Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Spectacle in the Sky!

It was 10pm on Tuesday night. I was among a busload of tourists who had been driven some 30 minutes out of Reykjavic and were now standing out in the open, near the coast. I was there by myself, the kids having stayed back to rest because we had a flight to catch in 8 hours. But such common sense was not in my itinerary. It was the first clear night since we arrived and my last chance to see the northern lights!

Bitterly cold doesn't begin to describe how cold it was. I was dressed in "all" the woollens that I had carried in my bag, and still I was miserable.

The tour guide was pointing to the sky, showing us faint white light arcs right above us and some faint columns over the beach. People had their cameras out, but not me. It was too cold to remove the gloves to operate my camera, which anyway was not capturing anything.

The faint glow was nothing special. It could  easily pass off as a thin cloud cover.  Where were the glorious green lights one sees in pictures? The guide then mentioned that good cameras capture the green lights far better than human eyes. I peeped into a person's camera to see the pictures he had taken. It indeed showed green streaks. That really deflated me. Were we all simply fooled by digitally enhanced pictures?

After 30 minutes of more of the same, it was decided that the show was over. I climbed back into the bus, grateful for its warmth, greedily thinking about the 1 hour of sleep I will get before catching the bus to the airport.

Just then, the guide shouted that all of us needed to be out of the bus immediately. We tumbled out and that's when time as if stood still for me. Beautiful pale green lights danced gently in the sky and in my eyes! The sky right over the airport was a huge canvas on which these green glowing shifting shapes were painted. A cosmic laser show! My breath was knocked out from my chest. A woman next to me was screeching in delight and I realized that so was I. We were exceptions- everyone else was so civilized about it and busy with their cameras. Somehow, we managed to exchange information about each other- she was Mexican and travelling with her mother. A noisy group hug between the woman, her mother and me happened instinctively as another green arc opened up on the side. The shapes morphed and we were in rapture.

The spectacle in the sky lasted five minutes before fading out. We were still hugging each other when the mother began weeping, saying "thank you, thank you God for showing me this sight" in her language. I didn't thank any god, but my eyes were misty too!

(This is not an image from last night. I didn't bother taking any pictures. This is something I copied from the internet. What we saw was almost like this, but paler in color.)

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Voter Card

If there is one thing I dislike utterly, it is going through the process of getting official documents made in India. The mere thought of the red-tapism makes my blood run cold. If I can avoid it, I will. This is the reason I got my driver's license three years after I had started driving in and around the town. Yes yes, I know. I also very reluctantly got my Aadhaar card made only because I could not register my apartment without it.

In 2013, I had just returned to India after 14 years in Singapore, in the thick of the rising hindutva propaganda and the resulting polarization. It took me some time to catch up with the madness and gain some clarity about what was happening. You could say that was the reason I did not vote in 2014. But the real reason was I didn't have a voter ID. And I hadn't toughened up enough to try to get one. 

But 2019 was different. I was disgusted with what was happening in the country. I had to vote, which meant that I had to have a voter's ID. I had tried to get one, somewhat half-heartedly, in 2017 but that quest had ended after looking in vain for a school teacher who was supposed to have a form I had to fill. No teacher, no form, no voter ID!

Then one day earlier this year, I read a Facebook post by my writer-club friend Rinku about how getting her voter ID online was a breeze! Online! That's my world. That's a world I can traverse without standing in queues and going to schools to look for elusive teachers and forms! 

So I visited the website, scanned the required documents, including a fairly decent picture of mine, and uploaded them. I was quite pleased that my picture in an official document for once would be of my choice. You have to see my Aadhaar card and driver's license to know what I am talking about.

In about two weeks, I checked the website again to find that my voter ID had been approved and dispatched to the local SDM's office! Elections were just a month away and I will be able to vote! Yay! I was elated and somewhat shocked. "Technology is queen!", I thought to myself. 

The next day I went to the SDM office to collect my voter ID. After asking around random people, we located the room for voter ID collections and traversed the crowd to reach the counter. The man at the counter checked the website for confirmation, nodded at me, and then searched his messy desk and drawer. No voter ID! He checked with some other people and figured out that my card had been dispatched to a school a few kilometers away from my house. A school again! 

This time, I was given a name and phone number of the school teacher. So, I called her and she asked me to come to the school the next day. She had insisted that I must call her before reaching her school because she was going door to door to deliver the voter IDs and might not be at her desk. Unfortunately, my house was too far for this form of delivery. 

I did as asked the next day and fixed a time to meet her. She came in a little after I reached, soaking wet in the rain. She was a pleasant lady I must say, who asked me to sit while she looked up her stash of cards for one that belonged to me. But where was the stash? It was nowhere to be found. After searching for a while, she said she might have left it in the house of the last person she had gone to deliver the card. Might have?

So, off she went to the voter's house to bring the leftover cards. I waited anxiously for half hour before she returned with the packet and looked on greedily as she went through the voter cards one by one. She did this not once, but a couple of times. But my card was not there. She finally declared there must have been some mistake and the card would have to be in another school. 

By now I was at the end of my tether. Technology had not been the queen I had thought. Before leaving for another wild goose/teacher chase, I randomly picked up the set of voter cards on her table and looked through them. There it was- my voter ID with my name printed clearly! 

How had the lady missed it, not once but twice? She took my card from my hand incredulously and looked at my face and back at the card and said "This picture doesn't look like you! No wonder I missed it. This person looks so thin!"

Thank you mam for that observation! One would think you would look at the name instead of the picture. But these words were only in my mind. I was so happy to have that piece of plastic that I almost hugged her, and went back home feeling like a queen! 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Girls are Becoming Like Flowers

Girls are becoming like breeze
They enjoy flowing freely,
They won't accept, no they won't!
Being stopped without reason.

Girls are becoming like birds
They want to fly unconfined,
They won't accept, not anymore!
Having their wings cut off.

Girls are becoming like mountains
They enjoy living with their heads held high,
They won't accept, no they won't!
Having to bow down to just anyone.

Girls are ablaze like the Sun
They like shining brightly,
They won't accept, not anymore!
Being forever shrouded in clouds.

Girls are blooming like flowers
They enjoy spreading their fragrance,
They won't accept, no they won't!
Being crushed under anyone's feet.

Translation of my dear friend and mentor Kamla Bhasin's poem "Hawaon si ban rahi hain ladkiyan".

See it here.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Zaruri Tha- It was Destined!

Some songs get into my head with a jolt and refuse to leave. I have to listen to such songs obsessively and understand the lyrics deeply from as many sources as possible. This is one such song. To understand the lyrics, I looked at various translations on the internet. I also asked for help from my facebook friends. 
There is a funny incident about this song. I had asked my friend to fast forward this song once, because I quite disliked the way the singer sang the aalaap in a nasal tone. So she removed it from her playlist. However, it came up in another playlist by mistake while we were out on a road trip across Himachal. This time, the words caught my attention despite the nasal aalaap. I sat up straight and listened to it mesmerized. Imagine, I was almost never going to hear this song!
While translating this song, I faced the usual issues of finding soft words in English to convey the meaning. In addition, this song has many references to Islamic prayers (tawaaf- circumambulation, tasbih- prayer, namaaz, qaza- missing out on a prayer), which make this song and the love it conveys special. It is difficult to translate these literally. So, I have taken the liberty of replacing these by generic terms. As a result, some of the beauty and depth of the song is lost. My loss. 
Zaroori Tha- It was Destined
(Written by Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar)
Lafz kitne hi tere pairon se lipte honge
Tune jab aakhiri khat mera jalaya… hoga
Tune jab phool, kitabon se nikaale honge
Dene waala bhi tujhe yaad toh aaya hoga

I am sure the words would have clung to your feet
When you burnt my letters one by one,
And the dried flowers that you plucked out from the books
Must have reminded you of the one who had gifted you them

Teri aankhon ke dariya ka
utarna bhi zaroori tha
Mohabbat bhi zaroori thi
Bichadna bhi zaroori tha
Zuroori tha ki
Hum dono tawaaf-e-aarzoo karte
Magar phir aarzu’on ka
bikharna bhi zaroori tha

Your eyes had to overflow with these tears
There was no other way,
We had to love each other like we did
And then we each had to go our own way. 
It was necessary  
To have had desires and dreams,
And it was equally necessary
For them to be ripped apart at the seams.

Bataao yaad hai tumko
Woh jab dil ko churaya tha
Churaai cheez ko tumne
Khuda ka ghar banaya tha
Woh jab kehte thhe 
Mera naam tum tasbih mein padhte ho
Mohabbat ki Namaazo ko
qaza karne se darte ho
Magar ab yaad aata hai
Woh baatein thi mahaz baatein
Kahin baaton hi baaton mein
Mukarna bhi zaroori tha

You stole my heart
Tell me do you remember?
And gave it a special place
Right there in your life’s center.
You used to say that my name
was the first word you uttered every day!
And that you might forget to remember me
even for a second, was your deepest fear?
But now I believe these were mere words
Nothing more, nothing less,
And it was necessary for you
To back out of these commitments

Wahi hai sooratein apni
Wahi main hoon, wahi tum ho
Magar khoya huaa hoon main
Magar tum bhi kahin gum ho
Mohabbat mein dagha ki thi
So kaafir the so kaafir hain
Mili hain manzilein phir bhi
Musaafir thhe, musaafir hain
Tere dil ke nikaale hum
Kahaan bhatke, kahaan pahunche
Magar bhatke toh yaad aaya
Bhatakna bhi zaroori tha

We have the same faces as before
I am who I was, you are who you were,
But I am a lost wanderer
And you too are not fully here.
We could not be faithful to our love,
(disbelievers that we were and are)
So despite having reached our destinations,
Rootless, we continue to wander.
Having left the cocoon of your love,
See where I am, how much I have strayed,
But only when I was lost did I understand
that one must be lost first in order to be found.

Teri ankhon ke dariya ka
Utarna bhi zaruri the
Mohabbat bhi zaroori thi
Bichhadna bhi zaroori tha
Zaroori tha ki
Hum dono tawaaf-e-aarzoo karte
Magar phir aarzu’on k
Bikharna bhi zaroori tha
Teri aankhon ke dariya ka
Utarna bhi zaroori tha

Your eyes had to overflow with these tears
It was destined
We had to love each other like we did
And then it had to end.
It was necessary  
To have had desires and dreams,
And it was equally necessary
For them to be ripped apart at the seams.

Listen to the song here:

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Tale of the Maroon Sweater!

After months of insisting I take a sweater to a tailor to put a zip on it, my mother finally gave up on me and asked a dear friend of mine to do the job instead. Now this friend is an accomplished dentist,  a busy one, who has hardly any time for her own chores, but she isn't accomplished enough to say no to my mother. So she took the sweater and dropped it at the tailor's, and called me up and asked me pick it up the next day, as she was too busy. Big mistake!

I promptly forgot about it, as I do most such tasks. After a week, I suddenly remembered the task of the sweater and sheepishly drove to the shop, some 5 km away. There, I met a gentleman with a white beard, who asked me to describe the sweater. I had to scratch my head to remember what it looked like- a rather difficult thing to do because I had done everything in my power in the last few months to ignore the sweater and anything to do with it. My sketchy description must have been good enough because his eyes lit up and he pulled out a cloth bag from under a table. Shaking his head, he smiled sweetly and said "Yeh to nahi hua", meaning "This one hasn't been done yet". 

I felt such a relief- the delay was not my mistake, but the tailor's! But I dutifully sweet-scolded him, telling him how far I had come from for it. He promised to fix it the next day and asked me to come for it again in the afternoon. But who remembers the next day? The mountains call, the rivers whisper, and I have to listen to them, don't I? 

After about 10 days, my mother asked me about the sweater. I told her rather indignantly how the tailor had not done the job, and how careless people here are, and how my precious time is wasted in such things etc. But that very afternoon, I sent my driver to the shop to pick up the dreaded sweater and be done with it. He returned empty-handed. No one in the shop knew what sweater he was talking about! It seemed to me that this shop was competing with me in its disdain for the sweater!

Another week passed. This time my friend reminded me about it, so I made the huge effort of going to the shop again. The person in-charge looked at me askance when I asked him to give me the sweater. He had no clue what I was talking about. I asked for the older man, and I was told he had gone for his namaz and would be back soon.

So I waited with my arms folded, muttering under my breath and frowning. Those who know me well know how impatient I am. I make life hell for those who make me wait, but here, no one paid any attention to me. All three tailors were busy doing their stuff, sitting in their small chairs, surrounded by hundreds of jackets strewn around them. It was as if I and my frowns didn't exist. My impatience didn't bother anyone but me. 

After about 10 minutes of standing looking at the mess, I saw the white-bearded man coming towards the shop. I was ready to burst into a tirade, but one look into those eyes and all my anger vanished. I haven't seen such kind eyes in my life I think. That and his body language, which was neither overtly apologetic, nor arrogant, just full of calm good-cheer, completely floored me. I managed a saccharine-laced complaint about the missing article, but even that stopped once he said "Woh maroon wala half-sleeve sweater!".  He knew! He knew! 

I spent the next 15-20 minutes standing patiently as he pulled jacket after jacket from the piles on the floor, trampling on them with his shoes in the process. It was the most ridiculous scene. There were two huge piles, each with at least a hundred jackets each. When I asked him about them, he said one pile was of clothes already fixed and the other of the pending jobs. Mine was surely to be found in the first one.

Seeing the older man bending over double to find my packet, the other tailors joined in the search. 

Finally, a small packet was retrieved, resulting in much cheering from everyone! I asked the gentleman to pose for a photograph with it and he obliged happily. 

I left the shop with my mother's sweater, grinning from ear to ear. It was only when I was nearing our house that I remembered that I had not made the payment for the work done! No one had asked!

Such is the pain and the pleasure of living in a small town!