Friday, November 25, 2016

I hope they serve wine in Heaven

When I started working with Dr. Dileep Padgaonkar about two years ago, I remember being awestruck. His persona was towering. For the first few interactions, I could barely manage more than vehement shakes of my head to his questions and his expectations, coupled with a smile that I hoped camouflaged how overwhelmed I felt.

And soon, as it happens with all interactions, I got used to everything. His impeccable manners (he would always offer me water or tea at his beautiful home), his immaculate diction, his love for all things French, the language and the wine, and even his forgetfulness, and anger. 

He was on the board of several initiatives, and the more I sat in meetings with him, the more I learned. He was a gifted orator, much of what he spoke on stage was extempore, and his sense of humour was as wicked as it could get (especially when he was taking digs at politicians). 

I also got used to his vulnerability. 

He was an extremely busy man and would often expect that I undertake a responsibility wholly. But he would never be elusive about it, accepting that I would be doing him a ‘favour’ by taking on the task.

When I think vulnerability, one evening in particular comes to mind, when he asked me how I had managed to compile sixty documents into one. I said, “It is very simple, really. We just select all, and copy, paste. Control A, C and V.” He said, “No, no. Just wait. I need to note this down”, which he did. Soon after, he went to his laptop and took another tutorial from me. The moment he mastered it, he beamed but recovered quickly and very seriously said(in his archetype baritone), “Well, you see, I don’t understand technology.” 

He was an exceptional editor, who could spot a minuscule mistake in a document. But he was also someone who’d forget to read emails, or see text messages and call agitatedly demanding an explanation. 

Sometimes I would, in frustration, wonder about the man behind the persona - the real Dr. P so to speak. I remember that I’d complain to my colleagues about him and say, “I only need one perpetually irritated old man in my life and I already have my dad.” 

Looking back I realise that I had indeed turned him into a father figure. I made concessions for him, taught him tricks with technology, and always responded to his irritation with calmness. 

In September last year I began helping him clean up his old interviews, stories and profiles for a book, and discovered that what my generation knew of him was just the tip of the iceberg. I read through and edited more than sixty transcriptions of his work from 1967 onwards. The men he’d met, the leaders he had interviewed, the things he had seen and reported about - and I was even more awed by him. 

But by this time, I also knew him as someone who would be quick to render an apology for calling at an inappropriate time and who would empathise with my domestic conundrum...someone who I thought hardly smiled, but who’d crack an innocuous joke and defuse a situation. 

By the time our collaboration had ended, he had been humanised completely. 

I don’t know where he is right now, but I sure hope they serve wine in Heaven. That, I know, will make him smile.

Dr. Dileep Padgaonkar, 72-year-old former consulting editor of the Times of India died in a hospital in Pune this morning. He had been unwell for some time.

Born in Pune and educated at St Vincent High School and Fergusson College in Pune, he went to France and studied for a doctorate at the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

In 1978, he served with the UNESCO at Bangkok and later in Paris in different capacities with its Information Section. Earlier, he was the Paris correspondent of the Times of India and later, after coming to India, became its editor. (Source:

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thank You God for the Air We Breathe

Hundreds of photos of smog covered Delhi have flooded my Facebook timeline. It is obviously getting worse as winter sets in.

But can we really, honestly and truly blame the current government for it? Isn't this degradation a result of years of neglect and oversight? Aren't we all to be blamed for it - I lived in Delhi collectively for 9 years - when we used our personal vehicles instead of public transport to get to college or when we ignored and overlooked a worker burning a heap of garbage right outside our housing complex?

Newspapers say - Its Delhi today, Tomorrow your city. Despite the legislative interventions Delhi has had over the past few decades, (CNG vehicles, moving of industries outside city limits, garbage segregation etc.) the city has spiralled downwards. Other Indian cities and towns will follow suit and will reach Delhi’s level of despair faster than they can blink.

And yet, all of us know, that we will do sweet nothing about it.

We will blame the government, but when they bring in legislation (such as banning plastic bags) we will use every opportunity to squirm out of it ("bhaiya, aaj panni de do, kal se yaad rakhungi.")

We won't segregate our garbage. We won't stop buying cars (3,4,5 in a 4 member family). We won't stop using plastic bags or non degradable, throwaway plastic/thermocol plates, cups, spoons, mineral water bottles etc. at weddings and parties. We won't recycle goods because its too 'cheap'. We won't upcycle for the same reason. We won't save water or electricity (we can afford it). We won't adopt rainwater harvesting or vermiculture (who will look after the systems/we can afford not to have them). We won't switch to solar panels (what is the need?). 

We will take pride in consumerism because heck, thats what we earn for! We will complain complain complain and blame blame blame. 

We will want industries to move out of residential areas but won't think before we buy a house in an area where industries mushroomed long before builders decided to construct apartments there. 

We will want the government to clean up our rivers, but will nonchalantly throw 'pooja samagri' and the like into an already polluted water body.

We won't plant trees - thats for school kids and civic bodies to take care of. 

We want clean air, but we want to do nothing for it. 

And so, we deserve it. Delhi deserves it as much as the rest of us. 

Because like charity, this also should have begun in our homes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sharing Passwords...

“To share, or not to share, that is the question.”

If Shakespeare had lived in these perilous times he would have perhaps begun the famous soliloquy in Hamlet thus.

‘Share’ is the rallying cry of the social media of the day; everything you do, (or forget to do) is shared with the rest of the world. But increasingly the ‘share’ sentiment has become restricted to the clicking of a self-named button on a social medium. And increasingly, share is also beginning to have another bearing on humans, in their relationships.

Social media has turned people’s lives around. Suddenly it is easier to get in touch and remain in touch, over geographical distances, and time zones. People long believed to have been separated by six degrees, now collide with each other in the cyber world and create liaisons inconceivable until a few years ago. To add to this, these interactions can be kept sole, exclusive and totally private. Closeted in office cubicles, on their commutes and just about anywhere, people can have unbridled and unmonitored interactions.

While most couples who grew up in the times of Hotmail and Yahoo (in the early 90s) were astounded by the level of privacy an email interaction could afford, the new generation, the one that grew up playing on smartphones, takes it for granted.

Therein lies the problem.

Those who don’t like to share their passwords with their partners or spouses say this is their private space. “I won’t share my passwords with a girlfriend or spouse” says Neeraj Thakur who is a social media addict. In addition, Thakur feels that a partner may not understand the context of a conversation and there might be a tendency to misunderstand an interaction. The thought is echoed by Shefali Patel* a PR professional who admits, “I don’t think my husband will understand my interactions with people which may border on being flirtatious, but are harmless.”

To others, the refusal to share passwords has nothing to do with privacy but everything to do with ‘Trust’, a word that has come to define the depth of a man-woman relationship. In 2010 a New York Times article stated, “Sharing passwords to e-mail accounts, bank accounts and photo-sharing sites is the new currency of intimacy."

Sajjani Nair says she has no problem sharing her password if she’s asked. “I feel infidelity surfaces the moment you have to hide a password or a text message” she says.

Over the years, the emphasis on trust in intimate relationships has increased to accommodate the feelings of insecurity and uncertainty that are perpetuated by the very nature of social media interactions turning it into a device to protect a relationship.

In an age when the young generation abhors sharing their social media passwords with parents or other significant adults, it is clear that the line between trust and privacy is very fine and every relationship must walk the tightrope to find their own balance and order.

First published in The Golden Sparrow.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The worst part about growing older...

No... Its not the weight gain around the midriff or the beginning of wrinkles, or the greying of hair (everywhere) or the weakening eyesight that is the worst part of growing older...
What pains me most is people you've known and loved, who were older than you, and now older even more, kicking the bucket and leaving you with memories and nothing more.
Aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, even icons (MJ, Prince, Whitney Houston etc.)...people you'd thought would be around just because they always were.
Death is inevitable but when it become a deluge, thats when you know that it is also an indication of your own ageing. I remember my dad calling me many years ago (when he was my age), shaken up after a friend of his died of a cardiac arrest in his office - all he said was, "Its begun."
I didn't understand it then, but I do now.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

I will wear my Patriotism on my sleeve

My 96 year old maternal grandmother passed away late last month. Until she was around, many of us took her presence in our lives for granted. We thought she would always be there - with her warm hugs and kisses, blessing us when we would meet. I started writing about her influence on my life and the first thing I wrote was this - about Patriotism. In the current scenario, this becomes a narrative that I want to share.

My first lessons in patriotism were from my Naniji. She taught me to love my country unconditionally in several ways. She was the daughter of a freedom fighter and she herself stood up to the extreme political conditions several times. At her memorial service, I got to know for the first time ever, that she had been to jail three times.

When we were much younger we would hardly get to interact with her for longer than a week every Summer break. Once in a few years she would come to stay with us and that, as a young girl, I remember was my first exposure to the spirit of ‘Love your Motherland’.

She taught me about freedom fighters, and why we fought for our freedom in the first place and to remember the sacrifices that brought us our freedom. She also taught me to stand in rapt attention when the National Anthem is sung 'anywhere' (if you heard it on the TV too you stood up) and to sing it with gusto. She taught me that to respect my National Flag (and to sing the National Anthem) was not a symbolic gesture - it was a tribute I would pay for all that my country stands for - freedom and equality, unity, compassion and pride. 

She led her life as an example for others. She was a keen teacher - went around the slums of the town she lived in (Saharanpur, UP) and taught girls to read, write, tailoring skills, cooking, knitting - whatever would help them economically. She taught them Ayurveda, and taught them self respect - she would counsel and support girls to counter/leave abusive husbands and in-laws. She would nurse people back to health - like the wife of a rickshaw puller who was grievously ill - she cooked for their household I was told, for more than a few weeks. 

Religion, caste, class..these were never hindrances for her. Nothing stopped her from reaching out to others and making an effort to make a difference in their lives.

Why did she do all this? Did she start a NGO and gather funds to concretise her evangelistic work? Did she sell the Ayurvedic medicines she made after painstakingly scouting the jungles of Dehradun for herbs?

To her, all she did, her actions, her dedication, her passion constituted service to the Nation, to Mother India, to the land of our birth. 

Her pride for our Nation, our ‘matrubhumi’ was not restricted to jingoism and sloganeering. She got two of her daughters married to armed forces personnel, was overjoyed that I had chosen to marry an armed forces personnel myself and supported my cousin who wanted to join the Army too. She never wore her patriotism on her sleeve; she let her work do the talking. 

She taught me to stop lamenting the state of affairs in my country and become an active citizen, a participant in its growth, to serve and to never forget what she, India, gave us. She would ask us to think - “Tumne apne desh ke liye kya kiya?” (“What have you done for your country?”) before complaining about things. She taught us to never stop serving our country and its people in whatever way is possible for us.

When my husband and I, married for over 3 years, got the chance to stay with her for about a fortnight on a Diwali break in 1998, and told her that we were not keen on having children (we didn’t want to add to the population) all she told us was, “By having a child, you will nurture a future citizen for this country. Your education and your values will be inculcated in that child who will also serve the Nation, be an asset and be a reason for its prosperity.” 

In the environment today, her actions would be ‘tokenism’ to many; her guidance to her scores of grand children and everyone who she came in touch with, would be forced/imposed ‘nationalism’. Her patriotism would be questioned, and her commitment to serve fellow Indians would be seen through the lenses of religion, RSS, Hindutva, Sangh Parivar and what not. She would be called ‘privileged’ and her whole life would be scrutinised for her intention - for who would be able to live like she did without an underlying motive! 

But I won’t complain. I won’t lament the state of affairs.

I will simply follow her footsteps and won’t let anything deter me: I will sing the National Anthem loud and clear, respect and salute my National Flag, love my countrymen and serve them in every way possible. I will argue and fight for the pride of my Nation, and pray for its growth and prosperity. 
I will BE a token/misguided patriot/extreme nationalist; will raise two children in the same way. And I will wear my Patriotism on my sleeve.

Jai Hind!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Animals Lovers, Please Stop Your Lip Service!

Lately, I am seeing too many posts on social media of pedigree dogs being put up for adoption (either the owner is moving, or having a baby, or is unable to handle an animal) or posts on abandoned dogs looking for a new home.

I am not an animal lover - in fact I have a "oh they're cute but as long as I don't have to look after them" attitude (exactly the attitude I had before I had my own kids..but thats another story) - and yet, I would never abandon a pet once it becomes part of the family. 

We have an adopted beagle who was tested upon at Ranbaxy laboratory for three years and as a result, has many health issues. He is not my favourite person in the house - because he has discipline and anxiety issues, he poops and pees on all my furniture whenever he likes (so he's moody as hell too) and howls to kingdom come (as if he is just upset that the family is sleeping) jolting me awake at 3 am on many a nights. 

Yet, I would never abandon him. Coz thats plain INHUMAN.

So all you animal lovers out there - alongwith sharing pics of the pet that needs a home, you should start sharing pics of those heartless owners who 'buy' them and abandon them for the silliest of reasons. 

STOP being 'nice' to such adults! 

Shame them. Let them know that there is no excuse to love someone and give them away. Would we ever do that with our children?

Stop paying lip service! Raising a ruckus when you find strays ill treated on streets is one thing - how many FIRs are filed against an owner who wilfully abandons their pet? Isn’t that cruelty to animals too?

And if you truly love animals, campaign against breeding of dogs... 

Educate people on how to love an animal - not his/her breed... Street dogs are just as smart and intelligent, they just don’t have the ‘beauty’ of a pedigree...

Owning a pet is not for your pride, sometimes it is (as it was for me) to give a needy animal a home (our dog had been in 4 homes in 3 years before he came to us...and he's been with us for 3 years now), and to share love with another living thing and God's creature.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

How to Dress like a Mommy Once your Daughter turns Teen

It wasn’t too long ago when I had a conversation with a friend about the clothes I wear; we would meet often at a club, restaurant or a party and she’d comment on how well I carried what I wore “at my age”; which simply meant, early 40s, not a thin woman by any standards, and definitely not shy.

A short tight skirt has been a standard fixture in my wardrobe since I was 16 years old. I love my skirts – and while the midriff has become fleshier as I have advanced in age, I work very hard to keep the butt and legs in shape.

My children (daughter in particular) were used to seeing mommy in such clothes when they were younger. I maintained decorum and never wore a skirt to school, but could never wear kurtis as most mothers do at school events. Back then, my daughter would show me off. “My friends love you because you’re so cool,” she’d say. “Their mothers don’t dress like you, mama.”

But all that changed when she turned 14 and suddenly became aware of what ‘mommy wore’.

Suddenly I was dressing too loud, too bold and ‘not my age’. My distressed jeans raised eyebrows (not in appreciation, let me quickly clarify), and so did dresses and skirts. Seeing my teen’s reactions, I began dressing down and tried hard to change my wardrobe to start dressing ‘like a mommy’ when we hung out together.

The next two years were tumultuous because it mattered to me to consider her feelings. I could not be insensitive to her even though I knew that it was the roller-coaster ride her hormones were on that governed her moods and responses. And so I did what was needed.

So here’s my list of do’s and don’ts for all you mommies whose girls are soon going to be at the mercy of their hormones:

  1. Don’t wear spaghetti straps unless you cover yourself with a shrug or jacket. (They’d prefer you wore a veil but never mind…)
  2. Distressed jeans and butt-hugging skirts can be stored away for a few years.
  3. Do NOT show off that tattoo; if it’s on your wrist, wear full sleeves!
  4. You can wear kurtis and long tops; in fact, the longer, the better.
  5. Bid goodbye to low-back and backless shirts. You’re a mommy now!
  6. They love you in saris but will complain about the navel-baring, deep-back blouses and sundry other oversights.
  7. You’ll often hear: “Why can’t you just dress like other moms! Sheesh!” You must respond, “I’m trying!”
  8. If you have a piercing, then God help you!
  9. Do NOT dress in your own genuine style especially around a boy they have a crush on.
As mothers of teen girls we will realise that it is a passing phase and the easier we make it on them, the easier, in turn, we make it on ourselves.

Two years hence (she’s 16 now), we are both comfortable with what the other wears (I am not a fan of her flaunting the midriff in a western outfit, but then, it’s her style) and she has grown to accept her mother’s quirkiness. Peace and harmony have been restored on the wardrobe front.

The small sacrifice in toning down our dressing style pays rich dividends… because one day, when you discuss the issue with her (and seek her permission to write this personal account), she will, in her nonchalant way, tell you, “But I’ve always loved your sense of style!”

Outwardly you’ll say, “Thank you,” and inwardly, “Hallelujah!”

This post first appeared on

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ashaji you're a hero

Dear Ashaji,

We have never met and perhaps never will. Unbeknownst to you, I was just one of those millions of women in India who followed your daughter’s ordeal. 

I was one of those who felt your pain – as a woman and more so, as a mother.

But the predominant feeling was one of anger, intense anger.

I was angry with those rapists, with those unknown passers by who didn’t stop to help, with all those men who have no value for a woman’s body and her wishes, who think nothing of throwing acid on a girl’s face...

But most of all, I was angry with the patriarchs in my family who had let their daughters down time and again; by marrying them against their will, for killing their female babies in the womb, for conveniently overlooking the reality of marital rape...

Yesterday, you were quoted as saying that if the juvenile walks you will feel that you have failed your daughter.

I want to tell you Ashaji - you will not and have not failed your daughter.

WE have failed you both.

Those lawmakers who did not bring the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act up for discussion and debate in the parliament for three years, failed you.

Those putrid politicians who lost no time in turning your nightmare into a gimmick and photo op, failed you.

Those from the media, the purported watchdogs of society, who failed to create the required furore, failed you.

Those of us for whom Nirbhaya never became Jyoti Singh, failed you.

We, Indians, collectively, as a Nation, as a humanity have failed you.

In the last few days I’ve heard you talk to the media and I hear the voice of a mother who is still living the trauma, your pain is palpable. You’re up against the mighty judicial system of this vast country and it is going to be a long battle. But you rage on, despite the hurdles.

That makes you a hero Ashaji. Jyoti is lucky to have been born to you.

Friday, November 27, 2015

T for Tuesday. T for Tolerance

I’ve read every argument for and against the comment Aamir Khan made. My consternation is that those who support his right to free speech haven’t asked the relevant questions. Did he personally face any intolerance? Were his rights (free speech, free movement etc.) violated before he made this irresponsible and highly generalised remark that got the Twitterati gunning for his backside?

Answer all likely is ‘No’.

Now read a story on tolerance …

My father was a young man of 20 when he moved to Kerala in 1967 – straight from a tiny village in Haryana. He worked hard, set up a miniature business and built his dream house in Kochi in 1990.

When we first moved into the house, the tiny chapel across the street from us was one of those typical ‘tiny’ chapels, where devotees would come, light candles, pray and leave.

No one can remember when it became popular.

I’d left to pursue higher education by ’91 and my parents cannot remember when the chapel began having their Tuesday Mass on a loudspeaker (these days they have a few rounds of cracker bursting after every Mass), or when they collected enough money to buy out the ‘Ice Factory’ next door to us, demolish it and construct a huge building in its place.

The crowd at the church is so huge during their Mass, especially the two that are held in the evening, that the crowd spills on to the road. Members of the congregation park their vehicles haphazardly, and increasingly in front of the gate that leads into our house.

My father, who is now in his sixties, has to go out and request people not to park their vehicles in front of the gate. For, if he is returning a little late from office, he cannot get in to his own house, or if he wishes to step out, he cant until the Mass is over.

On many occasions, he has been abused by the ‘devout’.

“You’re a Hindu so you can’t understand.”

“You are an outsider, don’t interfere.”

“I will park my scooter here. Let me see what you will do.”

He met the main priest and requested him to intervene because father is a heart patient (had a bypass surgery in 1999) and would need to access the exit to his own house to go to the hospital if something were to happen. The only thing the priest said he could do was ‘request’ devotees to maintain civility. Nothing more.

It didn’t work.

Last year, the whole family had gathered up for Diwali when on one such Tuesday evening, my brother and his wife were stuck outside due to the vehicles parked in front of the gate, blocking access completely. In fact, they were stranded in the middle of the 40 feet road because vehicles were double and triple parked.

We coaxed our father to call the cops. Meanwhile we stood outside the gate, waiting for the Mass to end and congregators to come back to their vehicles. Two young men who claimed their scooter apologised when we asked them why they’d parked in front of the gate and scuttled away.

Within minutes, several of them returned to pick their vehicles. Some smirked at our outburst, some argued with us, some abused us. That evening, we experienced what my father had experienced several times in the past.

The cops (like a Hindi film) came much later and after listening to us had only this much to say – We will send our patrol vehicle next week and please put a ‘No Parking’ sign on your gate.

Father told them in chaste Malayalam that the previous ‘No Parking’ sign had been stolen by someone. But he heeded their advice, and a few weeks later, he had a sign painted on the metal gate.

Hasn’t helped.

Intolerance is everywhere – from residential complexes that deny homes to persons of certain religions, to the clarion call Raj Thackeray gave a few years ago against North Indians living in Maharashtra. None of it perturbs us until we see intolerance up close and personal…

It instills fear…

…. when the local councillor tells my father to stop his ‘campaign’ or it would become a ‘communal’ issue….

…when my father, who has lived 48 years in a State, made it home, learned its language, adopted its culture and cuisine, is called an ‘outsider’….

…when raging ‘devotees’ threaten him all because he wants access to his own house…

Even when we fear for my parents’ safety in the light of such threats, all my father has ever said is, “No beta. People are not so bad.”

I ask Aamir Khan if he has ever had to face an iota of what my parents are facing to this day.

And yet, they’ve never discussed even in a passing conversation, “Should we leave?” On the contrary, the question my mother often asks is, “Why should we leave? This is our home.”

And that my dear Aamir is how an average Indian thinks. India is home. To my parents, Kerala is home. (Forget leaving India, for people like us, moving out of Kerala is unfathomable…so rooted are we in our identities!)

What you said is your opinion and you have every right to it. If only you had not generalised the intolerance faced by ‘Indians’. Who are these Indians, and are you one of them? Do they all want to move?

Just as you used diligence and research before every episode of Satyamev Jayate, I wish you’d made a well thought out statement, based on facts, not sentiments, and certainly not based solely on the ‘news’ we are fed by media houses.

If you had voiced your opinion and followed it up by saying something that conveyed this >> Yes, Kiran and I discussed the issue, BUT, India is our home and we have no intention of moving - you’d have given people like us more strength.

We are dismayed because you did Indians a disservice and reduced the intolerance debate to a mere generalisation. You are not anti-national, but you’re an irresponsible celebrity who had no qualms using a platform to voice your generalisation, that is neither based on a personal experience nor ground realities.

To conclude the tolerance story - last year, on this very day (26 November), my father suffered a massive heart attack. Due to timely intervention, he was virtually brought back from the dead.

Luckily for us, it was not a Tuesday.