Friday, November 16, 2001

Blood Group

Saibhaji is one of those ethnic dishes that defines a community. Combining the nutritional riches of spinach, dal, and a basket full of various vegetables, it’s a one-item meal, tedious to prepare but good to taste.
One day I innocently mentioned that I love saibhaji, and the people I was with laughed and called me a wannabe Sindhi. Through the ancient mists of time I remembered how, as a child, my mother would have to threaten violence before I’d be convinced that saibhaji was good for my health.
Those were the days when I was an ethnic minority so rare that there were only two of us, my brother and me. It’s quite common now for young people to have origins in different regions of the country. But the trend was definitively set by my parents, and, as with any pioneer venturing new frontiers of existence, life was cold and lonely.
‘Cold’ and ‘lonely’, in fact, are words that well describe life on a tea plantation, where we lived in those days – although more positive attitudes might offer ‘enveloping magnificence of nature’, and opulent ‘quality-of-life’ (a concept yet to be defined) which were equally attendant.
It’s amusing to dwell on that social context, in which every fresh acquaintance would first inquire ‘what’ we were. In later years this evolved to a pleasant psycho-philosophical past-time resulting in self-defining moments-of-truth, but at the time, there was a sheer backdrop of pain and isolation when I was unable to shelter in any of the community niches of my compatriots.
There was no language into which we could comfortably slip – like pyjamas and slippers after dinner – and natter on with others who spoke the same idiom. It was always English, and English that brought amused smiles (or, worse, grimaces of pain) – on faces that politely turned aside to hide them – to genuine native speakers of the language. When the relatives met, they would most impolitely jabber away to each respective parent in their native tongue, words flung like unfriendly rocks over our heads, yielding but the occasional glimmer of meaning.
At meal times, we would eat what they now call ‘world food’, my mother even boasting in public that frog legs taste quite like chicken, and I bitterly envied all around me, whose staple was the formula Indian Vegetarian Meal (now revered as a coveted genre by all major world airlines).
We were always outsiders – but no one sang Paeans to our Plight or wrote Epics on our Experience. Over time, it became part of my consciousness to be constantly seeking a peer group, permanently striving to fit in: from zodiac sign, to old school tie, to IQ, waist-size and more; an insatiable hunger to find others of a common denominator.
Now, with my fortieth birthday galloping, giddy and relentless, towards me (a horrible cosmic calculation-mistake, I’m convinced), at last I’ve found where I belong. Through an inexplicable chain of events, here I am, deeply embedded in a close-knit group of intelligent, competent and highly ambitious IT professionals. A burgeoning population. Blood group? Simple. It’s C++.
First appeared as ‘Outsider’s place’ in a Times of India Middle 15 Nov 2001

Thursday, November 15, 2001


Hunger is when you are starving
Hunger is when you are deprived
Hunger is a tragedy that occurs
to people with protruding bones
People who lead wretched lives
Devoid of comfort and pleasure.
I am 
well off
surrounded by love
and all manner of items 
and objects of utmost beauty!
My life is full of pleasant choices!
Perhaps there is another word for the feeling
Of emptiness that propels me to eat so much.

Saturday, November 10, 2001

Marriageable age

Mausiji who lives in Narnaul
with Mausaji and their three daughters
– whom I have never met –
one approaching the age of marriage
asked us about skin lotions
and beauty creams.

We made a list for her
telling her which
would clear blemishes,
which lighten the skin,
and which 
remove dark circles,
and mausiji smiled,
relieved at the thought
that her daughter’s marriage
would be easier to accomplish
when her skin

Now I worry a lot
for my unseen cousin
(and where the hell is Narnaul, anyway)

They will find a match for her
Placing her,
at random,
in the first open situation
that seems to them suitable.
But will she be happy? will she be rich?
will he be kind to her,
will his mother torment her,
and when she goes into labour,
will the doctors be patient,
will they have clean sheets?

These are the questions
that dance in my mind
and I feel sad
that skin creams
hold no answer.

first appeared in Little Magazine Nov 2001