Geographically Challenged

A couple of days ago, I was expecting a delivery from an online retailer. This is usually a painless process because I live in Mumbai, a metro city, and the infrastructure is great in comparison to smaller cities.

So imagine my surprise when, after receiving several deliveries without an issue, I get a confused call from the courier:

[Warning: This post contains a great deal of transliterated Hindi, and local references to an area in Mumbai. A lot of the humour would get lost in translation.]

Him: “Madam, aapka ghar kahan hai?”
Me:Bhaiyaa, aap kahan ho?” *thinking I could direct him from there*
Him, after checking with a bystander: “Ruia College”
Me:Woh to Dadar station ke paas hai.”

Him, sounding utterly bemused:Achcha. Dadar station ke paas hai?”
Me:Haan. To aap char-rasta jante ho?”
Him: “Wadala-side, ya CST-side?”
Me: *seriously? ‘Matunga’ is WRITTEN on the package!* “King’s Circle ke taraf.”
Him: “Oh. Woh kahan hai?”
Me: “SNDT College maloom hai?”
Him:Nahi.”
Me: “Khalsa College?”
Him:Nahi.”
Me: “Gandhi Market?”
Him:Nahi.”
Me: “Don Bosco?”
Him:Nahi.”
Me: “Five Gardens?”
Him:Nahi.”

*pause*

Me, conversationally:Bhaiyya, aap courier kyun ban gaye?” [Unintentionally caused a colleague to spit out her drink in amusement.]

Him: “Madam, main Dadar ke office se aaya hun.”

Me:Aur aapko Dadar station maloom nahi nai? Waah bhaiyya, very impressive.”

Office Woes #7: Hating on HR

I knew my office was special, but this “no politics” business has given way to open warfare:

Scene:
New guy joins our table, brought in by the HR. He is sitting next to another member of his team.

Another colleague, who usually sits there swoops in, and asks them whether they are sitting together for training. They say no, and immediately new guy bounces out of the chair and asks whether he’s inadvertently taken the other colleague’s seat.

On hearing that he has, the new guy apologises saying HR brought him there.

And..
Colleague: “HR is fucking stupid!”

The other team member and I are a little taken aback, and laughing a little because, hello, new guy! Seeing this, colleague goes: “She has one job, which she manages to fuck up!”

Interestingly HR sits at the next table, within full earshot of us. And the ‘she’ in this little story? The Head of HR Division.

Reading Habit

I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that to become an exceptional writer, you have to read like an exceptional writer. It is entirely possible that I’ve read this several times in different places, but it strikes a chord each time.

I used to be a voracious reader; especially as a kid. But then television beckoned, and I took the lazy route out. Also, and this is the bigger reason, I psyched myself out of reading.

Yup. I’ll let that horrific thought sink in.

I succumbed to the elitism of reading, and when I found that I found classics and their language difficult to consume, my reading habit slowly ground to a halt. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy classics, but honestly trying to keep up with accents within taxed my brain harshly. In fact, it made my reading progress exceedingly arduous.

There was also this sense of shame about enjoying younger literature more, like Harry Potter for instance. Before anyone jumps down my throat, I don’t think that Harry Potter is juvenile; far from it. I just think it is intended for a younger audience.

This year, I decided to get out of my own way. To that end, I set up a goal on Goodreads to finish 52 books this year. Sometime in my past, that would have been a puny goal, but now I’m already behind. It doesn’t matter. My sense of self doesn’t hinge on accomplishing goals anymore.

To my intense surprise, lifting the weight of my own expectations has made me actually read more. I still keep a list of media I have consumed (movies and books), but that’s because I can be quite neurotic. I have read a few classics, and allowed myself the liberty of letting a month elapse between chapters, so my brain can rest.

I am so pleased to reclaim a part of my reading habit once again.

Friendship and Niceness

I don’t have many friends, but lots of people I am friendly with. A lot of that has to do with my definition of a friend.

I suppose it all start with the fact that I am an only child of working parents. No siblings and a naturally shy disposition meant that I am very comfortable being on my own. Growing up in Dubai also meant that movement outside of the neighbourhood or building was restricted due to the lack of public transport. Till I was 9, there were neighbourhood kids, but after that it was just school.

Of course I had friends in school, and we spent much time speaking on the phone. But those friendships haven’t endured into adulthood. There are several reasons for that: first, keeping in touch wasn’t easy, as we moved to different parts of the world. Second, with the few I did keep in touch with, I couldn’t interact too much, because my family went through a tough time. Third, I moved to India, away from my life as I knew it.

College in India was no cakewalk, and I had all kinds of misconceptions. The kids are judgemental and selfish, and so insecure that they were resistant to outsiders. Outsiders like me. I made few friends here, and those ended up being in constant competition with me.

At some point, I gave up the idea of having a true friend. A true friend is someone I think of in a crisis. One that wipes my tears, while telling me how abysmally stupid I’ve been. Who fights in front of me, instead of cowering behind. And frankly, when I am in a crisis, the only people that spring to mind are my folks.

Then I joined my current company. I am friendly with the people here, but are they my true friends? I think they are wonderful, and I do share stuff with them. But yet, they have no idea of who I really am.

Case in point: I offered to courier cake to two of them in Bangalore. The response I get is so incredulous and suspicious, albeit in a humorous way, that I was taken aback. I do stuff for people all the time; just under the radar. I am generous with my time and stuff, and yet I got incredulity.

“Why are you being so nice, Karishma? What’s the game here?”

It is funny, no doubt, but because I am still so broken up inside, it hurt just a little. It speaks volumes for our so-called friendship that I can’t say it did though.

I Set Fire to My Father

4th April dawned a beautiful day. My birthday was fun the day before, and I was taking chocolates to the folks at work. Towards the afternoon, my mom called me up to say that my father’s creatinine levels were down, back into the safe zone. I whooped. Loudly. Yes, it was a good day.

The next morning, I woke up with a spring in my step. By the next weekend, my parents would be back home and I would be back to being irresponsible, pampered, and indulged. At 4:30 pm, my mother called to say my father had gone.

I didn’t believe it, of course. I figured there had been some awful mistake. I figured that they would revive him. I just wanted to reach the hospital, so that I could help make that happen. I was far away though. I wasn’t going to reach before midnight.

I actually reached at 1:00 am. The driver took me to the hospital, where my beloved father was in a glass casket. That’s when I believed it. The father I adored, and still adore, was lying lifeless in a casket. The familiar, beloved features were still. There was no reassuring gentle rise and fall of his chest. His nose was stuffed with bits of cotton, and there were flowers on his body. I fell on my knees and hugged the casket. I sobbed quietly, not loudly as I had expected. When I couldn’t breathe any longer, I ran out of the hospital.

My mother was waiting for me, desperately hanging on till we could hold each other. The funeral was the next day, and we waited to hear from my aunt when she would be coming.

The funeral was beautiful. I wish with all my heart and my soul that it wasn’t my father there, but it was beautiful nonetheless. He was brought to a small temple for the last rites, before being places on a wood pyre.

As his only child, it was up to me to perform all his rites. I was expecting a battle, because girls are not usually allowed this privilege. I was prepared to fight, but they didn’t once ask me to step aside. My mother too stood by my side, collapsing periodically when what was happening intruded upon her consciousness.

Water, oil, and then ghee was poured into my hands, and I poured it on him. I couldn’t pour oil on his face, because I remembered how he hated oil on his face. I was given the first log, and instructed to place it on him, and I thought about how I used to put stuff on him while he was sleeping, just to annoy him.

He was rapidly covered with logs, and I was then given two wooden switches with their ends lit. They pointed to a spot under the wood, and was told to insert one there. This was near his head, and the second spot was near his feet. I was sobbing, and my movements were zombie-like. I did as I was told, barely aware of what I was doing. My father hated being hot. The fire was going to make him very hot indeed.

There was nothing else to be done that day. We had to return the next morning to collect his ashes and immerse them.

The next morning, I did return. This time, there were three people: the priest, myself, and a soul sister. The priest instructed me in the sequence of rituals. Here: take this water and oil, sprinkle it here, do it again, and once more. Take this bamboo stick. Use it to collect bits of bone into that pot.

I then covered the pot with two cloths, and held it, while walking to a nearby river tributary. The pot was then immersed into the water, and I watched it transfixed till it sank.

I was very close to my father. He was the best father, because he was strong and solid, a comforting presence throughout my life. Dependable. Stoic. He was also my buddy, and behaved very much like a brother. We fought and argued over little things, and my mom used to threaten to send us to two corners of the room.

I also looked after my father’s health, during all the crises that occurred in his life. My mother is even more squeamish than me, and so I swallowed my bile and stood like a post next to my father during scans, blood tests, and checkups. I gave him injections and talked to doctors on his behalf. I argued about medicines, and ensured he took them, and there was enough stock in the house.

I also applied cream on his back, because he had the most awful dry skin. Incidentally, genes he passed on to me. I applied ointment to rashes on a daily basis, and removed all the labels from his shirts because they irritated his skin. I applied pain rub to his back when it hurt, and massaged the kinks out it. I rubbed oil on his limbs to improve circulation, and lectured him incessantly about cola and salted nuts. He was my father, and also my baby. He loved the attention, for what it is worth, and enjoyed all the ministrations.

How then was I able to pick those bones out of the ashes? Those were the same bones I had applied oil to. How was I able to set his pyre alight, when I spent so much time and energy looking after that body? How am I still so functional, after having him so forcibly and irrevocably snatched away from me?

Grief is a strange, multi-layered beast. I don’t understand it at all; all I know is that there is a vice constricting my heart, and I find it difficult to breathe.