Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Thank God it wasn’t me...

Last Saturday(17th Sept,2011), some crude bombs went off in Agra, and on Sunday Sikkim and parts of North Bengal were rocked by an earthquake which measured 6.8 on the Richter Scale. A little more than a week ago it was Delhi which got rocked by an earthquake and a terrorist attack and two months ago it was Mumbai's turn. When the blasts occurred in Mumbai last July, I was there with my son at my brother's house. We received calls from friends and relatives who knew that we were there to see if we were safe. Mumbai is like a hot spot for terrorist attacks these days and every time an attack happens, I call up my brother and a close friend who stays there to check if they are fine.

I have personally closely escaped two such calamities – one a natural calamity and the other man-made and escaped unhurt.

When the terrorists attacked IISc in 2005, I was a speaker at the conference, the venue of which was attacked, as well as helping out the organizers. I got saved by walking out of the auditorium just about 2 minutes ahead of the others. In fact, one lady who was injured by a shrapnel hitting just below her eye walked out with me but then stood back to talk to her guide, Prof. Puri, who was the only slain victim in that attack. Although I had met Prof. Puri only the day before, I always remember him as a kind, extremely knowledgeable and very humble person who was almost a father-figure for his students. When I heard the shots, I thought that someone was bursting crackers and felt irritated that someone could burst such loud crackers within the institute campus and didn't quite comprehend the gravity of the situation even when a colleague came and said that there was a shootout at the auditorium. That day still stays in my memory as the most memorable and yet the most unbelievable day of my life.

Four years before this, on 26th January 2001, when I was working in Jamnagar, Gujarat was struck by an intense earthquake. At that time, my friend and I were vacationing in Mt. Abu and although we did feel the tremors over there, we didn’t realize the devastation till we reached Jamnagar two days later. We spent a couple of days outside our home in tents for fear of after-shocks and then later stayed temporarily at a hostel set-up since one of the pillars of our building had cracked and had to be repaired.

After both these incidents, I got frantic calls from my close family and friends enquiring about my safety. They were relieved to know that I am safe as I feel relief every time a natural calamity or a terrorist attack strikes the city where I have some family members or friends and I get news that they are safe. The other day as I was reading Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran where, while writing about the bombings on Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s, she writes, “This had also become a ritual, to call friends and family to make sure that they were safe, knowing that your own relief implied someone else’s death”, it struck me that how true this was for us too. It also brought to my mind Arthur Ashe’s famous quote “If I were to say, "God, why me?" about the bad things, then I should have said, "God, why me?" about the good things that happened in my life”. I guess it takes a lot of courage and some level of spirituality to be able to do that. But I am me, selfish and petty if you may call me so, and still feel relieved at the safety of my near and dear ones though I feel saddened when innocent lives are lost, especially by senseless acts of terror.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Trip to Murudeshwar

There was a time when S and I used to travel on every long weekend, even if it meant travelling every week of a month or at least every alternate week. But then our baby, G came along and we took a break from our travels. We did travel close to home and wherever we could get home-cooked food for G or could carry food but not otherwise. Now that he's 2+ and actually more mature and independent (:P) than his age, we have started travelling once again.

Our first major trip took us to Murudeshwar, a scenic beach in North coastal Karnataka about 400 kms from Bangalore. We travelled by train to Shimoga and took a taxi from there to take us to Murudeshwar. We left from Bangalore on the night of 12th August & returned early morning on 16th August.

G was super-thrilled about the entire journey. Firstly he didn't have to go to sleep at his usual 9 p.m. and secondly, he was actually going to sleep in the train !!! We were supposed to board the train at 11:30 p.m. but it arrived at our boarding station at the stroke of midnight ... so G's glee was unimaginable. We boarded the train and said our Hi's to S's friend & his family who were also accompanying us to Murudeshwar. It was quite difficult to put G to sleep because he had a lot of questions about his surroundings, so finally I just switched off the light & he automatically fell asleep. The next morning we reached Shimoga at 6 a.m. G was still fast asleep, so B (S's friend's wife) woke him up & he immediately sat up & much to everyone's amusement, said "G's going to play with sand but not put it in his hair or in his eyes". The background to this statement is ... I was preparing him mentally for the trip and since he likes to play with sand, I told him that we'll be going to a place where there'll be a huge body of water & lots of sand. And since he still refers to himself in the third person almost all his sentences begin with his own name. :)

So, we came out of the station at Shimoga & A (S's friend) who can speak Kannada, haggled with a taxi driver & we booked a Sumo for Rs. 8/- per km and charging for the journey to & fro to take us to Murudeshwar. So although the distance from Shimoga to Murudeshwar is about 200 kms, we had to pay for double the journey, but that's the usual norm & we couldn't argue with him about that. So we started off, stopped after about an hour for a quick breakfast & then continued on our journey to Murudeshwar, where we reached around 12 noon.

Murudeshwar is monopolized by the R.N. Shetty group and all the hotels over there belong to them. They have three properties RNS Residency, Naveen Beach Resort and RNS Guest House. RNS Residency is a five storey building about 5 minutes on foot from the beach and adjacent to the Murudeshwar temple. It offers a beautiful view of the beach as well as the temple. We stayed here and had a corner room overlooking their swimming pool, so we had a wonderful view of the open sea in the front, the beach on the right side and the Shiva statue inside the temple on the left. Naveen Beach Resort is right on the beach and has individual cottages. RNS Guest House, their first property in Murudeshwar is sandwiched between the temple and the RNS residency and is in a slightly rundown state. Anyway, it's wise to re-confirm your bookings before travelling because although we had booked two months in advance and they had confirmed a month later, when we reached there we were told that there was no booking in our name. They finally gave us two well-appointed rooms with amazing views but some unpleasantness could have been avoided if we had re-confirmed.

After checking into our rooms on 13th August, we freshened up and went for lunch at the Naveen Beach Resort which has a multi-cuisine non-veg restaurant. After lunch & a nap, we went to the beach for our first dip in the sea. G looooooves to play with water in the bathroom but the sea was a little fearsome for him. Both S and I love a dip in the sea and wanted to initiate G into it too but after a while we realized that he was feeling too scared and so G and I settled down on the beach to play in the sand with his sand tools while S and our friends went into the sea.

Next morning after breakfast we went to the temple. However, we did not go into the main temple. Instead we went up 18 floors by an elevator to the top of the Gopuram to see the view around and then came down and watched as fishermen returned with their catch from the sea. The sun was beating down hard on our heads by the time we finished taking a round of the temple premises and G was almost dozing off with sheer exhaustion, so we decided to go back to the hotel for lunch. RNS Residency has a vegetarian restaurant only, so we decided to feed G his staple khichdhi (without any chillies but quite tasty) over there and then go to a small eating place called Fish Land which turned out to be a boon for us fish lovers.

That evening we went for our 2nd dip in the sea & this time I went into the waters while S camped on the shores with G. Sadly though we were shooed away from the sea after about 10 mins because only that morning two people, incidentally from Bangalore, had drowned over there and the authorities didn't want to take any chances. So we came back to the hotel and decided to get into the swimming pool. Here, G was a little more comfortable and although he shrieked a little to begin with and didn't want to stay in the water for too long, he was comfortable to sit on the side with me and splash water with his feet. Strangely enough he didn't want me to swim either and cried his eyes out screaming for me to come out of the water when I went in for a swim. :)

On 15th August, we left from Murudeshwar after lunch and decided to visit the Jog Falls on our way to Shimoga. Since the monsoons have been quite generous to Karnataka this time, we saw the waterfall in its full glory. However, all our sightseeing took so long that by the time we reached the Shimoga station it was 9:30 p.m. and since our train was at 10:20 p.m., we decided to have our dinner at the railway canteen itself and board the train.

Overall, we had a very enjoyable trip though the beach is quite dirty and the tides are tricky & treacherous so it's better to watch out and heed the authorities while taking a dip in the sea. G had a great time and was reluctant to go back to the school/day care routine but well, that's life. All good things have an expiry and routine has to return.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


As I was driving down to the Institute this morning, I was listening to Monalisa by Nat King Cole. This is my absolute favourite from his collection.

I used to listen to this song as a child. My Dad had a LP record which had this song and I just used to love the deep baritone of Nat King Cole's voice singing Monalisa. Fortunately, I found a CD of his songs recently which had Monalisa in it too. Another one of my faves from that LP was a song whose lyrics went "Miss Me,Kiss Me" ... unfortunately I'm not able to get that on CD & not even on YouTube. Will surely keep looking, though.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

My journeys by train

There has always been a romanticism surrounding train journeys in India. Who can forget the evergreen song “mere sapno ki rani” where Sharmila Tagore is serenaded by Rajesh Khanna. Years later Sharmila's son, Saif sings another beautiful, romantic although less popular number inside a train ...”kasto mazaa hain...” in the movie Parineeta. Of course, normal people don't usually have such romantic encounters when we travel by train and here I would like to relive some of my more memorable experiences.

My very 1st train journey was when I travelled with my maternal grandfather & my brother to Rourkela where my maternal uncle was posted. I don't recall much about that journey except that I was thrilled about meeting my cousins especially my uncle's younger daughter who was closer to my age & hence partner in crime. After this 1st journey, there were many more journeys to Rourkela to follow and on one such journey we were accompanied by a boy (B) and a girl (G) who shared the same cubicle as ours. On this journey, there was four of us travelling together from our family (my mother, grandmother, bro & myself) and the other two berths of the cubicle were occupied by these two individuals, who, to begin with, were not acquainted with each other. The journey to Rourkela takes about 8 hours and soon after the train started B & G became very familiar with each other, sat on the same berth chatting & laughing and also shared their food with each other. They, in fact, went as far as coochie-cooing & cuddling each other ... can't remember if they kissed ... I think not. I was an impressionable and curious teenager at that time and these were the late 80s so such public display of affection (PDA) was completely unpardonable & frowned upon. My grandmother & mother were completely shocked by their behaviour & made some comments to that effect. I made a little note in my mind to tell my cousin & friends at school about what I had seen.

After my Class X exams, my mother & I accompanied with some of my friends, their moms and a group of men who belonged to some environmental group went to Madhya Pradesh to the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary (it is now part of Chhatisgarh). This journey was especially interesting & exciting to me & my friends because we were travelling so far from home & in the company of men whom we hardly knew. This journey was spent in playing cards with, befriending these men and giggling among ourselves about nothing in particular.

In the mid-90s, my mother & I decided to go on a trip to Pune where one of my aunt's lived & also visit Mumbai on our way back. By this time I was in college and had developed to be an independent young woman who didn't hesitate to speak her mind. Also, although I wouldn't really call myself a feminist I had & still have a distaste for men who feel that they can dominate women because they are physically stronger. So, there were few men during this journey who thought that since my mother & I were “just two women” travelling by ourselves, they could casually use our berths for having their lunch and leaving the place dirty or climb on our berths with their footwear on & we wouldn't complain because we would be cowered down with their masculinity. Suffice to say, they were completely wrong. During this same journey, we were accompanied by a mother-son duo from South India. My mother & I were shocked to see the son (must be in his early 20s) gulp down a bottle of tamarind water first thing in the morning !!! Wouldn't he get acidity ??? !!! I'm still asking myself & anybody who cares to enlighten me, this question.

In the late 90s, I first travelled alone by train. I was travelling all the way from Kolkata, in the East to almost the Western-most tip of our country, to Jamnagar in Gujarat. This was for my first job and I had to travel by train for a total of 54 hours including a 4 hour waiting time in Ahmedabad. The train would reach Ahmedabad around 4 p.m. and then the coach that would go to Jamnagar would be severed from the rest of the train & kept in the siding area till the Okha Express came at 8 p.m. to take it to Jamnagar. This journey was both excruciating and pleasurable. As most of us know, travelling for 54 hours by Sleeper Class can be very trying. Thankfully it was winter, so heat wasn't one of the things that made me uncomfortable but the condition of the loos after 24 hours had become unthinkable !!!

However, I was really looking forward to my first job and that brought me some happiness. I was happy that in times when most of my compatriots were moving away from their core competencies to join the “software” bandwagon, I had got a job in my area with a comparable salary. I was also looking forward to the experience of working in a completely unknown environment and gaining invaluable experience, both professional and personal. On this journey, I also met this interesting young man, about my age, who kept me company and made the tedious journey quite pleasurable. He had just returned from a body-shopping stint in the US and was on his way to Baroda to meet some of his friends. We became quite friendly during the journey and also kept in touch for a few months after this but it finally fizzled away.

My next train journey happened only after about 9 months when I travelled back to my hometown for the first time since I started working. Since, I was now earning myself I upgraded slightly and started travelling by the air-conditioned coach now. I didn't realize till I boarded the train how tired the regular ordeal of travelling an hour each way to work and then working from 8 a.m. To 5 p.m. had made me. I spent most of this journey, comfortably settled on my top berth, either reading a book or sleeping. I only got myself to an upright position to drink the occasional cups of coffee or to eat. This journey was special for me since I was looking forward to meeting my mother and all other close family & friends after such a long time. Of course I had loads to tell them and was also laden with gifts for all. Fortunately, the train, which was infamous for always running late, arrived on time in Kolkata. Unfortunately though, my mom, bro & sis-in-law,who were supposed to pick me up, arrived late !!!

My room-mate in Jamnagar had her hometown in Nagpur and so we later started to plan our holidays in such a way that we could travel at least half the way together. On these journeys, we would carry cheese slices, bread, biscuits, chips etc. to last us till Nagpur & then when her parents came to pick her up at Nagpur, they would pack for me delicious sevai upma, keema mutter & puris. In one of these journeys, as we were lunching on our ration of cheese & bread, the Gujarati family travelling in the same compartment with us were astonished & kept asking us why we weren't eating. Let me mention here that Gujaratis don't compromise on food even when they are travelling. So they usually travel with their theplas or puris, with some veggie accompaniment, myriads of pickles, some sweets and some farsaan (snacks). Naturally, to them bread & cheese was no lunch at all !!! So they kept offering us food and we were sometimes a little lured too. However, since we were travelling by ourselves, and were warned about miscreants who make friendly overtures & then feed you stuff laced with sedatives to rob you, we resisted. I'm sure they had good intentions but better be safe than sorry was our motto.

Since I got married, train journeys have always been fraught with tension, at least for me, since my DH loves to board the train only at the nick of time thereby giving me numerous ulcers. So, alas, all fond memories of train journeys have now ceased to exist.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The dying art of writing letters ... and other not-so-nice aspects of technology

When I first travelled away from home ... all the way from the Eastern corner of India to the western-most part by train on which I travelled for 50 hours in not the most comfortable of conditions, I had enough fodder to write home about that filled 12 foolscap pages. I'm sure that kids today are not even aware of something called foolscap paper. They only know of paper sizes in terms of A4, A3, letter etc. Today all we receive by mail are bills and other unwanted stuff, which in e-mail parlance can be termed as “Junk mail”.

There was a time when, in our family & in most other Bengali families too, it was customary to write letters to elders after the Durga puja and the Bengali New Year. This is a time when we are actually supposed to meet our elders, touch their feet & take their blessings. As the families became more geographically dispersed, meeting physically became quite impossible and we started writing letters to pay our respects to our elders. Gradually, as telephones became more popular and STD/ISD rates started falling, we started paying our respects over the phone instead of writing letters. It is true that the telephone does score over a letter since here you can carry out a conversation instead of writing a one-sided account of your life and then wait for two weeks or more, depending on the whims of the postal service, to hear the other persons account of his/her life. However, I still do sometimes miss those long letters from friends and family telling about all that is happening in their life. Let alone snail mail, even the e-mails that we receive from friends these days are mostly forwarded messages and rarely a personal letter. Sigh !!!

I wonder, do they teach letter-writing in school these days ?

There was a time when our house would fill up with birthday & Christmas / New Year cards. I still have loads n loads of those cards at home and retain them as precious memories. Today most of what I receive and also send are free e-cards. Thanks to my mother and aunt, I'm still lucky enough to receive a few real cards. Sometimes we don't even send a card, instead we wish friends on their “Wall” or send them a “Scrap”.

The other day I was talking (over the phone) to my uncle & he asked me if I could send him a picture of my son and to make me understand he added “... I mean, on paper”. :) He had to add this because I do post pictures of my son on some social networking sites and upload digital photo albums and send them across but here was a person of the older generation who wasn't really comfortable to browse through pictures on the computer. Today, all our memories are digital. We carry digital cameras where we can take 1000s of photos and can erase them at one go too, if we so desire. So, we no longer take prints. Maybe that's a way in which we save the environment ... not wasting paper & thereby saving trees and also reduce clutter around the house. However, makes me feel like we are losing out on precious memories too. Well...

The advent of numerous popular social networking sites have helped us to get connected with long lost friends and keep in touch with everyone ... whether we want to or not. Like a recent forwarded mail stated that out of the people who contact you on these networking sites about 1% are actual friends, the rest comprising of school / college / work place acquaintances whom you actually hate.

The youth of this generation are totally tech-savvy. They change their cell phones, i-pods, tablets and what-nots faster than they change their clothes. I hear that people also break-up relationships by texting these days !!! That's a total blasphemy !!!

All this and more, sometimes makes me wonder ... is technology making us too impersonal ? Is the human-ness going out of human beings ? Maybe we'll soon be replaced by robots programmed to think. Or, maybe like in style trends, the old-fashioned will once again become fashionable and we'll be back to writing letters, meeting friends face-to-face instead of on facebook and keep memories stored in real albums instead of on digital albums.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Is BLOOD thicker than ... LOVE n CARE ?

I read this article in The Hindu the other day and a pandora's box of emotions seemed to have opened up within me. The reason being that my son was born not out of my flesh n blood but rather from my heart. Yes, I'm an adoptive parent. To me and S, G is our son, our only child. Whenever someone tells us that we've done a noble deed by adopting a baby, we tell them that, in fact, he has done us a favour by coming into our lives. I'm quite sure that these people have no idea about the queue that awaits an adoptive parent at the adoption agencies.

With the coming of G, our lives got a new meaning, a new direction. He has filled our life with love and happiness. Today, there's no bigger joy in our lives than to see him grow, and nurture him in the best way possible. Yes, we scold him when he misbehaves, we try to show him reason when he is unreasonable, we are thrilled to bits when he hugs and kisses us, and are indulgent when he does something naughty in a nice way. Around me, I have friends which biological children and they treat them no differently from how we treat G.

Which springs the question in my mind that what happens when & if G someday wants to find his biological parents ? Or, will he face an identity crisis when he learns & understands that he is adopted ? I think that if he ever wanted to know about his biological parents, I would try to help him out in his quest, although I too have very limited knowledge about it. To the latter question, I wish that the answer is NO, he will not be insecure or face an identity crisis. I hope and pray that G grows up to be a well-rounded person who is secure in the knowledge that his parents, that's us, love and care for him and would stand by him through his highs & lows.

In fact, in our own mythology we have the example of Lord Krishna who was brought up by His adoptive parents because His biological parents were facing an adverse situation which was a threat to their child's well-being. In fact, Yashoda and Nanda, Lork Krishna's adoptive parents, may have been more of an influence on Him than His biological parents, Devaki & Vasudeva.

Now coming to the article quoted above, I feel that maybe Melanie always felt different from her adoptive parents since she looked very different from them or their other children. I feel that she should view her reunion in a positive light and instead of feeling a sense of loss for the time that she has spent away from her birth parents and siblings, she should see this as an opportunity where she can help them in some way, which she can because of the education & other benefits that her adoptive parents have given her. Also, like a friend mentioned, she should be happy that she has two sets of parents both of whom sought to bring happiness into her life.

Here's hoping that all stories in life have a Happy Ending.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Celebrating Women's Day ...


... by indulging ourselves to awesome food, dessert & great company !!!
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