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 tries to 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


(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.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


I’ve heard uttered umpteen times: You’re the only girl I know who doesn’t love to shop! Personally, I take it as an assurance that the world hasn’t soiled me yet.

I never liked pointless aimless wandering through streets (now malls) filled with goods and things. For as long as I remember, I considered it a waste of time and money. Neither did I have spare time then, nor do I have it today. Besides office, there are books to be read, feelings to be written, music to be danced to, chores to be completed, relationships to be watered, people to be helped, exercises to be done and inner thoughts to be indulged into. My buying behaviour, therefore, is need-based and point-to-point. I shop alone, and I shop quick. I belong to the old-school believers of the maxim: One who dies with most toys, is dead anyway. Understandably, my clothes and stuff last me a decade!

But there was a time when I did like buying for requirements (since necessity is a relative term). But a few years ago, that age went past without a whisper. It made an unceremonious exit from a world that is obsessed with trends. Now, shopping for me is a painful chore that must be carried out once in a few years to replenish long-standing wardrobe needs. And I’ll tell you why.

Mine may be a lone voice in the wilderness of commodity-lust, but I’d like to fancy it carries the weight of reason. Here is a list of concerns that women-apparel manufacturers and marketers may like to hear:
1.   Bring back the cottons: India is a tropical country, and geologically speaking, Delhi is a desert. It is hot as hell in summers. And despite what they show you on TV, women sweat. The optimum summer fabric then, should be cotton, and not synthetic. To find one decent cotton shirt, one has to search through piles upon piles of lace/ frill/ nylon/ lycra/ satin/ net and the dubious world of ‘mixed’ fabrics dished out in the name of arrive at real cotton. I discovered lately that Fabindia, my only resort for real cotton, has stopped making formal shirts for women. The choices available in other big brands is highly skewed – one cotton for every ten non-cotton.
2.   Functionality is important: You may like to believe and project women as people who get work done by throwing dazzling smiles. Honestly, no matter how sexy or smart a woman is, she does work (if she doesn’t, she is neither smart nor sexy). So for heaven’s sake remember to add pockets to her trousers/ blazers/ kurtis. Also, when you get down to make those wallets for her, do provide pocket-size options like you do for men. At least practice gender equality where it’s entirely in your hands.
3.   The skin also breathes: I know you like to club girls for the sake of convenience (and stereotypes), and presume that all women like to show off their contours. Wrong. Clothes that stick to skin are as annoying as people who cling to you (now you get the drift, I’m sure). The skin has pores which need ventilation. And to enlighten you, breasts and butts have skin too. I’ve no objection to the years of fat trussed up in stretchable lycra like a pack of brinjals in a gunny sack. But I have an equal right to wear moderately fitting and comfortable clothes. Left to you, you’ll rather have us back in the 16th century, wearing corsets and iron shoes.
4.  There are colours other than pink: I went through the entire Connaught Place market, looking for formal cotton socks for women, and found none. The closest that came to formal was a pair of purple socks in a Van Huesen showroom. Other colours included bright pink, electric blue and fluorescent green. Pardon me for being old-fashioned, but I like being attired to suit the occasion. With due respect to the freedom of those who do, I DO NOT wear pink socks to my office, nor a stone-studded shalwar kameez to Goa beach. I might indulge in those colours once in a while, but I’ve a multi-faceted life (and personality), that subsumes the entire spectrum of white. I’m a person, not a kindergarten wall.
5.  Breasts are naturally padded: You see, it is perfectly possible for some women to feel comfortable with their bodies, despite what your advertiser friends profess. Feel free to broaden the horizon of padded/wired/uplifted bras, but not at the expense of normal human bras. The diminishing range of latter is a disturbing trend, for it signals that the market is capable of launching padded panties. You may be right in assuming that these tricks attract men, but frankly, the men who are attracted to such ‘endowments’ are not worth attracting. We are interested in the men who are interested in the spare centimetre on our minds and hearts, not elsewhere. Besides, one more layer of blubber will not help camouflage the tyres of blubber below.
6.      All fitness freaks don’t go to the gym: Puma/ Adidas/ Nike/ Reebok/ Lotto...I checked them all. Across the board, the running shorts for girls don’t go farther than mid-thigh, and the tees are designed to look like second skin, offering a delectable range of halter necks and racer backs. Interestingly, some of these tees end right below the breasts, allowing ventilation to a generous portion of midriff. Women who exercise behind the closed doors of a gym can risk wearing these clothes, but think about those who run on the roads of this city. If risked outside, you will have an entire mohalla running behind the runner, and not for the right reasons. And sadly, even the XS size tees/shorts among men are a tad too loose for a S size woman.
7.   Sleeves don’t hurt: Some very good shirts, dresses, and T-shirts are available only in the range of sleeveless clothes. No, I have nothing against sleeveless. But is it unfair to expect a similar range among sleeved clothes? If your designer insists that only sleeveless looks fashionable, you may ask him/her: If Angelina Jolie has no objection to wearing sleeved dresses, why does s/he have it in tailoring them?
8.   Keep it straight: I thank an empathetic reader for pointing this out. I shouldn’t have missed it at all. Talking of pants, including jeans and trousers, I have two issues. One, with the omnipresent low-rise level, and two, with the shape of legs, including cuffs. Let’s deal them one at a time.
The ideal belt-zone for a lower, as per my comfort, is right below the navel, and not right above the butt crack (for lack of a better word). The sight of precariously placed pants might look very cool to you, but it is awfully clumsy for the wearer. We are placed at the perennial risk of losing modesty by a slight snag, especially where the tailor was callous enough to not provide belt loops. Examine closely: the shirt lengths are going up, and the lowers are going down. May we ask you, where exactly are we headed?

Further, some of us love the sheer elegance of straight-fit lowers. Why would you want to deprive us of it simple satisfaction? Narrow fitting pants with cuffs that close in on the ankle, coupled with short single-button coats, evokes the image of Charlie Chaplin, not Uma Thurman. The point here is, don’t promote one type at the expense of another. Please.
You may dismiss these points as irritated ranting of an archaic shopper, but I know at least a few more who agree with me. And there’s good news for you:

A few weeks ago, a colleague told me without my asking him, that people in our office had conclusively voted me as the best dressed person (not just female) in office. One, I was not a part of this discussion, and two, I wear both Indian and western to office. Given my taste in clothes, if my dressing sense is considered good, there is a poorly catered market out there, crying for your attention.

As for Indian wear, long live Nalli and Fabindia! I personally request you both to create/ increase stock of western office wear. Special thanks for selling real cotton, that diminishing fabric in today’s synthetic – literally and figuratively – world.

PS: A thinking reader pointed out that the line “if she doesn’t work, she is neither smart nor sexy” sounds disrespectful of home-makers. The considerate observation made by this reader demands justification, and here it is: Work in this context should be understood as any valid and positive contribution made towards one’s fellow society. It could be monetary or free, official or voluntary, at home or outside. I have deepest regards for women who choose to work towards building better homes, just like I highly honour those who chase their dreams. Of course, whatsapping and facebooking all day don’t count as worthwhile work.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

मलाई बाई

जब चुना तुमने बाहर का द्वार
फंदे के रास्ते
तुम्हारे साथ रुखसत हुए  
तुम्हारे बेबात नखड़े
तुम्हारी बेबाक हंसी

तब पता चला कि है नहीं
दुःख पचाने की ताकत मुझमें
या हमारी तीसरी सहेली में
जब देखा उसको भी मैंने
तुम्हारा नाम आने पर हाथ मलते

यकीनन सब ठीक न था
यह तो सात दिन पहले
तुम्हारे चहरे से बयां था
जो तुमसे प्रकट न हुआ
उसका मर्म हमें खींचता है
दुखद, अज्ञात, भयावह

तुम्हारा, हमारा जीवन
एक अधूरा सवाल
उसके उत्तर की अपेक्षा
है या तो व्यर्थ,
या ज्ञान का निचोड़

तुम्हें दिखते हैं न हम?
ग्लानि की अज्ञेय-सी लाचारी से जूझते हुए?

एक अलग ही रिश्ता था हमारा
जिसके तीन भिन्न पूरक थे
एक अनकहा सा प्यार हमारे बीच
(तुम खुल कर कहने से ठहरी)
वो प्रतिदिन मिलने का अनुशासन
गवाह था, प्रौढ़ मित्रता का
निजी बातें अप्रत्यक्ष, पर सब पता
आलिंगन, शायद एक भी नहीं

फिर मैं क्यूँ देखती हूँ आये दिन
तुम्हारी तस्वीरें
तुम्हारी मलाई-नुमा बाहें
तुम्हारा साइड-पोज़ में इतराना
हमेशा मुंह पर आते बाल
और दांत-छिपाए
फोटो वाली सभ्य मुस्कान

कितना कम कहती हैं ये निशानियाँ  
फिर कैसे कर जातीं हैं आर-पार
एक काँटा तुम्हारी याद का
टीसों में तुम्हें पुकारता है,
चुप हो जाता है
छुप छुप कर रोता है -
जब मुख्य आकर्षण ही मंच छोड़ जाए
तो कहाँ जाएँ वो सखियाँ
जिन्होंने बिताईं हज़ार दोपहरें
तुम्हें छेड़ने के परम-आनंद में

बात बात पर भिड़ जाना
shopping की मिसालें कायम करना
नाखून रंगना और गहने ख़रीदना
इधर-उधर की बातें हज़ार
बालों में उलझी उंगलियाँ दिन रात -
इन पक्षों में हमारी शून्यता
की भरपाई करती थी तुम

हिम्मत बटोर रही हूँ
कि बिना लड़खड़ाये पहन सकूं
तुम्हारा दिया हुआ party-wear
और Boss परफ्यूम
स्थिर होकर देख सकूं
ठीक तुम-सा, तुम्हारे बेटे को 

उस दिन, शान्ति स्थल पर
जब देखा तुम्हें आखिरी बार
पहली दफा तुम चुप थी
इतनी सुन्दर, निर्मल, जीवंत!
फूलों से गुलाबी तुम्हारे होठ
वही दूधिया रंग
अनुचित लगते, सिमटे हुए बाल
सुहागन की जोड़ी
शायद तुमने उस दिन
जिससे, जो भी कहना चाहा था
कह दिया, जड़ दिया
वो स्थाई काँटा, तुम्हारी याद का.