Sunday, April 15, 2018

Vishu at The Devidas's

From Wikipedia: Vishu (Malayalam: വിഷു, "Bisu" in Tulu Language),"Bisu sankramana" in Arebhashe dialect is the astronomical new year Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala, Tulunadu region and Kodagu in Karnataka and their diaspora communities. But it is not the new year for keralites as the Malayalam New Year falls on Chingam 1st in the month of August. The festival follows the solar cycle of the lunisolar as the first day of month called Medam. It therefore always falls in the middle of April in the Gregorian calendar on or about 14 April every year.

My memory of Vishu is marked in that night when I last celebrated it. It was 10 years back. Our friend from Nuristan in Afghanistan - Nawab, Aju and Myself joined Vaisakh and Vaishnav at their home in Athanikkal the previous night.

After dinner, we got ourselves to light some firecrackers, and usher in the astronomical new year. While on a general note, Vishu is notable for its solemnity and the general lack of pomp, our videos from that night prove that it was anything but that. We still crack up watching those videos, as glee generally took us all over as we lit sparklers, chakras, fountains - some lighting up the courtyard, while others deafened our ears.

The festival is also marked by the uniqueness of having to witness something auspicious the first thing in the morning on Vishu day, known as vishukanni. After our merriment for the night, we got into bed quite late, only to be woken up in the wee hours of the morning, as we were ushered in with our eyes covered to witness the vishukkani. As the hands uncovered from our eyes, we slowly opened and adjusted to the view in front of us - a beautiful arrangement of the deity Krishna, the golden Indian laburnum clusters, assortment of vegetables and fruits, vishukkaineetam, traditional clothes and some silver, gold or brass items - all illuminated by the light emanating from the nilavilakku (traditional lamp). Three Muslim kids, along with the Devidas's, witnessing vishukanni - a beautiful moment embodying the spirit of God's Own Country.

A while later, we heard cacophony of firecrackers from all over the neighbourhood. We left for our homes to freshen up only to return in the afternoon for the very special vishu sadya, the traditional vegetarian feast that is served on special occasions. We sat together with the family, almost elbow to elbow, as we consumed the delicious feast, which culminated with the serving of the payasam dessert. A sweet end to a cherished memory. 

Home away from home, here in the Middle East, Vishu lives. UAE supermarkets and hypermarkets are replete with Vishu branding and record quantities of konna (Indian laburnum) flowers, fruits and vegetables making it to the shelves a week prior to the festival. Restaurants are ready with packed sadya packets, which sell like hotcakes on Vishu day. Families take the day off from work to witness vishukanni along with their loved ones, offer prayers, present vishukaineetam and enjoy their sadyas.

Vishu is where love is, and love is where Vishu is. For me, it is Vishu at the Devidas's.

The protagonists with their vishu sadya

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Failure is Alright

Me back in 11th grade
The year was 2001. It was the month of September. I had just moved to Calicut, after completing nearly 2 months into my ninth grade. It was a rather gloomy evening. I particularly remember the month and year, because on that particular day, the world had changed forever. America was under attack, and that is all you could find on the television channels. Even the rather bland national television channel Doordarshan was blaring the news into the drawing room at my grandparents' home through the old yet reliable Aiwa TV.

As the world changed, so did my life. Earlier in the day, I was handed the news that I could not continue in ninth grade, and would have to repeat eighth grade. It was a pretty shitty news to digest, considering that it is ingrained into the psyche of a normal Indian kid that failure is never an option. It took me the next one year to comprehend the fact that failure is nothing but a detour to bigger better things.

The reason I decided to write on this topic (one that I have pretty much discussed with everyone, but have never disclosed in writing) is because of all the hullabaloo behind the leakage of the question papers for the CBSE exams. Immediately after the news of the leak broke out, the very next day newspapers carried out full length copies on how the students were mentally unprepared and how stressed out they were thinking about having to write the exams again. To them poor souls out there, I would like to ask you to relax. Exams are never the end of the world. Let me tell you my story.

Me, my younger brother and mom had moved back to Muscat in 2000 to be with Dad. When I moved back, I really wanted to get back with my division 'F' classmates in ISWK, whom I had last met in my fifth grade. But as luck would have it, that very year, the entire 'F' division was split up into the remaining divisions. If I remember right, after much lobbying, all of us got back our 'F' division together and we spent one more year together in the same class. But the honeymoon was short lived. Come ninth grade, we were all split again. But it was a fresh start, with Mr. Dragwidge, our English and class teacher creating an atmosphere that I had never been in before. All was going well, until I was broken the news that we would be moving back to India. Again. I was heartbroken. Just when you thought you were settling in, you are on the move once more.

After packing all our bags, nearly just a year after we had moved back, we were on our way to Calicut again. Then it was a marathon for finding admission in ninth grade. Naturally, our first stop for admission was the school from where I had left a year back - Hill Top Public School. I do not remember the reason they didn't take me, but I was not able to secure a seat there. We went to a few other schools. But everywhere we went, we were met with some excuse or the other - some financial, others genuine, some academic and yet others - random ridiculousness.

Lastly, we went to MES Raja Residential School in Pavangad. When enquired as to whether I would be able to secure a seat in the school there, the reply given was - 'He would have to write the exams in all subjects. And if he passes them, he can get a seat in ninth grade'. I wasn't a particularly bright student, nor were my marks warranting immediate admittance. I think it was but natural for them to test my aptitude in the subjects I would be taking up. And boy, did I show them! I failed in all the subjects, except English. I think I even scored a zero in Hindi and Maths. I still remember sitting in the vice-principal's office, with my Mom and grandfather pleading to induct me into the ninth grade. But the vice-principal was adamant that I be admitted to the eighth grade in lieu of the ninth, on account of the 'brilliant' test marks. Well, something was better than nothing. And the deal was done - I would be enrolled into eighth grade. Again.

I do not think I cried that evening, but I was definitely disappointed. More than being disappointed, I was sad to have let down my parents. They had done everything for me, and I could not pass a simple all-subject test. While I did sulk a bit, thinking of having to repeat an entire year, and remained moody almost all throughout the year, I took it in my stride and marched on.

I always had a feeling that ninth grade would make something out of me. It was the Mr. Dragwidge effect I reckon. It was in ninth grade that I engrossed myself into extra curricular activities. If you genuinely ask me, it was also the year that I actually got into writing. Having forged new friendships, I was able to balance academics and extra curricular with relative ease - something I had rarely done earlier.

My final five years of high school were spent in that very school. And let me set the record straight - I was still an average student in all my subjects, except maybe in the language department. While studies put me at average, I had a wonderful rapport with the teachers, and was quite cooperative be it on their Bruce Banner or Hulk side.

But my moment of redemption for the disappointment and humiliation I had faced in 2001, came on a particularly sunny morning 3 years later. After our grade 10 CBSE exams, I decided to continue in the same school on account of real close friendships and the familiar routine. Around the month of June or July, after our 11th grade had begun, I was summoned to the vice-principal's office. I seldom got into trouble, and it was rather surprising to learn that I was being summoned, let alone to the vice-principal's office. I went along with our docile English and class teacher Ms. Jalaja, who kept insisting that there wasn't any problem. Then we made it to the lair of the vice-principal. The room comprised of the class teachers of 11th grade, the headmistress and a couple of other teachers if I remember right. The atmosphere in the room almost always felt drab and gloomy to me. And then the vice-principal spoke - 'So I've spoken to the teachers and they have recommended your name for the School Captain. Are you up for it?' (Our school didn't have student elections, and our teachers recommended names for a captain and vice-captain. And generally they select them from the 11th and 9th grade I believe).

The general disdain for me was still visible, when those words came out of the vice-principal's mouth, but boy was I up for it. Before you know it, the boy who was almost denied admission into the school three years back, had gotten himself to become the school captain. The boy who failed every subject except English had somehow rooted himself and spread his wings. That was redemption. That was satisfaction.

But on the sides of studies, I was still average. Being the school captain, never stopped me from flunking my annual chemistry exam that year or retaking some other paper. I did somehow scrape past my 12th grade, but failure never stopped me.

To all the boys and girls out there, I want to tell you - do not be afraid to fail. Failure is not the end of the journey, but it is the beginning of a whole new story. You never know the course of your life, and hindrances are just a part of it. What matters is not what has happened in the past, but what you make of yourself in the future.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Writing is no fluke. You do not suddenly wake up one day, take a pen and paper and become a writer overnight. Well, there might be instances or coincidences that might create the aforementioned situation, but for a layman like me, writing was developed through myriad inspirations and a lot of trial and error.

Inspiration can take different forms through your life and they play a part in what you translate on to a blank canvas at the end of the day. I remember once in art class, when I was a kid, we were given an assignment to design a visiting card. I wanted to be what my Dad was then – a sales executive. So, when my project came to fruition, the visiting card proudly stated – Nishath Nizar, Sales Executive – with a funkier logo and design for the company my Dad worked for. I know what my Dad must have been thinking when I proudly showed it to him – Of all the things you could have become in the world, you chose to become a sales executive? (with no offence intended at the profession i.e.). Well, you couldn’t blame me, my Dad was and is my hero, and I wanted to be anything he was. For the 8 or 9 year old me, the biggest takeaway from the exercise was that I was able to make a funky logo out of the blue in place of the drab current one.

All through childhood, the school library was one of the places I loved to frequent. Going through Enid Blytons, RL Stines, Greek, Roman and Scandinavian mythology collections, I tried to ensure that even if I didn’t write anything (which I didn’t, until late into my teens), I had the vocabulary to be a nerd. It was only after I shifted countries and schools (for good), that the writing became my essential companion. While I began writing to compensate loneliness arising out of new location, new people and new circumstances, just a year later I was in it for the sheer joy and collaborations it brought me. Inspiration from childhood is almost always based on your experiences at school, and I had countless anecdotes and crazy collaborators who helped raise a poet first and writer later. Then there were the heartbreaks, the fights and teenage angst that was great fodder for writing. Along side all of this, I had some wonderful friends, who stood by me at every step of the way and encouraged me to write no matter how crappy it turned out.

Moving to high school and college, it was time for refinement, and the creation of style that has stood by me since the creation of this blog. It was also the time when I got into the habit of writing long letters to anyone who was willing to lend an ear. I still have the whole bunch of correspondence I had with some wonderful women, who have influenced me in a lot of ways. While words barely escaped my lips, I was able to put everything into words on paper at the get go.

I first started writing letters, after my best friend moved to Pattambi in tenth grade. Conversing with Anusha over letters marked the beginning of this ritual, which in today’s day and age is almost non-existent. We would just blab on for pages about every other detail that went on in our lives. Even with the advent of instant messaging, letters continued. Aditi was another close friend, who through her words and letters brought about a lot of calm to some tumultuous times, and allowed me to vent out things I could not have otherwise said out loud. Then there was the savvy Mizaj, who was incidentally my first pen pal and was my personal psychologist before she even started pursuing it in real life. Even this blog had a major influence from Mukta, with whom I would compete to put up the most number of posts. (She won, putting up 36 posts in 2008, while I was able to muster just 21).

Time and again, I have found such people, who have allowed me the freedom and creativity of melding my methodologies into mustering up what I am able to today. And I am thankful to each one of them. At my first (technically second) job in a sports magazine, I always looked up to Kadambari and Anand as my mentors, not just because they were my seniors but fantastic writers themselves. Their influence on me at my first job gave me one of the most perfect platforms to not just improve my writing, but also taught me leadership worth emulating.

I will be a bad person if I conclude this post without mentioning the guiding influence of Jane, who according to me is my biggest inspiration. Through her writings, advice and pep talks, I found great clarity when I was at crossroads. Even today, the greatest critique I respect is that of Jane’s, because that is the pedestal I will always place her on. Her stories transport you to the place and time she wants you to be in while at the same time making you so emotionally connected to the character, that you will in turn feel compelled to be as crisp and moving as her. So Jaaney (as I like to call her) keep doing what you do, inspire a million others and keep writing ever so beautifully forever!

But no inspiration is complete without the backbone support of your family. Back home, my greatest fan and critic is my Dad. The only other person other than myself to be stoked about me getting back to writing was him. He has been lamenting at me ever since I got into a corporate job, about how I have almost given up on writing. But hey Dad, here is you in a post! So, seems like I haven’t given up on it after all. When you have family like these do you want anything more?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Its fuːd, not fud

Pet peeves - doesn't the word sound just silly? The uncertain origin of it also points in the same direction. The word is possibly modelled on Latin perversus "reversed, perverse," or "capricious, silly". While it may sound silly or capricious for that matter, it is a natural part of any human behaviour. We all have those pet peeves that we wish we didn't have to live with, but clench our teeth and smile through it.
Being a student of English language, and being engaged in the field of media and communication, almost all my pet peeves has to do with the use of the English language.

But speaking about specificities, I think one of the biggest pet peeve that I have is when people say fud for food, when it should actually be pronounced fuːd. Coming from the south Indian state of Kerala, we do have our own version of Indian English which no matter how hard we try to cover up, will pop up in our conversation giving our identity away. And one of the easiest way to catch our Malayaliness is if you hear us say food. At the workplace, I have been going around correcting people with the right pronunciation that now when they say the word food, they immediately rectify it to the right pronunciation if I am around (and only when I am around). While I might have this pet peeve, my friends and better half are quick to point out that I am no worse than others while pronouncing shirt and burger (I apparently pronounce them as ʃ(r)t and b(r)ɡə(r)). Seems like I am a true blood Malayali after all. 

There is another language related pet peeve that gets on my nerve every single time - SMS lingo. Y u do dis? How much time will you waste if you type in the whole word? Almost every single phone these days has word input/autocorrect/dictionary, so why don't you type the whole word and create a decipherable sentence? The sad part is that this shortened lingo has even entered our daily lives, moving away from the glares of the mobile/computer screens. Sometime I have to google up stuff when kids converse with me these days. 

I promise you this is the last pet peeve for the day - yet another language related one. I really do not get it when people use too many punctuation marks in their communication. Oh you are excited? How about you put in three exclamation points? Oh you are still excited? How about I put in an ellipsis after those exclamation marks? I really wonder at times if it is genuinely done or they are ignorant about the usage of punctuations. I took the liberty to take a class at my workplace just to talk about this absolutely avoidable incorrect usage. But the very next moment I received an email: "Dear all, Greetings!!!!". Sigh. 

All said and done, it is these pet peeves that make us human. And while I hope I get over these pet peeves one day (or the world turns itself around), for the moment I am glad to learn that there are those who live through such instances every single day of their lives.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Never Hesitate

The best advice someone gave you - day 2 of #30DaysWritingChallenge.
This was a doozy, coz I could not for the life of me pinpoint to that one advice that takes the mantle of being the best. I've had hours of chats with some of my closest friends, acquaintances, teachers, family, and each one of them had droned advice after advice - sometimes for the good, some for the worse.

Sometimes the best advice comes when you least expect it and from people you would least expect it from. The one advice that has stood me in good stead over the past few years has been - never hesitate. How did it come be? Read on.

It was the start of a new magazine cycle and the monthly team meet was on to decide who would do what stories. Me, being my lazy self was able to chip in with my usual fluff pieces, when my boss asked if I would like to do a story on the Ranji trophy final. Sensing the mammoth task that lay before me, I hesitated. I said no, while my photographer friend took up the assignment to shoot it. Big mistake. It was the chance of a lifetime. Those working in newspapers are given such assignments after 8-10 years of beat coverage. And here I was, barely a year into my job and given such an important story to do, and I said no.

After the rest of the stories had been assigned to the respective journalists, two wonderful colleagues came up to me and asked me why I hesitated. I told them that I did not know if I would be able to take up such a mammoth task. They asked me to take back that no. After a bit more push from my photographer friend, I took the courage to go up to my boss, and ask back for the very assignment I had put down.

Best. Decision. Ever. Although I was a rookie, and had my apprehensions, I found that once I overcame the hesitation, it was a cakewalk (almost of sorts).  I say almost of sorts, because I had never in my life covered a cricket match before, let alone the final of a major Test tournament. I was completely lost after the first day, since I didn't even know where to go and sit. Back at the hotel I called my mentor and told him that I was all over the place. First thing he asked me to do was to calm down, and then from there on, it was his pointers that guided me. And the rest as they say is history. Rajasthan won their second consecutive Ranji trophy, I got my story and all was good with the world.

That story to this day, I feel is something I am awfully proud about. And it was also the first of my work, that didn't have to go through massive edits. The most awesomest feeling was when I asked my boss if it needed any cuts after sending her the first draft, and she replied - "Nicely done". I was over the moon! A lovely fairytale ending to a tale that could never have been.

But all said and done, it was the advice to never hesitate to take that big or small step that stands in good stead for me to this day.

(P.S.: You know who you all are that I have mentioned in this write-up. Thank you for believing in me!)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

10 Things That Make Me Happy

So today, a close friend of mine challenged me to take up a 30-day writing challenge, and I gladly accepted because a) I have become too lazy to flutter my creative wings and b) What better way to begin 2018 than through something so positive as this. So thank you Ti, for this impromptu intervention. This was long pending.

So our topic for today is 10 things that make me happy. While the topic might seem cliched, it really does force you to think about how positive our life actually is. Given the topic for today, I found that it is almost always easier to note down the sad than the happy. But nonetheless, if you really delve deep into yourself, you will find that it is those minutiae things that bring you utmost happiness. 

So here is my not-so-definitive list of things that make me happy:

1. Family and friends. I decided to go with the first and foremost of the done and dusted statement to get it out of the way. But really though, it is the amount of love that your close ones provide that gets you through the day. No matter how frustrating your day is, at the end of the day a phone call to your closest friend, a chat with your better half, a venting time with your dad/mom will make it all go away. Family and friends, you rock!

2. This. The joy of writing is what makes me happy. While at the current job, I have a lot of restrictions where my creative juices flow, it is the unabashed writing that I love. I want to do more of this to make me a more cheerful person.

3. Babies. One look at them and my heart goes all melty. So much innocence all bundled into one tiny self is so soothing for the heart and amazing to experience. With so much happening around you, and people plotting from all corners, babies do what they love doing - being adorable and making you realize maybe this world isn't that bad after all.

4. Food. There could never be a better love story than me and my affair with food. From South Indian delicacies to Mediterranean freshness to American junk food, I love each and every lil thing about food. Moreso, this love is even visible on my YouTube playlist, as it keeps recommending Food Ranger or Bizarre Foods or Mark Wiens or the umpteen number of food channels from all over the world.

5. Books. There is something about being in a room filled with books - the smell, the knowledge that there is a whole other world residing within it, the very magic with which each of it has been written - I could go on and on. While the better half keeps a tab on what I buy (secretly read as hoard), I do sneak in a book or two every now and then adding to my burgeoning collection at my home in Abu Dhabi. When we had bought our bookshelf/cupboard three years back, we barely had one shelf of books. Now every single one of them is filled to the brim and some can't even make it to the front. I've been mulling getting another stand alone shelf just for the books, but the mrs. has already tightened the purse strings.

6. Love. Cliche no. 2 on this list. I am not much of a PDA sort of guy, but I love it when people are in love. There is so much positivity around them, that it emanates onto others, spreading even more joy.

7. Cricket. Say what you may, but cricket does bring a lot of joy to me. While a large chunk of my generation have shifted to in-vogue sports, I am still a cricket lover at heart. I still remember getting tensed during the 1996 World Cup semi-final, between India and Sri Lanka, when the hosts were falling like a pack of cards, I went up to our home's hallway and started hitting the ball onto the door with my Four Square bat, hoping it would somehow translate to India scoring runs. And then there was the time when we moved back to India. Summer vacations meant I disappeared in the morning, pinch hitting balls onto unsuspecting windows of NRI homes, only to come back late in the evenings to hear an earful from mom. After school, playing cricket sort of disappeared, but following it was religious, especially after I got into sport journalism. It is only now that I have gotten back to playing the Gentleman's Game, and those Friday morning cricket matches and the friendly rivalry with Kallakali Shaheen reminds me why i fell in love with the sport in the first place.

8.  Music. Music can bring a smile to forlorn person, put a spring in your step and can do wonders to whatever mood you want to set. My tryst with music came quite late in life. During our childhood, my brother was more musically inclined, playing the keyboard and trying a hand at everything music, I was more interested in drawing and animation. It was only after moving to college, that music chanced upon me, and I was hooked. Classics still get me, and I am actually listening to Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe Ho Nisar from Anari as I write this piece. Can't get better than this.

9. Home. Home for me is a lot of places. From streets of Wadi Kabir to the lanes of Calicut and the gullies of Delhi and now the expanses of Abu Dhabi. Each city has molded me in various ways, and I am happy to be a part of the experiences, the memories that each have given me. I do not think a you feel fulfilled unless you are at peace with where you dwell.

10. A Challenge. I think it is the challenge to conquer the next Everest that has taken me through each step of my life, and it makes me engaged, which in turn makes me happy. While earlier i used to tense myself up pretty bad with every challenge that came my way, I have realized that if you sit with a cool head and understand that everything will be sorted out the end, then you will have a smooth run. Even with this exercise, which was given to me in the morning, I knew I could complete it only because I wanted it and took my own sweet time to complete.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The ‘Dates’

There is a particular scene in the hit 2012- Malayalam movie, Ustad Hotel, by Anjali Menon, where the protagonist – played by the very likeable Dulquer Salman is taken directly from the Airport to the home of a potential future Mrs. – an equally likeable Nitya Menon for penn kaanal – the equivalent of a first date in the arranged marriage setup. In the meeting, both are made to sit in the inner verandah of the huge tharavad, while family and relatives peep in from all corners to eavesdrop on their “first date”.

Why have I gone into detail about this just one scene from one of my favourite Malayalam movies? Well, that was almost how I met Wafa for the first time. Just that I didn’t come directly from the airport for the first date. But the rest of the scene is almost accurate. We were made to sit in one of the many rooms in the sprawling Edavalath tharavad, while a head popped up every now and then through the windows and open doors on the side to eavesdrop. By evening, the two families had agreed as both me and Wafa had given the nod.

The ‘second date’ was even more eventful. Wanting to meet Wafa before heading back to Dubai, I asked if we could catch up at some place. And that 'second date' location, seemed to be the perfect spot for the entire family to spy on. Along with my band of misfits, I left Calicut for the Mahe Boat House, which was a mini marina/park/one of the many prides of Mahe-iites. Meanwhile, Wafa with her band of family and friends, made it to the location in two cars (or was it three?). Once at the location, my friends were spooked out by the amount of people (around 20-ish? Or am I exaggerating?) who accompanied Wafa, and ditched me to go and pick another friend of ours from the railway station.

So there we were – myself and Wafa – on a rainy evening, swatting mosquitoes in the not so romantic location, while family and friends peered from different vantage points. You would have expected disguises and subtlety while spying, but this wasn’t your next-door spies. After spending time together for barely half an hour, we decided to head back, but not before Wafa’s entire family hounded about what we had spoken, gentle threats about if you don't take care of her, how she is the lil’ sweetheart of everyone and so on and so forth. Thank God for my band of misfits, who quickly whisked me away.

We had plenty of ‘dates’ to catch up with each other on after that, mainly via the technological marvels of the Jan Koums, Brian Actions and Mark Zuckerbergs.

Then on this day, the 9th of October, three years back, we got married in front of the same friends and family, and some more. It was just not about marrying each other, we had taken the mantle of each other’s family as well. And I would say that we have been grateful to have them along with us through this journey, no matter how spy-terrific they are.

While this is usually the part where I go harping about blessings, support, future and the ups and downs, I shall refrain from doing so. Going away from the mainstream this year.

Happy anniversary love! (…and we are back!)

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.