Thursday, February 23, 2017

Of People and Papayas

http://healthremediesinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/woman-holding-two-papaya-halves-smiling.jpg


Of the few mercies granted by life, one is ensuring supply of things. Things, not people. One would rather opt-in to be supplied with desired people, but life doesn’t grant anything that’s people dependent. Except oneself. If you get what I mean.
Thrifty hearts, however, find solace in ascertaining anything little they can. Even if it’s something as plain as papayas.


And so it’s heartening to note that it’s within my reach to plan my fruit supplies every week. Being working and managing home all by oneself has its challenges. One has time to stock up the fridge only once a week. While other fruits don’t play very hard to get and survive, papayas are particularly snobbish. I mean an apple will taste the same on Monday and Friday, so will pomegranate. But papayas and bananas belong to the category that have to be picked carefully, their ripening stage staggered day-by-day, to make sure that you get the correct taste for your breakfast table each day.
After a year of buying my own supplies of my breakfast papaya, I understood one thing it wanted to teach. That a papaya will never be on a Friday what it is not on a Sunday.


When fresh stock arrives on a Sunday, the ripe ones that you will use within week’s first three days are easy to choose. You look for babies which are a pastel orange and firm to hold. Neither too soft, nor too hard. In a sweet-spot between the two. The choice is usually correct. As in, you have to be partially blind and touch-insensitive to get that part wrong (if you are a true lover of papayas).


It is the week’s later part papaya that would be hard to select. Rows upon rows of unripe papaya would lie there, staring blankly at you, while your head buzzed with the problem of plenty. Those cross-roads were very confusing for me, till I learnt the lesson. There would be greens with the pallor of yellow, there would be yellows with the promise of orange. Then there would be those whose one half were olive green and the other half bright orange as though only one side saw the sun. Which of these would you select in the hope that it would provide the desired taste after being wrapped in layers of paper for three days?
After a year of experimenting on this subject, I have found the answer validated and established through experience, which my gut had told me in the first instance. That a papaya will never be on a Friday what it is not on a Sunday.


No matter how unripe, how green and hard, if the fruit has a promising hint of orange, it will emerge right. It will tickle your palette with delight a few days later. It will sate your senses. Why? Because it had it inside from the first day itself. Whereas if you were to pick up a green or a yellow in the hope that it would ripen to sweetness, you will get in the end what you saw in the beginning. It may be perfect to touch and visibly ruddy, it may even be nutritious and juicy, but it will be shorn of that essential sweetness. Shorn of the exactitude that your heart yearns for.  


Now you see the uncanny resemblance between papayas and people? If they are not from the very birth what you desire of them, if that streak never existed in them…it will not come. No matter how hard you try. No matter how hard they try. These people, these papayas…they may look perfect from outside. Perfectly ripe, perfectly healthy, perfectly coloured.


That they are tasteless, you alone will know.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

माँ के लिए फेसबुक गाइड


माँ मेरी,

बचपन से आज तक तुम हमको पढ़ाती-सिखाती आयी. यह तो तुम ही बता सकती हो कि तुम्हारे पाठ-प्रवचन का हमपर कितना असर पड़ा. हम तो बस इतना जानते हैं कि हम मिटटी रहे और तुम मेरी कुम्हारी, जो इतने प्यार से हमको ढाली कि हम तुम बन गए.

खैर, गए हफ्ते जब तुम्हारा फेसबुक पर आगमन हुआ, तो हमको चुहल हुई तुमको पढ़ाने की (यहाँ मेरा 'अनुभव' - तुम्हारा favourite शब्द - तुमसे ज़्यादा है). ज्ञान उड़ेलने की दुनिया में तुम स्वेच्छा से चली हो, तो शुरुआत चलो हम ही करते हैं. 


सबसे ज़रूरी बात सबसे पहले. फेसबुक दुनिया का आधुनिक मेला है. बटन दबाते ही जीवंत हो जाने वाली इस दुनिया में साधारण रूप से सम्भले हुए लोग भी रोज़ाना 40-50 मिनट बिताते हैं. इसलिए चौकस रहना . समय की बर्बादी में अगर कोई और मनोरंजन इससे आगे है तो वो है सास-बहू सीरियल.  जब तुम सीरियल के मोह में कभी नहीं फसी (thank god for that), तो मुझे उम्मीद है ये भी तुम्हरा कुछ बिगाड़ पायेगी. वैसे सीरियल और फेसबुक - दोनों की मूल सामग्री एक सी है - दिखावा, ईर्ष्या, सुनहरे सपने, दार्शनिक ज्ञान, बनावटी सुंदरता, इत्यादि.

यहां गज़ब तमाशे देखने को मिलते हैं.  अजीब विकृत सा मनोरंजन है. प्यार का इज़हार आमने -सामने हो हो, यहाँ इसकी होड़ लगी रहती है. मज़ा तब आता है जब प्रतिभागी, जिनमें कई मियाँ-बीवी, ससुर-दामाद, सास-बहू, ऑफिस सहकर्मी शामिल हैं, एक दूसरे के लिए प्यार की गंगा-यमुना बहाते हैं.  बाहों में बाहें डाले ये लोग यथार्थ में एक दूसरे के खून के प्यासे हों, और ये तथ्य पूरी दुनिया को विदित भी हो, तो भी फेसबुक पर यह प्रचार नहीं रुकता. पता नहीं इनमें से क्या अधिक हास्यास्पद है - फरेब की खूबसूरती या इंसान की कुरूपता.

हमारे बड़े पुराने कह गए, “Be slow in choosing friends and slower in changing.” ज़ाहिर है, फेसबुक इस विचारधारा के बिलकुल विपरीत है. यहां व्यक्ति से मिलना तो दूर, फ़ोन पर ही बात करके दोस्त की सूची में उपस्थिति दर्ज हो जाती है. कई ऐसे लोग भी देखने को मिले जो सिर्फ दोस्त बनाने के लिए फेसबुक पर बैठे हैं. आये दिन उनसे दोस्ती की सिफारिश आती है. इन लोगों के दिल में सूनापन है या  अईयाश, यह तो मुझे ज्ञात नहीं, पर इनसे दूर रहना निस्संदेह अपनी सुख शान्ति के लिए अच्छा है. यहां दोस्तों की तादाद जिस अनुपात से बढ़ेगी, समझ लेना दोस्ती की गहराई उसी दर से घटेगी.

फेसबुक के दोस्त तुम्हें सुबह से रात तक यह बताने को उत्सुक रहेंगे कि वे कहाँ कहाँ गए, क्या क्या खाया, क्या क्या खरीदा, क्या कुछ सोचा, किससे किससे कौन कौन सी बात की वगैरह वगैरह। यहां तक कि वे कैसा महसूस कर रहे हैं, उस ख़ास अभिव्यक्ति की सुहूलियत के लिए स्वयं फेसबुक ने कई चहरे ईजाद किये हैं. वो किस भाव से गुज़र रहे हैं ये बताने के लिए बाक़ायदा drop-down लिस्ट है! कहो भला, जिन अनर्गल बातों से मन में निपट लेने को ही सूझ समझा जाता था, आज उनकी नुमाइश को इतना तवज्जो मिलेगा, कभी तुमने सोचा था? मैं तो कहती हूँ, मार्क ज़ुकरबर्ग को सर्वश्रेष्ठ मनोवैज्ञानिक का खिताब सौंप देना चाहिए. बदलते मानवीय परिवेश में इंसान की बुद्धि का इतना सटीक पूर्वानुमान लगाना, और उसपर अरबों का व्यवसाय खड़ा कर देना, सिद्ध ज्योतिषी है आदमी.

वैसे फेसबुक के कई फायदे भी हैं. भूले बिसरे दोस्तों से तार जुड़ जाते हैं. प्यारे लोगों की तसवीरें सहज रूप से दिख जाती हैं. खुशियों को बांटना और शुभ समाचार से अवगत रहना सरल हो गया है. दोस्तों रिश्तेदारों के जन्मदिन आप ज़रूर भूल जाएँ, पर यह यंत्र आपको सब याद दिलाता चलता है. किसी का ध्यान किसी बात पर ख़ास आकर्षित करने के लिए तुम उनको 'tag' कर सकती हो (फेसबुक चहरे भी पहचानता है). कुछ नासमझ लोग तुमको बिना बात tag करेंगे. तुम उनको बिना बताये खुद को untag कर देना. Candy crush खेलने जैसे बेकार प्रस्तावों को अनदेखा करते चलना.

कई बार सोचती हूँ, आजी आज जीवित होती तो इन्टरनेट के इस जमघट पर क्या टिप्पणी करती (और वो कितना रोचक होता!)

अद्भुत नज़ारे, उत्तम लेखन, प्रेरणाप्रद उक्तियाँ, झटपट खबरें, निराली घटनाएं, विविध परिप्रेक्ष्य, आम ज्ञान से भरपूर है यह मैदान. कुछ स्व-घोषित बुद्धीजीवी यहां के स्थाई निवासी हैं. उनके मुंह से ज्ञान सांप के मुंह से अमृत बरसने जैसा प्रतीत होता है. दुःख तब होता है जब ये लोग हिंदी और अंग्रेज़ी, दोनों के सुख को सूख लेते हैं, क्योंकि वे दोनों में फ़र्क़ नहीं समझते. मैं ये सोचकर उनसे सहानुभूति रखती हूँ कि उनके पिता मेरे पिता जैसे नहीं रहे होंगे. तुम भी कोई बहाना ढूंढ लो.

बहरहाल, फेसबुक के संसार में तुम्हारा पुनः स्वागत है. तुम्हारी हंसी की झंकार यहां भी गूंजे, इसके कारण और गूंजे, यही प्रार्थना है.

तुम्हारी,

सोनल 

Friday, July 29, 2016

of Serendipity and Sonals


Sonals, Agarwal & Singh
The first time I set my eyes on her, she was dancing without a care in the world. I was to realize later that that’s her general way of being – without a care in the world.

I knew I was going to be the second Sonal in B204; but had no idea of the first. But Sonal the Agarwal believes in no pretence. She looked at me with undisguised apprehension, sizing me up and down and right and left with her big, curious eyes. She thought to herself, and later to me, that I would make a good flatmate who could clean and cook, since I had worn a sari that day.

That’s the thing about her. She can come to shattering conclusions, with such guileless good faith, that you can’t help but love her more. No wonder I dote on her. No wonder many others do.

Candid could be her middle name. There is no time lost between thoughts as they occur to her and as they come out from her. She tells me with a deadpan expression that I need to change my sandals from ‘aunty-like’ to something peppier. I try, and end up with pained calf muscles. She sees me being pestered by a religious fanatic to buy some Krishna gospel, and she shouts at him to leave me alone. Then she scolds me for being tolerant with idiots. Like a parent she advices me to get married, and like a friend she coxes me to imagine how much ‘fun’ it’s gonna be. She enquires into mine and her friends’ private lives with such detail and good intention that laughter overpowers awkwardness (she resembles my grandmother in that sense). She considers my obsession with reading, writing, cleaning, swimming as a respectable mental illness. She pronounces me to be ‘born to become a bahu’. She is ambitious, fearless, bold & original – qualities that endear her to everyone unafraid. And to reiterate what a friend said: for a girl in a profession including maths, she is incredibly hawt!

Patience and sophistication could never win her favours. Her fingers work like blitzkrieg on the excel sheet. She admits frank loathing for cooking, and tosses up great food within minutes. Her standard expressions include dramatic rounding of eyes, extra-dramatic movement of hands synced with the pitch of her voice, messing around with her hair, walking off with a swagger and laughing hysterically and noiselessly at the same time. She makes O sounds while consuming Lindt chocolates. She decides that girls in the house are gonna address each other as Baby because it’s so affectionately cool. She is thrilled driving a scooty on rainy Goa roads, with me on the pillion, and our other two flat mates on the bike ahead, so she screams with pleasure at every onlooker: girls like to swing, baby!

But make no mistake. Don’t confuse her carefreeness with carelessness. If ever you look around for help, you’ll see her there already working up a remedy.

So here’s to the Namkeen element of the house & my cherished chai partner on her 26th: Please Be More of You. Each day of your Life.

Why? Because there’s no other that original.

 

Monday, June 27, 2016

A letter to Beloved

Dear Rain,

You had been hiding from me for quite a while. I looked around, searched every corner for the slightest trace of you. Allowed my heart to run wild at the weakest indication of you coming…the mildest storm; the gurgling thunder, the incipient earthy smell. But you – you kept my heart on a leash, bruising it unfailingly each time. Bumping it over thorny hope. Tantalising. Teasing. Setting the stage for a grand shower, and ending up in a mocking trickle. Why would you do that to a lover so staunch, only your kind will know, some of who are also in my acquaintance.

Like theirs, I know not your reasons. The last I had a meal full of you was in Bokaro. Then came Delhi, dry and unsparing. Merciless and wrathful. Your lack alone keeps the city of my breeding an arm’s length from my heart. It takes moisture, of form and being, to stay in my soul.

But this time, O! beloved, I chased you straight to your roosting place. Goa. And then it dawned upon me – you too had been waiting for me to arrive. At the right place, at the right hour.

The force with which you took me in your arms, lashing at me with all your splendour, throwing open all guards and soaking me straight to the bone…tell me, this unleashing of passion – did it calm you as much as it stilled me?

We both seem to have a thing for unrestrained outpour. We both also house an entire ocean in our hearts – willing to inundate only those grounds with who we are achingly in love. 

Once again, after what seems like ages, I saw you reach out to me with sheer intensity. Without compromise, pretense or promise. You were omnipresent; omnipotent. You woke me each morning with the pitter patter on the roof. A music I had been longing to hear. You greeted me with friendliness, which soon turned to fiery passion, on my morning walk to the sea. The sea responded to your call with a swell so magnificent, that it awed, intimidated, revelled, and fascinated me in equal measures. Even the pool became a series of childish joy when you fell upon it. The roads turned into paintings, the trees a glossy picture, and the horizon a blurred pastel of grey and blue. Entire existence breathed a new lease of life. You came in pearls, you marched in sheets, you poured in torrents. You reigned supreme. And I surrendered. Like I do to your ilk. Every bit yours. Every bit alive. Every bit grateful.


Thank you for reassuring me that you’ll be there, even if conditionally. Thank you for raining down my sorrows, for throwing open the gates that hold a deluge of tears. For healing all that can be healed. And for laying open those wounds that must stay green. Thank you for keeping my soil moist, vulnerable, and fertile. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

अपराजेय

(लेखिका द्वारा कविता का पाठ देखें यहाँ)

जब धरती डोले उथल पुथल
और काल करे तांडव अज्ञेय 
मन भी हो विपरीत व्याकुल,
स्मरण रहे, तुम हो अपराजेय!

प्रारूप सत्य के असंख्य सही
पर भेद सनातन एकल है  
वीर अथक होगा विजयी
जो सच्चा है और निश्छल है

तितली का मोहक वेश धरे
विषैले सर्प जब आयेंगे
स्नेह समर्पित हाथों को
पुनः छल से डस जायेंगे

फिर भी तुम रखना मानव में
विश्वास वही पवित्र, अटूट
लुप्त न हो रस जीवन से
करुणा न जाए, हाथों से छूट

दस्तक देगा जब जब शत्रु
दुहरायेगा आतंक अनेक
टोली होगी निंदकों की
होगा हर हाथ में पत्थर एक

ओ! नेक दिल, तू उदास न हो
समूह समय का बंदी है
लक्ष्य अस्थिर, तू बढ़ता चल
काल्पनिक सारी पाबंदी है

आने दे जिनको आना है
विरोध-विलीन कृपाण लिए
बीभत्स अधरों पर अपशब्द
आरोपों के बाण लिए

धारण कर धैर्य शांत-चित्त
ध्वस्त हुए घोर पापी भी
जहां खड़ा मानव, निडर, उचित
सच्चा भी, आत्मविश्वासी भी

चाहें झोंके वे अग्नि में
चाहे जल का प्रहार करें
रौंद भी दें गर मिट्टी में
उत्पीड़न के वार करें

तप कर तुम बनना स्वर्ण प्रखर
जल में तुम धोना त्रुटि विषाद
मिट्टी में बोना बीज अपने
कि हो गुलशन फिर आबाद

पर उल्लंघन सीमाओं की हो
अत्यंत हो जब पाप का
असह्य हो अधर्म असीम
घड़ा भरे संताप का

तब धरना तुम रौद्र रूप
युद्ध घोषित करना संहार
विकराल सही, पर ध्यान रहे
हो न्यायसंगत, प्रत्येक वार

अन्याय के संघर्ष में
रहना सतर्क इस जोखिम से
न हो कहीं आतंरिक विकार
न बन जाओ तुम, प्रतिद्वंदी से

प्रणय पुनः पुलकित होगा
पक्ष में होगा समय इस बार
दागदार शरीर तो क्या
ह्रदय वही जो नम्र, उदार

तुम पीर भी हो, तुम शूर भी हो
वृद्धि है लक्ष्य, परहित है ध्येय
तुम्हारा है, ब्रह्माण्ड सकल
स्मरण रहे, तुम हो अपराजेय 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

“Do exams provide an Effective Way to Measure Students’ Achievements?” : An essay


“When you need inspiration, see how far you have to go.
When you need motivation, see how far you have come.”
-          Anonymous
Born to Grow, and Compete
Imagine the situation of a runner who is let loose on a track to run. Now imagine ten runners sent forth on the same track to test their mettle. And here is the catch: let this track be without milestones. How do you imagine this situation to culminate? Initially, there will be a joy in running. The thrill of feeling the wind on one’s face, of beating muscle cramps with sheer grit, and the undeterred delight in pushing one’s boundaries.
But gradually, in lack of a standard and agreed system of measurement, the situation will degenerate. The solo runner might lose charm in the sport, or might end up a mediocre, considering he will have no yardstick to measure his progress against. In the case of multiple runners, the run might recede into chaos over establishing the supremacy of runners – for it is in human nature to compete – against oneself, as against others.
Implicit in this example are two innate traits of human beings. First is Growth, second is Competition. Growth happens when one maximises one’s undertaking to its fullest extent. It is a widely acknowledged fact that setting goals actually aid in achieving incredible success. Even where the purpose is purely spiritual or internal, the seeker of growth must set a goal to reach it. Learning, however, does not stop at growth alone. Most of the world’s achievements are driven by the desire to beat the previous best, that is, to compete. Look at all the wonderful innovations around us, and you will find the inextricable bond of growth and competition embedded in them. And behind them is the inevitable and uncontested system of objectively determined measurement mechanism.
Drawing from the quotation stated above, in absence of standardised measurement, it will be but a vapid world, with nothing to inspire, or motivate.
Measurement of Achievement
Whether for student or for professional, achievement acquires substantial weightage and comparative relevance, when measured. Measure is the only way to end arbitrariness and subjectivity in any activity. There is difference in being a good Karate player and in being a ‘Third dan’ Karate player. The vague scale of ‘Good, Bad & Ugly’ is discretionary, and hence, contested. Can we imagine history without dates? Inventions without milestones? Cars without odometers? Destinations without distance? Sports without stop-watch? In Olympics, even a lag of a mili-second means a medal lost. The point here is simple. Measurement is a pointer to the extent and magnitude of one’s work. It is therefore imperative to have a specific system of measuring one’s achievement, namely, exams.
Like love, exams come in many forms. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula to approach the entire gamut of examinations, the education system has evolved several types of exams to test various parameters of learning and achievement. Ranging from multiple-choice to hint based questions, from oral to open book exams, students across the world have measured not just their success, but also their penchant, through this mode. An Indian playback singer once stated in her anecdote, that the reason why her father moved her from a conventional school, to a music-focused school, was because her results determined very early in her life that she was suited for performing arts, and not applied sciences! Thus, examination captures both the actual and the potential of a candidate.
It is true that conventional exams have not shown sterling progress in capturing the aptitude and approach of students. Often in life, the attitude of examinee holds more value than his skill and knowledge, for that reveals his latent potential. The educational and professional assessment mechanisms have started acknowledging this fact. The rise and rise of psychometrics validates this trend. Even in this instinctual and attitudinal sphere, it is measurement that has come to the rescue of students, by lending it quantifiable dimensions. And we have reasons to believe that exams will evolve to incorporate such measures of assessment in near future.
Missing the Woods for the Trees
It must have been after considerable thought and debate, that after centuries of its existence, exams came under the lens for scrutiny. Such debate is crucial and healthy, for that determines the direction and ideology which must be adopted to measure students’ achievements and progress.
Not without a reason, critics of examination system decry the ill-effects of exams on pupils and their families. In India, in a survey of 1500 school and college students conducted by NIMHANS, it was found that 11% of college students and 7%-8% of high school students have attempted suicide.  In an earlier survey of 800 teenagers conducted by the same organisation, it came to light that 20% of children suffered from subclinical depression, while 30% suffered from mild to moderate depression. These disturbing figures point to the alarming state of stress caused to school-going children, and exams are labelled as chief culprit behind this trend.
Since the matter is very grave, it calls for a deeper social analysis into the malaise. A system of measurement should not be held responsible for the evils of mindset which surround it. Families are known to inflict immense pressure, draw humiliating comparisons, and dictate choice of subjects to unwilling students. A fair system of assessment and evaluation, which was meant to promote healthy competition and elicit right choices, falls prey to misguided and over-ambitious parents.
The purported negativity in exams, therefore, is rooted not in exams per se, but in its callous treatment by insensitive societies.
Exams Can, and Must
Left to its own devices, exams not only accurately and effectively measure students’ achievements, but also prepare them to face the grind of an ever-evolving world, and select the right options among the limitless possibilities of human potential.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dancing with Kailash Kher

Voice from audience: (shouts) Kailash Kher! Please call this girl on stage once again.


The girl referred to, is me. I am back from dancing with The Kailash Kher on stage (see the performance here and here), and presently dancing in the aisle, to the dedicated viewership of a packed Siri Fort Auditorium.

Minutes ago, Kailash Kher had invited a few girls to come up on stage and 'compete' with him on a Rajasthani folk number, and I was the first one to rush to stage. Barefoot. It is August 11 of 2015, and it is the third time I am dancing with Kailasa on the same stage. The first two times were in the winter of 2011. Four years ago. But the troupe recognises me, and tells me so.
The guitarist and percussionist, flanked by my friend Vandana and I

Kailash Kher: No no no. I call only once on stage. The girl can continue dancing in the aisle. Please enjoy her dance there.

Voice: But we want to see her dance on the stage!

Kailash Kher ignores.

The voice presses on. Till the maestro can no longer shelve it.

Kailash Kher: Arey bhaiya payment mujhe milegi. Kyun kachcha kaam karwa rahe ho? (Essentially: Oh dear, I'll be paid for the show, not she!)

The audience bursts out laughing.

Understandably, the swell of public fanfare encourages me. By now, I occupy a pride of place in the aisle, from where team Kailasa can see me. I dance ceaselessly, drenched in sweat, on the songs that follow. Tauba Tauba, Chak de Phatte, Saiyyan...I have inherited my grandmother's memory (you can read about her here) when it comes to songs. I could actually tell where Kailash Kher eschewed a stanza, or mixed up the lyrics!

So there are two shows going on in the auditorium, and the artists and audience are having quite a ball. Some people are enjoying the best of both worlds. Their back is to the stage and face towards me: Listening to Kailash Kher's phenomenal singing, and seeing my possessed dancing.
Dancing with Kailasa, wearing the organisers' badge, in January 2011
The show gets over around nine. But my friend and I are able to exit the Siri Fort premises only after an hour of undeterred fame. People in the audience have exalted me to the level of a star, and I am so grateful for their kind words of appreciation. Someone wants me to meet their children, a few people wonder whether I'm game to teach them dance, scores of fellow humans shake my hand, and the kind of things they say! It is as if the world is telling me that they understand my love for dance, and want me to do more of it. I want to thank them all here.

That's the thing with love. It shows.

But the most memorable of these interactions is a brief hug with a girl. She came rushing to me full of praises, and opened her arms for an embrace. Since I sweat like a pig, I keep telling people repeatedly, "I'm sweating profusely." She held me by the shoulders and looked into my face with keen and wondrous eyes. "Forget it," she said, "I just HAVE to hug you." And she pressed me to her heart.