Just In Jest

“Come on! What are you afraid of, chicken?”

“I told you, I am not in the mood. Feeling really tired…it’s been a long day”.

“It’s not a competition. Just a playful thing, no marks, no winners. C’mon, where’s your sportsmanspirit?”

“Okay then. Fine”.

Dust and gravel are shaken out of their stupor; breaths in rhythm to the limbs; and an exalted cry of truimph. “Hahaha! I win. Suck it loser”.

You said it was just in jest. No winners, and definitely no taunting!”

“Oh please, there are always winners. Why else would we compete? L-oser!”

 

 

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Thanks for the Memories

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In three days, I will be done with my end semester exams and will become a college graduate. And there are only two things that I shall be taking along with me from there:

  1. A document pronouncing me as a graduate
  2. Memories

The first one undoubtedly is important because it will help me in whichever career path I chose in the near future, but the latter is paramount.

It is this wealth of memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and on dark, gloomy days of montony and amidst strangers in a foreign land, the wisps of days gone by will make me smile.

It is a difficult realization: my friends and I, after spending a few years together and aiding each other in the painful process of growing up, shall now part ways. Of course we shall promise to keep in touch, but promises slowly fade away.

Some of us will become famous, and we one fine day, we shall see them on the TV and with a start cry out, “Oh! I knew her!”, and stare at the screen, mentally comparing the gawky teenager we knew to the well-groomed celebrity on screen.

News of some will filter to us through other acquaintainces, and we shall delight or rue their truimphs and defeats vicariously. (In our hearts, we shall long for those days when we were the ones they confided all their news to first).

Some we shall meet, suddenly, in markets and at the bus stop.

“How have you been?”

“Good. Can’t complain, and you?”

“Just doing fine”.

At this point his bus arrives, and we both move on with our lives, and maybe later that night reminisce about the’good old days’.

Maybe right now I am being cynical but change is scary. And yet part we must for whatever next adventure life takes to.

There’s only one thing that can be said…Thanks for the memories!

 

This is My Life?

Daily PromptIf you could read a book containing all that has happened and will ever happen in your life, would you? If you choose to read it, you must read it cover to cover. 

“Excuse me, how much is this porcelain doll for?” I asked the ancient-looking shopkeeper with wizened eyes and a silver beard Santa Claus would be jealous of. Christmas being just around the corner I was stocking up presents for friends and family, and a rather quaint pink porcelain fairy doll in the window of an antique shop caught my fancy. I thought I would try to get it for my mother.

The shopkeeper, without even moving from his post behind the counter, pointed at the dusty label on the doll which proclaimed it’s price to be 50 rupees. A bargain by any estimate but being an astute shopper I thought I would try for more. The first rule of bargaining: don’t seem too interested in the object you are buying. So I set down the doll with a grim “hmm” to indicate my dissatisfaction with the price and looked around aimlessly. The shop was crammed with odds and ends: tarnished silver spoons, a dozen cracked mirrors (how many years of bad luck does that accrue to?) , dream catchers that have caught nothing but dust bunnies, porcelain dolls with frozen smiles and a few leather-bound books. Being the bookworm I am, I naturally graviated towards those, and froze in shock. The black leather bound book with golden edges, fifth from the right in the second row, very clearly proclaimed in its title my name in bold, engraved, and golden alphabets. A dozen possibilities ran through my mind, each more intriguing than the last: I had a namesake, who coincidentally, was also an author; I had travelled back from the future in a T.A.R.D.I.S. and this is a book I myself wrote; this was the book my parents read before they had me and named me after it. 

Intrigued and surprised I picked it up and was about to open it when a wrinkled old hand with surprising strength slammed it shut. I flinched back in shock. I was pretty sure I had left the old propreitor sitting behind the counter, at the other end of the store, only seconds ago. How on Earth did he creep up on me so fast?

“This is your book” he said. “This is your life”.

“What?” I said. 

“This book chronicles all that has happened to you in the past and that will happen to you in the future. It details your entire life. You can read it if you want, but you must read it cover to cover”.

A thousand things crossed my mind but what crossed my lips was, “It’s so short!”

The old man clicked his tongue, “Tsk, tsk! Such a typical comment of someone your age” (Why is it that grown-ups can’t say anything without making at least one comment about your age?) “You yourself are a writer of flash fiction. You should know better than to judge a story by its length”.

The idea that my life was similar to a flash fiction story written by me didn’t really reassure me. But I had more pressing concerns, like: “You read it?”

The shopkeeper shrugged, “It gets lonely around here”.

“Ohh…” I said because what else was there to be said.

“Can you give me some tips then? Anything I should look out for, a  lottery ticket number, the question paper of the final exams?” 

He fixed me with a stern glance, “That is against the rules. You must read for yourself, if you choose to…” He let his voice trail off meaningfully.

Oh man, did I want to read that book! So many questions that I wanted an answer for – did the guy I like like me back, would I get into the institute I was aiming for, would there be a Sherlock Season 4, so on and so forth. But there was also the realization that if I did I would never be able to unread it. And that meant No Surprises – Good or Bad, ever again in life, and how boring would such a life be!

So with a heavy heart I kept the book down and told the shopkeeper, “Thanks but no thanks”. He gave me a mysteriously knowing smile, which prompted me to add, “Wait…you already knew I wouldn’t read it! You read it!” 

“Maybe, maybe not” he said. “Now where were we on the porcelain doll? 45 is my final offer, and don’t pretend because I know you want it”.

There was little argument I could offer to that so I meekly paid the price, and left.

Just before the door closed, he called out, “By the way, I would look out for Komodo dragons if I were you”.

“Wait…what?” I tried to push the door open but it had locked itself behind me.

I don’t know if the man was bluffing or not but I think I will cancel my trip to Komodo in Indonesia, just in case….

Things You See On Mumbai Locals #5: The Hand of the Modern Indian Woman – The Best Of Two Worlds

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From in between the half a dozen Nike and Adidas armbands, the symbol Oum tentatively peeks out

…..

– this is the arm of the modern Indian woman. The red tikka or vermilion mark contrast sharply with her GreenDay t-shirt. She is just as punctual for the first day, first show of the latest Tom Cruise thriller, as she is for every puja or religious ceremony in the temple. She revels in her culture and is unapologetic of her bold sexuality.
The way the young girls in Indian metropolitan cities have assimilated the modern day trends with the traditions of the past is admirable and worthy of being written about.
In my college, for instance, girls have the option of choosing between two ways of dress – ethnic or western. A girl can, if she so chooses dress in tight figure-hugging jeans and a tee or a short black dress, but she would look just as attractive in an azure blue salwar suit with silver lace on the duppata and dangling silver earrings, with a tiny diamante bindi to finish the look. You could also, and many do, combine both forms and mix ‘n’ match – an ethnic kurti over jeans, a duppata thrown casually with a dress, or something as insidious as a traditional block printed dress or a tie and dye shirt….options abound, and the modern Indian woman is determined to make best of all of them.
If you move from her wardrobe to her food habits a similar fusion prevails. For instance, today on the train it was the birthday of a passenger. She is in her early 40s and travels regularly to work with a group of her middle-aged friends, who all wished her with a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!’ today. She distributed packed chocolates and wafers among them, and they gifted her a packed red box that contained coconut barfi. Or the other day, I overhead a 30-something woman tell her friend that the manchurIan balls she prepared for her son’s birthday party had been praised by all, as had been the rice payasam she had cooked.
Just like the sacred thread which hides underneath the more modern accessories, underneath the modern exterior, the Indian woman has preserved her heritage and culture. Over the years, instead of discarding one for another, we have chosen to learn from all that’s new and modern while not forgetting the wisdom of the ages. Be it in her wardrobe or her kitchen – the modern Indian woman has skillfully fused the best of both worlds.

Butterfly on Glass

image I was walking up the steps of the subway when I saw this – a butterfly desperately trying to get back to the greenery and fresh air it loves. Some stray gust of wind had probably brought it bumbling into the subway by accident … And now the poor creature was desperately trying to find it’s way back. It fluttered hither and thither in its panic, banging its wings against the glass, and being taken aback every time by this invisible barrier yha it just couldn’t cross. The sight reminded me a little of human nature. We weep and moan and call a situation desperate and bleak, but if we spend some time in thinking we would realize that the door to our dream destination  was always open. We were just wasting time, weeping. In a dark room we can either curse the blackness….or feel along the walls, to find the light switch.

Abstract Poems

In today’s class, our creative writing teacher had us writing poems on abstract nouns. Here are the ones I came up with:

Fear glides in the Dark,
Draped in voluminous robes of horrific blackness.
He whispers in your ear, and cackle as you shiver.

Beauty strutters in the glided halls
Dressed in shimmering gold
She looks out of the window, and pales in terror of all that she beholds.

Humanity wails in the desolate battlefield
Bathed in the blood of innocence
He weeps and weeps – a ceaseless sound beating against dead ears.

Love drowned with the Titanic.
Love bled in the graveyard with Juliet.
Love dies everyday…and lives forever.

The Fault In Our Stars – Not The Usual Review

Much has already been said about this book, and much more will probably be said about it in the distant future. It is one of those books that no matter when or in which era you pick up, it’s still gonna affect you, like it affected the first person who read it, simply because it talks of that eternal entity we call Life.
Lot of my friends had told me a lot about this book – “oh, it’s beautiful. I cried”, or “those two poor lovers! It really makes you believe in the power of love”; and yet I was apprehensive of reading it. I assumed, as I had been led to believe, that the book was an emotional tear jerker, manufactured in the assembly line of tragic love stories, that had once given us the masterpiece of Romeo and Juliet, but since then due to lack of Innovation, resorted to hackneyed clichés. Two young teenagers, suffering from cancer, meet at a Support Group and fall in love – it doesn’t take Einstein to figure out what’s eventually gonna happen at the end. I assumed that it would be one more story about star-crossed lovers that would make me cry, but provide little reading pleasure. I assumed wrongly.
Don’t get me wrong. Some cancer stories are really heartrending, like My Sister’s Keeper and Walk To Remember, but what differentiates this book from them is that in the former, we as readers are separated from the characters. We sympathize, but we rarely empathize. We read the book, and think with a shudder ‘that could have been me’, and that realization makes the book all the more poignant. We, in short, behave like Hazel and Augustus’s friends who feel scared and sorry for them, but at the same time they feel relived that it didn’t happen to them. What they and we often fail to realize is that those who live with a disease do not always need our sympathy. Their zest of life, as the book proves, may outrun even ours.
The Fault In Our Stars however is written in a way that pulls in the reader, elevating him/her from the status of an eavesdropper to one of the characters. The story isn’t about facing life amidst hard obstacles, it is about facing life, despite all obstacles, and isn’t that what all of us do, everyday. Cancer in the story is merely co-incidental. They do suffer, but which one of us don’t suffer in either love or life, or both. Some may argue their obstacles and suffering were greater than anything we can ever imagine, but how exactly do you measure suffering? At its essence the book is simply a story of two young lovers, written with such crisp wit and wry dark humor that you can’t help but laugh. I thought the book was a tear jerker. I was wrong. If anything, it’s a laughter jerker.

The world isn’t a wish granting factory.

The message of the book is simple : Life is unfair, but then it doesn’t have to be fair. Nature doesn’t owe any one of us happiness – a mistake we commonly make. Death is inevitable, whether at 17 or at 77, and in between you are further doomed to face intense physical and emotional pain, heartbreak and loss. Life isn’t about haggling over how many years you live. It’s about how much you live in the years assigned to you. 18 is too young an age to die, but for the father whose daughter died at 9 years, those 9 years are a luxury his daughter didn’t have. Death is a tragedy, whether at 18 or 88 or 108. All of us (and books) die in the middle, and some dreams remain unfulfilled. Even if the book had ended with both the characters alive, their story was destined to end the way it did, in their fictional universe, someday.
The achievement of the book and its characters is that they managed to go beyond their disease. We don’t remember Hazel and Augustus only as two cancer kids, but two young teenagers, just like you or me, who had dreams and ambitions for the future, who hated studying and going to school, who loved books, poetry, traveling, video games, their family, and most of all each other.
My favorite part of the book is when it doesn’t end with Augustus dying, but with Hazel realization that she has to move on; that though she will always love Gus he belongs to her past and she must move on alone into her future. 
The book is among the best the young adult genre has ever produced and I would definitely recommend it as a read to everyone. It is NOT your usual sappy romance.

Things You See On Mumbai Locals #2

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Today while returning from a friend’s birthday lunch (on Mumbai’s lifeline of course – what else would I use?!) I had a sudden moment of epiphany about Life. As I watched the blue sky dappled with sunlight and the green trees wet from the last shower, flash by, I realized Life isn’t so different from a moving train ride.
We board the train at birth, and can only alight it after Death. All that lies in between is a magnificent journey. There are beautiful sights sometimes, like sprawling green meadows and rambling silver brooks which make me feel happy, and ugly sights like a garbage dump which makes me sad or angry.  But they both are transitory. I can’t stop and gaze at them. One second is all I get, to be jubilant or dejected in, before the train moves on, and all that is left is a memory.
Our friends and family are like our co-passengers. They get on the train at some point, and for some time we travel together, but soon their stop comes, and they get down, while I must go on. I can try holding onto their hands, till momentum tears us asunder; I can try craning my neck, craving  that one last look, but no matter how hard I try to hold on to the moment, it’s gonna fly away on the wings of nostalgia.
The train however moves on……..

Top 11 Books That Will Change Your Life

I am a bookaholic, I swear I am. That being said it’s nearly shameful that I hardly wrote any posts about books!! Inspired by today’s Daily Prompt I have decided to turn over a new leaf, and start writing about books, as I had originally intended to, when I first started my blog. I, however, was afraid that my blog would revolve too much around books, and that might make it boring. So, in attempting to evade a possible error, I over-corrected myself.
Enough time spent repenting, time to start writing. What better place to start than with classics. Here are some classic books that changed my life, and that I would recommend to every young-adult out there:

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: No book helped me more through puberty than this poignant tale of the 4 March sisters. I must have read it a thousand times over the years, fingering through the familiar yellow pages and finding solace, comfort and advice, that I sourly craved for. I empathized with the March sisters, wept at their sorrows, and rejoiced at their joys. I revered Mrs. March as a mentor. I turned to her for advice on those petty issues (read: boys and fashion) that I couldn’t confide to my mother.

Little Women

2. To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee: 
One of my favourite literary quotes are from this book:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

I love it for its sheer simplicity and also the its veracity. To really understand a person you need to understand HIM – his background, his past experiences and his frame of reference. Put yourself for one minute in the shoes of the worst person you know, and see how your opinion about him, mitigates (if not change).

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3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: I recently read thisbook for an Economics project and was touched to the core by the story. Though the novel is set in the Great Depression in the United States of America, a country I have never even been in, it somehow manages to give voice to the exploited and the homeless across the globe, including in my country. My favourite quote from the book is Tom’s farewell speech to Ma Joad. It echoes my belief in the fact that one should always, always fight for one’s right, if only in the hope that someone else like me, in the future, won’t have to go through what I went through. 

Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.graors of wrath

4. The Chronicles ofNarnia by C.S. Lewis: I love this book. I love how simple it makes the eternal struggle between good and bad seem. You have to support the good, just because it is right. There can be no excuses. Especially, I love the portrayal of paradise in the last book, as a place with all the good things and all the good people of Earth. Earth is, according to the book, simply like a trial round for all creatures to see who deserves Paradise:

It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different – deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.

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5. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: I read this book as part of my fifth-grade reading list, and I have been in love with it ever since. It is a thrilling tale of vengeance, but my favourite scene is when the Count asks forgiveness from Mercedes, and bades her farewell. He asks her where shall they meet again, and she tells him they will meet in heaven.

the count of monte christo

 

6. Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde: Oscar Wilde is easily my favourite playwright. This play, highlighting the hypocrisy of society, especially the concept of ‘a good woman’ seems as relevant to me, in today’s age of feminism, as in the Victorian Society.

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7. Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle: Do I even need to explain this?! The adventures of this great detective will help you happily spend many a rainy day. It might also increase your skills of deductive reasoning.

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8. And Then There Was None by Agatha Christie: As we are on the topic of mysteries, I must of course name my favourite lone-standing mystery novel. This one is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will keep you guessing till the end.
and then there were none
9. Jeeves by P.G. Woodehouse: When I first read this book I kept a dictionary beside me, and I will frankly confess that I had to turn to it more than a dozen times, to get through a single page. But I am glad I persevered, because this is undoubtedly one of the wittiest and most humorous books I have ever read!
Jeeves
10. Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan: Not sure if this counts as a classic, but R.K. Narayan’s beautifully described plot with its vivid imagery will transport you to the idyllic villages of India. It is indeed awe-inspiring the way he managed to weave such poignant tales out of the petty problems and daily obstacles of the average middle-class man.
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11. Nirmala by Munshi Premchand: Premchand does a wonderful job in this novel at giving voice to the subaltern masses and highlighting the social evils of pre-independent Indian society. I love it for its boldness. His protagonist is a woman, and not a rich princess, but a common everyday housewife – the one, who was in this era, usually secluded behind the curtain.
nirmala
…I could go on forever on this topic, but the old doubts are returning now. I don’t wanna bore you, and hope I haven’t. Try reading some of these books. I promise you won’t regret it.

The Soundtrack of Life: Writing 101 Day 3

Writing 101 Day 3 Prompt: Today, celebrate three songs that are significant to you. For your twist, write for fifteen minutes without stopping — and build a writing habit.

I will be frank – this was a difficult prompt, and it took quite some mind and memory rummaging to come up with three songs that are associated with some significant memory in my mind. But here are the three songs that you can play if I ever get amnesia, and I think somewhere in the deep recesses of mind a memory will start blossoming.

  1. Les Chaps Elysees by Joe Dassin: Last summer I took an intensive French course. Our teacher had an unique way of getting us attuned to the French accent. She played songs, and gave us fill-in-the-blanks sheets of the lyrics. It was our listening exercise. But the day she played this song, after we all had finished the day’s exercise, she suddenly announced that she was going to teach us to line-dance! With great trepidation and excitement, the benches were pushed to the sides to be our silent spectators. That was probably one of the best days of the entire course. We danced and giggled to our heart’s content. Every now and then, someone would bump into their partner, and begin a domino chain of people bumping into each other, but nobody seemed to mind. We were too busy having fun to notice stubbed fingers!
  2. Katiya Karoon by Sapna Awasthi, Harshdeep Kaur from the Bollywood film ‘Rockstar’: I still remember the date – 14th November 2011. It was a friend’s birthday, and as a treat she was taking all her friends to watch the newly released blockbuster movie ‘Rockstar’ starring Ranbir Kapoor. All of us were still new acquaintances, having joined high school together, only six months ago. Like new leather shoes, we were still getting the feel of each other, a little afraid of getting shoe-bites. That movie screening was our test and we passed it with flying colours. We laughed and cried through the film together, and did not leave the theatre even after the end-credits had rolled, as we were too busy acting as film-critics. It was only after janitors arrived to clean the theatre for the next show that we realized we had to leave. Once outside nobody seemed to want to go home. So, still hung-over from the film, we started singing the lyrics of Katiya Karoon out loud, and dancing on the street. We were young, carefree, and surrounded by friends. Nothing seemed to exist except that moment. Even today when I remember my friends from high school (most of whom I have lost contact with)an image rises in my mind of a deserted street at twilight and a group of teenagers dancing down it.
  3. Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams: This song embodies in my mind all the sweet concepts of nostalgia, companionship, memories, childhood and friendship. My favourite lines in the song are:

When I look back now, the summer seemed to last forever

And if I had a choice, I would just wanna be there.

Those were the best days of my life!

I Hope We Meet Again Someday!

It is funny how I seem to spend every summer with a new set of close friends! The same set who might have become my rivals by the next summer, or worse, just drifted out of touch. If I am lucky one face or two might remain constant, but the dynamics of our relationship never have. Yet if you take a time machine and go back and ask any of us at any one of the summers (including the present one) we swear we will be friends forever. The very thought of the opposite is ridiculous. We share everything, we know everything about each other, how can we not remain friends till the end of time?! But things change, and friends drift apart. Kind of like two railway lines, running parallel to one another for a while, but sooner or later they will have to drift apart, and all that will remain are sweet memories on the warm summer breeze. This song is the most fitting ode I have heard to lost friends and to Time.