Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Reader

I watched the movie yesterday. What a perfect story. What I liked perhaps was that there was no sugary forgiveness. The movie just portrayed humanity.

Since words like "human" and "humanitarian" have such positive connotations, we forget that humanity is also basically flawed. That sometimes we agree because it's easier than disagreeing. That sometimes we don't see the humanity of others because the instinct for self-preservation kicks in. This, too, is totally human.

Kate Winslet packed it all in her performance. The mature and sure older woman in the relationship, now vulnerable, now harsh. The uncomprehending defendant, following her orders. The defeated old prisoner, who, in a spurt of excitement, blue eyes flashing through the wrinkles, learns something that has evaded her all her life.

David Kross who emoted beautifully - the besotted underage lover, the confused yet involved spectator at the trial, torn by the unique dilemma of protecting a woman he once loved, but unsure whether to protect her from shame or imprisonment. And then, as a successful but haunted adult, Ralph Fiennes takes over seamlessly, unable to forgive her crime yet unable to forget his love. And so he reaches out only halfway, hesitantly, helping the stranger he had once loved in the only way he can. So simple, and so beautiful.

Every actor was so right. The knowing Professor of Law, who says, "It doesn't matter what you think! It only matters what you do!" The unspoken words hang in the air - "...and what you don't do." The Auschwitz survivor, cool, composed and very rich - yet forcefully convincing that "Nothing comes out of the camps. Nothing." As if the nothing itself were cancerous, destroying a bit of humanity.

The movie takes no sides. It didn't really make me cry, because it was a piece of life: never perfect. Instead it left me aching a little for the sort of humans we all are, sometimes by choice and sometimes for lack of it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Future?

"He's totally deaf, I tell you. It's impossible to talk to him. Now he's reached the restaurant early and is waiting for us and grumbling. What's the point of giving him a cellphone if he can't hear on it. And he thinks it's already 8.45. It's not!" So complained a dear aunt as Anando, she and I hurried towards the restaurant from the car park.

An hour earlier I had met the uncle being criticised so, and he'd complained non-stop, "Go for a walk," she tells me. "Arre, I don't want to go for a walk. All the nerves in her head are creating a short circuit and her brains are fried," diagnosed the old man.

Once inside he muttered that he'd refused a friend's invitation to join him for a drink because we were on our way, and he may as well have gone if he'd known we'd stand him up like this.

Conciliatory, at the dinner table we offered him the drinks menu. I asked the aunt, "What will you have?"

"Water," he replied on her behalf, even as she wrested his cane from his grip and leaned it against the sofa.

Anando and I exchanged smiles.

Forty years ago, they got married, after our aunt fought to convince her rich ghoti family because she had fallen in love with a bangal man.

Four minutes ago, our aunt said as an interlude to her grumbling, "When I see all these old men I still think your Pishe is much more handsome."

Exactly three years ago, Anando and I got married.

Forty years later, I wonder where we'll be!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Celebrate Bandra

The festival begins on 14th November, and goes on till the 29th. The big parade to kick it all off starts from St. Stanislaus School on Hill Road around 5 pm on Saturday, 14th November, and will proceed down Bandstand Promenade to end at the Amphitheatre.

In addition to the usual music, dance, theatre and other staples, the theme this time is "Go Green". There will be nature walks, recycling initiatives, and all residents of Bandra are requested to avoid using plastic bags for at least the duration of the festival, and for as long as possible after that. There will also be one day that all residents will be asked to keep their cars off the roads and walk, cycle or use public transport.

Do participate, even if you live halfway across the world, by at least avoiding plastic bags, or walking instead of driving. In the go green spirit, I leave you with this strip.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lookie! A Cookie!

Now that we're in Bombay, we're staying in a serviced apartment till we can move into the flat. This is our 4th day here and each evening we've come back to the room to find a little glass jar containing 4-6 cookies, some chocolate and some plain. They're rather yummy and Anando and I started looking forward to it the moment we realized it was a pattern. We polish them off and the next day the empty jar is removed when they clear the room. This evening I happened to be in the room when the doorbell rang (5 minutes ago). I opened the door to find a uniformed staff-member grinning at me. Holding out the jar he said with a cheerful smile, "Hello ma'am, evening snacks for you!"

Wow. I feel like I'm at a school picnic or camp, with allotted meals. But if snacktime equals cookies, I'm not complaining! Will keep this short as it's hard to type with a crumbly cookie in one hand.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Flight from the Desert

Mixed feelings, as always. We leave Dubai for good in another hour's time. Although you might argue that I "left" when I closed that bank account, got my cable TV refund, or when I locked the doors to an empty house one last time. But that moment, when the aircraft noses upwards and I crane my neck to watch those skyscrapers give me a standing ovation in the sun for 20 months well spent, will really be it.

I am pretty sure I will have moist eyes and a lump in my throat. There is so much to look forward to. But I am glad there is so much to look back on with joy and nostalgia as well. There had better be. It would be a shame if I'd spent this time of my life here and found nothing worth remembering. It's not Dubai, but a life, a lifestyle, a friends' circle, and the last of my 20s - which I saw off here - that will forever linger in the desert haze of Dubai.

I will be back to reclaim it, but always briefly, and always temporarily. I don't mind. It's going to be my very own time capsule.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Memories for Sale

It's that time of life, again, when you put a price tag on things you cannot keep any more, and try and convince other people to buy them. Moving to smaller accommodation in a different country means rationalizing, and I mean really rationalizing, what all you can make room for. And the things you give up move into a mental shelf instead, where they will defiitely remain, unspoilt for much longer than their physical incarnation.

But even though you put a price tag on some things, you only realise their true worth when someone tries to haggle over it. So I dusted, polished and photographed our shoe cabinet and posted the ad online.

Within hours, I got a curt response "How old? Is it scratched and much used? I will give you ___ (insert woefully low amount here) Dirhams for it and pick it up this evening."

Well I beg your pardon!!! How presumptuous. Did he really think I would just worship him for extorting it from me! My shoe cabinet is unscratched, very new, and definitely worth more than that, thank you very much. And so, indignant and emotional, I took the ad off the Net.

What's left? The washing machine that knows my dirty linen inside out and tumble dried; the sofa-bed which...hmmm; oh well, the cooking range where I experimented with hotplate cooking; and the bean bags that enveloped my family on relaxed afternoons on our balcony.

Visitors to our Bombay house - do not be surprised if you find woodwork emerging from the inhabitants, as at this rate I doubt I will sell anything.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


In all my blogging negligence, I forgot to introduce a new arrival at my parents' home. So just for the record, here's Kaizer. Watch out, he bites. But he'll also drop whatever he's doing for a tummy rub.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Flower

It’s Thursday today. She used to need hibiscus flowers on Thursdays for her pujo. When younger, she would go to the park herself, looking through the shrubs for perfect flowers to pluck for her gods. A twisted ankle thanks to an unseen pothole ended the independent trips. Then it was up to us to fetch her flowers. As pollution and cars around the neighborhood park increased, I returned empty-handed on Thursday mornings, rushing to change into my school uniform. By the time I joined JNU, she had given up expecting fresh flowers, making do with a refrigerated garland of marigolds, bought the previous evening. Rushing to class through the campus wilderness, I would chance upon the red flowers, but it was too late to pluck them and take them home. By then her pujo would be done: her wet hair drying down her back as she read the paper and chewed her paan in the wintry noon sunshine, rising briefly to rescue the prasad placating her gods before the ants and lizards got to it.

It’s Thursday today. And exactly 2 years after I said my last goodbyes to her, I was greeted this morning by a nodding hibiscus flower on a balcony some floors below me. A living, breathing reminder of a love-and-tears memory.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I said my first Dubai good-bye yesterday: to a neighbor who left this morning and won’t be back in Dubai till the end of the year. We weren’t close, we just met occasionally while waiting for the lift. J, who lives alone, is an elegant, charming lady, probably in her early sixties, an Iranian who has her family (and some posh homes) scattered across the world. So she spends the summer between South Africa, LA, Paris and wherever else she wants to go. She has visited India seven times.

She had invited us over for dinner some months back. The evening had been pleasant, though rather amusing thanks to two show-off men who competed to tell a rather undressed, hot, blonde, Australian diamond buyer how they had been all over the world, really, and “even eaten fried tarantula” (“oh it tastes awesome” nodded show-off #2). But J herself has no airs about her. She has a quiet dignity and wealth she takes for granted but needn’t flaunt.

So anyway, I had hoped to call her over one evening and really get to know more about all she’s done, places she’s lived, and her opinions of Iran. But she was away in LA and came back just briefly before heading off to Paris. And I told her we were going to leave in October for good. So over sticky Iranian sweets and a quick tete-a-tete to say bye, all I learnt was her childhood memories of Maxim’s Restaurant in Paris and how Pierre Cardin has ruined it by buying it and setting up chains all over the world (“It used to be so nice, like a club, you knew everyone, and you had your personal table right from your father’s time…” she protested) and how she is a “bad Moslem” (she doesn’t fast for Ramadan and she served and drank wine when we’d visited her).

And I came away with a box of Maxim's chocolates and a little card with her name and Paris address on it, and an invitation to visit her anytime I like, and an email address where I can contact her. And memories of a smiling neighbor who genuinely seemed to like us. And I hope she remembers us as the smiling young couple across the hall whom she will someday meet again.

I think traveling helps you to leave little bits of yourself all over the world. And that’s what I like best about it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Time to Go

Uproot. Unroot. New routes.
Changing the soil beneath our boots.
Watching, observing, experiencing.
Thinking, feeling, hearing, glancing.
Stability. Comfort. Routines to follow.
Cultural differences to swallow.
Time flying on calendar pages.
Just yesterday. It’s been ages.
Uproot. Unroot. Time to pack.
Stability under attack.
Excitement and anticipation too
Unfamiliar. New. And yet not new.
Old town. Old friends. Shops we know.
Places where we used to go.
Uncaring. Certain. Bombay awaits.
Omnipresent in our fates.
We’d gone to save. To live. To earn.
She always knew we would return.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I was waiting in a hotel lobby for Anando, leafing through a magazine. At each 'ping' announcing a lift's arrival, I would look up to see if it was him. A lift arrived. 'Ping'. A man stepped into the lobby, looking a little bewildered, a heavy laptop bag weighing his left shoulder down. He was dressed in a t-shirt and baggy jeans. His head swiveled this way and that, not sure which way he was meant to turn. At that crucial, absent-minded moment, a voice warned him, "Sir, your zip...". The poor man wildly reached for the fly of his jeans, starting to raise the hem of his t-shirt, when the Good Samaritan added, "on your bag."

For the next few seconds I had to bury my nose in the magazine as I stifled my giggles.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


After my last post, I had hoped to write something more cheerful. Of course, I had also hoped to blog sooner than I eventually have. But this one is sad too.

She used to make us the most amazing idlis. With this awesome chutney which would just drape itself all over the idlis and the shining stainless steel boxes in which she carried them to the office. And all of us would descend on the box, devouring huge quantities and licking it clean before washing it and handing it back with a big smile, already asking for the next installment. When I had stayed long enough in the company and she thought I was important enough, I would sometimes get an entire box to myself.

Her spellings were terrible, and when she typed letters on our behalf we had to be careful to avoid hilarious bloopers. The day we received emails from TS full of spelling mistakes, we knew she was filling in for his regular secretary, and would call her to warn her before he realized his carefully dictated mails were full of embarrassing errors.

She had a clear plan for the future. Her only child was 25. She and her husband would arrange his wedding, and then move back from Delhi to Kerala and live a retired life.

This was 3 years ago. She came for my wedding. I left Delhi, but very occasionally I would call and speak to her. We spoke after TS passed away. And now I heard that she lost her husband all of a sudden. They still hadn’t moved back to Kerala. They still haven’t married off their son.

At a time in my life when I am anticipating with excitement our return to India from Dubai, a home of our own in Bombay, and a new set-up in a familiar city, I wonder how it feels when dreams are denied. Not deferred, but lost forever because the other half dreaming them with you is gone. I’m waiting for Thankam to return to Delhi so that I can call her. But I don’t know what to say.

Update: I found out later that Thankam's son had got married earlier this year and her husband was well and present at the wedding. I also got around to calling her. And after a little awkwardness and consoling, she turned the tables on me in Thankam fashion, reminding me I'd been married almost 3 years now, where was the "good news" and listed all the others who were ahead of me in that race! The conversation ended with laughter, and that's the best way, always, to hang up!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


She lay next to him, a young bride, flushed and incredibly happy. He held up a coin. "This is the coin I tossed to decide whether to come home from the city when my parents said they had found me a bride. It told me to come home, and I did. And now I am with you."

She did not know what to say, except stare at him with all the love she could muster in her eyes. He was handsome, loving, and more understanding than she had been brought up to expect in her small patriarchal town. And he would remain loyal to her in 44 years of marriage, through difficult times, joblessness, complaining relatives, and occasionally ungrateful, always forgetful children.

Then one day, he was gone. She saved the coin, secreting it into her purse so that it would always be with her, to remind her of love, and what a matter of chance it was.

And now, it lay in the mud, slipped from her arthritic fingers. And all the world passing by could see was an old woman, stiffly bending to reach below a parked car, as a shining coin of no value lay just out of her grasp.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Last Orders

Delhi really isn’t the same anymore.

My brother called me to say that Grub Pub is closed. For good. Apparently the owner passed away. I can remember his face. His voice when he answered the phone with “Hello Grub Pub”. The scooter he used to ride around the lanes of Hauz Khas. His curly-haired little girl. And I am so sad to hear not only of the family’s loss, but also to think that there is no one who will carry forward this small but important restaurant, which was probably the first taste of Chinese food for most Hauz Khas residents.

Set by the main central park of Hauz Khas, one in a row of shops – hardware, tailoring, rickety stairs going up to courier shops – Grub Pub was your average greasy cheap Chinese joint. Except that it was our average greasy cheap Chinese joint.

In all the years I knew it, Grub Pub didn’t change, except to get air-conditioning. An unassuming glass and wood door with some stained-glass pattern and the instructions “Pull” formed the entrance to gastronomical bliss and contentment on a budget. You walked in, the unmanned reception said “Please ring bell for service”. Rickety stairs went up at a steep angle into a hole in the ceiling. If you were new and rang the bell, after 5 seconds one of the staff would come thumping down the thinly carpeted stairs. You could order and wait on bar stools while they packed your food.

But if you were a returning customer and meant serious business, you would go up the stairs, pull back the standard-issue, airport/hospital waiting room chairs with a loud noise, and park yourself at the sunmica-topped tables. The kitchen’s swing door would open and someone would emerge, look at you, go away, come back with menu cards and glasses of water.

I devoured my first momos at Grub Pub. With incredible amounts of chilli paste. Knowing that the chilled Thums Up Grub Pub always stocked would bail me out when I turned into a fire-breathing dragon. My standard order:
Ek Chicken Momos, steamed
Ek Veg Hakka Noodles
Ek Chilli Chicken Boneless, Dry
Ek Chicken Manchurian
Ek Thums Up

And then sit back and wait, drooling a little already. The table would have those plastic sauce bottles, and steel containers for 3 sauces, with holes cut in the lid for the spoon to go in. You could while away the short wait for your food by looking around. There was that never-changing, ever-green moneyplant near the bathroom door. A never-changing poster of George Michael graced one wall. There was another poster, a surreal, blue and purple, semi-illustration of a lonely island amid stormy seas, no people, done in a style that I have only ever seen on Magic game cards. Years later, when I first saw Brooke Shields on TV, I recognized her from Grub Pub’s poster, where she gazed steamily at indifferent, pre-Cable TV middle-class families who were intent on eating their fill off those brown chinhat plates. The meal would end with a pleasing figure scrawled on a piece of paper, and, years later, proper bills, resting on a bed of saunf. It was the essential Indian restaurant, even if it served Chinese.

Later Grub Pub expanded to kathi rolls and some other Indian stuff. But we stuck to our preferences.

Grub Pub was our break from monotony. On boring food days, we would order in for a plate of momos and rush out to get some Thums Up to accompany it. There was no minimum order. On busy days, on oh-no-there’s-tinda-days, Dida-doesn’t-want-to-cook days, we’re-whitewashing-and-the-house-is-upside-down days, we would rely on Grub Pub. Budget birthday treats happened there. Surprise meetings with old friends happened there. Fits of hysterical laughter happened there.

I still have the Grub Pub number stored on my phone, though I have changed phones twice since I left Delhi. Not that I need it, because 26966317 rolls off my tongue like my date of birth.

When I heard the news, for the first time ever I Googled Grub Pub to see what the WWW has to say about it. And the answer – nothing. There is an entry on Sulekha but the map is wrong. Another site says “no customer reviews”. No one ever debated on Grub Pub food. You ate it. You loved it. You loved the price. You got the recognition from the staff. And you left, mouth bulging with free saunf. It was an institution, and that was that.

An era is over.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why Me (Incident # 2684982)

I had an Anamika episode this morning. That's about all that can explain the "why me" feeling I frequently experience.

I eventually reached office, unscathed, a free woman - my dignity creeping back to normal. Thinking, "Well, of course I will blog about it, but I don't have to go out of my way to tell Anando." And I get a call from him. The man actually snickers on the phone and says "tsk tsk...chhee chhee...". And I know. Word has got around. Oh well. I wait. "How did you find out?" I ask.

"I was in the gym, and the guy at the reception came and told me, 'Sir, your wife is stuck in the bathroom.'" Of course, Anando in his oh-my-god-my-poor-wife sympathy (NOT) asked "still?" I can just imagine him barely blinking or missing a step on the machine as he received this report. His only concern, is the ordeal over? And, how many of the fellow gymmers heard this guy make my wife sound like a 2-year-old?

I plead guilty. Here's what happened.

Anando and I usually get to the gym around 7.20 am. This being Dubai, there are separate halls for men and women. I walked in, smiled at the lone girl in the gym whom I see sometimes, and walked ahead to the locker area. She was not wearing earphones, I noted. And that knowledge helped when I was screaming my lungs out about 80 seconds later.

Aside: It's a boring gym. Very few people come in except for the aerobics sessions in the evenings. Mornings, especially Thursdays, are very quiet. The music player only works when the staff handle it, the air-conditioning makes a lot of noise, the water heater is often out of order, but in these recessionary times I guess we'll take what we get.

Okay, so I got to the locker, put away my bag and stepped into the toilet (got to get rid of that 500 ml of water I drink first thing each morning). Now, I have a horror of getting locked in a public toilet so I always check the door lock before shutting myself in. Did that too. Then I turned towards the toilet and realised it wasn't quite usable. (Let's just say the previous user had poor civic sense.)

So I turned to get out and enter a different cubicle, only to see that I was locked in! Hmmm....Let's try this one more time. No, it really doesn't work. So I am actually locked in.

First thoughts: embarrassing.
Second thoughts: thank goodness that girl is on the treadmill outside.
Third thoughts: She may have walked out.
Fourth thoughts: Her bag was in the changing room, so she will come back.
Fifth thought: EXCUSE ME....
(As you can see, by now I was thinking aloud. Very very aloud.)
The fifth thought turned into a sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth...nth....And finally I heard someone approaching.

Anyway, it was all under control after that. The guy at the reception was called in. He took a look at the door and me (there's a crack between the door and door frame) and said "I'll just be back." (I thought then that he went to fetch help, but now I think he went to tell Anando.) He came back with a spray (no label) and sprayed it at the lock from outside. I couldn't believe it. I thought it might be some sort of acid that just magically, MI-3' ishly melts away metal. But then he passed it to me through the gap between the door and the roof, and asked me to do the same. I still don't know what he planned to do with that. When that didn't work, he went off again.

Eventually I rescued myself. I discovered that the knob was loose. So I pulled it out entirely. And went at the screw below it. And a few seconds and half a fingernail later I was free. Just as the mechanic was walking in. Hah! I dusted my hands and looked a bit aggrieved in an "it's okay" effect. And said nonchalantly "You had better put an 'out of order' sign on that door."

Profuse apologies followed from the staff. When they left I admitted my desperation and offered profuse thanks to my knight in shining armor. (Okay, so she was a girl in stretch pants.) She said she had barely heard the sound over the noise of her treadmill. (Next person who calls me loud please take note. I can't be loud to save my life. Ahem) And first thought it was coming from outside. I am so glad she chose to stop, catch her breath, and investigate. If she hadn't been at the gym this morning I'd have been stuck in the loo till I don't know when. And it wasn't even a clean loo. If I'd been there all day, I might even have cleaned it. My office would have missed me. But I don't know if they'd have called Anando. And so I may have been there till, let's see...tomorrow's Friday and the gym is closed on Fridays....

Okay, I'm alive. Let's celebrate that this weekend.

And oh, these embarrassing things have happened before. Enjoy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Desert Rain

...has a surprise element, and so it fascinates and energises the spirit more than monsoon rain.

What can be more pleasant a surprise than to wake up on a Dubai April morning, when summer is mustering its batallions to plague us, and find the pitter-patter of raindrops on windows, to open the doors expecting a blast of hot air, but to be caressed by a seductive breeze instead, to dash for shade from the harsh sun, only to find clouds dogging your steps as you dodge puddles and let the raindrops kiss your arms.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

India Helps

A classic example of getting started. I am humbled by the quiet determination of the people who have put this organisation together in the last 4 months. Please spread the word.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Here Kitty

My description of the exciting jungle safaris in Zambia appeared in today's Business Standard, on page 10. Do take a look! Unfortunately I don't know how to show you the epaper, only people who are registered can see it! So this is just the web version.

Edited to add: Now that it's old news, read it here:

A thrilling hunt for big cats in the tranquil jungles of Zambia.

An inattentive passerby might ignore the innocent patch of Nile cabbage on the swampy lagoon, as it mysteriously moves towards the shore. But in the jungle, survival depends on sharp sight. So I focus my city eyes carefully on the limp leaves, watching in fascination as an enormous, slimy, blubbery back rises out of the water in the semi-dark, pushing the cabbage aloft, and a hippopotamus heads off to sleep, ending a busy day spent soaking in the mud.
This watering hole which we are scouting for wildlife lies in the South Luangwa National Park in north-eastern Zambia. Lush green and thriving along the sluggish and impossibly winding Luangwa River, the park has a tremendous variety of birds and animals living in 9,050 square kilometres of protected forest, full of baobabs, mopane, leadwood and other trees. It offers near-certain sightings of four of Africa’s “big five” — lions, leopards, elephants and buffalos. The notable exception is the two-horned rhino, found elsewhere in Africa.
We start to ask a question when a shrieking yellow baboon destroys the silence of the rapidly darkening forest, followed by a sudden, low growl. Paul, our forest guide, announces, “Leopard,” and starts the engine.
Moses, his assistant, beams a powerful spotlight in an arc before us, splitting the blackness as his namesake once split the sea, and our necks swing in tandem, following the light. The anticipation mingles with slight fear… it could be anywhere in the dark, on top of the baobab tree, for instance, that we’re driving below. As the engine slows over a bump, the leopard growls again, closer, and the baboon repeats its warning. “Mating call, that means we might see two leopards,” Paul comments. Sheer foolhardiness, says my cautious self, city mortals actively hunting out a big cat in the shroud of darkness. There’s no question of a stealthy approach; the engine roars as Paul drives through the tall grass, dodging bushes and revving over small shrubs in pursuit of the elusive feline.
Then we turn a bend, and come upon the leopards lying in a clearing, unsurprised.
I realise they are waiting for us. And I feel small and insignificant before them. They really don’t care. They could have disappeared by this time, alerted by our noisy approach and human smell, but they don’t dignify our presence with an escape. Our intrusion is the same irritant as the fly they swat with sheathed claws. One blinks drowsily in the light, and when the paparazzi camera annoys, it rises majestically and merges into the bushes just beyond, inviting his mate elsewhere. There are babies to make and a magnificent lineage to continue. And we are left, with silly grins, a few beads of sweat, and some dark photos.
The next morning we are greedy again. Zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocs, check, check, check, check. Elephants, check. Buffalos, check. Leopards, check. What about lions? Poor Paul has never been far from the forest for longer than three weeks and loves each animal equally, showing us a microscopic bee-eater bird with as much excitement as he devotes to the gangly giraffe blocking our way. But bloodthirsty city-dwellers that we are, we want our money’s worth. “Where are the lions?” we whine after politely photographing an endless variety of impalas, pukus, and other herbivorous, harmless forest residents. “Look, yellow-billed oxpecker,” Paul says, to distract us. My brother grumbles at the back: “South Luangwa Bird Sanctuary.”
Then, as we sulkily watch a bunch of grazing Bambis, the wireless radio crackles and Paul throws the gear (and us) into reverse. The previous day he has told us that the 11-seater, modified-for-the-jungle Landcruiser can race at up to “100 ks” (no one in Zambia says kilometers). Today, we take his word for it, especially since the speedometer is broken, showing zero even as we whiz through speed-blurred, thick forest.
When Paul races past a lilac-breasted roller bird without pointing it out to us, we know he’s on a mission. And after 10 minutes of silence as we speculate on where he’s leading us, we turn into a clearing and see the Big Cats for the first time.

It is a pride of 12 lions from far-off Bushcamp Lodge, which has surprisingly found its way to Mopane Spur, Paul informs us. They are feasting on the remnants of a zebra. Well-fed, they stagger over to the shade, while white-headed vultures start circling overhead for the feast.
Four safari cars are parked haphazardly and cameras click crazily. While the younger lions stretch out lazily in the sun, belly up, the older lions watch us, wary yellow eyes making sure we don’t try any primate business. After several minutes, they all disappear for a nap into the innocuous shrubs behind them. Show’s over. Half-heartedly, and with many backward glances, we turn away. We have left the lions in their home, and now it is time for us to return to ours.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Occupational Hazards

One of the drawbacks of working as an editor is that I am constantly nitpicking for faults. Matar Paneer spelt as Mutter Paneer on the menu triggers off hysteria and I cannot send an SMS without putting a space after a full stop, even if it means spilling over into a 2nd SMS and paying double.

I even mailed Google's support team once because one of the pop-up information windows on Gmail had a spelling error which I thought didn't gel with Google's reputation. They corrected it promptly.

And today, someone's messing around with Gmail, because the link to the inbox on the sidebar says "inbox" instead of "Inbox" whereas above and below it are links to Compose Mail, Starred, Chats, Sent Mail, Drafts, All Mail - everything starting with a capital letter except Inbox.

As you can see, I don't have much to do at work!

Monday, March 30, 2009


9,050 square kilometers of forest, and he knows it all like the back of his hand. He’ll stop where you can see nothing and point out a fist-sized bird with a lion-size name, telling you what it eats, where it sleeps, how it hatches its eggs, and possibly, if you press a little, its horoscope as well.

In the dark, he’ll hear a grunt and tell you that’s a leopard’s mating call. He’ll even ensure you look in the right direction and spot the spots, waiting while you take photos, softly explaining what’s going on.

50 meters from well-fed lions, he’ll pick up a recently gnawed-at zebra leg and hold it up for you to inspect from the safety of your car, smilingly confident that he can leap onto the car and drive away if a yellow-eyed predator comes charging out at him.

In the blackness of night he will remind you to look up and point out the Southern Cross as starry sawdust litters the sky.

In his entire life he has been away from the forest for only 3 weeks, to a nearby city.

So I was really disappointed when he told me that in those 3 weeks he’d not missed the forest at all. It would have been so much more romantic if he’d said he couldn’t sleep all those nights rather than that he enjoyed visiting the clubs.

But that’s what makes him human.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Signing Off

No no, I'm not shutting down my blog (though the past month of silence may have suggested so).

Just popping in from a very busy time at work to share some sign-off gems I received in my email:

"Yours delightfully"
"I remain at your entire disposal."

But I will be patient, because a client recently told me, "Please bare with me for a while."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Doll

In 2 days, he will be in his home. The women in his family will be planning the cooking already – for though they have limited means, it’s only once in 2 years they can indulge the breadwinner of the family. It’s only once in 2 years that he can sleep and wake at leisure, not following a clock determined by construction timelines and investor stakes. It’s only once in 2 years that his employers give him a return ticket on the cheapest airline to go home for a month.

Right now, he is standing in a shiny mall. His ill-fitting, rarely used, casual clothes hang awkwardly on the lean frame. They were bought for a healthier body, when he was packing to come away to this land of opportunity. He had thought that in return for his farmland he would be a rich man. But he only creates houses for the rich, remaining on the outside. Even in this mall, he is the outsider. He smells a little – of perspiration, cement and sparingly used soap. People don’t stand too close to him. He doesn’t notice. He is looking at a doll.

She has black hair, bright eyes, and chubby limbs. Her frock is usually stained and ends too high above her knees. Her mother makes her wear an ugly pair of thick, too-loose pantyhose to cover the limbs that will offend the radical Islamic group that is in control of his village. She has asked her father, 2 years ago, to bring him a doll next time. She whispered it in his ear when he hugged her one last time as his wife looked on.

She has blonde hair, blue eyes, and skinny limbs. A plastic purse dangles from her shoulder. Her plastic pink heels arch her foot at an unnatural angle. She has a pet plastic dog. And 2 changes of wardrobe. The whole package is pleasing pink. He knows she will love the doll.

But the price. He could eat a week's meals for this cost. Should he? Perhaps she’s too grown up to like the doll anymore. He could pretend he’s forgotten and put it off till next time. 2 years later. By then she would certainly be too grown up to ask for a doll, if not to want one.

He walks out. Glad that he did not spend those dirhams. As he walks towards the exit, a young family enters. And again, he is looking at a doll.

She has black hair, bright eyes, and chubby limbs. She clings to her father’s hand, knee-high as he slows his step to match hers. She is laughing – a pure, happy sound - and her father is ruffling her hair with his free hand.

He turns around and goes back to the shop. The doll is waiting for him.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


What is a woman?

At times a comfortable cliché. At times an unruly rebel.

Now a simple stereotype. Now a dynamic daredevil.

Shape-shifting like her life depends on it.

Over-achieving to break all barriers.

Yesterday a girl. Tomorrow a girl.

And today?

A heart. A passion. A dream. A hope. A bubble. A wall.

Love. Ambition. Forgiveness. Endurance. Patience.

Vanity. Envy. Anger. Rage. Hate.

A woman is all or nothing.

But when this happens, they reduce her to exactly one thing.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wind your body...

It seems I’m terrible at following instructions. There’s this svelte, gorgeous woman in front of me telling me to raise my hand, turn this way, look that way, shimmy shimmy shimmy and shake, and stop! And instead of copying her moves, I am mirroring them, turning left when she turns right, raising the left foot when she says right, and that too, a few seconds late each time. Ands I’m not even supposed to be here. My place is on the treadmill, in the other corner. In my sneakers. Sweating off that morning donut. Not on this lovely parquet floor. Barefoot. Shaking the belly I should be working off. After all, this is a belly-dancing class.

Yeah, it’s my slot at the gym and although I have about forty thousand left feet I couldn’t resist abandoning the treadmill and joining the circle of multi-shaped women aged anywhere between 17 and 40 who’d converged on the gym for a free belly-dancing class that happens twice a week. “I can make a fool of myself for free,” I thought. Yeah, I can totally do that. I’m doing it. So I scurried off to join them.

It was tough, it was fun, it was pointless. But that was the point.