Wednesday, June 27, 2007


My maternal grandfather's death was the first time sorrow and grief touched my life. Fourteen years later, I am stronger, having seen more, having lost more loved ones. But on 27 June each year I am reminded of the first person I ever had to say goodbye to.

Why do we grieve? We do not grieve for the person who is gone. He or she is already free and, I believe, in a place where yearnings are unknown. We grieve for ourselves. For that smile we will never see again. For that support we will never find again. For that conversation we will never have again. For that companion we will never meet again on earth. The person who is no more is at peace. It is we who are left to wander, to drift, to seek endlessly for that peace in this life, which is waiting for us, if we would only let it be.

More than God, I believe it is the loved ones who walk this earth no more who look out for me. I imagine each of my well-wishers as a guardian angel, fervently wishing me happiness. I do not need to worship them like I would a God. A loving memory is all I need. And from that I can draw strength in all my hopes and dreams. There are good spirits out there who sincerely want what is best for me.

Each precious soul who no longer lives is a star in my sky, looking out for me, shining down and brightening up my way, occasionally playing hide-and-seek, but always, always, emerging to guide my steps in infinite wisdom. And to know that is to walk in peace.


He sat back in the chair, head lolling against the headrest as Surjo shaved him, carefully, his own face contorting as he ran the razor across his grandfather’s face. Work done, a clean shave. Surjo sat back and admired his handiwork and smiled.

‘Okay, Dadu. Which one today?’ and he held out the bottles, one by one, for the 82-year old to sniff at. He picked Old Spice, as Surjo had known he would. A splash here and a splash there, and they were done. Dadu must have been a good-looker, Surjo thought, noting that sharp nose and the high forehead, not realizing how closely he mirrored the man sitting in front of him.

He glanced at the shaving mirror that lay uselessly in the patched shaving kit for decades now. Once upon a time, these eyes could see, could take in beauty, could read and teach shorthand and typing. Today, they stared unseeingly, the failing ears and nose trying in vain to make up for the oblivion that blindness and old age had brought the old man.

Surjo went off to replace the bag and the old man raised his gnarled hands, feeling the freshly-shaved face. He patted his baby-soft skin and chuckled to himself in satisfaction. Footsteps came closer and stopped. He knew Surjo would be rummaging through the bookshelf. It was that time of day.

‘So, what do you want to hear today, Dadu?’

The hazy eyes that remembered sunsets seen 22 years ago remained blank as he smiled eagerly and said, ‘Milton, of course! Paradise Lost.’

Monday, June 25, 2007

I, Robot

Robotisation amazes me. All our call centres are evidence of that. I truly sympathise with the youngsters sitting in back-offices answering questions by rote and putting up with the collective angst of the world of bad-tempered people who think it's all right to yell at that anonymous voice because a credit card didn't function, because a bill arrived late, etc. But the way they turn into robots when you speak to them makes it hard to tell when the IVR ends and the human voice begins.

Of course, you have to get to it first, while an annoyingly happy-sounding woman whose head you'd like to bang on the wall tells you in this accent from somewhere off the coast of the USA that 'Sorry, all our customer care representatives are busy attending to other customers. Your call is important to us. One of our customer care representatives will attend to you shortly.' At that point, you'd give anything to be one of those 'other customers'.

Then, hallelujah, the interminable wait ends and a voice picks up and says "Good afternoon, you have reached blah blah may I help you? At this point of time you suddenly have a panic attack because you have forgotten why you called them at all. Only to be expected, because in the last 5-8 minutes of monotonous 'you-are-on-hold' music, you've got absorbed in picking at the dead skin around your right big toe, or in examining that pimple, or in today's headlines. Then, just as the magical voice at the other end says 'hello' for a second time it all comes rushing back and you embark on your question, at the end of which, you are asked to provide information about your credit card or phone number or whatever-it-is that they really should have taken in the first place!

A carefully memorised answer is presented to you, like the noncustomisable 'today's specials' at a seedy cafetaria. Most times, if you have trouble understanding, these winkies of the call-centre world cannot even explain it to you in fresh words, repeating instead the same sentence, occasionally with a slight change in modulation to provide the illusion that they are saying something new.

Finally, when you hang up (hopefully feeling liberated, empowered and without a squished ear), you get an INSTANT sms (if only they were as prompt at picking up the phones in the first instance) asking you if you are satisfied with the interaction!!! Now we know why our call is important to them!

The recountable gems of such interactions occur when the computer tells them one thing and you tell them another. Such as, 'I live in Mumbai now, why do my bills still go to my Delhi address?' But Ma'am, you are living in Delhi, our system is showing.

Recently, we needed to pay off a loan that's in my husband's name and I called the bank call centre to figure out what the procedure would be. I had all the papers with me so that there would be no problems. The customer care representative told me everything that I needed to know, and I gave him all the information he asked for, including our account number, husband's date of birth, etc. Eventually, it boiled down to the fact that we were required to register for a foreclosure statement. So I said, okay, please send us one. And he said "Who's speaking?" So I identified myself as the wife of the poor loan-burdened creature. And he said, "I'm sorry, the request must be made the person concerned."

Puzzled, I said, "But I'm his wife, and I have just given you all the relevant information." Now read the following exchange:

Bank: Ma'am, I'm sorry but the request must come from the concerned person.

Me: But why is that?

Bank: Ma'am, that is the policy.

Me: But obviously I gave you all the correct loan account information so I have all the papers. Why don't you record my request?

Bank: Ma'am, you are not the concerned person. As per bank policy we must receive the request from the person in whose name the loan is taken.

Me: So if any man calls you and says his name is ___, you will accept his request, but not mine. That man could be pretending to be my husband.

Bank: No Ma'am, we have to ask some certain verification questions.

Me: Okay, what sort of questions will you ask, then I will ask him to call you prepared with that information or the relevant papers.

Bank: Sorry Ma'am, but I cannot disclose that.

Me: But are those questions regarding personal information or banking information?

(Brief pause)

Bank: Ma'am, there will be both kinds of questions.

So anyway, I hung up fuming. If I'd had a baritone I could have pretended to be my husband and got this done at one go. I fumed some more and explained it all to my husband who calmly said 'Okay, I'll call the bank.

He called, armed with just the loan account number as opposed to the file I'd sat down with, and the request was registered. I was extremely curious as to the questions that were asked in this mysterious verification process with the 'concerned person'.

Turns out, they asked him his date of birth (personal question) and EMI amount (banking question) and recorded his request on the basis of these two.

I'm hanging up my boots. Actually, I'm just hanging up.

Car Shringar

I am not sure if that's an actual shop name or if I really did think it up! It just sounds lyrical and so perfect for a big neon signboard in Milan Subway, Santa Cruz.

Because that's where we were last Saturday---getting 'artificial leather' seatcovers fixed on our beige car seats before they turned a muddy brown in the rains. So anyway, we tried hard to find a shop closer to home, but all roads (and inquiries) pointed us towards Milan Subway (what a shady name!) and so we headed off.

Milan Subway is a lane leading off S.V. Road (Swami Vivekanand Road) and is a complete mayhem of cars (new, old, and skeletal/rusty remains), illegal parking, swift mechanics, muddy puddles, grease, tiny slivers of shops and excellent salesmen. We tried bargaining with the young man with the skull cap but he patiently refused. I felt a little ashamed when I later caught sight of a not-so-prominently placed sign that said 'Time is money. Don't waste it bargaining'.

So while 3 pairs of deft hands fixed our seat covers, we waited in a tiny shop and looked around, wide-eyed, at every possible thing one might want to add to one's car as part of the beautification process. As we inspected the shelves, a middle-aged man came and asked about car-reverse tunes and was treated to two (really loud) options: the standard tuk tuk tuk tuk and, what realy surprises me, A.R. Rahman's tune for Airtel. The poor composer could never have dreamt that instead of alerting you to calls, his tune would soon be telling people to jump out of the way!

Side door protectors, car perfumes, swivelling/revolving/rotating/alternating/musical lights for the car roof, brake lights, golden and red designer slip-ons to cover your brake/clutch/accelerator pads, little fans, video screens, car alarms, car covers...stickers, tiny glittering models of Mecca complete with green glowing lights---the glass shelves were quite a treasure and I would have enjoyed getting a closer look at it all. Two tiny, amputated-by-half fans spun away crazily to beat the heat. All around us cars tooted, braked, screeched, parked, banged, got was like a beauty-parlour and hospital rolled into one, for four-wheelers!

As we drove away, I caught sight of another shop called 'Car Jewels' the complete jewellery store for your car'! Beauty really is an indsutry! And so very subjective!

Monday, June 18, 2007


The stench hit her nostrils long before she could see the place. Her heart beat louder and she swallowed, unconsciously beginning to take shallow breaths to keep out that reek of fresh corpses. The path before her narrowed. The dark, ominous sky looked down on her as she entered the house of death.

The gutters overflowed with blood and she tried hard to escape the sights all around her. The surprised, frozen faces of the dead stared at her with lifeless eyes. The awkwardly angled, limp bodies, lined her path. She could sense, rather than hear, the buzzing of flies. Crows sheltered in this closed space. Escaping the rain outside, they perched here, their black feathers dripping water that diluted the blood that swirled below. The merchants of death tapped their sharp knives and scythes to draw her attention.

She tried to ignore it but eventually one shadowy figure called out to her from the dark recesses of the hallway, blocking her way with a blade that shone red, wet.

"Bai, fresh pomfret? Prawns? Crab? Rohu?"