November 28, 2002

must-do when i am in

must-do when i am in kerala next month: stare long enough at a coconut tree so i never forget how to draw one, ever.




November 27, 2002

power corrupts, but not if in the right hands

at last! a little encounter with the uk police.

i so much wanted to see if the police in london were really the ‘chocolate police’ that praveen always told me about. …that they were really very nice and helpful to the general public, that there was no such thing as bribing or corruption in this country, that they respect the privacy of an individual and in doing so, command respect themselves…could it really be true?

travelling on the tube for two months i had already seen they were really helpful and never lost their temper or patience with the public, even under pressure. they helped me when i got lost a number of times on the underground, especially at stations like king’s cross or paddington that had many lines connecting everywhere. they also helped me get on the right connecting trains to where i had wanted to go when most of the train services were cancelled due to flooding on the tracks. most often, i have seen a single policeman handle a mob of people very calmly, as if he comes across such crises everyday. the same with bus drivers and the traffic police.

had it been india, i used to wonder, and with shame…there would be a shower of gaalis by this pot-bellied paan-chewing policeman or havaldar (constable); the more the pressure caused by the situation, the more the swear words in the language of your choice, and the lighter your wallet for the bribe you have to pay. it was almost like they were doing a favour by serving the police, and having bribed their way into their post themselves, extracting money from the common people seemed to have become their right.

i hate to say all this, but then give me one police officer in india who is not touched by corruption and i will gladly delete this entry.

why, my father (a builder) told me of cases where someone who bought a flat from him had to pay rs 10 lakh to reach his post of superintendent in a month or two. in a month or two!?
~~~
i will never forget the 20 minutes at vartaknagar police station where i went to get my passport verification and was made to feel like i was on the local ‘wanted’ list.
~~~
when i got married and had to get a marriage certificate in time for my visa, i made several trips to the marriage register office with my friend jayashree, to prove to my father that if a job was done in time and by the rules, bribing was really not necessary. despite our efforts, i was annoyed because just like my father had anticipated, he had to cough up rs 3000 — for a mere piece of recycled paper and a signature that would land me here in the uk with my husband.
~~~
after 21 days of training behind the wheel for a driver’s license, when i went for my driving test my instructor accompanied me, with about 32 others from the same driving school. no sooner had the test begun with me displaying the hand signals that the car began to move by itself. i was shocked even further when my instructor calmly muttered to me under his breath “just hold the steering wheel and pretend you’re driving; i have control of the car. i’ll see to it that you pass the test”.

this happened with each of the 32 students, who also, just before entering a room for a theory check of the traffic rules, were prompted by the owner of the driving-school herself — about the questions they would be asked inside!

when completely disillusioned, i returned and told the instructor that i would had rather have failed the test than cheat and die in an accident later, he laughed and said matter-of-factly “this is the way of the world dear, each person has to survive here by doing this”. and then, in the same tone, he asked me for an additional rs 300 for having helped me. i checked with some of the other students and he had already extracted a couple of hundreds from each one of them. as if this was not frustrating enough, they all looked at me as if i had just landed from the planet mars!
~~~
where do we draw the line? this is not a one-man (or woman) task…if there is one person who says ‘no’ to giving bribe, there should be another person saying ‘no’ to receiving it.

to know what it is like to live in a land untouched by corruption, *live in one. believe me, it’s like breathing in clean air.

~~~

late last night as we were returning home after watching die another day with our friends at uxbridge, a light flashed twice on praveen’s rear-view mirror. when he pulled to the left of the motorway, a police car stopped right next to us.

i froze, and was reminded of the night at nerul when we were stopped by a patrol of plain-clothes-policemen who were carrying huge guns. what could be the matter this time i wondered…praveen does not drink, we were driving slowly, talking about nothing and everything in general…

“hiya there” he greeted us first, taking a quick peep inside to look at me. then he got out of his car and asked praveen “could you please step out for a minute sir?”

my heart sank. inside my head were all sorts of bond-movie strategies we had just watched. i strained to catch words they were talking as they stood in the lights of both the cars, and imagined the worst. would praveen have to pay something too, as my father had done once for no fault of his at a signal at dadar? what if the policeman was a racist and punched him in the stomach suddenly? i shuddered looking at the vast motorway ahead wondering how i could get help at 30 minutes past midnight. and i wasn’t even carrying my cell phone!

less than two minutes later, the conversation between praveen and the policeman ended. i managed a weak smile as he wished goodnight and drove off with his colleague. praveen waved back too, so nothing seemed to be wrong…

apparently, they were on their routine late night ’rounds’, and noticed that we were driving slowly. our **ancient rusty car, which wobbles when below a certain speed-limit, gave the policemen an impression that it had a drunk driver. wanting to check, they asked us to stop, and when assured nothing was amiss, they left. he even said ‘take care’ added praveen, laughing at how paranoid i’d become. “see? that’s why i call them chocolate-police. aren’t they sweet?”

sigh, why can’t i have just a whiff of this clean air in my country too…?




November 25, 2002

365 days (already!)

little rainbow-bubbles of life,

lots of hugs and happiness

surprises and pranks

and simple dreams

stories and music

silly disappointments

and frowns…
never more than a minute (okay, two :-p)

kitchen experiments,
some garden ones,

our own home
setting it up.

moving on
‘here’ for each other

always…

it seems like we’ve known each other for ages. yet i can’t help wonder…
didn’t we meet just yesterday?

happy first wedding anniversary, praveen :-x




November 8, 2002

what is it like to unlearn?

after a degree in english literature, i was expected to marry and settle down in a family. but i refused, much against the wishes of my parents. i was so desperate to get a career for myself, and know “who am i?”, that i agreed to work as a trainee in an advertising agency very close to my home. anybody can guess, my father was a client at the ad agency.

i love the ad world, but i hated every day at that office. because every body was too nice to me. after all, at 20 i was very inexperienced. i was told to spend time at whatever section i felt like, and then decide on what i favoured over the rest. fair enough, but i was the client’s daughter. so i never was given the complete picture. not quite sure of what lay ahead, and though i knew copywriting was something that interested me, within six months, i quit.

i cannot do something if my heart is not in it.
that was my first education.

in those six months, i got the first taste of what bombayites call duniyadaari (literally translated as the ways of the world, it perhaps is more apt as a slang for ‘being streetsmart’). the ‘office’ was a place where rumours brewed along with tea and coffee, and everyone from the peon-cum-chaiwallah to the french-bearded ‘ceo’ took part in mud-slanging and unhealthy competition against their co-workers. apart from my mixed feelings of disappointment, curiosity and sometimes even amusement, i was undeterred. my resolve to make it somewhere, somehow, on my own only increased, and thanks to constant encouragement from chacko varghese, the copywriter who i used to assist, after one or two interesting interviews that failed, i soon landed up at the indian express. of course, my parents never had wanted me to work, so i had not told home i was going for an interview. the company published a tabloid about computers, which i knew just how to spell. but i passed the subbing and editing tests, and was taken in as a trainee right away.

someone believes in me, which means i’m not doing something ‘wrong’.
that was my second education.

when we go to school we are told it is necessary to study and get a degree “for a decent job”. but as i began to look around i saw it was so untrue. rarely did i come across anybody who stuck to a subject he/she had chosen at school. as for whether my literature degree helped, shelley or wordsworth never wrote an ‘ode to a personal computer’. i thought this is it, i should have a degree in journalism…but again i was told it was not necessary. since i was already working in a publication. i was disillusioned, but yes, i did have a job. i stayed on.

my next job saw me as copy editor for a magazine that was not yet launched (chip, now digit). i had freedom, i loved the people around me, and i believed it was ‘my’ magazine. however, in just a week i was overwhelmed to tears by my doubts of whether or not i could match up to the expected standards, i was assured by my editor “yes radhika, i know you have that quality”. i stayed for two years, and it was the best part of my career.

when you are in the right place, it reaches out and talks to you.
that was my third education.

i did not want to leave that job, ever. but part of me also wanted to know if i could ever be independent, and live alone. i had had a protected life. my parents gave me everything even before i could ask. so i was asked “will you be able to live alone?” i thought i was running away from a truth; i knew i was afraid of facing what i could not predict, and of leaving behind my present in which i had learned to be complacent. i decided to find out. it was the toughest decision i had to make. i quit.

when a fear haunts you, turn around and grab it by the collar.
that was my fourth education.

nine months later, i resigned when i learned the company was more of a game played by the management and i was not going to learn anything here. i did prove to myself however, that i could stay on my own, and that it was alright to make decisions that a certain situation demanded. and even if i took a wrong decision, i had myself to blame, because it was my decision after all.

we all live one life, and it is alright to make mistakes.
that was my fifth education.

i was now the home page editor at zdnetindia. my parents wanted me to get married. i had my biases. i also had a past. i had wanted to hide. but life goes on, and somewhere i read “if you stop to watch the world go by, it will!” i was not a quitter, and i knew i would be in the right hands as soon as i saw him.
maybe i was plain lucky. i gave up my job. i left behind my friends and memories. somewhere inside i knew i would still be me. and so i got married. today i know, i did the right thing.

your parents will only want the best for you. no matter what you give to the world, remember that one day, it will come back.
that was my sixth education.

i had begun writing in a personal diary when i lived alone. this was to keep in touch with my friends and family, and i wrote in it “for fun”. but it began to take shape and have a life of itself. it affected me, and what i thought of the world. because the world was no longer a place to hide from. everything i did was on the world wide web for everyone to see. like millions of others, i was online, and i too was making mistakes. like them i also laughed and cried. “what will people say” never mattered to the introvert anymore…i was free!

there is so much freedom in the simplest of truths. the only way to feel it is by just being yourself.
that was my seventh education.

i came to the uk with praveen. i did not have a job, but it did not stop me from writing. on the contrary, i took it so seriously that often i did not post an entry if i was not satisfied with it. i was unconsciously developing a hobby that i thought could only happen to anyone else, or a distant cousin. i redesigned my journal, and my husband made it possible. my journal began to include experiences of an indian girl in a different culture, and one day i was discovered. my teacher used to say “the world is a thick huge jungle. you’ll never know from which bush a rabbit will jump”. this surprise though, was pleasantly encouraging.

wherever you are, make the best of what is given to you. when the signs tell you something, listen.
that was my eighth education.

but i did not listen. i wanted something that would keep me occupied, a job so i could bring discipline into my content life. i did not want to get comfortable. i did not want to be a ‘housewife’. i wanted to be a ‘home-maker’. soon enough, a job offer landed in my email inbox. had i come across it in the ‘job opportunities’ sections i would give it a miss…it was too far from home. it did not seem creative enough. but it was very tempting. it was a mutual need on both sides. i accepted the offer.

“it is better to be hated for what you are, than to be loved for what you are not”. i was trying to step in shoes that i knew would not fit.
that was my ninth education.

that was also the shortest career-life i ever had. two months. it was also what seemed to be the longest ordeal. the travel, the frustration of doing something i did not enjoy…it was like my life was on a pause. like the two or three trains i changed every morning to work, everything had become mechanical. my journal stagnated, so did my attitude. i was seeing sides to myself i had never seen before. i had stopped being the ‘fighter’. i gave in to being depressed easily. i resisted no more. i stopped writing.

it is one thing to be able to adapt to a new routine. it is another, to not want to adapt to it. if you think to survive you must get out, get out.
that was my tenth education.

something finally must have snapped inside me too. two days ago, halfway on my way to work, i turned back home. i called my kind director, explained why it could not work, and quit the job. thankfully for me i had understanding colleagues. thankfully for them i was on contract.

today, once more, i start afresh. like my friend sanjeev says, very zen-like “to unlearn, simply forget”. but i need not unlearn. i have no regrets for the past, nor (many) expectations for what’s going to come. after all, i’m a normal life-loving girl, and like most people, i too like to collect my observations and experiences, and turn them into lessons i’ll never forget.

this entry is for swathi sri, the “tamilian gal” from singapore, who touched me today, with her simple email.




if there’s anything ‘english’ i’m

if there’s anything ‘english’ i’m going to severely miss when i’m back home in india, it’s the comfort of using toilet-paper :-)




November 7, 2002

i must have been in

i must have been in japan in one of my previous lives. why else would liza dalby’s geisha fascinate me so much, once more?




November 6, 2002

it took me two months

it took me two months to realise i was in the wrong place. and now, like the moody winter skies that change from a bright yellow ochre to a crimsony red, and then a dull dark grey, i too watch myself wait and unwind…




November 1, 2002

whether or not we believe

whether or not we believe in our culture and tradition, it is our responsibility to preserve it for our children. what they choose to do with it, is again up to them.