Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Long live the king. Saying goodbye to Henry

Every time over the past decade, whenever someone asked me why I supported Arsenal, I always mumbled about good sportsmanship, Arsene Wenger and beautiful game-play. Eventually if you prodded a bit more, I would admit that yes, I started out as a Thierry Henry fan.

Thierry Henry isn't just a player for most Arsenal fans. Everyone else knows him as the demi-god who scored 228 goals during his time at Arsenal. But he is more than just his stats for us. He was our hope. He gave us our greatest highs and he broke our hearts (and he would later admit his own as well) when he left.

But he never left us. He just played for other clubs. But he always only belonged to us. We weren't just Arsenal. We are Arsenal that Thierry Henry once called his home. We are the Arsenal where Thierry Henry scored his unbelievable volley against Man Utd in 2000 cinching us the victory. We are the Arsenal, when in 2004, he ensured we never lost.

And even after he left the club, he stayed on as our mascot. As our good luck charm. Fans of other clubs could call us "Boring old Arsenal". They joke that our manager equates finishing top 4 in Premier League is same as winning as the trophy. They can poke fun of the fact, our trophy cabinet has been a bit empty in the past decade (it hasn't. We won the FA Cup and it matters!). But they can never ever take Thierry Henry away from us. They can never tell us that he only played for us because he was under contract and there was never really any love. They can never tell us that for him it was just a job the way it was for so many of our other players who left the club and joined our rivals.

Thierry Henry loved us. Loves us. He left his heart behind at Arsenal and kept coming back because he could never close his chapter on us. He came back in 2012 and scored an amazing comeback goal against Leeds and left us all in a puddle of tears. He stood next to his statue at Emirates and choked up as he heard the crowd chanting his name.

Passion. Dedication. Loyalty. Love. People don't equate football with these words anymore. But it exists. It matters. Thierry Henry is living proof of that.

Now we shall wait patiently until he comes back to the club he loves. Because this club is his home. And we will always be waiting for him. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The marathon is about the city...not just the runners

Marathons matter. They aren't just about world records and Kenyan runners running faster than supercars (although let's face it, it's inspiring to watch elites scorch the roads). For the most part, they are expressions of how ordinary people  push towards something that they would have never thought possible. Folk who have battled severe illness, or taken up running to stay healthy or even because they wanted to do something with their lives to somehow matter. Folk like me. We never win the big races but we work hard to do the best that we can. We don't get the glory but we are part of the bigger community that's willing to push itself beyond the possible. We love torturing ourselves for the sake of elusive PBs. Our toenails fall off...our feet blister. We sweat. We bleed. And it's all worth it on race day.

I cried while running the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. Am embarrassed to admit it but I couldn't help myself. I reached the 8k mark and looked at the masses that had gathered to cheer me along. I choked up. I was overwhelmed. And this little kid who could not have been more than 7 years old screamed - keep running didi! And for a few moments, my sweat was mingled with tears. This kid was cheering me along. Little me who kills herself to be just an average runner. Who might never win any big races. To whom glory means an extra slice of pizza. Mumbaikars really wanted us runners to feel special. They made me feel special.They were proud of their city. They were proud of the thousands who showed up to run. They wanted to make sure every one of us had the best experience of our lives. And honestly, most of us did.

Yesterday I ran a race that I had been looking forward to months - the Bengaluru Marathon. It's my race. I started running in this city. It's my home. And it was a great privilege for me to run here. I wanted to be part of the city's history. However one thing I didn't count on was people who were stuck in traffic actually trying to harm the runners.

The traffic police was at every turn trying to ensure the roads were safe and free for marathoners but motorists became hooligans and were yelling at the cops. We could hear them yelling. We could hear them shouting. We heard the abuses. And we also saw them blatantly break the rules, push past the cops and start riding the streets where runners were running. They were honking their horns and pushing us out of our own roads as the cops helplessly tried to do their best. Runners then had to take it upon themselves to ensure their own safety and the safety of others who were running as well.

Am sure there are lessons to be learnt for the organisers, the cops and the runners too. But there are bigger lessons to be learnt for the city itself. We are part of this city. This is our run. This is our pride. We should want runners to go back to their cities and feel jealous of us. We should want every runner to have done their best.  Our goal shouldn't be to run them over but to carry them to the finish line. Ordinary people coming together to become part of something extraordinary.

Of course I want to thank all those who did come out to the streets to cheer us along the way. The kid who was gleefully giving high-fives to hundreds of runners who went past him. The uncle who doubled back during his own race to give me oranges because I looked like I was going to pass out. My friend who wouldn't leave my side as I struggled through illness during the race. The army men who applauded us. The volunteers who ensured the aid stations were perfectly packed. And of course the thousands of runners who joined me to run their bests.

Marathons matter. Not just for the elites who run so fast and hard that they are no more than a blur whizzing past us mere mortals. But for the runners who beat odds to just show up for race day. And they should matter to the city too. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

30 questions for the world

I am going to embark on a new project. A quest or a journey if you will. Anyone who has been remotely following this blog and who knows me in real life knows that I don't have the answers. I don't pretend to have the answers. In fact I probably would not know the answer if it danced naked in front of me wearing Dobby's tea cozy (Harry Potter fans will get that reference).

So, I am going to ask everyone else questions to life's biggest mysteries (why is Kim Kardashian famous?). So, basically, over the next few weeks or months, I plan on hounding the people in my life...the people I barely know and the people I have just met, a set of 30 questions. Consider them rapidfire questions filled with irreverent moments. I shall blog about it right after with their answers. The whole concept behind this conceit is that you can learn a lot about life and purpose to living if you were willing to listen to what someone else has to say (even if it is their take on Kim Kardashian's fame and her wedding to husband number 3). My only goal is to learn from the other human being and hopefully someone else learns from them as well. One day I hope to collate them all and see if there is any structure to living life...if there is a specific goal to it. And really what does 42 really mean? (This time I am going for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The questions will range from something as simple as someone's favourite colour and could get as personal as their favourite memory.

Anyway, I am very excited about this moment in my life and the possibilities I am opening myself to just by being willing to listen.

P.S: If anyone of you is willing to let me pose 30 quick questions, do drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. The farther I reach, the better it is for me. (Really I would love it if someone came forth willingly to give me their take on life).

P.P.S: I might fall flat on my face while attempting to do this...but I hope I don't. I am quite excited at this prospect.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

That child in Gaza...

You can see smoke rising from the world around you. From buildings. From roads. From schools. Your playground. From the bodies of your best friends. Best friends who held your hand two weeks ago. Best friends who sang along with you, who laughed along with you.

Your dolls have been left behind in your house as your parents bundled your whole life into a few blankets and forced you to leave your home behind. You don't understand why your strong father seems to look so small and broken these days. Your mother hasn't stopped crying in 10 days. You haven't seen your sister in a while. She is nowhere to be found. Is she playing hide and seek with you? Every time you ask your mother where you sister is, your mother starts weeping all over again.

Nothing seems to make sense anymore. Who are those funny men in funny hats who walk around with plastic guns? They point and shoot at someone and they die. What do they want? Why do they point at people and kill them? What are these noises? These bangs and explosions that follow you through the night? The noises that make your parents huddle together in fear?

You saw the TV the other day. A pretty woman with golden hair was talking to an old man. You didn't understand what they were saying but you pick up one word - war. You turn to your father.

"What is war papa?"

"This is not war. This is murder. They are driving us out of our homes. They are killing us. They are destroying us and they call it war. This is not war."

"But who started it? Did I? Did I do something wrong?"

"You didn't start any war. Long before any of us even lived, old men decided they would fight over land and dust. They decided that people's lives was worth nothing to them. They decided to make weapons to extinguish humanity. Long before you were even born, these men decided that they would kill you."

Your father starts to cry. You hug him. You don't understand what he's trying to tell you.

He suddenly sits up pushing you accidentally to the floor. He tells you to grab your mother. It's time to go, he says. They're coming.

He scoops you up and runs over to your mother. It's time to go, he says. They're here.

The explosions begin again. You see the funny men in funny hats. They are pointing at people.

It's time to go, your father says. They're here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I won't blame the government...we rape women

A six year old child gets raped by her teacher in Bangalore. It shouldn't surprise me anymore and it doesn't. I am just heartbroken trying to make sense of humanity. In the meantime, social media gets set on fire. Everyone is calling for justice. Everyone wants the culprits imprisoned. Everyone is blaming the government for letting such crimes go rampant in the country.

I don't. I want to blame the cold, inhuman entity called the government. The entity that doesn't have a human face. It's the government's fault that so many girls are attacked and raped. So simple. I wish I could do that. But I know the government is no more than a bad handler of an animal that has already gone rabid. I can't blame the government for what keeps happening because I genuinely think the government can't do much at this point, except have their representatives spout some nonsense about justice and bringing safety and slink away once the controversy dies (of course it does not help that our political parties are filled with men who believe eating chicken and fish leads to rape).

I however blame myself. I blame my society. I blame the world I live in. I remember during my first semester in college in Chennai, these boys from this particularly disgusting college would board the bus I would travel in (a lot of MOP girls travelled in that bus). Every time a girl would enter, they would sing lewd songs. Every time a girl would move, they would sing lewd songs. They would catcall. They would "eve tease". I complained to the bus conductor, who shrugged and told me to get off the bus if it bothered me so much. Of course being the person that I am, I created a ruckus, fought and called the police too. But the general consensus in that bus was that I was the problem. These were "boys being boys" and I was being difficult.

Since a very young age, I realised how important it was to protect myself. In Calcutta, I was told to hold my mom's hand at all times because during Durga Pooja, men were abducting little girls (of course I was very tiny, so my parents had to hold onto me even tighter). I would see beautiful prostitutes lined outside Kalighat temple and men leering at them. In Chennai, it's considered a "fun game" for men riding bikes to shout at poor girls walking down the street. You squeal  in fear and they would get a kick off it. Sometimes they would hit you as they passed you by. You are filled with absolute humiliation at that moment even though it really isn't your fault at all. Oh and in Chennai, if you ever travelled by bus, then at some point a man would have come from behind, pressed himself against you and pinched your waist really hard. In fact, I was left with a mark that lasted me a month. Painful. And yes. Humiliating.

In Bangalore, I have faced a different sort of problem - the kind female runners face. Of course there is the usual level of catcalling and grazing your thigh when you are sitting in the bus (at this point I have stopped travelling by buses. I earn money and I no longer want to subject myself to disgusting men who get the kick out of touching a strange girl's thighs). But as a runner, I face a whole different problem - men think it's an open invitation to harass anyone who is a woman who dared enough to run in public.

A friend of mine and I ran the Nandi Hills recently. On our way up, every 5th man either blew us a kiss as he went by, or made an inappropriate comment or even tried to take our picture (I went and fought with that man because the last thing I want is my picture to land up in a strange website). We learnt to keep to ourselves, avoid eye contact and keep chugging along. But it was frustrating. I was personally relieved when I reached downhill. It didn't matter that I was strong enough to run up and down a hill, I was a woman, thus I had to be objectified. I wish the incident at Nandi Hills was the only one of its kind but it's not. I have learnt to run in groups just to feel safe again. And if I run alone, then I have a tried and tested route (that I have briefed my parents on) and even then I have faced problems.

All this brings me to the question I posed at the beginning of this rant - do I blame the government? During the now infamous Delhi rape media circus, everyone blamed the Congress. I don't know if they will blame BJP now. But I don't. I blame us. The society. Tamil films nearly glorify that idea of stalking a woman till she finally relents. A film called 7G Rainbow Colony is about how one man molests and stalks and makes a girl uncomfortable until she falls in love with him. How is that normal? Why isn't that girl calling the police? Why do these films glorify the stalker?

And then there are the item numbers. Munni Badnam Hui, darling tere liye. The woman in those movies strictly exists to please the eyes of the men who bites their lips as she sways her hips. The woman is now "commodified".

But I refuse to blame just movies and songs and the media, the blame for what's happening should be shouldered by the entire society. Girls growing up are told to keep themselves safe. They can't wear certain clothes because that "might attract attention". You should be careful, you are told. Don't get too close with boys because boys will be boys, you are told. Be modest. Don't wear makeup. Don't wear short skirts. Don't smile too much in public. Keep yourself guarded. Carry a pepper spray. Make sure you know how to use your keys for protection. Carry a rape whistle. Don't go out alone at night. Don't run at night. Just don't leave the house. Build a fortress and die there. At least you will be safe.

But what are we telling our sons? Are we raising them to believe that men and women are equal? Are we telling them to be careful? To not touch or hoot or catcall a girl when she is out? Do we teach them not to treat women as inhuman pieces of meat that need to be devoured? Do we teach them that women are human beings too?

I don't think even the most sympathetic of men can understand what it's like to be inside a woman's body. The fear that comes from looking like a woman. The fear of moving shadows at night while walking alone down the street. The fear of getting raped not just by strangers but by anyone.

Can the government teach a man that women should not be raped? That women aren't a hunt? What can the government do? No. Unfortunately try as hard as I can, I don't blame the government. I blame us.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

To be truly miserable over football...

I remember 2002 very distinctly. I was clutching a purple coloured pillow that I had nicknamed Germany and staring intently at the screen. The final whistle blew and Germany had lost the finals. The remote control I clutched with my other hand flew across the room, hit the nearest window and shattered the glass. To this day I wish I had thrown my pillow in anger. Because what followed was my mother yelling at me and disconnecting our cable connection for two months. But that didn't hurt. Germany had lost in football. Here's the kicker...I have never ever been to Germany but I have rooted for this team to win for over 16 years now.

Football has been part of most of my life now. I watch a lot of sports. I am your typical tomboy (who loves unicorns and pink) and I love competition. Tennis. Cricket (lots and lots of cricket). Chess. And of course...football. But football is not just a sport for me. It's a way of life. And when you are a football fan, you just have to accept some indomitable facts:

1) You WILL be miserable most of the time. It does not matter if you support a consistent team like Barcelona (I will keep digressing to league football, so just go with me on this rambling session) or a team like Arsenal that shows a lot of promise only to never win for many years when it matters (but hey we finally won the FA Cup!). You will be miserable. Not just for the 90 odd minutes when the game is played. But during the week, when you will sit and worry about injuries, transfer drama and future fixtures that could make you miserable. Oh and your Fantasy League team almost never performs and you are miserable about that too.

2) Your personal life will sometimes revolve around the big games. That friend of yours who is getting married? Well, what if it's the same day as the Arsenal-Man City game? You miss the wedding coming up with a bad excuse ("I have so much work dude!"), and you spend the evening watching Arsenal get pummeled by Man City. Which of course means you are miserable again. And you don't get free food to drown out your feelings either.

3) You will actually take pride in this misery. Sure, your team has not won anything in close to a decade. But you have been miserable for the team and suffered through pretty humiliating defeats. That means you are a "real fan". The more you suffer, the more you are accepted as a football fan. Newbies just aren't accepted in our fold. We are a frustrated lot. We don't like fresh fans with too much hope in their eyes. We are jaded and pissed and until you become that yourself, you're not a "real fan".

All this brings me back to the current day. I am a 26 year old exhausted football fan. I have not slept well since the World Cup has begun. I am currently training for my first full marathon and I don't like missing my training. I love to cycle AND I have a full time job. The current world cup is my Holy Grail of suffering. I am simply not having any fun. I am just tired and exhausted and unable to quit. Oh and the games have been so unexpected so far that I don't want to miss any of it. The vicious cycle continues. I just don't want to miss anything. I am eating badly. My whole body aches. I have stress breakouts and I zone out at times. For instance, today I forgot it was a Friday. I panicked en-route to work as I was dressed in casual clothes. When I did get to work, I realised I lost the keys to my work station. I know I had stowed them away in my bag but I don't quite recollect actually doing it. For all intents and purpose, I have lost my keys because of the world cup. And oh...England lost. I stayed up to watch Rooney celebrate his first ever World Cup goal and his team's millionth flop. I am truly miserable. But I can't quit.

Am sure there are a lot of football fans like me out there. Ones that realise that as you grow older, your body starts betraying you. You can't quite pull off all-nighters like you used to and missing sleep on consecutive days will lead to your losing your ATM card (I am so afraid of losing my ATM card that I have given it to my mother for safe keeping until I know I have my wits about myself).

So, what do we do? Do we miss out on moments that have for the better part of our lives defined us, so we could sleep just a little bit? I know what I was doing when Zinedane Zidane headbutted Materazzi (I was eating pizza and I spit most of it out the second it happened). I know what I was doing when Wayne Rooney got sent off after Ronaldo the cheat baited him (I was eating pizza and nearly spit it out in frustration). I know what I was doing when a team mate forced the then Arsenal captain Fabregas into wearing a Barcelona t-shirt after Spain won the world cup in 2010 (I was eating pizza and nearly spit it out in frustration).

But I don't know what I did yesterday. I think I ran. I know I ate a lot and I watched England lose to Uruguay. This world cup has been harsh and wonderful but I don't quite know what my future lies as a football fan. As the years roll by, I find myself oddly disassociating myself from that identity. I feel gutted when Arsenal loses, but I no longer sit and obsess over it for weeks torturing myself. And yeah, it sucks when Robin van Persie scores yet another wonder goal but I am not actively plotting his murder (ok I like to day dream about it every now and then but then who wouldn't want to murder RvP?). My failures and successes have nothing to do with the clubs and team I support. And yes, I am contemplating sleeping through some crucial games in the near future, so I can get some shut eye and be able to function a bit like a human being.

A friend of mine asked me recently why people followed football if it made them so miserable. It's because football stuns you with some amazingly euphoric moments. Also, people are willing to be miserable for football because they love it. I don't quite know any other sport where millions actively root to be miserable. But only true love can make you truly miserable. So, as I mull over whether or not I will continue to be a miserable grouchy football fan (it might be years and decades before I decide), I want to thank this beautiful game for turning me into a miserable grouchy football fan. It's been such a pleasure stressing over things I can't control.. And I want to especially thank Arsenal. I have spent more time being miserable and unhappy thanks this club than I have due to actual problems in my real life. It's obvious. I love you guys.

P.S I really hope Germany wins this year...and I promise not to break any more windows :) 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The secret life of winners

There is a difference champions and winners. Champions weather all odds to make it through to the day, winners on the other hand do everything in their power to win. There is a difference and I never felt it more than when I was reading The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle.

For months now the people around me have nudged me to read this book and I resisted. I had already made up my mind about Lance Armstrong and his "posse of dopers" and I couldn't care less about what one ex doper cyclist had to say in his defense. I have always hated it when those who have been disgraced from their fields sign six figure publication deals to tell their sides of the story. Cheats, I would mutter under my breath, square my shoulders with a sense of superiority and stalk off. There are good books to read, I would tell myself. But this book refused to let me go.

In a rather ironic twist, at a the time when I found myself incapacitated and bedridden due to a rather serious cycling accident, I was lost in a book that deliciously details the sketchy world of professional cycling where the real race happens in shady makeshift hospital rooms with immoral doctors and the stakes have nothing to do with a cycle.

The Secret Race is a no-holds barred look in a world where cyclists like Tyler Hamilton did everything they could to win...to sustain. So, if it meant taking drugs like EPO, testosterone, Cortisone and everything else under the sun, then that's what they did. Hell, even if it meant removing and adding blood to your system, then they would do it. They were all by-products of a corrupt system with each one trying to beat the other in the game before the race had even begun.

The book rarely falters into melodrama. Hamilton pauses in the beginning to talk about his childhood, his roots bur then immediately thrusts you into the world of professional cycling. He talks about pushing himself hard enough to taste blood every time he rode. Because cycling is one of the hardest and most competitive sports on the planet, you have no option but to push beyond your own capacity to even be mediocre.

But what happens when your best is not enough because everyone else is going faster than you are, pushing harder than you are but with far less effort? Cycling is among the sports where not doping is exception to the rule. Cyclists like Scott Merrier who refused drugs simply faded away because everyone around them was riding on supernatural strength and boosters. Men like Hamilton merely saw taking drugs (or Edgar as they affectionately called EPO) as a way to level the playing field. If everyone was amped up on drugs, wouldn't it mean that the person who wins among them all is the true winner?

I have thought long and hard about this argument. And I believe there is a tragic flaw in the logic. Drugs are tricky to say the least. Performance enhancers can have varied effects on the human physiology. So, the reaction my body might have to EPO might be different to what it did for Hamilton. I am not saying these men didn't have raw talent (how could they not, having made it to the top?) but many deserving winners might have been sidelined because EPO or any other drug didn't work for them. But here is the biggest problem I had. They were all liars. Drug users or not, they made money from making fools of the public that flocked to support them. Hamilton never talks at length about lying but when he does, he mumbles that the truth set him free. What he does not realise that both his lies and truth hurt a sport, its fans...everyone.

As I read the book, I was torn between being impressed with the competitive spirit these men displayed, their histrionics (Hamilton breaks his collarbone and kept at it) and being angry at the flippant way they seemed to treat the sport they professed to love. I could never shake a sense of dread prevalent throughout the book. While not explicit, the tone of the entire book is ominous. Mad cyclists, mad scientists, and mad doctors...ingredients to a horrific tale. Hamilton may not apologise but at least he does not defend his actions. He knows all of this is wrong. Period.

Enter Lance Armstrong. Tyler Hamilton has spent the majority of his life under the shadow of his enigmatic teammate and competitor. Unfortunately for him, he gets overshadowed by Armstrong even in his own book. Armstrong is a strange Machiavellian character. He battles cancer. He battles other cyclists. He battles death. His only motive is to win. It's not just to be better but be better than everyone else. His dogged determination is admirable. His 'never say die' attitude is laudable. His need to destroy everything and everyone is his path is despicable. Armstrong is not a hero, he may not be a villain either. He's just flawed. His personality and strength do not let him quit. He can't process losing and he is most definitely a meglomaniac. Even right now, he may be disgraced and dethroned and the world may have turned its back on his. But he still refuses to go away. He still has not apologised...

There is a difference between champions and winners. Winners win but mostly they are scared of failure. They are cowards. A champion does not always win. A champion takes on every challenge and a champion knows that the easy road might be tempting but the honest road is what makes life worth living. Lance Armstrong is a winner. He is not a champion.

Friday, April 25, 2014

These past days...

I woke up on Monday and cycled to work as I always have done. Stick to the rules and you will be fine Aishu, I have always said to myself. Stick to the rules. Keep left, hand on brakes, stop for annoying traffic lights. Stick to the rules. However Monday morning rush meant someone else who wasn't quite sticking to the rules hit me from the back. I lost balance and fell. In many ways my life changed that second.

I stumbled at first. But I knew I was hurt. I also knew that I could not leave my cycle, my love (named Firebolt) behind. I have no recollection as to who helped me but I later found out it was an amazing human being called Manasa. I was tucked into an auto along with my cycle and en route to home. My first call was to my best friend Ramya. I work with her and I knew she was levelheaded enough to come through (and she did!). She contacted my parents, who immediately called me. What's funny is that I don't remember much of this at all. I do remember thinking that it would be a funny story later on and summoned enough energy to take a selfie! I then called my friend and cyclist extraordinaire Aditya. I still am not sure what I mumbled to him but the gist of it was - "Adi what if I am no longer cute?" Poor thing was probably torn between trying not to laugh and trying to help me in anyway. But he calmed me down.

I decided that instead of going home, I would check myself into the hospital. "You will be fine. Bolt will be fine. Now let's hope this is not serious and hopefully your doctor is cute," I told myself. I paid the auto driver extra, got my cycle out and stumbled into the ER of the Malathi Manipal Hospital a bloodied mess. Immediately I was swarmed by doctors.

Again I lose consciousness. Parents come. I am sitting on a bed. Cracking a joke about running to the doctor who finds me amusing. Apparently I joked quite a bit in the ER. I just don't remember it. But hopefully I was funny. The doc at first seems to deliver good news. "No broken hand. But she needs stitches in her mouth. Bring her back at 2 in the afternoon".

My friend Shuveshek leaves everything and comes sees me. I am still not entirely aware. I continue to Whatsapp. He quietly blots blood coming from my face. Now things get interesting. My left hand is really swollen. An xray shows that it is broken. More bad news: I need surgery. The plastic surgeon has to wire three of my teeth on my upper mouth. He then notes that the lower part of my mouth needs to be stitched extensively. At first my stomach sinks. Then I quietly mumble "I am running TCS 10k in a month...is that out of the window now?". Both docs shake their heads. We need you to get back in one piece they tell me. I smile and tell them - "Just make sure I am still cute ok? Cause I am adorable". They burst out laughing.

I get admitted. Evening surgery. Friends and colleagues pour in. My friend Merlin comes and helps me into my robes. My friend Henna has me laughing throughout. Friends call. I assure everyone I will be fine. I get the message that my hometown team Bengaluru FC won the Indian League. I am genuinely happy and excited at that. Ramya is a rock who helps my parents through this storm. It's time for surgery. My sister in America had apparently been crying. I console her. My mum and dad look shaken but seem fine enough. Especially my mum. She is calm. Her strength inspires me every day.

I had been warned that anesthesia makes you say crazy stuff. When I came out of surgery, I told the nurse I found him cute and then I asked for my friends Prachi, Varsha and GP. Then I asked for my parents. Prach and Varsha were there thankfully and seeing their faces helped. I decided through all that mess that I would be positive and hopeful. I fell into a fitful sleep.

The next day morning was the real shock. PAIN. But that didn't bother me. I saw my face in the mirror. I looked distorted. My face resembled me less and I looked more a zombie. "I will NOT cry", I told myself. Stared at my face a little bit more and returned to my hospital bed. Adi came. We spoke about cycling. He annoyed me when he told me there was a "correct way" to fall but lifted my spirits by calling me the prettiest zombie ever (I am :P ) and regaled me with tales about cyclists and their lives. I am told by the doctor that pain is going to be my companion for a while now. He also tells me I am the most cheerful patient he has ever treated (score 1 for Aishu!). My face has to heal. My stitches have to heal. My fracture has to heal and I have to pray that my teeth can be saved. Discharged in the evening. Curiously the doctor tells me that I have escaped something fatal. I remember fragments of my accident. I believe him.

Friends stream to my house. My friends Nagu, Shri Ram and Naveen (all incredible cyclists) come see me. My friend Niki rushes over.  Nagu always lifts my spirits and he didn't disappoint. He always puts a smile on my face. Henna and Geeta come over with a million rose milk bottles and ice cream. It's just what I needed. My niece looks at my face and sees me and not my injuries and gives me a hug through Skype. I love her more every day but that was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. But I was still haunted by my own reflection.

Sidenote: And incredibly enough my favourite player Sunil Chhetri (captain of the Indian football team!!) calls. It hurts for me to smile but I was so incredibly happy when Chhetri called that I forgot all about the pain. Even now the memory of that phonecall boosts me. Bengaluru Football Club is seriously the best club ever! (Thank you Kunaal)

This past week I have broken my hand, my teeth. My face looks like a zombie. I have lost 3 kgs and haven't eaten anything solid whatsoever. I wake up in the middle of the night in pain. But I have also felt incredibly lucky. My friend Tim's mom called me every day to make sure I was fine. My friends have been pillars of support to me and my family. And the kids in my building regularly bring me friendly flowers they scrounge from outside. I have started working from home and intend to resume regular duty from Monday. I cried only once this past week and it was for 30 seconds (yes I timed it like dork) when I got my confirmation mail for TCS 10k. But then decided I would be the best cheerleader at the event :)

All in all, I am fine. I am cheerful. I still take selfies. The pain is reducing by the day and my face is healing. It is amazing to watch as nature slowly but surely heals you. And I am not afraid or worried. I will get back on the cycle when I can. And I plan to start running again when my cast comes off. Yes, I will be starting from square one but I look forward to pushing myself again in the race track.

In the meantime I want to thank everyone in my life. Everyone who has dropped in a kind message. Everyone who has shown concern. I am very blessed to have you all in my life. But as far as my reflection is concerned. I think I was looking at my face wrong all along. I kept seeing the distorted swollen mess. But I didn't see the brave kid who stared right into the camera. The scars will go away. In a few months, the pain will go away too. But I hope that I never forget to be grateful. For my life. For my family. For my friends. And the love that surrounds me.

As for the person who hit me and sped away: I forgive you. I won't waste a second of my life being angry at you or at life. I hope someday you learn to take accountability for your actions but that's your battle and not mine. And I wish you well in life (no...really I do). I have learned so much about myself because of you. And I am grateful.

Eternally hopeful,

P.S My cycle Firebolt is in perfect condition. I swear I would have died if something had happened to it! (Yeah I know the joke's in poor taste but couldn't help myself :P )

Monday, March 24, 2014

Finding my religion

Yesterday something happened to me. I took the bus after work and nestled myself into a corner and pulled out the book I wanted to read. Next thing I knew the conductor came and told me to get off the bus because we had reached the last stop. Essentially I had missed my stop by several kilometres. And it's not the first time that's happened to me. Not the first time when I have lost track of time reading a book...

Books are my best friends...they are who I turn to when my faith is tested. Where I feel the safest..where I am home. I remember when I was just over two years or so old. My mum bought an illustrated and abridged version of Gulliver's Travels. Sure, I didn't have a clue what the words meant or even how to read. But I looked at the pygmies and an illustration of a giant and I was hooked. To this day it remains to be the clearest and earliest memory of my childhood. We didn't have a lot of money growing up and my grandparents lived with us. It was cramped to say the least. And summer vacations didn't mean travel as both my parents worked. But it never mattered to me. My mum would come back from her school (she's a teacher) with at least 20 books to satiate me through the two months. I would finish them in two weeks straight.

When I look back on my childhood, I remember sitting in the balcony with a cup of snacks that my grandmother made and my head buried under the latest Enid Blyton book I was given to read. Faraway Tree...Famous Five...Secret Seven...Naughtiest Girl in School series...these were my gateways to adventure. I would finish reading a book and then rush to tell my grandfather and my friends exactly how amazing it was. I was able to get more than my share of friends hooked onto the same books I loved.

As I grew older, my thirst for books didn't quench. I graduated to reading Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Pickwick Papers and Pride and Prejudice. They were not set in my time but I understood the emotions. I read RK Narayan and imagined what it would be like to live in Malgudi. I devoured Jane Austen's Emma in one reading. Then I turned 11. Harry Potter entered my life. We can often remember that moment when our lives changed forever. It happened when I went to my granduncle's house and found out I had no company. So had to settle with the book they had lying around - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I remember reading the last line of the first chapter and distinctly thinking - I never want to put this book down ever. I didn't like the series much after the fifth book and I am not the fan of the writing at all in the final book but the series grew up along with me. It was my security blanket. I hoped and prayed for Hagrid to come knocking at my door bringing my acceptance letter to Hogwarts. The books mattered to the 13 year old me more than I can describe.

Of course along the way many other books changed my life. I introduced myself to Charles Dickens (my favourite writer of all time). I read Catch 22 and was fascinated by a new kind of writing. I wept through Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and I saw a different face of humanity when I sat down with Dostoevsky. Most recently it was Hilary Mantle's series on the Tudor era that has kept me up at night and taken me to the world of imagination and political intrigue. Of course not to forget writers like JRR Tolkien, George R R Martin, Camus, Kafka, Haruki Murakami, Christopher McDougal who have all come into my life and changed it for the better and countless others.

There are those who think childhood should be about rolling around in the mud and being outside. I don't disagree. I have had my fair share of the outdoors but given a choice, the scrawny little kid in me preferred being alone to my own thoughts, my own imagination and my books. My books introduced me to new ideas, a different way of thinking. They pushed me to question the status quo. When the rest of my classmates where arguing about the latest movies, I sat and wondered if there was a purpose to life if even family members could desert you (Metamorphosis). I learnt not to judge people and their choices (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina) and I learnt that no matter how bleak a situation might be, you have to stand up for what you believe in (To Kill a Mockingbird).

I venture out to the world and compare my own experiences to what I read in my books. I see betrayal, comedy, moments of love, chances for redemption and people being brave every day of my life. I also love the fact I can quietly run into the arms of my latest book and stuff more fluff into my mind and fill it with even more different ideas. But I don't want my life to be like the books. A book no matter how epic and realistic (100 years of Solitude), still comes with a clear beginning, middle and an end. Life on the other hand is longer and probably even devoid of purpose. But that's perfectly fine with me. I can write it any way I want. I like the uncertainity of the future. I like that I may be the hero in someone's life but the villain in some other person's existence. My life is messy unlike my books. And I like it that way. I am wholly aware that most of the time, I have no control in how it pans out (even on a daily basis) and anything can change its course. I like the excitement that brings. I like the curve-balls it throws. I love my friends and family and I also love how those relationships can change in a dime.

But most importantly I love that on any given day, I can walk into a bookstore and just stare at all the books I have yet to read. All the worlds I could get lost in. All the adventure that lies in front of me. They are always there. My friends.

- A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies (George R R Martin).

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is a feminist really?

A Facebook acquaintance posted this highly offensive advertisement on his wall today and called on his male comrades to respond on its brilliance. I saw it. Got quickly offended and immediately protested to the woman in the advertisement being turned into a commodity for a man's pleasure. Of course that meant that the man and all his friends ganged up on me for my perceived lack of humour. One of them called out of the society's ever increasingly intolerance for all things politically incorrect and how it is killing the world. And of course my favourite insult of them all - you are such a feminist.

That had me thinking. What is feminist? Feminist as a being has been long defined differently for decades now. The feminist is a thing that burns its bras...attends rallies. Screams when a man cups her publicly. Goes to the police and starts demanding equal rights, equal pay and does not shave its legs or arms. The hairy feminist is also a party pooper ready to literally poop on everyone's fun by offended about everything. The feminist is also a negative and angry being. So this young chap when he described me as a feminist, it wasn't a positive pat on the back but rather a derogatory kick in the face. Why can't you be chill woman and let the men have some fun?, he seemed to ask.

To be honest, I do not know what a feminist is. I don't know if I am one. I like things that are pretty and shiny. I like pink and purple and yellow. I am a regular at the parlour and I have never burnt a bra in my entire life (I like them and I support their existence wholeheartedly :P ). I am independent. I work. I earn. I pay for the things I like myself. I am not afraid of doing lunches or movies by myself. But I also am sensitive and vulnerable and not at all like the hardened female feminist figures that have been portrayed by the media over the years.

But I don't think this is an issue about being a feminist. I think it is a matter of being a woman at all. It is a tricky tricky thing to be. You like sports and video games, you get branded one of the boys. If you wear your hair short and walk around in jeans and t-shirts, you become a tom-boy. If you are conscious about what you eat, you become a stick in the mud. If you wear makeup, then you become barbie doll. When do you get to be yourself? 

I am at loss for words. But for now I have "unfriended" this person from my life. I don't want such men polluting my life. I don't want this person to tell me that the "only offensive thing about this advertisement is that Aston Martin is far superior to a hundred women" (I hope his mother or his wife never reads this comment  because man is this an insult to them!).

For my part, I want to figure out for myself what being a feminist means to me. I get angry when a woman is compared to a car, a perfume, a bag...like she is something that is for sale. I don't like it when someone tells me to "be a man." They should try being a woman for few minutes to know what it takes to be us. But for the most part I just want to hug all the women in my life. Every day we show up to take on life, we are already ahead of the race. Happy women's day.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I am allowed to hate my home and love it too...

There have been two periods of my life when I couldn't wait to get out of India. Once when I was in 11th standard. For about six months I had decided I wanted to live in New York like those beautiful people on Friends. I would be like Rachel and Monica living in a nice NYC apartment talking about my first world problems. India was no good and I was meant for bigger things. I was meant for America. The first chance I got, I would leave and never come back.

Of course immediately after my 17th birthday, the American economy collapsed and the subprime mortgage bubble broke and I quietly congratulated myself for being in one of the fastest growing economies in the world - India. Who needs America when you have festivals, colour, beauty, a million languages and so much to do right here? I would make my home in India, I decided.

The second time I truly considered moving to America was when I visited my sister in California last year. It was a month of bliss. The weather was beautiful. I drank water out of the tap and was not worried. There were cycle tracks everywhere I turned. Beautiful trekking trails. Mountains and valleys. Hardly any traffic at all. And I could wear shorts and go for runs and no one would bat an eyelid. I think that's what appealed me to the most. I felt safe in whatever clothes I wore. In India I think twice about wearing something before going out, I enjoyed real freedom staying with my sister. I wore anything at all and was not remotely worried. She lives in one of the safest neighborhoods I have ever been in and I felt truly safe for the first time in my life. So, when I came back home I thought about it hard and long. America meant I would be closer to my sister and niece. And it also meant less pollution, better beaches, cleaner trails and I could run without worrying about some random man attacking me. But India is my home.

I have spent the last 10 years of my life using public transport in this country. Think Mumbai, Calcutta, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and even Hyderabad. I like public transport. You don't have to worry about weaving in and out of traffic and you can put on some music, take out a book and you can enjoy some "me time", till the chaos of the day takes over. But it hasn't always been like that for me. I was 17 when I had to first handle my first frisky "uncle". In Chennai they are famous. They come stand right behind you. And slowly they will put their hands on your hips. Some women squirm. Some women move away. Some women fight and some even ignore. I didn't quite know what to do when it first happened to me. I turned around startled. The man smirked almost daring me to scream at him. I came home in angry tears.

Of course I learnt to protect myself. I would loudly tell them to remove their hands. I would physically grab their hands while crushing their fingers and push them back. I would also sometimes (if I had the energy), fight. All this time it should also be noted (so the moral policing aunties and uncles won't claim that I was asking for this with my attire), I wore salwar kameezes as they were the dress code of my college. In a week I turn 26. I have had men flash at me. I have had men whistle at me. I had have men scream obscene words at me. And every time I have tried to fight back, I have often found myself surrounded by apathy. "You are a girl. This is India. It is for your own safety to be quiet and ignore." These are words I am very very used to hearing from people.

So why do I blame India? The truth is women are badly treated across the world. It's not an Indian issue. It's just that in India, I see it happening more in open. It's more accepted. I read everyday about young girls, women, aunties getting attacked, raped and worse. And every second you can trust me some girl is being harassed. But we tell ourselves that it's not the nation...it's the singular man in question. Does this mean India as a nation is not to blame at all? I don't buy into that theory. While the whole world is often described as a "man's world", in India, it is hard to be a woman at all.

After all this is nation where Sati was once glorified. Where widow re-marriage is still an anomaly. This is the nation where the boy-girl ratio ( 917 girls to 1000 boys) is so skewered because parents simply do not want a girl child. Where young girls are held back at home and not allowed to attend schools. Where dowry still exists. Where there aren't even enough bathrooms for girls in government schools. Even girls who are highly educated are expected to get married at 25, have kids by 27 and cook perfect meals while also having the perfect jobs. The Indian society has lived for centuries and decades under the impression that having a girl child is a burden. When a girl is raped, women snigger and say that she ought to have dressed appropriately. This is a nation where marital rape is not recognised by law. So if a woman was to be raped by her husband, he can get away with rape and she will never see justice meted out. She will never get justice. So, we can't blindly put the blame on the men who think it is their right to mistreat women, centuries of reinforcement in the nation has led them to believe that they can in fact get away with murder.

But why am I still here? I know a lot of you who love love love this nation, don't like to see it criticised. Would you even believe me when I say that I love this nation too? After all I have described it as being the perfect hell for women. The truth is I love my country. I want to see it prosper. I want it to be corruption free and safe for men and women alike. I want children to get the best possible education regardless of their economic strata and I want the caste system gone for good. But in order for this happen, I have to acknowledge that there is a problem. I can't get angry at the foreign tourists who come here and then talk about how their safety was violated. Their safety is often violated and I cringe every time I read those stories. I feel embarrassed for my nation. And I want it to get better.

After all this is my country. My home. I love the colours. I love the festivals. I love its broken roads. I love the overcrowded trains. I love its smells. I love its mountains. I love its people too. I love bhajjis you get outside Besant Nagar beach. I love how sometimes when you least expect it, a man will let you take his seat on the bus just because he noticed that you were tired. I love its bad movies. I hate its item songs. I love running in Cubbon Park early in the morning. I love travelling and discovering parts of this country that are brimming with history and tradition. I want to be part of its redemption. I want to pay the taxes here and be part of the solution. I want to be there when the roads get fixed. I want to be there when a politician surprises us by doing his/her job for a change. I want to be there when every child in the country has access to education. And I want to be there when women are not blamed for everything in the world. Where mothers-in-law don't kill their daughters-in-law for not paying enough dowry. Where infanticide does not occur. And that can happen only when good conscientious Indians stay back and try to create a new nation where women don't feel like they enter a battlefield every time they leave their homes. I will criticise this country. Because I love it. And I know that by sweeping the problems under the rug will not solve them. The dirt just accumulates. I love India and hate it sometimes. But I am not going anywhere. This my country and my home and it's not safe for me yet but one day it will be. I won't stop fighting. Because India is my home. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

That damn phone - a note on Valentine's Day

So I bought this ugly boxy Nokia phone set four years ago. It was a cheap set even back then and it started malfunctioning about the time I bought it. But I bought it with my shitty salary from my first job and I learnt to live with it. Then a funny thing happened - I got attached to my piece of shit phone.

The phone stopped working properly (and almost entirely) about a year ago. It had already lived past its prime. As my friends and family went onto to buying newer phones and started using words like 'Whatsapp' and 'BBM pin number', I used SMS and called people to talk. 3G? Well, I still have no idea what it's like to have even decent internet connection on mine (technically it supports internet but my phone has its own personality and it refuses to connect me to the World Wide Web). The screen no longer works and it shuts down at random hours. And just when I think it has died for good, it perks up again and reboots itself. Some might even suggest that my phone is haunted.

So why don't I simply replace it? Well, I fell in love. To the little piece of shit. I like the way it fits inside my bag. When I put my hand inside the side pocket of my backpack, I know it's there. I like how it feels when I hold it. And even though the keyboard no longer displays digits (they have all eroded), I have muscle memory when it comes to typing things out. I have used this phone to spend hours talking to my friends, crushes, family and Tata Docomo helpline guys (Docomo sucks but I refuse to change it as well because I can't let go). I have lost this phone in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. Weirdly enough it has always come back to me. My friends claim that it's so ugly and useless that no one in their right mind will steal it. They are probably right.

So when I know it's just a possession, why I can't I let go? Perhaps this is an observation on my own personality. I get attached. Simple. I won't let go of the book I bought several years ago that's tattered and utterly unreadable. I won't get rid of worn out shirt unless my mom throws it in the dustbin. I have never been able to let go of my football club (and boy have I tried). I hold onto to things I love and sometimes things I hate (or both at the same time) and it takes a miracle for me let go of something. I have a toy ghoul that I have lovingly christened my boyfriend. I have had it for eight years now. My mum has tried to get rid of the hideous looking thing for years now and she has been unsuccessful every time. He's my broken ghoul and I love him.

But perhaps there is something else happening here. After all, I have been able to let go of relationships (although takes me longer than other people), and things I have owned in the past. I am attached to things that are broken. Things that no one else will love. Things that are different. Things that don't make any sense at all. Perhaps I identify with those disjointed pieces.

Or maybe I am digging way too deeply into my own psyche over a piece of shit phone. Maybe I am just cheap, who is trying to find greater meaning to nothing at all. Either which way, I have sadly sadly come to the conclusion that it is time to let go of my baby. It breaks my heart genuinely. I am going to miss my POS (piece of shit as I call my phone lovingly). And I am going to replace it with a shiny new toy. Something that's not broken. Something that will make communicating with my friends and family much easier and actually doable. But it won't be the same. It won't have the same quirks as my POS. It will just be like every other perfectly serviceable phone you find in the market. But I refuse to throw away my old phone. It has stood as a testament to my life and it shall stay with me by my side even if I am not using it. When you love someone, you will know when it is time to let go of them. And I know it's time for me to let go of my phone. It has served me bravely and honorably. It has huffed and puffed and worked even when it went against basic logic and science. And I love it to bits but it knows and I know that it can no longer keep chugging along (the audio is out). And hopefully some time this month, I will find the conviction in my heart to go out to the world (and inside a Chroma) and bring home a new member of my family. A new item that shall populate my small world. And hopefully I shall learn to love it too. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Rahul Gandhi drinking game

Do you remember that feeling when you would go to an important exam completely prepared and you end up getting most of the questions from the one chapter you didn't touch because you thought it was unimportant? Rahul Gandhi's exclusive interview with Arnab Goswami was just that...only times million and it happened for all the world to see. The sweaty, mumbling, pretty boy of politics, when put under the scanner, did not disappoint - he came across as absolutely clueless. And for the casual observer of Indian politics, it was pure comedic gold. As I watched the interview unfold itself, I was hit with the greatest idea I have had since deciding to watch Dhoom 3 for the second time - the Rahul Gandhi drinking game. Indulge me a bit as I set across the rules for the game. All you need is a shot glass, a wine glass, alcohol and some water.

Drink up my friends!

Every time Rahul Gandhi was asked an actual question do with the country, he blinked a whole lot and said "actually" a whole lot. Every time you hear this word, kindly take one sip of red or white wine of your choice. Sipping is enough because by the time he shall finish that sentence, you would have finished the glass.

Women empowerment
Oh boy. Sigh. The fate of the Indian nari (a clan I belong to) apparently now rests in the hands of the village idiot. And he seems to have taken his role as the crusader for "women empowerment" very seriously. So if you are a man, take a shot every time he says this phrase, if you are woman, take two shots (you really need it honey, we are doomed).

Yup. Ask Rahul about the economy, he will talk about RTI. Ask Rahul about the caste system in India, he will talk about RTI. Ask Rahul about his favourite sandwich, he will talk about RTI. The kid is clearly in love with RTI (maybe it's the easiest word to remember perhaps?). So, every time, he runs off on a tangent about RTI, help yourself to a swig of Long Island Iced Tea, if you have access to it.

Every time Arnab Goswami smiles
Arnab Goswami knew he hit gold, when Rahul Gandhi started sweating beads of sweat, while hemming and hawing his way through the interview. Goswami had a slight smirk, that widened every time, Gandhi nodded his head and blinked his eyes. The smile of a predator who knows he does not even have to make an effort as his prey was currently not only killing himself but also cooking and marinating himself in a frying pan. Just pour some red wine into your system and toast to Arnab Goswami, the king of smirks.

My family
Oooh boy. Even when he claimed, he didn't "choose" his family, Rahul spoke about his family a whole lot...didn't he? My mother, my father, my sister, my family. I don't know about the rest of the world but I am darn sure, baby Gandhi went back home after the interview to complain about the mean bully and cry into his mommy's arms. One shot of drink of your choice.

Politician/my degree is not fake
Ok, by now I am sure you have gotten really tipsy and are probably just about to pass out. Gandhi visibly gulped when he was asked about his degree from Cambridge. It was awful to watch but also incredibly funny. And he stuttered and stammered his way while tring to convince himself that he was in fact a politician. A glass of white wine as you roll your eyes to Rahul Gandhi stammering about how he's a strange politician who is not after power and does not fit in with the others.

The youth
It's our final catch phrase of the day. "The youth of India" is obviously a cause Rahul Gandhi is committed to. He has done (in his words) tons to empower the youth. So if you consider yourself to be part of the "youth of India" and feel like Gandhi has helped you out in any way, drink a glass of water. It should help settle your stomach after all that drinking...Nobody wants to drink that glass water? Hmm...strange...

So that's it. This was my drinking game for everyone's pleasure. As a teetotaler myself, I apologise beforehand if I have gotten any drinking terminologies wrong. And just in case make sure you have an ambulance number on your speed dial. This game could be potentially dangerous. Long live Indian politics! I shall drink to that indeed. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A birthday note to the love of my life

I met her three years ago but if I was being honest with the world, I felt next to nothing. She looked like a potato all scrunched up. Everyone else in my life was enamored but when I first met my niece I was an unimpressed dolt. I wasn't sure how my life would change. I was only a bit angry that now my sister will have even less time to spend with me. Thea being born, was to me, a rather unceremonious event. Something that would hardly affect me.

Our love was at first as one sided as they come. I liked her well enough to wave at her through skype. I was angry when I was pulled off my bed to chat up with a baby who could not understand what I was saying. I did not understand what the fuss was about. But she on the other hand seemed to be in love with me. She lit up when I was around. She called to me various names...sometimes I was Aish, sometimes I was Aaesh...but she would demand even as a baby to see me. Even through my initial indifference, it was obvious the tiny thing had found something in me, she really loved. When my sister first came from California to visit us, I was panicked. What if I could not make any connection whatsoever with my own niece?

I realise now, I shouldn't have worried. Thea already had better plans for our relationship than I did. I just wanted to be able to hold her without dropping her. But when we first physically met in the airport, even though she wasn't even a year old, she pulled me into a hug. Suddenly everything changed. I went from being a nonchalant observer who was trying to get some time to hang out with her sister, to a lovestruck teenager. A tiny ball of human being pulled me into a hug and I knew my life had completely changed.

It's a strange and loving relationship I share with Thea. Our faces brighten up every time we see each other. We are very similar. She is also incredibly hyper active. She befriends everyone in her life. She jumps. She laughs. She runs around so much, even I can't catch her. She won't let me pay attention to anything else in life. And she now calls me Aishu. When I look sad, she hugs me through skype. When I wear a new dress, her eyes widen and she says - "Aishu's so pretty" in a slight Americanised accent. When I pretend to hide, her face darkens as she panics that I have left.

On January 27, she turns three years old. Only three. She has only started with life. But she's my best friend (sorry to all those who think they are my best friends...my best friend is a three year old who is in potty training, deal with it). And as I think about what life has in store for her, I realise I don't want her path to just be roses. I want her to experience everything - happiness, sadness, tragedy, laughter, friendship, love and yes, heartbreak. I want her to be kind to others. To have empathy for those different from her. I want her to smile at everyone when she grows up, as she smiles at me today.

I also want her to see some bad times in life. She needs to know that life is a gift but not one without challenges. That it's not worth it to always be winning in life. That sometimes she will really not see the light at the end of the tunnel. But that's okay. Every time she finds happiness, she will appreciate it that much more. She will be more generous because of the things she may have lost in life. And when the going gets a bit too tough, that will be alright too because I shall be there along with those who love her, to give her a massive hug and tell her things will work themselves out. So happy birthday Thea. Even though you cannot read right now (at least you are pooping properly!), I hope someday you stumble across this blog. And figure out for yourself how a three year old (that's you) changed the life of an apathetic 25 year old (that would be me) who swore she hated kids. I love you baby and I need to give smush you with a bear hug right now. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You look pretty, uh...no I don't

When I was a kid, I was just plain fun. Ran around like a mess. Fought with everyone and everything. Practically drank in books after books. I was a confident kid and I knew I was a smart kid. The only thing I was never ok with? Being called pretty. Not that many did. But it made me uncomfortable even when my grandparents, my parents, my sister or close friends told me I looked nice. I just could not believe them. It's not what I saw when I saw myself. I saw me. I saw the scabs I got from falling to the ground after a boy pushed me. I saw the boycut which I hated. I saw the small scrawny kid who didn't quite (or at all) look like the girls she saw on TV.

Now why am I talking about me as a kid? Because I don't think I really got over it. The most uncomfortable I feel even today is when someone compliments me on how I look. I get awkward. I don't know what to say. In most aspects of my life, I am confident as hell. I think I am a rockstar. But call me pretty and I am cowering behind everyone else praying that no one notices how embarrassed I am. And I want to change that this year. No...I am not saying I want to turn into a vain person who is constantly talking about how beautiful she is (although I know for certain it might take an actual miracle for something like that to happen to me). But I want to be able to get comfortable in my own skin. If someone says something nice, I won't brush it off as though I have been insulted. I will be gracious and grateful. I will accept it.

I saw this incredible video where Amy Poehler has spoken about body image issues girls have (Amy Poehler talks body issues). It took me back to my own childhood when I wondered why on earth I didn't look anything like Britney Spears. I think it's important for women to accept who they are. And accept how they look. What kind of a role model will I be for my niece (who also happens to be my goddaughter), if I can't smile when someone calls me beautiful? Will I subconsciously teach her to be uncomfortable in her own skin? So I have thought long and hard about this. And that is going to be my resolution for this year. It's to be kinder to myself. I am a smart, funny, fun and ridiculously hyper individual. I am also a nice person. And I love the way I look.

ME :D :D 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Going back in time with your parents, Sholay style

For as long as I can remember, Sholay has been part of my life. Dad loves old movies and we would watch them together. Mum would roll her eyes when we would sit and watch Sholay for the "millionth time" and would shake her head and leave. When my grandparents were alive, my grandmother would sit in the corner and watch the movies along with us while pretending to pray and my grandfather would serenely sit on top of the divan and smile as I would react to every scene, every song. So, when I found out the movie was being screened in the big screen again I knew I had to drag my parents. Mum said no and then dad was worried about watching 3D with his glasses but then he changed his mind after watching all the promos and I booked tickets.

So, today, on a weekday evening, a boring Monday no else, the three of us walked down the street to the theatre to catch Sholay. I see my dad transform in front of my eyes. He goes from being just my dad to an excited young man. He is literally running because he is afraid of missing the first shot. He doesn't let my mom wear her shoes and even yells at me for messaging on the phone when I should have been hurrying after him. We enter the movie hall. There are about 15 other people along with us. Some of them young college kids and some my parents' age, eager to re-visit their past.

The movie begins. Mom and dad are completely engrossed. Dad leans over and whispers something to my mother. She giggles and whispers something back. He laughs hard when the jokes land and my mom shields her eyes when something bad happens. The two of them are lost. I feel like I am intruding into their space but they are lost in their own world. Amitabh Bachchan walks in, mom smiles despite herself. Hema Malini starts chatting too much and dad starts laughing harder. Both still remember the dialogues. Dad at one point yells the dialogue out loud unable to contain himself. The young college kids laugh and yell - "Uncle you're awesome". Dad laughs back in gratitude. I try to say something and mom shushes me. This scene is good, she sternly puts me down.

A pivotal flashback scene in the movie finds an entire family in peril in the hands of the famed dacoit, Gabbar Singh. Mom flinches and leans towards my dad. The scene plays out. They stare at the screen horrified, the way they probably were when they first saw the film. Dad looks at me and says - "When we first saw it, we just couldn't believe it. Nothing like this ever happened in Hindi films back then." Intermission time. Mum turns to me. She tells me how terrified she was when she first saw the movie. "It all felt so real. I felt so sad." Dad walks back with a glass of coffee. He seems to have forgotten to get me some water. Mom and dad share the same cup of coffee and whisper some more. I feel like I am by now forgotten.

Intermission ends. Enters the original item girl, Helen. Dad whispers something about Helen being hot to my mother. My mum in true mom style rolls her eyes and snorts. I laugh at the both of them, wondering how I hardly ever see this side of my parents anymore. They are oblivious to the rest of the world. The famous climax arrives. Mom sits there shivering. Dad is hugging himself, bracing for the one-two punch that the death of a major character brings. I am crying (I always cry at the end). Mum starts sniffing. Dad is just stoic and staring into the screen. I wonder how he felt when he saw it the first time. He after all practically hero-worshiped Amitabh Bachchan back in the day, long before I was even born. He doesn't speak a word.

The credits roll. We step out. I feel like I have never experienced a movie like this before. I ask one of the college kids to take a picture of me and my parents together. The kids look at my dad and ask him if he watched the movie in theatre when it released. "Yes," my father beams at them proudly. "It was nearly 40 years ago. I watched it in Bombay. I was a young man back then," he smiles nostalgically. Mom who is back in the real world, now drags him to the elevator before he launches on the story of how he watched Sholay for the first time. The three of us smile at each other. Dad thanks me for taking them. I say nothing. For some reason I am feeling emotional. I suddenly remember a conversation I had with someone my own age over the weekend. She said she judged my taste for wanting to watch the movie at all. She said her friends told her the movie was too boring and unrealistic. My parents' voices brings me back to the present time. Mum is telling my dad how authentic the movie felt. "Today everything is done on the computers. There are no real emotions. You just don't care when something happens on screen. Back then it was all so realistic. We felt every emotion. We were scared for the characters. They just don't make movies like that anymore." Dad nods his head vigorously in agreement. "They don't make movies like this anymore."