the lift, we chanced upon the two children, whose mother was in our ward. They were waiting patiently in the foyer with their father – refusing to leave the hospital, somehow, hoping against hope that their mother would miraculously appear with her bags all packed, to go home with them.

Our case was a silver lining. The children smiled at us and then went back to speaking to their father. “When is mummy coming home?” I could hear them say, from within the muffled conversations, even as their eyes trailed towards the door of the general ward.
“Soon, very soon” their father assured, and instantly hugged them.