Thursday, December 29, 2011

Goodbye Ahmedabad!

Dead body at the Sunday Market

Leaving my city tonight. Not sure if I am coming back. I already know I will miss you Ahmedabad, more than any other city I have ever known in life.

I will miss the bustling roads and the buzzing lanes. I will miss the cows crossing over even at the busiest junctions and the cars and bikes which always almost bump into each other. I will miss the men and the women who almost die everyday on the roads, but never actually do. I will miss the old city, the pols, the sweet Gujarati food. I will miss the mosques, the temples, the people who make them alive. I will miss walking on the streets aimlessly, talking to friendly strangers, eating food way past mid-night in the old city, and desperately searching for an open cigarette shop at 2 am.

But I will miss the people the most. I will miss the friends I made over the many many years spent in this city.

Bhavin has been my companion for the longest period of time. We made the perfect house mates, always there for each other and always giving complete space to one another. He knows all my secrets, but they never went beyond him. I can tell him just about everything, knowing that he somehow would understand. We traveled a lot, did lots of photography and bike rides. We were never close as classmates in NID, but living with him bought us much closer, and surprisingly we lived in perfect harmony. I have a feeling that he is getting married because I am moving out of the house, and he won't be able to take the loneliness :) Bhavin recently wrote an amazing post about me on his and that can be read here.

Manoj, the one guy with whom you can have a conversation about almost everything. He was my life line when it came to discussing things which everyone else seemed to be disinterested about - the politics of South India, stories about Gods and Goddesses, impact of religion and its evolution, invasion of Iraq, unrest in Syria and so on. We became better friends as we started playing tennis together, but it was only when we discovered our love for traveling that our dosti rocked! We bonded over the numerous shared cigarettes (I had to force him to give a few drags from his, initially reluctant he eventually relented) and the shared blankets over many trips :)) Though extremely reserved about himself (unless of course when he is drunk), Manoj is a perfect friend and an exceptional travel mate!

Vikram and me share the same sun-sign and I get along extremely well with him when the time is right! We had the most fantastic time in Chennai (and on numerous trips made together) when we stayed for a couple of weeks working with a client. He is the funniest of them all and can keep you entertained forever and ever. We have had our own set of screw-ups but I guess that's all part of growing up and learning in life. I guess we will eventually move on over it all. I would always remember the absolutely insane movies that only the two of us went for and still enjoyed.

There are so many more that I am even afraid to even mention the names here, I might miss some and end up offending them. But all the people who I came across in these years, only made the time spent here more eventful.

I am going now, but I have a feeling that the city will call me back. Again.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday!

I didn't hear you as I sat with my back against the painted walls of the shrine. The men played their music, different pitches intermixing, different voices creating absolute, sublime magic, their music divine. I remained numb to it all, numb to your presence, even when you perhaps called out to me constantly, asking for my love, asking for life.

The words filled my ears, echoed in my soul, yet I remained indifferent. I had to make a choice that day and I didn't know how. I always believed in Him, but my faith was already wavering. The soothing words, the smiling faces, the beautiful red roses strewn all around, they all spoke to me, all asked me to listen to your calls; I remained deaf, didn't hear anything. The void within was shallow, and it didn't allow me to hear anything, to feel anything.

I walked around looking for a sign, looking for your guidance, looking for an answer. It was all around me to see, but I remained blind, never saw anything. I saw a young woman playing with her young kids, yet I missed out on their smiles, and their laughter. I saw grown ups with their old parents, yet I missed out on the love between them. I looked past them all, and I made my choice.

Hours later as I woke up alone in the cold hospital room, I felt an acute emptiness within. It was your absence that made me realise how your presence had become inseparable from my existence. As tears flooded out, I was blinded by your thoughts, and my love for you.

You would have been four today,
To you my baby, Happy Birthday!

image ref:

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Dirty Picture - a review

The following is the review for the movie 'The Dirty Picture' which is winning hearts all over. Muzayun used to write on her blog, but had to shut it down due to some caustic elements. She would be publishing articles through this space, however, all views expressed here are her own. Its highly unlikely that they reflect my views as well, we've always been on opposite poles when it comes to thoughts!


Frankly what was dirty about the picture, it wasn't Silk or any other thing in the movie, it was a dirty job done by its thinkers.

The movie had a subject line depicting life of a lady who dared to be fearless. It is badly shot, disappointing directed and leaves you with disgust, not about the story, Silk’s actions, or the casting rather on the team’s incapability to make anything remarkable. This film is far from perfect, but the producers will have nothing to worry as they seem to earning enough. 

Silk was in a way living her life according to her terms. A tale deserved an art-movie treatment, but Ekta Kapoor only wanted to make money out of some little known facts from her teen days. There is little attempt, basically, no attempt to treat this material with sensitivity and depth. A bold, beautiful and arrogant woman was definitely an avant-garde of that time, I didn’t see her doing anything more than the present day actresses do. The difference is in the curvaceous Indian woman as Silk against the slim and copy-western-model theme of the present. She is out there and proud in her skin, men of her time could not bear the crudeness in her character, and this film could just unfold it as a series of provocative scenes strung together for Indian men, on the strength of some sexually loaded dialogues. 

Abraham’s detest for Silk also seemed to be misplaced, and so does his sudden change of heart and yet he has the most interesting dynamics to create a flow. Alas, it’s too little too late, to give some character to this trailing job. The dirty picture fails to do justice to an otherwise stunningly dirty life of Silk. I am sure Silk did not die in a red ‘K series’ sari, with a desire to be married, she was way beyond that typical notion of women’s internal desires.  

As one of my friend who gave me a company to watch this says, ‘we saw some soft corn of 80s’.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Strangers who knew each other too well

Smoking was something Roshni never indulged in, yet today she laughed uncontrollably every time she tried making rings of smoke. Almost every time she tried, smoke came out looking more like smoke from Aladin's lamp, and in her current state she laughed and waited for the djinn to come out and join them on the terrace.

All this while Arvind just stood in a corner, the ice cubes slowly melting in the glass, smoke slowly escaping out of his amused smile. He had tried his best to teach her, but today wasn't a day when success would have come to him easily. He stood back and looked at her, but saw nothing. It was a space filled with his past, filled with remorse. Looking at the perfect arches of now redundant yet iconic Ellis Bridge beyond the curls of her hair, he tried to keep his mind from wavering

Without any warning, Roshni came close, stepped on his feet and blew the last sleepless, shapeless smoke ring directly on his face. Taken by surprise he held her back and slowly turned her around towards the river so they both faced the bridge, the peaceful and sleeping river, the life lazily passing by. They had so many of their memories centered around the bridge, of the many vacant evenings spent strolling on it. It was one public space they could secretly call their own...

It was late in the night and with a few lights to disturb their view, they could clearly see the city beyond the river and its numerous bridges. Instinctively Arvind lightly wrapped his arms around her and smelt the fine fragrance of her hair. It was beautiful, more beautiful than anything else he could imagine at that time. She turned around, reached up and lightly brushed her lips on his, stroking his hair with her fingers, leaning against the terrace wall, her cold fingers curling around on his ears. None of them knew what was going on, none cared.

Arvind moved back as he heard the sound of approaching footsteps; no one came up from the party going on in the open verandah of the old house, no one saw them there. He offered her another cigarette, this time she refused. The spell was broken, the moment was gone. He went back to his glass of whiskey, while she looked on towards the bridge, playing with the rings of her hair.

While other guests at the party were still asleep, some drunk while others high with the smoke of marijuana, he walked her back to her house in the wee hours of the new day. The laughter was lost, the silence between them had become overbearing. They both wanted to go back to those few seconds of intimacy, yet knew it would never happen again. She had pined for his touch for so long, and knew that it was the last time she would see him. Her mind kept going back to the few beautiful, rushed days they had spent together years ago, to the moments that were fading fast from her memories.


Walking alone in the slowing awakening pols of the old city, Arvind took the last drag from the last cigarette on him. His insomnia was back, he knew the memories from last night won't let him go back to his life again anymore. Stubbing the cigarette, he finally made up his mind and decided to go back to Roshni. It was an end to a life long struggle for him. Finally.


Later she sat alone on the balcony as the sun lazily rose across the river, oblivious to the golden light filtering through the rich flora. A long journey awaited her, a place called home was calling her back. She decided to let go of the struggle inside and move on. Arvind was past for her. Finally.

image source:

Friday, November 25, 2011

My experiments with Bahá'í

Its Thursday today, the day of prayers...

Sitting uncomfortably on a plush sofa, I looked around and scanned everyone present at the gathering. They all smiled at me, and I immediately felt welcomed. Small conversation followed, most of it in Gujarati which I follow well now. I was asked a few polite questions, also asked if I wanted a cup of coffee, an offer I was highly tempted to accept but declined nevertheless. No one was even drinking water, and I knew there was dinner after the session.

Mrs. Chinubhai coordinated the prayers and explained the next course of events for the evening, perhaps more for my benefit. The Bahá'í prayer sessions usually take place in someone's house, they actually have very few places of worship so home usually turns into a temple.  Prayers usually start with a few people (you can also suggest your name) who sing a few songs, while other who know the lyrics can also join in. We prayed in three languages that day - Gujarati, English and Hindi, and this changes with wherever you are in the world. There are a set of books with prayers and Bahá'u'lláh's sayings, and different people read different sections from them. I was the new one and was given a huge section in English to read (about peace, war, destruction, humanity etc.). Usually afraid of any public reading, I faltered at regular intervals. I liked what I read, but was highly embarrassed with how.

The prayers are usually followed by dinner with the host and discussions, and often a cup of coffee before its time to say good bye. Its a time to socialize, and catch up on each others lives, and maybe offer help/ advice to some.

I was, of course, experimenting with the faith that evening. From the time Roshni had joined office, I was intrigued as I had never ever met anyone who followed the faith. Needless to say, this wasn't the last time I attend the prayer, and soon became a regular with them. But why? I really don't know as yet, there is something very pure and clean about the prayers, something completely unpretentious. No one expects anything from you, and even as a silent observer there is much to absorb.

Bahá'í faith started as a movement in the 19th Century Persia (modern day Iran) but its members were soon persecuted and had to flee to neighboring countries. The faith, however, survived all persecution and currently there are believed to be five to six million of them in about 200 countries across the globe. Read more about the faith here. India is one the countries where there are many followers, and can practice their beliefs without persecution. Unfortunately, in Iran, the country of their origin, they are still not recognized as a faith and have to live and pray in the hiding.

In India its most famous landmark is the Bahá'í Temple in New Delhi. I've been there as a kid, and all I remember now is silence (which was an unusual feeling for me a kid back then). I am sure a visit again would be more fruitful because I know so much more about the faith now.

Above is a collage of some of the images Roshni took of the temple recently. You can find more of her photography work here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

the call of sarangi

The glitter on string caught the slow glow coming from the overhung lamp; with all the darkness around, it looked like suspended light, floating alone, along with the constant sound from ustad's sarangi. I was spellbound once again, the slow and wistful raaga today was perhaps just a preface to the more tragic set of events that were to unfold later in the night; for now it just bought me closer to tears, tears of melancholic indulgence. I looked into ustad's eyes and found them brimming with the salty water as well, always on the edge, the tears never quite managing to fall. Even as the light outside continued dimming, the music played on, my heart kept skipping a beat. The ebbing light made it easier for me to let go, to free my tears, to let them flow, to let them wet my face, wet my soul.

Just as I was a slave to his music and his soul, so was the ustad to me, the man in love with his music for years. Ustad wouldn't stop playing the music, unless I asked him to. When he was so deep within his music, there was no coming back to the real world for him, unless called back forcibly. And for that the music had to be stopped abruptly. As I sat there looking at his face, slowing eaten up by the darkness around, I didn't know what to do next. It was so beautiful and serene, and I didn't want to disturb it, and the music played so beautifully, I could barely breathe. I was bound in my own web, and though I knew I had to do something fast, my heart and my body refused to listen.

The music went on, I could now hear ustad's little boy on the table as well. Opening my arms wide, I let it all soak in. Permanently. The ruins of Roshanbaug were awake again tonight, despite the near complete darkness. Somewhere I knew, this couldn't go on, not for long; but I didn't move, not as yet. I had to make a choice I possibly couldn't, and finally didn't.

I never quite realized when the ustad stopped playing the sarangi, and my mind had completely taken over and replaced his music with my own imagination. In the frenzy that followed, I cried and screamed and pulled my hair our. I confessed my love to him, made promises I knew can never be kept. But he never stopped, not even once and played on, in my mind, for my heart. Forever...

As I caressed his face, wiped his tears and closed his tired eyes, I finally let go of him. It had taken me a lifetime to come so close to him, only to leave him so far behind.

I would like the above story dedicated to Ustad Sultan Khan who passed away yesterday (27.11.2011). His Sarangi was a big influence on me, not just for this small post, but also for my love for the instrument. Do explore it, if you haven't done it already...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

ghosts of my god...

The sound of the bell kept playing in my head hours after the aarti got over. It wasn't the first time either, and I knew this won't even be the last. It made me restless. It never let me sleep, made me an insomniac. As I lay wide awake, staring at the fan, the bells kept ringing inside, ready to break out. It went on and on and on, filling every bit of my existence, every bit of space inside me. I screamed, but the bells silenced me once again, never letting my voice out.

I heard them every morning, every evening. Every time I opened my eyes, ever so briefly and looked at the swarm of pious visitors, they watered with pity. I wanted to tell them to go away, to not prostate here. No one lived here, but me. But they kept coming, over and over again, day after day, year after year. Some had been coming here for as long as I lived. But they needed to be stopped, they needed to be told that it was just four walls here; just dead walls, just an empty space, a place with no soul.

I kept thinking this, day after day, a few years after the bells started chasing me. I begged for redemption for my lack of faith, and my little faith failed me again. Giving up on my self and my god, I carried on with life. Maybe I will carry on for years to come, maybe I will scream out loud and close the doors of this space forever. Maybe I will become a believer once again...

For now, I live with my ghosts, with the bells chasing me everywhere...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy couple, eh!

The day has already started and I am already in office and already developing the concept shortlisted yesterday. But no, the post is not as lame as the first line here.

Its not common for me to come alone to office at this time, but today I did. And as I enjoyed the tea-sutta at the little tea stall, I saw something which made me happy and I actually smile on my own :)

There was terrific early morning light on Vikram (chai wala kid) and I was already missing my camera. While I attempted (quite unsuccessfully) to make rings of smoke, a middle aged couple came on their Kinetic Honda and asked for chai. Nothing usual about it I guess, but there was this intense chemistry between them as they waited for the tea, and I could feel the romance still alive between them. The guy actually took his clean white handkerchief and cleaned the glasses before Vikram could pour chai in them. I was elated!

We've (me, friends) been discussing how so many married couples we know do not look happy in each other's company and how life becomes mumdane and boring within an year of getting married. This couple kind of broke the perception; perhaps such love is much rarer, but it does exist :)

p.s. these two might not be a couple, and might just be out for tea after their first one-night-stand! In any case, I was happy to see them happy :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Little Boy and his Magic

'Do you want to see some magic', he asked, his bright big eyes ripe with anticipation.

We passed the cigarette between us and continued discussing what should be the new strategy forward for the company, completely oblivious to the presence of the little boy almost pleading with us.

'I will show you good magic, only Rupees five', he pressed again even as S dismissed him with a wave of his hand. All this while we avoided making any eye contact with him; looking at him would not be as easy as it was to pretend that he wasn't present there and so needed no intervention from our side.

'Sir, my magic is good, only Rupees five. I am hungry', he said, looked at us still engrossed in our conversation and hiding behind the cloud of smoke. He moved on to another guy sitting on a scooter, who angrily scared the little kid away before he could even tell him how good his magic was.

I forgot all about him, till he came back again in my dreams and asked for money in exchange of some great magic so he could eat some food. I don't remember anymore if I agreed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In love with the rains

The broken bits of music wafted into the kitchen early Sunday morning as Nandini read the morning paper, waiting patiently for the coffee to get ready. She tapped her feet to it, filling up the broken bits as the radio coughed and skipped parts of the raga. She didn't mind, she knew the piece well and sang along with her mother's honey-like voice, never looking up, engrossed constantly in the paper.

By the time the sound of steam escaped the coffee maker, the sky was dark and it had started to rain. The radio was playing well now, the music was inter-spread with the sound of falling water, some hitting the mud outside the house and making a thumping sound, some screaming in joy as they clashed with the tin roof of the garage, while the rest found other homes and made numerous other sounds. The wind chime joined in soon, as the cold wind from the river found a path towards the land. It was all a beautiful melody together, unusual sounds mixing - Nandini, her now deceased mother, the rains, the wind, the chimes.

With the cup of coffee ready she walked into the study, looking for Manoj. She followed the music, still swaying to its beauty, her mind constantly humming the tune, her heart playing along and egging her on for some mischief. Manoj was already dozing off with the book half open and a half smoked cigarette kept in the ashtray, small wisps of smoke still escaping from its half lit end. He was trying to quit and smoking only half a cigarette was the latest in his list of efforts.

She took a small puff from the almost dying cigarette and let it work on her. Slowly dipping her finger into the hot-sweet cup of coffee she let her finger slowly spread it over his lips and week-long beard, her other hand played with his hair. His nap broken, he opened his eyes slowly and smiled as she sat on his lap and struggled with his already haphazardly worn mundu.

It was over within seconds, as her body erupted into spasms of ecstasy, while he held her tightly. The coffee was lukewarm as they enjoyed it together lying on the floor, still looking mischievously into each others eyes, the mundu entwined with their bodies, even as Nandini's mother reached her own crescendo and the piece finally ended.

Image ref -

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The smell of my mogra

'How much for a bunch?', I asked, the bitter taste of my last cigarette still fresh in my mouth and on my fingertips. I liked how the faint smell of tobacco remained on my fingers, sometimes even hours after my last session with the cigarette; a far cry from the past when it disgusted me, of course my past was way past my present and no longer a part of me.

I paid the tiny sum of Rupees five to the old lady and took the sweet smelling flowers wrapped in fresh, wet green leaf. I had never quite bought flowers like this before, but this was an impulsive purchase and anomalies were allowed here. I walked further in the dimming twilight of the first cold evening of January , reading the names of shops passing by, in a language I barely understood.

I smelt them much later, through the open edges of the green leaf. The fragrance took me by surprise, I never expected it to be so extraordinarily beautiful. People stared at me as I stood right there, in the middle of the ocean of people flowing all around. Shoulders brushed against mine, and clothes rustled as everyone rushed past, some going home while others away from it. Everyone was busy. I stood alone.

I met Sonia an hour later in our usual cafe, the fragrance still with me, the flowers tucked away safely in the side pocket of my backpack. This was our last coffee date, but I heard nothing, even when she screamed and stormed out. This was her moment, yet I robbed it off her, though unintentionally. She could have stayed back and screamed some more, I wouldn't have minded. I was happy with the beauty I now possessed, with the unexpected joy of connecting with myself through the faint smell, with the mystery these little white flowers were going to reveal to me in the night.

I had the flowers crushed on my face as I worked upon myself, building up a climax I barely even knew existed. I was in a trance while the smell filled all the space around me. The bed sheet was damp with my sweat later, even as the fan whirred slowly overhead and I lay satisfied with the faintest ever smile on my face.

I got a fright the next morning when the flowers wilted and their beauty waned. The grief was as unexpected as the joy of finding their beauty the previous evening. I slept through the morning and the afternoon, dreaming intermittently about Sonia and the white flowers, my throat going dry and an expectation building up at the thought of the old woman and buying the flowers again. Even before the sunlight started fading, I was ready to go out and explore. I wasn't the same animal anymore.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Breads vs Royals

Jess, the little princess

In a three floored palace lived a princess. Her name was Jess. Her face was round, her lips were rosy pink and her eyeballs were green. Also her hairs were light blue. Jess had a mother named Sristi. Sristi had a thin face and her eyeballs were light red and her hairs were purple. Jess’ father’s name was Swayam.  Swayam’s face was long and he had golden eyeballs and green hair. The family had a servant named Sleeptastic.  Sleeptastics eyeballs had no colour because he was always sleeping. Sleeptastic’s hairs were also not seen because he always wore a sleeping cap.

One day Jess was toasting breads and suddenly the breads started attacking Jess .They broke the palace. Jess was very scared and she did not know what to do as she was alone in the palace. Everybody else had gone for a carriage ride and Sleeptastic was sleeping.

Suddenly the door opened and Jess was very scared that who had come to the door. The royals entered very confidently.  They knew what had happened in the palace. Sristi went to her room. She sat on her soft bed. She thought what to do and she had an idea. She went to the kitchen and brought two cups of butter. Then time for Swayam’s turn. Now Swayam was very scared, but he tried not to be scared. So Swayam went to his hard bed. And he had an idea. He went to his closet and took out a magic bulb. Now time for Jess’ turn. Jess went to her secret hideout and got a knife.

Sristi’s turn was the first one to try. So Sristi put the two cups of butter in the bread’s nose and the breads could not breathe. Now is Swayam’s turn. Swayam rubbed the magic bulb on the breads and the breads fainted. At last came Jess’ turn.  Jess took the knife and cut the breads into pieces and ate them. Then after a while Jess asked Sristi that how did you know that the breads were attacking me. Sristi said that she knew about this because every year on 1st January 3:30 pm if anybody toasts the breads, the breads start attacking.

After knowing this everybody slept and lived happily ever after.

Mihika is my seven year old niece and this is her first short story, along with an illustration. She shared this with me a while back and then graciously agreed to it being published on my blog. There is more on Mihika on this blog here

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Road Trip

I wasn't out on the road for the speed, or the thrill or even to travel. Or to meet new people, take part in their lives or simply to enjoy the moment, alone on my own. I didn't yet know why I was out for the almost three days now. Maybe to belong, maybe to un-belong. I didn't know.

The past two days were just the same, long winding roads, green all around, occasional people crossing my path, occasional cars overtaking me, occasional rains that I always missed. Nothing new, nothing unusual. Yes I was on a road trip, but I was alone. I was out to meet someone, someone who lived far, someone who used to be mine, someone who had moved on.

It drizzled as I started my third and the last day. I had originally planned to drive through the night and reach the end early in the morning, but then I saw the sand dunes and decided to camp. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I drove into the dunes and went as far away from the road as possible, trying to disappear, half hoping to lose my sense of bearings and get lost in these ever changing waves of sand. A sudden stillness around made me stop and look up, and look at the stars. The sky was clear now, despite the clouds and mild rains in the afternoon. I came out of the car and without even realising, screamed at the glittering sonsofbitches. They didn't flinch, and I screamed even more, never realising how tears flowed ever time I screamed.

Tired and drenched in my sweat and tears, I slept in the car itself, never bothering to camp, or look at the bright dark blue sky and the stars. All I felt was the hollowness around me, a complete lack of feelings, an absence of emotions. There was smoke, smoke of my own making. It overwhelmed me.

Morning came easily and without even thinking I went back to the road and continued driving. When rains came once again I stopped, and decided to get drenched finally. I didn't know if I would do it again today, or ever. But I couldn't feel the rain, I didn't feel anything, at all. How can things be so empty, how can I be so lost? I knew there was little meaning in going forward, and even lesser in taking the road back. The road didn't take me anywhere, anymore. Suddenly I was free of any questions, and my mind sought no answers.

I knew nothing, yet my mind and heart told me that I knew it all. There was immense knowledge in not knowing, and accepting that this was how things were always meant to be. Why seek answers, when there were none? At least none for me.

I didn't survive. I didn't exist anymore. I was dead. Finally.

Epilogue: The body of a dead man was found a days later and a few miles from the highway, rotting inside the car, stranded in the desert. The cause of death was confirmed to be Carbon Monoxide poisoning inside the locked car.

Thanks to Tej for the illustration, read and know more about him here and here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A night to remember

As the sun set and the cool breeze started blowing, we decided to walk back home crossing the bridge over Sabarmati. I looked sideways to see Sudha smiling and talking animatedly, yet never looking at me.

'So have you ever tried the filter coffee at Sridarshini?'
Karan laughed out loud and said, 'That's not exactly fair, am just a day old here and all I have see so far is you, though still not enough of you!'
Sudha pondered for a while and said, 'You men, all are just the same!'
She complained, though her cheeks flushed and she fumbled with words.

We all went silent after this, I tried to pretend that I was busy looking down at feet, while they got busy looking at their hands and nowhere in particular. I knew this moment would pass and we would get back to our composed self soon. Somehow it was always left to me to make a humorous remark and break the sudden conversation barrier, but this time I decided to let it linger on for a while more. I wanted her to feel my pain, or whatever unusual emotions I was going through for the past two days.

We walked in silence for the rest of the journey. Maybe Karan already felt guilty about what was going on, and was happy to be away from conversations, or perhaps he was just happy and content with the breeze, but he remained silent. I knew we were finally reaching a point where we needed to talk, and have a conversation where I was also involved. Karan was leaving in the morning and I could feel an odd tension building up between the three of us.

I broke the silence and asked them if they wanted coffee, they both nodded. We were already in the new part of the town and so decided to go to the nearest posh new coffee place, sit in the open and enjoy the weather. The rains in the evening had ensured that the air was cool and extremely pleasant. Karan lit a cigarette and after a couple of drags, offered it to me. As I took my first puff, he started talking. I could see he was waiting for the moment, but somehow I panicked. I was not yet prepared for what I knew was coming, and when the words did start flowing, my world vanished.

I walked back home alone that night with the promise that my world would be returned back to me tomorrow. I wasn't sure anymore; Karan was my best friend and Sudha my wife, yet these promises somehow meant so little now.

Thanks to Vikram Tej for the superb illustration, read and know more about him here and here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Researching Healthcare in India - Rural India, Primary Healthcare Centers

I wrote this last year for another blog which never took off. Its a series of articles based on my personal experience on Researching Hospitals in India as a designer.

Hospitals are not an easy place to be, especially when you visit them with the intent of clinically observing what all goes on there, very objectively drawing conclusions, making connections and finally deciphering workable solutions for the very many opportunity areas which require attention in this very dynamic scene.

This is a series of articles based on my experiences in researching in hospitals for various products/ services.

The first in the series starts right at the bottom of the pyramid i.e in the villages. Most of the inferences drawn here are from my visit to a series of villages in Kutch as a part of one of my classroom projects while in NID.

At the village level, most often its only the government which reaches. There are very few private clinics or doctors, if at all any. It is at these levels that PHCs exist. Primary Health Centres (PHC) are the cornerstone of rural healthcare in India. Primary health centres and their sub-centres are supposed to meet the health care needs of rural population. Each primary health centre covers a population of 1,00,000 and is spread over about 100 villages. A Medical Officer, Block Extension Educator, one female Health Assistant, a compounder, a driver and laboratory technician look after the PHC. It is equipped with a jeep and necessary facilities to carry out small surgeries. However, not all PHCs, are equipped with all these, some manage with much less.

To be able to visit and do good amount of research at these centers isn't easy and requires a lot of perseverance. Also visiting a few would not exactly be very useful, one needs to visit many such centers to make any definite conclusions. Its a challenge not just for the researchers but also for the staff at the PHC, we visited one of the PHC where the doctor was a Bihari and couldn't understand the local language.

Some of the following tips may be useful:
  • Its very important to understand the local language, even if you cannot converse in it. If not you, then at least someone else in the group should be able to have conversations in the local language/ dialect. In any case, make sure you record all conversations for future references.
  • Often its not easy to get people to talk, especially when they anyway see you as outsiders. A good research would happen only if you are able to break the ice effectively, and do it as early as possible. Always have a strategy about this, and this shall be improvised to the place that you are visiting.
  • Once the ice is broken, people would talk and would be willing to listen to you as well as give feedback on what you ask. Its alright to have a questionnaire for this, but more effective would be some games that you can ask the stakeholders to get involved in. One of these could be role-playing, where everyone enacts out their roles and its an amazing time to observe and learn.
  • Be gender sensitive, males may not always be welcome at all places. An effective group is the one which has both male and female members. One of the most common visitors at a PHC are women, and one person who can give you a lot of information in an ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife). The purpose of the visit could possibly be completely lost if no woman is there in the research team.
  • Just like any research, do have small gifts for everyone. Its would make sense that these are things that are not commonly available there. You might always need to go back to the same place again for validation of your concepts, and a rapport once built would go a long way in any further research as well.
  • Carrying a consent form is a good idea, and get it signed by the doctor  or the ANM. It always makes the process more official, apart from ensuring that the design ethics are also taken care of. Always explain what the document states before getting its signed, treat the people there as equals and make them participate in the whole process.
The next in the series (Rural India Primary Healthcare Centers Part II), will also include some quick case studies and some examples of how and what can go wrong while researching the Rural India.

p.s. Thanks to Muzayun for helping me with editing this.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The BBC List of 100 books to read!

Disclaimer: This post has been derived from Aakanshaa's blog. Do go there and read some fabulous reviews :) 

Top 100 books chosen by viewers (re-edited and remastered from the BBC site). The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed hereSee the original list here.

Copy this, Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt.

1 Pride and Prejudice  - Jane Austin 

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible  (Some of it)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials –  Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare  (Some of it)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis (Btw this should  be in the Chronicles of Narnia)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery (English)
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas (Unabridged and all three volumes)
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Additional books that seemed to have been excised from the list above and replaced with some others.
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
53. The Stand, Stephen King (Some of it)
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Indra's luck...

I knocked on the door knowing fully well what to expect – a lonely, beautiful woman unsatisfied by her beloved.

‘What you doing here Neil? I thought you were on your way to Ambaji’, she asked, her steaming cup of chai evaporating the air and aura around her. I decided to ignore the not-so-concealed mock directed at my faith; I was a man on mission today and nothing was going to distract me from my new found purpose in life.

‘I am Indra and today am here to help you help me release my rasa, so as to help you feel complete and content in life’, I said this with all possible seriousness. Alley listened to me carefully, and offering me a cup of chai asked casually, ‘But I always thought you were Neil?’

‘Not today and certainly not for you’, said I. She was certainly amused now, and decided to play along, lightly pulling at the hair of my hand and looking oh-so-briefly into my eyes. ‘Hmmm…so what brings you here today Indra? I am sure there are lands parched elsewhere as well, and need more rains than my humble abode’, as she said this her hands curled seductively around the remote she had in her hand; the channels flicked at an uneven pace, and the sounds from serials intermixed with the squealing penguins from the more earthy channels. The message was confusing, yet the array of broken, mixing sound was surprisingly seductive.

Soon we were on her bed, our clothes on the floor and all our rasas flowing, inside and outside. Alley's hands turned into claws and she drew blood with them, while her teeth left a trail of marks on my muscles. I was a feast for her, and she was making sure she left nothing to be had later.


Gautam was humming to himself as he walked up the steps to his house. It was for the first time he actually walked up instead of taking the stairs, as Alley always demanded. He was happy as his weight had shown a reduction of 2 kg over the last three weeks. Just 15 more kgs and he would be a perfect husband. He knew she would be pleased today and might even allow him some bread for dinner. 

There was much in life that Gautama was unaware of, including the fact that he had special powers that could wreck havoc in the materialistic world around him. He didn't yet know that his curse could castrate a man, remove his phallus and cover his body with a thousand vaginas. All he had to do was say - your body will be covered by that which you desired so much!


Gautam's first reaction when he saw his beloved Alley entwined with what looked like a bundle of injured muscles, was horror. He was afraid for the man, who he thought was being eaten alive by his virtuous wife. He screamed and suddenly the world around him started moving in slow motion, and he alone moved in real time. He realised what was going on and had a tremendous urge to do something.

He looked at the sky, but his view was obscured by the ceiling. While everything was still slow, he went out in the air and got instant karma. This was the moment his cursing abilities were revealed to him!


The last thing I heard was Alley's fat husband screaming 'Your body will be covered by that which you desired so much!' All of a sudden, I ceased to exist, my existence only a joke...

Meanwhile Alley fell on Gautam's feet and begged forgiveness which he instantly granted. It took only one look at my thousand-vagina-covered body to make her realise that a fat husband was better than the unusual and helpless mass that I was at that moment. They walked away from my quivering body, while the TV in the living room screamed 'You have to try this' for a shampoo ad...

Alley and Gautam lived happily ever after.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Closure, an end

I lit one another cigarette, and was yet again engulfed in the dark cloud of smoke and despair. I knew it was senseless to wait anymore, but it was impossible not to. I continued to wait, staring out from the closed window into the dense darkness and the feeble fog of the listless night. There was smoke coming out from the house on the near-by hill, perhaps the man in family had just come in and food was getting ready for him, or maybe it was just the smoke of death coming out from the abandoned house.

We had agreed to meet here a few years ago, as we walked along the river on a cold moonlit night. She had her head on my chest and was humming her favorite tune - a jazz number from the era gone by, about lovers separated by time. The small town down the hills was already sleeping and we had absolute silence around us. As we sat right there, looking at the stars after making love slowly under the moonlit sky, she asked for this promise. It was not something she would normally do, she was just not the sort; perhaps she was just happy and content then. We cuddled into each other and agreed to meet at the same place, ten years from then. Maybe she already knew then that we won't be together for long; however, for me it was a promise in blood, and I always thought we would come here again, together...

The coffee was ready now, my fifth so far. Smoke and coffee don't always go well, but I was savoring its bitterness today; it helped me kill the time and also relive the past. I had buried it with much struggle a couple of years after she suddenly decided to leave me. The end was as torrential as our brief spell of togetherness, but the parting always remained incomplete, open. But she moved on, and eventually so did I. 

For the last one year, the itch was growing again to meet her one last time and seek answers for all my unanswered questions, or perhaps just to hold her like I did in our moments together. I often looked into blank spaces, flickering lights, and slow moving fan and wondered if she would even remember the promise she had taken from me. I knew that she would, just as I was sure she would come and meet me one last time today...

The sound of the chirping birds woke me up, and I got up with a start. Warm early sunlight was filtering into the room through the wooden blinds; somehow I had dozed off after my nth cup of coffee. Was there a faint familiar smell lingering around my chair? Had my coffee table been moved and the cigarettes collected neatly and kept in the makeshift ashtray by someone else? Everything looked just the same, but my heart was not ready to believe that nothing happened while I was living through hell in my sleep. Maybe she was here last night as I slept off on the rocking chair, maybe it was just my imagination. My heart struggled with more questions...

Already late for my train I rushed out quickly. It was finally time I moved on, seven years is a long while, and for once I was willing to start all over again. This was finally closure for me; or so I thought...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Destroying symbolism

The Pearl Monument

The monument destroyed

The iconic Pearl Monument in Bahrain was destroyed last month by the security forces, leaving two protesters dead and scores injured. The logic behind this - it was part of the bad memory which needed to be erased because pro-democracy protesters had been camping at the site demanding democracy for their country.

Bamyan Buddhas being destroyed
Destroying symbols isn't new, often tyrants indulge in these with the hope of destroying the hearts which associate with them. Sometimes these measures fail in their ends, however, often they do achieve the objective and the the symbolism along with the thoughts behind then die off. Most often symbols are destroyed to erase the past, a case in point being the destruction of the Bamayan Buddhas by the Taliban. The Buddhas had been witnesses to the Afghan landscape from the time when Buddhism was a dominant religion of the lands and was fast spreading along with the Silk Route. For centuries there had been no local Buddhists, yet the Taliban had a point to prove to the West (and part of the East) with this destruction, which they successfully did.

Mumbai's Victoria Terminus
In India we have not been far behind, not destroying the monuments/ cities we found a more democratic route of erasing their past by renaming them to our whims and fancies. Mumbai takes the cake in this, having renamed the Victoria terminus to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Bombay itself to Mumbai, and scores of other buildings and roads in the city. Mumbai's love with renaming so many things with Shivaji's name often borders obsession. Delhi also followed suit with Connaught Place conveniently becoming Rajiv Chowk. Ahmedabad may soon be renamed Karnavati, of course Madras is already Chennai and Calcutta is Kolkata. India may not be far behind too, it still carries a name which was never its own, but given by all those living beyond the iconic Sindhu (modern day Indus) - the Afghanis, the Persians and so on. Logically India should be Bharath. Most of these have been successful destruction of symbols.

Hagia Sofia in Istanbul
In the past, Hagia Sofia in Istanbul (which itself was known as Constantinople before the Turkish conquest in 1453) was renamed Ayasofia, had four minarets added to it and very successfully converted into a mosque. In India something similar was tried, though rather violently, to convert the Babri Masjid into a Ram Mandir. Historically scores of places of worship have been converted into the dominant places of worship, and much of it was pure symbolism, and a very successful one. Hindus did this to the places of worship and monasteries of the Buddhists, Muslims did it to Hindus and now Hindus want to do it again to the Muslims. In the West, Christians did to the Muslims and vice versa. Quite a vicious cycle, I must say!

Hitler's Lair
Not everything that happened in the past was perfect, and some of us often feel the need to correct the mistakes of the past and move forward. I am not completely against it, however those who take a judgment call on issues like these leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes it makes sense to keep the past intact to learn important lessons from it, like keeping the Auschwitz Concentration Camp or Hitler's bunkers still around, so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them again. Some legacy from the past is meant to be celebrated, and we must do that with respect even if we do not currently subscribe to what it stands for.

My tea is getting cold now and I am getting dangerous stares, so I guess its time to rest my point. Anyway its just an opinion, and something which should be actively discussed in Public Forums to develop opinions and thoughts. Most of us have contrasting views on this, and I would be very keen to know about those.
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