Friday, December 08, 2017


“What are we waiting for Ashish? Let’s head back.”

“Mommy what happened? Is there a big fire?” Ria asked.

Anya pulled my hands, “Mommy, let’s go! I am very scared”.

“Ok, Ok. Let’s go. I just wanted to check the news if there is any mention of this attack. Let me just call Shalini and let her know we are coming back”, Ashish said to me.

Just as he looked at the phone, I saw a huge crowd running towards us. I saw people throwing their shopping bags, their phones and shouted … “RUNNNN!!! Run!!!” 

It felt like a huge Tsumani wave that is rushing towards you and the time just froze. I saw a guy fall down, with his belongings on the road. He got up, didn’t even think to collect what spread on the road and started running. I saw confused looks on faces of others. Slowly, my brain started processing everything around me and I came back to life. I didn’t even blink or see anything else. I just held on to Anya tight and Ran.

“Mommy, I do not want to die! What is going on?” Anya screamed and started crying. I tried to wipe her tears, as tears starting gushing out of my own eyes. This is not how it’s supposed to end!

“Nothing will ever happen to you, just hold mommy’s hand tight”. All this while I was scared to turn around, what if the shooter is right behind me. I felt a chill run down my back and I just wanted to wake up from this bad dream!

Gosh! Where are Ashish & Ria! I had to look back, I forced myself to look back praying that I don’t find myself at the end of a gun. Then I saw Ashish running with Ria in his arms and pointing to a small alley.

It was the weekend before Thanksgiving. We were talking about where we could go for long weekend. London seemed a good option and it seems we could get seats easily. Also, the added attraction, my cousin Shalini, whom I had not met for years. There were years where we would talk to each other on phone atleast 3 times a day besides the time we would walk together to school or meet at our favorite place Fateh-Sagar. We would laugh more than we talked and people claimed they knew we were coming from our laughter! The years we spent together, would never come back but the memories that we had built together will never fade.

So, it was decided…London it was! We packed four carry-on bags and set on a journey across the pond. I had always wanted to visit London, since the time I read Agatha Christie or Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. I always imagined what London would look like, the old smoky city with Mary Poppins flying over the sky. Or will it look like the city Sherlock Holmes roamed around with big magnifying glass. Or maybe I’d get to see muggles mixing with wizards flying on brooms! I couldn’t contain my excitement when we landed in London. As I walked out of the airport with my kids besides me, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had a feeling it would be a great trip.

We made through the long ride in Tube to Shalini’s house. She was there, waiting at the door and pepping out with her usually bright sunny smile. The time just froze. All the memories came flooding back. The hug lasted for hours and tears won’t stop. It took us 8 yrs to finally meet and we didn’t want to let go. I couldn’t believe it, we were here. We caught up on our past years, laughed on old memories and its special when its not just you and your sister but your husband joins too. After all we were part of one KANVAS.

We spent the first day visiting Sky Garden, Tower Bridge and Tower of London. Couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Kohinoor and thought it looked incredibly small. Kids went around in every room hoping to see the queen! I marveled at the architecture, going from one room to another, wondering how it would have looked during the days when the queens and kings were real. I stood longer in front of the pictures which showed the London 100-200 yrs back and it was hard to imagine that such a London was real. Now it’s like any other city with tall glass buildings merging into one another.

Next day, Shalini promised she will meet us at Oxford Circus to go out with kids. Her daughter was the first cousin my kids met. They jelled in perfectly fine giving us the glimpses of our childhood together. The constant giggling, chatting and playing, I wonder where they got it from! Morning was dedicated to the Queen…we went to see Buckingham palace to see change of guard. We were late, and there was a massive crowd. We plopped kids on our shoulders and tried to get as much as we could of the show. Among all this, Anya shouts – “Does the Queen know, she is missing a good show!” Everyone around us laughed.

From there we walked through Hyde Park enjoying the lovely fall weather. Kids made snow fairies in the fallen leaves, we had our warm coffee in our hand, which tasted amazing and I thought to myself, this couldn’t have been more perfect! Ashish and I held hands while kids walked in front of us. We walked to various attractions - 10 Downing Street, Westminster abbey, Big Ben (getting a face lift) and clicking pictures with the iconic Telephone with tinny little crown on it. Kids loved every bit of it, taking as much as they could. Finally hungry we decided to go to Nandos near 221b Baker Street. This was a dream come true. I was smiling ear to ear clicking picture on the street. God only knows how many Sherlock Homes novels were read comfortably snuggled into bed.

Like mom wanted to visit Sherlock Holmes, girls wanted to ride in iconic London buses. They were so excited to sit on the upper level of the bus, something we could relate to since we both lived in Mumbai. We made ourselves comfortable in a near empty bus and called Shalini that we are on our way. Shalini mentioned she was running late and would join us soon as possible. From far we saw the big angles hanging in the sky near and the beautiful Christmas lightings. Slowly, bus stopped moving and came to a halt. We were wondering what is going on and heard multiple sirens going on. Then a guy with small kid looking scared walked to our bus and said, you better get down. Something has happened at Oxford Circus station and the police have blocked the area.

We got down and started to walk towards the station trying to understand what is going on. We saw few reporters infront of BBC building talking to people with their cameras ready and talking to anyone who wanted to give a story. Another lady stopped us and said to turn around and leave because there has been a blast. The mention of it made me panic. Anya understood everything and got nervous tugging my hands and asking us to go back to Shalini Masi’s house. As we walked closer to the station, the panic in the air grew. Kids got nervous and we were not sure what is going on.

“What are we waiting for Ashish? Let’s head back.”

“Mommy what happened? Is there a big fire?” Ria asked.

Anya pulled my hands, “Mommy, let’s go! I am very scared”.

“Ok, Ok. Let’s go. I just wanted to check the news if there is any mention of this attack. Let me just call Shalini and let her know we are coming back”, Ashish said to me.

Just as he looked at the phone, I saw a huge crowd running towards us. I saw people throwing their shopping bags, their phones and shouted … “RUNNNN!!! Run!!!” 

It felt like a huge Tsumani wave that is rushing towards you and the time just froze. I saw a guy fall down, with his belongings on the road. He got up, didn’t even think to collect what spread on the road and started running. I saw confused looks on faces of others. Slowly, my brain started processing everything around me and I came back to life. I didn’t even blink or see anything else. I just held on to Anya tight and Ran.

“Mommy, I do not want to die! What is going on?” Anya screamed and started crying. I tried to wipe her tears, as tears starting gushing out of my own eyes. This is not how it’s supposed to end!

“Nothing will ever happen to you, just hold mommy’s hand tight”. All this while I was scared to turn around, what if the shooter is right behind me. I felt a chill run down my back and I just wanted to wake up from this bad dream!

Gosh! Where are Ashish and Ria! I had to look back, I forced myself to look back praying that I don’t find myself at the end of a gun. Then I saw Ashish running with Ria in his arms and pointing to a small alley. I made a dash for it! We found a back entrance to a bank and quickly went in. As soon as we got in someone locked the door behind us. I saw around 50 people on the stairs leading up to the upper level. Some were crying and some were just dazed. I didn’t know how many of them actually saw the event happening and how many just like us were running from the unknown. I saw a woman looking out of the window and instantly I thought, what if the shooter breaks into this little shelter, that window would be a good escape! We didn’t know was going outside. We tried looking up on phone, but the news channels didn’t have any updates. We called up Shalini and she said the same. No one knows what happened and there are no details on the news.

Sitting there on the stairs, trying to calm Anya and Ria, I still couldn’t believe this happened to us. This is something you listen on the news, not become a part of the news. I didn’t even want to think of how this will impact them. Where is the world going? I just couldn’t stop hugging them, fearing the worse. This is the new reality, hiding in stair cases, students being taught to save themselves during active shooting or running away! I thought we had left the middle ages behind. For the first time I knew what fear looks like, for I looked at in those innocent eyes holding my hands tightly. I looked at the fear in the eyes of my babies. As a mother, it ripped my heart out!

After 30 mins, we saw people walking outside. We just couldn’t sit here all night long and found the courage to step out. As I stepped out, I looked on the side to see the road we just came from! It felt weird and I just turned away to walk in the opposite direction. With Anya by my side, Ashish in front with Ria, we decided to move on. Now, I understood the full meaning of saying if you get scared you let them win! We went on to enjoy rest of our trip. I met my fabulous friends from St. Mary’s (Sonal, Sanchita and Deepali), from Mumbai (Prashant and Swati), went to Windsor Castle and made it to platform 9 ¾ on Kings Cross! On our way back to US, seeing Anya and Ria enjoying Captain Underpants in the plane I knew we would be OK!

Friday, December 01, 2017

Two Men and a Taco (A Fiction)

It was a cold rainy day and waiting for the train made it horrible with every passing second. We all huddled together, looking for warmth and protection. I see the train slowly approaching the station. It looks like a young and beautiful girl approaching a group of people looking at her and she knows that they all are waiting for her. She moves slowly, swinging side to side, teasing. As she gets closer there is new excitement in the group knowing that finally when it arrives, there is a better place waiting for you!

I take my seat next to window. My big novel is finally over and I have nothing to occupy my thoughts and they run wild. I look outside the window trying to concentrate of what’s going on yet nothing excites me. There is nothing in this cold weather. The trees are bare, there is no activity, and it’s all brown. Then on one of the train stops, something bright catches my eyes. It looks like someone is renovating an old building. It’s being painted bright orange and yellow. I smile looking at it, thinking what they could be building next to a station with such bright colors. It did break my mood and I was thankful for it. I kept thinking about it all the way to work. Maybe it’s a kids play area, or maybe a restaurant or maybe a bar. I could feel the excitement of starting a new place, the dreams that it might hold for them. Maybe they took all their savings out on making this work. Living alone has its side effects, all you can think of is how you can be around people more.

Next few days I watched as the work progressed on. For the few seconds when the train stopped I tried to make out how much progress is being made. One day I watched as they put their sign up. Finally I know it’s a Mexican restaurant – Two Men and a Taco! What a weird name! So I know there are two men who are involved in the project. Must be brothers, Mexican brothers for sure. Maybe the whole family is involved in the business. The wives will work to make sure food is good and the guys will handle the bar and guests. I start thinking about the food. The smell of warm tacos, the rich aroma of chicken being cooked in spices. Even the simple bean and rice tastes so good. Reminds me of our own Indian version called Rajma-Chawal.  Of course, to wash down all this good food, one would need a big jar of margarita. I wonder if they will end up Americanizing the food or will it be authentic. My love for Mexican food started with my solo trip there in the beginning of this year. I remember inhaling the food over there. The fruits and the food, the spices everything was so amazing! The sudden jerk of train’s movement and I am back staring at this bright colorful place.

As days pass, the restaurant starts to take shape. One day the furniture got delivered and I could see they have decided to go bold with the furniture too. I saw a guy in plain jeans and oversize coat talking to a guy next to the truck in an animated way. He was all red and was clearly upset. I wonder why? Maybe a chair or a table was broken. As the train start to leave the station, I turn around and tried to see as much as I could to get a hang of what happened. Oh well, I won’t know. However, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. I wonder how they will decorate the restaurant. Maybe they will keep it simple or maybe they will go overboard and put everything closely related to Mexican in it. They might have live music too! It would be such a fun place to go. Maybe I can stop here on my way home someday. Maybe I’ll get to talk to the owner who was nearly going red about the furniture story. What explanation would I have to remember such a thing!

Two Men and a Taco became my new obsession. I felt like I own that place, atleast mentally. In the morning and evening I look at all the new development happening and back home my dog, Gogo, gets a run-down of the days event. I am sure even he wants Mexican dog food now. I tell Gogo, they have put up a sign of – Now Hiring. Maybe I should look for a job over there. I could become a part of their family and they might let me run the place too! Gogo looks at me as if it’s not him but I who is dreaming with eyes open. I wonder, why did I become so attach to this place? Is it because I need to feel a place to belong. Living alone was my choice, then why do I feel so empty. My friends keep trying to hook me with some strangers all the time. I couldn’t find someone with the same passion for food and seeing new places, so I just resigned myself to four walls of my apartment. I walk the whole apartment in 20 quick steps with Gogo right behind me. Maybe he thinks we are going out for a walk. Instead all I am doing is measuring my world!

Finally the big day came with a huge banner flapping “Opening Night today” and my heart skipped a beat. One part of me was super excited, felt I build this place up from ground up and another part of me was sad, I won’t have anything to look forward to. The whole day I kept thinking whether it would be successfully opening or will they be disappointed. Will they have a line in front of their restaurant or will they have to drag people in. On the way back from work, I had this nervous feeling as if I am going to get the results for my exams. As the train slowly approached the station, I saw few people outside. Nothing crazy as I imagined, maybe I am watching too many episodes of Restaurant: Revamp on food channel! As the train came to stop, I don’t know what took over me. I quickly grab my bag and dashed for the door and as the train slowly started to move out of the station I felt stupid. Well, now that I am here, I might as well get my margarita. As I walked towards the restaurant I heard loud music, it was catchy. I saw few people staring at me as I walked towards the restaurant and opened the door. Once inside I felt as if I was home. The walls looked so familiar, the furniture is laid out the same way I thought it would be. The music was nice and even though it wasn’t too crowded, there were enough number of people in it. I felt relaxed and was already walking towards the door when I heard this huge voice calling me–

“What…You can’t leave without having a drink on the first night of this restaurant or did the competition from across the street send you to spy on me?”

I jumped like a scared cat and turned around to see who it was. It was the same guy who was standing outside when the furniture was getting delivered.

“Huh! Hmmm…no. I just came to see…”

I just couldn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t look as red as I thought he looked the other day. He had a warm smile on his face telling me he was kidding. He sleeves were rolled up and he looked relaxed. The dark black hair, danced over his eyes. I could hear my heart beating way faster than I am used to.

This time with more confidence, I replied “Hey, I am Avantika. I wanted to check your new place out.”

“Ohh Welcome but why leave so quickly then! My name is Mike. Do you like Mexican food or a big bowl of Margarita? For a beautiful lady like you, it’s on house”

“Haha! Sure, I hope your partner doesn’t mind?”

“Partner, there is no partner. If you are referring to the name of the restaurant. I just thought it would be weird enough to get people in!”

And he laughed out loud, an infectious laugh that spread into me like a current running through the wires and I couldn’t stop myself and laughed with him. He stepped behind the bar and served the best margarita I had in a while.

He started to tell his story about how he likes trying different cuisines, travelling the world and learning to cook. It was his dream to open a restaurant while he could as he didn’t have any attachments yet. As I sat and listened to him, it felt like I knew him, from some other time. I felt like our worlds collided today for a reason. I looked into his warm eyes and felt like I was floating away. Then he did something which made my heart skip a beat…he held me with his eyes and smiled back!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A fog

There is a strange comfort and stillness in the constant rhythm of the train. My hand presses against the hard cover of the book that I want to read. Looking outside the window I realize the scene outside changes constantly running from one city to another, yet my world inside the train remains the same each day. The seasons changed from lush green summer, to bright and beautiful orange of fall to now this white sheet of snow marking the onset of winters. The faces I see each morning are the same, just more layers to keep us warm. I do not have to fight to get inside the train. I remember Mumbai where getting inside the train is an art in itself. There are no gender related compartments. People very politely give way yet there is no eye contact or acknowledgement of your presence. Everyone carries their own world with them, yet we all merge so comfortably every morning like a perfect jigsaw puzzle.

I hear people talking about their kids, their challenges with their job or even make plans to meet for lunch and yet it’s very still and quiet inside the train. I remember a blog I wrote couple of years back, where I saw two friends who were speaking through sign language and how soothing it was at that time against the noise of Mumbai train. Now, sitting in this train even with everyone talking, I miss that constant commotion. Kids singing the latest Bollywood songs, women selling vegetables, fruits, flowers and even clothes. Here, you are all alone, in your own world.

Slowly the train moves to the last stop, Chicago down town, train conductor shouts the same thing – Go make some money. Amazingly everyone laughs, every day. Everyone forms a neat queue and quietly gets down giving nods to the people you know and slowly as our worlds merged we go quietly go our own way. Coming out of the station the fresh air of Chicago down town, the river and lake hits my face. I take as much as I can inside my lungs and close my eyes for a second.

That one second I am transported to a different time when the wind used to dance in my hair. Once you get used to the constant commotion, the smell of dried fish right under your nose and people sticking to you like your second skin, you mathematically plan your move close to the door of the train and the fresh air hits your face and you close your eyes for a second. In that one second you can make out which station is approaching - fresh Parle-G cookies being baked in a factory, the passing of Mithi River near Mahim or of an approaching monsoon!

I open my eyes and I am brought back as the bitter cold wind wraps around me. I look around at sea of people they engulf me and urge me to move forward. You don’t have to remember where you are going. Like a huge wave in the sea, this sea of people guides you just like it used in Mumbai. It is amazing how my life is from 12 years ago when I was in Mumbai and now in Chicago, they collide yet remain the same.

While Mumbai provided the comfort for a young girl who was just outside of college ready to take on the world, Chicago provides the exciting new journey for a mother and wife eager to begin the day so she could head back home to the warmth of being with family. Mumbai was hot and humid, Chicago is cold and surprisingly fresh. Mumbai provided a dream which I am living today engulfing me in a constant fog created by the warmth of memories from past and fresh new beginning of present.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


I am driving back to home from work on a very cold evening. The windows in the car are all rolled up, the heat is on full blast and I see outside a landscape that has changed completely into winter mode with not a leaf on the trees. Tiny snowflakes float down aimlessly, some landing on the windows and immediately turning into tiny water droplets. The car moves effort less on the newly paved road. Without knowing what the drivers around me are thinking about or where they are coming from or going, I can almost judge their moves on the road. It has become a routine, a very dull routine for me.

Everything around me is so predictable, and suddenly I realize how much we take life & relationships for granted. I don't remember anymore what smelling a rose feels like, I don't remember what breathing feels like, and I don't remember what getting a tight hug from a loved one feels like. I don't remember what it felt like to sit in the shade of a tree with my best friend my husband lying next to me and watching sun play hide and seek with the leaves, I don't remember sitting and watching sun set against the emptiness of a sea, I don't remember what feels like walking barefoot on green grass or on warm sand of a beach. All this of course won't be possible were we not pulled by a single force. Gravity.

Few days back, Ashish & I stole some time out of our super busy schedule for a date and decided to go for a movie. Anyone who has kids would know it’s not an easy accomplishment. After discussing the time, the movie and the location, we finalized on a movie which had been making a lot of buzz. Gravity.

I went to the movie with no expectation at all simply because I didn't have time to think about it. it’s about space, people stuck in space and then in the end they get back. What is such a big deal about it? We bought the tickets, took hold of our 3-D glasses and started walking towards the theater. I was more absorbed about the fact that I had left my kids back then with the movie. What are they doing, are the sleeping ok, and are they fighting, are they playing...

We enter the nearly empty theater, selected our seats and settled down. I took a deep breath and I forced my mind to stop wondering about kids and concentrate on the movie. I looked at Ashish sitting next to me and I realized suddenly we are alone, all by ourselves with no distraction and I just smiled. I held his hand and felt the old comfort creeping back in.

The movie began on a casual note with astronauts trying to service the Hubble Space Telescope. They have subtle incidents to indicate the lack one strong force, Gravity. Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra bullock) doesn't hold on to her equipment tightly enough and they go flying away in space. When Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney) catches it and returns to her, she replies - I am used to tools dropping on the floor not floating away. I chuckled and then I felt my heart skip a beat. How do you manage in a place which so endless? What do you see when you look up or down?

A Russian missile then strikes on a defunct satellite, which causes a chain reaction forming a cloud of space debris floating towards them. This high-speed debris causes lot of damage and detaches Dr Stone, who tumbles into the empty space. This is where you realize how helpless you can be up there. With nothing to hold on to, you just float away, but to where? Human body can deal for a while without food or water or air, but not all at the same time. At that instant, I felt like all my senses come alive, I noticed I was breathing really hard, I noticed holding on to the cold soda really tight, I noticed my feet tapping on the floor (an old habit when I am scared). I really wanted to stretch my hands to hold Dr. Stone and pull her towards me, pull her towards the safety of Gravity!

Ultimately she is rescued by Kowalski and as they start the journey towards International Space Station, the sun rises in the backdrop. Watching the warm sunlight that we all know so well spread through the cold and alien outer space, I realized how numb we have become to our surroundings. This simple yet most beautiful motion of earth revolving around the sun has created so many miracles that it’s even hard to imagine. Two tiny figures of astronauts moving across the large canvas of earth and sun remind me how little and helpless we are. We don't really control anything. We just feel comfortable lying to ourselves that I we are in control.

When they reach ISS, they try to grab the shuttle but become entangle into a giant parachute. Against the protest of Dr. Stone, Kowalski cuts himself and drifts into empty space and you see Dr Stone floating all by herself in the space. At that moment, I am reminded of another dialogue from the beginning of the movie, where she indicated to Kowalski that she likes being up in the space, away from all the maddening life of earth and she could get used to it. At this point, I feel like asking her again, can you...really? However much we always say to ourselves that we just want to run away from all this craziness; we can never really run away. At the end of the day, we always want to head home. Home where craziness is, home where your kids fill your heart with laughter, home is where love makes it all real...

The movie goes on and Dr. Stone finally return to earth and in the end they just show her feet firm on the ground...

I am not sure if any movie has left such a big impact on me. Made me realize that how tiny we are in front of what made it possible for us to evolve. When I came out, I held on to Ashish’s hand and looked down on my feet. When I came out of the theater I looked up in the sky and felt the comfort of being surrounded by things that make me alive. That moment i realized that love is real, family is real, home is real, even the smiles and tears are all real...just like Gravity is real...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Chasing the lights...

It’s been a long day and I can’t wait to get home. As I come out of the office, the darkness engulfs me and I wonder if I worked through the evening and into the night. No, it can't be. My clock shows 5 pm. I look back, the world headquarters of McDonalds shines behind me. The windows are lit with warm yellow light inside. The big Christmas tree shines in the background. The ever famous arch is shining and standing out against the darkness of night. Everything looks so bright and shinny in the dark background of night!

I warp my jacket around me tighter and start walking towards my car. The winter is slowly creeping its way into the windy city of Chicago. My breathe forms a white fog in front of me. As a force of habit I suck in as much air inside my lungs and then let out my breath slowly making a denser fog appear. I smiled to myself. It remained me of a silly game we used to play as children. We pretended to be smoking, only this is much healthier and it did make my nose tip a bit warmer.

The walk back to car is long. The wind makes my eyes water and my nose turn numb with cold. At this every moment when I desperately need the warmth of my car, I forget where I parked it! I sort to the help of technology, clicked on my unlock button on the keys and my car purred quietly ...somewhere. I did it again. I saw faint light blinking between the two cars. So, that’s where you have been hiding...

As soon as I get into my car, I turned the heater to full. I switched on my favorite channel on radio and the loud music of Hanna Montana’s song “Party in the USA” suddenly wraps me into the world of its own. I start my car, adjust my rear view mirror and I am on my way to chase the lights all the way to home...

While driving on the interstate Highway – 290, I realized that it’s equal to driving on any F1 race track. The cars rush past me, only because they can't go over me. I curse when someone is slow on road because I am getting late. I curse when someone over takes me rashly because at that point I am not late! I drive at 70 miles/ hour at times because the one ahead of me is speeding. Sometimes I am forced to drive 75 miles/hour because someone behind me is touching the bumper of my car! At times I chase a car in front of me because I want a second look at that good looking person or someone chases me to show the anger because I was not speeding enough!

Yet when somewhere someone decides to go ahead and have an accident, the traffic becomes more docile. The traffic jams in USA is a great leveler. Unlike in India, where people want to cut lanes and create a jam of their own, here it doesn't depend whether you have a bigger car, or you are richer than everyone or whether you can maneuver your car like a pro. Everyone has to wait in their lane. Everyone seems to follow the bright red light ahead of them as if they are hypnotized by it. I forget what’s around me and my whole world revolves around that bright red light in front of me. When it moves, I move, when it stops… I stop too!

While waiting for that red light to move, I look up into the dark skies. I see small white dots are chasing each other. They are known as airplanes waiting to land. Their chase never ends as they go round and round chasing each. It looks like an animated screen of a game called Pac man. The bigger dot scrolls on the screen to eat the little dots. The airplanes look like big Pac man eating the small dots called stars. They won't stop until they eat all or someone somewhere presses a button to let the planes know that they need to end the chase and for heaven-sake land the airplane!

There is a point on my way to home, where five roads cross each other in different direction and on different layers. Three bridges built on top of the two roads on ground. I can see the red and yellow lights chasing each other till they move out of my vision. I really love this juncture in my journey to home. For a moment I forget that the bright lights are attached to cars and wonder, how can so many lights, going in so many different directions not forget their way! They just keep chasing the one ahead of them. It looks like bright lights are skidding on a smooth road at high speed and yet never bang into each other!

At that point sitting in my car, I wonder when it I loose the track of time. I have become a slave of my habit. The cars ahead and behind me don't matter. The same channel on radio, the same music one after the other, the same road to office and back each day, the same angry mob trying to take over my comfort zone, everything becomes a simple chase to reach somewhere. I forget the tree and bushes are displaying colors of summers or falls or in winters nothing at all. I forget all about a native Indian dream catcher dancing like a ballerina dancer attached to my rear view mirror. I forget to look at the beautiful moon rising in the sky to spread the light while Sun takes a nap!

Probably someday I'll wake up from this hypnotism...only to realize I have missed a decade...

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Slumdog Millionaire: A movie that Indians love to hate

Few weeks back, I was talking to Ashish, my husband, about a movie which was creating quite a stir in the creative world. It was before it won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice Awards and the greatest of the awards, an Oscars. We didn’t know then, that it is directed by an English director, financed by an American company and is based on a novel written by an Indian. All we knew was everyone was talking about it.
The movie magically and shockingly took us back to the city that we cherish so much...Mumbai or Bombay. The city of dreams, the city of humidity and sweat. The city that has taught hundreds of thousands of large families to live in one-bedroom apartment. The city which taught so many of us to struggle and to dream. A city with a sky full of stars in the darkness of night, and filled with human stars in the daytime blaze–a city of fashion, of film,  of a murky underworld, and decaying slums.
The slums runs through this amazing city like a big snake, shinning black, slithering and swallowing whatever beautiful which comes its way. When you fly into the heart of city, the first thing you see is slums, eating away the hills, the greenery, and the beauty of the city. The roads in the city act as dividing mediums with big malls on one side shouting loudly the slogan–India Shining. On the other side, silently, lie slums that people in Mumbai have trained themselves to ignore, thinking that if they close their eyes to the problem long enough it will somehow go away.
Most people, who live in the slums, left their huge homes in villages that provided clean water, clean air, and land that is pure and fertile. Ironically, Mumbai provides polluted air and long queues where people must stand in line for water to drink and oil for cooking. Then they carry these basic necessities to their shanties of less than 100 square feet that provides shelter for families as large as six or more members. They struggle every day to try to realize their dreams to “make it big,” like the few hundred before them who have miraculously managed to achieve the fantasy.
Is this why they could not accept this movie? Is it because it shows the reality instead showing some beautiful location in Switzerland with stars like Sharukh Khan dancing to senseless tunes? Is it because the movie shows how kids can lose fingers, hands, even eyesight, for the “crime” of begging in the streets? Is it because it shows how kids are taught to kill for money to become the next don?
People don’t like the title of the movie because they see “Slumdog” as a putdown for those who live in the slums, as though they are no better than dogs.  If words are supposed to insult what about the word “Millionaire” that is right next to it? People say they didn’t like the movie because it doesn’t show the "India Shinning" image. Instead the director chose a very dirty place, Slums of Mumbai, which according to them doesn’t exist. I see this divergence from fact as comparable to when a leader of a country like Iran says that he doesn’t believe the holocaust happened. Though I agree that this is not the only part of India yet the story was not about India it was about love in the streets of slums. How else can you show that without bringing in the slums?
The big actors in Bollywood don’t agree with this movie probably because they didn’t get a role in it. Some say the movie won only because a foreigner directed it. Maybe they have forgotten that the only other movie about India that managed to win international awards was Gandhi. Gandhi is shown religiously in India on every TV channel on Independence Day, Republic Day, and on the anniversary of his death. No one complains for this masterpiece though this movie is also directed by another foreigner - Richard Attenborough, an Englishman, and the role of Gandhi played by Ben Kingsley, an American.
Yet when the same movie managed to win the first ever Oscar for an Indian musician - A R Rahman, India is celebrating. Kids who acted in the movie were wholeheartedly welcomed back into the slums upon their return from the Oscar presentations. They are treated as famous actors and everyone is happy for them. The use of “dog” in the title of the movie is no longer an issue.  Every news channel and every internet site in India is talking about how great the movie is.
Frida Pinto has all of a sudden become a big celebrity. Before this movie no one even knew she existed. She is being talked in every gossip column. No seems to mind a barely covered Frida Pinto on the front page of Maxim and Vogue. She has even managed to get a role in Woody Allen’s new movie, a feat that the famous star, Ashwariya Rai, was unable to do till now.
My husband and I, like many people of our generation and background, love this movie for the hard and dirty truth it displays. We are probably few of those Indians who don’t cringe with the word “dog” in it, because we know that this city has always opened its arms for its citizens giving equal opportunities. This city has always cheered for its citizens whether they live in more affluent parts of the city or in the open-sewer slums.  
We rejoice when a movie about India gets an international platform because it breaks the mold that India has endured for ages. It dares to tell that there are no elephants roaming around in every city, there are no snake charmers walking on the roads and people don’t live in palaces and forts.
Someday, after all the current sensationalism about “Slumdog Millionaire” is over, somewhere in the narrow streets of the slums, an old man may be sitting under the only surviving tree visible for miles. He will tell awestruck kids about “Slumdog Millionaire” and how it managed to take a few children, just like them, across the seven oceans into a big city of dreams. He will not talk about how the movie showed only the slums and not the India of the Shining Image. He will tell about Frida Pinto who came from nowhere to become the most talked-about actress from India, and about A.R. Rahman, who became the first musician from India to win an Oscar. The movie and the people involved in it will be the shining images left for India to remember and commend forever.

A new friend...

It was cold this morning when Ashish left for his office. Alone now, how to pass the day weighed heavily upon me like a dark, thousand-ton burden. I stood at the French window that frames a lovely view of the lake, brimming with life in the warm months of the year. Now it lay frozen and desolate, the barren trees standing patiently, waiting for the warm breath of summer to return.

The only color visible in the outside world was white. Surprisingly, all the cars were white too, covered as they were with winter’s snow. I missed the colors of the summer months, and the people strolling and playing along the lakeshore. It told me I was in the middle of a vibrant civilization.

I decided to make an effort to pull myself out of the depression that had taken control of my life. As I was about to turn away from the window, I noticed something moving in the shrub that’s right outside my apartment. A large squirrel was staring at me with his big black eyes. The squirrel looked like a toy that someone had placed at the edge of the shrub. I didn’t move for a long time for I was afraid of scaring away the only companion I had.

After a while, the squirrel moved a little closer to my window, but I still did not move. Then the squirrel moved very close to the window, so close that only the window pane separated us. He looked so beautiful with his fluffy fur and beautiful salt-and-pepper tail arched over his back. His large toes and curved claws were clearly visible. Next, he sat up on his back feet and folded his front “hands” close to his chest. He looked like an old man sitting on a stool, wondering what he had forgotten to bring home from the market that his wife had sent him to get.

I suddenly remembered that I had some bread pieces left from breakfast that I could share with this poor soul. My sudden movement to get the bread scared Mr. Squirrel and he ran back to the shrub. I was devastated for I didn’t want to lose my new friend. With the bread in hand, I stood silently where I had stood before and prayed that he would return. After a few moments, he did return, and this time he was a little bolder in approaching me.

When I opened the window, a cold gush of wind chilled my face. Sitting down, I extended my hand with a piece of bread toward the squirrel. He waited at a safe distance, but shifted his eyes back and forth from mine to the bread several times. He was clearly interested in the bread. I realized that I would not be able to get the squirrel to come to me so I made small pieces of the bread and threw them closer to him. The moment I closed the window, he rushed to the bread, took a piece in both hands, sat on his back feet, and began nibbling.

This interaction between the Squirrel and I made me realize how fascinating the tea party must have been for Alice at the Mad Hatter tea party, with the Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse there.

The squirrel didn’t let anything go to waste and never dropped a single piece of bread. All this while, he kept looking at me as he continued to eat. Was he thanking me? I smiled at the thought and wished I could talk to this special animal. After he ate his full, he grabbed one piece of bread and ran to hide it. He came back again and again, each time running off in a different direction to hide each morsel. It was fascinating to see him so busy and so serious with the task of hiding the food for later use.

After the squirrel hid every piece of bread, he came again to my window. This time he stood on his hind feet and stretched his whole body to its maximum length. He apparently wanted more food and stood like this for a long time. But I didn’t want to give him too much food, for I didn’t want to make him sick. I thought, Please come back tomorrow. I can’t give you any more food today.

As if he understood what I was thinking, he hopped away without even looking back. I felt so sad to see him go away like that, and wished that he would come back. And he did come back. He comes back every day now. I have named him Phil and he brightens my life in these gloomy winter days.

I am so happy that I found a new friend in such an unexpected way.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A diwali at home...away from home!

Can’t believe it’s already winters in Chicago. It seems like yesterday when I landed in a snow covered Chicago and now already the evenings are getting shorter and mornings are getting colder. Getting out of bed takes a lot of afford. Today morning while aimlessly walking around the house, putting things on their place with robotic movements, I looked outside and saw a clear blue sky, leaves falling down in a spiral motion as if delaying the fall for as long as possible. I opened our patio window and step out from the warm comfort of my home into the windy cold weather…and as soon as I did that the cold air filled my lungs and I wrapped my arms around myself.

Standing there all by myself… I could suddenly smell the cold, crisp air of Udaipur. The old, white gate opened and I screamed “SPIKKYYYYY” and my dog comes running outside, welcoming me to a place where I belong. He is all over me, licking all my face and to balance myself I have to sit down which is a big mistake because now he doesn’t want to leave me. My sister, binnu comes out to control spiky and manages to free me from his loving doggie-hug! Then comes a loving hug from binnu, a teary hug from my mom, a side hug from my father, big arm hug from my brother, a long lost hug from a sister whom I am meeting after a long time and a pat on my head from chacha….I am home.

The moment I step in I could smell the delicious sweetness of jalebis, the spicy kachoris and dhokle and my stomach starts grumbling from the anticipation of what’s coming! The moment I lay my plate with all the goodies, spiky takes his favorite place, on my feet to beg for all that we are eating!!! Sometimes I wonder if it would be a good idea to place a plate for him on the table! Atleast we could have our own share without feeling guilty of eating without giving him anything. Attacking the breakfast table I gather all the news of what’s happening in Udaipur. Everyone seems to be either doing great or good or bad…the usual.

All the relatives will be landing in Udaipur for Diwali soon… there are going to be loads of parties, good food, loads of dancing and loads of fun. Nothing out of usual but then this usual makes me feel at home. Seems the time never moves ahead in Udaipur but then for me the time flies. Binny and I get down to our annual routine of doing rangoli at our house on the day of Diwali. Binny is usually super excited and I am super lazy. She coxes me to think about which design, what colors and we end up digging our grandmother’s treasure from previous Diwali and take out our colors, designs and some crackles left from previous festival. My brother, Vaibhav, gets excited and starts burning the crackles early. Spiky, our super-dog, comes running from inside all set to attack the source of noise and I look at them laughing, enjoying the madness and happiness this festival brings. The rangoli takes whole day to finish but satisfied that we did a good job; we call everyone from inside and gather the obvious praises!

Now comes the most important part…what to wear in the evening. I decide on saree from my mom’s treasure and binny decides a lehnga from her treasure! My mom puts on her half glass and starts to fix her blouse for my size and while she is doing this I and binny lie on her lap. We discuss everything from my life, binny’s life and life in Udaipur. That is the happiest moment in my life. Makes me want to never grow up! But someone really gets jealous…suddenly jumps on the bed and makes his presence felt, rubbing his nose on mom’s hand and barks to let everyone know… I am the one who has the right to all the love and attention…mom just smiles and pats on spiky’s head! Jealous dog!

Papa comes in from a day full of shopping for dry fruits, sweets, kaju katlis and most of all loads of pujas at his different office locations! He takes a pillow, rests his head on the bed rest and before we know, his snoring fills the room like fragrance from an incense stick! Binny and I hug papa and wake him up from his deep slumber! He doesn’t get irritated but just smiles and rolls back to his beauty sleep. We let him rest…he is our pandit for the day!

Atlast we get ready for the puja and there is no puja without the chaos! Chacha and papa dressed in kurta pajam set the place for puja. Vaibhav does the setting of things in place around puja place, I and Binny light the diyas and mummy places them outside. The puja starts and with everyone even spiky takes his place. The commotion continues during puja…do this, no don’t do this right now…where is the lacha, where are the silver coins…chacha says the Sanskrit shlokes while papa and mummy performs the puja. As soon as puja is over, I and binny rush inside to change in more comfortable clothes to burn the crackles. Outside the air is cold and filled with the smell of burning crackles.

A “Hello” from a person passing in front our house, brings me back to Chicago. Standing there in cold, shivering…I went to Udaipur and came back. Suddenly Udaipur feels so far and unreachable. In the cold, dry air of Chicago, I could smell the air of Udaipur. I am missing home… even though I am at home…