Saturday, 17 December 2011


Smile, offer a word of friendliness
I will ease toward you like whiskey to water
Lie, betray me Judas
I will defend you as if you are family
I will forgive, if only you will apologise
Or touch my arm gently to say you're sorry
I will also demand an equal
Measure of your loyalty

This play goes on, act after act
The seven emotions flitting over our faces
Tears, forgiveness, happy. Repeat. 

Like a fingernail that meticulously
Chips down a piece of chalk
I will wait patiently 
Until you grind me down to the grain
Until you test my loyalty
So vehemently
That it stretches and breaks 
Like a rubber band. Snap. 

No going back from there, my friend
You jumped upon my trampoline of trust
I am flexible. 
I have a breaking point. 
Once shattered, my headstrong heart
Refuses to be mended by
Your injurious fingers
Your callouses have ground me 
Into an unfixable mess
Your once warm eyes now
Radiate scathing heat

Sink away into the abysses of my mind
I will shadow you into the past
Look for new ones to lay my trust upon
Search for new hands that will
Tear me into tinier pieces
And still tinier, the next time over

When will it end? 
When I have resigned to be soulless
Until then, I am gullible
To your sugarcoated words

--For every friend I ever lost.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Abstract Mind

Inclined towards the artistic
Fascinated by things mystic
Restless fingers, creating
Eager eyes, ever searching

For things unseen; they catch her eye
As a universe of normality passes by:

Delicate white lace in the breaking tide
A lost feeling in memory revived;
The curve of a hip in sand dunes
Silver fairy dust in craters of the moon;
The sweat of labour in melting ice
Twinkling diamonds in the eyes of surprise;
The stench of murder in a matador's red
Twisted lies in golden truth said;
The depth of the past in a bottle of ink
Desperate clasping hands in chain links.

Her senses, heady with fantasy
Experiences, severed from reality
Reason blind, straying from fact
Her mind, surreal, abstract.

P.S. This was one of the few poems I ever read out in public, at age fifteen, when I had far fewer inhibitions.

Monday, 14 November 2011


There you are. With your rough fingers and gentle touch. You're a walking paradox, a hypocrite. Make me laugh and topple me down to the ground when we take walks in the park. Make me cry as if my life has ended over a small mistake. Blame me, fight, curse. Hug me as if it was never my fault. Push me away, pull me back in. As if I'm just clay in your hands.

There you are, with your high-achiever degree. With your big words and fancy English. With those conversations on the couch that turn into playful arguments. We punctuate each other's sentences with "no, that wasn't my point" and "wait, listen, you're wrong about that" or "okay, fine, maybe that's true but what about...".  You read my poetry. I come home to find our bathroom window painted with your favourite verse.

All that football gibberish you watch on TV. Screaming intermittently at the flat screen. And you sneak into the kitchen to steal a taste of dinner. Feedback. Too little salt, a little more olive oil. You grab a handful of lettuce and crush it into a bowl and toss a quick salad. You tickle me and steal me back on to the couch to share the snack. You wait for me to say it tastes good, but of course, I don't allow you that pleasure. Not when you pretend my food is terrible just to annoy me.

Your eyes are kind, even when you don't smile. But they take on a hardened glaze when you look at a stranger. You are so shy, so unfriendly, that sometimes I wonder how we ever got along. How did you, the one who finds it so difficult to offer a stranger a smile find me, ready with a grin whatever the case, among all those people? How did you seek me out? Or did I force myself into your life, like I do every day? Did I just walk over to you and say, "hey, mister, look at me. Take notice of me." Yes. That is what happened, isn't it?  Does that mean we compliment each other?

Your arms become my shield. Your body prevents mine from ever being touched in a crowded place. You take me to the raunchiest bars, the most unfriendly streets, the dangerous yet fascinating parts of the city. You know my senses feast on those forbidden things, so you take me. But your eyes are always on the look out for danger. Your reflexes are always quick enough.

Why do you do these things? How do you read my mind this way? I know you do, even when you pretend not to. I know your pride, I am proud too. I know you can tell I have let down my guard. I know you know that I'd never admit it to you. We have misunderstandings. We squabble like children. I throw things at you. You slam doors. And you come back, like a lost dog, to find me sobbing in the bathtub with the shower and my clothes on. We forgive, even when we don't forget.

Now tell me this: where ARE you? I haven't found you yet, met you yet. I don't know where you've been hiding or why. I don't know when you'll show up, I don't know if you ever will. I don't know anything. But I sit here, daydreaming, as if our lives are already entwined.

Friday, 4 November 2011


The moonlight's glitter on the ocean
Couldn't be as beautiful as love

A flower in springtime bloom
Couldn't be as joyful as love

A snowflake on a tree branch
Couldn't be as delicate as love

The fiery hot glare of the sun
Couldn't be as passionate as love

A star studded midnight
Couldn't be as magical as love

A footprint upon a golden coast
Couldn't be as ephemeral as love

The blood flowing through every vein
Couldn't be as life-giving as love

The forest sawed down that regenerates
Couldn't be as forgiving as love

A shower of rain in the desert
Couldn't be as soothing as love

A fantastic insect with glittering wings
Couldn't be as alluring as love

The wind that carries a kite
Couldn't be as uplifting as love

And yet, a plague across the nations
Couldn't be as devastating as love

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Rose

I still remember in 10th standard Geography class when I was pulled up by Liz Miss for talking and asked to read aloud this poem. Most. Embarrassing. Moment. Ever. The class thought it was a love poem for Rose and teased me endlessly. I died a little that day, I tell you! And never had the courage to share my poetry. Till now. Boo Yeah! 

Sensual incantation of scent
Blood-red heavenly angel sent
Pricking the fox who dares
Approach thy thorny lair

Passionate tango of romance
Thy fragrance with senses dance
Inebriated as they float along
Sways each to thy crimson song

Petals of gentleness adorning thee
Robes of scarlet jealousy
Regally they shroud thy soul
Sweet perfume so softly unfolds

As thee, my life takes shape
These dusty words, my escape
Thorny eyes protect inside
Soft, red scent, within I hide

As wild like vermilion fire
Thy radiance do I desire
Unbending under command
Of wind or rain or sun to stand

If No One Were Looking

If no one were looking
We would stop pretending
Our actions real, true
Emotions in plain hue
No longer meekly hiding
If no one were looking

If no one were listening
Secrets cease to be silent
Out loud would speak minds
Not a fragment straying behind
Each signal openly sent
If no one were listening

If no one were judging
Choices solely our own
Expectations no longer to meet
No victory or low defeat
Or disapproving undertones
If no one were judging

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Diwali with the Mittals

Today, on the eve of Diwali, it felt like Delhi was closer to home than ever before. 

We don't celebrate Diwali in Cochin (hell, we barely celebrate Christmas). So when the PG was all decked up in lights and tassels, it felt really wonderful to be living in a house of just five and not one of those Kamla Nagar hostels. We're one of the few people that call our PG "home". It's not only because we have a whole flat to ourselves, but also because of the Mittals, our wardens. 

Background on the Mittals: Uncle's a professor and DU big-shot and Aunty is.. aunty. And they can be very mean sometimes with night outs and late nights and what not. Over the last year though, it looks like they've gotten pretty fond of us. And vice versa, I must say. They do these things that normal wardens don't do. Like make sure everything is working in our house, and that there is a good helper to cook and clean, and that the food is made on time and a whole bunch of other things. Aunty checks on us during exam time and sends up everything from sweets to kulfi to pumpkin curry and poori. She also is instrumental in drilling nails into our walls for all our posters ("Drill four holes here for the white board also, beta!" I've never seen anyone so happy about drilling holes in their own house). She is excellent at hugging. Uncle laughs out loud enough to make you nervous. For an old guy; he's pretty tech savvy. He does these cute things like drop you at the metro when he sees you struggling with bags. He is also a good hugger, though sometimes those pats on my back hurt a tad bit. 

Diya and I, being the cool people we are, decided to celebrate Diwali all on our own. We bought colours for rangoli and crackers. Aunty gave us these gold bobby-things to hang on our door. Heera, our helper, and the both of us went over to uncle and Aunty to ask them if we could draw a rangoli at their doorstep and they happily agreed. Aunty gave us atta for the white lines and tons of glue so none of it would fly away. I think she was a little skeptical about our ability to draw pretty things on the floor when we have had no prior experience. About fifteen minutes later she walks out to the door and sees us at work and beams. I am not kidding you, she said, "awesome!". I refrained from laughing out loud. She was so excited that she said, "It feels like a real Diwali now" about ten times. Not to mention, "Our house finally looks like it has children in it" and "Beta, put a little more purple over there". Uncle took over the directing after a while and watched over as our multi-coloured doodle came to life. That laugh was ringing all over the house every five minutes. It was a good kind of ringing, though. After an hour or so, we were done and for a free-hand rangoli, it looked pretty good. Aunty and Uncle took pictures and gave hugs. They treated us to delicious kulfi. They looked incredibly happy even though it was just a tiny party of their day. These little things do make differences, you know. 

Tomorrow, we will burst crackers together like a family. And do puja. And share breakfast and dinner together. Just as if we are home. I suddenly wish I could stay longer. 


My roommates call me a music snob. In an attempt to live up to that name, here are some of my favourite albums. Yes, albums; because that's how music snobs listen, okay.

                                                      1.Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon                                                                                                                            
They don't come a whole lot awesomer than Pink Floyd. For me, these guys are just pure GENIUS. Yes, The Wall was epic, I know. But this album appeals to me a whole lot more. Maybe it's because I've heard most of the songs all through my childhood. Listening to this album takes me back to humid nights at home with my dad singing Money. It reminds me of that time Brian, Pa and I sang our version of Time in Bangalore. Wish You Were Here is Amit. Along with all those memories and thoughts, I love how each song on this album just flows into the next. Alan Parson's sound engineering is just a joyride for the senses. Not to mention Gilmour's silky smooth voice that never fails to make me melt. I could go on and on about this record, but to save you from boredom I end with a request: even if you don't care for any of the following albums, listen to this one. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

2. Eminem - Recovery
Okay, I know Em fans probably will disagree with me on this one. This one's my favourite for a bunch of reasons. For one, I really do prefer the melodic rap to the superfastcrazynonsense that some rap ends up as. Eminem manages to rap incredibly complicated verses with killer beats with an ease that makes you wonder how in the hell he does it. He brings out this whole emotional side of him that, although not rare, is quite refreshing after the madness of Relapse. He even admits that he may have "ran 'em accents into the ground". From Relapse to Recovery saw such a change in his rap; part of it really insightful, part of it telling the world he's still on top of his game. It's not just Cinderella Man with all that chorus-y awesomeness and Spacebound with that fresh guitar in the background that makes this record a winner with me. It's practically every single track.

3. Adele - 21
When this woman debuted with 19, I was impressed. What a voice she had. And then when I listened to 21 I was sold. It's rare to find this kind of passion and raw emotion pour out of a voice. I chanced upon videos of a few live performances and she had me cringing with pain when she sang Someone Like You with a simultaneous power and gentleness. Anyone who has even remotely glanced through Billboard would not have missed Rolling in the Deep's seemingly permanent stand at number one. Rick Rubin's production did wonders too I'm sure.

4. Kings of Leon - Only By The Night
I don't care what you say, Caleb Followill's voice is just plain sexy. Apparently this album got a bunch of mixed reviews ranging from twos and threes on ten to five on fives. So what if the critics didn't like it right? I don't know if it just grew on me, but I love the sounds in the album; often sinister and macabre melting into some sort of incredible hotness. Don't believe me? Listen to Closer. I'm not kidding you, that guitar will give you the shivers. There's also Sex is on Fire and Use Somebody, but you've heard those, right?

5. Alterbridge - Blackbird
Okay fine, i'll admit it already. I have a thing for vocalists. Myles Kennedy almost tops my list. Have you heard this guy? I haven't heard someone who isn't my dad's age rock out like it was the 80s again. His entrance into the band, not just as a vocalist but as a song writer and guitarist makes this album a hit with me. Alterbridge relased a new record last year ABIII which I didn't like all that much. But Blackbird is pretty damn cool. They have the slow thing going with Watch Over You and a whole bunch of awesome headbanging material too.

Alright, alright I'm done. I'll save the rest for another day. I'm guessing I've lost like seven (read: all) of my followers.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hands and Wrinkles

She walks into the front porch at a slow, yet even pace. Her eyes squint in the gorgeous sun. After decades of living midst the wet, green trees and paddy fields, she is oblivious to the Eden that surrounds her. She has tread the floors of this house for more than half a century. Mottled, old floors that creak when the rains are heavy. Her freckled cheeks part with a smile. Every line in her face is deeply etched into her skin and her feet are swollen and pale, but the glow that emanates from her eyes, lighter with age, hint of a youthfulness hidden within.

They hide secrets, too. Secrets her son and daughter have never heard. Secrets she kept from her husband. Secrets that have been made invisible by a strength she draws from some unknown source. As if a veil covers her feelings, displaying only a translucent hint of what lies behind. She is some sort of Athena, I think to myself as she walks towards me. Her gait shows no signs of strength, wobbly knees and a back that bends slightly. But as she her wrinkled arms wrap me into a hug, I get the impression that she will be able to protect me come what may.

She is not always gentle. She can make biting remarks that sting harder than a scorpion. She can rebuke me so that even a small error raises a considerable amount of guilt (especially when it comes to my not going to church). But she will also buy me a small bar of dairy milk when she comes to visit. She will also cook the most delicious meals I will ever have in my life. 

And she worries like a mother does. About everything. Least of all, her own health, which she meticulously tends to. She worries about the children, the grandchildren, the sisters and brothers. Amma. That word couldn't hold more meaning than when used to address her; because she fits that role as if she was born for it. Do we all eventually mould ourselves into that form? She is sentimental, too, I think. Because she keeps those old diaries to read through. She saves sweaters preserved from some bygone era. She gives me a gold bangle from her wrist as a coming-of-age gift.

And I see myself in her; that uncanny way that we bottle things up. The way we sift through old letters to find meanings lost in time. The way we care so much our hearts burst but we are too proud to ever admit it. It makes me wonder, almost obsessively, what she was like at my age. Was she vibrant and ebullient or quiet and reserved? In seventy years, a person can change so much. I wonder if the Amma I know is unrecognisable to her 20-year-old self. I wonder if she was as efficient and matter-of-fact as she is today, or was she impulsive and free? I wonder what kind of mother she would have been. And I sit for hours just dreaming up a life for her, because I dare not ask her.

Oh but when she laughs, it is as if my whole world just melts into nothing. I see that effervescent spirit of hers glint; just barely in sight. I want to hold her and never let go in those moments. It is as if all the heaviness she holds in her heart has, only for a few seconds, evaporated. As if all those stern words of advice she gives me can be thrown to the wind like paddy husk just so that we can share that tiny little joke together.

She is my inspiration.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Nursing Like a Boss

There are four people in my family. Right now, one of them had a little problem with mobility and is on crutches. It happens to be the little one, my brother. Putting aside the technicalities of his injury and the events leading up to his rather uncomfortable predicament, I noticed myself doing something I didn't think I would. I found myself falling perfectly into roles defined for a woman; without ever knowing it.

When someone in the family falls ill, everyone pitches in. There are so many things to be done that one person doing all of it alone is worthy of a hundred gold medals. How is all this work divided among the members of the family? In mine it followed the traditional setup. Dad would pay the bills and talk to the doctors. He would give the green light on what tests to take, which room to book, when the car would come to pick us up and all that jazz. Mom would stay overnight at the hospital, make dinner, buy provisions, give hugs and apple juice. Suprisingly, I fell into my stereotype too. I was doing odd errands, traversing elevators and stairs to fetch some dressing from the pharmacy or chicken rolls from the cafe or drive around when needed. When Ma was busy, I was feeding, heating up dinner, dressing, swabbing or giving medicines.

In retrospect, I think of the ease with which I slipped into those (relatively) feminine roles and wonder whether those roles are taken up because we have a sort of comparative advantage in them. Like dads are just better at paying bills and being tough and moms are just so wonderful when they make home-food and touch you with their gentle yet weather-worn hands and sisters just sit next to you and talk endlessly so you don't feel lonely.

The thought is reinforced with little tidbits of conversation floating around the house

Baby brother:"I wouldn't have been able to move my leg if Pa hadn't been tough on me during physiotherapy"
Ma:"If I was the one in charge of physio, I'd have failed miserably because I'd have stopped every time he so much as winced!"

Baby Brother:"Mari let Ma do all the wound dressing, she's more gentle."

Baby Brother:"Can Mari stay at home for a few more days? I need her around for support."

As an aside, that last one had me sold. That kid had never said anything about needing me his whole life and even though he probably meant support while he walks to the other room, I'd like to believe it was that other, more important kind of support.

I know every family is different, in that each member has special strengths and in a crisis they play on those strengths. Maybe that  is all I witnessed at home this week. But maybe, like I said, women are just more into that whole nurturing business and men are more of that protective sort.

Then again, maybe my family is more stereotypical than we'd like to admit.

I have been rambling, haven't I?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

On a Birthday

I'm awkward when it comes to my birthday. Sometimes I'm cranky because I miss my family, especially my little brother who I (almost) share a birthday with. Sometimes I'm excited. Sometimes I want to flop. I'm a difficult person to plan a birthday for. I keep changing my mind and even when I say I don't care, I've realised I actually do.

That's why this post is dedicated to my friends and family. Especially my friends here in college. They tolerate my tantrums, they suffer through my angsty texts and mean glares and they get together and make me feel like I'm the only thing that matters to them. Even when they're LATE. Yes, even then, they make birthdays amazing for a birthday-hater like me.

To Diya, Rashi, Ann, Anna, Kalyani, Meghaa. I know how hard you guys try. I know it isn't easy to get me in a good mood on my birthday. But you guys do it, somehow. Because of you guys, I know how amazing and un-ordinary a birthday can be. Because of you guys, I let down my guard and actually have a good time. Because of you guys, Delhi will always be where I had the most insane birthdays. I've never had these, you know. These big affairs, with presents and cakes and parties. You guys spoil me. And I love you.

To David and Aayush, who were on time with that crazy gift. Who make me laugh endlessly. Who have witnessed my weirdest moments and never judged. Who love me even after all the Drama. Who ask me for advice and make me feel like an authority on things. Who are always there for girl-rating in the cafe.

To Amit and Rose, who listened to me crib because my birthday was boring in Delhi. Who promised me a big bang when I get home. Rose, with your cakes and purple cards and birthday craziness. Amit, with this endless messages that make me feel like the only girl in the world. You two keep me sane, everyday.

To Mamma and Papa, for bringing me home, knowing how badly I wanted to be around them when I turned 21. For watching me grow up without driving yourselves and me too crazy. For the quiet birthday dinners that I'll always love.

To my Abu. Who is THE most important person in the month of August. The one who shares a cake with me every year without complaining. The one who walked around with me all over the city trying to find me a gift I liked. The one who grudgingly listens to me as I ramble. It isn't a birthday without you.

This year, I had the best of both worlds. And I couldn't have turned 21 in a better way. I love you guys.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Little Bookstore

I'm no one to give a bookstore review, I hardly buy books. I spend more of my time in libraries than bookstores. That's probably why this Little Bookstore attracted me, with all it's moth eaten second hand books.

I've been there a few times, not really to buy anything but just to be among books that were owned by other people and often have tiny snapshots of those people within their pages. Some have just the date written on the first page them in ageing ink, some have a whole passage. Some have pages with the crease of an earmark. Some have underlined words and their meanings diligently written on top. Some have study notes in them, others have personal scribbles. Every book is a treasure trove in which you often find little stories of the anonymous.

So I trotted along to the tiny little store just to look around and smell that old-book smell. As I read the worn out spines, the owner kept handing me romance novels. I suppose a lot of college girls buy cheap romance novels from this guy. I laughed and declined. To appear a little more serious, I asked him if he has a copy of Hamlet. Hamlet? He went on to pile on his table every classic he could fine. Those books were gorgeous, I would have bought all of them if I could. I kept wondering why anyone could throw them away, but of course I was glad they did.

As I bargained my price I looked around and honestly, I just wanted to stay in that little corner surrounded by those books forever. I fingered the spine of a Winnie The Pooh, I leafed through the pages of a Huckleberry Finn, I even fell in love with this moth-eaten copy of Asterix and The Cauldron that looked exactly like something I'd find in Eloor (the ancient library where I first began to devour Asterix comics). I wanted them all.

I think the store owner figured me out pretty quickly, because the next thing I knew, he was getting me a glass of chai and piling book after book into my arms. He shoved a stack of bookmarks in my hand to give away in College. He tried to chat me up with stories of Kerala and the Delhi Book Fair and someone from Malayala Manorama that bought a ton of books from him. He said something about getting me a whole stack of Asterix comics. He went on to give me a free thesaurus. I took it, I don't even know why.

But that's where things got a little strange. This man, for some strange reason gives me a book, written by some Indian writer I'd never heard of. He raises his eyebrows and asks me to read the back. I skim through a few sentences and look at him quizzically.
"Did you read it?"
"Yes. What's wrong?"
"No, read it. Then you'll see."
I read the back again a little bit more carefully. All I read was '..her moist..'. and I freaked out.
"You like?"
"No! What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Okay, okay. You don't like. Tell your friends okay?"

I stormed out of the shop, all those romantic old-book thoughts left in a muddy puddle at my feet. Was that man trying to sell me erotic fiction after I had bought Pride and Prejudice and Antony and Cleopatra? My cheeks were flushed and I got on a rickshaw as fast as I could to find refuge in under-eighteen-friendly Costa Coffee.

Maybe I'll take Diya and go back, just for the heck of it. Maybe I'll even slap that old pervert. Or kick him in the shin. Yes, that is bound to hurt. *beams*

Monday, 5 September 2011

Best. Doodle. Ever.

It's hard to capture an incredibly vivacious personality like Freddie Mercury in a doodle, and if you've watched any of his live performances, you'll know why. But Google blew me away with this one.

For all those Queen fans, "Get Down. Make Love."

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

School: There are reasons I don't miss it

For the most part of my life, I was on the sunny side of school. I loved it, never missed a day. School was friends, and amazing teachers. School was community singing and football in the rain. When you're on that bright and happy side of school, the ugly part of it never comes into view. It's like standing on a stage with the lights on you. You can never see what's just beyond the brightness.

But when you grow up a little, and you see school for what it is, you realise things that make the people you adored look ugly. The teachers that put you in line when you went for a field trip, the ones that encouraged you to sing out loud even when they knew you were tone deaf, the teachers that pushed you to submit the essay you were shy about, those very same teachers grow up too. And when you get to high school, it feels like a whole other ball game.

Even when the game changed, I adapted to the rules. So despite everything that happened, I just barely made it through school, walking that fine line between the bright side and the dark. But even as I was doing this, I could see out of the corner of my eye the terrifying reality that school was, and I chose to ignore it.

No more. All those feelings I am going to pour out here. Whether anyone listens or not, because the anger that I feel today is vehement and sometimes even vengeful. I wish I could go back and do what I could have done then about making that dark side disappear; not that it could ever be accomplished so easily.

I remember in 10th standard, all the "smart kids" used to automatically get a ten on ten for internals. Why? Well, the teachers figured that the smart-kids were more likely to score a hundred percent on the board exam so why deprive them of that by cutting internal marks? Most of the smart-kids deserved those marks; they submitted their projects on time, they took efforts to study for tests, the did most things they were supposed to do. But in the event they didn't, they were never penalised. They got away with bunking one of those tests or submitting a paper late. What about the others? They were the ones who really needed those extra internal marks. They were the ones who should have been given wider room, but instead they were the ones who got picked on the most by the teachers. Just because they weren't good at exams, or good at cutting and pasting and making a stellar project. No, it didn't matter if they were good at anything else. It didn't matter if they were kindhearted. All that mattered was that they weren't getting the marks, and so they were going to be branded.

It's all about reputation in school. When a group of teachers get together in the Staff Room, even the ones that liked you will end up hating you if a few of them do. I'm sure they talk about other things too, but they sure do talk about us kids. And they don't talk nicely too often. If you have a bad reputation, it spreads like wildfire within that Staff Room and then every little thing you do or say adds on to the story, however harmless or offhand it was. I know those kids, the ones they talk about. I was one of them too. And probably, the only reason i got away with it was because I wrote my exams well. I know the ones that weren't so good at school, who were always talked about as "bad kids". Stereotyped before they even have a chance to change their images. Grouped at an age where they are changing all the time. Even when the TRY to change for the better, the stereotypes stick and the changes are nullified.

What angers me the most is how they wring you dry in school. They've seen you from such a young age, towards the end they know most of your strengths and weaknesses. They will use you until they need you no more for your strengths. If you're a basketball player, they will send you for every tournament. If you play the guitar, you will participate in every important stage performance. Are you a good orator? Get set to attend every debate and public speaking event that matters. But even if you're good at all of those combined, if you don't have the marks, don't expect much special treatment. On the other hand, if you have the marks, you'd probably get to go for all those events with half the talent. In the speeches, the big-shots will talk about how they encourage talent and push students to go beyond their abilities. If only you knew how much they could lie. Sure, on paper it all looks great. Sure, when you put up a thousand cultural events in a year, you look like an incredible school. But what goes on behind each show is what determines the quality of a school, and what goes on behind is oft not the stuff for the big inspiring speeches.

I was one of those, you know. Attended almost every inter-school fest, went for a bunch of basketball tournaments, student council member and a myriad other things. There was a point when I was fed up of it all. It was in my twelfth standard, and I sat down, re-prioritised and decided that half the things I did in school, and for my school, were things I could do without. When I confronted the school with my issues, I was told I had no school spirit, that I was putting myself before the school and this was a bad thing. I was told that it was disappointing to see a "student like me" back out of school activities so that I could sit down and study and figure out what I wanted to do in life. Yes, that was what I was told. After the eleven years of doing all sorts of things for my school, for a year when I needed a break, my teachers attempted to pressure me into continuing what I had been doing all those years. It was only then that I realised that the school didn't really care where I'd be in the next two years, whether I'd be able to go to a good college, whether I was too stressed and needed a break. All they wanted was their half of the story sorted. I was extremely lucky to have parents that saw my best interests and gave me their full support. Not all of us are that lucky. Most of us assume that our teachers too, have our best interests at heart. How wrong I was.

What is worse, and I've seen this happen to people I know, is when teachers don't give due credit to the efforts of students who work hard. I know someone who was consistently failing in math. So for two months, this kid got himself enrolled in a tuition class, attended most of his classes, studied his ass off. I know this because I saw him study every day, and he really wanted to, for once, just be reasonable at math. His tuition sir told him that he'd get an 80 plus; but despite all this effort, the kid got a 60 percent average. He passed. And even though, he thought he had done better, he was still relieved. The next day, he gets called by his teacher. Why? Because it was "suspicious" that he got such good marks and they thought he'd cheated. This was augmented by one of his friends getting around the same marks as him (the explanation to which was that the both of them were studying together the day before the exam). But no, the "obvious" solution to the conundrum was that the two of them had cheated on the exam! What incentive does a child have to ever study for an exam again? How could teachers make such a blatant accusation without even an ounce of thought? This brings us again to the role branding has in school. The boys were known to be "trouble makers" so without any investigation it could be concluded they were in the wrong.

Here's another one. A teacher catches a boy for eating in class. He barely hears her, and continues to eat. The whole class starts laughing. In her anger she pulls up another boy, and chucks him out of class. The reason: he was tapping his fingers on the table. So he gets sent to the H.O.D. and she insults him, humiliates him, for tapping his fingers on the table. The kid tells her that it's a habit he has because he's been learning drums for many years and the action is subconscious. She just shouts at him some more and subsequently bans him from drumming at the next stage performance. She bans him, and not a single other one of his peers (who I'm sure would have cause an equal, if not more amount of "trouble") from doing the one thing he is passionate about. I cannot FATHOM how this was a way of constructive punishment. Discouraging a child's passion is the last thing a teacher should have done.

There are so many such cases, where teachers group children into easy-to-remember groups and treat them differently depending on which one they fall into. I have seen and heard of children being banned from exams, told not to attend class, humiliated; and more often than not, these were the kids that needed the most help in academics, the ones that really needed a TEACHER.

Victimising teenagers that do not fit the stereotype of the "ideal student" is one of the biggest mistakes a school and its teachers can make. We complain about teenagers starting to drink early, smoke even earlier. We blame parents, the media, society, the west. Do we ever look into ourselves and see the imprint WE leave on these youths? Do we consider the immense power we have to inspire and do we use this for their betterment? What I see, too often to stomach, is that more and more teachers are losing their drive to be true educators. Instead they follow the herd, they make steroetypes, they brand and exclude.

Such grave injustice is being done! And why are these students being subject to such treatment by people who should be their ROLE MODELS AND HEROES? It is beyond me how myopic these teachers have become over the years. At a time when students are getting more and more difficult to understand and communicate with, how does it help to corner these kids and make them even more miserable than they already are? Teachers, how are you able to say with honesty that you are actively helping children grow and become good human beings when many of you are driven by feelings not-so-noble? Honestly, why be teachers if you don't have the patience or the passion to be an educator?

I implore you, reader (if you have read all the way up to here), in your small way, to appreciate those kids that are left behind in the rat race whose starting gun is sounding earlier and earlier every year. Please don't push them to the sidelines just because they cannot excel in "what matters". Whether you are a parent, a brother, a sister, a friend, a teacher or a grandparent, let them know that it is okay to have a tough time in school. Give them that push; it could mean the world to them. I remember some teachers being taken to watch Taare Zameen Par back when it was still fresh. It seems we have forgotten the lessons of that story far too soon. I hope that the move to remove the immense weightage marks and exams have in a student's life is accelerated. I hope that it snowballs into a much needed change in our system.

Most of all, I hope that teachers and schools put the heart back in to learning. Because I see less and less confidence in that possibility everyday. Even as I apologise for all the bitterness that flows through this post, I urge you to not take lightly the effect these people, these "sensible adults" have on children. As personal as this post is, it also makes an appeal for a fairer, more forgiving, more encouraging schooling system that will ignite potential instead of extinguish it.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Ladies Compartment

Ass grabbery seems to be a man's favourite pastime when he finds himself in a crowd. I don't know why you people do it, because it gives us no pleasure whatsoever. I don't know why it gives you any satisfaction. You don't see women grabbing mens' bodies, do you? Your sheer insolence disgusts me. I don't mean to attack all males. Only the ones who think they have the liberty, if not the right, to feel random women up whenever the opportunity presents itself. And if the women so much as gives him a dirty look or shouts, he just pretends like it never happened, as does everyone else in the vicinity. At a crowded station, you see the men shout, hurling abuses at each other, a sea of aggressive bodies forcing themselves into a train. I have not seen a more stark contrast between the genders.

Welcome do Delhi Metro's ladies' compartment: keval mahilayen. Here, no one attacks you. Here, young people stand up for older ones. Here, everyone is less irritated and less fearful of a ghost hand coming from somewhere in the crowd for a quick feel. Here, a little nudging doesn't make you as nervous. Here, when a toddler walks across the compartment and is prone to fall, at least five hands reach out to hold him. Motherly instincts come to the fore. Conversation is easier, stares are not so much to antagonise but to tell someone their shoes are pretty (or ugly). A lot of it is because the compartment is less crowded. But to me, our race's gentleness makes it's graceful appearance in the first two cars of every train.

Sure, there are still the odd fights for seats. There are still women who push and shove to get ahead and when the train stops at Connaught Place, you are still going to be squeezed in between bodies and pushed out the door. But all of it is a lot less nauseating in the ladies' compartment.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


They never tell you how hard it gets in college if you begin by slacking off. They never tell you how dangerous it is to think you have it easy for a while after those big fancy board exams. In fact, they don't tell you all the way until your final year when the Placement Cell has its first meeting and you realise it's highly unlikely you will get a job and even more unlikely that you will get admission to a post graduate college. You then realise that you made a grave mistake by ever thinking you had your bases covered and could take a break from the rat race for a few months. Because months turn to years and before you know it, everyone you know has over taken you. The thing about the rat race that you failed to recognise was that it really doesn't wait for you to take a water break. Hell, it wouldn't even wait for you if you'd broken a knee and needed an ambulance.

So here you are, slowly and steadily, without ever noticing it shifting into last place from some long lost lead you once had. It makes you bitter. Mostly, it makes you angry at yourself for never having tried harder, for never having paid attention in the beginning when you had a chance to change it. Here you are, hoping some miracle eagle is going to swoop down and pick you up and put you back where you used to be. But of course, that's the stuff for day dreamers.

It's frightening, this feeling of nothingness that comes when you think of your future. So what do you do? Two choices, really. Ignore, or acknowledge. Of course, the easiest thing would be to ignore. It's what you've done for the past few years so you have some practice. It makes all those sinking dreary feelings go away. The problem is, if you close your eyes when you're driving, you are bound to go crashing into something sooner or later. Acknowledge? That feels like staring down the parapet of a fifty storey building. All those success stories you hear of alumni making waves all over the country seem alien. You feel out of place, and often threatened by your peers. And still, there is some inkling of self confidence that raises its head shyly when you are alone.

Go for it, fool. With your substandard marks, apply to every job you possibly can. With your average academic record, write every entrance exam you can possible attempt. Read about colleges and companies. One of them will take you in, don't you worry. But you have to start and fuel that chain of events. Most importantly, close your eyes to the world. They don't know you, and you don't need to prove yourself to them. 

Friday, 15 July 2011

My First RTI

The Right To Information Act, 2005 had me impressed. Listening to Arvind Kejriwal got me inspired. I remember sitting with my dad one night and, like the idealist I am, upholding the Act as a huge step forward for our country. And sure, it's fantastic that we are finally provided a right that was given to citizens of some other countries decades ago. It's wonderful that the law is framed so that (at least on paper) government officials are incentivised to submit the requested information on time. It's relieving that we, as citizens are finally making a move towards a transparent and accountable governance system. 

I filed my first RTI yesterday and the process that led to it got me to realise how desperately we needed such a law. As a part of a project I was doing, I needed to get data (numbers and figures, not just opinions and rounded figures) on a few primary schools in Cochin. 

Armed with just my college ID card and a notebook I walked into one of these schools and was met with a suspicious eye. After explaining my project, I was asked to come a week later if I wanted any data. A similar scene at the next school I visited (where the Principal was not even present, and the teacher had to search the records for the school's phone number). My next stop was the Corporation itself, an old building in the heart of the city. I traversed up and down three flights of stairs numerous times, visiting the Deputy Mayor who directed me to the Education Department, who directed me to the Planning Cell, who directed me back to the Deputy Mayor, who sent me to her Additional Secretary, who I could meet only after an hour and then sent me back to the Planning Cell where I spent an hour getting a letter of recommendation drafted to show at the schools for the data I wanted. The entire process took me six hours. Apparently, the corporation has no information on the very schools under its demarcation. 

My next trip was to the other schools I was studying, one of which was functioning with the Principal on leave for a month and could not give me any information. Another Principal sat with me for an hour or so and allowed me to take an interview of sorts and gave me rounded figures of expenses that the school had incurred. This itself was something I wasn't expecting. He would not let me look at his account books. 

Finding myself in this predicament, in an RTI-less India, I would have just changed my project, changed the kind of data needed or just plain quit. Coming back to the office though, led me to file an RTI application for all the data I needed. But I must say, writing that letter is not easy. Don't get me wrong, I am relieved that I have a way to find data earlier hidden behind a wall of permissions and recommendations. The framing of the letter though, poses to be a challenge for the untrained. I needed help from someone who has filed many RTIs to get the thing right, for everything from the format to the careful framing of questions. The RTI is an Act for the layman, but I, as a layman was not able to file the application as effortlessly as it is let on by Kejriwal et al.