Friday, May 8, 2020

Rear View Mirror


Kathmandu


Scrolling down my twitter feed, I stumble on a tweet that says, ‘Post a picture of a landscape taken by you. Let’s travel virtually and flood this place with landscapes’. I promptly scour my picture folder and share pictures. One, two, six, ten.....

These days I find myself looking wistfully at my vacation pictures and childhood photos. Frozen moments. Happy memories. 
See, if you lose your mind as often as I do, it makes sense to take the mind off unpleasant things for the peace of mind. 

Got it? Never mind. 

What I’m simply trying to say is that nostalgia acts as a reminder that if things were beautiful once, they will be again. Forced in a lockdown, we are passengers watching months flit by like scenery from the train.  At a time when there isn’t much to the ‘present’ and future is as uncertain as Tusshar Kapoor's career, past is the only happy place to be explored. 

I refuse to feel guilty about it. All through this lockdown I have tried to pump up the sunshine. I have tried to be as bubbly as a laughter show judge. But in Lockdown 3.0, there are days when anxiety sneaks in. 

I’m sure it happens to you. Days tick by in a whirl of a mop but evenings present you with a lot of time to ponder. There you are sitting in your balcony empathizing with prison inmates, watching the neighborhood hottie wield a broom and suddenly it comes. A tickle in the throat. Cough. Wham, you forget everything, ‘Could it be that’? Your palm reaches your forehead. All well there. Must be some allergy. Or was it the ice cream last night? Ah, stop being a Covidiot. But what if ? 
Like all prisoners I try to take my mind off the pandemic track. The news anchor from the living room blares ‘Hum aap ko dikayenge Corona Ka Kehar’. I ignore.
I try to talk to a friend and relive college memories. 
I try to think of scenic places and happy moments. 
George Clooney. 

Needless to say, looking at the rear view mirror helps. Which is why people are happy travelling back to the 80s and 90s. Whether it’s watching Ramayana and Mahabharata or Chupke Chupke, Chasme Baddoor and Khoobsurat, we are triggering memories to make our lives meaningful. There are days when I’m so bored that I’m willing to go back to school and savour the whack from my mathematics teacher in sixth grade. Okay, kidding. 

Truth is, the new normal of not being able to go out even for a walk is telling us not to take things for granted. We are yearning for simple joys that seemed frivolous earlier. Is it any surprise that I absolutely loved an underwhelming Netflix series, The Panchayat. For a Breaking Bad and Narcos generation, what is it about Panchayat that is making us fall in love with it? Perhaps the message that we can find meaning in toughest times? Or perhaps the fact that we can find interesting in the boring? 

This pandemic is threatening things that made our life meaningful.  Reliving memories is an inadvertent attempt to restore our sense of purpose. It can be travelling on a song, a movie or a picture. Nostalgia may be a liar, but if it helps tide the present, I’m willing to seek comfort in the arms of a liar.




Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Big Chop




Don’t 'dye' laughing but this has been my biggest lockdown moment. Baking, mopping or sweeping are nothing compared to my recent hair-raising achievement. To cut the long story short, I gave my husband a haircut. Chop. Chop. Look, if you think I’m being dramatic, there are reasons for my 'over-the-mop' excitement. For one, my husband doesn’t allow anyone to touch his fistful of strands. And second, try cutting a man’s mop without the necessary accouterments like the trimmer or a sharp scissor. It’s as tough as extracting alcohol from the sanitizer. Okay, I’m exaggerating but you get the drift. 

So it all began two weeks ago when I humbly offered hair cutting services. 

“If I mess up, consider shaving it off. Nobody will notice in this lockdown. If kids he-ho-ha-ha-ha, you can wear a cap during video calls.” 

“No way,” he said in a steely voice that brooked no argument. “ I’d rather wait for this lockdown to end than risk it.” 
“As you wish,” I shrugged. 

Both of us knew, it wasn’t happening anytime soon. But hope can be a stubborn thing. 

Two weeks passed. And hair we were. Fed up with the unruly mop and heat, the husband had reached a split end. 

“Can you trim my hair in the evening?” he asked sheepishly. 

Hiding my inexplicable excitement, I nodded with a straight face. I had a task. After Modi ji left me bereft of any task in his third address, I was looking forward to some challenge. This was my moment of empowerment. A had a balcony task.

So while he spent the morning preparing a report, I browsed through an assortment of hair cutting videos. I wanted to be a cut above the rest. 

When the designated moment arrived, I asked him with a straight face, “So what sort of cut do you want? Arjun Kapoor’s ‘Quiff’, Tiger Shroff’s ‘Military Crop’, Akshay’s ‘League Crew’ or Shahid’s ‘ Pompadour’? I can also try a textured top with a tapering fade, what say?"

“Stop it,” he quipped. “Just trim a bit. And handle with hair. I mean care." 

“Aye aye captain. Don’t you worry” I replied. “ Promise to chop your mop to the best of my ability."

With my heart thumping loudly, I began chopping whatever little there was at offer. Had we been young, it could have been a romantic moment. Like sewing a button on the hero’s shirt. As I came close to his ears, my heart could have lurched painfully in my throat. With sweat trickling down my forehead, the soft delirium of his eyes could have created a muted storm. Instead, the only thing going on our minds was - be careful with the ear, be careful with the ear, be careful with the ear. 

Finally, when I was done I got claps that didn’t reach his forehead. I was indeed a cut above the rest. A wife with fringe-benefits. When this lockdown ends and people ask what is the one thing that you learnt in this historic stay-at-home period, I can proudly say, “A man’s haircut.” 
After all, a penny shaved is a penny earned. 

Not winging it but he does look like a breath of fresh hair. 
I must-ache you all reading this, what’s your haircut story? I’m sure you have one. Do share for the shear fun of it. 


Image Courtesy : Shutterstock

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Social Distancing with my Newspaper






I open the door. A shaft of sunlight falls on the doormat. It’s not there. Along with freedom, this lockdown has taken away my daily newspaper. If there is anything I miss after my house help, it’s my newspaper. 
The farewell was long coming. And yet I postponed it by self containment. The romance began with four in 2010 – Times of India, The Hindustan Times, Mail Today and Mint but petered down to just one. The Times of India. The curve had flattened. 
I know, I know. I have often demeaned it by calling it ‘Toilet Paper’ but my daily newspaper was like my morning tea. A habit. Routine. 

So, my Resident Welfare Association has advised social distancing from newspapers. It can be a possible source of infection, the circular said. Thank you Jinping for taking away the zing from my life. No dhoklas for you next time you swing on the Sabarmati riverfront. All you get is bat soup.

Growing up, reading a newspaper was an undeclared norm in middle class homes with any pretense to education. Parents took pride in the number of newspaper subscriptions that landed on their doorstep. In many ways, reading a newspaper was also the first step towards winning a quiz competition and eventually cracking a competitive exam. It also spoke about the respect of knowledge and love for languages. Publications like the Illustrated Weekly, Saptahik Hindustan, Outlook, Newsweek and Readers Digest were symbols of literary reassurance that covered everyday aspects of our lives. 

Old habits die hard. Eager to pass on the tradition, I used to place the newspaper on my son’s study table every morning. After all it’s our job as parents to pass on the enthusiasm we had for things we treasured. Despite the gentle nudges, the young man quarantined the newspaper. He preferred reading news on his phone and used the newspaper to swat flies. 

So yes, mornings are not the same anymore. The key here is not about news accessibility. Given my social media addiction, I have enough information on my plate to make me anxious and angry. By the time I get to read printed news, it is already chewed and regurgitated on television and twitter. Moreover, printed news is late and has no sense of drama or outrage. The op-eds can be sanctimonious and boring. Glued to gadgets, it is not difficult to understand why the young find the newspaper unpalatable. In an age of crisp podcasts, the idea that some gatekeeper of information will serve his gently cooked wisdom on paper does not resonate with this generation. 

Like watches and music systems, even as newspapers continued to lose their sheen my relationship with them blossomed. Being a writer of some lowly denomination, my newspaper was much more than badge of knowledge. It was my teacher. Newspaper taught me how to write. For someone who had not studied English as a language beyond class twelve, articles by Indrazit Hazra, Bikram Vohra, Bachi Kakaria and Amulya Gopalakrishnan came into existence not only as opinions but as lessons in the art of writing - lessons to be chronicled and re-read. As I excavate cuttings of my favourite columns, it feels like discovering a mini treasure. My literary hotspot. Most of them are parched yellow cuttings assembled over decades to be mulled over at leisure. 

Hopefully, as and when life limps back to normal, newspapers will resuscitate back to life like Wuhan. But in a world increasingly mediated by technology - a world where we will wash everything we touch, reading the paper with gloves is not an idea that excites me at all. 
If anything, this pandemic has underlined the impermanence of most things, what’s a newspaper? 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sulk from Home






Of all the disasters that struck us in the aftermath of Covid-19 – grocery shortage, social distancing and work-from-home, I’m dreading the third. Work-from-home is an idea most envied after Anil Kapoor’s youthful looks and most anticipated after Salman Khan’s wedding. 
And yet, it is torture for someone who has always worked from home. No school, no office and no maid. Everyone in the family is going to work from home. As more and more condos contemplate cocooning themselves, I feel like Tom Hanks from Castaway. 

As it unfolds, maids have been asked to go on a paid leave. Karuna Go, Go Karuna. Mine rolled her eyes and shrugged, “Pata nahi upar wali Didi ko kya ho gaya hai. She never gave me a day off. Today she said don’t come unless I call you.” 

At first the idea of WFH seems as romantic as Nick and Priyanka's chemistry. Away from the stress and misery of travel, you have time to pursue hobbies, spend time with kids, bake and play board games. But after a few games of Monopoly, burnt cakes and Netflix, you itch to go out. Socialize. With doctors on the TV panel and no respect for religion and hate that binds us, TV debates have become boring too. How much Netflix can you watch? Why isn't Arnab shouting at the panel doctors?

Given the nice person that I’m, I don’t mean to scare you. But picture this. Your kids are screaming and jumping on the new couch, painting the walls with crayons and the husband hollers, “Control these demons, I’m on a call.” Not to worry because your boss on the other side is battling the same demons. 

Stick with me and I’ll tell you why this work from home scenario is not pumping up the sunshine for me. And I’m not alone. Anxious moms in my Facebook group have begun asking, “How to survive the partner in a WFH situation?” 
“Quarantine the husband”, made the most sense. 

At first it will feel like you are on a vacation. But after two days of waking up late, ruffling each other’s hair, you will dread the sight of your partner in pyjamas and T-shirt that says ‘Every man should get married, no man should go unpunished’. 

Then one fine day, when he looks at you with puppy eyes, know that he’s going to ask you for coffee and some snack to go with it. Again. But if you are on a call and she asks you to switch off the gas after the third whistle of the pressure cooker, all hell of equality can break lose. Can. Can is the key word. Of course, I don’t mean to scare you. 

After some deafening silence when you hear only the washing machine in the back ground, one of you will go for the broke and say, “WTF, I hate this freaking WFH.” 

Suddenly your computer screens frost as you move into separate rooms. Whether you have work or not, ensure you have Twitter to vent it out on China. Social media is cathartic that way. I do that everyday.

Come evening, you will try to make up as you can’t go out. Stuck with each other, things will cool down, depending on your ego and tolerance. Know that this is what’s going on behind every balcony with people singing songs, ‘Hum Honge Kamyaab’. 
Eventually, one of you will have to say sorry because some idiot in Wuhan slurped Bat soup. 
People are calling him a racist but I’m beginning to love Professor  of Orange Hair County, Donald Trump. If the West can make jokes about Delhi Belly after a few trips to the loo, I have the right to shout from my balcony, “Damn you Chinese Virus.” 

On a positive note, this too shall pass like Dabangg 3 and Love Aaj Kal 2. Hoping that our TV debates will soon go back to relevant issues like #Will RW boycott Ranveer Deepika’s upcoming movie  83? # How Tapsee Pannu gave a befitting reply to her trolls. 

Remember, I don't mean to scare you. 


Image courtesy free images from Shutter stock

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Hug Addict





Don’t judge me. But I suffer from the same malaise as Modi ji. It’s called Hugaria – an impulsive urge to hug. Call it a family thing or a cultural trait, I come from a family of hug addicts. We take pride in the fact that we are such a warm bunch. Perhaps it’s wired in my DNA. Perhaps it originates from an inherent desire to love and be loved. Perhaps I won the Miss Congeniality crown in my previous birth. 
Come to think of it, I’m not sure when this hug bug got internalized. My husband is happy that full blown Hugaria hit me in my forties and not in my teens. Given how private he is, I can sense his ‘adverse hug reaction’ each time he watches me in a hug overdose. 

Like Modi ji, not everyone gets to hug me. Just so you know, Modi ji has been photographed meeting more than seventy leaders but hugged only twenty-three odd leaders. In other words, only one third leaders get a chance to hug him. So just like Trump’s best buddy, my embrace is exclusive. 

The only thing constant, they say, is change. With the arrival if this dreaded Covid, there goes the hug, the handshake and even the flying kiss. Why, didn’t we celebrate the Hug Day a month ago? And look at us now? Entire matrix of greeting has changed. 
This week I met a group of friends for coffee in a mall. Given my predicament, I involuntarily spread my arms for a group hug. Almost everyone frosted. Then they smiled and folded hands like an airhostess on an Air India flight. Who knew that one fine sweep of flu would end our moments of cleavage and make us use our elbows to press the elevator buttons. 

Above all, there’s something about Delhi. Three people identified positive in Kerala in the month of February. But we didn’t care. Irony of distance. However, a tornado hit us when one man identified positive in Delhi. 

Arre Dilli main aa gaya? 
Hain kaise? Bataiye? 

Within hours we knew his name, age, skin colour, nose shape, address, mama, chacha, and waist size. ‘I was only trying to share information’ says the lady who shared his family picture in our WA group. Unless nature did it, whoever designed this zoonotic evil deserves to read all the Whatsapp forwards doing the rounds. If the virus didn’t kill him, rumours will. Everyone and his nephew took to WA social service like fish to water. ‘I WA therefore I am’.
 If we can’t travel, go out for movies or meet friends, kuch to log karenge? After all, how long can you keep busy washing hands? 

Dont get technical but according to Aaj Tak Chemistry, alcohol was the solution. Gurgaon loved it because we anyway drink water only to surprise our liver.  




Arguments whether we should play Holi in our apartment are doing the rounds. Why, even Modi ji is not playing Holi. A concerned mom has an idea. Let the kids play Holi with disinfectant filled balloons. Brilliant, no? Wear masks, throw disinfectant and then take a bath with hand sanitizers. Smell good, feel good. 

 Holi is about Holi Milan. What’s Holi if you can’t smear gulal and embrace your loved ones? So this Holi I have two options. To hug or not to hug. One path leads to a flop festival. The other leads to my extinction. Let’s hope I have the wisdom to choose correctly. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Where Did Time Fly?


Senior with Freshers

While watching the star cast of ‘Student of The Year 2’ – Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria and Ananya Pandey, I had an ‘A-ha’ moment. Well, let’s call it an ‘O-ho’ moment. Even better, call it a ‘Doob-Maro’ moment. Because that is when I felt the tectonic shift of a generational change. I have no clue where the years sneaked past me, but to watch Alia Bhatt morph into a senior and dish out acting gyan to hatch-lings was tough to swallow. If Alia Bhatt is a senior, I'm Asha Parekh. 
Eeeks...not a comforting thought at all. 

Just when I thought I had seen enough burgeoning baba log, I read about Pooja Bedi’s daughter Alaia, who makes her acting debut as Saif Ali Khan’s daughter in ‘Jawani Janeman’. Hello? Why, wasn’t it yesterday that Pooja Bedi, the new age Veronica swirled her skirt opposite Archie Aamir in ‘Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander’? But no sir, it wasn’t yesterday. Google tells me that it’s been twenty-seven long years since Pooja Bedi recreated Marilyn Monroe’s flying skirt moment. 

So, suddenly we have a fresh crop like Sara, Tara and Kiara sprouting like mushrooms in monsoon. When I can barely string a coherent sentence in public, these kids are all sassy, chirpy, witty and very sexy. As the Tara-Kiara brigade sashayed on screen, reality hit me on the head. Thud. This is where my life is going wrong. I have no Monday Game of Thrones party to attend. I have no tickets for the Avengers Endgame. Then I summoned all the Whatsapp videos I have seen to focus on the positives. Take a deep breath. Focus on why life is such a leveler. If Alia Bhatt can grow old, you are a raddish of which farm? 

Yet, when I share my insecurities with the husband, he has ‘what rubbish, tell me something new’ look on his face. Age is a matter of mind, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter, he says with all the gravitas of Modi ji denying the reality of missing jobs.

Truth is, age matters unless you are cheese. Or wine. Or Anil Kapoor. I scratch my head when they say the best thing about growing old is gaining wisdom. For heaven’s sake, where do they get such bunkum? Isn’t Sara Ali Khan wise and young at the same time? Why should wisdom come with progressive glasses that create a bigger dent in your pockets than Yeti footprints? I have tried hard to spot things like wisdom and maturity that others claim to have discovered with age, but I tell you, it is complete hogwash. 

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the aging malarkey. It’s not that I’m vain and I miss my youthful looks. No. It’s the other things that come marinated with age. Like, there is something about aging that makes you forget proper nouns. Whoever disagrees never faced the embarrassment of, “What was his name dammit?” The proper nouns go missing like Suhel Seth from Twitter. There are days when I open the refrigerator and wonder why I opened it in the first place. There are things that keep in safe place and forget what that safe place was. Which is why my heart went out to President Trump, bless him, when he forgot Tim Cook’s name and called him Tim Apple. With a hundred monsters laying claim to his mind, it’s human to forget names. Plus Tim Apple was so much better than Tim Pineapple. 
Likewise, Khamosh Sinha slipped between Maulana Azad and Jinnah to create a electoral storm. Or take Hema Malini. The lady forgot what she did for her constituency. Happens.

Regrettably, foggy brain is not the only causality. There are bad hair days followed by bad hair years. You can put all the egg and honey packs on your head but depleting oestrogen ensures you look like Chunky Pandey and not Ananya Pandey. See, once your hormones begin to sway, leaving you as devastated as Balakot, you find solace in Salman Khan’s double chin. If bhai can age, so can you. Yes, yes, I know what you are thinking. Well, one Madhuri or Anil Kapoor do not make spring. The sobering realization dawns once you see Jeetendra’s face botoxed into everlasting ecstasy. 

Ah, so what was I saying? Yes, as I wrap my head around the fact that Alia Bhatt is now veteran, I’m grateful that I’ve just kissed the age of forgetting names. It’s early days. I will worry when I begin to forget faces. Or pulling up my zipper. 

Not sure which college but new students
(Image: India Today)


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Modi-Akshay Interview. A New Trend ?


Main Khiladi, Tu Anadi

The microphone munchers and pen wielders are upset. Rightfully so. All the interviews with Navika, Anjana and Arnab couldn’t grab eyeballs like the interview with Akshay did. The Khiladi that he is, Akshay walked in wearing pink Vadra-esque pants and created a huge journalistic heartburn with his non-political chat with Modi. 
The jhola brigade is worried sick. What if it’s a new trend? What if Rahul Gandhi decides to bare his heart to Sanjay Dutt instead of Barkha Dutt?
Bole to, possible, right?

It was a smart move. If they don't allow  a biopic, let's telecast a soft interview in the midst of elections. The bollywood tadka will make the political gravy appetizing. And it did. 
The setting was perfect. The early morning April air suffused with indolence. The sprawling green manicured lawns. The cries of dulcet birds and peacock calls. As Akshay chatted with Modiji, I could almost hear Do dil mil rahe hain magar chupke chupke’, in the backdrop. 

Truth is, we Indians have this streak of voyeurism. We want to know every detail about our celebrities. Do they listen to music? Do they eat mangoes? With a fork, or with their hands? Do they burp? Fart? Such nuggets make us realize that people we put on pedestal are humans – just like us. 

Which is why, the bit about the PM reading Twinkle’s tweets created a twitter buzz. In the heat of  a bitter election, the casual chat came across as a breath of fresh air. If the idea was to humanize a hardcore politician seen as election winning machine, the soft theatrics reaped positive dividends. Modi ji told us that his buddy Obama chides him for not sleeping enough. "Tu Aisa kyon karta hai? Don't be a workaholic." And suddenly, a voice in my head strummed. When did Obama learn to speak Hindi?  
Chup dumbo, I told myself. Forget the details, enjoy the flow of emotions. That said, I agree with Modiji when he says that his problem is not confidence but over-confidence. 

Which brings me to the moot question: If we know that a friendly chat appeals to the voters, especially women, why do politicians shy away from revealing their genteel gooey side? 

It’s obvious that what BJP thinks of as chess, Rahul plays as ludo. To my mind, the only way Rahul can counter Modi’s promotional blitzkerg is by roping in Ranvir Singh and making him ask: ‘Rahul ji kya apne Padmavat dekhi? Who do you think has cuter dimples – you or my Deepu?’ 

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind watching such a chat. Don’t judge me. It’s not that I’m juvenile or unconcerned about serious issues. Truth is, I’m sick of the ‘Naamdaar’ and ‘Chor’ jibes. I’m sick of interviews conducted by journos where my screen bursts into flames watching the 'most explosive interview'. They make our leaders defensive instead of revealing their true self.

So if any neta is reading this piece, he/she should take this idea forward. For instance, Akhilesh Yadav can nudge Poonam Sinha to ask her daughter Sonakshi for a interview before the crucial polling day. If Akhilesh really wants to connect, he can sit in his living room where his children are jumping around and wife Dimple is peeling mangoes. 

Sonakshi: Akhilesh ji, tell us, how did you woo your wife Dimple? 

Akhilesh: I sang songs for her. In fact I cook for her every weekend.

Imagine, how this conversation can connect women voters of UP with Akhilesh bhaiya. 

Likewise, it will be a masterstroke if Mamata didi can rope in Shah Rukh Khan, her Bollywood friend to interview her. 


Shah Rukh: Didi, do you laugh sometimes? Like a real chuckle? 

Didi: I do. When I listen to Kejriwal on radio. He’s funny.


See, unlike the iconic Rahul-Arnab empowering interview, there are no major flip sides to a friendly interview. It may not be a comforting thought for our journos, but roping in a Bollywood star as an interviewer can be seductive. 
I don’t mind it at all. 
Sorry, Barkha.  

Late Sh,  Rajiv Gandhi giving an interview to the ageless Simi.