Saturday, 29 November 2008

An evening on the couch in front of the TV

NDTV 24X7. 14:38 GMT. Random questions raised by some of the news flashes on the bottom of the screen:
(On which, by the way, I think the words 'Breaking News' have been running for a record 3 days. Come off it now. Too much live news = no real new information.)

- Mumbai Police: Terrorists between 18 and 28 years old

When did the youngest start training? At 16? When did he start swallowing whatever poison so fills you with hate? At 15? 14? Younger? Was he born with it? Or just born into an inevitable trajectory? (And therefore, aren't we all complicit even if he is entirely to blame?)

- 183 dead, over 300 injured in Mumbai attack

It's not the number; it's the fact that there was a Finn, Israelis, Indians, Englishmen, Americans, chefs, karate teachers, a food critic, businessmen, students, doctors, lawyers, receptionists, commuters, backpackers, millionaires, wives, husbands, lovers, friends, relatives, with things to say and do and forgive and be forgiven for and people to meet and people to leave and travels to take, books to read, walks to take, a life to live. It was people who travel by over packed l0cal train to work and people who fly across the world for business meetings. It was people who grew up in small co-operative societies in quiet towns and people who had a silver spoon in their mouths all along.
People who never speak across the divide died in the same room.
183 people gone means an unknown number of individuals in 183 families grief-stricken and an unknown number of friends circles grief stricken. An attack of this nature means everyone with a TV, newspaper or pair of eyes is deeply unsettled. The dichotomy between 'direct' and 'indirect' effects seems too crass to make at this point. We can, however, say that we observe the insidious and sinister ripple, ripple, ripple that highlights the connections between us all.

- 'Terrorists planned to kill 5,000 people'
(I'm really not sure how they - either the terrorists or the media arrived at this figure, but I'm guessing it's just approximate?) One is too much. One terrorist giving up his or her (err.. curious - have there been any female terrorists?) life, one victim being robbed of his or hers - is too much.

- R.R. Patil / Mumbai Police: Terrorists had college ID cards
Ah, this pricks, for some reason.

MANJULA BAI: "This is all Pakistan's work, isn't it"
"I don't know."
"I do. It was written in the newspaper this morning."
I didn't ask, but I should've: What if my newspaper said otherwise? Would our newspapers fight? If the newspaper said it was actually little green men (ahem), would their faces suddenly turn emerald?

Vikram Chandra on a panel asking 'How we can win' against 'the Terrorists': If you were given a blank piece of paper, could you write on it, onetwothree, these are the things that we should do.'
Wow. Is there really one 'we' versus one 'them'?
My sister wants to know "...who are we REALLY fighting???"
Here's my list of things we need to change (not fight):
- Our own prejudices and pigeonholes
- Our purchasing decisions
- Our public services and infrastructure which are about as inclusive as the eye of a needle
- Our inferiority complex as a country: we can't even call this the worst attack we've ever suffered. We have to qualify it by saying it's "our" 9/11. We have to suggest that we have something like the US Department of Home Security because 'they' could 'successfully' prevent a terror attack since 9/11, so why can't we. They haven't fought terror, dudes, last inkling I had, they live in constant fear.
- Our tendency to point a finger at everyone but ourselves. We're a democracy. Ideally, this means rule of the people by the people for the people. An informed (not necessarily literate) polity. And above that, a concerned and united polity. A polity who cares sporadically will sporadically be shaken and shocked sporadically, their only option at that time being to throw their hands up and blame two constructed 'thems': the terrorists and the politicians. We're the polity in the politician. Pick a paper and read it and be curious enough to follow up stories that grab you. Volunteer, to teach someone to read. Smile at a stranger. Resist at every turn being reactionary (says a blogger), or angry before you're curious, or knee-jerk before you've considered what's going on and why. Change your mind every time you find yourself forcing someone into a pigeonhole just because of how they live, who they pray to or what they wear or what language they wear.
It's not easy, and I haven't done it yet.
But I have a feeling that no amount of money, guns, Homeland Security or NSG commandos can
protect us from our neighbours and vet our friends and flush our restaurants and give us a good night's sleep. We need to win this first in our own hearts and minds, even if they win battles against urban guerrillas in our hotels.

Facebook Note To Everything In General

How to fight the sadness and fear that only comes afterwards??
Here's the insiduous, sinister thing about terrorism: It works even if it doesn't personally shatter you by darkening the world just a little bit, unsettling you before you have a chance to steel yourself. And when you feel like that, beautiful things do not lift you, they just wound. Smiles pinch. A beautiful day, a beautiful store, your mother buying duppattas, a little boy running around (God, I so want a child. God, I am so NOT having one - how do you protect and raise it in a world such as this?!). All these sights and sounds strip away that silly defiant veneer of rage and you feel naked and sad and utterly exposed. The world was shaken just a little bit and your insides rocked as well.


While it was all going on, I was defiantly happy. I felt that they could not would not should not take away our lives and joy and capacity to trust and love and jump and scream and be silly, be creative, take risks, love fearlessly, travel fearlessly, learn about the world, love the world, fly.
I still feel this way.
But today, standing with my mother in the store, I was dismantled completely for a minute and thought I'd burst into tears. For no reason. Just.
You see, a necklace did it.
I was standing next to the counter and a stream of glass beads captured the grey blue light of a pre-rain sky. And they clinked gently against each other in the breeze of an opening door and they swayed when I touched them and their light changed; grey, blue, grey, blue, grey, grey, blue, blue, blue, green, blue.
And I forgot to fuel my smile, I was distracted.
And when they stopped swaying, I got a glimpse of my insides before the steel smile came back up. I saw broken glass and grenades and shrapnel and splinter wounds and stress fractures and gunshots and torn curtains and ripped hearts and uneaten meals and days and days and days of some people just seeing grey grey grey blue blue blue.

Still. They're not getting one tear out of me. Yet. Until another necklace or another friend or another bomb dismantles me.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Thank you, God.

Everyone I love is safe.
M. is in his little Scottish village, curled up with an evolution book and a hot water bottle in a warm house with his parents.
Neither my sister nor I were there. We very well could have been - at my insistence.
Shiv was in Andheri and nowhere near the attacks and actually picked up his phone when I called.
My parents didn't go to visit my Uncle who was in hospital, because they'd have dined in the area. There.

For this, I am grateful.
And for my gratitude, I feel guilty as hell.

If I - the most withdrawn person in my high school class, the person with a tiny group of friends, who doesn't go out much and certainly doesn't have 200 friends on Facebook - now knows two people who died, then everyone knows someone who died.
If not yesterday or the day before, then a while ago, somewhere else, sometime else.

Two of the chefs at the Taj were known to me, one of them was a school-time buddy. His grandmother taught me and my sister yoga when we were little. We'd get teased by him, and chased around the parking lot. I never saw him much after, and I won't see him ever again now.
I don't suddenly remember him fondly because he's gone: I just remember that I knew him once, and now there is no chance that I can look back and say: Hey! Remember when...!?!? Wasn't that fun?! His parents travelled to Mumbai in the morning when they heard he'd been shot. Halfway there, they heard that he'd passed away (such a MiddleEarthish phrase - what's it doing in this Hell?) I can't imagine getting bad news on the Expressway. You can't even stop the car! There's nothing but hills and valleys. I wonder if they heard on the ghats. I wonder who was driving. I wonder if his mother cried, or screamed, or if her years and years of yoga have taught her to be Buddha-esque, or if maternal instincts or love transcend Buddha-esque-ness.

So much to say, so much to think, nothing to do but sit and stare numbly at the TV (am resisiting, for many reasons) or out the window, or at disgusting Facebook and news sites.
The world feels cardboardy. Stale and inflammable and so fragile. I can't breathe. I don't want to let them do this to me. The only thing to do is make a conscious attempt to enjoy the coffee this morning. Play with the cats. Smile. Drink a Scotch (or two, last night, with family. Best evening I've had at home so far. We huddled around the TV, drinks in hand, cat on the sofa with us, aunts, uncles, cousins, Papa (who dozed off in the middle! Wisdom? Age? Both?), Mama and I. We watched, we even found things to laugh about (Tara! Is that a Scotch?! Are you a man or a mouse! Fill your glass!!) Text M. Tell him how much I.. you know. Look at the leaves. Take in their greenness. Fetishise every small tiny pretty, peaceful and loving thing and raise that act to an artform, make a martial training schedule of it, as pervasive as an in-breath.

God. Home, home, home.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Five Minute Postcard.

Heat and dust.
Golden fields with stacks of hay.
A hundred birds in the garden.
Green bamboo outside my mother's bedroom.
Drongos, bee-eaters, robins, bulbuls, parakeets and mynahs all aglow and a-wing, flitting on the wire fencing around the fields.
Light and leaf shadows, light and wing shadows. Green and darker green and brown. Pink and blue and gold. Butterfly wings, moth wings. Dragonflies and wasps and bumblebees. Birds and damsel flies and midges.
Ten types of tree in every window frame. Babbler calls and parakeet screeches and a dozen different small, intricately painted birds. Wing shapes all different, all silky iridescence in the sun.
So much life.
Wish you were here.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Rage --> Petulance --> Silent Temper Tantrum

The Mall with it's plastic trees. And its inelastic idea of happiness. Was where my mother decided, unwisely, to challenge the scowl on my face as we passed Guess: Why do you look so stressed? We're out! Can't you just be cheerful now?!!
I swear to God, I was fine until she said that.

I am sorry to report that ten minutes later, I simply walked away. She said I should just go. I didn't protest. I didn't even feel. I just turned.

I'm sorrier than I can say that this is the result of training. Solid, cold, relentless training. Which I should never have allowed.
But hey, full circle. My mum on the phone, appalled that he said 'JUST GO!' and I went! today told me to JUST GO and I simply turned around and walked away. First I checked I had cab fare home, then I went to Benetton, then to buy some makeup, then got into a cab and just went home and watched a movie. And said a normal Hi!! when she came back.
Full circle.
Thanks mum, thanks M. You've both made a callous bastard out of me.


* Name: Tara.
* Birthday: In the middle of the monsoon sometime. But I believe it was a rain-soaked, sunny morning.
* Birthplace: A place with parakeets and lemongrass!
* Current location: The place with parakeets and lemongrass. But constantly turning towards the Man at home. Soon, soon, soon. Can't wait.
* Eye color: Brown
* Hair color: Darker
* Height: 5'5"
* Righty or lefty: Righthanded centrist
* Zodiac sign: Roar :)

* Your heritage: Am still developing it. It's a big world out there, I'm trying to grasp all of civilization in my arms and call it mine.
* The shoes you wore today: Barefoot at desk. White Dorothy Perkins canvas tennis shoes to get my hair done.
* Your weakness: I have many.
* Your fears: Don't get me started. Being homeless: which, right now, would mean I need both homes, God. I'm sorry if that's greedy - but I'm stretched across the world, don't snap me please.
* Your perfect pizza: Is thin-crusted and eaten in a Roman piazza, with a glass of red wine. Oh, and a fresh tomato-basil salad.
* Goals you’d like to achieve: Being fearless.

* Your most overused phrase on AIM: It used to be LOL. Now, it depends what language I'm speaking, which depends on the person I'm speaking to, which depends on my mood... Blahdiblah. I have none, I guess.
* Your first waking thoughts: M.
* Your best physical feature: Dunno anymore. I used to the most beautiful princess in the world. Now, I'm not so sure.
* Your most missed memory: I can't have it if I've missed it, can I?

* Pepsi or Coke: Diet Coke
* McDonald’s or Burger King: Neither. But McDonalds fries once, were all I could manage to eat out there without feeling sick. So I guess McDonalds.
* Single or group dates: Skipping the date and making out instead.
* Adidas or Nike: Not into sportswear.
* Lipton Ice Tea or Nestea: Nestea sitting at Dorabjees with college friends.
* Chocolate or vanilla: c.h.o.c.o.l.a.t.e.
* Cappuccino or coffee: cappuccino. But here's the odd thing. I detest the froth. *Gag gag, chokesplutteryuck!

* Smoke: QUIT!! I never will know how I did that.
* Cuss: Unfortunately, I don't know yet.
* Sing: Hell yes.
* Take a shower everyday: Does fieldwork count? If it does, obviously cannot. If it's civilized savagery we're referring to, then yes. I think.
* Do you think you’ve been in love: Em, yes.
* Want to go to college: Am.
* Liked high school: Hated it.
* Want to get married: Debating, still.
* Believe in yourself: Debating, still.
* Get motion sickness: Not unless I really don't wanna go and someone is making me. (An unpleasant family vacation in Thailand springs to mind. But I was ten. Hopefully, have greater self-control now. Not to mention poise :) )
* Think you’re attractive: Hm. Some days.
* Think you’re a health freak: Yes.
* Get along with your parent(s): Yes. But not today. Today, we had a fight and I am sulky.
* Like thunderstorms: Oh God. Yes.
* Play an instrument: Wish to play the piano, to make my grandmother in heaven proud. But I fear I am musically inept. Or maybe I just had a bad teacher. (Can I blame all of my failings on the crapness of my high school experience like forever??)

LAYER SIX: In the past month…
* Drank alcohol: Yep.
* Smoked: Nope.
* Done a drug: Lurve, sweet lurrrrve. *slur.
* Made out: As above.
* Gone on a date: Yep.
* Gone to the mall: As a matter of fact, that was the scene of today's fight (as above). I made a rapid exit. But watch this space for more on malls. Thanks, Meme goddess, for reminding me!!
* Eaten an entire box of Oreos: We only get the little packets at the Spar on the top of the hill at my (other) home. But I have eaten a whole one of those. Somehow, I don't think that is the quantity you're referring to.
* Eaten sushi: Nope. Someone offer to take me on a date to a sushi bar.
* Been on stage: Nope.
* Been dumped: Nope.
* Gone skating: I am going in February.
* Made homemade cookies: No. God I am sounding like a boring hag type.
* Gone skinny dipping: Sadly, it is too cold.
* Dyed your hair: Next week.
* Stolen Anything: Sanity. From meditation class. I have a feeling stolen sanity doesn't last long. Fingers crossed.

* Played a game that required removal of clothing: No
* Been trashed or extremely intoxicated: Piss drunk yes.
* Been caught “doing something”: Not yet :) We're good at hiding.
* Been called a tease: Oh yes.
* Gotten beaten up: 7 years of Karate. You can't not have.
* Shoplifted: Not yet. Perhaps this recession will provide the necessary incentive.
* Changed who you were to fit in: I wish I could, sometimes, honestly. It seems I do not have the required switch or lever or whatever.

* Age you hope to be married: 30
* Numbers and names of children: Hmm. Something exotic yet not strange. For instance Ivan and Tara are good. Stalin and Lenin (I know someone who knew someones with these names! For real!) are not.
* Describe your dream wedding: I am still dreaming it up.
* How do you want to die: Dancing. Happy. Loved.
* Where you want to go to college: Where I go right now.
* What do you want to be when you grow up: Happy.
* What country would you most like to visit: Afghanistan. I think I might have been there in a past life. I have a fraction of a hint of a ghost of a memory: Sitting outside a shack / waiting room / village train station under the glow of a naked bulb. Empty landscape and immense sky. Few stars. Darkness. The sound of a dog barking in the distance. Cold, fresh night air. Waiting - the bus, or a companion, or eternity. Who knows.

* Number of drugs taken illegally: Nil zilch nada zero.
* Number of people I could trust with my life: 4
* Number of CDs that I own: I own a boyfriend with 31,000 songs
* Number of piercings: 3.
* Number of tattoos: I wanted one on my foot. My Dad said no. I dont think I will ever outgrow the instinctive 'nomeansno therefore snap to attention! response in time for me to get a tattoo before I start getting wrinkles. Does that matter? Not even a teeny tiny one? Reeeaally? Aww c'mon!! Right. No then.)
* Number of times my name has appeared in the newspaper:
* Number of scars on my body: I have yet to count. Old karate wounds, old playground wounds, fieldwork scratches, cat scratches, mozzie bites galore.
* Number of things in my past that I regret: Zero.

As seen at Medusa's blog
The perfect landscape is not a sweeping panorama of hills and sky. Its' the view from the window at home. Home home. The place we're reluctant to revisit, but where somehow, something inside goes quiet, peaceful, still. No flapping.

The view from the bedroom window of such a place, preferably early in the morning. With 6am light. Greyblue with a promise of gold. That fat blanket of mist sitting on the vegetation. Parrots screeching. And a mug of hot tea, with lemongrass from the garden.

This is life.

Monday, 24 November 2008


Beardyman smiled at me today, for the first time in years.
The short story? At our last meeting, he was a first rate jerk. Something seems to have changed - which is always nice to see. Especially when coming home increasingly implies seeing all the nice things have gone away.

The long story?
Well if you insist!! Settle down with a cup of chocolate and listen -

Beardyman started out by being rather nice, actually. But even the Orcs were Elves once, so apparently one's beginnings are never indicative of anything.
Beardyman used to drive my dad to and fro between his chores. Bank work, to market to market, to friends houses, to haircuts, to hospital, to doctors visits and back home. He worked with Stalwart Chowkidaar, and the two of them used to sit outside the gate on the watchman's bench and read the paper. In between his to and fro-ing, he'd sit by the neem tree and smoke, or talk to the doggies or burp his way through his tiffin lunch. He loved to spray the lawn and mow it and water it. The gardener and him nudged each other past the flowerbeds every day, trying to claim a piece of the earth to tend.
Beardyman liked it when I straightened my hair and told me good Indian girls would rather die than have curly hair like mine (what crap).
He hated my temper, which he thought I should quell by eating less spice (I hate spicy food) and talking to Brahmins more often (what the fuck about, he never said).

Beardyman drove my mother up the wall asking for Diwali Bonusses the size of his Mangaal Pandey mucchi (Which, confusingly, he grew right after Lagaan. The picture up there is a tribute of sorts.)

Beardyman was also:
1. A raging alchoholic;
2. A raging religious fundamentalist. Hindutva first last and inbetween.

Things got out of hand when Beardyman began giving me lectures about how Brahmins should rule the world (this coming from a gentleman with 'OBC' on an ID card in his pocket - flashed at regular intervals to all and sundry). When he told the Stalwart Chowkidaar (a devoted Muslim) how only Marathas should be allowed to get jobs in and around the city. When he started getting Stalwart into trouble. When he started taking his shirt off and sprawling, drunk, by my mother's car every afternoon, and lying there until 4 and 5 and 6pm. He always looked pissed off. He snapped at me if I asked him to drive me to a store. I snapped back. That didn't end well for me that evening :) The temper he was always telling me to get rid of was no match for his.

One day, Beardyman crossed the line and we decided to put his touching fiddling around in the garden, his conversations with the doggies, his ability to get one to a meeting fifteen minutes away within five breathless gear-shifts and his wife's excellent (spicy) pickles aside.
We sacked Beardyman for being bitchy beyond belief to the rest of the staff about his whole Hindutva agenda. No place for that in a civilized household, we decided.
Either you stop this at once, or you go.
He went.
I thought him reprehensible: "If that's how it is here, then I'd better go, because I will not work with anyone of (*insert execrable religious taunt here)'s jaat. Fuck you, I thought. That's going to mean that you don't work here any more then.

A few months later, he resurfaced. Poisoned with drink, with a liver and kidneys that had had enough of him and his afternoon bottle.
We took pity on Beardyman and assisted as much as we could through his hospital. My father delivered his SternDoctor lecture: ONE MORE DROP OF THIS STUFF, and you WILL die.
Ji Sahib, ji, sahib, trembled Beardyman, drugged to his gills and taking no notice of the caste or creed of the staff around him (at last count, one Parsi, two Muslim residents and one Hindu nurse helped to save his life).
But Beardyman cannot drive any more. He used to have two jobs to be able to afford to keep his family going (and his drink no doubt). He came over today - to collect my father's shirts. He's started a laundry shop and has hired someone to do the ironing. Rs. 15 a shirt.

But something has changed again: he no longer has that angry scowl all the time. I said hello to him as he stood in the kitchen, folding a big pile of my dad's shirts. His smile was enchanting. How are you, I said. Oh fine, he replied. I feel so fresh. You know your dad saved my life.
Hm.. I hope you've given up on the stuff now? Finally?
Yes, yes, 100%. More than 100%.
When he left, Stalwart Chowkidaar opened the gate for him, and Beardyman smiled.

I smiled too. Good for him. I'm not saying he's changed his mind completely about hating so much of the world that he has to scowl at it all the time. But a big smile sits in place of the scowl now. However that happened, I don't care. I'm glad for him. I can count on the fingers of one hand the people I know who genuinely feel "Fresh!!" How fantastic :)