Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Madhya Pradesh Diaries

As I travel through dusty heartland of Rural central India, the landscape bathes in the summer sun and blue sky. The wheat which has become yellow golden, the green sugarcane fighting the sunrays, becoming yellow, the trees stark, stripped of their leaves, brown bark, yellow dust swirling upto the branches. And then suddenly, a green palm tree, which has survived the harsh environs.


I meet some farmers, bodies darkened, hands callused, their sweat and grime in my hand- the golden wheat, which is on my table every night because of them. I can see the elements have worn them out, weathered faces, hard luck, dependence on the climate, they still welcome me warmly.


At 41 degrees temperature, as they harvest the grain, suddenly one farmers pipes up, telling his ghoonghat clad wife, "Look how smart this city girl is, she even talks to men. You should learn something from her." And they break in peals of laughter.


In another village, we ask if the women go shopping. No, the reply. Not even saris? No. House hold items? No. Anything? They shake their heads and say, "But they are not the decision makers, madam. They stay at home look after everything here."


Another evening, there is a wedding in the village. Suddenly, our arrival means, the bride and the groom are relegated to the sidelines. We are the new celebrities and we have to make polite conversation with the thousands of guests present there. The women are in another corner, in their bright colourful saris. I walk upto them and take a picture from a digital camera. They shyly come forward to see it. And then there is a stampede to get their pictures clicked - from the old grandmother to the 6 year old girl!

Later, the village sarpanch and elders sit around me at 1.00, I chew on my batley (a local delicacy) and drink the purest aam panna, I have ever had. And in that night, as I am thousands of kilometers away from home, under a star studded sky, discussing politics, wheat prices, inflation and culture with them, they are in awe of me. "Aap itni door yahan baithi ho, koi darr nahi lag raha, ghar sey itni door?" I shake my head, "Its my job."

And then one of the farmers sings this song, inspired by his land-

Chali rey chali,
Kisan ki lali,
Bhariya rang ki chunariya,
Oodh kar chali,
Kisan ki lali,
Khet khaliyaon ko chali...

As I leave, the moon spreads its light, the cool breeze envelopes me, the darkness hides the starkness of the farmland. I trudge back to the hotel in the city at 5.00 A.M


Halfway through my trip, I am suddenly homesick. A person who is ever ready for the new adventures and quests, I am suddenly missing my home, my room, my bed. It's strange. Or maybe its because I am working with the


For the Nth time I am really irritated. yet another person had taken me to be a tourist guide. Yes, I work with foreigners. No, I am not a guide. I am a journalist. I wish someone would ban that RIN/Surf ad with the girl-tourist guide!


One summer evening, my driver Khan Sa'ab, a frail old man touching seventy, turns to me and speaks to me in perfect English, "You are a great lady." Why, I ask. I have never seen a woman go so deep in the country side. And that too, to tell the story of our farmers. Who really cares about them? I tell him, "I hope, I can change that a little bit."

This diary (blog post) will be updated in the coming weeks as I travel more. Stay tuned and keep checking back here!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Signs of Times Gone By...

I am an eager beaver when it comes to clicking pictures especially those with atrocious spellings and language. I thought I should share some master pieces with you all :D

Exhibit no. 1

So are you ready to do some 'traking'?

Exhibit no. 2

Go ahead.. buy a 'Freeze' and freeze your brain it. And don't forget to buy the 'Entena' coz how else will you watch TV?

Exhibit no. 3

Kyun bhai.. garam freeze...err...fridge ki bhi chocolates hoti hain kya?

Exhibit no. 4

Saavdhan from what???

Exhibit no. 5
Presenting pièce de résistance

Go ahead... Buy that helicopter you always dreamt of!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Where Are We Heading

Where are we going wrong as a society when 8 year olds plan to stab their teacher without realizing the effects or the enormity of their plan?

In another case,
16 year olds, in a pre meditated plan, attack a fellow school student so that they can upload a video of it on a popular video sharing site. (Video Here)

Instead of bully-like behaviour, these are cases of
mob mentality. Earlier, we saw this behaviour during wars, riots, unrest or a similar situation but not where children or youngsters were involved.

Now in a changing world, we are seeing cases, unusual scenarios where slightest of provocation are triggering off events. These are alarming cases of herd mentality, cases of assumed power over the victim and with no signs of remorse.

It’s a very scary place to be right now. As we become developed, are these indicators of eroding human values? Or are these societal issues of the developed world? Or there are deeper reflections of images influenced by the media? Whatever the answer may be, as a society, we need to check such behavioral indicators.

Because, I think, it won’t take long for others to replicate it. Like school shootings in US, incidents like
Gurgaon school shoot out have started to haunt India. Is this the future staring at us?


Cross posted at C-Splash (a citizen journalism initiative)

Sunday, 6 April 2008

And So It Happened: The Epilogue

For chapter three, read here


She never went back to Delhi. Instead she made a choice, first of many, and made the city of dreams her home. With his support, she went back to study. Later, she wrote a book called ‘Lady Of The Night’- a chronicle of her past life. It helped her find a closure. An added bonus was that the book went on to become a bestseller. The media followed her, the activists made her their poster girl. She was suddenly the depraved-girl-turned-righteous.

Now, she works and vigourously fights for the rights of women.Sometimes when the fast pace of city life gets to her, she comes back to the village and can be seen sitting under the tall trees watching the sunset or taking a walk on the beach with him.

He went to complete the business deal he had left in the middle. It made him the second richest youngest man. He had no desire to be the first because he finally realized that his race was against him, not someone else. As she had said once, he chose to make a decision. It was led by his heart. And that’s when he decided to buy a house in the quaint little village of Kelve. He can be often seen fishing by the sea. But mostly, he takes a canvas and paints as the curious village children come up to him and chat with him.

When it becomes too quiet, he goes to the city. There he can be seen catching up with her in one of the restaurants and cafes which dot the city. Though he still avoids going to Nariman Point.

And so it happened, when two tortured and agonized souls met each other, they found a purpose, a meaning and maybe they found themselves.

If you ever happen to visit Kelve, you might see them. You could probably go upto them and say Hello. Maybe they'll tell you what's happening in their life right now. I am sure it would be interesting.



Friday, 4 April 2008

And So It Happened: Chapter 3

For chapter two, read here.

Chapter 3

“You need a room, sir?”

“Yes. One.” he said.

After checking into their room, she stepped out. Never had she been allowed to venture out like this. The fresh air, salty sea breeze, birds chirping, tall eucalyptus trees. They went and sat by the sea. She had never seen a beach before. It was like a dream.

Gingerly she put her feet in the water, feeling the sand on the soles of her feet. She closed her eyes and waved her arms pretending to be like the seagulls which were flying above her. She giggled with joy as he sat watching her.

Later as she came back and sat next to him, he said, “You know earlier… we were talking… I hope you didn’t mind me asking…about it…”

She shook her head.

He lit up another cigarette

“But I don’t understand. Why can’t you choose. You know...to walk away?”

“Why can’t you?” she countered his question.

“Well… that’s the only thing I know. How to make money. What will I do?” he said almost wistfully.

“Yeah… that’s the only thing I know,” she repeated but spoke for herself too. Words which had involuntarily forced out of somewhere deep inside.

As the evening rays of the sun melted into the sea, the hours dissolved into one another, the horizon turned shades of orange and cobalt, they had let down the guard a little bit.

Soon it was time for dinner.

The next day they explored the area a little bit. The wind played with her hair as he caught a whiff of her perfume. Touching her arm, he indicated he wanted to sit down on the rocks.

“Doesn’t it look beautiful!” She pointed out to the boats dotting the sea. “Maybe it’s the fishermen.”

“Hmmm,” he grunted.

Maybe he doesn’t want to talk. She sat quietly.

“Tell me if you were not making money what would you? In your heart, what do you dream of doing?” she asked, childlike, trying to ignore his indifference.
“I would be a painter,” he said dreamily looking at the wide expanse of the sea.

“I wish I had the power to change,” he added as an afterthought.

“Maybe you do”


“Maybe you can try…”

He shrugged his shoulders.

A gentle breeze enveloped them.

“What would you do?” he asked her.

“Oh…a million things,” she said slowly, sighing, resigning to her fate.

He stole a glance at her. And put his arms around her shoulders pulling her close to him. She didn’t resist.

“Maybe you can try…,” he said.

Meri line mujhi ko wapas..

They looked at each other and broke into a smile at their private joke.

The fact that they were strangers carrying no burden of a personal relationship with each other made it easier to talk. At that point of time they didn’t figure it out.

The sound of waves, laughter of children playing football in a distance, they became acutely aware of the noise and then all sounds blocked out and they were alone in this world, in a prison of their thoughts and actions

Maybe I should have run away when I had my chance. Six years back. When my greed started enveloping me. When my body was been bartered.

Both got lost in their thoughts again. Neither realizing that sometimes silence speaks more than words. The silence is the sound of soul - healing - with the thoughts which reverberate inside, when one reflects on the actions, choices.

Another day has passed. Its time for both of them to go back to their old life.

That night wrapped in a blanket of darkness, she turns to him and says, “Thank you”

“For what?” he asks her, puzzled.

“Nothing. Everything” she answers cryptically.

“No. I should thank you instead,” he says firmly, softly.


To be continued...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

And So It Happened: Chapter 2

For chapter one read here

Chapter 2

The city road took them to NH 8. Another round of silence ensued. Each lost in thoughts. Both wanting to get away from it all. Soon the concrete jungle gave way to the Sahyadri mountain range.

She remembers hypnotically staring, noticing a pattern on the road, of sunrays passing through the leaves, bringing a translucent quality to them, the fog in a distance dissipating and reappearing. Everything becoming clear and then blurred.

He remembers ten years back, a group of college friends, in a car. The song playing I want to break free. Incessant chatter, all bantering and agreeing they wanted to break free, none knowing that they were already free.

He remembers the taste of first killing at the stock market. The compulsion. The addiction. The phenomenal rise. The Midas touch. Turning everything he touched into gold. And now an emptiness. A sense of worthlessness. How did I get here?

“Did you say something?,” she asked.

He shook his head, “No”.

“Why did you start this… this…line of work?,” he unexpectedly asked her.

Taken aback, as no one had bothered to ask before, she shrugged her shoulders. Then she mumbled something under her breath. “Millions of women are forced into it. I am just another one.”

A truck passed by, and her voice got lost.

He just heard the words, “Millions…forced….another one”

“So you didn’t have a choice?”

“Choice, huh? That’s a joke. Choice is when you can decide whether you want to do something or whether you have to do something,” bitterness crept in her voice.

“It’s a decision you make with your head or your heart. Its something you don’t compromise on,” she stopped abruptly. An outburst could cause her problems. If he gave a bad feedback, it could jeopardize getting good clients in the future.

He had touched a raw nerve. At ten years of age, orphaned, she went to live with her Uncle. He sold her. So you see - this girl of twenty one years of age - didn't know anything about choices.

Roads became narrower. Signboards whizzing past her. Dahisar-Thane-Palghar-Saphale-Edwan-Kelve.

After about four hours, the scenery changed as she noticed huts, chickens, cows, women carrying straw baskets on their heads, children playing and men rushing off to catch fish in the little rivers and inlets. I wish I could trade my life with them.

He turned into a dirt lane. They drove for another fifteen minutes and reached a quaint village, untouched by modern life. At the end of the village lay a small resort and by it - the Arabian Sea. Some enterprising fellow had built it by the water’s edge.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

And So It Happened: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

It was a sultry summer morning as he stood in the balcony, with his back to the Mumbai skyline. His open shirt caressed by the breeze, as he obsessively smoked. Through the glass doors separating the room with the terrace, his eyes took in her gentle sinuous curves, her delicate nose, her luscious lips.

Why was she in his bed, in his hotel suite. The simple answer was he was rich and he could buy anything, even a companion. The answer which wasn’t obvious but hung there like the heavy air of smoke was loneliness - gnawing him. That’s what he felt but he didn’t know it. And he didn’t like coming back to an empty room. That’s why she was there.

His eyes had an inscrutable expression, the hard lines on his face masked his loneliness. With a sigh, unconsciously he snuffed out the cigarette and walked inside. Waking her up by nuzzling her bare neck and her shoulders, he waited as she stirred and opened her eyes, smiling at him.

“Good morning, princess,” he drawled.

“Good morning,” she replied, her sleep filled eyes looking at him. He wanted to lean forward and kiss her but with a tinge of sadness remembered that wasn’t part of the deal.

Later, they sat having their breakfast in silence. She was trained not to speak until spoken to but the stillness made her restless.

“So you have a meeting this morning?” she asked.

“Hmmm… I cancelled it.”

She faintly nodded her and didn’t ask for an explanation.

“Do you sometimes feel that nothing makes sense? That you have everything and still nothing? That you are in a prison?”

She didn’t answer. She understood they were rhetorical questions and that he wanted to continue talking. She had met his kind before too. Only they were much older than him. He looked like he was in his late twenties.

“There is void, a gaping hole and I don’t know what to fill it with.”

That’s your soul dying. She wanted to say. But she bit her lip. What would he know about it anyway? Her’s had died inch-by-inch, man-by-man. She knew what an empty soul meant. She wanted to scorn him, but his sad eyes and her paycheck, which she was to receive after three days, strained her to keep those thoughts in check.

“For once, I don’t want the money, the riches, the fame. I want to be the man on the street – who has his daily struggles.”

He was running his hands through his hair, sitting cross legged on the bed.

“Let’s get out of here,” suddenly he said.

”But where?” she looked at him uncertainly.

“I don’t know. Wherever the road takes us.”

The morning rays of sun were becoming stronger, the sky in colours of marigold and cerulean turning into sunflower yellow and lighter hues of blue. Somewhere in the background she could hear honking cars and temple bells.

To be continued...

This is the first part of a fiction story with a four part series. Stay tuned!