Saturday, December 26, 2015


He poured some in the glass and glugged. He obviously hadn’t shaved in weeks. Probably hadn’t bathed either. 

What is it with men, moods and chin hair? I wondered what women did when they were in a bit of a bother? Grew their nails and ignored their laundry?

He hit me again. Harder this time. Staring at me with those wide brooding eyes. Mean one this fellow. But there was a sorrow in those mean eyes I hadn’t noticed. Like a lost dying star in a bright nebula.

The bartender shot him a dirty look. Sitting at the back all these weeks, I’d noticed all the different types of drunks who walked into Mikey’s Bar. There were mostly four types I realized – the mean ones, the braggarts, the quiet ones and the singers.

This one though, he was different. Mikey didn’t know what to make of this one. No one else did either.

He was like a wolf in a pack of dogs. Lone; lonely maybe. But not out hunting.  

He hit me again and again. Putting me down at last with a harsh sound on the bar top. A hush descended. The door screeched open. Heels clicked and a woman’s voice said, "Andhesh…. You have to come home, NOW."

He threw me against the wall and I broke into a million pieces. I watched him leave, no silent goodbyes said, as the Vodka poured out of my guts slowly…..

Thursday, October 23, 2014


How much good cheer can you fake in festival season?

God forgive me, but festivals bring out the devil in me. Has been so since adolescence. 

Time was, I could pretend to be a little human about it. 

But with age, as shards of politeness become increasingly thin, it has become more and more difficult. 

Friends (those still left...) know I'm an atheist. With time and with running history becoming what it is at home and elsewhere, I've become bit of a militant atheist. 

Point my nose toward a GoD and I always have a cutting and (in my mind) appropriate response at hand. 

Which (also in my mind), is great.

But what does one do when good cheer and bonhomie are overflowing during festival season?

People hugging and wishing and cheering and me with my cutting responses just oozing at my lips, waiting to get out. 

Ram or Ravan?

About a month ago, a friend of mine, a Bohra Muslim actually, called to wish me Happy Dussera. 

Now, Dussera I have a particular problem with. From the time my son was in Kindergarten and the teachers made an effigy of Ravana and they taught him to throw stones at this effigy -- I've been fuming. 

How and why does one celebrate the flailing of an extremely erudite but fallen king? What kind of people are we to do that, I ranted to this friend? 

He came back with an Oops! Sorry to have triggered the Volcano and quickly retreated to his hidey hole. 

But good friend that he is, he returned today with a "Here's Wishing you a Wonderful, Bright and Delightful Diwali." With lots of crackers and Smileys and funny, pretty WhatsApp doodles. 

Boor that I am -- I promptly snapped back -- "Celebrating the Return of Ram Rajya? In this day and age that's celebrating the return of the BJP. Do you really want to congratulate me on that?

And then I paused. 

I wrote back, "Let's celebrate Christmas instead. Or New Year's."

And then I decided to write. 

Is Diwali Political? Really?

There was more than my atheism at play here. 

I have major problems with Christianity. Obviously. 

Who in his right mind would hate Satan for luring Eve to the fruit of knowledge? 

Where would we be if he hadn't? Huh? 

I mean, seriously? 

So I asked myself why had I said Christmas, which was as religious/mythological a festival as Diwali or Eid?

The answer is of course simple. While in my ideological context, Christmas is still a stupid festival; in my socio-political context -- it is not as politically charged a festival as the others. 

I could afford to be moderate and intellectually distant about Christmas because it does not directly affect me. 

That's the premise on which everyone functions. The middle class, the majority Hindu, the minority peddler, the male chauvinist, the feminist, the intellectual.  

We are all, in our own way tolerant of the non . We are able to see  issues unrelated to us as outsiders, ponder over them as intellectuals and be sane and logical and kind about them. 

To put it bluntly. We can be distant and glib about things that we don't give a damn about. Not in any meaningful way. 

But here comes the rub that made me write:

How much toll would toleration take if toleration could talk tall

The question I asked myself was : Wasn't this how people greeted each other before the troubles? Before religion became political?

Here was a Bohra Muslim calling (who he might have thought was) a Hindu, with a simple Happy Diwali greeting. 

For decades before the BJP this was exactly what made us a comfortable multi-cultural, multi-religious country. But I had stomped all over his good wishes.  

I was being boorish about it exactly the way Narendra Modi had been when he refused to accept the Islamic topi. In my pursuit of intellectual purity, I had acted like the very person I hated most.

How had this come to be? 

Much like the Dark Knight and the Joker, how had I become Narendra Modi's alter ego --- only standing on the other side of the mirror? Should the comparison even flatter me? Scare me? Appal me? 

I'm not sure yet. 

At a very basic level I am an atheist. Equally disdainful of all religions. 

I am also though, a political creature...we all are, whether we acknowledge it or not. 

In (continuing) to give religion such a prime place on my mental horizon, am I peddling to the current vicious political discourse? In fighting it on it's own terms was I contributing to it? 

Does the Gandhian view of Here No Evil, See No Evil...... make Evil go away? 

Or like Thoroeu, Is there a thousand hacking of the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root? 

I don't have any easy answers.

Have F...

One can't but look at the increasing superstition, bigotry and sheer non-sense like love jihad out there and not respond. 

One can't look at the spread of the Sangh and all it entails... and keep quite. 

There is an irreducible logic to what all of this means. One can't ignore that either. 

The only question then remains -- the appropriate medium of discourse. And, if such a thing exists, the appropriate level of engagement. Where things are non enough for an unbiased assessment, but not so non that we find it easy to disengage. 

So......this festival season, if you're having fun at Eid or Diwali or Dussera I'd say........

Well, my finger trembles and my mouse dithers like a drunk at saying Happy E or Happy D or Happy C......

But.... Have fun. Remember the old times when religion was private and festival was for friends. 

Meanwhile, here's a picture my Bohra friend shared in response to my boorishness. Have fun, he said. With that picture? You bet I will. 

Have fun you guys too. And er... stay safe. Your light bulbs may explode. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Hate (Young) Doctors

I hate doctors. Almost as much as I hate Sushi. They tell me you can get used to Sushi in time. But in my 20 year long and unfortunately regular interaction with doctors, I haven’t learnt to stomach them.

Believe me, it isn't for the lack of trying. When you're in the hospital as much as I've been - you want them to be on your side. 

The list of litanies is long but my chief complaint is their ignorance. 

Ever met a neurologist with epilepsy? Or a psychiatrist with bipolar disorder? Or a surgeon who’s had a hand and leg removed? 

I haven’t. I'm sure there are some out there. (Gynaecologists who've had kids would qualify) But not many. So they can make the diagnosis, they can prescribe the pills but do they know what it really feels like?  No sir.

So it’s – “You have a stomach ache? Take a pain killer and bugger off home.” Often followed by, “Your appendix ruptured after you got home? Oops, sorry. I didn't know you had an appendix. Next!”

I started my career as a patient hating all the nurses. Especially the mallu ones who giggled and chattered in a strange language while you lay there moaning in pain. Besides, they just couldn't get the I-V going right.

A couple of years ago, back in hospital, I ran into a nurse who couldn't get my glucose moving. She pressed the needle a little harder and found that the liquid would flow only if it was twisted at some precise angle. She left me sitting up, holding the needle at that angle for the next one hour. I smiled indulgently. She was positively benign compared to the doctors I've had the misfortune of knowing.

Later I came across another nurse who tried to shove a pipe down a stroke patient's throat so hard that blood spurted out of his nose like a fountain. Considering the fact that he had to go on blood thinners for the stroke and couldn't, simply because of her stupidity --- it was a life threatening mistake. That there were Duty Doctors all around her at the time just added insult to injury. 

I can think of a few things I would have liked to shove down her throat. 

I've developed a theory over time; over a very painful 20 year career as patient and patient-attendant, to be precise. Let me spare you the whole tedious explanation on how I arrived at it and give it to you straight instead.

  1. Stay away from old Bengali general physicians. They are verbose, tedious, tendentious and believe that their pearls of blabber are better than pills or tests or diet control.  “Its oll in the maind. You hab to hab phaith and dethermination” is what you are likely to hear in the middle of your third heart attack.

You want to tell them is "Phaith isn’t going to keep you alive after I slowly choke you to death." You  don’t want Phaith when you feel like ten sumo wrestlers are sitting on your chest. You want pills to make the pain go away. And you want someone to turn the bloody world right-side up again.

One such Bengali blabberer was almost a homicide victim by a patient in a hospital in Hyderabad. I refuse to name names.

  1. Stay away from any doctor under 40. In an emergency, say 35. The younger ones don’t know jack-shit. They've surrendered useless appendages like hands and ears and god forbid, their brains, to X-Rays and Ultra sounds and CT scans. They don’t treat you, they treat THE REPORT. And may The Lord help you if you insist you have more pain than the report says you should. The old fashioned idea that doctors touch the area that is in pain or actually listen to the patient  --- they don’t do that any more.

And if forced to touch you, they’ll quickly pull their hands back like you’re some kind of disease. They’ll leer and snicker and patronize you till you feel like a worm. Besides, your mere presence affronts them. You interfere with their mating ritual with other 20-something duty doctors and nurses.

3. As a general rule, if you’re a hospital guest, prefer an older nurse to a younger doctor (Accept your senior consultant who you hope is good). Just beware of nurses who smile too much. They’re usually covering up for how inept or how new they really are. Any nurse, who’s been around long enough to be trustworthy, has nothing to smile about. 

4. If you have a medical emergency in the middle of the night -- say the pain has suddenly shot up or you’re getting cold sweats, or seizures, or a stroke, or dying -- don’t call the duty doctor. Ask for the head nurse. The DD will inevitably be some youngling who caught the roster and will be more lethal than the disease. Besides, he’ll be so sleepy, he can’t make out your geezer from your face. The head nurse will be some over-40 matron who’ll know what to do and when to wake up the senior doctor at home.

If, by some misfortune, the head nurse is also younger than 40, start raising hell. Insist on calling their senior doctor from home OR ELSE…Threaten to set fire to the hospital, ring the fire alarm, call the cops….anything that works. 

Now don’t say I didn't warn you. Heed the advice, else RIP. 

Disclaimer: No junior doctors or nurses were hurt in the writing of this article. 

Disclaimer 2: This writer of this article has nothing against Bengali doctors or Mallu nurses. Those are merely used representatively. It seeks to rail and rant against ALL doctors and nurses who don't take time to listen to the patient 

Disclaimer 3: There are some great doctors out there. Some the writer actually knows. This article does not rant against them. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fil's House

Straight lines with rounded edges

The study with long windows

Never Never Land

For my son and Max the dog

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A House for Fil

It began as a house we decided to build because the landlord doubled the rent. We couldn’t afford one in the city so we went to the suburbs. Strictly speaking, we went to the boon dogs. Beyond a village on the outskirts, where an adventurous realtor decided to set up a gated community.

He’d set up the tarred roads. Divided the plots. Put up the street lights and parks. Except there was no gate and no community. By the time I finished building the house 5 years later, the gated community was acres of empty green space and for someone like me, the best of all things--- a neighbor-free haven.

It was also a whole bunch of other things I hadn’t thought it would end up being.

The house began as an idea for a small space - 800 square feet no more.

Two rooms – one for me and my husband and one for my daughter; a library where my son would sleep behind the partition; and a long living-cum dining where we would spend most of our time.

By the time I finished building, the 3400 square feet  giant it is today, it was a book of many chapters.

To my husband it was a dream house, or so he said. 

To my 18 year old daughter, it is never-never land, where she can pretend that Peter Pan and Tinker Bell still exist. To my son- it is finally, home. A place where he gets to keep the awfully lizard-like dachshund Max, that he so loves. Where he can call his friends. An identity.

To me, it’s a labor of love. Something I built. Solid and lasting and tangible. 

But more than anything else, to me it is, and always will be, the house I built for Fil.

Little Dreams

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

My husband worked nights. For years we’d had separate rooms so he could live in a darkened tomb during the day. I called myself the call-center widow. It was only half a joke. 

We’d decided that by the time we shifted to this house, he would get a day job or quit and we’d start a small business or social venture together. It didn't matter what. Hence the two bedroom house, with a single room for us. The small house with a large garden. Our home.

But plans have a way of changing.

As I began to design the house my husband’s dreams grew bigger. He wanted to make space for my mother to move in with us when she grew old. The idea gave me the jitters. We weren't,  what you would call, the ideal mother-daughter pairing. But I was her only daughter and there are things you do for your parents no matter what.

And then he wanted Fil to move in with us. That idea I loved.

He was my husband’s best friend. (Not necessarily the other way around). Knew him since childhood. Saw him through all the way from diapers to dentures. Grew old with him. Truth be told, watched my husband grow old, even as his own  spirit stayed young.

And somehow, the house began to build itself around that idea.

One day Fil hurt the bottom of his sole jumping down from a chair . Though a why a man his age should have been jumping off chairs beats the hell out of me. 

Well, actually, I know, why.

His wife asked him to take a suitcase out of a loft (he’d do anything for her) – and he thought he was Superman while jumping down from the chair ( he always thought that he was superman).

Either way, his sole hit the sharp tile skirting on the edge of the floor and gave him a big bleeding gash.

I decided that day, I would have no tile skirting in the house that jutted out from the walls.

That turned to no sharp edges at all anywhere.  Nothing that would hurt him, as that half-blind-as-a-bat stubborn bugaboo roamed around in the middle of the night doing god knows what. Because he always thought he was Superman.

Fil’s little ways

I knew Fil would only come to this house kicking and screaming. He loved his independence too much. But eventually, come he would. He loved us too much. Especially the kids. 

I could imagine him sneaking in through the back door at all times of the night, so he didn't disturb anyone. 
So I built an exit from as many rooms as I could. 

I could imagine him reading the paper for hours in the garden. So I built multiple shaded spaces for him.

A table in the study where he could potter around on a laptop on his current favorite project (and he always had one) – would thrill him endlessly. So I made space along the study window for two tables. And a sofa for when he got tired.

I could imagine the cups of (almost) sugar-less coffee he would get me to sneak from his wife. He loved to watch me make coffee for him. Stirring the powder with a little bit of water till it got the kind of froth and texture you got from old school coffee machines. 

He was an athlete in his time and enormously kicked with both my kids’ athletic achievements. I could Imagine him getting up in the morning or late at night to take my kids for a run. 

I could see him walking down to the village to get involved in the local politics and road-building. Long teas with the local sarpanch that he would then boast about for hours.

I could imagine so many things.

The Fil no one knew

Most of all, I could imagine Fil unfettered and irresponsibly happy. 

I needed him to be irresponsibly happy.

He’d been accused of being irresponsible all his life of course. But I have never seen a man carry such a great burden with such dignity all my life.

Fil’s father, a man of great education and a big-name family, married an uneducated no-name woman on his parents’ say-so and promptly dumped her when their two kids were barely 10-12  years old. He never gave them a penny and never looked back.

This was to define Fil for the rest of his life.

Fil’s mother was a no good illiterate. Barely a mother at all. His brother ran away because he couldn’t take the stress and was  found 40 years later on a railway station by accident, a barely educated Class IV employee

Fil’s childhood was spent taking care of his mother and shuttling between relatives, begging for a place to stay. 

Relatives who harbored them, didn't often feed them properly. Those who fed them, didn't want to pay for his education. He begged and borrowed and scraped his way through school. 

 With the help of one kindly uncle, he finally made it through to a boarding school on a scholarship.

Every summer, when all the kids went home, Fil stayed back in the hostel because he had nowhere else to go. 

Acres of land. Hundreds of rooms. One little boy all alone,  24 hours a day for 30 days with celibate fathers. There are things Fil never talked about. Not even to his family. Some things he let slip once when he was lying on a hospital bed very ill. About older boys who made him do things that made him uncomfortable.

Rest of the time, he made up games to amuse himself. Summer after summer. Hour after hour. 

He never told anyone the stories he had hidden in himself, because some stories can’t be told. And most people don’t have the stomach for such stories.

It’s easier to turn away. To believe they are exaggerated because frankly, they force us to get involved, to feel the pain. And it’s too much to bear.

We hate the people who force such stories on us so Fil never told his.

But he dealt with them like only a couple of people I know, and came out a better man.

The hand the dealer dealt

When Fil got married, he decided the one thing he would never do, was hurt his wife. No matter what. It was perhaps an unconscious childhood decision. As an adult, he made it his anthem.

His mother had been abandoned by a no-good husband, it wouldn't happen in his life ever again. He put everything above that, including his children.  

He had grow up alone. Not even a mother worth the name. This gave him a desperate need for a family. So when his wife came along with a large family, he adopted them too. No questions asked.

He had put himself through university, got married,  eventually got a job that was making some money. He funded his wife’s brothers through college. And later, through periodic financial trouble, sometimes behind his wife’s back.

Every once in a while, everyone gushed over what a great man he was. Treated him with a certain deference. Called on him regularly.

What no one ever got was that he wasn't being a saint, as his wife often called him. Or a giver. Or even a nice guy. 

Fil was being Fil. He liked  the idea of being part of a family. He was really just trying to belong.  

What he got in return was thanks and respect. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find a family member he could go out for a drink or chat with, brother-to-brother. No one he could call and say, “hey, want to catch a cup of coffee?” 

For all the respect and affection he got, he always remained an outsider.

Fil had been dealt a dummy hand by life. But he’d decided to play a man’s game. His father abandoned his wife; so he would put his wife above everything else. His family had ill-treated him; so he would be the best family man he knew how. He’d suffered at the hands of ungenerous people; he would be as generous with his money as he could possibly afford, often even when he couldn't afford. He’d suffered indignities but had learned to survive them; so, above all, he would fight for life.

What is it they say about good and decent men --- "It's not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you...."

“We are fighters,” he said to me at one of our difficult moments. It was his favorite line.

From out of the Shadows

I wanted to build a house for Fil where he didn't have to fight anymore. Where I could get him his frothy coffee. Listen to his painfully long lectures. And bloody hell, if he could get up and take my kids for a run, maybe I’d take a shot at it too.

He’d been reviled for everything he was, all his life. Respected when it suited people and reviled when it didn’t. 

But most of all, this man who took care of everyone and their families was the loneliest most abandoned person I knew. 

Fil. Poor, sweet, stupid, lovely, deep, Fil.

The braver he was, the more they asked of him. After all, if a man can do this much, why not a little more?

If a man can walk up the apartment steps, why the hell can’t he get in the door?

It’s a fair question. The proverbial last straw? No one ever thought of it with regard to him. If he acted like Superman, he must be one. Right?

Fil shrugged off many last straws and taught himself to walk again. Had his back broken many times and put himself back together, all by himself. 
The last time he fell ill, he sought out an old business rival to get back his sense of life.

There is no emotional gain in helping a strong man, so he helped himself.

But the woman who refuses to climb up the apartment steps to begin with? Speaks the loudest about her pains and her illnesses- there’s often an army of volunteers rushing to get her a wheelchair. We all feel a soft glow of goodliness when we help the weak.

For Fil, that was okay. He’d been happy to live in the shadow of his wife and kids all his life.

I hoped to build him a place where he could come out of the shadows. Throw his weight around a bit. Demand something for once.

Never Never Land

 The house did get built. We moved in. My husband never changed his job. We never got back into the same bedrooms. He built himself another tomb upstairs and eventually moved out a few months ago. We’re filing for divorce.

It is Never-Never land for my daughter. But now she imagines it’s a world where we’re all living together and things are just dandy.

For my son, it is home because he has Max the dog and Ravi the cook. That's his idea of a home these days. But he is terrified of everyone just leaving one by one. Especially after my daughter did her adolescent run-away act like her grand uncle before her.

As for Fil, he came home a few days ago. We had coffee and went for a drive to drop my daughter off at the airport. My husband had been discussing divorce terms with him and something had startled him into taking an education insurance policy out on the kids. He wanted to talk about it, but we didn’t.

It was a stolen moment for both of us. Old friends forbidden to meet. I spoke to him about the house that was meant for him. “You know that’s not going to happen” he said. “But you know I'll always love you. Let’s meet for coffee at least whenever you come to town. Just give me a call.”

Yesterday, any possibility of coffee in town, also passed away.

You see, Fil is, was, my Father in Law. His name is Boddapati Purnayya. They say he died of liver failure on November 4, 2013. I think he also died of a tired heart.

He was just waiting for his wife to return from her holiday in the US, so he could finally let go. 

If family is someone you don't have to explain yourself to, no matter what you do; if family is someone who indulges all your whims and pet peeves no matter how painful or funny and bizarre, because they are important to you; if family is someone who knows what you want and who you are, without a word said aloud; then he was the only family I had. I hope I was his. 

In a world, where very few men are men, he is the best man I knew. I didn't  get to say goodbye. But that's okay. He knew I loved him, as he loved me. 

Before we have coffee one day...

I don’t know what this is. An obituary for a man who told all the funny stories and kept the others to himself. The obituary for a house. Or a dream.

Maybe it’s just my need to tell a little bit of the story of a man, in death, who never said much for himself in life.

I will be moving out of Fil's place by the end of the month. It’s built with a great deal of love for a man anyone would have been privileged to know. If anyone wants it, it’s yours for the asking.

As for you Uncle, wherever you are –I know you hedged your bets on the question of god just to be on the safe side.  

If your god does indeed exist, do me a favor before you sit down to tell him a funny story. Give the bastard a hard one from me. 

You deserved better Down Here. You tell him to make it up to you, Up There. Or he will answer to me when I arrive.