Sunday, May 17, 2015

When I Dismantled The Crib And Assembled The Future

Six and a half years since we first purchased it, my wife and I disassembled our crib. It was bought from IKEA before our older son was born, a product of copious research and guarded certainty. My older son used it for a couple of years and now my younger one has also graduated from it after nearly three years of occupancy.

We dismantled it tonight. Piece by piece of the carefully constructed frame, into which we put our children night after night for many years, when they weren't pouring out into our beds out of the desire to cozy up, feel good during sickness, or put it simply, check that their parents are indeed there.

We dismantled it tonight, triggering a glut of memories about the first time their tiny frames were put in that seemingly gargantuan crib. Where crib mobiles were put to entertain them and hypnotize them to sleep. Where soft toys and softer blankets gave them company through the night. Where they occasionally stood and cried while teaching themselves how to sleep alone. And us too. What they tried to climb out of. What they later learned to climb into. Where we said a million goodbyes before finally leaving the room, telling them how much we loved them, as if they did not know.

It is a cliche that time flies and kids grow up faster than we want them to. Today we dismantled the crib and assembled that cliche. The boys are ready for the next stage. Sleeping together as brothers, neither now requiring the confined protection of the crib to keep them company. I'll miss the click of the crib when I would raise it to bring the night to notice. The million goodbyes and kisses and hugs before bed will continue, but a bittersweet feeling lingers as one chapter closes and another starts. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A Parent's Onus

Does being a parent ever get easier? Here's a poem, straight from the heart. This was published in the Spark magazine. If you are a parent, this might resonate with you.

A Parent's Onus

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
When you brought home
A piece of your heart
And fretted over his tender body
Holding him gently like a feather

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he started to crawl around
And bawled and babbled and
Gobbled your home around him
Holding hostage your anxious breaths

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he grew and grew like the waxing moon,
Often eclipsing away in sickness
And found his own two feet holding him up
While you readied yourself, lest he fall

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he found himself, no more an extension of you
With ego and opinion and logic and reason
And radiant limbs that took him places
While you stroked his head through nightmares

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he ran like the wind was yesterday’s dirt
But pottered into school unsure of its turf
His eyes staring at the door in eager wait
While you rushed through your work to pick him up

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he needed you not to hold him
But to tell him things to guide his days
Right, wrong, fallacy, faith, character, power
While you ponder if the job ever gets easier

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Cup Of Misery

Are you still moping over India's loss at the World Cup? Here's something to add to that feeling smile emoticon While India has done well by winning to World Cups, the losses tend to linger. This is my write up in the Spark magazine, mirroring my cricket watching journey with India's losses at the World Cup over the years. Read on. 

The Cup of Misery

The 2015 cricket World Cup has wound down. There is a new champion in town. India kept saying ‘we won’t give it back’ until they did, to Australia. Some heartaches somehow stay longer and affect you deeper, like a breakup that refuses to leave you. Indian fans have had it good and Indian fans have had it rough in World Cups. This story is not about the successes. This story is about the quintessential Indian cricket fan’s heartaches.

1983 was when the World Cup appeared on the Indian horizon. This was a dream that was undreamt. An against–the-odds story of how a team with no dramatic presence in the one day international (ODI) sphere denied the all-conquering West Indians the chance to win a third consecutive World Cup. Kapil Dev’s catch off Viv Richards, running backwards, against the grain, summed up how an impossible task was suddenly made real. What this win did was to kick start a revolution in the cricket world. A billion people came onboard with a lot of passion. Kapil’s Devils raised expectations among an Indian populace that expected very little until then. Nothing short of a win each time would satisfy them now.

1987 was the first test of that expectation. It was a World Cup that was held in India and its neighbouring countries. India was a favourite to defend its title. The team gave an outstanding performance in the league stage against New Zealand with Sunny Gavaskar scoring his first (and only) ODI century and Chetan Sharma taking the first-ever hat-trick in a World Cup match, and the first one by an Indian bowler. Although I was witness to some celebrations during the 1983 World Cup, this was the first World Cup that I have strong memories of. India’s march to the semi-finals was strong and India was expected to romp through against England to meet Pakistan. It was hoped that Pakistan would beat Australia to setup a dream final. But Gooch and Gatting had other ideas. Gooch in particular swept the Indian bowlers out of the Wankhede dustbowl. The sound of Phil Defreitas’s delivery crashing into the off stump of Sunil Gavaskar in what turned out to be his final ODI innings deflated the crowd and India’s title defence. The dream lay in tatters.

If 1987 was a dream shattered, 1992 was a nightmare fulfilled. India wasn’t a favourite for the tournament and rightly so. They struggled throughout in the round robin format of the tournament (where each team met each other), and only managed to win two games, losing five (with one abandoned). Indian cricketers playing in the first World Cup with coloured clothing brought little by way of cheer. The only exception was a victory against Pakistan, never mind that they went onto win the World Cup. I remember throwing my hands up in frustration watching India lose to Australia by one run in one of the closest finishes at that time in a ODI game.

1996 brought the World Cup back to Indian shores and with it, buckets of expectations. India had, after all, a decent bowling line-up in their backyard, a strong batting line-up and a certain talismanic cricketer who by now was the best batsman in the world. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the pitch in Eden Gardens, Calcutta, for the semi-finals, had different ideas. After Sri Lanka had recovered their way to 251/8, it was always going to be tough. Tendulkar led the way with a quick half century, but once he got out stumped, the rest of the team fell like a rack of bicycles. This enraged the Bengali crowd so much that their anger boiled into a dangerous riot. It was also the day the results of my first semester of engineering were announced. Torn between my sense of loyalty to the Indian team and my desire to know if I had passed the exams, I had hung around till Tendulkar got out and then went to my college. By the time I called home to relay my score, effigies were burning in the stadium. Needless to say, India’s loss stung more than my below-par marks.

1999 was a blur barring Tendulkar’s little gulp-inducing return from India after cremating his father. The World Cup, held in cold England, had a bunch of good performances from India, including the now mandatory win over Pakistan. Their loss to Zimbabwe would hurt them later in the Super Sixes stage. Between the last World Cup and this one, I had gotten myself an engineering degree. India’s wait to regain the World Cup would be longer. At this point, having religiously followed the game for nearly 16 years, I suppose I could have looked at my firecrackers and asked “kab phodenge?” (when will I light them up?)

2003 was an uplifting experience. Recovering from a poor start to the tournament, team India discovered the kind of streak that they had never before encountered in World Cup cricket. They found strength within themselves, huddling and befuddling the opponents. Nothing exemplified this more than the upper cut that Sachin Tendulkar hit off Shoaib Akhtar, lifting all of India to a higher plane. All the promise of a second World Cup win, all the potential came down to a final hurdle: the Aussies. I remember watching that game in Seattle, along with a thousand crazy India cricket fans. A gentleman who accompanied me had not seen an Indian cricket game since migrating to the US in 1966. He had shown up to see what the fuss was about, particularly around Tendulkar. India would go on to lose badly. Nay, crushed, bruised, demolished, steamrolled, all in the course of a Seattle night. Till date, I blame my companion for India’s loss. Perhaps his exile from cricket would have served us well.

If 2003 was heartbreak, 2007 was heartache. Watching cricket in the US is never easy and I – and countless others like me – spent 200 dollars and some small change to buy the package for watching the World Cup. Little did we know that India’s challenge wouldn’t be worth a tenth of that money. Beat Bermuda, were shocked by Bangladesh and then lost to Sri Lanka in a must-win game. Nothing about the campaign was right. The Indian players were unhappy, the audience was unhappy and the whole campaign seemed out of focus. It was exemplified by the singular moment when I went to answer the doorbell to receive my renewed passport only to miss the moment when Tendulkar was castled by Dilhara Fernando.

2011 was the moment of truth. The crowning moment of Tendulkar’s career and Dhoni’s captaining mastery. But let me not dwell on the positives. After all, this is about the crushing distresses of the Indian cricket fan.

Which brings us to 2015, the last chapter in this series thus far. No one expected India to do well after the pounding in the Australian tour. The bowlers were bad, the batsmen were iffy and the chances of winning on Australian soil bleak. But they turned it around, shockingly well. Beat Pakistan, beat South Africa, gave rise to the Mauka jingle, and cruised into the semi-finals, taking 70 wickets in 7 games. And alas, just like the 2003 juggernaut ground to a halt against Aussie might, so did the 2015 speeding bullet. Everyone from Anushka to Dhoni was blamed, ignoring the fact that they were beaten by a superior team.

And so it is, the story of the Indian supporter. The agony and ecstasy of supporting a team that tries its best, raises hopes, occasionally delivers, but mostly leaves the supporter with a bitter sweet feeling after putting its hope in eleven men and a shiny object they call the World Cup. Here’s hoping that in the future years to come, there will be more chances for them to call themselves the World Champions.

Friday, March 06, 2015

A Singular Loss

Movies in multiplexes are the new reality in India. But somewhere, the charm of the single screen theater is being lost. That's the offbeat topic I pursued for this month's publication.
My commentary on the romance of the single screen theater in this month's Spark magazine. Read on!

A Singular Loss

Picture this: You enter an extravagantly designed and elegantly lit space that promises you an out-of-the-world experience with all the comforts that it can offer – from huge, plush seats to sturdy carpets to heartwarming fragrances. As you stand and look around, to your left you find a screen playing an action movie where the hero leaps into the air, kicks three baddies at one time, and in slow motion, descends back to earth, all the while achieving the improbable goal of keeping his sunglasses on. To your right is a movie by an auteur where drops of water drip one by one to the floor while the heroine who couldn't care less about water conservation, keeps staring vacantly outside the window for no apparent reason. Walk straight and you run into the latest Hollywood blockbuster, transferring precious money to studios abroad. Well, it doesn't take long to realise that this is the place for movies of all ranges, for all ages.
Welcome to the world of the multiplex theater in India – a large complex with a honeycomb of theaters or screens, as they are fashionably referred to, showing a movie for each palate.
Clearly, we are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution in the movie-watching experience. But every revolution has its casualties. Where multiplexes are becoming the norm, single screen theaters have been pushed under the bus.
Ah, yes, the single screen theater. The long-standing bastion of cinema-viewing experience. The church where cinemaphiles of all classes would congregate to immerse themselves in a world alien to them. Those landmarks in cities, those modes of escape from the real world that held sway in India for over eight decades. Yes, the single screen theater.
A movie theater from the olden days would have concepts alien to the modern-day movie-goer. A single screen theater in India of  reasonable size would come with a categorization of seats that you don’t find anymore. There would be the stalls – lower and upper, closer to the screen. A more expensive choice would be the balcony, a raised seating platform. Some used to come equipped with dress circle seats and then there was always the box.
Unlike the modern-day multiplex, which, more often than not, is part of a bigger mall, one would go to the single screen theater with the express intent of doing nothing else but watching the movie. Near the entrance would be a ticket window, often separate ones, depending upon whether you had the big bucks to buy a balcony seat, or were content to ogle at your stars from the neck-straining proximity of the lower stall. When a new movie would release, serpentine lines would form in front of the theater. A small atrium would offer protection from the elements while you jostled with the person behind and in front of you, in the manner that lines in India often make you do. The tickets would usually be printed on pink-colored papers, perforated in the center. The person selling the ticket would circle the seat number on it and give it to you. If the movie Gods weren’t going to oblige you, a big “House Full” board, with a white background and red lettering, would be put in front. That invariably would lead to the crowd dissipating. Some would even shake their heads in disbelief. Some may resort to fatalism and decide to come another day. And then the rest, the small minority of smart, adventurous, passionate folks would seek out the only source of salvation left – the famous men in “black”. Those rescuers of trauma, who, for a little price can still let you into that theater. Never mind that you may end up in lower stall if you had balcony in your sights. Never mind that you may have gone as a couple but may find two different seats to watch the movie from. If you desperately wanted to get in, no matter what, you went through them.
Once the time for the movie was nigh, you walked in through those majestic structures.  Ranging from the baroque to the very ordinary, the theaters would invariably have a choices of architectural styles on offer. Long staircases leading to your seat, an usher, plainly dressed, unlike the smartly-dressed-in-suit ones found in multiplexes, shining his torchlight to make sure you get to your moderately-comfortable viewing spot, and after the riff-raff has settled down, the dimming of lights and the shining screen – ah, the memories! And how can one forget the advertisements, the trailers of upcoming movies and the inevitable shaking of the screen till the projectionist gets it right?
Intervals would typically see a mad scramble to get some food and cold drinks. You need to remember that the capacity of a single screen theater far exceeds that of a screen in a multiplex. This meant swelling crowds everywhere during the interval, whether it was the line for ‘batata wada’ or the restrooms. When the movie got over, an unending stream of people would accompany you through the exit. If you ever exited out to a busy street, reality would wake you up with honking horns and glaring lights, unlike the glitz and glamour of the mall. Like a social leveler, the single screen theater had tickets that all members of society could afford to purchase. A family could have an outing without emptying their pockets, unlike the multiplex prices that may not be within reach for all.
That would be your experience in a big single screen theater. The Metros and Maratha Mandirs of Mumbai. But, at the other end of the spectrum, with a different setting altogether are the teeny tiny theaters. Nestled in a small nook of the old part of a city. Playing a Hindi movie from the 70s or a C grade movie made by Kanti Shah. Some were adept enough to have the promise of air conditioning. Where men fatigued by their daily labours would go inside for a three-hour nap, stretching their legs across the seats.
But these experiences are on their way out. Movie watching is not the same anymore, with the sanitized, contained world of the multiplex. The single screen theaters are losing their way in this modern world. This is typically true for the larger cities. Take Mumbai, for instance. Iconic theaters that once existed now no longer dot the landscape. Hindmata, Imperial, Dreamland, Novelty, Strand have been torn down and reused to serve some other purpose. Apsara, which had premiered with Sangam in 1964, has also passed us by. This malaise has also spread to smaller cities. Majestic Talkies in Ajmer, Rajasthan’s oldest cinema, which began in 1929, is packing up.
It is a poignant commentary of transformation, this move towards tearing the old and introducing the new. Modernism may swoop in to take the movie experience to a better place but it remains a fact that every time a big theater packs up, a little part of the city’s history dies along with it.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Audio Interview for r2idreams

Written interviews are so old fashioned smile emoticon Audio interviews are in!
Our book just got reviewed by Indian Moms Connect on their site and was accompanied by an audio interview as well. We are grateful to them for the kind words and a chance to get our mellifluous voices on the internet smile emoticon

Hear on! 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The World Cup 2015

And here we are
Yet again
With hopes aloft
And dreams amiss

With God watching
From a comfortable seat
His kingdom assured
His deeds writ

But the lambs go on
To slaughter ordained
Going down under
In Down Under?

Will the champions
Bring it home?
"Won't give it back"
Or pass it along?

Thursday, February 05, 2015


"Love isn't easy", said Ghalib once. And yet, there's always a tenacity around it that helps it find its way through obstacles. This one's for all the romantics out there. A story of a tenacious love set in (where else) Mumbai. Pleased to share my publication in this month's Spark magazine. Their theme for the month was 'Romance'. Read on. 


“Love is in the air
Love is everywhere”

A gigantic hoarding screaming this message towered over the rail tracks as the Mumbai local train approached a bend. Two of the country’s most famous film stars were featured on the poster, advertising the upcoming film that was going to be released on Diwali. A saga of love, life, and a promise fulfilled was going to enter a thousand screens and the lives of millions across the country. The heroine, draped in a yellow colored sari, flashed her pearly whites and looked down. Embracing her and resting his neck over her shoulders was the heartthrob of the nation – a superstar nearing fifty, his face upheld by the prayers of millions and the magic of Botox.

To take that view, one would need to be cynical. Sunita wasn’t capable of it. She held on tightly to the railing of the train, well aware that her train station was approaching.

As the station arrived, she arranged her dupatta to the center, and just before the train ground to a complete halt, she landed on the platform with life and limb intact.

The sea of people washed her ashore, away from the railway station, through a phalanx of stairs. Sunita took in the air, the noise, the fast-dwindling light of the day, the heavy commotion of the rickshaws on the road. The evening was here. Two hours of commuting to get here and she still felt fresh and vibrant like a morning dew drop. She was ready.

“Love is in the air
Love is everywhere”

A towering hoarding stood 100 meters away and 30 feet taller than Sunil’s rickshaw, which was one among the many immovable objects stuck in the traffic jam. Sunil was fighting his impatience with distraction. He had been stuck in traffic for the past half an hour. The white shirt he had chosen for the occasion was being spray painted by black soot emanating from the exhausts of trucks that wouldn’t have passed a pollution check test. The sweat on his temples was beginning to drip down to his vest. The anxiety he was feeling was slowing down time. At least, to him, he had been sitting there for an eternity.

He had ample time to study the smug face of the hero. The curvaceous beauty of the heroine. The harmony of the picture.

The message was clear to him. Love elevated people out of their troubles. Their misery. Their challenge of existence. Love offered the promise of miracles.

Right then, a miracle happened. The traffic inched forward. A barrage of pointless honking over the past twenty minutes seemed to have jolted the traffic Gods out of their stupor. Sunil smiled to himself. This was happening. He was ready.

Sunita had enough time to ponder about the unfair romances Mumbai had to offer for its lesser mortals. She saw a young couple zoom past her auto rickshaw in a shiny blue car. The girl looked like she was straight out of the pages of the fashion magazine she often flipped through while stopping by A.H. Wheeler book stall on a local railway station. They breezed through with an air of confidence and ease she never experienced. What a comfort it would be for her to sit in the air conditioning of the car and repair the stressof the heat on her face and hair. No, there would be none of that for her while she headed to the rendezvous point. She caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror of the rickety rickshaw and sighed. A deep long sigh of distress and anticipation.  An SMS arriving from a cell tower up close sent her phone into a tizzy of vibrations. “Stuck in traffic. Will be there soon”. She looked at her phone and let a shy smile escape her.

Sunil had already traveled nearly two hours in train, autorickshaw and a bus to get to where he was right now. He calculated that Sunita too must have spent an equal amount of time to get there. Why, he wondered, should an evening together be such a hassle to arrange? It was as if the city conspired against romance.

They had once decided to go sit near a promenade, to quietly enjoy the waves, and were chased away by a lathi wielding policeman. He had taken it upon himself to root out any indecent behavior. They would have watched more movies if Sunil could get himself interested in them. Eating out was a good choice, but they realized that the good places were heavy on the pocket and the time they had to wait to get into them. No, love is not easy, as Ghalib once said.

Not today. Today, they were not to be deterred. Today, the city would not defeat them. They were going to meet and hold hands and talk without the cacophony of the surroundings overpowering them. They were going to seek each other out with the assurance of the two movie stars on the poster of the movie without having to look over their shoulder to see who was watching.

He paid off the rickshaw driver and stepped out. He glanced down at his watch. 8.45 pm. She must already have reached. He rearranged the crumpled bouquet he was carrying in his hand. A fleeting thought crossed his mind. I must call my parents. They must have reached Kolhapur by now. And his younger sister too. She was off at their aunt’s for the night.

He walked into the building, taking the stairs two at a time, hurrying to his destination. The door was already open and a beautiful girl with a face still strained with beads of sweat was putting down her bag. Their timing was impeccable. Sunil smiled gently, entered the house and closed the door. Sunita ran to him and gave him a warm embrace. That little cozy house of theirs, which they shared with his parents and his sister, where space was so small that the adults bumped into one another while walking, was theirs. No other place in Mumbai would be romantic enough today. Sunil stepped back and in a flourish that would have made the movie heartthrob proud, handed Sunita the flowers and said, “Happy anniversary!”