Monday, August 3, 2015

Sab barabar hai (Everything is alright)

(This isn't just another piece of fiction. It's been barely four months since I moved into the corporate world, leaving behind my shortly-lived world of journalism. I don't know if it is nostalgia or the sheer wanting of getting back on the field, but I felt like I had to share this story that I had written in early 2012.)

2012 marked ten years since India witnessed one of the worst riots it had ever seen, in the state of Gujarat. Communal tensions hadn't changed much since then and we were on the lookout for how sports was helping ease tensions and unite people.
It was during the lookout for such a story that my photographer friend Priyanka Kaur Oberoi, who was then on an assignment in Ahmedabad, heard from local sources about a maidan which had transformed from a playground for people from all race, caste and religion to a hotbed for violence during the riots. The ground used to be used for playing mostly cricket pre-2002, but the day the riots began, it had apparently been turned into a no man's land. Allegedly, there used to be floodlights on both sides of the maidan, and two communities took refuge on either side, attacking anyone who made it across. This is the story of the search for that maidan

Pappu bhai has been driving the autorickshaw for more than 20 years in Ahmedabad, the largest city and former capital of the state of Gujarat. After arriving in Ahmedabad, he was the third auto driver to take Priyanka and me around the city. But unlike others who preferred to concentrate on getting us where we needed to be at, he was chatty and forthcoming.

We were accompanied by Rasheeda, a social worker, who was showing us around areas in the city where different sports were played. We went from Jamalpur to Behrampur and then to Danilimda. Many of the grounds had been taken up by the government and had been given out on rent. OUr guide didn't stay for long, as she rushed off to do some errands after dropping off us at Salem Housing Society in Danilimda, giving us the freedom of exploring the city in search of the infamous ground.

At the Salem Housing Society, we met Kantibhai, a security guard who was taking care of a piece of land owned by a prominent Gujarati businessman. Few kids were playing on the land that was meant for property development. We head to the kids, who as usual are fascinated by the DSLR camera in Priyanka's hands, and have by now stopped playing. But after coaxing them to play on, for us to click some pictures, they play doubly as hard.

Cricket bats lie next to a makeshift wicket made of stones and bricks at Salem Housing Society (Photo by Priyanka Kaur Oberoi) 
After a few shots, the kids come over to us, enquiring who we are and where we were from. We obliged and when we did the same back asking one boy what his name was, he nervously said – “Faizan”. He immediately received a nudge from his friend who whispered loudly into his ear  – “Don’t tell them your real name”. Faizan immediately corrects himself and tells us his name is Shahrukh Khan. We do not prod them more but spent a few more minutes with the kids. The boys tell us that they are at ground playing cricket whenever they get the chance and also divulges about their favourite cricketers - majority rooted for Sachin Tendulkar, while a few mentioned Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni too.

We head to Kantibhai to talk about the dhamaal, the word they use to mention about the riots that ensued in 2002 (dhamaal roughly translates to ruckus in Hindi). He asks us if we can see any curfew right now, and keeps on mentioning ‘sab baraabar hai’ (everything’s alright now), going on in detail about how bad things were and how more peaceful it is right now.

Kids enjoy a game of cricket at a land meant for property development at Salem Housing Society
(Photo by Priyanka Kaur Oberoi) 
“It is the parents who had a problem with their kids playing with somebody not from their community. But that has now changed, because there are larger pockets of each community, and they play among themselves. But when a storm comes it is the entire area that is affected. We have wanted peace and it is gundas who bring about any sort of disharmony in our society,” said Kantibhai.

A kid bowls to his friend at the ground (Photo by Priyanka Kaur Oberoi)
All this while Pappu bhai was waiting for us on the road with his autorickshaw. We head back to the auto, and he enquires about our next destination. We ask him to take us back to our hotel.

While on the way back, he tells us, “If you really want to see a ground that played a huge part in the dhamaal, then you should head out to Millat Nagar. That was one of the worst affected areas. They have a ground there by the name of Sone Ka Kheth. They used to play a number of games there – cricket, football, volleyball, you name it. But once the dhamaal began, it became no man’s land for the two communities that used to live together with such harmony.”

We ask him what became of the ground. He tells us that people still play in that area, but most of the ground has now been taken up by a new police station, that wasn’t there when the riots happened. We felt like we were getting somewhere courtesy of Pappu bhai and enquire more. He tells us most of the grounds and lands are now being used to construct houses and societies. We thanked Pappu bhai for the information, when he dropped us off at the hotel. We knew where to head next.


Early next morning we headed to Millat Nagar on the virtue of the previous day’s information from Pappu bhai. A dusty road welcomed us into the Millat Nagar area, laden with people, some with road side eateries, tea shops, some selling meat (quite a rarity in a mainly vegetarian state), alongside goats and cows roaming quite freely.

We found the maidan, and as Pappu bhai had mentioned, there was a huge police station on one side of the ground. On the other extreme stood a petrol pump, with a few high rises dotted around the same vicinity. We headed to one of the nearby buildings, for a birds eye view of the area.

The alleged infamous ground at Millat Nagar in 2012. Notice the kids playing gilli-danda (tip-cat) at the bottom.
(Photo by Nishath Nizar)
From the vantage point of the sixth floor, we could easily see the whole of Millat Nagar. The remainder of the ground was filled with mounds of dirt and sand that has now made it unplayable. Even then, we could find a bunch of kids playing gilli-danda (tip-cat). A road ran through the side of the ground. On the right side of the road was the Chandoli lake area with makeshift houses and dotted with mosques all around. And right on the other side was the ground, and to the north of it were pucca houses and flats. Separating these two distinct strata was a huge wall with barbed wires.

We mingle among the locals trying to find out what we heard about the ground was true, but all were quite wary and kept asking us who we were and what we were upto, rather than answering any of our question. The closest we came to was when a tea vendor told us that people used to play on the ground earlier, but now they cannot, without divulging as to why not.

Since it was the week of Milad-un-Nabi, the birth of Prophet Muhammed, the streets of Millat Nagar on the side of the Chandola lake was replete with colourful flags, lights and an aura of celebration. We decided to head into the slums to the side of the Chandola lake, where we could see a muezzin playing cricket with some kids.

Walking through the thin lanes, we encountered people making brooms, goats tethered to the front of homes, local artisans doing embroidery and all the hustle bustle of closed ghetto. We found our way through a path laden with human and animal excreta alike (with a kid actually doing his business in an open toilet) to get to the now dry Chandola lake in Leela ka Khetra.

A muezzin plays along with kids at the dried-up Chandola Lake in Millat Nagar
(Photo by Priyanka Kaur Oberoi)
The muezzin, called Mullaji by the kids tells us, “I have just come here for time pass. It’s fun to play with the kids once in a while. But if you really want to see a crowd, then you should come on a Sunday, when this entire lake barring the water body, is filled with numerous teams coming from all around the area. We do not let the distinction of being Hindu or Muslim come up here. This is the only place close by, where we can play, and that too only when the lake dries up. Once it is monsoon, this entire lake is filled up”.

There is no mention of the dhamaal, only of brotherhood and love. I volunteered to throw a few balls, which all got hit to the far end of the boundaries, by little kids. With that battering we left the place to head to Jamalpur, where Rasheeda was waiting for us.


You might have heard of the Sarkhej Roza and the Kirti Mandir in Gujarat, but not many of you must have heard of Kooch ki Masjid, one of the oldest mosques in Ahmedabad. That is where we headed to next or rather to the colony next to the Kooch ki Masjid.

Inside the Kooch ki Masjid colony. The streets were adorned with bright lights and there was prayers and music being played on the big loudspeakers on the occasion of the Prophet's birthday (Picture taken on phone, thus the poor quality)
(Photo by Nishath Nizar)
Rasheeda, our contact who had taken us around the city the past few days, had invited us to meet some friends that she had called over. A large gate welcomed us to the colony, with the words Hindu-Muslim komi ekta (Hindu-Muslim communal harmony) written in bold alongside symbols of each faith (an Om and a star and moon) drawn inside a circle.

“It was a personal tragedy for me in 2002. I lived across the street with my Hindu neighbours. But slowly, but steadily the segregation happened, and we now live in communal ghettos” says Rasheeda as she took us to her home.

The room, all of just 15 foot wide and 10 foot broad, has just the bare necessities, with two beds, a corner converted to kitchen space and a fridge. We are soon joined by her husband, Abdul Manaf, and two of her three children, Javed and Junaid.

“We are waiting for a bhai, who had organised a volleyball competition between the Muslims of this area and the slum dwellers near the Phool Bazaar area, near the banks of the river Sabarmati,” she tells us as she offers us cold drinks.

She had earlier been working with Aman Samuday and was now with the Jan Vikas Organisation. For the past 10 years she has been working closely with people who have been displaced, giving them place to stay, enquiring about their compensation from the government, their current psyche and much more.

In the midst of our conversation, Munaf confirms to us about the ground that we visited earlier. “It is true about Sone ka Khetr becoming a hotbed during the violence. What happened after 2002 is that the Hindus and Muslims living together near the (Chandola) talaab (lake) have moved away and live on the other side of the road. We don’t go to their area, they don’t come to our area. People want to live free now. So if there is something happening outside let it happen. If we live with people of our own community, then we have more trust among ourselves”, says Munaf.

There is also talk of how the peace that we see outside is not embedded deep within. There is still fear, there is still suspicion, but not shown more outwardly.

Meanwhile, the young man we have been waiting from comes into the room. Imtiaz Makrani, 24, runs his father’s grocery shop near the Kooch ki Masjid.

“My papa and uncle used to live in the slums near the Jagannath Mandir, and used to play with people from around that area. When we were kids, they would take us along with them. We've had a relation with them since then, and today only Hindus live in that area. But we continued playing with each other, even after the dhamaal. We decided to take this a step forward and decided to conduct a tournament, which went on for two weeks. There were five Muslim teams from our area, and five Hindu teams from different areas like Saraspur, Behrampur, Jagannath Mandir and Isanpur. In the end, the team from Jagannath Mandir won the tournament and were presented with a trophy sponsored by the local businesses,” explains Makrani.

He invites us to meet with the winning team at the volleyball court next to the Jagannath Mandir.

We walk towards the Phool Bazaar, where a crowd awaits us under floodlights. We were not able to differentiate the team from the spectators and it was some time before normalcy returned. Imtiaz introduces us to the players and vice-versa.

Solanki Urvesh Kanyalal is one of the players for the Jagannath Mandir team. He tells us that his father and his other family members used to play volleyball at the state and national level.

“Sport is that one binding factor that unites us all. Many people do say that sport doesn’t bind and that competition breeds more hatred. But tell me if that is the case; would Irfan bhai and Yusuf bhai be in the Indian team? They play for humanity, they play for India,” Kanyalal tell us.

We were also introduced to Pankajbhai Chauhan, president of the colony near the Jagannath Mandir, who has been instrumental in conducting tournaments in the area.

“There is no religion for a sportsperson. He wants to play in peace, and only more love can be spread by conducting tournaments like this, with Hindu-Muslim bhai playing side by side. And not just play, but also do everything together. Toh yeh danga fasaad ka koi maina rakhta nahin hai. Hum baichare se rahte hai, aur rahenge. (These riots do not have any meaning. We live in peace, and will continue to do so),” concluded Chauhan before they began their nightly practice routine.

Sport is not a cure-all for development problems. As a cultural phenomenon, it is a mirror of society and is just as complex and contradictory. It has been used in a number of ways by the United Nations, benefitting peace building, conflict resolution, communication and social mobilisation and so many more.

The people of Gujarat do not wish to delve on their past and carry a grudge for the rest of their life. Sports with its unique power to attract, mobilize and inspire is doing its part in bringing together communities. At the same time, the government of Gujarat need to realize that building infrastructure in the name of development, while at the same time neglecting the sporting requirements of a state, will only make legends like Vinoo Mankad turn in his grave and talents like the Pathan brothers, Pujara and Undadkat defect to other states.

From what we saw, heard and experienced in the few days that we stayed in Ahmedabad, one can not forget these lines by the Sufi saint poet Vali Gujarati:

Gujarat ke firaq se hai khaar khaar dil
Betaab hai seenay mane atish bahar dil
Marham nahin hai iske zakhm ka jahan mane
Shamshir e hijr se jo hua hai figar dil

(My heart is thorn- filled with longing for Gujarat
Restless, frantic, flame- wrapped in the spring
On earth there exists no balm for its wound
My heart split asunder by the dagger of separation)


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Live a little, love a little

Before the glitz, glamour and bling, and much way before grabbing global headlines for having the tallest, biggest or largest ‘whatevers’ and also hosting global events surprising many, the GCC was a much simpler place. The noise was lesser, the cars much grander and the general atmosphere itself was much relaxed.

The era I am talking about was pre-new millennium, when TV shows like Full House, The Wonder Years and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and cartoons like Captain Majid, Duck Tales, Johnny Quest and Swat Kats kept us entertained. It was a time when collecting Tazos and sticking Sun Top stickers just to get the elusive prize mentioned in the book was a challenge in itself (God knows how many Lays, Cheetos and Sun Tops must we have consumed for that) and it was also when Fridays meant coming back from Friday prayers to have mom’s ghee rice and chicken curry or biriyani,

Weekends meant grabbing the cricket bat and wickets and heading to the beach or park with your next door neighbour or the scores of friends and relatives peppered all over the city. If you were lucky, the trip would be down to your dad’s Sheikh’s farmhouse in the outskirts. That would entail a whole different level of fun, with the entire day spent in the pool, having a barbeque and countless number of games ranging from cards to board games to random running around. Hanging out was devoid of the technological dependence that we are so used to today.

Back then schools were in itself fun places to be, when competitions meant having fun with your friends. Team spirit took precedence over individual achievement. Exhibitions and local competitions didn’t need the tag of big cash prizes or names of sponsors plastered all over the prizes, stages, grounds and auditorium (and even the kids themselves). Adding to it there were no participation trophy, and nobody remained disheartened. A winner was lauded and everyone got their chance. Teachers were personal heroes, and connections more real.

Shopping in itself was a wondrous adventure, tagging along with your mom and dad, for the month’s supplies. Shopping giants didn’t litter around your city and your friendly next door supermarket had all that you needed. You’d like rolling the cart down the smaller isles, with only the essentials making it in. Gaining coupons for your purchases, your mom waited for months to exchange it for that one gram of gold or the cookware she’d been eyeing for a while.

Back in the day, public transport didn’t rip you off. Taxis were shared, buses were few, and the city was within your reach. Your parks and homes and malls weren’t kilometers apart, and your dad was your most reliable transport partner. His Toyota or Mazda or Mitsubishi did not compete with your friend’s dad’s cars nor did they with his. Cars were meant to be driven, not shown off. The general quality of cars also spoke volumes of their use, and some people never let go off with which they began with since they didn't make them like them anymore.

Awe-inducing technology back then was your CRT TV or VCR/VCP or your SEGA/Nintendo game console or satellite receiver that broadcasted a handful of channels from around the world. Moms/sisters/brothers would spend time with their best friend on phone for hours, and it wouldn’t tear a hole in the pocket of the user with a big bill at the end of the month. Semi-automatic washing machines ruled the roost, while dishwashers weren’t even in the scene. The more affluent afforded a brick-like GSM device, but other than that, personal tech was subjected to just a Walkman, brick game, Gameboy or Tamagotchi, all of which eventually lost out our interest in a couple of weeks’, months’ or years’ time.

Going back a decade or two, love letters weren’t in bits and bytes. Nobody cared who looked how at what time of the day and where. All that mattered was that the boy/girl leaning from the back of the seat would take the guts to pass the piece of note on to his/her crush. Innocence wasn’t lost and nor was bitching and cursing a way of life. Recesses were times to rush out and play, and were also when you could make your move. Romance was alive and genuineness marked the times.

Why have I gone to all this trouble just to reminisce of those days that I remember? I guess it is a grim reminder of who we were and what we’ve become.

TV shows for us are now plenty and at the tips of our fingers, while cartoons have literally died out, with quality taking a toll in both cases. Today, kids are fed on rubbish beyond compare and the only way out are the classic reruns on video sharing sites and one of the umpteen channels on television. Weekends are meant to splurge money, be it for movies, concerts or roaming in malls gaping at what to splurge on next. You might not even know the person living right across your hall, let alone your relatives in the city. Schools have become big business models. Fees dictates the quality and all kids are pampered or tortured to a level with needless knowledge and unhelpful assignments and exams. Shopping is a  disaster and we are spoilt for choice. Your friendly neighbourhood supermarkets have been taken over by corporate giants, with needless wastage accompanying our incessant buying. Public transport is as essential as anything, if you aren’t lucky enough to get your license (which you most probably wouldn't considering the sheer amount of luck that we carry with us). Malls and places are scattered all around, and to reach one another would be to quote Robert Frost - and miles to go before I sleep. Coming to technology, who isn’t face down looking at their mobile every two minutes? And it doesn’t end there – tablets, HD TV, HDR, laptops and console wars – we are cosntantly sucked into every vortex that cuts us off from the real world. Last, but not the least – love has lost all meaning. Relationships are dead and romance lifeless.

But let’s not tarry in what we have become. It isn’t too late to unbecome what we have become. Go out, meet friends and family, see the world beyond an artificial screen, shop at local markets, breathe some fresh air, cycle around your neighbourhood, play a game of hide and seek, create new things and for your own sake – live a little, love a little.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I am glad I had this year

Just a month to go before the end of the year and I still can’t believe that I haven’t written a single word on this blog. Like a lot lost this year, I think this labour of love too has gone to waste. 
I think it has a lot to do with the year. Have you ever had a year when you simply hated and loved it for some reason? 2014 was that year for me. It has been the topsiest-turviest time of my life ever, yet.
Again I emphasize on the use of the word ‘yet’, because just when you think life couldn’t get any sweeter or worse, something to its extreme happens.  But all through this, you are subject to a lot of life lessons. I have learned mine. I am glad I had this year.
Thanksgiving just passed by. Although an American tradition, I believe each of us should have a thanksgiving ever year. We do not take the time to appreciate the itty-bitty details of life. I have given thanks in silence and else to them those who matter. I am glad I had this year.
We have been blinded by our own privileges. Until tragedy strikes or the untoward happens we stick to the pattern, accepting everything in a devil-may-care attitude. At my worst self, I had support I never felt before, reassuring all is never lost. I am glad I had this year.
It was a good year to cut out on those souls who you made it a point to stay in touch, but didn’t bother about anything else but them. I’ve learnt to give and receive nothing. I am glad I had this year.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. The year which began with the small world of ours has grown bigger, warmer and brighter. It has just reaffirmed my belief in love, faith and trust. I am glad I had this year.
I am not a person anymore. I am a ‘we’. Life hasn’t altered, planets haven’t misaligned and the world is as wonderful as ever. I am glad I had this year.
No matter the good or the bad, you know you have moved on. You have had your experiences, frustrations, exultations – but none of that matters until you thank your stars and say I am glad I had this year.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Uppu's smile

As far as I can remember she always had the corner room in the huge tharavad across the Mahe railway bridge and maybe around a 100 metres from the river. She'd be up at the crack of dawn, opening the windows, on the side of her bed, to the fresh smell of an early morning spell of rain, the cackling of a myriad birds and the cold winds blowing through the iron grills. The windows opening to the inner courtyard would be opened by her youngest daughter who slept in the same room along with her kids. She would then make it to the adjoining room, looking for her eldest daughter, and gently lift her legs across the maze of doorways and corridors to come on to the veranda. Large beams supported the extensive veranda with a raised platform on either sides. But her favourite seat was the reclining cane chair. It was her place to be early in the morning and late evenings, until the Maghrib azaan sounded. Sometimes her eldest daughter would bring her tea and biscuits (or eggs, banana fry, rusks) – as is ritual to have before breakfast once you got up in that tharavad – to the verandah. But otherwise she would nimbly make her way back across to the hall adjoining her room and have a seat at the dining table. Groggily, us cousins would also join her, when we were all together during vacations, to have the same tea and biscuits or eggs or banana fry or rusks. But she would see that we always got a treat when nobody was looking. She had chocolates or treats hidden under her bed or her one door almirah, and we would take it with eager hands and chomp on them when the adults would disappear from the room. All the while a mischievous warm smile on her face.
One day, she got angry. A cousin and myself hadn't prayed Isha'a. But we insisted we had. An argument ensued between us and our respective moms. That was when she came into the room with her light cotton bath towel, twisted to form a tight rope like whip. She never threatened, and whipped the towel on the table, very calmly asking us to go and pray. We stopped the ruckus immediately, no questions asked, and headed straight to the raised platform in the veranda and prayed. I don't think we ever saw that side of hers ever after that. After the prayers, she called us to her room. No menacing scowl awaited us, but just a warm smile synonymous to her and the slight gesture of the chocolate that magically made it's way into our hands.
The tharavad's no more. She is in a corner room again, but the window next to her bed has been replaced by a split AC above her bed. There is another bed in the same room for one of her daughter's to sleep in. The age old doors, rickety stairs, rocky earthen floors, heavy wooden ceilings and the forest in the front and back have been replaced by concrete blocks all around. But she is happy her kids are happy. The last time I had visited her, in May, she held my hand, reminiscent of the 'treat' giving days and slowly placed a 100 rupee note in my hand and asked me to buy something for myself. She smiled and talked to me like the child i was, her memories playing see-saw, while I held on to her hands and reassured her that I will definitely take care of mom and agreed on finding somebody for myself. She intermittently mistook me for my dad, and the next moment asked me when he would come to see her.
There was dancing, singing and a lot of merriment. She adorned a light cotton saree for the August wedding of her youngest daughter's son. She liked sitting outside, but ill-health usually saw her subjected to just the inner room. But that night was for celebration. And she found herself sitting outside in the same old cane recliner beaming at all that was happening in front of her. People went, people came, she talked, she clapped hands to the the aunts singing around the groom, she kissed foreheads and her sons, daughters, grandkids – everyone was there.
Today the gentle smile bids adieu. Today the treats cease. Today we pray for her soul.

Rest in peace Uppuma.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Message

He woke to the hum of the three tonne truck outside his home, unloading or loading bricks or wood or whatever the landlord is crazy enough to get at nine in the morning everyday. It was nothing new. Ever since he'd moved to this side of town, or rather this side of the village, this is how his daily routine had been. He couldn't remember exactly when he had gone to sleep, but could remember that he had had a good night's sleep. He had come in late last night. It was his job, basically. It was all Roger Federer's fault. If he had not dragged on a match he was already losing into a tiebreak every set, all of them could have gone home earlier. But it was not to be. (click to continue reading...)

(This story has been chosen for the New Asian Writing's 2013 Short Story Anthology, so i am obligated to give you the link to the story on their website, to prevent duplication of content on the web)

But all said and done, i am definitely chuffed to have a short story published for the second time. :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

How We Were Taught Part 4 (surpassing Part 3)

The school that provided a cacophony o f memories

A week back, after being constantly hounded by friends, I decided to make a Whatsapp group for our batchmates from MES Raja Residential School, Pavangad, where I spent the last five years of my school life. The chitter-chatter that ensued on the group encouraged me to continue the series, which has seen the longest lag on this blog. It is this institution and the atmosphere it presented me and the friends that it gifted me, that has influenced me the most. 

My entry into the school was not something I really cherish. After getting out of Hilltop and then after just a year in Muscat, I came to MES unwillingly. I was into the third month of my schooling in the ninth grade at ISWK, when I had to come back to India, after Dad met with an accident. After reaching Calicut, no school agreed to take me in. The main reason being that they had already registered for something in the CBSE (the national syllabus board) exams. MES agreed to take me in, provided I was a genius. Which I so was not. They made me take an exam in each and every subject in the eighth grade. I flunked in all, except one – English. And then they made a proposition – I could sit in eighth grade again, or not take a seat at all. Without another choice, I joined. 

I was apparently a giant when I got into VIII-B. And my fashion didn't help me sullen down my gigantism - over-sized shirt with baggy pants (almost like a hobo). I seemed so out of place, even without wanting to. 

I still remember to this day, my first friend in the school – Deepak Das (whom incidentally, I got to get in touch with again, last month, at a men’s fashion store in my hometown, where he was the store manager). Deepak helped me to get into the groove of the life that I was to spend at MES then. Our class teacher, Sharmila miss, taught Malayalam (which was third language for me; the second being Hindi). On her insistence, one of the more all-round student (and also the class leader then) was asked to help me. And that’s how I got to meet Nunna (today a mother of three and a medical student - respect!). 

Both Nunna and Deepak helped me through the initial days. Even when Shameem, one of the ‘cool kids’, very playfully gave me a fresher’s welcome – grilling me with some of the most ridiculous questions, answer to which were quiet embarrassing. The initiation ceremony was concluded by him quizzing about a local soft pornstar’s latest film (which i very diligently answered). It was all taken in the stride, and before I knew it, I got into the act of school life in Calicut for a lengthier term. A crush developed, I religiously failed in a number of math exams and so on and so forth. But it wasn’t the favourite term of my school life. 

Ninth grade takes the cake, for being the best year of my life (after 2012, maybe). It was the 2002-03' academic year that changed my life. It was also the year I met Anusha, my best friend from school (this year marks a decade of our friendship). It is also in the ninth grade, I ‘found’ Vivek, Faris, Shamnad (the now famous back-benchers), Ashwin (aka Assman), Izhak, Akhtar, Nahana, Adithi and so many more friends that I will cherish forever. 

After breaking the two division pattern that was followed in eighth grade, ninth had three divisions – A,B,C. And we were the A divisioners. Our class teachers also varied throughout the year. We started off with Archana ma’am, a lazy eyed Geography teacher, who had to leave half way through. Then came Farzana miss, an English miss who understood youngsters as youngsters should be (and also reminded Vivek of a girl called Manasi he met in Bhopal on one of the National Science Drama competition traveling days. I can still hear him go on and on and on about that girl! God!) – thereby making her a class favourite for the best teacher ever.

But it was Subhan Babu, our Islamic studies teacher - a tiny man with a praying mantis like stance - who takes the 'most-interesting' teacher award for the ninth grade. He was not exactly a terror, but he got everyone's attention. It was he who remarked to a boy in our class, (when the boy wore really tight pants), that he would not be able to have kids in the future if he wore the pants any tighter. I think that kid is today the HR manager of an IT company , but has not been able to prove the theory of Subhan Babu to this day (not that i know of). And then there is the incident involving Shinaan, during our class tour, which i had earlier written in a post on this very blog five years back. Hate him or like him, you couldn't ignore the enterprise that was Subhan Babu. (last i heard, he was teaching somewhere in Sharjah).

There were poems written by groups, yes, you heard that right – a single poem written by a group of three-four people. There were who-could-be-the-funniest competitions (although it was more of who could torture you the most with their PJ's competition), there were fights between the different divisions (especially between A & C), there were literary competitions, there were silly pranks played on the least suspecting friends (the girls in front of the last benchers were usually the guinea pigs. Yes - Anusha, Adithi, Nahana - you are exactly who we are talking about). Ninth was a cacophony of memories aplenty.
The next year was back to normalcy, since we had the 'earth-shattering', 'mind-numbing', 'life-altering' (exact words used by our teachers) board exams coming up. But the exams were just 'meh', and school life all the more fun. 

The divisions were again conjoined this time to form just two - A & B. Our class teacher, Jalaja miss, a sweet doeful lady, taught us english, and took more than a willing role in getting to know more about our personal stories rather than the fiction in the text books. But all said and done, she was a wonderful teacher. 

Then there was Sindhu miss - who taught us geography like nobody else ever did. Her funda was - learn what she gives you, then she'd test you on the same matter, and if you passed that, then you could sit in class. Every recess, you could see a line of us (usually the boys) lining up in front of the staff room, to get the mountains, rainfall and the rajma chaaval statistics of the country right. Once again, it was more of a learning experience rather than punishment. All of us were eager to learn for her class, and i think she got the result, as many of us got marks in social studies in the excess of 90 percent during the finals.

I don't know when i started hating maths, but it seems to be exactly when i started failing the subject, the first instance being in my eighth grade. Along with not liking the subject came not liking the teacher too. But that was not the case with our teacher in the tenth grade -  Hema miss. She instilled the confidence, that i could at least pass maths. But i did not just pass it, i came close to getting around the whereabouts of 80 percent for my finals. For that, but more importantly, just for being an awesome teacher, i respect her. 

Then there was Asha miss, who seemed older than the institution we were under. She had that experience - and she'd been teaching hindi for close to three decades by the time she taught us. As Nahana reminded me while discussing on the same subject on chat - Hindi period meant free period. Asha miss would get over with our lessons with timed precision. All we had to do was listen to her as she went from story after story, poem after poem and grammar classes after grammar classes. Before you knew it, there would be no more to learn, and thus we would sit ducks, which is not entirely true, because we would be upto our mischievous best, even though there were only six or eight of us in the class. Once, Vivek took the opportunity of the freeness in the class and started crooning 'thadap thadap ke' from the movie 'Hum dil de chuke sanam'. Faris, not to be outdone, started translating the song as Vivek sang on. For the line - 'aisa kya guna kiya, ki lutt gayi' - came the hilarious translation - anganatthe enthu gunann njan cheythath - from Faris (apologies to the non Malayalee readers, but the joke's relevant only in Malayalam). But coming back to Asha miss, to reiterate her influence on me, (even though my Hindi speaking abilities are still mediocre), you need just go back to my previous blog post, wherein i have tried my level best to translate my favourite Hindi poem by Harivanshrai Bachchan. I first fell in love with it, during one of Asha miss's meticulous classes. Hindi has since then been part of my life, in one way or the other - be it seriously or humourously, it sure is Asha miss's Hindi that i carry forth.

Then there was Sheeja miss - the only terror apart from the principal. For lack of a better word, i reiterate terror, due to the fact that everyone was punctual, up-to-date and in tip-top shape in front of her. She took history and civics for us. There is this one instance, in which she punished us boys, just because we went to play at a ground at the ground near the next bus stop in our school uniforms after school got over! Ok, even today the last line reads - ridiculous. Just imagine - 20-or-so-odd boys standing on the ground, under the hot sun, not knowing what they have done wrong. But punishing so many people out of a class - not a good idea, and before we knew it, we were back in class. (But as i come to think of it now, i think the reason given for punishing us was - we went to play when we had to actually prepare for an exam the coming week, but when did a game of cricket ever hurt anybody or for the teachers sake, lower the score of a kid in an exam?)

Other than these colourful yet wonderful teachers, we also had Anitha miss for chemistry, Beena miss for biology, Rajeev sir for PE and so many more. All played their roles to perfection.

But the title memory of tenth grade would be when a handful of us boys went to Vaseem Kannankandy's house for a sleepover on the eve of our exam results. The excitement of us kids huddled in front of the computer screens, early next morning, eagerly awaiting our results is something that can never be forgotten. All did good. All passed. 


It was only in the winter of last year, after six long years, the same boys (along with the addition of a few new ones) got back under the same roof, and crowded around a laptop; albeit this time, watching comedy videos on Youtube.

(I never knew i would be able to write so much just about my time in MES, so i've decided to leave the rest for another time, another post, same blog. I'd also promised that this post would be about my second stint at ISWK, but that had to wait, after all the nostalgia talking to the 34 odd people on Whatsapp - it's like we never even left school)

P.S.: Other than Sindhu miss and Asha miss, i don't think anybody else teaches at the same school currently.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jad Ki Muskan (The Root's Smile)

(This is one poem that i can never forget. First heard during my 11th grade, I've been wanting to translate it for long. It gives you just one lesson--humility--the more humble you are, the better the person. Please excuse my understanding of the poem (and also the transliteration of the original Hindi version), and if there are mistakes, do let them know in the comments section)

Jad Ki Muskan (The Root's Smile)

By Harivanshrai Bachchan
Translated by Nishath Nizar

Ek din tane ne bhi kaha tha
Jad? Jad to jad hi hai
Jivan se sada dari rahi hai
aur yahi hai uska sara itihas
ki zameen me muh gadaye padi rahi hai
Lekin mai zameen se upar utha,
bahar nikala, badha hu, majboot bana hu.
Esi se to tana hu.

One day the trunk had had also said-
Roots? Roots are but just roots
Forever cowering from life
And this is its history
That it shall forever hide itself in the earth.
But we, rose out of the ground
Grew and became strong
That is why they call me the trunk.

Ek din daalo ne bhi kaha tha -
Tana? kis baat par hai tana?
Jaha bithaal diya gaya tha,
wahin par hai bana.
Pragatisheel jagati me til bhar nahi dola hai
khaya hai, motaya hai, sehlaya chola

One day the branches had spoken –
Trunk? Why be so boastful?
You stay just where you are
Not budging a space
In this ever changing world, what change have you brought?
You have eaten, fattened and relaxed all this while.

Lekin hum tane se futi,
Deesha Deesha me gayi,
upar uthi, neehe aayi,
har hawa ke liye dol bani, laharai.
Esi se to Daal kehlayin.

But we arose from the trunk
Spread far and wide
Went up, came down
Became a percussion for every wind that blew
This is why they call us the branch

Ek din pattiyo ne bhi kaha tha -
Daal? Daal me kya hai kamaal?
Mana wah jhoomi, jhuki, doli hai. Dhwanipradhan duniya me
ek shabd bhi wah kabhi boli hai?
Lekin hum har-har swar karti hai.. Murmur swar marm bhara bharti hai. Nutan har warsh hui,
Pathjhar me jhar,
Bahar phut phir chahartin hai..
Vithkit chitta panthi ka shap tap harti hai.

One day the leaves had also said—
Branches? What is so great about branches?
We understand that they swayed, bowed and danced. But in this ever changing world
Did they even speak a word?
But we, have spoken our mind
Our voice filled the world with such sweetness
Every season seems anew
Falling in autumn,
And with spring a new beginning
Adding life to an otherwise meaningless life

Ek din phoolo ne bhi kaha tha - Pattiyan? Pattiyon ne kya kiya?
Sankhya k bal par bas daalo ko chap diya.
Daalo ke bal par hi chal chapal rahi hai,
Hawao ke bal par hi machal rahi hai.
Lekin hum apne se khule, khile ,phule ,hai
Rang liye, Ras liye, parag liye, Bhramro ne aakar hamare gun gaye hai, hum par boraye hai.

One day the flowers had also said – Leaves? What have the leaves done?
Just because of their sheer numbers are they so visible
They survive only due to the branches
They sway only due to the winds
But we have bloomed on our own
We’ve brought colour, fragrance and pollen; even the beetles have praised us in their songs,
They have lived on us

Sab ki sun payi hai,
Jad Muskayi hai.

After listening to everyone
The root just smiled.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How We Were Taught Part 2

It might look like a nice outdoorsy summer retreat, but if you have sat in Mrs. Bharathi's class, you wouldn't think so

Leaving your old friends is never a good thing. I remember the first time I went to the Hill Top Public School, Puthiyara in Calicut. The year was 1998, and it was with my granddad, on his old Kinetic Honda scooter, going up the winding red-bricked road, around the tile factory with the long chimney towers on a rainy Monday morning. It was a modest school with a few building here and there, but more like a holiday home or farmhouse—well that is what the entrance atleast looked like (above) (it today houses more pucca buildings at least two-three stories high). I was not happy at all that i had moved in there. Firstly, I had to sit in a tempo van and then come to a place (whereas i used to walk to school back in Muscat, secondly, I knew nobody there, thirdly, i had to learn the Malayalam language, and finally, did I mention, not having friends? It is always difficult shifting schools, and so it was for me too. But the view from the top of the hill – priceless.

The two years I spent there, seemed to just whizz by, and not many long lasting friendships arose out of it. I am still in touch with a few of them, though. The teachers too, I can vaguely remember. But there was one teacher that who I would say was a reincarnation of one of those clich├ęd boarding-school-warden-english-teacher types. Her name was Mrs. Bharathi. Although the whole class would be at their mischievous best in other classes, her one session, commanded the attention of every student in the room. And surprisingly, it was in malluland, and the influence of this teacher that got me attracted to the English language. She was never the type that would unequivocally pour out marks for you during your quarterly, half yearly, final year or even the most trivial class tests. There was a standard she demanded. And if one could cope with that, you'd pass the subject. I think my understanding of the language increased by leaps and bounds, after learning from her. But back then, we were just plain scared of her. We would make sure we did her homework, even if it meant neglecting other subjects. She also used to be my elder brother’s class teacher. So any bad behaviour or not learning, it would reach my Mom's ears, via my brother. That was more than a decade back. When I met her almost 6-7 years later after her retirement, somewhere around 2005-06, she didn’t seem as intimidating like she did then, even remembering me (although it was my brother she knew better). We talked and reminisced and joked of her 'terror' days, and we laughed over it, telling us 'it was all for your own good'. But she was surprised that I had taken up a degree in functional English, of all the subjects out there—yes, I  never topped the subject of English, the two years I was there (nor any other subject). But proud of us all, she is today.

Other than Ms. Bharathi, I think I remember Mrs. Saira, who used to teach us Hindi, Mini miss, who used to be out PT teacher (we just had one basketball court and no other playing ground), and I sucked at it. It was also here that I got onto the religious side of affairs, as we would go for our dhuhr (afternoon) prayers in the makeshift mosque inside the school (well this was again new for me, because our school in Muscat began at 7 in the morning and ended by 1.30 p.m. Here, it began at 9.30 in the morning and ended close to around 4 in the evening, which was not to my liking at all). I don’t exactly remember the teacher who taught us, but he encouraged me to take part in an azan (calling of prayer) competition. And for the first time, after my second grade sports triumph, I actually won something in a school competition. That was my only moment of glory there. My grades dropped dramatically after moving here, but that had more to do with me, than the teachers. But thankfully, the nightmare lasted only two grades for me—fifth and sixth, because Dad brought us all back to our favourite city—Muscat—in the millennium year.

It was like being resurrected. And it was also about bringing back together a division, that has been close to my heart—F. And with the intermittent memory of Hill Top, I was on my way back to old friends, familiar grounds and the scorching heat of the Middle East.

On that note, I shall leave you lingering for my second stint at ISWK.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How We Were Taught, Part 1

Over the past few days, I have been privileged to read some of the most amazing anecdotes by students of their most incredible times in school or their fondness for one teacher or the other. Some in blogs, some picked up by media, some shared and some just stumbled upon. When I look back, I see that it is not just these few people who’ve had some unforgettable times in school. I believe each and everyone of us have a story or the other. I know what you must be thinking right now—uh oh! He is going to take us on his nostalgic trip once again. Well you don’t go wrong there—as I am going to do exactly that!

School for me were three beautiful establishments—the first being ISWK in Muscat, where I began, then HTTPS, Puthiyara in Calicut and finally MESRRS, Pavangad again in Calicut. I still remember vividly when my mom told me that I had to go to school, but before which I had to give an exam. My mom being herself had us gotten started at an early age, teaching us (my brother and me) alphabets and basic counting and giving the best teachers’ experience even before school began in reality for us. It needn’t be anything major, but you give her a book with question and answers and she would sit and hear you out after she asked a question, pointing out mistakes as we went on. And for her part she loved teaching us. She had sat down with each one of us three brothers’ education almost unto eighth grade. But it didn’t stop there; it is through her motivation that the three of us are into as diverse a field as we are in right now.

So coming back to kindergarten, I still remember heading to Muttrah (that was where our school was located, before moving it to the better building-ed Wadi Kabir location), sitting in a classroom full of little kids, each of them finishing up their own tests. After a couple of days I got my results and it turned out that I had done immensely well. But then my mom saw my paper, and she came up to me and showed me where I had gone wrong. There was a math counting exercise in the paper, where I had to write the number of objects that was in a row. Me trying to be a smartass, went on to count the box also in which I had to write the answer. Thereby, losing marks, but jumping to KGII instead of KGI. The first few years I have not much memory of. It seems to me now as if it was all too blurry and way too quick.

But I do remember my class teachers. There was one Mrs. Neethu ma’am who was our teacher in the first or third grade. Again, as I told earlier, too blurry, too quick. But I clearly remember our second grade teacher, Ms. Loraine Pinto. I have for one have been trying to locate her the past few years. But it’s a difficult situation for a teacher to recognize you after like 18 years—either you had to be freakishly talented or annoyingly mischievous. I was an in between student. But yes, Loraine ma’am if you are reading this, I hope this will be a memory refresher. She was a tall teacher, who used to come in these red and grey suits, had long nails which were always painted red, and used to be super fond of all her kids, me more so. I still remember one science exhibition day, she gave me a new red Pilot pen and asks me to finish off the ink in it. I just scribbled the hell out of that pen, and finished off the ink in it and gave it to ma’am. She looked at the pen and then looked at me, I knew I had done something wrong—in my frenzy I had gone on to break the nib of the pen. She had a good laugh and gave me another pen to finish off. She taught us everything—math, English, science, social studies, assignments where you had to stick pictures, colouring within the borders, and to me, my most fantastic sporting achievement ever in school life—winning the inter class sports competition, after losing out to the A division in every practise run. It was the annual sports day, and we had to take part in a team event, where eight of us would line up behind a race line, and one after the other would run to a distance and go and build and rebuild a pyramid made out of soda cans, placed at a table at a distance. Our class, the F division, which would become synonymous to becoming the average class with extraordinary people, was kind of pathetic at it—that is what one would say, when we went on to come in last in almost all the practice runs. The A division even received prizes during these unofficial races. But when it came to the real deal, we surprised even ourselves. We left our best and fastest runner, Aemon, for the last. Each of us, did our best, making and destroying the can-pyramids one after the other. When Aemon ran back after making the pyramid for one last time, we couldn’t believe our eyes- we had won! I clearly remember the excitement that ran through us, when we finished the race—still gives me goosebumps. Yes, primary school was that exciting for us, especially with teachers like Ms. Loraine Pinto.
Where memories began

Then in the fourth grade, I encountered the teacher I will not forget for the rest of my life—Ms. Charmaine Bell. She is to me, the best teacher there ever will be. I still remember her coming into the class, with her curly frizzy hair and big smile, while we rose in chorus - Good morning ma’am! It was she who inculcated in me the will to be capable of anything, the ability to excel and the importance of being a team player. In that one year in fourth grade, I learned so much, that I believe will remain in memory forever and hopefully will be passed on to my own kids. I remember one instance, when we had to do the class play. There was Warren Vaz (who is right now a chemical engineer, if I am not mistaken) and me who were vying for the role of the Prince in the fairy tale, Cinderella. And then there was the wordy role of the narrator. I really wanted the Prince’s role, but Charmaine ma’am was so sweet, that she convinced me to be the narrator, which had more importance and stage presence than any one else. And I had like pages and pages to learn before I could actually go on stage. With the help of my mom, I actually did learn all those lines, by heart. On the day of the play, everything went absolute smooth, and after I had said my last line, I walked backstage, and Charmaine ma’am, comes and grabs me and tells me I had been just plain wonderful, and plants a kiss on my cheek. I hastily rubbed off the lipstick mark on my cheek (as you would see any young boy do), but the pride I felt in me, when she told me what a wonderful job I had done, I don’t think any other instance with any other teacher could equate with that. The very lady moulded us even more going into the fifth standard. (I met up with her in 2010, along with Jonathan, and she is still the sweet frizzy haired lady with a smile that can make anyone's day)

And then in the fifth grade, there was the arrival of another teacher that greatly influenced me in the art of story telling. When he had come, he was a French teacher, and did teach French to the higher classes. But to us, or rather me, he will always remain our temporary-math-teacher-turned-permanent-math-teacher in fifth grade. We were struggling with a replacement for our math teacher. While Mr. Keerthi Kumar, the man forever in the white shirt, pants, shoes and even hair and beard was up for teaching us in a few years, fifth grade required someone less intimidating. So as we waited one fine day for out math teacher to show up, a thin, lanky young spectacled man walks into our classroom. We were like – aha another substitute, another free period, we are gonna have some free fun time. But then how Mr. Sivakumar got us hooked on for the next half hour is beyond comprehension. He started off by asking us to close the curtains in the classroom in the first place. After which he goes on to tell us one of the most genuinely scary stories of all times. The atmosphere created by him was absolutely electric. There was the chill in the air, there was the simplistic manner in which he actually transported us to the location – it was just pure magic. That was it, the next time Mr. Sivakumar came to our class, he was teaching us math, and from time to time, the brilliant scary stories. I have told that story now to an entire battalion of cousins over various trips to a number of places around the Middle East and back home in India, and even so do too to this day. His popularity was so immense that he was even invited over for birthday parties, where again he weaved his magical story telling ability. From being a substitute, to being a part time math teacher, to a full time favourite – you sir, are indeed an inspiration to this day. (Mr. Sivakumar went on to teach French to my other friends over the next few years).

But then it is not like other teachers didn't exist. There were others without whom we could not have made it through those young years, and I betcha my classmates who are reading this will remember, and hopefully one day all us kids and teachers can meet so that we can tell you from the bottom of our hearts, a big thank you!

We shall now take a small interval, since after the fifth grade, I too left ISWK for a couple of years, moving back to India. But that as we all know, folks, is for another post, another day and another time.

(Yes, I have restarted my shameless to-be-continued series of posts)
(But pliss be the kind and bear with me J)