Monday, 26 September 2016

Start From Scratch - With Cardamoms

For Lalitha, there was hardly every any time for an uninterrupted cup of hot chai in recluse. One would think that for a woman of over fifty who lived alone in her self-imposed exile, it shouldn't be such an ordeal to find alone-time. Surrounded with lush mango trees and mogra bushes in blooming white and yellow clusters, she rarely found an urge to leave her idyllic environs. Everything from dairy to vegetables to expensive silks and rare-blue china found its way to her doorstep. Lalitha was an avid buyer with an eye for details. She had learned early on in life the art of buying from her mother, a shrewd, poker-faced lady who never let an emotion surface while haggling with hawkers. It was this heirloom quality that had served Lalitha more than anything in the world - the ability to keep a calm exterior in the presence of the most turbulent tempests.

But while her power of negotiation helped her pluck the choicest of material possessions by merely a stretch of a hand, it came to no avail in relationships. After her husband passed away prematurely to malaria, she had provided all of the hands in raising her son, Viraj, who was at a tender age of nine when they were struck by the blow of death. Perhaps, it was this callous shadow cast by an early loss of a life partner that made her distant to the family that lived on. Slowly, she had moved away from her husband's family as well as her own to find sanctity in the house she had built lovingly with her husband. But to her son, Viraj, she clung on. He was the last relic holding her close to her husband, the memories of whom were waning, as if he had never existed in her life, not even in her large bed.

Eventually, Viraj too moved on to pursue his higher studies abroad. He fell in love and married, slipping away little by little to the prolific milestones and ambitions of life. Lalitha, even though embittered by the prospect of loneliness at first, took the blow of it in a stride. Viraj urged his mother to follow saying that a new life awaited her with open arms.

"I may be getting too old for you to understand me, Veer. But for me, life stands where I am. Right here, right now."

With those words, they had drifted apart, to meet every year with nostalgic warmth and presents on Christmas holidays. Every year, she knitted for Viraj a red sweater, for his wife a tasteful crocheted blouse, and with a new addition to the family, her grandson, she had gone far and beyond to include blankets, shoes, socks and everything that she could get her ageing eyes to carve out for her only remaining flesh and blood.

She had made some close friends in the neighbourhood, all of whom, flooded her house on the weekends for an extended sangeet sandhya, her signature freshly-made buns and butter chicken , and house-sangria smelling of a gorgeous blend of citrusy, jasmine hints. Her house to her friends was a welcome haven. Even though bare of the sound of the hustle-bustle of family or the noisy chuckles of kids, her house had this impeccably clean, non-judgemental sort of aura and the only foul odours that would cross you were those that came from her pets.

"Ramshankar, you're really not yourself today. Work with me, will you? Veer is on his way from Nashik. He should be here in the next half-hour." Lalitha's voice boomed across the vacant two-story edifice that was looming with a touch of ghostliness as the podgy neighbourhood set about quietly to retire for an early afternoon siesta.

"Yes bhabhi. You don't worry now. Sit here and relax a bit."

Ramshankar, Lalitha's loyal man-servant and overseer of things, lightly held her hand and escorted her to her armchair resting by the white wooden porch that ran all the way across the entrance to her house. This arm-chair was Lalitha's favourite spot in the entire house. In the day, it was awash with combed sunlight that also delicately dazzled a small pond set right across the front yard of Lalitha's  bungalow. The trees, with its leaves touched golden, swayed erotically to the light breeze that made this sultry part of the day bearable. Lalitha reluctantly sat down to catch her breath and dry her dark, wavy hair with red tints where it should be grey. Her hair was glorious when it was drying so she never fussed about it that much.

She made an attempt to awaken to the cause for celebration that was evident in the lavish fare that she'd been slaving to prepare for her son since dawn. She'd taken care to tone down the spices, keeping in mind Veer's metamorphosed palate that could neither handle a generous hand of spices nor her favourite herb, coriander.

It was perhaps the intoxication of the predictability of solitary life, that made her miss Viraj less than she cared to admit. Moreover, as the years went by, she realized she couldn't permeate through the profound barriers set since Viraj's resisting adolescence days. She accepted the gulf between them as fate and let him go, replacing his slipping youth with friends, plants and pets.

Lalitha heard the sound of tyres on gravel before she saw the taxi come to a dwindling halt at her doorstep. Her first instinct was to run to her son, bare-footed and expectant. But a sinister feeling of being a victim of fate took over and she continued to sit. With palpable breathing, she craned her head to see Viraj. She could see, even from a distance, his lion-like, slanted eyes, blazing with fire in the sun. His thin lips set into a wide smile as he waved to his mother. She couldn't help but blush as she found herself staring directly at a ghost from the past - her husband. Just as he ran towards her, the kheer that had been simmering in the kitchen, sent a loving whiff of sweet cardamoms to usher him in her memories. In that moment, her hostility faded away a little at a time, forever. She was unsuspectingly sailing towards the long-abandoned shores of the past.

Veer was seven years old. It was a Sunday. Her husband and Veer sat by the family table, manipulated to be directly in front of the TV. Mahabharata was showing the episode where Bheem was going to wolf down an entire vessel of kheer made by Kunti. Just as Bheem wiped the vessel clean, Viraj would also sit with his cauldron of kheer. She watched in disbelief, cheering violently, as her son emptied the contents of a family portion of kheer in less than five minutes. He emerged from inside the vessel, bathed in milk and cardamoms, with a victorious smile.

She didn't know how long she sat in the gleaning arms of the past for when she pried her misty eyes open, she saw Viraj, kneeling before her, holding her hand tightly, never wanting to let go of her again.
This short story was written as my entry to the Tata Literature Live MyStory contest. If you enjoyed reading this, I request you to vote for my entry here on or before 2nd October:

Thank you readers! XOXO

Monday, 29 August 2016

New Motherhood - The Spoilers (Series)

There are these defining moments in your life when you realize you've finally got your shit together and you're doing the best you can in your microcosmic world and it makes you feel elated.

If you're a mom and you're reading this, I know what you're thinking. "Pfff...Like that ever happens." 

But if you're going to be a mom, I know that you've been struck by this feeling more than once. For starters, the moment you entered into that comfy zone where you openly started expressing an interest in going at it unarmed (without your birth control ammunition) it was greeted with an unreal enthusiasm and wild cheers from your entourage. Some of them said ," Oh I'm so happy for you dear!" or "I'm gonna be such a cool aunt!". The rest, the ones who were already on the other side, immediately got to the business of referencing formula feeds, stroller brands and words you'd heard for the first time like 'epidurals', 'doulas' and 'lactation' were tossed around. Despite all the mumbo-jumbo, everyone gave you the general reassurance that you're already on top of your game and you're gonna be a great mom! No wonder then, you start anticipating, a bit too obsessively, for those two pinky-winky lines, looking forward to your first pee and candle-lit ovulation nights.

But it also gets you wondering, "Well, I've been an aunt before. I know what's coming. But I mean do I really know what's coming? What are these mums with their dark secrets and darker under-eye pools not telling me?"

And then you think, maybe I'll Google about it, you know, just to get a heads-up. But Google's known to freak you out. Remember the time you typed "Headache" and "Symptoms" into it and you were led to believe you may potentially have meningitis?

Here's what your mommy friends may be telling you: "Motherhood is challenging." Here's what they aren't telling you: "On occasions, it is bone-crushing. And nerve-wrecking." What they're telling you: "Motherhood is empowering." What they're not telling you: "Ever tried negotiating with a toddler for basically anything? We don't know shit girl!"

The truth is we, as moms, may pretend to hold ourselves together, not need help, know everything and have everything under control. To a would-be mother, motherhood looks calming, serene, like in the movies, sitting in a plush garden in the lightness of delicate breezes and baby talc scents. But in reality, you're constantly imploding from within, the cracks of which may come to the surface once in a blue moon, if not in the presence of your loved ones, maybe, in a dark, undemanding closet.

"Becoming a mommy is like being reborn," a wise woman told me in my last few, painstaking weeks before labour. But I didn't get time to reflect on that statement as I was busy lounging in my own hell, like a turtle on its back, all pines and needles, my mind getting bogged down by labour horror stories and medical trivia I didn't need to know about.

From one woman to another, it sure gets unnerving to step into a new role, especially when you're suddenly getting privy to all this information that you don't know what to do with right away. But just for fun, while you carve out your own presence in this anything-but-dull gig of motherhood, I thought I'll give away my top spoilers. Just in case you were wondering what mommies aren't telling you.

Warning: Spoiler Alert!
Disclaimer: But again, this is my experience so it may not be true for you. At all.

1. It's not about you anymore (and yet it is):

When you're in your pregnancy, everyone's wondering if you're well-fed, even if you look like you've eaten for four, and everyone's complimenting you of how your skin's got the peachy glow and how motherhood is doing you wonders. Well, hold on to that. Record it if you want to. Cos the moment your hatchling is out, the universe moves on. The good news is, so will you. You'll be happy to give away the spotlight and everything else (and a little more) for your tiny wonder, whom you're mostly terrified of. But there will be some days you'd hear yourself screaming from within, "Yea, yea, you're cute. But can it just be about me for a little while? How about you give me five minutes to take a shower?" But then again, you feel the tender searching hands of your baby at night, smiling ear-to-ear in her sleep in response to your touch. You overhear your dad saying how much HIS little girl has bloomed and transformed into a responsible adult.

And you know you're not invisible after all.

2. You're gonna hate breastfeeding (at first):

Sure you've seen those pictures of moms oozing with Ambrosia-like energy with their babies latching on, the happy sucklings they are. And you've found yourself, mostly just before labour, staring down at your nipples wondering how it all works. You don't have a goddamn clue but you still think you're internally thriving. Brushing past the awe-inspiring miracle of birth that's left you in a glorious high, when you get to the point of actually attending to your bawling baby's hunger pang, guess what? Neither one of you knows what to do. Enter the lactation specialist. (Thankfully mine was a woman.) She's this stone-faced person who's been assigned and designed to humiliate your upper anatomy any chance she gets. She manhandles them at least ten times a day, prescribes you lactation powders and watches you suffer as you figure it all out. But stay put. Cos once you get the hang of it, you'd find it's the easiest, the most gratifying thing in the world to do. Just pop open your shirt and watch your wailing baby turn into a monk. (Potentially a disturbing visual.)

3. You'll never pee alone.

And I don't mean that figuratively, like "Hey, I can't mentally tune off my baby even for ten seconds to take a piss". I mean the moment you feel a biological urge, it'll be sucker-punched with an equally life-pressing emergency in your household. So, you tell yourself you've been doing Kegels religiously and you can hold it for some more time. You comfort yourself with the thought that you'll make a mini-vacay out of your next bathroom break. You glide into the bathroom after everything has quieted down, the smell of strawberries luring you to wash your hair. But the moment you reach your sacred sanctuary and peel your pants off — I hate to tell you this —you will hear a shrieking voice. Your toddlers will be barging through the door cos they have lost a crayon or your husband will need a baby wipe or when you're alone, the doorbell will ring.

And that is a universal truth you just have to deal with.

4. The moment your baby starts moving his limbs, it's apocalypse now!

Oh what a miraculous thing to witness your little one explore the world on her own! Before you know it, they're already up and about, running off wherever their little feet can take them. Except, they won't be running as much as they'd be running into things. That harmless glass-top table with easy wheels —it's now a death trap. Your open window on a high-rise ushering in that lovely monsoon breeze — now whizzes in an air of premonition. You'd be tempted to gasp every time they just try to cover ten feet of floor space without toppling over like a pile of dominoes. But please. Save the melodrama cos there are still unexplored staircases to fall from.

5. Welcome Guilt trips (And Chocolate-binging)

Mommy guilt is the most common syndrome plaguing mothers. I thought it'll pass as time moves forward. But I'm pretty sure as the years go on, the pain of it becomes overbearing. Some mommies realize that maybe it's time to channel that guilt and pass it onto their kids. That's when you'd hear your mum say, "You don't know just how many sleepless nights I've been through with you." Or, "When you become a mom, you'll know what I feel."
Here's the thing. Most moms feel what they're doing is not enough. If you're a working mom, you're hampering your child's need for affection. If you're a stay-at-home mom, you're not challenging yourself enough. Right from the point when you choose an epidural over natural pain, you invoke raised eyebrows all around you. Even a ten-second elevator ride can have you emerge from the elevator sobbing hysterically cos a neighbour observed  how your three-year old daughter ought to be wearing slips underneath her white tee.

Or not. Cos, you just have to tell yourself everyday that you're doing the best you can. And the only person that you need to be is a happy mom who has it together and knows, or at least pretends to know, what she's doing. Just throw in new statistics in your favour to old-time, judgemental moms and watch them get baffled.

I'd love to go on and tell you more things about what's in store for you. But maybe, you don't need to know this after all. All you need to know is that beyond the dirt and labour, frustration and mood swings are doting scribbles and finger paints, random giggle loops and first words that start with “Ma”, and tiny hands and toes that latch on to you for your every approval. Beyond the wall of judgement, there lies a renewed bond with all mothers and you may find that you have more things in common with your mom than you had ever imagined. 

So brace yourself. For your world is going to go upside down. But then again, maybe it's because you're looking for monsters under the bed with your toddler :).

If you enjoyed this, I'd love to hear from you readers! Be my guest and write in about your experiences and your shared wisdom.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Your Love Is A Slow, Sweet Poison

Your love — it comes to me like a slow, sweet poison,
Creeping under my skin, latching itself to my bones — light, unseen,
Smoothing me with its luscious, bittersweet kiss of melancholia,
Ruffling me with liquid desire — the highs of first love, feverish and pristine.

Your love — it gives me away, bit by bit, unravelling the yarn of my existence.
Set to motion, my longings run asunder, from my soul to meet your body in midsummer.
Call you repeatedly. Kiss you in dark alleyways. What's to hold me back?
The air between us is made of fireflies, blazing with our locked lips, fulfilled then, now unremembered.

Your love— it is a potent drug; it has me living on the edge of reason,
And off your caresses, your tender words, your signatures on my body’s blank canvas.
It is a white onion, peeling away its stinging layers to reveal nothing but itself,
While undressing me slowly, stripping me of all that was mine, in a state of tingling otherness.

Your love — its first rain on me was an unexpected shower in midsummer.
The taste of it was everlasting, dripping like honey, unctuous to my quivering mouth.
It lay me gently on a bed of thorns, hooked on a feeling, wrapped up in my own arbitrary nothings.
Your love — it came to me like a slow, sweet poison; its perfume still clings to my fingers, to my black shroud.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Let's Redefine Manners

“Now sweetheart, let’s revise this. What will you say to every one of your guests as they leave?”
“Thank you for coming. I really enjoyed your company.”
“Good girl.”
“But dad…”
“No buts.”
“It’s my birthday party. Why do I have to invite the entire neighbourhood? I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have fun with the Mathur brats. They’ll mess up my toys any chance they get.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to be polite to our guests. Now let’s do this again. This time, do it with a smile.”

I gave him a forced smile and then stretched it all the way to stress upon the fact that it’s mighty fake.

My dad, as we were growing up, always told us how important it was to keep up appearances, maintain relationships, avoid slander at any cost and always be accommodating and respectful.

It is an important time-honoured lesson to teach your kids as they’re growing up. Manners are of utmost significance. They’re a mirror to good upbringing. They’re the one thing that you can depend on to bail you out of most social crises you encounter in your adult life — and, mind you, there’ll be situations aplenty where they’d give you a fighting chance to win.

As Indians, as an inherent part of our culture, we’re just taught to suck it up and be respectful. To mince our words. To open our houses to uninvited guests. To share our small plate of food. To never say ‘No’ to elders, and if it’s absolutely necessary, to soft-cushion the impact of it. To run errands against our will for the pados waali aunty, even though our schedules may be running as crazy as that of a political candidate during elections.

I have grown up keeping this valued, sometimes stifling, lesson in the back of my mind. And it is only now, as an adult raising a child of my own in the big city, that I have to say with gloomy realization: It is time to toss this universally accepted, age-old attachment to manners in the trash.

It’s not because I think my parents were wrong. It’s just that I don’t necessarily think that manners are awfully significant in today’s context. My parents lived in quaint townships most of their lives, with their own circle of people who’d be ready to bail them out of life-altering emergencies (or help them babysit while they enjoy a movie date). They had job security for life, a good work-life balance with no tweets to answer and no self-perceived social media pressures, giving them enough time in hand to volunteer for charity work, social obligations and cultural events. More importantly, getting from point A to B in the towns we lived never took more than fifteen minutes, unless we were visiting another city. Time hardly came into the equation when we had to step out of the house. The only thing that we had to worry about was to be fashionably late cos getting held up by traffic was a rarity.

We had house-parties over the weekend spent playing dark room and Pictionary with our friends, while our parents swayed to the sound of oldies, roaring laughter emerging from the living room as we tried to keep as quiet and still as possible, in the backdrop of large, lavish spreads of home-cooked buffets and shandies. You get the picture. Of course, come Monday and our dads would be dutifully back to their eight-to-five jobs and our mums would be back to their gruelling groundhog days of clearing the aftermath of hosting parties and making mundane life happy and easy for us — while also finding enough breathing space to gossip about Mr.Sharma’s sleazy drunken comment and Mrs. Roy scandalously “smoking with the men”.

What a wonderful, upbeat thing it was to grow in a small township. No wonder we have such good manners.

Cut to today. You live in a big city. You’re a parent who’s constantly racing against time to get your kid to school punctually. You hop on in the elevator of your high-rise building and some random guy holds it up cos his wife’s probably forgotten to pack pickles in his lunch box and she is sorting the choicest ones for him as her morning endearment to him…while we continue to wait. Another girl, probably an alien, is new to the concept of ‘no-network in elevators’ and starts to get really nasal and high-pitched with her Helloooos (which briefly takes you back to Adele’s version of it). When you finally make it to the bottom, as the doors open, anxious disaster survivors (I can only assume) are storming in before you can get out. You fight the urge to tread on their feet with your pointy heels. Anyway, you head out and the first thing you’re greeted by to start your conceivably uneventful commute is a giant stash of dog poop parked right in your walkway. Suddenly, the day is not so uneventful. Now, you’re an avatar in a game involving jumping over puddles, suspicious piles of gunk and in-your-face garbage dumps. As a mandatory Monsoon-level skill in Mumbai, you’re also required to twirl with your kid in your arms to avoid speeding car splashes over your kid’s crisp, clean uniform. You save your hot breath of fire, your choicest cuss words, for His Highness the rickshaw driver who averts his face like an angry wife on hearing where you’d like him to take you. But since you’re taught some restraint on your part, you start with basic manners 101, notching it up to kind pleas, and then in vain you try to reason with him. But hey, how do you even reason with a guy playing deaf? So out comes a stream of words you’d heard through your school cafeteria and road rages for his benefit.

Anyway, you drop your kid to school. Of course, you have been delayed by unforeseen forces and your caffeine urge is now soaring to the skies. So you think, what the hell, I’ll stop for some coffee. Your local barista comes immediately to mind with his “come hither” expressions. You get there, heaving and expectant, but what do you see? There’s a huge line. But you try to empathize. I mean you’re part of the crowd, right? People need coffee to get their motors up and running. So you stand in the queue. When you’re one person away from the counter, the young boy in front of you decides he can’t tear himself away from early morning social media traffic even to place his order. Come on, he’s very important in the virtual world unlike you. So he continues tapping away and smirking to himself. The seemingly miffed barista, who may just wind up accidentally spitting in your coffee instead of his, tries to rush with his order with pointed questions. You’re a well-mannered person. So you look the other way and give the boy a break. But the person behind you is now persistently nudging you to move further, constantly shoving you with their leather bag. Apparently, now it’s your fault that the line is not moving. You give them a nasty stare and a bonus grunt and continue on the journey to chase your golden caramel latte.

Phew…You’ve dropped your kid to school, against all odds, you've had a great cup of coffee, and now you’re back home. You've got that “what do I do next” sort of vibe going on. You gobble down your breakfast cereal with vitamins. And just when you’re settling down to use your precious me-time to do your own work, the bell rings. It’s the neighbour. Well, of course. You’re a stay-at-home mom and you can spare some time for chai and gossip. You nod curtly through the conversations and give monosyllabic answers. Not hint enough. So then you say you really should be getting back to work. “What work?” “Oh, the writing.” “How do you find time for hobbies,” comes the curious afterthought. You explain how it’s not a hobby and that it really is your work. “Well, so are you paid for it?” You’re not one to exaggerate so you’re forced to tell them you’re not. And suddenly, even though, your neighbour’s giving you a pitiful look of understanding, you’re really, really angry. But thankfully, good manners come to the rescue. You bite your lip and shrug your shoulders.

Now here’s the thing. I want my kid to be well-behaved. I do think it is important to reward kindness with gracious words, love with affectionate smiles and thoughtfulness with gratitude. I want them to follow the manual of good upbringing as we did. But I'm not a big fan of it. I don’t hold good manners above keeping your level of sanity or holding your ground. I don’t want them growing up to accept things and keep silent in good manners. I don’t want them to say they’re OK when they clearly aren't.

I don’t want them to be afraid of saying ‘No’ in the guise of not wanting to hurt sentiments, especially when it is imperative to say it. When manners come in the way of honesty, I think in the long run, it’s better to say bitter truths rather than not saying anything at all. Manners may be necessary in a lot of contexts, probably in also learning the art of shaping words that cannot be taken back, but I don’t think they’re the primal end we should be striving for in our kids for this time and age that comes with its own quirky stress inducers and self-proclaimed achievement indices.

So, kids of this generation, here’s a new clause to the manners lesson you have learned in school and at home. Good manners breed good manners. Most of the time. But watch out for assholery and douchebaggery. If you find them, f*** good manners.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Dodging the Creative Leech In A Digital Age

As an eighth grader, I hated writing essays, especially the ones that asked me to expound on an archaic social theory or convention, chock full of bizarre ideas, that seem as superfluous in present age as dial-up Internet access. Every take-home essay assignment on a Friday sat sulking in the nook of my study until it was stared at, shoved back under, and hastily brought back to surface on a Sunday evening. That’s when the bells of despair rang and the essay topic was clumsily moulded into a perfectly acceptable five-paragraph structure of cliches, paraphrases and cataclysmic arguments, unfortunately the tepid force of it all failing to rustle even a leaf in the world of literary debates. I didn't see the point of that whole ritual of forced writing. My English teacher, whom I both admired and avoided, rarely marked my assignments with anything other than “Good effort”, “Can do better” or “Work harder”.

And one uninspired weekend, I thought instead of fuming up my brain cells in the pressure cooker of my mind, I’d climb out of my languid mental landscape and find “inspiration” elsewhere. Since it was the pre-internet era, inspiration didn't come easy. I’d have to wear sneakers. I went to a senior’s house who was a Whiz at organizing ideas and making her words seem important and clever. I asked her for her thoughts on the subject of Capitalism vs Socialism. And help she did! She taught me how to draw up a convincing argument, cited examples from the Bible, quoted verses even. It was the best essay I had ever produced, the metaphors so far-reaching and profound. I was pretty damn proud of my work. Of course, it didn’t occur to my underfed ego that it was my friend’s work. Pfff! She didn’t actually sit through the pain of composing the essay, right? She just gave me a nudge, so to speak. I chartered that damn path on my own. I submitted my essay with a word of note to the teacher saying that I’d put my heart and soul into this one. As I anxiously waited for my essay to come back, after daydreaming at length about wide appreciation and applause, somewhere I found in myself a scratchy realization. I asked myself, “Would I have co-related examples from the Bible to socialism on my own?” “Is that what I really thought? Socialism trumps capitalism?” I warded off these as writer’s remorse and continued basking in the pre-glow of anticipatory fame. Like a delicate bowel that reveals itself one way or another, my moral compass soon rose above my delusions. My essay was returned ungraded with the hissing words, “See Me!”. I knew only too well the indictment that I was up against but had little to prepare for in my defence. The teacher called me to her office, gave me tea and biscuits and I sat there mindlessly, tracing jagged speed bumpers out of cookie crumbs to intercept the zipping motion of my honour.

I don’t recall what I felt at the time or each time when someone looked at my work and said it lacked originality except a jarring pang of shame. I have to say that as a writer who loves reading and one who is rather easily-impressed, I find it difficult to block out the beauty of words that threaten to cling to me with a permanent sticking charm, impossible to unfasten. Maybe some of these words found their way back into form in my writing. If done deliberately, with bonus adjectives and adverbs to masquerade as my own. Maybe, sometimes I had no damn clue what to say and in the process of working out how to get my factory up and running, I looked at what other people have already said, and it was funny how much their thoughts resonated with what I wanted to say. And I couldn't help myself but cloak their words in a new robe. Anyway, with so many people writing these days, the odds of two people saying the same thing had to be in my favour right? I turned to my non-judgemental search engine for an answer. A renowned linguist had already put that theory to test. So get this. Each time you use a word from an existing string of words already written by an author, the odds drop by a fairly large number. So the chances that two people would have unknowingly used the exact string of eight-nine words in a sentence (well unless it’s a popular saying) are fairly low, if not none. Put those words from the two sentences in a similar context, in a similar format and you really are pushing your luck there. If caught, the only thing that’d get you out of that one are the widely-underrated quotation marks. In their absence, you may try the words, “Wow, what an uncanny coincidence!”

I started getting my writings published several years ago. In my writing stint with a magazine, I was given a starting prompt, guidelines on how to cite sources of my findings, quote important people, gather data, ask questions… My first writing test involved, as one of the five key skills I was expected to be armed with, looking at a passage and paraphrasing it. It made me think, “ So what I am really doing is borrowing words from various intellectual pools and structuring them.” I felt a little cheated, kind of like being stripped off my own creative capacity. And that river of reinvented and recycled thoughts continued to pull me under when I started writing for myself. Instead of sitting and staring at my blank screen, I opened another tab. It was intoxicating.

Until one day, I just stopped. It wasn't because my moral compass was pointing due North. I found myself getting confused and intimidated by other people’s writing. Instead, I read books, enjoying the light breeziness of flowery prose in that moment without highlighting them for days when I run short of inspiration. I sat in a quaint, no-wifi cafe with my laptop, with only dull murmurs and the smell of hazelnut latte as my creative fuel, staring at my blank screen, not knowing which direction I’d run in my labyrinth of thoughts, whether I’d move ever at all. I rose to the challenge of finding myself in my words, even though they were not half as alluring as those of my writer idols.

Sometimes on Medium, I stumble upon a story or a poem like mine and I wonder, “How did that ever happen?” What are the chances that two obscure unconnected writers would find the same, seemingly original idea to write about nearly around the same time, especially when the inception of the idea is not based on the current state of affairs? It is then that I think there are greater cosmic forces at work. The world around us is both our writing pad and our writing prompt. And we’re probably connected in more ways than the wide tangles of the internet. For me, as someone who has previously stolen other people’s thoughts to define my own, there is but one thing that defines the delicate line between plagiarism and originality.

It is the scathing voice you hear after you have finished publishing your work.

Well, here’s to hoping that in the wide world of me-toos and already-done-thats, one day, my own work will shine through. Untainted.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Leaves Of A Fall

Photo Courtesy: Daddy Dearest
A balmy rustling within my cold heart.
The red and yellow leaves of a fall painting me in an undulating gloom,
flowering where once grew pink roses in full bloom.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Dreaded Dhokla Chronicles

One of the ambiguous pleasures of being a mum to a morning-school going toddler is having to fix her breakfast tiffin. I don't necessarily think that going to the kitchen the first thing in the morning before even addressing my camel breath is a mood-kill. I love cooking, so in a way being Ambrosia-like even at seven am gives me joy at some masochistic level. But get this. It was Thursday. Which spells the dreaded words D-H-O-K-L-A on her weekly menu. Nahin!!! Ye dhoka hai. 
Like Seriously...what's your secret?

For those of you who've never gone for high tea in an Indian household or have managed to overlook the savouries in a desi mithai shop or still haven't found their calling to take the great Indian train yatra to just about anywhere in India, let me paint you a picture. Dhoklas are light, airy, yellow savoury cakes made out of chickpea flour and semolina. Spiced with a bit of chilli, tempered with popping mustard seeds and curry leaves, garnished with coconut, soaking in a bit of sugar syrup for a mysterious angle, they're the most irresistible of street snacks.

Since even the street-corner chai waala seems to serve these airy delights with a breeze (pun not intended), I thought it only makes sense to open my somewhat-deft hands to them - well the pressure of cracking them seemed immense considering it now featured in my kid's weekly menu. Peer pressure in a nutshell y'all.

Let me just say that I've had my fingers burned, literally and figuratively, in the quest of making my Gujarati sistas proud (or just have me sit at their table.)

The curtain raiser to every one of my dhokla attempts started with my house-help talking about magic spells and secret ingredients (Did anyone whisper Eno?) and swishing of wands - aka - whipping spoons. I thought to myself, "Hmm...there's too much dependency on voodoo going on for a savoury delight that's as ubiquitous as the "I've got kids" hairdo at school drop-off." But whatever. I did everything diligently, with my nimbu mirchi on the side, and a prayer in my mind. Alas, it didn't rise. The first time. Or the second. Or even the third. I had to get my house-help to do it and it rose to the rooftops, like a surgically-enhanced bosom, shining in all its sun-kissed, velvety sheen.

I don't get it. Am I not giving it enough space? Is my dhokla relationship crumbling under the weight of pressure? Am I the cursed one?

Making instant dhoklas in the kitchen has been like living  in my own self-raised hell, for reasons I can't even begin to understand. But today something had changed. You see I put the dhoklas in the steamer and went to get dressed and just out of the blue, I got a strong whiff of smoke. I raced back to the kitchen waiting for a brand new disaster to greet me this morning. I opened the steamer.  Et voila! Amidst the mist of smoke, I could see the dhokla batter revealing itself to have risen perfectly! Tears of joy stream down my eyes as I attempt to unveil the pillowy magic on my plate. But no....wait! Let me do the tempering first. In a ruse to add the Jamnagar to  my nerve-jamming production, I temper it with mustard seeds and curry leaves and decorate it with coconut strands. 

I do a flip like the way the cooks on Masterchef do it, in my head the tense drumbeat ushering in uptempo flute-cello in the background. 

Wait, change that to an anti-climax music score. It was stuck. Even though it was perfect and airy outside, it was all gooey and mushy on the inside, much like me on Dhokla Thursdays.

With quivering lips, I gather it all up in crumbs and stuff it in Saanvi's tiffin. It's a gloomy Thursday. We're walking down to the rickshaw and I ask Saanvi to watch out for fresh dog-poo on the side, before staring at it for a good twenty seconds to appreciate the uncanny resemblance of it to her dabba contents.

Well, as Matt Preston would say, it's the taste that counts :).

Have any memorable cooking disasters to share? Nothing to be ashamed of, people!