Monday, 28 December 2009

In which I join the bandwagon of bloggers worldwide with my year-end report

The end of a year is usually a time for introspection and rounding up. Given the fact that I introspect non-stop, round the year, and often without even realising I am doing it, in this respect at least, I am one step ahead of most resolution-makers.

2009 was a year that taught me to teach, live in unexpected places, fight, makeup, sulk, party, gain weight, lose my curls, read, drink, feel sad, feel grateful, feel humble, feel mutinous, feel anchored, feel confused, and finally, feel ready to make things change.

Teaching was definitely a lot of fun, and quite uncharacteristically, I say this - for everyone concerned. I have learnt to be stable and consistent, for a maverick teacher does not really inspire confidence. I have been known to be sarcastic, throw people out for misbehaviour, watch like a hawk at exam time, and whoop unprofessionally upon completing the syllabus. I also ensure I spend more energy getting the teacher-look right, which is ironical given how I looked when I was actually in an environment where people gave a damn.

I have lived this year, out of suitcases, boxes and cupboards, in rat infested Walthamstow and posh Harrow-on-the-Hill and two homes in good old Kolkata. I get by amidst all the confusion with the aid of a lot of lists, therapeutic shopping, last minute scrambling around, and Mom and S to hold the fort when I collapse. I have complained, but mostly, I have been happy with this makeshift arrangement. I know I shall miss this phase when I am settled in one place again.

A far cry from the normally quiet and reclusive me, but I have learnt to speak up and not turn myself into a pressure cooker. I think, the present company I keep had a huge role to play in that regard, but I am grateful for this. It was very long overdue.

A lot of partying has happened, and again, this has to do with the company I keep. I have approached partying methodically and competitively, like I do everything else. But this has not yielded the desired results. S has suggested dancing lessons, at home or even paid ones, but I am determined to master this obscure art of "letting my hair down" and "having a blast" in my own way. I suppose 25 years of sitting at home reading, and watching the telly on New Year's eve with Mom and Grandmom, would need some time to rework. But ultimately, I have no doubt in my mind, that I shall prevail.

This apart, I read some seriously good books and some not so laudable but very enjoyable ones. Reading remains my anchor, my source of solace and the only real cure to boredom. I remain moody, and prone to whining, but so far, my friends and loved ones have hung in there and I am not in danger of losing my social life - yet.

I still envy confident people who are comfortable in their own skin. I would like to think, the coming of age thing has not really happened for me yet. At close to completing three decades, this is sometimes a cause of distress and despair. But then, I have always been a late bloomer, so one has to learn to be more patient.

2009 has been tame. Consequently, I think I am now ready for a year of mayhem.

Friday, 4 December 2009

I have often wondered about the things I have blogged about. All I was certain of when I started writing it, was that the entries ought to be quite short.

Given my general lack of strong views about anything, it is but natural that I don't get on a soap box through Quills. I do write about my life occasionally, but not as I would in a journal.

I think - I have turned it into a semi-effective kaleidoscope. Of things I feel, moods I battle, sudden realisations and dramatic declarations. Sometimes, when life starts chugging along, I talk about the telly, or a book. Often, conversations or a day dream, or insomnia, lead to some post or the other.

I perhaps lack the means or the nerve to attempt humour, or sentiment. It sickens me to read maudlin stuff, so the latter is always risky. And I do crack the best jokes only when I am deeply uncomfortable.

This brings me to basically realise, I have been splashing my feet all this while. Whereas the real fun is in jumping right in.

Saturday, 26 September 2009


The Goddess arrived, and barely a blink later, it is time to say adieu. The thing about Kolkata is, she serves as a reference point for change, since she never really does. Everytime I come back, there are a few new spots in the landscape, but the core is exactly the way I have always seen and witnessed. 

I realise then, what has changed within me. I saw pandal hoppers throng the roads at midnight, and the simplicity of that family and friend moment did not fail to charm. There was the wife, in her bright red gorgeous glittery sari, aalta circumferenced feet, nosepin and long plaited hair. There was her husband, with sleeping child flung over a shoulder, new shirt, trousers and sneakers, automatically checking on his wallet every now and then.

Wide eyed excited children are exactly as particular about the two new outfits for each day rule as I used to be back in the days of shopping with my mother at New Market. 

This involved: getting out in the morning, shopping a bit, an invariable lunch at either Amber or Embassy, and then some more shopping and we would be done. The second bit now strikes me as hilarious. Once home, I would dress up in each outfit, complete with hairband, shoes and earrings, and parade before my mother and grandma. Compliments were profuse and heartfelt, irrespective of the evidence offered otherwise in the form of photographs that would be taken later (I looked exactly the way I was back then - very thin, pale, with enormous owl spectacles and frizzy hair).

Now, I venture out at midnight. The more experienced eye can spot trouble in the form of leery youths and cheeky elbows. I consequently refrain from jostling, content with a glimpse from afar.

Somewhere, the people I sometimes find a little funny, are holding on to a tradition that I unwittingly let go off at some point. That thought is bittersweet. It tells me, we all grow up. I suppose, there is very little correlation between actual age and being an adult for most of us. While there is relief at the idea of no longer feeling paralytic with shyness and overcome by gawkiness, I also miss the simple joys and catastrophic sorrows that only the in between years can bring.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Restricted viewing

Right next to the wide screen telly, is a huge wide window. I never watch the television when I am alone at home all day. Which is often. I do stare out of the window though, and from where I sit, I  can see the sky and a great many tree-tops. 

Sometimes, I am where I am. An English public school, winding roads with red coloured door-bearing houses, fluffy dogs on leashes and assorted people dotting the hillside - sometimes lovers, sometimes solitary guitarists.

When the sky is cloudy and overcast, I am in Coorg. Waiting for pork vandicurry as rally cars roar by.

This summer, there have been many clear days though. They have taken me to rocky cliffs dotting blue seas. These are the places that form part of my future. I am as certain of that as I can be of memories and the present.

Isn't it fabulous when time stretches in a continuous arc around you, and you can nip in and out of the past and the future?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A city welcomes me back

with a very bright, very blue sky

with the exact same temperature I like air conditioners to be switched on at

with shops that now sport short summery clothes instead of earthy warm winterwear.

And then I catch myself looking at the nearby Skoda showroom and thinking of a red Octavia thousands of miles away. Or the sweetcorn in a highstreet supermart and bhutta pora at Golf Green every other day. And my new flatmates' panipuri in Walthamstow even as some other friends meet at VP for phuchka, chaat and gossip.

Is it just me, or is everything really all blurry and bittersweet these days?

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Summer this time, has been hotter and fiercer than the last four times I have hit April. I am coiled like a spring, shelled up like a pea pod (or an oyster). A mad top spins around me, and I like a patient planet, watch life weave its crazy, random orbit around me, sometimes stepping alarmingly close.

At other moments, the metaphor changes. Instead of a dark inky nothingness, is a brilliant blue sky. And I am the surfer, ducking inexpertly as a huge wave builds momentum and threatens to tower above me. Only, I have chosen to tread in choppy waters, and one wave beaten is neither here nor there.

Friday, 13 March 2009

In Africa, lesbian women are "cure"-raped. The men who gang rape them wander freely around, although enough evidence exists that could prosecute them in any court of law. Closer home, I know of numerous cases of domestic violence, mental torture and daily humiliation that educated and intelligent women have accepted as a course of life. And personally, I have had my share of being felt up, groped and leched at in my hometown as well as some of the more developed and westernised cities in the world.

I surprised myself the other day by drawing faith from a corny chain email doing rounds on Women's Day.

A note to myself based on the contents:
To have enough money within my control to move out and rent a place of my own, even if I never want or need to;
To have something perfect to wear if my employer, or the date of my dreams wants to see me in an hour;
To have a youth I am content to leave behind;
To have a past juicy enough that I'm looking forward to retelling it in my old age;
To have one friend who always makes me laugh, and one who lets me cry;
To have a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in the family;
To have a feeling of control over my destiny;
Know how to fall in love without losing myself;
Know how to quit a job, break up with a lover, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship;
Know when to try harder and when to walk away;
Know that I can't change the length of my calves, the width of my hips, or the nature of my parents;
Know that my childhood may not have been perfect, but it's over;
Know what I would and wouldn't do for love or more;
Know how to live alone, even if I don't like it;
Know who I can trust, who I can't, and why I shouldn't take it personally;
Know where to go - be it to my best friend's kitchen table, or a charming inn in the woods - when I need soothing; and probably the most important of them all
Know what I can and can't accomplish in a day, a month and a year

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Mediocre at best

An endless, tedious, hopeless, predictable existence. Running like a hampster, or a monkey climbing an oiled pole!

There are moments in life, when you witness someone giving voice to your innermost thoughts. Art does it well enough, and you turn the page, or shift in your seat clutching the popcorn, drinking in what unfolds before your eyes.

A book I once read (Marjorie Morningstar, if you would like to know) mirrored what I saw today (Revolutionary Road, nosy). I was elated though. Positively joyous. I know now why I have this time on my hands and what I am supposed to do with it. And myself.

Sitting there, I felt like creating something really strange and silly. Maybe a bizzarely shaped chair. Or something! Of my own design. I didn't care whether it would be of any use to anyone for anything at all. It was just because I need to start exploring. What I can do. Whether a dark skirt suit will forever own me, with daily readings of indices I was never meant to track. Or maybe, I will discover, I do have a destiny of the kind I'd always hoped for.


the snow is five inches thick. And it snows on still.
I cowered when I stepped out first, blinking against snowflakes falling into my eyes. But then decided, why not! A Japanese girl and I took turns, photographing each other on the snow-lined platform, I used my right foot to etch I (heart) S on a white platform edge. Then I reached the movie hall, ten minutes too late.
On screen, two hours of conversation and an oppressive tension grew. The denouement, when it came, was predictable, but still made me cringe.
Trains crawled, ours decided not to move at all.
A chatty cab ride, double the fare, stranded cars: the heaviest snowfall London has seen in ten (or was it fifteen?) years.
An adventure on a special night. Parts of it may have been less comfortable than the others.
What really made me uncomfortable though, was the colour of the sky. A bright glowing red it is, at midnight too! The colour skies are when aliens attack in your dreams.
I am back home and jittery, everything is still glowing (white) under the strange red light.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


I rushed about chopping veggies on the sofa and generally doing mad things in order to catch this show on TV. It was about trying to find the world's smartest child.

The usual suspects figured. Over ambitious parents. Celebrity status in the city. Some shrewd marketing.

One 10 year old was a literary genius but she was also quite the corporate savvy saleswoman. In a presentation to senior Microsoft executives, she effortlessly deivered an aggressive sales pitch (I wrote my first book on Microsoft Word, etcetera etcetera) and walked away with a contract, innocent smile intact.

Across the globe, a 9 year old Malaysian mathematics genius has a whole brand thing going. Bright yellow cans of brain food sell in dozens, all bearing his grinning mugshot. They are apparently quite popular amongst schoolchildren, a Malaysian Brainolia if you will.

I was impressed. Although given my aversion to kids in general and precocious kids in particular, I strongly suspect I would want to smack the living daylights out of any 7 year old going on 47.

Fortunately, the host was a remarkably easy going and good natured guy who seemed to genuinely empathise with his subjects. Even as grim faced parents tried to convince him that it was all for the children and never for the fame, money or fulfillment of their own unachieved dreams, the last shot left an undeniably strong impression.

An American 8 year old Mathematics wizard (Again! Why are there no more artistically inclined prodigies around?) who has a pushy ex-prodigy father and a saner mother, was playing with his two other older (and normal IQ-ed) brothers on the beach. However, he soon lost interest. And before long, the camera was panning on his beaming face. He had settled down nicely in a corner with a twig and was busy calculating complex square roots in the sand. I think that effectively settles the nature versus nurture issue in this particular case at least.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Living it up

A quick inventory check of my one bedroom apartment has revealed several items of personal use which I seem to have bought under the delusion of leading a lifestyle that is far from what my day to day existence is really like. Three jars of bubble bath. Frozen fish. Four bottles of red wine, a Smirnoff vodka, Captain Morgan rum, a bottle of bubbly. Magazines and journals I meant to make notes from and then recycle. A huge set of painting tools. And I mean watercolours, but even then!
So the only sensible thing to do really, is to take bubble baths twice daily, sipping wine (which I incidentally detest) and power reading through old issues of The Economist, while the haddock marinates in my fridge.

Monday, 5 January 2009

An ode to superficiality (or why Cosmo can be a lifesaver)

Forgive me for I shall now rant and sound a tad self-congratulatory. This is based on snatches of conversations, some amount of brooding and an incident that happened fourteen years ago.

If it cared, a chameleon could really shoot up on the popularity scale. At an age when people start exhibiting behaviour and preferences that go on to define their personalities, I did not fit into any easily identifiable mould. A love for serious literature jostled with a penchant for Bollywood. I longed to be able to play the piano (a cousin who played Fur Elise at 5 made me green with envy) even as I fretted over how to dance in a "disc" should I ever get asked out. I did not have too many close friends back then, but the ones I did had the following things in common - they valued loyalty, were kind, generous, and slightly nutty in their own way. And that suited me fine.

Then one day, someone asked me, rather exasperated, what was I really like? She could not figure me out, she said. At some level, I appeared to be extremely unlike the average teenager besotted with boys - career focused, image conscious, ambitious. And yet, I was known to avoid the quiet, serious people in class and hang out with great pleasure with friends who would consider reading if only someone recommended the activity as a cure for insomnia. She had her own rather unkind explanation for this behavior of course - I was eager to please and desperate to be popular.

I was quite surprised to discover then, that I did not exactly fit in. I know now, I will never quite fit in.

Over time, I have met diverse people and stayed in touch with all the ones I have liked. While one is a journalist who owns less cosmetics than my (extremely un-metrosexual) boyfriend, the other is a banker who knows enough about fashion and styling on a budget to give Gok Wan a run for his money.

It makes life all the more interesting for me. When I feel like going shopping, I know who to ask. And when I want to discuss politics, I know who to call. Of course, it is not always perfectly compartmentalised. In moments of excitement, everyone gets an earful. But they are usually tolerant enough to sidestep such incidents and then we go back to discussing something of common interest.

My takeaway from my chameleonness has been an open mind and an interesting adulthood. Not flaming popularity, as anyone who knows me shall attest. So, more a decade after I first asked myself the question, I still remain clueless about my real self. When asked, what are you like, I mentally tick off things about my nature I could reveal with a degree of confidence. They seem hopelessly inadequate and rather random a list. So I stay quiet. And go buy the FT. And a Cosmo while I am at it.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The mother of all fresh clean starts

The first day of a new year always fills me with joy and hope. It's a bit like the feeling I get when I sit down to write in a new notebook, only magnified and more solemn. Back in Calcutta, I would stay up alone till midnight, watching the countdown on DD. Just before the clock struck 12, I'd wake my mother, so that we could scream Happy New Year!! together. Then my grandmom would groggily and invariably ask "Toper aoaj shuntey peyechish?" Somehow, she refused to believe that the canons fired up somewhere near Kidderpore could not possibly be heard in Southern Avenue, no matter how quiet the night (which in any case, it wasn't).

Compare that to last night! My 28 years have seen a lot of change, indeed. I am still recovering from all the excitement. S got high, and the club we went to saw him take on a group of guys roughly twice his size (each). He managed to display his usual cunning when it comes to being street smart, and emerged unscathed, even managing to flush one of their cell phones down the toilet. All the while, I - being undrunk and increasingly hyper - kept fearing a massive bloodbath. Ah well, everyone seems to have recovered now - in body and spirit. I am almost there myself...

I should probably round up my thoughts for the year gone by at some stage. And pen down some of my hopes for the year ahead, to make them more official if you will!

2008 was a bad year for me and my loved ones at many levels. Yet, I have reason to gloat. For one, my housekeeping, sense of direction, and the ability to be rude when necessary have improved drastically. Small joys, but if you have ever tortured yourself with how best to say no, you would rejoice too. I seem to have rid myself of what held me back. A job that did not quite make sense, constantly doing what I should as opposed to what I wanted to, was perhaps more draining than I realised. I would recommend this temporary state of affairs to many who are where I was a mere few months back.

Family and friends are all basically okay, and as nutty as ever. I have hopes for S's career to really take off this year. I also have a pet project - to get the ancestral flat (house would have sounded so much more grandiose!) back to its former glory after several years of neglect.

There are bound to be some rough bumps ahead. But this, now, is good too.