‘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…

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