Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Diwali

The lights in my house do twinkle,
They shine so bright tonight.
Beautifully flickering candles,
Little diyas with their golden lights.
It's Diwali time again,
As I sit with a throat so sore.
The exams that call for my attention,
On the study table do snore.
The Kurkure ke dibbe,
Are not this time to be seen.
But the juices and chocolates and cookie jars,
In my room themselves do preen.
So I eat and eat, and eat some more.
With each bite, there's a wish for you.
May good luck be showered on your family,
Lots of health and wealth be, too.
I wish you sparkle with a beaming lovely face,
Everyday of your life with joy.
And may you succeed like the do sau ka rocket,
That goes up up up in the sky.
May you be the WhatsApp in everyone's life,
And not the sucker of a thing that's Voda.
May you be as rich as.. um, the dry fruit.
And wise like the green old Yoda.
May your happiness be never ending,
Just like Sarthak's perennial exams.
And your days be as chilled out as the hippies,
Who smoke up at the cafe of Sam's.
With this my cookies are over,
But the after taste remains.
So, may you be the Section 54 ke provisions,
And there be no tax on your capital gains :D

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Halva, Poori and Embarrassment

You know how there are certain things about our families that we think are queer. Certain routine behaviors, traditions, customs and beliefs. Things that we as kids perceive to be weird, but grow into following on our own one day. I’m not from a very superstitious family. A very general level of Indian superstition is what my parents, grandparents and other elders believe in. Things like, I was told not to go over any of my little cousins lying on the bed. Apparently, doing this would hamper their growth and they won’t grow any taller. I grew up with such little lessons on conduct just like all my other friends. It used to be fun to discuss such beliefs and family teachings with each other during classroom chats in school. But there were certain things, which even though not that queer, people chose to stay mum about. “Kanjak” was one such thing.

The last day of the navratras, I think, is called the Ashtmi Puja day. I always knew it by the name “Kanjak”. I would get up early in the morning to the aroma of pooris, halva and channe being cooked in the kitchen. Getting ready for the day when a new stock of colorful lunch boxes and stationery pouches would hit my shelf never seemed like a chore. I knew I had to dress up in a white kurta-pyjama and part my hair from the side. Those were days when my mum hated it if I tried to look like Shah Rukh Khan from Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai and tried to puff my hair up by parting it a little from the centre.

My mum and chachi were no different from the other “colony ki aunties” when it came to buying gifts for the little lehnga clad girls who’d visit our home the following morning. Lunch boxes, pens, pencil boxes, crayons and chocolates were the usual favorites, and would sell in the market on the previous night just like Kurkure and Tropicana boxes do around Diwali time.

Mumma, Dexter wala lunch-box laana.” I would tell my mum an evening before, and she would always keep my glint-eyed request in mind while she shopped. Dadi would keep a bowl of milk ready to wash the little girls’ feet. It was one puja that I waited for every year (or six months, if that’s the frequency) eagerly. I was five, and my feet used to be washed too. Knowing that there was no threat to my receiving kanjak gifts, I asked my dadi why my feet were also washed despite me being a boy, and therefore definitely not a "kanjak". “Kanjakon ke saath ek boy bhi hona chahiye. Woh hanumanji ka roop hota hai. It’s his responsibility to take care of all the other girls and ensure that no harm comes to them”, was her valid reply and it left me beaming. I would happily go to the “neighbor aunty’s” house on my dadi’s orders and ask her to send the kanjaks to our place once she was done with the puja.

The puja used to end with me sitting on the dining table in the afternoon, looking at the food that came from all the houses in the neighborhood for my sister, who could eat nothing but Cerelac at that time. I would open a box and compare the texture of the pooris, the look of the channe and the stickiness of the halva with those from other containers. People who gifted identical lunch boxes as we would, and whose parshad items would taste like the food that my mum, chachi or dadi cooked used to win a special place in my heart. I would picture them having a lifestyle just like ours, and the next time that I would see the aunty from that house in the colony, my “Namaste aunty” would be accompanied by a wider smile.

But we all grow up from being kids into becoming bigger kids once we cross the 7 years’ age mark. I used to think why some festivals like Baisakhi called for a special assembly in school, but not the colloquial “Kanjak”. It must not be a festival then. It’s just a custom that people in my colony follow, but is otherwise unheard of by the masses, which included all the boys in my cool gang of friends. The best way to avoid being ridiculed was to stay shut about it in school. The much awaited Kanjak-day started falling on week days, and that meant I would get to play my game of food comparison only after getting back home from school.

I waited for my school bus at the bus stop, and rubbed off the “tika” from my forehead as soon as my dad drove back home after dropping me there. Hoping that there was not even a hint of redness on my forehead, I boarded the bus to the sight of a couple of red marked foreheads playing Pokemon cards. They were mostly children from the area around my place, so it wasn’t hard to accept that they were from families which belonged to the same cult that celebrated Kanjak in my colony twice every year. The red marks were nowhere to be seen in school. It was evident that I was moving among the non-cult children now, in front of whom it’d be shameful to even talk about what my family was doing back at home while they discussed last evening’s episode of Duck Tales. The break was the time when everyone opened their lunch-boxes. Halva, poori and channe in a friend’s box caught my attention. He had got exactly what my lunch box concealed. He noticed the contents of my new lunch box too, and then there was an unsaid understanding that resulted in a pact that required us not to discuss the customs of our families when among the other friends.

Another apparently popular guy in class had a “tika” though. It brought a smile on my face, and I asked him as I headed towards the school bus that afternoon, “So, you wore a tika today? Haha. Why?”
Yaar, there was a puja at my place.”
“What puja?”
“I don’t know. It was some Ashtmi Puja.

I asked my bua that evening about what Ashtmi Puja meant, and figured out that it was the same as what my family conveniently called “Kanjak”. There was an epiphany that hit me then, a sudden realization of what even the families of the cool guys did on the last day of the navratras while their kids boasted about their new G-Shock watches in school. And surprisingly, no one would mention it in school. I had managed to understand a little secret that prevailed in my all boys’ school. A feeling of embarrassment from accepting that Ashtmi Puja was a known and religiously practiced exercise in one’s family.

I grew older. Ashtmi Puja slowly turned into even more of an embarrassment. Embarrassment not for the family, but for every family member individually. My mum doesn’t go shopping for lunch boxes anymore. Chocolates and cookies have replaced the durable, unbreakable, colorful plastic containers, which earlier sold like audio cassettes for everyone’s hip walkman. I wake up on the Puja day, hoping that I do not get to see the sight of food from different kitchens that would make me play my old game. My sister’s 16 now, and has not stepped out on the Puja morning for the last 6 years. She takes a bath at her usual time, not caring for mumma’s constant, “Go take a bath. It’s Kanjak day.” No longer do we have kids in our neighborhood visiting each other’s homes. My mum tells the maid to fetch some kids from the neighbor’s house, while another lady staying two houses away, shouts out loud to her best friend staying across the street. “Sunita! Bachon ko mere ghar bhej dena!

Our maid gets a couple of children from a construction site two blocks away. Little girls dressed in Indian suits enter the house with polythene bags full of pooris and quickly fetched out ten rupee notes. My mum gives them each a fruit, chocolates and cookies along with the usual halva-poori combination and bids them farewell, feeling content about the puja having gone well. Her questions, which preceded their departure, related to which school or class the kids studied in remained unanswered by eyes which just longed for more food to fill in their polythene bags and head back to the construction site that they called home.

“Sarthak, I have to send Ashvi and Shreya’s parshad to them. Please go and deliver it to their homes”, my mum orders me. I try to act like I didn’t listen and the words are repeated again. Nicely laid plates full of halva, channe, poori, chocolates and some money are handed over to me for delivery to our neighbors.
“Are you going to go like this?” is what comes next.
“What’s wrong with whatever is –this-?”
“You’re not going in your shorts is what I mean.”
“What’s wrong with my shorts?”
“Shut up. Just go wear your jeans or something. You’re getting out of the house. Look decent atleast!”

To save my parents from the embarrassment of a son with unwaxed legs, I go and put on “decent” clothes. The two minute trip to the adjoining house seems like an hour long. Well, it turns into one literally.

Namaste, aunty. Mumma ne Ashvi ke liye parshad bheja hai.
Arrey aao beta. Come, sit down.”
“No thanks, aunty. It’s ok.”
Aise kaise ok? Aao baitho.
This follows a sight of another household with the same visitors who gave us darshan at our house a few minutes back. The lady rushes to get me a glass of coke and then asks me to wait while she packs some parshad for my sister. I awkwardly look at the glass, whose contents I wish to gulp down in an instant and run back home. But my parents would be embarrassed if they got to know that I did that. So I sit there, sipping on the liquid like it’s red wine. The parshad for my sister arrives, and I know my chore is not over. There’s probably a glass of awkward Frooti waiting for me two houses away.

Ashtmi Puja doesn’t feel like the good old Kanjak-day anymore. I don’t expect my sister’s friends to post “Happy Kanjak” on her facebook wall like they post “Happy Teddy Day” or “Happy Rose Day”, but in this age when on a person’s death, his facebook profile fills up with RIP messages from friends, I wouldn’t mind some “Happy Kanjak” to pop up on social networking sites so that the little puja ceremony doesn’t fall any more a victim to a feeling called embarrassment.

P.S. Who’s in the picture?
That’s me dressed for a little morning assembly on Raksha Bandhan in 2nd grade. Now talk of embarrassment :P

Sunday, October 2, 2011

(Un)Comfortable Communicators

September is a crazy month at all CA offices throughout the country. 30th September being the last day for filing of some Income Tax Returns, the past month seemed like 30 consecutive Tuesdays. There was always a grumpy Monday feeling behind me, and a silent consciousness of 80% of a work week still to go. I realized a couple of things during this time though. One, I can happily live on Channa Masala and Kadhi from the local Aunty Ka Dhaba in Old Rajinder Nagar for dinner every day of my life, not caring for the meal’s timing being 1 a.m. and the following bowel movements reminding me of the little vibrations that Delhi felt because of an earthquake that hit the city about two weeks back. And two, that a lot of people don’t realize that their diction changes depending on the person they’re talking to.

Bhaiya, aap green tea lega ya normal wala?” the office boy asked me. “Mere liye hamesha green hi banane ko bola na. Green hi mangta.” I replied.

I felt really comfortable saying that to him, but felt a little weird about fifteen seconds later. There was nothing weird about my demand for green tea. It just felt like I was talking more like a Bengali/Goan/Tamil/any other non-Hindi speaking dude who thinks he can make grammatically correct conversation in the language as fluently as Akon in the song Chammak Challo.

The office boy is a Bengali chap, and I had started to talk in broken Hindi just like him. Not with the clients or with my colleagues, but definitely with him. “Tu abhi Bengal jaayega aur shaadi mana ke aayega girlfriend ke saath?” I enquired, while munching on the extra jalebi in the office pantry, hoping that one of the girls gets freaked out on realizing that it was 7.30 already and starts making nervous visits to the bosses’ rooms trying to stop being a chicken and asking for permission to leave for the day ‘cuz “she has to go to another end of the city and her daddy gets really angry if she reaches home after dark”. She gets permission to leave in the next five minutes, and I get to grab her share of the samosa. (Yes, I do that at my own parents’ office, and I’m shameless)

Tum abhi Bengal jaayega aur shaadi mana ke aayega?” my mum asked a client’s accountant who was telling her about his unavailability at work for a week during Durga Puja, as he had to visit his hometown, Kolkata.

That’s not the kind of Hindi she normally uses. It got me thinking how my parents and I unconsciously change our tone and adulterate the purity of our already vanaspati-ly pure Hindi during conversations with people who are not too fluent with the language. With those who’d find it hard to believe that the word “darwaaza” is to “shudh Hindi” what the cylindrical yellow plastic container with green coconut trees and “Dalda” printed on it is to the banner that reads “Pure desi ghee sweets sold here.”

Aww, nanu baby. Mele chaat makit jaaoge?
Translation (in words not incomprehensible because of an overflow of love): Aww, *some word that you think describes cute* baby. Will you go to the market with me?”

I was subjected to such words of love till not age two, but age six. Words that would make a five year old want to give diction lessons to a thirty-two year old. That is what happens everyday to the first kid in a joint family. No one believes that you’re no longer a baby until another bald, pudgy looking, drooling, tooth-less wonder hits your family. But thankfully, all the kids in my family have grown up now, with the youngest cousin turning twelve in another three months.

With no more babies in the family, and no more a girlfriend to call me one, the only time I get to hear “baby” is when I plug in my earphones and Justin Bieber appears in shuffle mode. (My sister put that song there, not me. Go judge her if you want)

But last week, my dadi came over to our place and seemed a little upset on having missed her favorite tv soap that day. Her face clearly showed the extent to which she was missing the sight of some Haryanvi Ammaji woman. She’d have to wait till the following afternoon to catch on the repeat telecast. Her face looked like she couldn’t meet her best friend that day. The best friend whom she’d look at on the tv set day after day and mumble Punjabi curses at under her breath. So to distract her from missing her Ammaji, I started on a mission to entertain her by showing her some features in my new phone. Technologically challenged that she is, showing her the predictive text feature would have been enough to leave her in awe and say stuff like: “Dekha science ne kitni tarakki ki hai. Ab yeh fan ko hi dekho. Kisne socha tha ki ek button dabaao aur pankha chal padega!” My job was as easy as that, but it wouldn’t have kept her mind off the Haryanvi superstar for more than five minutes. My phone had to give competition to her best friend. I clicked on the Talking Tom application and handed her the phone. “Yeh lo, dadi. Yeh dekho kya cool cheez hai!

Yeh lo dadi. Yeh dekho kya cool cheez hai!” Tom spoke back. And when I entered the room half an hour later, dadi was still on the phone, with a look that showed how she wanted to put a nappy around Tom’s waist. “Aww le le, Namaste kalega? Dadiji ko Namaste kalega?” she was speaking out loud just to hear him say it back to her. Then she would slap him a little for being a “bad boy” and he would fall down. And then there was more of “Aww le le…” and similar sounding phrases playing in a loop the whole day. Dadi had missed talking to her baby grandchildren in a cute lisp and changing their nappies more than she could ever miss that Haryanvi woman. “And you thought you could take our place in our dadi’s heart, you Ammaji big-ass?” popped my thought bubble on behalf of all my cousins in the Ahuja family.

It’s nice to see how people, including yours truly, change their pronunciation, diction, tone and mannerisms unknowingly to make the other person feel more comfortable. Or probably try to get into their good books. Or just flatter them. But believe me, all of that –making the other feel comfortable jazz- fades off in two situations. Situations where the communicator makes it unbearably uncomfortable for the recipient to say anything in reply.

One, after you’ve completed six months in a romantic relationship, which you thought was the happy ending to your love story. Grow up, man. All the Hakuna Matata gets over when awkward pauses start hitting your conversations which were earlier full of incessant laughing sessions. No one gives a shit about how comfortable the other is once those feelings of love fizzle out. One of the two tries to break the awkwardness, the other gets more awkward, the couple breaks up. And life goes on.

The second situation is just as tragic as the first. It’s when you get an sms that reads “Heyyy…… hws u?? i m gng 2 da mrkt wid mah sis… u wanna cum alng?........ lolzzz..!!”

Now, I’d have loved to go with two pretty girls to the market. But sorry, your message just made me kick myself in the butt for knowing you.  If you were really trying to save on characters in your sms, why put those extra Y’s in the “Hey”? It makes you look like a Sajid Khan fan, and I judge you now.

I wish you’d have sent me that message when I was participating in a poster designing competition in 8th grade. The theme of the day was Rural Health Awareness. Your extra dots would’ve made me win the competition by making me choose “TB ka samay par ilaaj”, and intelligently quoting “TB se bachne ke liye -dots- apnaayen” in different shades of color sprawled across my work.

And let me tell you, “da” sounds funny only when you put it after the word “Bappi”. Don’t try to be no FiddyCent, mah nigga!

Ah! That brings me to “mah”. There’s a page on facebook, whose link I am dying to paste on your wall. “Saale, my ko mah bolne se angrez nai ban jaayega.

You know, I’d love to cum. But you’ve ruined your chances of making me do that, irrespective of how much my fully structured replies make you do.

I’m not done yet, you piece of filthy text message. There’s nothing funny about me wanting to come with you to the market. I’ve danced to Choli Ke Peechhe at all DU college fests, but that doesn’t mean I’ll try on women’s clothing for you in the ladies section of the store that you’re planning on visiting. So yes, not funny. Stop typing LOL when you’re not even laughing out loud, but have just typed it ‘cuz it’s your substitute for a full stop. And, “lolzzz!” Seriously? What in hell does that mean? Are you a comic strip character who goes off to sleep while laughing out loud?

Last, but not the least, the two exclamation signs after two full stops to conclude the message. Personally, I’ve just noticed this in text messages from girls. It’s like they’re practicing the expressions they would give their future husbands some years from now, while arguing with them on the silliest of things. The first full stop tells that she’s finished saying what she wanted to. The second follows to inform the recipient that she has actually finished with what she wanted to say and is now expecting a reply. The first exclamation communicates surprise at having got no reaction, and the second rhetorically states: “Do you even listen to me!”

For heaven’s sake, woman! Send that handicapped message with unnecessary character transplants first if you expect a reply. And since you’ve typed it like that, don’t be pissed off that my phone’s outbox didn’t care to send you a message back. Your message makes it feel awkward, and leaves it with nothing to say. The “It’s not you, it’s me” line won’t work either. It’s breaking up with your ugly text. Oh sorry, wrong analogy. They were never even together!! Yes, that is something that actually deserves two exclamation signs in the end.

While I type these last few sentences, a dog barks in the street outside like it’s caught the seasonal cough. It’s pissing off. I should run to the balcony and bark back at him. I hope it’ll make him feel more comfortable and shut up.

Image Source: