The break up too needs a seal

“We will need your divorce certificate.” The voice at the other end was matter-of-fact.

“Why is it necessary here?” This was some official proceeding I had to complete where my marital status was of no consequence. Or so I thought.

“We need to show that you are single and a dependent on your mother.”

Eeks. At this stage in life?

“But I am not,” I protested.

“That does not matter. It’s a technicality.”

Sure, I am emotionally dependent on my mother as I am on a few others, including Nicholas Cage. But to be dependent-dependent is so completely outside even my imagination.

After I put down the phone, I realised I did not know where the goddamn certificate was.

The same had happened when the divorce proceedings were on. The lawyer had asked me to get my marriage certificate.

“I don’t know if I have it. But one gets a divorce only when one is married, right?”

“Papers are needed,” she said.

So I was on my knees rummaging through loads of paper…occasionally I would find some old picture and smile… I found poems I had written with the ink now spreading from one line to another like a vein standing out of skin, waiting to be resuscitated. I spent hours over old cards with pop-up teddy bears, shiny hearts, flowers and words in fancy fonts. I found post-cards and inland letters from readers of pre-email days. I found rusting paper clips, pencils with their lead heads chopped off, travel brochures, and lots of things in packages fastened with rubber bands that had snapped and were stuck to the plastic bags like adhesive.

I had red, yellow, blue sticky glue on my fingers…what does not have to stick always seems to do so.

And then, I espied a brown envelope. Heck, I should have known. These things always come in brown envelopes. I took it out and there it was -- stamped, sealed, signed to say two people had been joined together. It looked absurd now, not because it was over but because of the distant tenor of the words.

I had handed the paper to the lawyer and I got another certificate to say we were ‘unjoined’.

Now I had to go down on my knees again to look for this paper and I’d probably find all manner of things. Just before this major undertaking, Ammi handed an envelope to me.

“Oh, you had it?” I was relieved.

“You think I can trust you to keep these things in place? Aisi cheezein tau sambhaalna seekho.”

Strange. Bohat sambhaala, sambhlaa nahin…What had to be preserved was given all that was possible and more. And now when it splintered I was supposed to preserve evidence of that…it was like collecting shards in a bowl and refrigerating them.

They can pass of as ice shavings and I can add them to a drink. Crunch-crunch…I will bite on them and then my bleeding tongue will hang out like a bitch’s…red droplets falling to the floor.

I shall go down on my knees again and grab them in my palm as they camouflage my lines of destiny.

Here, take it, take it, this is the real certificate…


Kaheen door jab din dhal jaayein

Another of my favourites dies. Hrishikesh Mukherjee belonged to what they call ‘middle-of-the-road’ cinema. It shuns the trappings of glossy blockbusters or the occasional pretentiousness of off-beat movies striving hard to talk about ‘causes’.

Hrishida’s cause was subtlety, happiness, and that slight ache when the mouth turns dry but you are just short of crying.

I remember Musafir for the vignette pieces enacted by Dilip Kumar, Anupama for its silence, Satyakam for its deep sincerity, Guddi for being one of the few films to have tackled the subject of ‘coming of age’ so well, Mili for its fighting spirit, Bawarchi for its guileless belief in human bonding, Abhimaan for probing deep into a marital relationship without hovering over its head.

If I recall correctly, the director had once said that he did not show love scenes in his film because when his characters were in the bedroom, they closed the door behind them!

He did make several fun films too like Gol maal, Chupke-chupke, Budha Mil Gaya, Naram Garam, Khubsoorat…and they pretty much handled humour without the laughter being forced.

But Anand remains on the top of my all-time greats list. This film was one fine lesson about life – and its preciousness, death – and its acceptance, relationships – and how they can be formed with a mere smile, Time – and its ticking away, timelessness – and the lasting fragrance of what it leaves in its trail…

Maut tu ek kavita hai
mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegi mujhko…

Doobtee nabzoun mein jab dard ko neend aane lage
zard sa chehara liye chaand ufak tak pahunche
din abhi paani mein ho raat kinaare ke kareeb
na abhi andhera ho na ujaala ho
na raat na din
jism jab khatm ho aur rooh ko saans aaye

mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegii mujhko…

(From Anand)


A very short conversation - 3

“Your voice mail sounds…”

“What happened to my voice mail?” I queried.

“Your tone of voice and words sound like you don’t want anyone to leave a message.”

“But you do.”

“That is because you are not there.”

“I am most there when I am absent.”


Wasim Raja: Jaaney kahaan gaye woh din...

Wasim Raja dies playing cricket”. And a lonely tear ambled towards the crease in my eye. I had written a bit about him early last year…

I have not been watching much cricket. I miss the times I used to. I suppose it is this nostalgia that has made me lose that genuine feeling of joy. Besides, it is no fun sitting alone before the TV set and celebrating a boundary or a sixer or marvelling at a superb catch or the flick of the bat or the run-up before the bowler breezes like a ball of fire or twists his wrist to spin.

As a child I was the only girl who watched. I admit to begin with it was to show off. Besides, pretending to be engrossed saved me from having to bring in the ‘drinks trolley’ during the breaks. The three maamus and one cousin would be seated in the room on the sofa and chairs; I preferred being sprawled on the carpet like some feudal lady with a bolster. I did not understand a thing of what was happening, but I could read the score!

Sometimes, I think the uncles were uncomfortable. They would curse, “Saala, itna asaan catch nahin le sakta tha…” and then cast furtive glances at this girl in their midst. With the years of excruciatingly slow growth as I saw it, I began to see the symphony in the game. The whites, the camaraderie, the spitting on the ball, the rubbing it (I recall giggling on such occasions, but of course everyone had to keep a deadpan face).

I started reading sports magazines. And reading up on cricket. Statistics, strategy; I knew about elegant strokes…and I could hold forth with at least some authority on the game. Of course the gentlemen in the house thought it was the guys on the field that were affecting my impressionable mind. There would be knowing smiles, “Imran?”

Huh? No. I thought it was absolutely essential to like someone, so I chose the one who could not reach a century, but played like a Sufi…reaching his 90s and then having to walk out; he was short, dark and had a beard. His name was Wasim Raja. I said aloud, “I like him.”

Ismey hai kya?

“He is elegant (yes, that word I had memorised)…and…”

I did not have the right words or the vocabulary. What I felt was this sadness of someone who is just short of reaching the peak. I felt no one else would like him, so I had to. I genuinely felt his pain.

Yes, I am a sucker for the underdog.

Wasim Raja proved to be much more than that.

Chaahe kaheen bhi tum raho, chaahenge tumko umr bhar
tumko naa bhool paaenge


Kaisa des hai mera...

This was the cover page of today's Times of India. Ustad Bismillah Khan graces the bottom. 'Crisis in cricket' takes up a large chunk of the top. This is respect for art, culture? Is this even tameez?

These publications run to sponsor events where their banners shout out their commitment to the arts; they even bring out music CDs on special occasions...but a dead man whose death will kill so much that is classy and classical lies at the bottom of their pit.

I understand sensationalism and have been a proponent of it too. But why does a cricketing problem, that too where we are not involved, get to sidle past the Ustad?

Ah, of course, it is about Pakistan. We have to give it front page banner headlines.

Fine. Now I only hope TOI does not capitalise on the shehnai shehenshah's demise and bring out a series of his works and make a lot of moolah with it.

And all this will go under the guise of shraddhanjali (tribute). My foot!

Then there were others that gave more respect, but yet it was milk-drinking idols that got more space.

That miracle thing has had a snowballing effect. After the 'Muslim' miracle, we just had to have a 'Hindu' one and, now comes news from Kochi that in one home the Virgin Mother's statue is dripping perfume. People are congregating there.

Is this devotion or just curiosity? Is this a branded perfume, by the way?

I love my India...hrmph...


Bolo Bismillah...

Ustad Bismillah Khan's shehnai has managed to make me feel elated as well as brought tears to my eyes.

Knowledgeable people will have a lot more to say. I am not knowledgeable. For me, it is images...

An old toothless smiling visage.
A cross-legged man at the banks of the Ganges like an aging Krishna.
A raconteur sitting on a khatiya regaling his interviewer with fading memories.
A musician who tranformed the humble wedding "toon-toon-toon" sound into pure classical syrup.
A sad man in need of money who had to write a couple of years ago to the prime minister to help him out with his medical expenses.
A happy man who refused to move out of his humble kutiya and yet became a global citizen.

His shehnai sounds came sometimes like the pahadi plaint of a lover on a mountain top and sometimes as a cry from the depth of the ocean of a drowning sigh.

Such souls in sounds live on. Only bodies perish.

Bismillah is always the beginning.


Miracle manna

So another miracle in Mumbai, which itself is a miracle. The reports say, “On Friday night after local fishermen washed their hands in a stream off the Mahim bay after namaaz and allegedly found that the water was sweet, word began to spread about the 'miracle'.”

As usual the media went into a frenzy as we watched people knee-deep in the muddy water, scooping it in their palms and drinking it, forcing it into little baby mouths and filling it in bottles. Some made money by selling these bottles. Then we had those mandatory panel discussions with scientists telling us it is either sewage or rain or river water, and it is not potable.

We had communal harmony type scenes where even tilak-wearing sadhus talked glowingly about the miracle.

I think miracles are wonderful palliatives. I do believe that faith in something can work at least at a psychological level. But when it goes beyond the individual towards mass hysteria, then something has to be done.

The TV channels should not have taken their cameras there beyond a minute; many people follow a herd mentality and could have been lured by the celluloid drama.

Instead of scientists going into their sodium-calcium deposits techie stuff, a doctor should have shown the real possible consequences.

And some proper Muslim face should have been brought in to say that even if the water had turned sweet, Allah would prefer that it remained untouched.

I don’t know what will happen if there is some epidemic or widespread reports of diarrhea etc. What will happen to Allah’s miracle?

The Sufi saint whose dargah is in the vicinity and whose indirect connection with this miracle is being talked about was said to be against superstitions.

As a child nearing my teens I remember there was one 'religious' lady an aunt used to visit. She had regular majlis (prayer gathering) at her house and on one occasion a minor miracle took place; I do not recall the details but I remember that it was considered something very important. My aunt got lots of red threads blessed by the miracle and all of us had it tied round our wrists. I was thrilled because I love trinkets and no one in school would object because this had religious sanction.

With time and several baths it began to fade into a dark pink, then a lighter shade and finally it got to look shredded. My mother took it out and said, “Thanda kar denge”. (Which meant you did not throw these things, but set them free in the water.) I was impressed by her properness until the next day I saw her hand it to our Hindu helper and tell her to put it in the Carter Road sea.

Very funny. That is where all kinds of lovers would sit and throw god-knows-what in the water.

I asked her how she could do that. “Kaise pataa kaunsa paani saaf hai?” (How does one know what water is pure?)

One thought does cross my mind now, though: What did they think any child, usually accused of innocence, would want or need to be protected from? If it was bad thoughts, then it wasn’t working. My prayers were essentially pleas to pass exams without having to study, getting decent sized-breasts ASAP and hoping every morning that Keith would walk to wherever he was going at the same time as I was ready for school, so for those few minutes as we waited to cross each other’s paths I could feel a strange thrill.

Some of these miracles did happen. But what really pissed me off was why that one family was blessed and we had to depend on them for red threads. I discovered that the lady of the house was a kathak dancer and wore flowers as jewellery. That’s it. Allah was a patron of the arts and we, despite howling our lungs out over Madan Mohan, S.D.Burman and Naushad hits, just did not qualify.

Our family remained miracle-less. Instead, every birth, every monsoon on time, every beautiful sunset was hailed as a “kudrat ka maujeezah” (nature’s miracle). Bird droppings falling on one’s body were considered “lucky”, but the washing up after that was so scrupulously done that one began to wonder whether anyone was all that serious.

There are things one does as a matter of course. Like, even today when I travel, some money is wrapped and kept aside. The amount is either five rupees or eleven rupees. This is done for a safe journey and return. When I do return (no one bothers to ask how ‘safe’ I was at the destination!), the money is given away to a beggar. It pains me to know that my safety is worth so little, but I guess the good thing about such beliefs is they come so cheap.

“Do you believe in miracles?” I still ask my mother.

Haan, haan,” she says. “Isn’t it a miracle that you have got into so much trouble -- and continue to do so -- and yet managed to survive?”

Ah well, I shall drink to that…and no muddy sweet water for me.


The 'burn' identity?

This is in response to Anonymous’ comment on my ‘Look Ma, no hands’ blog. S/he said... “I am not a Muslim, but the way to combat this is not to internalize it but to objectively record and publish such instances where the hand of law has been heavy and unjust - and who can do it better than a journalist? The first and vital step to deal with such things is to disseminate reliable information.”

While I agree the first and vital step is to disseminate information, I find it difficult not to internalise it. The idea is not merely to “combat”, for news is there aplenty. How many people will voice their feelings and opinions? How many people give first-hand accounts? How many such voiceless thoughts float in the stratosphere and then combat becomes a dangerous weapon?

I feel no guilt or remorse about internalising. I can watch a fire and say “Look fire” and if it comes with a comma between the two words then the consequence is death of ideas. Instead, one goes after the fire to see the charred remains, the ashes…one feels the heat not of the fire but of the simmering within. Yes, this is internalising and an emotional response, but for some of us the scars that we have seen (sometimes on ourselves, often on others) are reliable enough as information goes.

It does not matter whether you are a Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew – all fires scald you.


Look Ma, ain't life grand

If you have not had the threat of being interrogated by cops for your religion...
If you have not been denied a credit card/a club membership despite your papers being in order...
If you have not had your young male relatives patrol the terraces after their people have become targets...
If you have not visited riot-torn areas and seen the bullets pierced through walls and bodies...
If you do not know of anyone close to you who had to drop his pants to show who he was...
If you are not accused of producing too many babies, being behind a veil, and causing havoc in the world when you have done none of these...
If you have been told that you cannot get an apartment because you are a Muslim despite your 'clean' money...
If you do not live in the country of your birth and have not seen these things at close quarters...
If you are not even willing to listen to me because it suits you to shut your ears...
Then your world and mine are not the same.

This may make you happy, feel good not to be identified with me -- the outsider, the one who no one should know -- but one day you will understand.

I live on hope...it comes without a price tag but its value exceeds its 'worth'.

The skeletons they hung from the bushes and the trees
But not a skull among 'em said boo to me
(Elton John, From 'Look Ma, no hands")


Look Ma, no hands...

I read the headline 'Probe Muslims who travel' in The Asian Age this morning. (I am posting the article in full below.) As I went through the piece again and again, the tea turned bitter. I am still disturbed. It is less fear, more helplessness and anger. Do you know how it feels when both these emotions run high at the same time?

You don't want to believe such things, but it is true. Would I want the cops to come to my house and question me only because I happen to have been born in a particular religion?

Thus far the elite considered themselves safe and did their ‘let us form a human chain and tell them we are moderates’ bit (something that I have always had reservations about). Now what?

Now make your mental ghettoes. That is the message. Why are Muslims travelling? If they say they are poor, then where do they get the money from? If there are so many madrassas, then how can they be called educated?

What does this portend? I do not know.

I can imagine a scene where a cop decides to pay me a visit. Besides one old family relic of an ‘Ayatal Kursi’, he won’t see anything. Yes, there is a copy of the Quran ‘hidden’ somewhere. In our house, we do not flaunt these things. I have a miniature one too given by someone…and I have a few talismans, just as I have those from other religions/cultures. But he will eye only that one.

And then he will see my ‘Muslim face’. How many times have I been told that? I might decide to play to the gallery and cover my head, look at the floor in demure deference to what he assumes is Allah’s wish, show him my income tax papers (will he ask me why I bank with a multinational rather than an Islamic bank and why do I earn interest?)…then he will see my passport. He will ask me why I travel so much.

Do I ask him to read this blog to discover that I am a gypsy, that I need escape, that I want to discover new places, meet new people? Will he understand and accept that?

Should I offer him coffee or tea or something else? Will he take it as a gesture of hospitality and not a bribe? Will he touch this stuff from a Mussalman like most of my friends from all communities do?

And when he does give me a clean chit, should I say ‘thank you’? What would I be thanking him for? Or should I say ‘sorry’, to apologise for the suspicion that my community has caused him? Or should I just open the door wide and let him leave – he the superior man, not because of his uniform and position, but because he has been absolved of all blame simply because he has the official directive to ‘probe a Muslim’?

Please probe me and tell me what you find. Anger and helplessness will stare you in the face as you watch from the one-way glass where you can see me and I can’t see you.

Will you laugh as you notice my nails digging into my flesh and drawing out blood?
- - -
The Asian Age, Aug 8

Mumbai: Probe Muslims who travel

The Maharashtra government has issued a directive to the state police to thoroughly investigate every Muslim who travels abroad.

Senior executives in multinationals are being visited at their residences by police inspectors asking questions, demanding to see copies of their passports and insisting on letters from the executives’ employers certifying the travel.

A vice-president of the largest multinational in India, living in a posh colony of Mumbai, told this newspaper that he was at home when two police inspectors visited his residence demanding to see him. When they learnt he was not there they left instructions with his family that he should visit the police station with details of his passport and travel abroad. However, before entering his house, the policemen questioned his staff outside the residence to find out his movements.

Well-placed sources said that a directive had been issued by the government and the state police had to act on it. Every Muslim, the sources said, were under close watch and had to provide proof of his travel as well as letters justifying it as and when approached by the police. Social activists in Mumbai claim that "thousands" of Muslims have been arrested from different parts of the city in the wake of the Mumbai blasts with the police refusing to give details, or even the proof required for the detention.

A group of 18 MPs, cutting across party lines, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently to draw his attention to the large-scale arrests and urged his immediate intervention. Prime Minister Singh is reported to have shared their concerns and, according to the MPs, said that if Muslims were indeed being harassed in the manner suggested by the MPs, it was "a very serious matter". He said that the hands of the terrorists would be strengthened if innocent Muslims were humiliated. He said he would take up the matter and urged the MPs to meet Union home minister Shivraj Patil. Nothing has come of this till date.

It could not be ascertained if the directive covered Muslims travelling to all parts of the world, or just to select targeted countries. The Americans already have a system in place where the airlines have to supply them with the passenger list and details of those travelling to the US as soon as a particular flight takes off. Sources said these rules have been made more stringent now. Social activists from Mumbai, who did not want to be quoted at this stage as they would come under "needless pressure", said there was fear and anger amongst the minorities over the large-scale arrests and their total inability to seek justice. "The arrests have not led the authorities to solve the Mumbai blasts, but that has not stopped them from rounding up any and every one whose only crime might be that he did not grease the hands of the beat policeman," the activists said.

Muslim executives, who are furious with the attitude of the police, have been told that there is little they can but do but "cooperate" in the face of a government directive. Senior police officers also expressed their inability to do anything with every Muslim living in the state now being flagged as and when he travels abroad. The only concession that the police can make, the sources said, "is interrogate them at their residence instead of getting them over to the police station".

Mumbai police commissioner A.N. Roy has confirmed a large number of arrests, but refused to give an exact figure when questioned by journalists. Despite the arrests, the anti-terror squad of the Mumbai police remains clueless about the identity of those who carried out the seven serial blasts on July 11, 2006. The Mumbai police has openly admitted that Muslim men who visited West Asia were suspects. Several such men have been picked up with little more proof except that they visited the "suspect" region on work. The sources said that employees of smaller companies, when questioned or detained, could, and were, losing their jobs.

Play it again, Pam

Pamela Anderson on marrying Kid Rock mainly for the sex: "I'm not going to pretend it doesn't make a difference. I know women say size doesn't matter. But it does, at least for me. Put it this way, I can't see any down side to a man being well hung."

Most women don’t, but they are expected to say the same old things…

I wish…

1. Women would stop this crap about men with a sense of humour…these guys want us to laugh at all their jokes, and they aren’t even funny.

2. Women would stop wanting guys who are New Age men…these men will be happy you are working because they aren’t.

3. Women would stop this business about looking for men in control…a man who can’t ask for directions will always fumble.

So, listen to Pam. Or settle for poms.


A very short conversation: 2

“When will you start doing what you said you would? I am really looking forward to it,” she said.

“I may not…” I trailed off.


“What I create destroys me.”

A walk in the clouds

The computer stalled. And instead of shutting it and getting on with other things, I just sat there looking at the dark monitor. I sat there for long, and I was not waiting for the lights to come on. I never wait for lights. So what was I waiting for?

Just words...

These days I want to grab at words with even more ferocity, like a beast tearing away at the flesh of its kill. And I can't. Life is interrupting my 'art'. Life is interrupting my joy. Life is interrupting my mind, my heart, even my body. Life is indeed interrupting my life. It is eating into it.

In the next couple of days I will know how much more of my entrails will be clawed at by this thing called life.

At such times I wish I knew how to pray. I know that something is always within me, the rock that keeps me safe from my storms. But I need other rocks. I tell them I want to stay away, because in this deluge they too might drown. Yet, I wish they would say, it's ok, we are sturdy, we have our anchors…

For two days I haven't cried although I had every reason to. Or maybe I did and the tears got swallowed by the ebb and tide. Or perhaps I had shut my eyes so tightly that nothing would enter and nothing would leave.

Life is interrupting my vision. I cannot see what is before me. But I can see what is left behind, for it is entering through my head and into my nerve endings and blurring what is ahead.

Is there anything at the end of the road? And if it is the end of the road, will I not have to turn back yet again? Unless I can make my home wherever the winds take me...