‘Stray’ into my heart

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I grew up with a strong desire to bring a dog home. My dad, a dog-lover, always put his foot down and said no. It always broke my heart. He did get home our lovely cat. But he always refused to keep a dog.
We had three dogs guarding my uncle’s home -two Dobermans and a stray desi dog that dad had randomly adopted.

While the Dobermans were lovely, the loyalty of ‘Namu’ was something else. He would sense my dad’s arrival even when our car was more than a few kilometers away.

Namu died. So did the Dobermans We built a small shrine in their memory.

A puppy was lost near my building. I fed him a few biscuits and milk. He had distinctive spots on his body. Two months later, the puppy was all grown up and had made a home in the neighbouring park. He would recognise me. And walk with me whenever I passed by the park. A few biscuits were enough to make him my friend for life.

These two dogs and many more, convinced me that the so-called mongrels in this city are actually sharper than most pedigree dogs. One day, I told myself, I will adopt one of them.

And that day did come. I found Bono. He’s the apple of my eye. And when people ask me what breed he is, I proudly say he is a stray. Yes, people love expressing shock that I chose a stray over a lab or a pug, but the truth is, Bono chose me.

When people talk about stray dogs being a nuisance, I often find myself defending the four-legged ‘rasta’farians. If they are cared for, and if they are vaccinated, they add value to the community. Five gardens has strays that are regularly fed and vaccinated and they guard the neighbourhood. They don’t bark or chase regular walkers but if they think someone is dubious, they warn people with barks and howls.

This year, Twestival is supporting the NGO Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD). The organisation works towards vaccinating, sterlising and helping the dogs of Mumbai. You can read about their work at http://www.wsdindia.org

Check out http://WWW.Mumbai.twestival.com for more info. They need volunteers, donations and more. Do your bit. My dog and his relatives would be extremely grateful to you.

For You, Munchan

You made a mother out of me. You loved holding my finger in your mouth and biting it lightly as the vet gave you your vaccine shot. You loved coming out of a corner randomly to scratch me playfully and you loved scratching my hands so much that people almost thought I had an abusive boyfriend. True, these scratches caused pain, but they made me smile. Sitting on the second last bench during a Sanskrit class, I’d break into giggles thinking of you jumping up and chasing me around.


Taking you to the vet was an event. And yes, the vet said that no matter who hurt you, you just had to punish one and only one person- me. I remember being dejected. I remember thinking ‘my cat hates me’. Until one day the vet said that every cat has this unique relationship with one person. It is a love-hate relationship but by hurting you like this, they depict how they love you and take you for granted.

After that, every scratch became so damn important to me. You remember the first time I ever tried to get your fur shaved? I do. There’s a faint milky white line that runs on my wrist to remind me of that time. You got violent (no need to explain all the violence was targeted at me) and we sedated you. When you woke up, you just wanted to cuddle in my arms, pushing your wet nose into the eye of my elbow, to hide from the doctor.

I lost you. It was probably my fault. Only God knows what you were trying to do that Tuesday afternoon when you took that nasty fall. I can’t believe that you, the most agile thing of all, fell down 3 floors. I rushed to you, and like a mother knows her child’s pain, I knew you had broken something. As you tried to move, the pain got unbearable and you bit into my hand, the fiercest that you ever bit anybody in your whole life. That bite made me realise the magnitude of pain that you were bearing. I am proud of you. You didn’t give up. You, a 15-year-old Persian cat who could have succumbed to the shock, held on tight and tried your very best to live. The last six days of your life were immensely painful, but your 15 years with us were fulfilling, I’d like to believe. I tell myself that I don’t have to mourn your death. You lived a full, happy life. I mean, you ate fish flown down all the way from Malvan, cooked in a special recipe. You made sure that anyone coming back from an overseas trip brought back at least 5 kilos of the gourmet cat food they make there. You had a strong hold over every single person’s heart in the house, family and even extended family.

Dad brought you in our life to teach Nani and me a thing or two about love, responsibility and care. And in turn, you taught us how to live in your own way. Even in your death you taught me why one shouldn’t give up on the ones they love. And you made sure that I knew. I woke up that morning and I knew that this was it. As I held you in my arms for your visit to the vet, you let out that long sigh and I knew. Even as the vet fought to revive you and support your heart, I knew. But I couldn’t let go. I still can’t. I look ever so often in a corner of the room and think you’d be there enjoying the cool air-conditioned air (I loved how you forced us to leave the a/c on with that purr). I sometimes stare at the basket and think you might be napping there. I won’t let mom rewire the cane chair that you rightfully claimed as your scratching board. I can’t get myself to wash your hair brush off the few tufts of gray fur that stick on it. Yes, I hold on to every dear memory of yours. I know you’re gone, but I hold on to these tiny things. My heart holds onto you.

This morning, the last of that bite mark you gave me on my right hand disappeared. With it, I probably let go of another bit of you. All I have now is the light scar on my wrist from the time you made a mother out of me.
I agree I wasn’t the most responsible mother. I did put off visits to the vet and I chickened out of grooming you for the fear of your angry scratches. I wish I had braved them. Maybe I’d have more scars to treasure. Maybe… But for now, this scar I shall treasure. Rest in peace dear Munchan aka Mulayam aka Munnu aka Munya. And thank you for bringing so much love into our lives…

Never had the heart to post this. Today, a year after we lost her, I post this to remember her. We have two pets now who have a hold on our hearts but Mulayam is still missed and the void she left in our lives remains…

The Reason For My Absence

I feel terrible about ignoring the blog. Yes, I call myself a writer. I have a quill tattooed on my wrist and hence, there’s just no excuse for not writing. As usual, Prolific Dyslexic made sure I was reminded of the lack of writing and I was overcome with guilt. Since the last few months, I’ve been on some kind of a drug. Time never seems to be enough (well, not that I had all the time in the world but hey!) The reason? The reason may well be ‘Love’.

I never really shared it on the blog but my family lost our pet of 15 years earlier this year. This angel of a cat, in her passing away, had left a deep void in our lives. My dad had decided that there would be no other pets because nobody could take Mulayam’s place in our lives. But then life suddenly changed. As I sat wallowing in misery, unable to sleep I saw a tweet pleading me to help find a home for a puppy in a twitpic. I clicked on the twitpic and I knew it. This was my puppy. I don’t know how I managed to convince my parents. I don’t know how a dog hater like my mom managed to allow it, but the very next day I walked into our house with a tiny little puppy in my arms.

Of course, he was cute to look at but he liked gnawing on everything, he loved peeing everywhere and he loved pooping on the carpet. Horror! After spending days (and nights!) running after the puppy, cleaning the floor with Dettol and trying hard to train him, life threw another surprise at me. The stray cat who was adopted by the watchmen of our building died leaving behind five day old kittens. When I found them, they were a little bigger than my fingers, furless and their eyes were unopened. They were soaked in rain and in milk that the watchmen had tried to feed them. The three kittens were crying, literally wailing for their mum. She wasn’t coming back. Just the thought brought back traumatic memories of Bambi (I’m not forgiving the uncle who gifted me that video!) With help from some very warm folks on twitter, the vet and my mom, I started feeding the kittens and caring for them like they were my own children. This involved feeding them every 2 hours with a bottle even through the night, massaging their bellies so they can pee and poop and keeping them warm and loving them enough to force them to survive. In addition to Bono’s (my puppy) training and my newly found writing assignments, caring for the kittens consumed me!

Every now and then, the vet would tell me to be prepared because the kittens hadn’t had their mother’s milk and therefore were fragile. But my little kitties were fighters. In fact, after their deworming, one of the kittens- Yoda started throwing up, could not poop and started to lose strength. He lost weight and had stopped eating. I was too scared to check on him, too scared that he was going to die on me. But he didn’t. He fought through and became the most notorious of the three.

The kittens are now a healthy lot. They play, they run and they scratch. The puppy and the kittens taught me that I had a lot of love and care in me to give. And that the greatest joy in life was to selflessly love someone to make their life a better place.

Sometimes I catch my puppy looking at me with all the love in the world and my world comes to a stop right there. In that moment, I feel loved, I feel love and there’s this warmth that engulfs my heart and makes me feel so glad to be alive. I know I gave Bono a home. I know I gave kittens care and love of a mother… But what they have given me is much more. They have given me hope. They have given me a reason to smile. They have given me the ability to feel alive. For that I will forever be grateful.

And much like a new mother I’ve gone on about my new pets. In conclusion, the pawsome foursome is the reason why there haven’t been many blog posts. Compulsive Writer is now a Compulsive Pet Obsessed woman! Forgive her absence?

Letter to…

Hi!

I was just passing by. They said that you should walk around the area to feel the New York vibe. Honestly, I have been going with the flow. People seem to walk in here a lot, so that’s why I chose to come in.

It’s crowded in here, and yet it’s calm. This is the calm I need, this is it. As I look around, I see a beautiful building. How could someone imagine such a beautiful building? How did they build it? How did they translate their vision into reality? Who gave them the strength to believe and the power to execute? Who else could possibly be behind such a beautiful creation? Yes, I believe in you. I know you exist. I have felt your existence and I have faith in you. I come from India, where we have branded and rebranded you in so many different forms across different religions, sects and beliefs. You are such a comfort to people when they cant relate to something, you are such an encouragement to people when they set out to do something. You are an enigma.

People convince themselves you’re just a human concept. Some people convince themselves to lead their life in a certain way because it means they are serving you. Some people believe that you, in any other form but the one familiar to them, are not you. How did you let such confusion over your identity happen?

I don’t believe you belong to any religion. You are too big to fit into the definitions that each religion spells out for you. Probably, your power was so unfathomable that people perceived you as they experienced you and decided, ‘That’s it,’. Nobody dared to question them.

Here I am- A Hindu girl, staunch believer of Ganpati, talking to you. As tourists take a guided tour, while some people kneel down and pray for peace, assurance and seek your blessing, I have decided to write to you. This is what I do best, so this is how I will communicate with you.

They say you like everyone, you love everyone. If you do, why do you give us pain? Why do you let innocent young children suffer with terminal diseases? Why do you allow us to get our hearts broken? Why do you give us the power to break someone else’s heart?

Many a times I wonder, in spite of my sense and sensibilities, why do I do things that are utterly stupid? You tell me to do these things. You make me fall but then you give me the power to get up again. You give me the opportunity to smile. You leave it up to me to do what I must with that power and opportunity. You, Mr. Whoever you are, are pretty awesome. You make us and you keep making and remaking us. You are the artiste and we are your live works of art…
For now, I choose to get inspired by this lovely church and get up. The Brooklyn Bridge is waiting to inspire me.

Btw it was nice talking to you

(written in Trinity Church, New York City)

Of Planet M, Boyzone and the days we used to pay to posess music

No matter what they tell you… A hot air balloon and god looking boys singing to me…

That’s what I remember of this song. I was a geek who couldn’t get words right in a song back then. Whenever the song played on the radio, I’d pay close attention to their voices which were as smooth as their clean shaven faces… How I longed to own the cassette and just as I finished saving up the paisa, BCCL launched their music store, Planet M. My dad decided that it would be a great Sunday activity to trudge all the way to VT and spend the afternoon surfing. The afternoon turned into late evening as we browsed through CDs, cassettes and what not. CDs used to cost about Rs.600/- back then and the good daughter that I was, I picked all the CDs of the albums I wanted and asked someone to help me locate the cassettes. They cost Rs.125/- which was also a huge amount for the teenager I was, but hey!

My dad saw what I was doing and put his hand on my shoulder. ‘CDs are far better and they are the future, forget the cassettes, get the CDs,’ he told me. He picked up rock and roll, R&B, Rock, Soul and I stuck to Hindi films, boy bands and a load of stuff that a teenager’s music dreams were made of. I glanced at his pile, and I wondered why I didn’t have my dad’s taste in music. I was afraid he’d be ashamed of my bubble-gum taste in music. Even if he was, he never let me feel that way.

At the cash counter, we realized that we had picked up CDs worth nearly 16 grand. No point in being greedy and with a heavy heart we downsized our shopping baskets. Eventually we coughed up nearly 9 grand on CDs and though it was a number that looked better than 16K, it was an exorbitant sum.
“Why can’t simple things like music be free Dad?” I asked, afraid that with my Rs.200/- allowance, I’d never be able to make such a big purchase again.
He shrugged. About six to seven months later, I discovered Napster…

‘Dad, come come let me show you this,’ I gushed about Napster and how music was now going to be free.
‘You’re lucky,’ is all he said. He continued to listen to his CDs and admire his LPs but on his 51st birthday, me and the sister gifted him an iPod. The fat, 40GB one, And all his CDs were sent into a cupboard…

I guess I’ll never be able to thank him enough for being so generous to me. I guess I will never know the kind of effort he’d gone through back in the day to lay his hands on an album he wanted to listen to. I guess I will never understand how he had to deal with parents who didn’t appreciate loud ‘Kiristav’ (Christians in Marathi) music blaring from their very ‘Marathi’ household. But I know this, I will always be grateful to him for making me and the sister who we are today. We will always be thankful to him for giving to us, his musical ear.

I don’t know what spurred this post on… I was looking for something and landed on a pile of Rolling Stone magazines from the 80s that Vivek Kaka gifted me, and then I found dad’s LPs and then I found the CDs we bought at Planet M. It’s always good to give your memories a chance to flow out on paper, isn’t it?

No matter what they tell you… A hot air balloon and god looking boys singing to me… That’s what I remember of this song. I was a geek who couldn’t get words right in a song back then. Whenever the song played on the radio, I’d pay close attention to their voices which were as smooth as their clean shaven faces… How I longed to own the cassette and just as I finished saving up the paisa, BCCL launched their music store, Planet M. My dad decided that it would be a great Sunday activity to trudge all the way to VT and spend the afternoon surfing. The afternoon turned into late evening as we browsed through CDs, cassettes and what not. CDs used to cost about Rs.600/- back then and the good daughter that I was, I picked all the CDs of the albums I wanted and asked someone to help me locate the cassettes. They cost Rs.125/- which was also a huge amount for the teenager I was, but hey!
My dad saw what I was doing and put his hand on my shoulder. ‘CDs are far better and they are the future, forget the cassettes, get the CDs,’ he told me. He picked up rock and roll, R&B, Rock, Soul and I stuck to Hindi films, boy bands and a load of stuff that a teenager’s music dreams were made of. I glanced at his pile, and I wondered why I didn’t have my dad’s taste in music. I was afraid he’d be ashamed of my bubble-gum taste in music. Even if he was, he never let me feel that way.
At the cash counter, we realized that we had picked up CDs worth nearly 16 grand. No point in being greedy and with a heavy heart we downsized our shopping baskets. Eventually we coughed up nearly 9 grand on CDs and though it was a number that looked better than 16K, it was an exorbitant sum.
“Why can’t simple things like music be free Dad?” I asked, afraid that with my Rs.200/- allowance, I’d never be able to make such a big purchase again.
He shrugged. About six to seven months later, I discovered Napster…
‘Dad, come come let me show you this,’ I gushed about Napster and how music was now going to be free.
‘You’re lucky,’ is all he said. He continued to listen to his CDs and admire his LPs but on his 51st birthday, me and the sister gifted him an iPod. The fat, 40GB one, And all his CDs were sent into a cupboard…
I guess I’ll never be able to thank him enough for being so generous to me. I guess I will never know the kind of effort he’d gone through back in the day to lay his hands on an album he wanted to listen to. I guess I will never understand how he had to deal with parents who didn’t appreciate loud ‘Kiristav’ (Christians in Marathi) music blaring from their very ‘Marathi’ household. But I know this, I will always be grateful to him for making me and the sister who we are today. We will always be thankful to him for giving to us, his musical ear.
I don’t know what spurred this post on… I was looking for something and landed on a pile of Rolling Stone magazines from the 80s that Vivek Kaka gifted me, and then I found dad’s LPs and then I found the CDs we bought at Planet M. It’s always good to give your memories a chance to flow out on paper, isn’t it?

Learning is not equal to education…

This is not a review. These are random ramblings induced by the nostalgia of the horror that used to be school. The good memories of my childhood did not involve school, at all. Okay maybe the canteen but that’s it….

Though my parents firmly believed in education, they never believed in forcing education onto me or my sister. I failed in my first ever written exam in standard I and the teacher made it a point to tell my mother that I was a problem child. Mom took it upon herself to fix that, but when year after year, I managed to score and land in the scholarship class, the teachers did not stop labelling me a problem child, Mom decided something was off.  She decided to let me be but told me that I had to endure these subjects I hated just up to the tenth standard, because that’s how it works.

Soon enough, my sister came to school and she went through the same hell as I did. Mom, who was a little wiser let her be, until it came to a point where it started to worry her. We were obviously apprehended every time we scored single digit marks, but we were always encouraged to pursue what we liked. But even so, the lack of marks entailed failure, and that felt horribly wrong. It brought down our spirits and trust me, we did feel miserable. Those who scored 99 on 100 in maths or science were heroes and those like my sister, who might just about scrape maths but write a brilliant essay, were useless. Hell, once a teacher cut my marks in an essay because she did not understand the Dickens reference I made! If you scored well, you were put in august company of other super scorers in the ‘merit’ division. Otherwise, you would have to rot in backward classes with the under performers. So naturally every parent wished and hoped that their kid would make it into the merit class. As soon as I passed out, my sister changed schools to go to a better school. Though there were no merit divisions here, the school was swarming with problem teachers. While my teachers had asked my kundali to be reviewed for my grahadasha to find the problem behind my restlessness, the sister’s teachers said she had no hope of passing maths.

The sister has only scored distinctions in exams since she found a joy in learning which lead to her discovering the subject she loved (she went to 90 percent boss, eat that!) and she is now pursuing a Post Graduate diploma in one of the best advertising schools in the US. But of course, this will hold no value to that teacher who believed that if you are not a doctor or an engineer, your life was a failure. That woman, and many like her are the engineers of failure. She is a system checks that make the following quote, a fact.
‘I was born a genius, education ruined me’

So when Mahesh Manjarekar, in his controversially titled film, ‘Shikshanachya Aicha Gho!’ raises a question, ‘Who are you to decide who’s a failure or who’s a success on the basis of marks?’ I want to applaud him. When he questions the system, and says that it kills the joy of learning, I want to yell out, I agree.

It’s time we looked at education as something that creates, not something that manufactures. Of course, IB schools are around to change that, but these IB schools come at a price tag in the range of lakhs, completely out of the common man’s reach. Isn’t it time we did something about the fact that schools are getting more and more competitive? Or are we going to wait until a couple more 12 year olds commit suicide?

And if education can make a 12 year old feel like death is better, then truly, ‘Ya Shikshanachya Aicha Gho!’

Happy Birthday, Mariam…

There’s a thrill when you make a major change and land up in an alien environment. You don’t know how things are going to be, you don’t even know if you will deal with them. I was always told that people around you give you the strength to work through that uncertainty. They infuse you with energy, inspiration and no matter how alien or bleak the environment they’ll tell you that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

Luckily enough, I have always had people like that around me. But I left them all behind and landed in UK. From being a confident Mumbai girl, I was the latest export from India, a meek, lost girl in the Queen’s land. I’d spent a week with the Kale family but as I drove down to the uni with my family, I started feeling that knot in my tummy. I was scared. I had never lived on my own, I had never been so far away from my friends and I had never ever been friendless. Well, not since high-school, but let’s not go there.

As the car wove through the University of Sussex campus, I was bright eyed and as we located my residences I was nervous as hell. Making friends from scratch, fending for myself, cooking, cleaning and studying all by myself and in addition to that, homesickness. I wasn’t unprepared. I had been warned by many, but it was happening now. This was real. I took a few deep breaths and told myself I’ll be ok. We pulled up right behind a car. A  girl got out of the car. I had never seen her before and yet there was something very familiar about her face, something very comforting. She smiled looking towards the residences and I saw hope.

I got off the car and continued to stare at her. Will she be a friend? Will she be in my school? Will she be…
‘Hi are you studying here?’ I heard my cousin ask.
She nodded, that smile fixed on her lips and excitement dripping from every corner of her face.
‘My cousin’s doing her MA from here. Meet Shakti,’ he introduced me…
She shook my hand, ‘Hi, I’m Mariam. I’m doing MA in Critical Theory. And you?’
There was warmth in her voice. And I replied that I was doing my MA in creative writing and she could critique my work. In my head, I thought, WTF are you saying? I realised this was going to be awkward, making new friends. But then she laughed at my stupid joke and I felt like all be ok.

Little did I know that this girl, the first person I met on the campus, would end up being such a close friend! Mariam Zia, this bundle of energy, hails from Lahore, Pakistan. She’s one of the people I treasure. At times, a mere ‘hi’ here and there tells her what’s going on in my head. She’s like this elder sister who’ll watch out for me, who’ll patiently listen to me whining and then bring a smile to my face. She is the reason why I loved my novel as much as I did.

At Sussex, I made my own family. They were and are still pillars of strength in my life (I know I never email or keep in touch, but they continue to be my strength) Mariam happens to be one of the closest to me. Mariam and Shefali helped me grow up; they helped me be me as I grew up. Of course, Shef deserves a blogpost of her own but Mariam, this one’s for you.

Our countries can’t see eye to eye and yet we see each other to the depth of our souls. My calls or SMS wouldn’t go through to her, we all know why. She lives in Lahore. On her birthday, I couldn’t hear her voice, I couldn’t tell her how much I loved her, all because our countries are constantly at loggerheads. Our friendship is very special to me on an individual level, yes, but I also know that it is symbolic. It is symbolic of the fact that beyond that border, we share a similar culture, similar values. And if we have enough love in our hearts to give and enough room in our hearts to receive, we can share a lovely relationship. I should be able to take a flight and go see Mariam. She should be able to get on a bus and come see me, but we can’t. I haven’t seen Mariam in 4 years. Last time I saw her, we were freezing at Trafalgar Square, right outside National Gallery and we held each other tight. We promised to see each other soon in our respective home cities. We continue to promise each other that even as relations between our countries have turned more and more hostile. In the end what matters is that our friendship, our love has continued to grow strong. And no matter how many of my SMS or phone calls get blocked or however difficult it gets to see Mariam, I just need to close my eyes and I see her. She is in my heart.

Happy birthday, Mariam Aapa (big sistah!) Tum jeeyo hazaron saal, saal ke din ho pachas hazaar. May all your dreams come true, may all the happiness in the world be yours and may you live a long life. And we will see each other soon, I mean it!

On your birthday, words are all I have… So here’s to you, thank you for being in my life…
P.S: Mariam, do you notice the excess use of ellipses? It’s because words, they’ll never be enough…

Woh 7 Weeks: End of a holiday

Past 7 weeks have been pure bliss; ups and downs included. Quality sister time, unique relationship insight (how I love my older friends!), a dash of disappointment, blistered feet, emptied bank balances, crazy credit card bills, tons of food, serving portions I can only dream of finishing, jeans feeling a bit too snug, not fretting about the weight, the beach, pride, inspiration and more than anything LOVE.

7 weeks have passed since I left Mumbai, all starry eyed. And now I shuttle out to Miami airport sobbing. Yeah, you heard me right. I am grateful for all the madness of the past 7 weeks. I sobbed because my sister (she never really was a baby sister) is independent and brave, far braver than I could ever be. Here I was leaving for India, why did it feel like I had forgotten something, someone? The truth is I was leaving behind a big chunk of my heart in Miami.
I hate that I am early at the airport (paranoid as I am, I am always early!) Check-in and security checks, all taken care of, I still have another two and a half hours to kill. I could either brood over how much I was going to miss my sister or see pictures and giggle with glee about the lovely times we had exploring her city with her, going to Disney world or while battling bed bugs (bed bugs was not fun but hey, I m trying to see the glass half full here!)
I could sit and smile about the fun times I had in New York with Roger, Baa and Tarlet. I could think about what an adventure it was discovering what I didn’t want from a relationship… There, I started again. So much happened on the past 7 weeks that I *almost* feel like a whole new person. Okay, I’m exaggerating but, I do feel like Shakti Salgaokar version 8.0.

I’ve fallen in love with solitude and lost my heart to a city. I love Paris, London and Barcelona. But New York, I think we are headed for a serious relationship and imagine the mess that’s going to be when Mumbai finds out!
And yet, I am back to the city I call home. Despite its pollution, dufus governance (the Frenchman working on Mumbai waste management project on my flight brought this to my notice) I love it. There’s so much this city can be if she got the right things to work with, and yet, she sits there, making the best of whatever she’s got. New York is like the sexy woman you want to be. She’s that woman who has the perfect life. A perfect career, she looks hot, so perfect that even her problems seem perfect. Someday, I’ll come back…

And yeah, on this trip I also achieved acute spiritual maturity (yeah, right!).  And I finally figured the prophecy of one my gurus, Mr. John Lennon: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

I’m alright to go where life takes me. No more planning. No more superficial goals. Just one principle- have fun.
Btw, Air France: thank you for being a kill joy airline. The cranky me, agrees to go through the ordeal of 19 hours on a flight for two things. Nonstop movies and eating airline food like Charlie Chaplin (dad, u r genius in discovering that simile. Yes I don’t mind airline food. It helps passtime!). Yeh modern day air travel isn’t so bad because food apparently has gotten better and inflight entertainment is supposed to be awesome. Thanks air France for not having a personal screen on my first flight from Miami to Paris and a little note: Hindu non veg meal means a non-veg meal sans beef or pork. It doesn’t mean you serve me rice, veggies and chicken with garam masala tossed on it!

Anyway, the 8 hour ordeal ended at Charles de Gaulle. And look at me, merrily Bon jour and au revoiring people like I knew French, deliberately struggling to read things in French before giving up and settling for English. Whoa! I miss Nani. The last time I was at this airport, Nani and yours truly had flown in from Barcelona on a delayed flight and missed our connecting flight to London. The lady who reissued our boarding cards, issued a wrong one for Nanchan and I put up a classic performance, being the drama queen I am, and got Nani bumped up to business class.
Such funny incidents happen when me and Nani set off to explore the world. ‘Be nice to your siblings,’ is an underrated line from the Sunscreen Song. Love your siblings, pour your soul into them, because trust me, other than your parents they are the only people who know you, your past, your whims, your fancies, your strengths and weaknesses and yet love you like no one else will. My sibling is a part of me, a part of who I am and what I am. I realise this after years of sibling rivalry, friendship, arguments, fights and much more.

So yeah, Nano, this one’s for you. Love life so much that you can be a 70 year old who can tell tales of her life and amuse people by the sheer presence of life in them!
And in case u want assistance, who u gonna call?

Straight From The Art

Art used to be complex. If you loved it, you were fancy. I’d spend time in front of a portrait, clueless to what the brush strokes were or what the colours were or how revolutionary the painting itself was. I was clueless. Until 3 years ago, when I hit The National Gallery and took an art tour on a whim, I thought visiting museums to look at paintings was pointless. Until 3 years ago, no painting other than Mona Lisa at the Louvre interested me. Until 3 years ago, Monet was just a random name.

On a cold windy New York day, with not much to do outdoors, I set out to the MET. “Its one of the best museums I have ever been too!” Far too many people had told me. And as I climbed up the beautiful stairs, I knew why. The museum is enormous. It houses paintings, sculptures. Well, I should stop. Most of you know that the MET is huge and what all it has..

Rewind 3 years. I was alone in London. It was valentine’s day and I didn’t give a shit about the red all around or the love that was in the air. So I went into the National Gallery and took a few guided tours. It was here that I fell in love with knowing the story behind each painting. The era they were painted in, how subtly the artist left a mark of their perception on the image they painted, and of course, I realised that I do indeed enjoy seeing museums. Suddenly, walking down long corridors halting every minute to take in a painting became fun.

Fast forward: back to 20th October 2009. I entered the MET and grabbed a schedule sheet. The first tour I would take was American paintings, followed by an interesting tour: fashion through art and then there was an impressionist tour before I headed out to meet a friend at Columbia University. I wanted to take the modern art tour as well, but then I already liked the sound of my day!

Copley, Homer, Trumbaults were followed by a painting that took my breath away and tickled my curiosity. I stopped in front of it, waiting for the rest of the group to settle. Before the guide told me its story, I knew I was in love with the painting: Madame X.

A woman with a pallid white skin tone dons a black gown that highlights her figure. Her hand rests rather uncomfortably on a table as she looks in an awkward direction. Her longish nose, which might look ugly on anyone else, looks elegant and there’s an air of sophistication, pride and immense amount of attitude about the woman in the painting. Her dress is held by two straps and one strap is noticeably different from the other. She looked gorgeous, and the painter must have been taken by her beauty to depict her the way she looked (beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and this beholder thought this woman was gorgeous, you could just tell!)

“The painting is that of a well-known Parisian socialite Madame Gautreau. She was born in America and went to Paris in search of a wealthy husband. Known for her glamour and style, Madame was a flamboyant woman. John Singer Sargent’s painting led to a lot of controversy resulting in the fall of Madame. Although her name was nowhere on it, people knew it was her. Now in those days…”

She went on to explain that it was a bit too shocking in the day and age. Today, far lesser than that is worn and yet called classy, but Madame’s outfit, her pose and the fallen strap in the original painting, caused quite an uproar. Didn’t she know she was posing in an outrageous pose then? Why did Sargent paint her the way he did? Who was Amelie Gatreau?   Wikipedia wasn’t going to be enough and hence I got myself Strapless, a novel by Deborah Davis. It’s a well-researched account of Gautreau’s and Sargent’s lives leading upto the painting of Madame X and what happens after the painting.

The book had me hooked. The lives of women in high society, the fickleness of their marriages (it was normal to have affairs as long as they were discreet, huh?) the ways of the world of art, the business angle of art, men and their muses, friendships that were ways of getting ahead in the society. Not much has changed today. The women might not need to find a rich husband, women are allowed to paint (back in the day, women did not get admitted to art school), but we still make friends to make better contacts, we cheat discreetly and the big change: less and less of us seem to believe in marriage.  To be as gorgeous and glamorous as Amelie and to be stuck in a loveless marriage would be a disaster. But what amuses me even more is that after being painted in that fashion, Amelie lost all she had worked for, whereas Sargent gained repute and went on to become a celebrated painter who rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty in England and America.

It’s a story of art but more than anything, it’s the story of a search, the endless pursuit of youth, glamour and fame. In the end, it’s a hollow existence but that hollow existence stands immortalized on a canvas in the MET, looking at thousands of visitors that pass by, thinking, how the times have changed and yet, so many things remain unchanged…

Living a Dream

A day in the life of Shakti Salgaokar: The day that felt too good to be true. The day that was filmy.

A van pulls up in the building. Two girls walk out to the van and hug tight. One of them is dressed a little too much for Miami. Jeans, tshirt and woollen jacket get her some extra attention from people walking around. She hugs the girls in shorts again and nearly chokes up. ‘Have a happy Diwali, okay? And eat well, and don’t be out too late and…’
‘Enjoy NYC. Live it up and have fun okay?’

The girls part. She settles into the van and wipes a teardrop on her cheek. She wanted to see New York her whole life. And she had had daydreams about landing in New York. In those dreams, she always landed with her sister. But then she realised there was no point in fretting. She had to be grateful that she was about to see New York City.

She was early for her flight, so she settled into the lounge with a grande Café Mocha and a chocolate chip muffin. She tried to read her book, but couldn’t focus. A lot had happened around her and a lot is about to happen. Her trip to NYC is a lot more than just a vacation. It has an agenda to it. She has a gut feeling that her dreams are about to come true. She flips through the book: Spouse by Shobha De. A book about marriage and all that one needs to be prepared for. She laughs of many tips that the celebrity authoress dispenses in the book. ‘Why am I reading this?’ she asks herself.

She settles into her seat as soon as the aircraft boards. A window seat on the right, as instructed by her father, she rarely dismisses the father’s suggestions. She has heard about New York from friends, she’s had impressions about the city from movies, tv series and she has painted a mental picture of the city through the songs she’s grown up hearing. But her biggest influence in loving NYC before she’s even seen the face comes from the stories her dad has to tell. She loves seeing the way his eyes light up when he talks about the city. If nothing, she wants to see the city that is such a joy to the person she looks up to all the time.

She keeps staring out the window like a 5 year old who can’t wait for the car ride to end. She keeps staring at the ground below, scanning it to see if NYC is visible yet. And then the pilot announces that they’re ready to land. She sticks her nose to the window and peers. As they close in on the ground, her eyes start to light up. She sees them in a faint reflection on the window she’s stuck to. She smiles, she nearly jumps out of the seat when she realises she is finally going to see New York. And then, some flickering lights make her shriek with delight. Why, it’s Times Square.
She lands, she calls up the one person she wishes was sitting next to her on the plane.

‘Nani, I just landed!’ she says with a wide eyed grin. She knows, she knows its love at first sight, but yet she bounces about into a cab. And takes in the sight of every little thing… Thousands come to New York, why is she so thrilled? Because it was her dream!

I am so dreamy eyed about New York. I love walking the streets with a big smile. I love spending time with Raj and Pratibha and I love bonding with little Tara. I do miss Nani, but hey, we have our whole lives to see New York and many other cities.

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