Saturday, December 22, 2012

A tribute to Monisha Datta

When I was growing up in New Delhi, Mona didi was always the cool, big sister -- the better half of the "MonoTony" of neighbouring families. She introduced me to the wonderful world of FRIENDS, cold coffees and Nirula's Hot Chocolate Fudge.

She was the Monica of our block -- her clothes neatly stacked; her room spic and span. Mom used to take one look at my sloppy cupboard and mutter in frustration -- "Why can’t you be more like her?" Monisha was the daughter she never had.

Mona didi was fearless. When a grumpy neighbour was kicking week-old stray puppies, she screamed at him until he gave up and ran inside. She tended to their injuries and took them to the animal shelter.

When I had nothing to wear for a college function, she drove me to Ebony to pick out a dapper jacket. I still have it, although now it will be tough to wear it without thinking of her.

She was a perfectionist in whatever she did. When not modelling and winning beauty pageants (putting her near 6-foot frame to good use), she found time to earn a university medal in geography, take a summer course in German and roam the world. Still, New Delhi was always her favourite city.

Then she married and moved away to Bangalore and our jobs took their toll. Our phone conversations dwindled to the bare minimum of get-well-soons and hurried birthday wishes. It was her rakhis that always arrived in the mail on the one day she never forgot, no matter how busy she was.

What I am angry about is she departed for heaven without as much as a goodbye, failing to conquer a teensy-weensy monster called dengue. The Mona didi I knew had been so strong her whole life; this virus should have been no match for her.

I picture her chuckling up above in the clouds where she will be making herself useful, delivering knockout punches to demons and taking over as CEO of the guardian angel club.

No, she doesn't need tears. She was happiest when others smiled. And she would rather you remember her by watching a FRIENDS episode. The one where they sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was one of her favourites.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

My brother's wedding

Make your own slide show at Animoto.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The end of my hair problems

Woof! My name is Sheena and I live with my mistress in an apartment on the seventh floor. She’s a nice human and I am quite happy living with her. As a dog, you don’t expect much from life -- eat, sleep, play ball, with a belly rub or two in between – and you are all set.

I love my human and she loves me. But I dislike her hair. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t really judge humans by their beauty. Not that my mistress isn’t pretty -- but then that’s fodder for another blog. But she’s got really bad hair. It’s spiky and pointy and prickly and dry and what not.

Wait a minute, you say. Well, I expected that. Who would believe a dog has problems with human hair? After all, we pets have our fair share of fleas and ticks. But you got to be in my paws to understand the problem. When my mistress nuzzles up against me whispering sweet nothings, I am itching to get away. Her hair irritates me, scratches against my nose and even gets tangled in my mane. And since I want her to cuddle with me, I suffered in silence –- or the occasional whine when a stray split end pricked my nose.

But even dogs have their limits and I had to do something. And so I took matters into my own paws.

One morning, when mistress was in the bath, I used the doggie door to leave and trotted down to the house across the hall. The human who lives there has a dog too -- Buttercup -- she’s a fellow bitch. We share a lot of secrets and I know a lot about her human. Buttercup was waiting for me. I gave her the signal -- three short barks – and she guided me into their bedroom. We crept past her sleeping mistress and Buttercup growled softly when she spotted the thing on the table. I put my paws up and retrieved what I had come for. I bid goodbye to Buttercup and returned home.

I rushed to the bath where my mistress was splashing around and dropped the thing in her hands.

“What have you dug up, Sheena?” she asked, fingering the tube with the bird on it. But she wasn’t angry. “Dove, dove, dove” she whispered, giving me a pat on the head, as she proceeded to open the tube. And that was the end of my hair problems!

It was Buttercup who helped me. Her mistress had bad hair too -- until the day the flying bird tube had shown up. Buttercup was sure the tube had some kind of magic in it -- for that very same day, her mistress had shiny, smooth hair that smelt as fresh as sunflowers.

And I noticed it right away. When my mistress came out of the bath, her hair was bouncy and soft and smelt really nice. So nice in fact that I jumped up to lick her face. She laughed and gave me a nice, long cuddle and it was good. I wished it would never end.

Fellow doggies, you now know what to do. Get your human the magic tube and you won’t regret it. It’s been nice yapping with you. Woof!

(This post is an entry for the Dove contest on

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunshine girl

Kyra is beautiful when she is asleep. And now, as the first rays of the morning sun bounce off her earlobes, she's irresistible. I roll over to her side to caress the smooth skin of her neck and shoulders. She awakens at my touch and stares back for a moment before her eyes crinkle and her features dissolve into a warm, embracing smile.

“Good morning, dear.”
“Good morning,” she answers in a singsong tone.
“And what does my queen desire this fine morning?”
Kyra doesn’t reply, just shrugs and then squeals as I playfully yank her off the bed, setting her feet down on the carpeted floor.

She pouts and throws a pillow in my direction, missing by a metre.
“OK, first stop is the beach,” she says.
“Now? What about a nice, relaxing hotel breakfast?”
 “We’ll have it at the beach,” she insists and rushes to the bathroom before I could say no.

Kyra returns in five minutes, clad now in a beige bikini.
“Let’s go,” she announces and ignores my feeble protests as she tosses away my office BlackBerry. “All work and no play make Tony a dull boy, remember?”
I get up to follow her but she frowns.
“Do I have to teach you everything?” Kyra asks. “Take this off,” she says, pointing to my T-shirt.
“But why?”
“Is this your first time at a beach?” she prattles on as she helps me take it off. “Don’t you remember 'The Heartbreak Kid' where Ben Stiller’s honeymoon is ruined because his wife gets sunburnt and is stuck in the hotel room.”
“Yes, I do and I remember it works out well for Stiller since he meets the love of his life”.
“But this is real life,” she insists. "We are at a beach resort with a blazing sun and I don’t want to be stuck next to someone with red blotches."

Kyra rummages around in her bag and comes up with a yellow tube.
“Here, use this,” she says and hands it to me.
I squint at the label, undecided if I should use the Lakme Sun Expert SPF 50.
“Are you sure I need this? I’m Indian and I can’t get any darker than this.”
“You have skin. You are in the sun. Then you need this,” she announces in staccato.

As I hesitate, she grabs the tube, squeezes out a blob and proceeds to rub it across my chest.
“It tickles,” I whisper as she reaches up to my shoulders and starts on my arms.
Kyra laughs and finishes with a flourish. She stands back and gives me an approving glance.
“Now, you're all set for a day at the beach.”
I look at her standing there and I know this is the woman of my dreams and that I would do anything to make her happy.
“Just you wait, Kyra. I’m going to give you the time of your life.”
“You’ll have to catch me first,” she giggles and runs off.
I just have time to bang the hotel room door shut before I run after her.

(Contest entry for Lakme Diva Blogger contest )

Friday, May 18, 2012

Internet is Fun. More fun on the Mobile

Meet my friend Internet. He's a fun guy and loves spending time with everyone. And believe me, everyone loves him too. I bet he can bring a smile to your face -- even if you are a stranger and I’ve just introduced you two.

Internet was born on April 7, 1969 but don't think of him as someone in his 40s -- he still behaves like a teenager sometimes. I still remember him grinning from ear to ear when he bought his first vehicle (he called it Mobile) in 1996 and it's been his favourite set of wheels ever since. Of course, he's made various adjustments over the years, adding features and newer technology so that he can zoom around on Mobile faster than ever before.

Not that he wasn't attractive earlier, but ever since he’s been on Mobile, Internet has been irresistible. Women swoon when he zooms past them. Behind his rugged exterior lies the heart of a gambolling puppy that can melt even the grumpiest of human beings. Of course, he’s a big flirt too. He takes his dates out to this fancy restaurant called Pinterest, impressing women with visions of a giant pinboard filled with their favourite things.

Internet can read faces too. He can tell at a glance who you are and what you like. He even maintains a huge book to store the faces of all the people who are in touch with him. He calls it Facebook. I wanted him to name it something more classy but he went with the suggestion of another fan -- Mark Zuckerberg. Anyway, it's made life simple for all of us. I just open Facebook, search for my friends and check out what Internet has to say about them.

Internet has an eidetic memory. Nothing great but he’s able to remember everything clearly. I find it amazing (and irritating too, when Internet behaves like a tiresome know-it-all). He's got a mind like that of Sherlock Holmes and has the makings of a great detective. When I’m searching for something, I just walk up to Internet and nag him with some magic words. He responds to some specific sounds -- just utter Google, Bing or Yahoo -- and he’ll spill the beans on any topic under the sun (and beyond).

Sometimes he makes notes too and stuffs all this information in a notebook. You can read it too and since he's so sloppy with spellings and grammar, do feel free to make corrections. His house is a mess but if you poke around in his innumerable desks (and manage not to sneeze), you’ll find the notebook somewhere in an unfinished jigsaw globe he calls Wikipedia. His friend Jimmy Wales gave it to him in 2001 and he's played around with it ever since.

When Internet is speeding down city roads on Mobile, he’s usually in a chatty mood. He’s what you call a serial Twitterer -- you know, the kind of people who speak rapidly in staccato sentences. His fans adore his tweets though and share (or should I say retweet?) them with others.

I first made Internet’s acquaintance some two decades ago and we’ve been best friends since (fingers crossed). He's given me many rides on the Mobile and I must admit I've never had so much fun before. Now it’s your turn.

(Contest entry for )

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mom gave us a scare

Hospitals are scary places. Which is why I usually avoid visiting sick relatives.

But I couldn’t escape last night. Mom gave us a scare. She had been feeling uneasy in the evening -- a throbbing headache and a nagging feeling that something was wrong.

At the hospital, her systolic blood pressure rocketed past 220. The doctor said this could lead to organ failure or a haemorrhagic stroke and got her admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).

If hospitals are scary, the ICU is scarier. You can’t really see the patient and what the doctors are doing. Who knows if she’s being given unnecessary medicine with undesirable side-effects. Moreover, they allow relatives in only at certain times.

At other times, we wait.

It's the waiting that you dread, till the ICU attendant calls out a name -- and somehow that’s worse.

"Annie ke saath?" (Who’s with Annie?) he calls out in the waiting area and I rush to the doors of the forbidden kingdom.

But no, there’s no good news. I am not being let in. It’s only a nurse who hands over a list of medicines that must be bought right away.

It's not easy to relax in the waiting area. The blue hospital chairs are not very comfortable. I try taking a nap but my neck hurts
. The ward boys are watching a Bollywood film on television and I watch it too, glad to have something to do.

I'm not the only visitor in the room. There are four other men waiting for news from the ICU -- all of us are strangers bound together by the unwelcome guest threatening our loved ones.

Two enterprising men (perhaps they’ve had days of practice) wait till the ward boy’s back was turned, spread a sheet on the floor and are asleep within minutes.

A woman is brought in at around 3 a.m. But it’s too late. Her son, a man in his 30s, leans against the ICU wall, bawling like a baby for his dead mother. Relatives rush to console him but the man doesn’t stop weeping incoherently till the body, wrapped in a white sheet, was taken out. The ward boys, perhaps out of sympathy, muted the TV so that the dance beats of a Bollywood item song didn’t interfere with the man’s grief.

I watch the man crying but am unable to react. It’s not that I am being the stoic tough guy; perhaps the possibility of being in that man’s position hasn’t really sunk in.

I got to meet mom twice -- she had spent a sleepless night, disturbed by the commotion a few beds away, where a housewife had been brought in after she consumed some sort of poison following an argument with her husband.

The good news, mom was much better (if befriending and charming three nurses is any indication) and doctors are now keeping her in the ICU an extra day for observation. She comes back home in the morning.

I’m feeling guilty. Hospital staff gave me mom’s gold rings to take home. And I’ve lost one of them. Mom doesn’t know yet.

RELATED POST: My mom's a serial killer
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's time to change

My colleague, an Indian-origin Brit, finds it hard to believe that India is Asia's third-largest economy.
"They say we will be overtaking Japan this year," I blurt out in a show of patriotic fervour.

"But why can't we see it out there?" he asks, pointing to the office windows offering a bird’s-eye view of Connaught Place.

I know what he means. It’s not the nattily dressed investment bankers or the endless stream of cars that snake in and out of the city’s business district that he sees. It’s the dozen piss-laden pillars that gave Barakhamba Road its name, the beggars and lepers at Hanuman Mandir a few blocks away and grimy heroin addicts who skulk in the subways.

India is an enigma that way -- a poster boy both for poverty porn and economic success.

While there’s no stopping India from becoming a global superpower in the coming decades, it can’t just brush away its problems under a plush carpet. It’s time to change all that.

I wish I could borrow Harry Potter’s wand and place everyone under an Imperius Curse, forcing them to do my bidding.

Dear President, you will not take your son-in-law and grandchildren to foreign lands at the government's  expense. Send them a nice postcard from Seychelles instead.

Dear Prime Minister, you will not be meek and say yes to everything a mother’s love demands. Sometimes it is necessary to lose the battle in order to win a war but too many defeats can overshadow a solitary victory.

Dear Minister, you will not use your position to allot real estate or telecom licences to people you like. Offer them tea and Marie biscuits and bid them goodbye with a smile.

Dear MLA, sleep if you must but you will not watch pornographic clips to pass time in boring state assembly sessions. Play noughts and crosses instead.

Dear Army chief, it’s nice to have just one date of birth. Makes keeping track of Birthday Calendars on Facebook so much easier. As for army scandals, this is a good time to start work on a tell-all book.

Dear Government servant, you will try your best not to be bribed. We need a hundred Anna Hazares to weed out corruption, so we’ll just have to do all we can with the Hazare we have for now. And you know what? Going to jail is over-rated.

Dear Municipal worker, I know the pay isn't all that great but who knows, if you polish those floors till they shine, you might just get promoted. And you wouldn't want your peers in America to think they are the best.

Dear Mumbai Police, I know Ajmal Kasab relishes his chicken, but is that reason enough to shift six cooks to the prison? He’s not really a suitable judge for TV’s Masterchef.

Dear Corporates, you will forget petty rivalries and take Incredible India to the next level. It’s a win-win for you too -- eventually. You can share the spoils of war later.

Dear Maoists, time to send that Italian tourist back home. The ministry of tourism needs good word-of-mouth publicity. Have you forgotten atithi devo bhava (the guest is God) already?

Dear Journalist, give us some good news; we’ve had too much of the other kind lately. We want more philanthropic IITians, Olympic medals and Nobel prizes.

Dear Driver, what’s with all that rage? I know it’s hot but you could always enjoy a cold drink. OK so the other guy put a dent in your Honda Civic, he didn’t do it deliberately. Certainly no reason to stab him. Remember -- to err is human; to forgive, divine.

Dear Pedestrian, you will not go jaywalking in city streets. And of course, do not decorate pavements and walls with red paan stains. You wouldn't want such a colour scheme in your house, would you?

Dear Conman, you will not tell people you lost your wallet and need to urgently buy train tickets for your pregnant wife and sick father. I believed you once; now do you want me to lose my faith in humankind?

Dear Autowallah, you will not fleece foreign tourists. Take an extra rupee or two from us Indians but don’t give them such a bad time. We need all the dollars we can get.

Dear Eve-teaser, you will not harass women. It’s an oft-quoted argument but you do respect you own mother and sisters, don’t you?

Dear Father, so what if Dear Mother gave birth to a girl? You shouldn’t punish her; it’s your chromosomes that decided the sex of the baby. Also, haven’t you seen enough TV serials to figure out that girls take more care of their parents in old age.

Dear Cricketer, do you really need all that money? Forget the benefits of spot-fixing and enjoy the game instead.

Dear Viewer, watch and cheer for hockey, boxing and badminton. Time to get us back some long-forgotten Olympics laurels.

Dear Common Man, I know you are worried about inflation and inadequate salaries. But do you really need to smoke that bidi, tear open that gutka pouch and drown your sorrows in alcohol?

Dear Housewife, you will not throw trash in the street. You wouldn’t like that to happen in your living room, would you? See if you can volunteer to keep your surrounding areas clean.

Dear Beggar, you will not be part of the begging mafia. I know being illiterate and unemployed wasn't really your long-term career goal but please help us help you earn an honest living.

Dear Bollywood, make us more soppy films like “Hum Aapke Hain Koun”, where nobody is evil and everything is usually hunky-dory. Cheer us up so that we can forget our real-life troubles.

Dear Shaktimaan, if you existed, I wouldn’t need to write this blog in the first place. It’s time to change and you are the man for it. So please just fly down here and do your thing.

[Contest entry for Time to Change]

Monday, April 09, 2012

The day I lost my fear of road trips

"Let's drive down to Ahmedabad," said my brother, the driving enthusiast in the family.

"Shut up! We’re not going on a day-long road trip."
"I'm going whether you like it or not."

And that’s how I ended up accompanying him on the 915-km drive from New Delhi to the city in Gujarat where we were born and where my cousins still reside. My brother, the easy-going brat in the family, usually gets his way and I, the more responsible one, was coaxed by mom into keeping an eye on him.

I took little delight in my position as navigator for my brother’s Getz. I am not a fan of cars, road trips or watching Discovery Turbo -- things that my brother would die for. So all I basically did was stare at the speedometer and scold him when we went over 120 kmph -- which was too often for my liking.

Despite an early start, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. We made it to Jaipur in just about two hours, aided in part by a stubborn Mercedes driver who overtook our car and provoked my sibling into a high-speed highway chase punctuated at regular intervals with my high-decibel cries to “slow down right now or else I’m calling mom”.

We dropped off a friend on the outskirts of Jaipur and moved towards Ajmer, passing through a dozen toll-booths while I kept tabs on an ever-dwindling supply of rupee coins. I made no pretence of my non-existent navigational skills, leaving it to my brother’s uncanny sense of direction to find the right way. He’s a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out the right direction; a Sherlock Holmes at the steering wheel.

That said, we did stray from the path once or twice (thanks to missing highway signboards and strange villagers who prompted us to keep going despite the fact we were travelling on weed-infested tracks that disappeared in the distance).

But only once did we truly lose our way, on the last leg of our journey from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. A wrong turn set us back a couple of hours and we were trapped in traffic behind a long line of trucks that seemed to crawl at a top speed of 100 centimetres per hour. It must have been faster than that but the wait was interminably long.

“Easier just to walk,” I remember saying as pedestrians ambled past, unmoved by the sight of our giant traffic centipede snaking through the desert state. I changed the song on the car stereo, drowning out my brother’s angry mutterings. That was my only privilege -- choice of car music and I made full use of it through the 17-hour journey.

We stopped only four times -- to stretch our legs and relax at a suitable dhaba, the ones with the non-stinky loos. And there were plenty on them on the route, though not dotting the highway like they do on the road to Chandigarh.

And what of the view? Miles and miles of sunny sunflower fields, interspersed with hillocks and bullocks. Veiled Rajasthani women in multi-hued embroidered frilly skirts and turbaned men mostly attired in white. I can’t believe it -- I’m actually enjoying this trip. If only I had bothered to bring a camera -- my humble BlackBerry is woefully inadequate.

We reached Ahmedabad at nightfall, ready to collapse into our beds. But it’s been fun and I’m actually looking forward to our return trip.

"You wait till I can afford the Mahindra XUV500," said my brother. "Then I won't ever be home on weekends."

"Mom!" I call out and then stop to shield my face as an incoming pillow bounces off my hands.

(Entry for the Mahindra XUV500 contest)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Of Merkel, beer showers and Amsterdam

A waiter accidentally spilled five glasses of beer down Angela Merkel’s back last week. I empathise with the German Chancellor because I know exactly what she went through.

Flashback to June 2005. Amsterdam was hosting the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards and as a rookie reporter, I had done precious little in terms of exclusive celebrity interviews.

Bollywood stars were closeted in their hotel rooms or were at rehearsals for the big day; only a few known faces were hurrying through city streets -- and they were not interested in speaking to me.

Disheartened, I joined a group of Indian journalists going for a drink that evening. We walked past cobbled streets to an alfresco eatery near the red-light district of De Wallen. Since it was chilly outside, we occupied the only table inside the coffee shop. I ordered chocomel (don’t ask; being a teetotaller even in Sin City baffles most people). I was the only one to opt for chocolate-flavoured milk; the others wanted beers.

The waitresses were dressed in Bavarian-inspired outfits. I watched as one of them, a pretty blonde with her hair in plaits, moved towards us balancing a huge pitcher of beer. Perhaps it was her ankle-length skirt, or maybe the treacherous carpet, but the next thing I knew -- I was drenched in beer.

I remember glancing at her face. The waitress was frantic. There was a flurry of hands, cloth towels and apologies. I was helped out of my dripping jacket as my stunned companions watched -- and then giggled.

I don’t remember much after that and was too embarrassed to care. I think we got a round of beers and a glass of chocomel on the house. My leather jacket had the worst of the encounter though. It reeked of alcohol for days, and fellow passengers on the flight home gave me weird looks.

As for Merkel, she handled it much better than I did. She regained her composure after the beer bath and went on stage as scheduled. It’s not something she’ll easily forget though. It’s the same for me. The sights and sounds of the Amsterdam trip may have faded into the background but my beer shower memory remains. Cheers to that.

(Contest entry for )

Monday, February 20, 2012

Parents to get top marks for voting in UP

Students at a Lucknow college will earn extra credit if they can get their mom and dad to vote in the Uttar Pradesh state elections this month.

Getting those 10 extra marks is no easy task. A girl student at Christ Church college said she would have to work hard to push her “lazy” mother to go out on polling day but it would be worth it.
School officials insist this is no bribe, only an incentive to ensure students learn the value of their vote. At a parent-teacher conference immediately after the election, the ink-stained fingers of voting parents will show which students have succeeded in the task. For more, click here

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Falak saga latest in India’s battle for its missing girls

A two-year-old girl battling for life in a New Delhi hospital has put the media spotlight on a sordid tale of child abuse and prostitution in the world’s biggest democracy.
Three weeks ago, a toddler with severe injuries was brought to the hospital by a teenager claiming to be her mother. The child, later named Falak (sky) by nurses, was in critical condition, with human bite marks on her body. More here

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Revisiting God's own country

Am back in New Delhi after a two-week vacation in Kerala, having welcomed 2012 in God's own country. It was a good trip -- despite my BlackBerry going on the blink.

Visions of machete-wielding mustachioed men targeting us in Tamil Nadu gave Mom sleepless nights so we ditched plans to take a taxi from Coimbatore, opting for an uncomfortable train trip to Thrissur instead.

There was no real danger the Mullaperiyar dispute would spark riots (apart from the stray stone-pelting incidents reported on TV) and ironically, the only reference to the whole dam controversy was in the Christmas cribs I spotted in at least two Kerala churches. Baby Jesus would surely have been surprised to see this huge structure (pic above) just metres away from his tiny manger in Bethlehem.

Wedding bells were in the air (for one of my cousins), one of the reasons my family was in Kerala after six years. Not that I could do much sightseeing, we were mostly meeting relatives -- breakfast with Uncle X, lunch with Cousin Y, dinner with Grand-aunt Z, with a couple of 15-minute brunches and coffee thrown in for the not-so-related acquaintances. Which means you shouldn't really ask me how much I weigh -- am still carrying some holiday weight (as Friends character Ross Gellar would say).

A highlight of the trip was waking up in Anthikad (the native place of noted Malayalam film director Sathyan Anthikad) to find an elephant grazing in the backyard. Arjunan had been hired for the local Saint Sebastian feast. I'm not usually fond of pachyderms but this majestic creature was a pleasure to behold -- the amiable elephant kept us entertained. Happy New Year.

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