The Convocation

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Trapped

Image Courtesy: croobal.com

The phone rang incessantly as if trying to gain importance in the house already buzzing with activity. Suzie picked up the phone expecting it to be another one of her business calls. Being one the most respected names in the industry, her days were always a whirlwind of phone calls, meetings, conflict resolutions and site visits.

“Hello”, she said in a formal but authoritative tone looking quizzically at the clock. The hands were trying to outrun each other to reach the number nine. Not many people called her this late in the night.

“Hello.” Said a soft female voice.

“Shaiiiina….How are you?” Suzie’s voice turned calmer and heavier as she directed the people sitting around to leave the room. Hearing her daughter on the other side instantly lifted her spirits. But it was not one of her weekly calls. They had a long conversation just two days back. It had never happened in the last three years that Shaina broke the ritual and called in-between. It worked for Suzie too, given her erratic work schedule. She kept their pre-decided time totally free to talk to her beloved daughter. And everyone knew that. They never disturbed her. Though she wished to pester Shaina with all the motherly concerns every day, it made more sense to have just a weekly call to avoid any distraction in the studies. So what was it and that too so late in the night?

“I am doing fine.”

“Then what is it sweetheart?” Suzie asked with worry lines appearing on her already wrinkled face. At sixty, her face told more stories than her words did. Shaina had taken her exams. It was her last year. She was already interning with a reputed company. Had she fallen ill? Were the results out? Did she flunk any of her exams? In fraction of seconds, Suzie mentally ticked all the bad news checkboxes.

“Everything is ok. We have our convocation lined up next month. And I want you to come. I wanted to talk to you about this the other day itself but couldn’t make up my mind. ” Shaina said preparing herself for the storm this small request would ensue.

“Ohh. And I thought….”Suzie trailed off feeling relieved.

“But wait, you… want me to come to your convocation?” She added hastily registering Shaina’s wish. The words suddenly felt so heavy on the tongue.

“Yes, I do. And I know you will say no. But you are coming and there are no two ways about it.” Shaina said authoritatively.

Suzie didn’t know how to respond to that. Hearing her daughter give orders brought an innate satisfaction, a role reversal that any mother would be proud of. But almost immediately, it stung her. Just like the very first time when her daughter returned home from school and wouldn’t stop crying. After a lot of prodding, she told her that how some boys in the class teased her by making fun of Suzie. The tears in her daughter’s eyes shattered her. She could fight any pressure, any societal deluge against her, but not her precious daughter.

“It is not a good idea Shaina”, she said sans emotions, sidelining the thoughts lingering in her mind.

She had never been worried about what people said about her, the constant uproar; she was used to it. But she couldn’t afford to mess up her daughter’s life that hadn’t even begun properly. The very reason for sending her away was staring at her face again. Though it was the hardest decision of her life, Suzie was sure that Shaina had to be sent away. In a locality with two madrasas, a dhobhi ghat, and a tiny, local municipal school, what could have she possibly learned if she remained stuck there. The same city would have also made sure that she remained under the shadow of biases, prejudices. Shaina was the purpose of her life, right from the time of her birth. Sending her away meant losing the grounding of life but Suzie was ready to do that as it meant better future for her daughter. She had never even visited her college to avoid any kind of confrontation.

“You don’t want your friends to ridicule you, alienate you. You don’t even understand the repercussions yet sweetheart.”

“I do. I have thought about it. You are my family. Those who can live with that are the only real friends. I don’t want those people around me who can’t see you in the eye. You are coming. And it is final.”

She argued, she reasoned but lost to her daughter’s determination. She hung up, feeling torn between the love for her daughter and the respect her daughter stood a chance to lose.

When she adopted Shaina from a neighbor who died during childbirth with her real father finding no use for the newborn except considering her a burden, she didn’t think there would be a flipside to it. She always wanted to be a parent. Could it have happened in the community she lived in; the society that didn’t even recognize her as she didn’t fit the ideal description of either a man or a woman? Shaina brought that happiness to her. She gave her a name, an identity, of a mother. In return, Suzie ‘created’ a family for her which fitted no societal norms. ‘Abbu’, father, as she was for Shaina despite being a woman/man, a hijra for everyone else, an ‘Ammi’,mother, her disciple Neelu and a ‘grandmother’, her guru, a ‘he’ for everyone else.

She learnt parenting, the ropes of it. Visiting the doctors to know how to feed the baby, to burp her, to play with her, spending sleepless nights when the baby writhed with colic, high fever or a bad stomach. She was more of a mother, by heart, trapped in the body of a man. Was it her fault? Was it her choice?

Shaina initially felt very awkward growing up in a household full of men/women blurring the defined boundaries, with no one like her around. When she was little, she would see her Abbu going to weddings, to gather badhai, to dance and bless. While growing up, she saw her acquiring a higher status due to her reputation but still would find it difficult to see many members of this big joint family working in petty professions. Suzie knew that Shaina didn’t like it but she also knew that age would make her realize that life was not a fairytale especially for those who were different, who didn’t fit in the set moulds of the society. And it had. She realized that calling her over to the convocation was Shaina’s way of breaking even with the world.

Was the new Supreme Court ruling, finally accepting their existence, was leaping out of papers and finding grounding? Were people accepting it for real? Or was it her daughter’s insane attempt to walk the talk? After all, she was soon going to be a lawyer. Hopefully, a good one at that. She had certainly won her first case by convincing Suzie to be there, at her big day.

*****

Through the window inside the huge convocation hall, Suzie sheepishly glanced at the commotion the flowing black convocation dresses caused. She had carefully chosen a sober saree, light jewelry and subdued make-up trying hard to be just another face in the milieu. It wasn’t the first time she was around a huge crowd. That’s what her work entailed. She wouldn’t have thought twice walking into the rush, if it was her work, creating a space of her own, having every eye on her. But that’s exactly what she didn’t want here. She just wanted them to be indifferent to her presence, at least for once.

“It’s okay Abbu”, Shaina whispered while slipping her hand in Suzie’s with assurance. Suzie looked apprehensive. As they walked towards their seat, with Shaina greeting hoards of people, Suzie couldn’t help but notice many anxious, perplexed, curious faces. But to her surprise, some were unperturbed too. Shaina was oblivious to the whole drama. The skip in her step didn’t take any beating. She halted near a group who were talking animatedly and laughing loudly.

“People, meet my dad.” Shaina announced cheerfully to the group turning their attention to Suzie. Everyone smiled cautiously and wished her. Suzie looked admiringly at the youngsters with a silly grin. She pushed aside the nagging thought if they would jeer her daughter later or would cut the ties altogether without a word. The awkwardness was visible on both sides.

“Relax guys. She doesn’t bite”, Shaina broke the silence and everyone burst into laughter.

It was time now for the pass outs to approach the podium. As she saw her daughter galloping towards the stage to receive her degree, Suzie knew if she was the shadow, Shaina was the light. With every heart and every hand now clapping for the young lawyers, her difference drowned in the cheers. For once, she was just a parent, the one she set out to be.

[This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is, “Grab the nearest book. Open it and go to the tenth word. Do a Google Image Search of the word. Write about what the image brings to mind." I picked up 'Sita's Curse' by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu and the word was 'Trapped'.]

I am one of the guest authors at We Post Daily for the month of September.

A Gremlin in the Imps

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Once upon a time there was a gremlin. Mischievous but good hearted in a bunch of ‘thinking ’ imps. He thought too, a little mechanically though. It was difficult for him to find friends because the way he looked at the world was not the way everyone else did. He liked moving in circles while the rest of the world loved straight lines. While the world loved talking, his mind was filled with pictures. How much he wished if he could talk through pictures too. While the other imps kept themselves busy by learning the dynamics of the world, his mind was fascinating enough to engage him.

A square peg in a round hole?

Very much. But the problem with the world is that it does not like square pegs. It tries to rub off the edges with the social formalities, the etiquette, the step by step procedure of fitting in until you decide to give up. It was no different with the gremlin too. To make the world go round, you need to first understand what a round is. So mamma gremlin and papa gremlin took him to the school to learn the basics. Every imp had always been studying in this school. But not the gremlin. They looked at him and told him off. He had to be taught differently, he had to have the concepts modified a bit to suit his brain’s wiring.

Couldn’t they do it?

Of course they could, with little extra effort and the willingness to improve the life of someone who was an asset by not being round. An asset by the virtue of autism, a difficulty, not a disease. A different way of thinking, not a shun down as the school wanted it to be. But papa gremlin and mamma gremlin knew that he had the right to study wherever he wanted to, where every other imp went. The school had to make arrangements. Why wouldn’t they? Just because they had rankings to maintain and not create a pool of better individuals to face the world. Did they care about creating a future generation prepared for the challenges? They did not. So the gremlins decided to invoke the highest power to intervene. It is known as RTE or Right to Education Act now.

This gremlin can be any kid, the one who likes to just huddle in the corner in a birthday party and watch the fan move or the one who likes to be just with himself in a park. The one you have noticed making unusual sounds, unaware of the social decorum or the one you have pin pointed for being unresponsive to your helloes . He might not be intentionally rude. He might be just too engrossed in his mind.

Does it qualify him to be not eligible for an admission in a mainstream school? The words- integrated, inclusive- just flow on its own in the conversation you have with the schools. But only on paper. When it comes to actually admitting a child with difficulties, the excuses are many, the ways to overcome RTE are plenty.

“There are no seats available for such kids. We have to maintain a ratio.”

“We only have one special educator who is not equipped to handle such specific needs.”

“You should try a special school.”

When government created this act, the idea was to let everyone have equal access to education so why this apathy towards some who think differently? The schools can certainly have these facilities to not let this amazing talent pool waste. But no one cares. In a country with a population of 1.2 billion, it is no one’s business if thousands miss to create a life for themselves due to a difficulty, a difficulty that can easily be their strength.

Thousands of gremlins fight with the system every day, with the public apathy, to change the perceptions of the people around them.

But it’s the hope and the stories like that of Rahul, who got admission after being rejected by a dozen schools, which keep them going. No school wanted this 17 year old boy with autism who had actually passed Class X ICSE that too without any support. The label of autism weighed more than the certificate which would have easily sufficed in case of a ‘regular’ child. Will we ever be able to look beyond the labels and value the caliber? There are some brilliant kids out there, waiting for a chance. Well, someone has taken a chance on Rahul, even if it is after months of struggle. Let’s be a part of the change and outnumber those with the biases.

[This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is, “If your day to day responsibilities were taken care of and you could throw yourself completely behind a cause, what would it be?”]

I am one of the guest authors at We Post Daily for the month of September.

What’s in a name?

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When a little baby girl decided to descend on the face of earth in the cot of a robust Punjabi couple, they jumped in joy and landed back on ground doing Bhangra. Why not! They so wanted her to be their doll. Did it make any difference if she had tiny ears, long face, a flattened head and big bobbly eyes? No, not to them. Looked like an ape, if you ask me. Sure, she descended from apes and her features were a definite proof of that.

She cried.

A meek voice?

They laughed. A Punjabi with such a soft voice! The voice would drown in the roars. But she was their doll. Relatives looked at the oval faced wonder and suggested names similar to eggs, papaya and all things elongated. Thank God, the brother was more enamored by the feather weight than the big eyes and doodle head. He picked the doll that looked at him curiously and announced it to the world, “She is my bubble.”

You ask, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” in the true Shakespearean manner.

But bubble she was. The wind would make her lose the balance; the hops for hop scotch would turn into long jumps as inertia would be close on the heels of her long sticky legs. But she would sway, true to her name, with the wind – carefree, untied, an invisible layer under her feet; she would reflect the color of grass, the hues of sky, the ribbons of rainbow but she would also pop at the slightest touch. The drama played in her eyes, the tears jerked with the smallest of pillow fights. Bubble she was.

So I say, “So Bubble would, were she not called Bubble?

You say, “It would.”

“We doff thy name.”

So Bubble went and entered a new name but the feather weight stayed.

As it couldn’t be her name in the school. After all, what would the kids call her? They would tease her; they would shred her. The holy books came handy, the suggestions came pouring in. The impulse to Google or asking for suggestions on Facebook was so not the order of the day or she would have ended up with the trendiest but oddly unique name. Well, the name was oddly unique now too with the added advantage of being gender neutral. So you pick up a stone, and a namesake would pop up with a big smile nodding the head in agreement. The result – at least three namesakes in her every class with the complete confusion of a ‘Singh’ and a ‘Kaur’ (signifies the sikh-ness). And that was just the start.

But what her new name meant?

‘Someone who sings praises for the lord.’

So she singed, with the soft voice.

First the Shammi melody ‘Aaja aaja’ complemented with a shimmy and then the glorious Michael Jackson. ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ spilled when The ‘Smooth Criminal’ stuck. ‘Dangerous’ became the anthem until one day her parents reminded her that it meant the Lord up there and not the one living in Neverland. So much for the love of God. Well, now that both of them are up there, together, I am sure whenever I put on ‘Thriller’, I see them holding hands and doing moonwalk. No wonder, the rains are so heavy in my part of the world. The clouds just can’t stop colliding. But I digress.

You ask, “So what about the name?”

The name of course! Friends bent it, cut it, and turned it into jazz in a hippie way.

‘Doff thy name.’

With just the swung notes left, it was now open for the creativity to flow. So as the jazz played in the air, the fingers tapped furiously on the keyboard, ripping apart the code and sending it into numerous iterations to create perfect software. Highly creative, amidst long work hours and non-stop coffee. And then to break the deadly jig, entered another dimension – an extension cord, umbilical cord they say, that marked the journey of creative. Just when the boy stepped out of the tummy, a team somewhere, sitting in a posh office, decided to print a heartfelt article of this mother- to -be. She loved to wield the pen and in a hormonal fit sent this article to an established newspaper.  A week old, the boy, saw his mother’s name in the print. The signal was clear. The snipping of the name and the umbilical cord were working.

So do you still say “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”?

I say, “So Jas would, were she not called Jas?”

You say, “she would.”

Even without the title.

 

[This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is, “Do you know the meaning of your name, and why your parents chose it? Do you think it suits you?”]

I am one of the guest authors at We Post Daily for the month of September.

Mom in the City: A Book Review

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Mom In The City

Handling career, parenting, social life, womanhood, and family commitments means juggling all the balls 24*7. Add to that peer pressure, not from your colleagues but the mommy friends you have gained by admitting your child to a ‘playschool with a difference’ in a classy and posh neighborhood, you are right amidst a saucy mix of lies, self-created situations and chaos. But not all chaos is bad.

‘Mom in the City’ is a book that has brought mommy-lit genre in India i.e. books related to motherhood, bringing up a child, pregnancy, all things mommy but with strong shades of chick-lit. So I would say a chick-lit adjusted to the taste buds of young mommies. The good part about this book is that the simple tips and advices about tackling little kids are neatly wrapped in good humored sentences without making them sound preachy or even as advices. They just pop in and out of the narrative naturally, helping the story move forward and the young moms gaining a perspective or two. But you know what they say about parenting – nothing teaches you as much as the little monster himself, ok not monster for the mushy mommy types who might take it to the heart.

So is the case with Iravati who is a publishing industry professional, and a single mom trying to pick up the threads of her life in a new city, Delhi where she has moved to from California. To fit into the social norms and social circle of the perfectly manicured moms, she weaves a lie. How this lie takes a life and how this single mother walks on these tight ropes of internal tussles, mothering, desires and professional commitments is what this story is all about.

True to the genre

The moments that stand out are the ones between Ira and her son Abhi. The interactions, the emotional moments, the tantrums are what all mothers or all parents can relate to. The balancing act of Ira between parenting and the career goals is honest; every working woman goes through these conflicts. The priorities have to be set and re-set every second. To remain true to the idea of chick-lit, the story is peppered with lots of high heels, fancy wardrobes, and animated discussions that lead to few good laughs. The parenting pitfalls are real; the need to be accepted is justified after the sudden abandonment by her husband. The struggle of coming to terms with the decision and the utter helplessness that follows also takes you in as a reader. The story though is not of helplessness but is of working your way out of it. Some characters like that of an old woman Ira meets outside her son’s school shouts of the loneliness the big cities bring.

The pitfalls

Most characters, however, are stereotypical. Delhi high life speckled with shallow but shiny personalities brings out the superficiality but at the same time makes it look a little fabricated. Having shades of grey is perfectly acceptable because all of us have them in higher or lower proportions but the character assassination of the main rival at the end seems unnecessary. When the dashing college buddy, Vasu walks back into Ira’s life, whom she loved in college, but she was only a friend to him, it gives you a feeling of déjà vu.  I don’t think I have to tell you which movie it reminded me of. The romantic angle didn’t quite work for me. It could be due to the plot’s predictability. But the mushy moms can still dig the handsome Vasu and his chivalry.

The author has tried to tackle many different issues – loneliness in old age, decision to remain childfree, marital issues, abandonment, societal pressures, fickle friendships, friendships with purpose – through different characters. Some work, some don’t.

The writing is refreshing, the premise is empowering with the protagonist being a single mom. The story is well paced. The style is very simple and conversational which makes you pick up the book. A gossip session with a friend at times. It is a light breezy read which has its emotional moments. With this book, I see mommy-lit making a successful entry in India. The book is what it has set out to be, an entertaining read for the lovers of chick-lit.

Author: Kausalya Saptharishi

Publisher: Random House India

Genre: Mom-lit

Price: 250/-

 

[ The review is commissioned by the author. The views are my own.]

Ram Bharose

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spicysaturdayI refrain from using Hindi words in an English language post. Not that I don’t like Hindi but I feel mixing the languages dilutes the impact, lowers the value. And yet, sometimes it is the only way you can describe the exact state of affairs, of life around you. ‘Ram Bharose’ is how I define it, aptly, precisely.

The current state of the knowledge that we feed our children through the temples of learning, the schools. Last week, I set out on a journey to know more about the indian education system. The more I explored, the more annoyed I felt about what the schools today think is important for the children. Or what they think lures the parents. Aren’t schools meant to allow children to explore their true selves? Not that they were doing that in the earlier times, but the way world is changing, the system, I was hoping, would take a turn for the better.

Right from turning basements into playgrounds to just having a single counselor for 2000 students, that too because the government says so, business is an apt term. They know that there is nothing wrong in commercializing and selling the agenda of education. Because the parents will anyways trickle in, the brand will grow, the branches will flourish. AC rooms –are they a requirement or a vast ground for the budding footballers? The exteriors are polished; they train the future gymnasts too. The fees, skyrocketing.

Then you come to the question for which you are willing to pay that humungous amount. You inquire about the methods of teaching, ‘Ma’m it is concept based. Not rote learning. Individual child attention’. You smile with relief. That’s what it is ‘On Paper’.

But in a hushed tone, if you can read between the lines, one size has to fit all. You cannot be a different fish; you have to grow the stripes, just like everyone else.

You have to fit in.

“Didn’t you say concept based? The child’s way of learning? A fish has to remain a fish and not turn into a zebra.” You turn around and ask. “But Ma’m, in effect, that’s how it has to be.”

That’s right. That’s what is needed at every level. And you are trained to do so; that’s individual child attention. You are trained to toe the line. Now, that’s what is missing in the old schools.

The old schools have prim buildings, large playgrounds, and open green fields but the methodology would put even the buried British to shame. With more than 50 students cramped in a room, does the teacher even remember the name of the back bencher? She writes and writes on the board because she has a target to complete, syllabus to finish. The students will go home, cram it and then spit it out on the exam paper.

Mission accomplished. In old and new alike.

We did that. Sadly, our children are doing the same. Unfortunately, the schools are focusing more on material than actually doing something to change. To make the children think beyond the curriculum, ahead of their time, allowing them to perceive the facts in their own individual manner.

Ram bharose, the children move from one class to another, knowing little about what and where to use what they are reading. If someone happens to be rapt in the class, he or she has more chances of growing big, the rest settle down and accept to be dwarfs. They are made to accept, if they don’t. Because old or new, only the methods have changed; the ideology remains the same. You have to be a diamond to begin with. They will dust you, a little polish and you are ready to face the world with your 3 Carat glow. But what happens to the raw carbons, needing a little heat, a little more nurturing, a potential of 8 Carat, perhaps? They simply suffocate in the rubble without a whimper. Some courageous ones find their calling after years and pave their way. But no one knows how many have died an untimely death in that rubble because the oxygen, the caring hand never reached out to them. Just because they couldn’t comprehend the workings of the world, the way rest of us did. The scenario hasn’t changed. The make-up is on; it looks beautiful. Still no one is ready to make the effort to find that ‘Extra’ to put in front of the ‘Ordinary’.

Zoutons.com: A Website Review

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As I graduate from the beginner to the mid-level online shopper status, who loves to experiment and dares to buy furniture online too, a great deal is a must. A deal that doesn’t burn a hole in the pocket, gives more than the satisfaction of a real bargain, and does that without saying a word. The reason why I like online shopping in the first place. I don’t have to talk, can survey the store in quiet, I don’t have to haggle but who says I don’t want to save a few bucks. I want to get the best price possible and the retailers don’t help me with that. What helps is a site like Zoutons which makes me want to buy more than what I really set out for. The doorbell just does not stop ringing.

Zoutons is a website where you can find discount coupons and deals for almost all the favorite haunts right from Amazon, Jabong, Myntra, Yatra, BookmyShow, EzeeGo to Apple, HTC and Dominos. Pepper Fry too if you like occasional indulgence in furniture. And heavily discounted coupon codes for Flipkart too if you keep buying books on whim just like me.

Zoutons pic

Let’s be specific and look at the aspects that impact a shopper the most:

Highs

  • The site is user friendly, easy on the eyes.
  • Navigation is virtually glitch free.
  • The coupons are easy to spot and use.
  • The search bar is big enough, the words are clearly visible.
  • The design is neat and clutter free.
  • The home page has popular coupons displayed that can be activated with a single click.
  • Well defined categories.

 

Lows

  • The search results are less specific; can be made more relevant.
  • The content is generic at times to define two different products in the same category.

Zoutons coupons

I liked the fact that the start-ups are hogging the same limelight as the veterans at Zoutons allowing them to make a mark. New stores are displayed as credibly as the established ones. If you also enjoy online shopping as much as I do, then I would recommend this site to you for all the extra discounts available and the whole gamut of offers it throws your way.

 

Author’s note: It is a sponsored review. The views are honest and unbiased.

The Last Few Days

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imagesWhen I joined my first ever job, this thing was growing wings. It took a flight and landed straight on my office computer where apart from C++ codes and .Net complications, laid the excitement of reconnecting, rebuilding, refurbishing. Reconnecting with old friends, rebuilding broken bridges and refurbishing the clogged memories in the slots, neatly stacked, in scraps, photos, status updates. Orkut faded all boundaries. Suddenly, the people who were long lost in the milieu of life were accessible. The friends who I knew in school, discussed the smallest of zits with but somehow renegated to background could be shouted out to, with just a simple search, first through Orkut and then through calls.

Everyone was on it; the in-thing.

I remember forming an account and immediately getting down to the business of finding the lost childhood years, comparing the grown up faces with the innocent ones etched in the memory and sending friend requests one after the other , unable to contain the excitement.
It was the time when social networking was not about likes, comments or frequently venting out the happiness, the grief, the humdrum, the nothings. Certainly not the time when every burp after a sumptuous meal was kept a count of. The time when the concerns were more genuine, the Hahas really meant the laughter.

I might have missed it in the deep recesses of my mind or why would just the mention of it made me dig deeper. I ended my self-imposed hibernation and checked my long lost account on which the last conversation happened in 2011. On April 28th, 2011 Orkut sent me a glowing badge of being an early user, reminding me of how important I was, without knowing I was already having second thoughts. And on June 29th, same year, I moved on. To a brighter partner, simply because, my every friend was on it now. I remember not liking it at first because Orkut was more homely and FB a trendy youngster.

But then, FB was the new in-thing.

It is now too. The relevance may have faded, the objective lost but it is there, holding us in its clutches. When ‘Farewell to Orkut’ blinked on my screen, a little after seeing the news already circulating on the social media, I felt a dull pain. Not that I was a loyal follower. After all, I had made an early exit, forgetting all about ‘scraps’ preferring to soak in the world of ‘Likes’. But Orkut marked the first adventure, the first ever flirting with the power to meet friends at the stroke of a key without actually being there. So, I silently logged on to my account, archived it and safely placed the zipped folder in my ‘Important’ documents, but not before going through every single moment this account has seen, all the times that I spent there, sending scraps, receiving them, hogging on the testimonials, clawing on the first pictures that I ever shared with the virtual friends. The list was actually of people I would call ‘friends’. The world was just opening up.

FB and other social media sites might be leading the way now but it was Orkut that set the path. Sad, that it couldn’t keep up the pace with the changing needs, the growing demands, the altering mindsets. Without knowing, all of us have fallen prey to the tectonic shift. Who knows, even Orkut would have eventually turned into a narcissist’s hub, a philosopher’s den or a grizzly bear’s fighting territory but that’s not how we remember it, do we?

Each one of us must be having a piece of our life, living and breathing on Orkut, reflecting on what we used to be. I do. I relived it yesterday, wondering how the tide of life has changed the course. Wondering how my interactions in the virtual world have changed. May be this demise, the slow exit, is meant to remind us of what social media is supposed to be. As the zipped folder lay safely waiting to be opened again to spread some sunshine on a dreary day, I wonder if FB would shut the shop someday, no tax on making the imagination run amok, would I be feeling the same?

Autocracy Over Democracy

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A quiet Saturday night dinner with a group of friends turned sensational when the discussion veered towards politics. NaMo had already seeped in with his heavy breathing and everyday front page ad, Rahul baba managed to do his bit with ‘women empowerment’, Robert Vadra did it just with his pink pants, Arvind Kejriwal made the cut with his ditching in Delhi and dipping in Varanasi, Mulayam Singh went berserk with his wild tongue. The chit chat turned the dinner table into a war zone where everyone, including the plates and cups of my house, had an opinion. One friend dived in Arnab Goswami style and said, “So Ms Soni, India wants an answer. Who do you think can lead our democracy to greater heights?”

I stated a fact that stunned him. “Don’t insult the sacrifices of our politicians by calling our system a democracy. We love autocracy and plate it as democracy. ”

Isn’t it true? We vote; that is the only part where we use our right to topple the government every five years. What happens during those five years is a slap in the face of the system where we continuously look up to that one man or woman on the top to keep giving us baits to nibble on. There are evening shows where Arnab and Rajdeep fight it out for the maximum ratings on the account of these baits. Politicians swing chappals while the smart ones swindle money. The roads remain patchy, the rain water free flowing. We have elected someone to do the job, which is just another peg in the several layers of hierarchy, the layers democracy brings in permanently. It just does away with a single ruler policy for decades to come, allows us the chance to bring in another one as a part of five year plan.

The system has been manufactured with care as we have given them enough evidence that we like being pushed around. Self-containment has always been an issue with us. The truth is that we lack the self-discipline that a democracy demands. We conveniently wrap its absence in the garb of ‘government is not doing anything’, and while saying that put up a permanent paan stain on the wall right next to the man we are talking to.

“Oh! There is so much of filth on the roads”, we cringe our noses feigning disgust and the next moment throw a Lays wrapper out of the car which our dear child has just finished while staring non-stop at the children begging for alms.

“There is so much of chaos”, the morning traffic makes us say that with a disturbing look. The next approaching red light sees us jumping the signal in frustration halting the traffic coming from the other side, doing our bit.

Isn’t it just like expecting fidelity from our partner while performing lap dance to the tune of hundreds?

Hypocrisy at best, democracy at worst.

We always look for somebody to enforce rules on us. If a man clad in khaki stands at the signal, our vision turns 20/20, we notice the zebra crossing as well.   We don’t notice the yellow placards with ‘No littering’ but as soon as a law enforcement officer blocks our way, we start looking for dustbins. We enjoy dictators because they put us back in line, doesn’t matter if they take away our freedom of speech, make hierarchy even more prevalent.

Indira Gandhi was one such iron hand. Politically ruthless, believing in centralization of power, she made outstanding economic decisions that gave India autonomy in number of sectors. But when Allahabad high court charged her with dishonest election practices, using government machinery for the party upliftment, she found a way out. Emergency was declared for the following two years, which brought the power solely in her hands. Police was given unlimited powers, her way of dealing with the opposition. Even the Congress workers who had an independent mind were replaced by her loyalists. Media and publications were censored and not allowed to publish anything without the nod of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. She made many constitutional changes bending the democracy to immune the post of Prime Minister from judicial scrutiny. She extended the state of emergency twice until she believed she had crushed her offenders.

The fact of the matter is that we hailed her. It was only when she showed her shrewd, ruthless side during emergency, she lost some of her supporters.

We like being told what to do. Because you have to admit, we are a nation of talkers rather than doers. We discuss things at dinner table but as soon as we are with ourselves, we unleash our uncivilized side, looking for someone to tame us. We like to tell others what to do and not do it ourselves. Marching orders need to be in place for even self -control. We keep arguing, we keep bringing people down, but don’t like to look inside unless someone holds us from our neck and makes us do that. The irony of the situation is we know that. Perhaps, that’s why there is so much of NaMo chant.

Despite having our best chances with some of the progressive, extremely dynamic leaders, we have mostly chosen the ones who dictate the way and make us follow. Because that’s what we know best -follow. At best, we are an autocratic democracy where the emphasis is only on who is going to lead us rather than how.

The Sounds of the Morning

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I see the dawn break from the huge glass door as my eyes struggle to open and leave behind the dreams that danced in them the previous night. The chirping, the barking of a neighbor’s dog form the perfect background score. The running water in someone’s house adds to the effect. The alarm is yet to ring and tell me how it is now time to head into a new day. I lay in my bed to enjoy that warmth created by the sheet and the bodies, reeling in my mind what tasks to take on today, what chores to finish, what deadlines to meet.

I breathe in, soaking the silence before the whole house wakes up and starts humming. I go to my terrace to take the morning sunshine, the rays trying to reach the deepest corners, liberating the pores, the chirping continues. I see a car passing by, someone already taking a step ahead towards the mission of life. An old couple taking a walk, holding hands, sharing silence. A zealous man jogging in the garden, the light wind creating ripples in the pool. The rays of sun playing on the ripples as if someone has thrown gold dust all over. Few leaves join in the celebration of life too. The leaves that have fallen from a lone tree, the huge branches, now naked, shedding its inhibitions as the summer sun grows strong with every passing minute. The branches revealing the cycle of life when among the brown, lifeless foliage, you spot a green sapling making its way. I smile with the trust that the tree will be green again, the shade enormous, home to life.

A cooker’s whistle breaks the morning hymn. The world is waking up.

As I turn around to wake mine, they lay in the sweet slumber in perfect unison. The hands, the legs, the heads perfectly synchronized as if dancing to the same tune. Why not, father and son they are. So the gene pool does play a role. The shape of hands, the way they put them on the bed even in sleep, the way their heads are tilted, must have been twins in the previous birth.

The alarm senses the deep thought and rings sharply to announce, wake up. The bodies move, the eyes flutter, and the day starts taking baby steps in my house.

Frankly Spooking: A Book Review

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I have grown up watching Zee horror show, movies like Viraana where the ghosts were blister faced and women inevitably encountered them in shower. The coffins opened, custard frothed from the blisters, the heads turned 360 degrees, sometimes without the bodies. Gross, I know but that was the horror served hot on the plate that I would gobble without thinking twice. Then entered the Stephen King’s novels, the real potion. Horror didn’t remain confined to old abandoned bungalows. It plagued the cities, found in the shops, wandered on the highways. A step closer. Though it was just written word, not a movie playing scene by scene, it would make the hairs stand at the back of the neck. The sensation, the adrenaline rush unmatchable.

Indian ghost stories, somehow, have usually been limited to churails, old chowkidars, haunted hills like Mussorie, Shimla, unable to meddle in the daily life. Ruskin Bond’s few stories come to my mind but since they have been set in the hills, they spook me when I am on a holiday. The other ghost stories do provide an eerie setting in the night but never frightening enough to make you feel that someone might be standing right behind you, in spirit, probably seeing every word you are typing on your laptop.

‘Frankly Spooking’ does that.

It brings the ghost to the dinner table, at the places we identify with like malls, classrooms, office, colleagues, your own home that you have been living in for many years. This book is a collection of short stories in the horror genre where ear phones have a life of their own, dead have social gatherings, tattoos breathe. The imagination is uncontainable, running amok at times; the spook it generates is spine chilling.

The scenarios in most of the stories are unsuspecting, people going about their regular work and the ghosts just make their presence felt. A distinct feeling that you get when you read this book is that you are never alone, anywhere. That is a remarkable feat on the part of the author.

He plays with your subconscious mind to generate a reaction, of shock, disbelief and chill. The ghosts don’t have a back story, they are unapologetic and love scaring people. The good part is that the tales are never gory, they scare you but the ghosts don’t gurgle blood or squash you against the walls to create a visual impact. Few of my favorites are Director’s cut, Wall of Silence, Dada’s house, Inked, Together in it.

I think writing in horror genre is very difficult. The length has to be right, the suspense has to be maintained, the chill has to be introduced just at the right moment. A person reading a ghost story knows that a ghost will appear but it is a matter of how and when, the unpredictability, that takes you by surprise. Sriramana does that effortlessly in most of the stories. Apart from one or two, each story stands tall claiming the top spot. Some stories are really short. I wish that they were longer to spook me a bit more. Nonetheless, a treat for the horror lovers.

If you enjoy horror or you are the one who watches a horror flick through the curtain of your own fingers, loving and still not loving, give the ghosts in ‘Frankly Spooking’ a chance. They will scare the hell out of you.

Author: Sriramana Muliya

Publisher: Harper Collins

Genre: Horror, Fiction

Price: 299/ -

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