Thursday, December 10, 1998

Repulsing the eve teaser

For a woman
to stave off
unwelcome attentions
she must develop 
an attitude of
amused detachment
pleasant disinterest
calm confidence
and openly define herself
as centred and complete.

It also sometimes happens
that by the time the woman
has mastered this attitude,
she no longer needs
to stave off 
unwelcome attentions.

Sunday, December 6, 1998

Alternative poisons

Finally, the other day, I did it. I gave my husband Arsenic. It was, as they say, Indicated.
He resisted but briefly, then took it like a man. It all began on that annual check-up at the dentist’s, when the kindly fellow offered to extract my wisdom teeth, a saga that ended in bloodshed and tears. But firmly of that cheerful school of thought which vouches that Everything Happens for the Best, I recognized this as a Sign that I must now turn to Alternative Medicine.
Reiki was easy to acquire. Like any fresh convert, I began regaling my friends and acquaintances with my new powers. Until I realized that it was “Not if I see you first!” that they were muttering in reply to my cheery “See you soon!” In an attempt to regain some credibility, I pinched four enormous volumes on Homoeopathic Medicine from a certain kind person and, staggering under their weight, embarked on a voyage of knowledge and discovery.
Soon my mind was agog with all manner of preparations. There was Xanthoxylum and Argentum, Chamomila and Pulsatilla, Gnaphalium and Lycopodium, Sanguinaria and Staphisagria. It was a quaint, faraway world, a poet’s dream.
Of the many useful and interesting dysfunctions I learnt about, I soon noticed a wide gap between what they called Men’s Problems and Women’s Problems. The first focussed on virility, performance and endurance. Women’s Problems, by contrast were, one and all, stern attempts to sort out their messy and disgusting internal plumbing.
Indignant, I sought about for means to inform the Politically Incorrect Language people forthwith.
Homoeopathy, I also discovered, had sweet and simple, miraculous provisions for everything from fever, warts and piles to the pains of childbirth – and even shyness and masturbation.
Making out a list for brain tonic, cures for talkativeness, chocolate addiction and pain in the neck, I rushed to the friendly neighbourhood homoeopathy store. And found, to my dismay, that a huge population had had the news in advance and were waiting their turn before me. A disinterested and rather po-faced woman stood placidly behind the counter, ignoring the waiting customers with unmistakable satisfaction. I whiled away my time thinking up a homoeopathic remedy for her condition. And in case you have had a similar experience, here is my prescription: Silli Nit or Silli Tart. If this doesn’t work, try Yucks Vom. And if you still have no improvement, give her a dose of her own medicine, Kali Bich.
first appeared as ‘And the sceptics be poisoned’ in Indian Express Time Out on 5 Dec 1998

Saturday, December 5, 1998


Fudge, by the very sound of the word and the reverberations it causes between palate and gullet, is the sweetest delicacy ever known. It is the ultimate fantasy of the food-obsessed boarding school child, from Billy Bunter to greedy Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, to me and my friends; a longing we carried forward into sober, ponderous adulthood.
But at childhood haunts, unfriendly disappointment awaits. King Star and Modern Stores in Ooty no longer make it the way they used to. Times have changed – or perhaps it is only tastes which have become more sophisticated. Going by the theory that there is a fudge-hillstation connection, thanks to the British, Lonavala, now closer to home, beckons but once again disappoints. So-called chocolate fudge can be bought at many shops which also sell chikki and fruit squash. But it is to real, honest-to-goodness, yumptious-scrumptious chocolate fudge as sandpaper is to papad; as sawdust is to molagapodi.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, fudge could be manufactured in process batches and took the world by storm. In the early Nineteenth Century, it was the British who monopolised the world of confectionery, a tradition they retained. The perfect fudge can be had at various locations in Britain. One such is Ye Olde Tucke Shoppe, a boarder’s dream if there ever was one, in the little smuggler’s town of Rye. Rye, in the south-east of England, has marshes, a quaint old town wall made of stone, and a lighthouse, and one can all but see lights flashing on the hilltop and Uncle Quentin getting grumpy because he is allergic to Timmy the dog. Perhaps Enid Blyton was never your thing. Enjoy the fudge anyway.
If Rye is too far off, here’s how to make your own chocolate fudge which is just as good. Put equal quantities of malai (skimmed off the top of boiled milk) and sugar, and approximately three tablespoons of cocoa per cup of malai, into a thick-bottomed pot. Cow’s milk malai gives a better flavour – but go ahead and use what you have. Cook on low heat, allowing the sugar to melt gradually.
Stay alert as you mix – this is a task that needs your full attention. Your mixture will soon blend into a molten dark-brown, delicious-looking mass. Keep stirring as it thickens, until the first signs of drying on the sides of the pan which you have to scrape. Don’t wait too long now or the ghee will separate. It will still taste good, but it won’t be fudge.
Pour onto a plate lightly greased with butter. Wait for a bit and cut with a blunt-ish knife while still warm.
Allow the fudge to cool but help yourself as it sets; as creator, you have sole rights to the gooey stage.

Extra: Chocolate cake that helps you make friends:

Mix together, in this order,
0.5 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
0.25 tsp instant coffee powder
0.75 cup cocoa
2 tsp vanilla essence
1.5 cup dahi
2.75 cups atta combined with 0.667 tsp baking powder and 0.5 tsp baking soda.
Pour into a greased cake tin and bake at 150°C for 35 minutes.
Some parts of this appeared as A hill station obsession in Times of India, Mumbai on 5 Dec 1998 

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

Medal in the Sky

It was early evening as the train pulled into the yard outside Jhansi station. The year was 1974. For many of the boys on this forty-day educational tour round the country, part of their final-year engineering course, it was the first trip outside Delhi, and they were determined to make the most of every moment.
Dhyan Chand with the ball agains France
in the 1936 Olympic semi-finals
As Ajay, Sunil, Ajit and Satguru stepped into the town, it struck them that Major Dhyan Chand lived in Jhansi and on an impulse, they decided to go and seek him out. They stopped an autorickshaw. “Dada!” the auto driver exclaimed, wagging his head with enthusiasm. He drove them to a playing ground where the hockey legend spent most of his evenings coaching. But he was nowhere to be found in the crowd of players. Disappointed, but still excited and proud to be taking fans to see the great man, he ushered them back into his vehicle and drove on.
They pulled up outside a small village house with a mud wall. A cow was tied in the enclosure. No one was about, and they hesitantly entered. A woman came out and when they stated their mission, welcomed them warmly and seated them. They declined the offer of tea – surprised at being treated like honoured guests when they had been uncertain of even a glimpse of their hero.
Sunil and Ajay relaxing by the victory stand
Delhi Polytechnic c1974
The kind lady went inside and they could hear her bustling around. Suddenly, Satguru spotted the Olympic gold medal. There it was, hanging from a nail on the wall. In awe and excitement, the boys got up to examine it, daring to let their fingers stroke its contours before they sat down again, silent and awkward.
The front door swung open and Major Dhyan Chand strolled in. Introductions were made, and the gangly, tongue-tied boys called on their halting powers of adolescent conversation. They politely asked about his routine, and how his son Ashok Kumar was doing. The gold medal was taken down, and they each marvelled over it again (this time officially). Dhyan Chand, the incomparable hockey idol was the most unassuming of people – simple, fulfilled, and relaxed. Somehow, an autograph just didn’t seem necessary. The auto driver was waiting to take them back to the railway station and stoutly refused payment for his services.
Ajay told me about this incident decades later.
We were on board an Indian Airlines flight from Delhi. Coffee had been poured, and Ajay picked up his cup – and it nearly clattered from his fingers when he saw who had poured it. He smiled and asked eagerly, “Ashok Kumar!”
The steward stepped back, embarrassed, and mumbled, “Yes,” his brilliance on the hockey field camouflaged under a new persona. His smile was polite but there was not the slightest flicker of pride at having been recognized – not even a trace of memory of his days as one of the top sportsmen of this country. Even when we stepped off the aircraft, there was the former Olympic player standing by the door, wearing the bland, trademark IA namaste smile and a distant, formal expression in his eyes.
With Ashok Kumar at his academy in Bhopal in December 2015
For years to come, when Indian media moaned about India’s poor showing at every Olympic Games, I thought about Ashok Kumar standing at the aircraft door, a non-entity hero, and felt a pang of pain thinking about how the Indian government and the Indian people have failed our sportspeople.
first appeared as a Times of India Midde on 2 Dec 1998

Sunday, October 11, 1998

Silence II

In the classroom,
silence is obedience
in the classroom,
silence is 
quite unusual)
To an outrageous proposal,
silence is sophisticated 
corporate strategy.
In a world
of teeming millions,
Silence is pregnant.
Silence is living.
It can be hurt and even injured; 
Silence can be angry, shocked,
apologetic, wary or passionate.
Silence is non-living.
It can be cold, it can be warm.
Silence is Golden!

Silence was in the beginning
and silence will be
The End.

Saturday, October 10, 1998

Silence (or Guidelines for the Perfect Wife)

Her silence means yes
but her silence can also mean no.
That’s okay.

her silence is acceptance.
her silence is usually
bland and uncomplaining.

When he accuses,
her silence is contrition.
When he bullies,
her silence is resentment.
When he begs, 
her silence is dominance.
When he boasts,
her silence is tolerance.
When he argues,
her silence is rebuttal.
When he praises,
her silence is complacence.

When he lies,
her silence is disapproval
Or sometimes conspiracy.

When he falls,
her silence is empathy
Or sometimes scorn.
When she suspects him,
Her silence is cynicism.

When he’s upset, 
her silence is comfort.
When he’s neglectful,
her silence is reproach.
When he’s unreasonable,
her silence is restraint.
When he takes charge,
her silence is benign.
When he’s loving,
her silence is gratitude.
When he’s happy,
her silence is peace.
When he’s sad,
her silence is compassion.
When he’s angry, 
her silence is fear.
When he batters,
her silence is a prayer.

When he’s silent, 
her silence is respect.

When he speaks, 
her silence 
is sufficient.

Thursday, October 1, 1998

Hospital liquids

saline in drip
urine in bedpan
pus in wounds

tears in eyes.

Tuesday, September 1, 1998

Complete Woman (or My Assets)

I have got
a sound background
of education ...
travel ...
social standing ...
property, affluence ...
professional recognition ...
a happy family.


However – 
people seem to respect me more
when I wear
and my pearls.

first appeared in Brown Critique magazine Aug 1998

Sunday, August 16, 1998

Why, oh god, why?

The primary impediment
To my spiritual development
Is shit.

(I mean the matter, not the expletive)

I   meditate,
And my visions of bliss
Are startled away
By the disgusting fact
Of faeces.

I want no part of an eternity
that admits so freely
of the ugly, stinking stuff.

I simply do not wish
to merge my All
in a cosmic consciousness of which
unflushed turds
form an ineludible part.

first appeared in Brown Critique magazine Aug 1998

Saturday, August 1, 1998

Pratibha and her memsaab

Six am
I lie in bed,
and the kids
are getting ready for school.
She’s polished their shoes,
fixed their lunch boxes,
and brings me my cup of tea -
gives them breakfast and
attends to their sundry needs.

Languorous morning.
telephone calls.
tea with biscuits.
Bye, kiddies! Have a wonderful day!
lovely long hot shower.

She cleans the house.

Should I work or play?
Bridge and gossip.
a TV movie, perhaps (with chocolates)
some idle clattering
on the key board.
(750 words)
with a cheque to look forward to.

it starts to rain,
so she runs to bring the clothes in.
irons them.
puts them away
in individual cupboards.

earnest and sincere.
a battered child bride.
perpetually in regret
of her lack of education.
money in the bank.

share certificate, thin gold chain, earrings
and flashy gold ring.

ruler, science book, basketball, bubble gum ...
The kids are home
and bawling her out.
she warms the milk,
cuts fruit for them to eat.
then proceeds with getting
the dinner ready.

ten pm
The News.
after-dinner lounging-around.
she’s washing up.

should we be grateful for her
or she for us?

First appeared in Brown Critique magazine Aug 1998

Saturday, May 30, 1998

From Russia with love

What struck me most the first time I visited Russia was that there were no spies anywhere. Perfectly normal people walked down the street on their way to work, to shops, or home, or to pick up their kids. They smiled at each other, and behaved like people do anywhere. None of that sinister cloak and dagger business anywhere at all. Amazing.
James Hadley Chase, Leon Uris and Ian Fleming, and the Western media in general, had helped create internal archetypes which, it had never occurred to me, were ridiculous. I – and so many of my generation – had been thoroughly conditioned by the great American concepts of the evil of communism and the essential villainy of the Russian. It took me several months to recover from the experience of strangeness that Russia was a normal place with normal people. Today the clichéd vision of Russian as KGB spy is somewhat outdated, having given way to one of an abject, poverty-stricken individual belonging to a nation driven to its knees by the might of capitalism. Poor fellow. Yet another stereotype.
Between these two extremes, I had a range of tourist experiences. On my first trip, I met a young Russian woman who longed to marry the Indian film actor Mithun Chakraborty. She had, she confided, seen his film Disco Dancer forty-two times. She had written a letter to him, describing her passion, devotion, and intentions, and entrusted it to my care to post to Mr Chakraborty.
As it happened, in those days I lived just down the road from the disco dancer. I had seen his nameplate when I went to visit a classmate who lived in the same building – although, to be frank, I never once bumped into the much-desired gentleman in the lift. So I knew what address to mail her letter to, and did. I don’t know if there was any happily-ever-after there, but we would doubtless have heard about it if there had been.
With the Kulbakin family at House of Soviet Culture, Mumbai,
in 1982 
What astounded me most about this episode was that the young lady who wanted to marry Mithun was twenty-three years old; not a goggle-eyed teenager. I was precisely the same age at the time, and considered myself a mighty sophisticated woman of the world – though I persisted in refusing to drink wine for fear of what might happen next. I just could not believe that she was serious.
But I believed it when she brought her mother to meet me the day we were leaving. We got along very well. I had been trying to learn Russian for a year by then, and could manage some basic conversation. A while later, her mother took me aside and pulled out her wallet. Rolling her eyes and making mmm…mmm noises, she slid out a picture from a secret compartment and showed it to me coyly. It was a photo of Amitabh Bachchan. Of course I knew where Amitabh Bachchan lived. Hardly anyone in Bombay could escape that knowledge. But in this case, I desisted from trying to arrange an alliance.
first appeared as a Times of India Middle on 29 May 1998

Wednesday, April 15, 1998

How I transformed myself

I walked smartly down the corridor,
and from the corner of my eye
I inspected my reflection
In the reflecting glass wall
overlooking the runaway
at Sahar airport.

All around me,
people were dressed in their best,
and looked beautiful.
(After all, they were travelling abroad.)

Only I was ungainly,
too fat,
and my stomach protruded.
What a strange, unattractive gait I  had!

Then I thought – 
let me pretend
that the reflection is someone else,
that the woman in the glass wall
is a stranger.

Suddenly I saw
the woman in the glass wall

She was beautiful and appealing
and even glamorous.
and I felt much better.

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

Mother Courage

“Uck!” she said, peering with comic and exaggerated suspicion at the pea soup. “Do we have to eat this broth, like in Oliver Twist?” And they cackled with glee, all three of them, doubled up with helpless, ingenuous merriment.
It was a good joke, but I couldn’t laugh. It was just a bit too close to the bone to be funny. Like Caesar’s wife, it was important that I be not just above suspicion, but always appear to be above suspicion.
For me, it had been a transition from a professional to a domestic life. From recognition to anonymity. From a buzzing, frenetic, congested big city, to idyllic, laidback green spaces – a happy move. But it was also a move with which I had transformed myself from a successful and contented single parent to that dread mythical beast of yore, the feared and hated stereotype of scheming, evil manipulation and unfairness – a stepmother.
When people discover that Ekta and Veda (nobody would imagine the rhyming names to be coincidence) were born in the same year, one in May and the other in July – amazement, confusion and speculation follow, in quick succession.
No, it was not by Caesarean operation, as a first flight of lateral fancy sometimes leads them to deduce – nor, for that matter, a ridiculously long and protracted labour. “I know!” a gynaecologist’s eyes once lit up when trying to solve the mystery. “It’s super-fecundation!”
But of course it is nothing as esoteric as that. Ekta and Veda were born of separate parents. For more than half their lives they were not even aware of each other’s existence. Their childhood is linked not by blood but by fate. They share a room and toys and books, friends and lunch boxes, their dreams and nightmares; their inheritance and, to an extent, destiny. Their jeans too, although not their genes.
When I explain (which, very often, I don’t) there is embarrassment, and frequently generous, well meaning – but no less painful – attempts to view the whole affair from a liberal perspective. Somehow, being a stepmother never stopped being a social crime. I find it awkward to describe myself as one, participating in an ongoing crusade to soften the harsh images associated with the word. This includes writing letters to editors, requesting that they stop using the word ‘stepmotherly’ as a synonym for ‘unfair’. The letters are published, perhaps as a curiosity – or as an indulgence to a former colleague. But the usage persists.
A large part of the stepmother’s lot is the inner musings and assumptions of others. People love the drama of it. My two darling little stepkids had been left motherless at a tender age. Who could be blamed for watching covertly just in case I was marching determinedly into the deep woods with the little Hansel and Gretel in tow?
And who, on the other hand, could blame me for knowing that I was watched?
When I am tough and demanding with one child, it’s because as her mother, I expect the best from her. But if I treat the others the same way, am I just behaving in a candid stepmotherly fashion? Ostensibly well-meaning brandishing of the rod can so easily be a virtuous mask of the cruel mother – step or otherwise.
The internal evaluations are tougher and more demanding than those of others. I might behave (or intend to) in precisely the same way with all, but what about my private feelings? To what extent should my life become a ruthless drama of control and evaluation? What is the value of a healthy, natural, aggressive and potentially destructive reaction versus a polite and well-meaning but contrived one?
A favourite child may be one who possesses qualities which gratify you and is often the one who is said to resemble you the most. But resemblance can transcend genetics, as adoptive parents know only too well. When my son’s teacher casually informed me one day that he looked exactly like me, I was stunned with delight. All parents feel a certain satisfaction at having their offspring likened to them in terms of looks or behaviour, but stepparents are infinitely more sensitive to such unwitting praise.
Aman, blessed with a resilient personality and a wonderful instinct for humour, was young enough to have forgotten his tragic loss. Today, seven years after his natural mother died, he is a bouncing testimonial to my stepmotherly virtues with his spontaneous public demonstrations of affection and undying devotion. “Miss, miss, miss!” he had shouted, standing up in class, wanting everyone to know, “My father is getting a new mother!” Later, cuddling up one bedtime, he told me, “You are going to become our old mother!” I bristled, new in the relationship and self-consciously preferring to be myself rather than any unattainable vision of perfection. But he had only meant that as time passed, I would no longer be ‘new’.
But Ekta had been four and pined for her mother with a wild and inconsolable longing with which I could identify, but was helpless to confront and resolve. One evening she sat on my lap as we drove, crowded into the car, to a movie. “Mumma,” she whispered in my ear, snatching a private moment, a rare commodity in a family with three children, “Zara’s grandmother can speak to dead people!”
My blood ran cold. Less from the prospect of communicating with the dead than my glimpse of the forlorn hope this innocent little child still carried.
My instinctive response to raging sentimentality is to take refuge into practicality. “Oh well, that’s life!” is a philosophy that has saved my sanity on many occasions.
First appeared in Verve magazine First Quarter 1998 

Saturday, March 7, 1998

Bored Housewife

One Sunday morning I read an article by an aspiring woman writer who explained why, while deciding what to write, she had rejected the idea of a Middle.
Her reasons were: one, a Middle was too insignificant; and two, she didn’t want to be mistaken for a Middle writer, since Middle writers (she said) were invariably either cranky gentlemen retired from the Armed Forces, or else bored housewives.
My mind reeled, and my Sunday was ruined forever by the realization that since I had never served in the Armed Forces, I must be a bored housewife.
Some hours of self appraisal ensued. Couldn’t I be an energetic and fulfilled housewife? With growing dismay I realized that could never be. The sad truth of life is that to be a housewife is to be bored – just as to be a teenager is to be flighty, to be a corporate boss is to be dynamic, to be a mother is to be nervous, and to be a dog is to be faithful.
Now these are not mere clichés. They are not even just politically incorrect stereotypes, although the list does include ‘erratic’ women drivers, ‘giggling’ schoolgirls, ‘inscrutable’ Orientals, and more. It is simply the nature of existence. And so, if you are in company, it must be august; in public debate your opponent has got to be worthy. If you have loyalties, they must be fierce. And if (god forbid) you are a drunk or a whore; you most certainly have a heart of gold.
I was a housewife and therefore I was bored. There we were, my (dynamic) husband and I; our three children speeding recklessly through the relatively stress-free years between learning to spell ‘daughter’ and ‘neighbour’ and experimenting with cigarettes. And there was nothing but my Monday morning bridge game and an occasional Middle between me and catatonia.
Now one of my sworn duties as a bored housewife has been to churn out family aphorisms to flourish at one another in moments of stress or dominance.
Some of these are:
Yes, I know but LIFE is not fair so you might as well get used to it while you’re young.
Be content with what you have.
Aww poor baby but never mind, you know you can’t grow big if you never fall down!
There are dozens more in similar vein, but most significant is one that says, sharply, “Intelligent people never get bored.”

First appeared as ‘Pared Away’ in a Times of India Middle on 6 Mar 1998

Tuesday, January 27, 1998

Big city, small city

A few years after I first came to live in my little shaded neighbourhood in Pune, still exulting in the sandpit and flowering trees and comfortable parking that fifteen years in Bombay had somehow exemplified as an impossible dream of luxury, I became aware of a rather subtle phenomenon. People would say hello to me, and I would say hello back, impressed by their friendliness, but completely unable to place them. Embarrassed, mildly disbelieving, my newly-wedded husband explained that these were our next-door neighbours.
This was a big surprise. I wondered how these could possibly be people who I passed by frequently on the way to and from home, yet I knew for sure I had never seen them before.
Pondering this puzzle for a while, it struck me that this must be a legacy from all those years of living in little apartment blocks piled higgledy-piggledy on top of each other, with grandmothers and dogs and Sintex water tanks and African violets all jostling for their little inch in five hundred square feet of space. To walk down the corridor was to smell someone else’s dinner. To look out of the window was to encroach on someone else’s most private moments. To curl up with a book was to be distracted by the loud whacking, by merciless mothers, of children who couldn’t remember their seven-eights-are. Of course we had to find ways to keep ourselves to ourselves!
I lived in Bombay for fifteen years, and never thought I’d move. That was me, there, attending book readings at the British Council, plays at the NCPA, and inhaling deep to hold my breath as the double decker careened past the aromatic Sassoon Docks and lurched to a halt outside Bus Station. That was me boarding the coach at the Air India building in the dim hours to catch early flights out into the unknown, laughing happily when concerned security guards asked why my father or brother hadn’t come to drop me. Me who tried to comfort the bumpkin on a visit to friends in Santa Cruz while she watched, dismayed, as the train whizzed past not only the Santa Cruz station, uncaring, but also the next four, and had to face the prospect of grievous bodily injury while attempting to disembark. And yes, I can remember trying to buy vegetables at Andheri market. What a savage place it was! We were like animals, vying for the same prey. The aggression levels of Andheri market, Andheri station, and the environs, will live as icons of dread in my memory forever.
And Colaba, Colaba – for years I have thought of Colaba as my village, with familiar faces dating back thirty-five years and more. All this seems to me, when I think about it now, like snatches of existence from another lifetime. I still own property in Bombay – another of life’s miracles, for a humdrum person such as myself to possess a piece of the planet on which a size-four foot stands on a fortune.
And for many years I lived in a little kholi in Bandra with a Kathak class right below me. Visitors sometimes asked, “How do you LIVE with that noise?” And I would say, “What noise?”
I honestly could not hear it at all, and went about my daily activities with the incessant thumping and banging and jingling of bells entirely outside the scope of my perception.
Years later, focussing on this habit for the first time with dawning awareness, sweeping my neighbours with a sincere and appraising eye, I began the long process of breaking free.
Was it just me? Hadn’t we all developed this facility? Wasn’t it a normal, big-city phenomenon? Didn’t the glazed, faraway look in the eyes of public-transport commuters the world over as they gaze, unseeing, into those of their co-passengers, speak of the same trend?
Here, in Bombay, we had blindly accepted hideous black-and-red
window grilles (or sometimes evilly white ones), and installed double and triple doors with multiple locks on each, and a large ugly padlock hanging outside ostensibly for safety but really more just to delineate our personal space. After that, working on an auto-pilot with the wisest guiding light, we went and developed this special type of blinkered vision in which only we and those who we knew personally actually existed.
Now when I visit, walking down the streets of Bombay, suffused with the warmth and comfort that one can only experience in one’s own true home, I am acutely conscious of how the teeming crowds on the railway platform affects me. On one hand, it’s impossible to describe the exhilarating freedom in the anonymity which no small town, not even my nearly-there, wannabe adopted home can provide. An insignificant corpuscle flowing in a moving mass of humanity, I need never pretend to be who others think I am.
On the other, an intense claustrophobia arises. I long to take deep breaths, but am inhibited by the sundry fragrances that suffuse the air.
I see familiar faces where there are none. I smile at people who I think I know. Hardly anyone smiles back.
first appeared in Maharashtra Herald on 25 Jan 1998