Friday, January 16, 2015

Lessons learnt from the year past

Its that time of the year again. The ink and sheets of paper are out again, as everyone suddenly gathers their will power and pens down a list of what they have decided to do with their lives in the coming 365 days. Some have decided to just continue with the same list they had made last year, either because they haven't been able to complete what they had sought out to do, or because they are just too lazy to make all that effort again. And there are also some who have just given up on this exercise altogether, convincing themselves that all this is just a sham, that New year is just another date on the calendar.
This year, though, does feel a little different. For me personally, this New Year has been about the realization that its not just about the plans you pen down for the future, its about learning from the year gone by before doing so.
So here is what I learnt from the past year. A few observations, a few realizations, which hit me as I watched the past year unfold, some self experienced, some seen happening to the people close to me, whose value I have decided to appreciate as another year begins. These are no resolutions per say, but I get a sense that if I recognize and accept these few truths, I might not even need to make a list of things to do this year, or maybe any year in the future.

1.    Life is never sorted
Everyone wants a perfectly happy life. Its natural to hope that for oneself. We all hope for a life which is simple, happy and without a lot of stress. But ask yourself, wont such a life be a pain? Waking up everyday knowing that its going to the same as yesterday is as boring as its frightening.
And thats precisely why life must be unpredictable. And this past year has shown me that although we try our best to make our life as comfortable and one paced as we can, we will never be able to succeed in achieving that target. Ever. Just as we ease up on life, thinking that it has finally relented and has settled into a normal, easy going, and pleasantly boring rhythm, it strikes back, throwing up some convoluted challenge back at us, mocking us for trying to even think such a preposterous idea was possible, challenging us to tackle it with all our might and set right what it has very conveniently entangled.
And that is the beauty of life in the truest sense. Doing, getting it all undone, and then doing it again. Life is meant to be fought for. Life is, if anything, a wrestling bout where punches and kicks are meant to thrown with full might, to get at the ultimate prize Survival.
So if you are stuck in a hole the next time, just dont give up. Because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel for those who are brave enough to keep going. The next time you think life is unfair, just remember that its ok. Its not injustice, its just an invitation to the next round of the bout.

2.    Friends will be there for you till you die
While life will invariably throw numerous challenges at you, it will also give you the strength to brave the harsh winds by giving you the shelter of your friends. I have always maintained that all the friends that we supposedly have on social media are ideally just Contacts or acquaintances. The truest, closest friends that you have will never have to be on Facebook, they will never have to check your status to know what you are going through; they will just be there.
They will stick to you when you are low, even when you would feel that you are better off alone. They will back you when you are troubled. They will celebrate your wins more than they will celebrate their own. And for that you owe them deeply.
So I learnt to never ever ignore a chance to spend time with friends. It doesnt have to be a large group. In fact, I believe that the larger the group becomes, the shallower and more superficial the bond becomes. Even if you do have a large group, there will only be one or two in that group who will truly understand you. Its you who has to recognize them in the crowd.
Remember, these are those people who will stay with you for life. Siblings will get married. Spouse will only come much later in your life. These guys enter early and will go the whole distance with you. So treasure them, give them your best because whether you do or not they give their best to you.

3.    Travel is the ultimate teacher
True education is not what you cram up from the school textbooks or your college labs. True education is when you head out into the unknown, with nothing but your instincts to guide you. And that is exactly why travel will always be my ultimate teacher.
Whether its with your friends or your family one must travel. The greatest lessons though, will always be learnt when you go out alone. I did that this year, to an extent that is (as chronicled in my previous post), and the sense of freedom and self sufficiency it brought to me was so immense that I seriously cant imagine putting it in words.
As a famous saying goes, travel without a map because sometimes, you have to lose yourself to find yourself.
It doesnt have to be a lavish vacation or a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara kind of road trip. It can be as simple and as trivial as a hike up the mountain near the village you stay in, or a day in the forests just outside the city. Its all about discovering the unknown. It can be as inexpensive as a solo trip to a yet undiscovered city by train. Believe me, the experience, however bad or tough you find it in that instant, will harden you, make you grow and help you become battle ready for the life ahead.

4.    Lose your soul to Music
A soul is ones dearest possession. It is often said that a man who loses his soul is not worth existing. Without a soul, one loses his purpose of existence. If there is one target that we must set ourselves, it should be to enrich our soul with good qualities.
Music does that. Its the only thing I believe is worth losing your soul to. And I say that only because once you do that, it gives your soul back to you, just that little bit more enriched, just that tiny bit more purified.
There is no good or bad music. Music is omnipresent; its all around us. Music has this amazing ability to sense one innermost feeling, the joy, the sorrow, the desire. And when you truly surrender to its might, you can feel the stress and tension of the otherwise mundane life just getting washed away.
So keep all kinds of music with you the whacky ones, the funny ones, the deep ones, the sad ones, the romantic ones. And when you are going through your playlist wondering which song to listen to, it wont be you who chooses the song, the song will choose you.

5.    Make a Difference
Yes, an X-Box console will give you a lot of joy. It did to me. You will play with it for quite a while, learning to master the intricacies of its controls, feeling victorious as you beat your opponents again and again.
Yet, there is another person similar to you who has similar ambitions. He wants to play on an X-Box just like you do. But unfortunately, he doesnt have electricity in his small hut in the far off village.
This year was about the realization that material possessions count for very little in the long term. Yes, they offer us some short term happiness a sense of pride at having something very few others might have ever even imagined being in the possession of but eventually it dawns upon us that we outgrow every possession we have, sooner or later. And if we dont, its only because there is something very personal, something very special connected with that lifeless object which you just cant give up.
I will keep that thought in mind. It wont stop me from buying possessions for myself. But it will keep me grounded. It will make me appreciate that I am one of the lucky few in the world who has access to such facilities.
So do what little you can to make a difference. It doesnt have to be hefty contributions to NGOs. It is always about the little gestures. When you stop at a juice stall and have juice, spare twenty bucks and gift a glass of juice to the hungry kid who is sitting on the road next to you. When you are about to throw away huge piles of leftover food you ordered for the party you threw, think of the people who starve every night and be gracious enough to leave your apartment for a few moments and treat such people. Believe me, whats leftover for you, will be the best feast that such people might have in the whole year. While you piss on the corner of the road, try and think that there might be a homeless family who uses that space to sleep at night.
It is really not very tough. After all, we are humans, arent we?

6.    Never give up on Love
When it comes to love, I tried a lot to find very famous sayings by very famous people to emphasise my point. But I couldn't find a more apt summary of what love is all about than the lines of the movie Crazy Stupid Love in which the protagonist says these lines meant for his separated wife – "Love is when you find that one person you know you want to be with – your soul mate. When I found mine, I loved her through the birth of our children. I loved her even when I hated her. And right now I don't know if all that will work out. But one thing I promise – that I will never stop trying. Because when you find THE one, you never give up."
Love is never easy. It is very easy to confuse a crush or infatuation as love. It is also very easy to be physical with someone and still not be in love. And if you do find true love, it is complicated even more by the social and cultural barriers that our dear country throws up.
It only takes one special person to change all that, and when he or she arrives, you will know it. And if ever you have any doubt, all it takes is a simple moment of self introspection. Look inside yourself. When your friends are talking about their boyfriends or girlfriends or spouses or fiances, if there is a face that props up in your head; when you think of where you will be a decade down the line, if there is a person you imagine standing by your side; if there is one person with whom you imagine traveling to new unseen destinations; if there is one person with whom you desperately want to share how good or how bad your day went; if there is a guy or a girl with whom the most special moments are the ones in which you just talk and do nothing else; if there is anyone whose presence gives you those pleasantly painful jitters in your belly; if there is that one face in a crowd whom you keep looking at stealthily without making it obvious to others around you, then no matter how much you deny it, you have found your love, your soulmate. And you will know that in a perfect world with no barriers of societal pressure, you would do anything to be with that person. It’s not a perfect world, however – as I said, life is never sorted according to our wishes, but that is why Cal Weaver from the movie said what he said. That although he doesn't have a clue whether it'll work out, he will never stop trying. One should never stop trying. Because tomorrow, you don’t want to live with the regret of not having tried enough.
PS – Do watch the movie. It is a beautiful representation of how insanely complicated but how insanely mesmerising love is.

7.    Your destiny is in your hands
What is in store for us in our future? Its a thought that bothers every single one of us. Yet its the fun in not knowing the answer to that question that keeps us alive. When it comes to our careers, most of us have a clearly drawn out plan, about what they plan to do, where they dream of working and how they aim to become better so that they can make it big at their dream job. But somehow, the same kind of zest often goes missing when it comes to our life. Career, after all, is just a part of our life, it isnt our entire life. Then why, when it comes to this, do we resign ourselves to what the higher force has written for us?
The kind of person you want to be, the kind of person you want to be with, and the kind of person you want to be seen as is all defined by what you are willing to do about it. What you truly wish for won't come decorated on a platter for you. You will need to work for it, you will need to sweat it out and struggle to achieve it. Leaving it all to destiny is like wishing to eat a juicy mango and then just looking up at the sky with your mouth open hoping for a mango, already peeled and very conveniently cut into slices to drop right into your mouth.
So go and get what you want. Be true to yourself and your aspirations. Yes, you will find a lot of hurdles. People will discourage you, people will try to drag you down. The same people whom you thought were close to you will push you away, they will insult you and try to block you out of their lives, all because you are trying to change yours and maybe their lives for the better and they just cant understand it right now. It is ok to feel upset, its ok to cry your heart out. Dont be embarassed by it. Sometimes it is all that you can do at a particular moment. But its NOT ok to concede defeat. So despite all what you face, keep moving forward. Because what you will achieve in the end after putting yourself through almost impossible odds will be that much sweeter to taste.
And as far as the matter of destiny goes, its apt description is given by this Korean movie which is based on a true story of a college kid in which a girl believes that everything is meant to be. She believes that twisting and modifying destiny to suit oneself is the wrong way to go about life and we should leave it all to the force above. But an old man who sits beside her in a park asks her one simple question - What if twisting and modifying your destiny is what is destined for you? Because even when destiny wants to accomplish something for you, it still cant do it alone; you still have to show up.

8.    Its ok to be a Child once in a while
Grow up!! Act your age! When will you ever start thinking like an adult?
Im pretty sure almost every one of us has heard the above lines in one or the other semantic being shouted at their faces. And we have all just cowered back in retaliation, believing that maybe we are actually not as mature as the person in front of us who is uttering these words. I still remember how badly I wanted to grow up when I was a kid. And now, all I can think of is if there is any way back.
How do you define a grown up? Is it age? If it is then why is old age called the second childhood? Does being mature just mean that we carry a serious looking face to work every day and do what is expected of us every single time? Is it about ceasing to think that good things can actually happen in this world and just starting to believe that whatever happens, good and happy endings are only supposed to happen in the movies?
Well, if that is what mature is all about, Im much rather be an immature person all my life. I have realized that its ok to bring out the child inside you once in a while. It is perfectly fine to do what your heart says. It is in fact necessary that you do so. Life is not meant to be drawn out in black and white. Life is going to give a lot of kicks up your backside (see point no. 1) and it would be much better for you that it happens in a colourful canvas rather than bland monochromatic one.
So be wild once in a while. Take that unbelievably crazy idea that no one would understand and show it to the world that it can be done. Go out and do stupid things once in a while, because that is what will make you smile a couple of years down the line.
Being mature is about handling our lives responsibly in our own way, its not about accepting what society says is right. Being mature is about learning how to be better with each of your experiences, it is not about playing dead when you have not even reached your coffin yet.

So that is what I learnt this past year. I dont know if I will be able to actually implement all this during the coming year, but Ill surely try my best. And that is a promise I have made to myself. That Ill eat healthy, pray deeply, love unconditionally. And Im pretty sure that before I know it, New Year resolutions will take care of itself. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ka Lawm me Mizoram!! Part -2

Day 3
Ailawng to Hawlhhah
The third day was perhaps the diverse walk that we experienced during the trek. We started from Ailawng, passing through the village one last time before we entered the forest again. An hour later we were walking through meadows of waist high grass with a soothing breeze accompanying us as we moved further uphill. We then entered a rocky terrain which finally led us to the Reiek peak, the highest peak of the area.

The view from there was a sight to behold. Saying that it was spectacular would be an understatement. One needs to be in places like these to truly appreciate the sheer magnitude and unparalleled beauty that nature beholds. Something that sadly man has gradually forgotten to value.
The breeze up on the peak was cool and light, freshening us up even more than what a hot shower would. Below the cliff we could see the river snaking across the land at a distance. We were told that during the days with lesser cloud cover, we would have been able to see the shimmer of a lake on the Bangladeshi side at the horizon. But frankly at that point I could not understand the concept of borders. Everything I saw before me was just nature and its bounty, no matter which country it belonged to.
We didn't feel like going away from that place. But we had to reach the next camp site and it was quite a distance away. The route downhill was quite treacherous, with a steep drop on one side of the path, and a steeper drop on the other. We went past amazing rock formations. We passed a tourism resort which had preserved an old Mizo village to depict the ways of life of the people, all of which had changed with the onset of urbanization.
The villages that we went past were so immaculately maintained that I felt embarrassed and to an extent ashamed of how filthy we make our cities. Post lunch, we then walked for another 3 hours, going past orchards and farms and moving into the jungle in the middle of which our third campsite was hidden.

Day 4
Hawlhhah to Nghalchawm
The night in the middle of the jungle was surprisingly comfortable. But the next day was anything but. Today was what I called in hindsight 'The leech day'. We started our trek with downhill walk for about an hour till we reached a stream of cool, refreshing water. 

Our tour guides warned us to be careful while stepping out but we being the naive trekkers that we were just went with the flow. The result? Half of us found ourselves bitten by leeches, resulting in bloodied clothes. Anyway we moved forward, moving uphill from there for a couple of hours till we reached another village. From there it a much more comfortable journey as the road was tarred and the slope quite comfortable to walk. It took us about two more hours from there to finally reach our final camp site of Nghalchawm. This was by far the most comfortable camp site we had had. A stream flowed nearby and we had a refreshing bath. And then, like every other nite, we tucked in quite early.

Day 5
Nghalchawm to base camp
So the final day had arrived. I didn't actually know what to feel. On one hand, my body was crying out for this ordeal of sorts to end. On the other, my mind was racing, wanting to go on. Confused with my thoughts, I set out with the group soon after breakfast to our destination.
Today's walk was supposed to be quite a short and easy one as per our tour guides Mama and Zika. It was short but as had been the norm during the trek, when they said easy, it only meant easy for them.
After a short walk through inhabited areas, we again entered the jungle. The path however was wider in these parts. After about an hour, we reached a suspension bridge over the river. It was scary to an extent, walking on the bridge as it swayed under the weight of our bodies, with a 200 feet drop into the gushing waters of the river below a very real prospect. It seemed a scene right out of an Indiana Jones movie, as we evaded loose planks of wood, hoping to just reach the other side somehow. Once we did we were greeted with a hour long vertical climb, which almost felt like torture.
However we all made it through. And once that climb was done, we were welcomed by the sight of the highway and a bus waited there to take us back to the base camp.

All of us slept like logs in the bus. Once we reached, we all were handed out certificates for completing the trek. And then slowly everyone said their goodbyes and went their different ways.

I can safely say that it was one of the most exhilarating trips I have ever made in my life. By the time I reached back home, my body was in a pretty bad shape. My muscles ached. My bones felt brittle. But my spirit was stronger than ever. I felt, perhaps for the first time a sense of liberation. I felt that at least for a week at least I had lived my life the way it should. Yes I was back in the concrete jungle. And soon the worries and stress of this life will again come back to haunt me. But now I know that there always is a way to give your body a release. Thanks to YHAI. Thanks to Mama and Zika. And thanks to the group that made me realise that.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ka Lawm me Mizoram!!! Part - 1

They say that sometimes you need to just go out on your own. Its just the thing that shows what you are made of. And sometimes its just the thing that you need to find yourself, discover what you truly are beneath the layer of work pressure, stress and constant fight for survival in the concrete world.
I decided to take that plunge just when I thought it was getting a bit too much for me, when I thought that I needed a release very badly.
A friend told me about a perfect getaway, a trek in the unexplored hills of Mizoram. One week of nothing but pure natural beauty of the North East. And so I took the bait. And boy was it worth it.
Thanks to the my glorious friends at Air India, I almost missed out on this trek. Air India has this knack of making the simplest things look like the launch of a satellite and they stayed true to their legacy. I reached the capital city of Aizawl a day late,  a few hours more and I would have missed the trek.
Aizawl is a beautiful city. It is set up just like any other city that you would see in a hilly area, but the vibe that this city gives off is so unique. Everywhere you see smiling faces, faces that are eager to help, to please. And I dont think that I have seen that anywhere else.

The hostel of YHAI- the youth hostel association of India is about a half an hour drive from Aizawl. The guys at YHAI were really helpful at making me and all the other fellow participants of the trek feel at ease. The dormitories were pretty basic but well maintained. We had a short interaction with our two guides who were to accompany us. Mama and Zika, two of the most awesome guys I will ever meet in my life waved their hands at us as they were introduced. We were soon asking them our doubts about the trek and hoping that their repeated statements of the trek being not that tough were true.
Being so far east meant that daylight disappeared at 5 in the evening. Hence the body clock went haywire and by the time it was 9 we were all tucking into our beds, under the warm blankets, hoping for the start of something special the next day.

Day 1
Aizawl to Vaipuanpho
I woke up quite early the next day, the sun was in our eyes by 5 am, another side effect of being in the east. As we looked down the hillside we were greeted with an absolutely pristine view of the hills, covered by a thin white sheet of cloud, as if it was a blanket over the hills to keep them warm. 
The trek started as the president of YHAI flagged us off. What happened after that is mostly a blur, as all of us got our asses kicked during the walk. The initial route was steep, we walked to rough cut steps in the soil and moved downhill, trying to keep ourselves from slipping on the moist dew soaked grass. We then reached a small stream of water after which it was entirely the opposite, a steep uphill climb towards the tarred road. The climb was almost vertical at places and by the time we reached the road, most of us were out of breath. 
From there it was a gradual downhill slope to a small dam, where we stopped to have our packed lunches. And then another couple of hours of uphill walk later, we were there, at our first campsite, Vaipuanpho, nestled in a small pocket of clearing by the side of the road.
Bonfire at night, songs and games and we capped off a hugely tiring but hugely enjoyable day.

Day 2 
Vaipuanpho to Ailawng
Today was the shortest of our walks. Yesterday we had walked almost 15 kms but today it was only 7. It was planned as we needed to reach Ailawng early. There was a caving activity planned there for which we needed to reach by lunch. We were all happy thinking that it was a short journey but our relief only lasted till we saw the evil smile on Mama's face.
Those 7 kms I will never forget in my life. We were walking at almost an angle of 60° uphill coupled with the fact that we needed to be sure footed because of the dew. By the time we were an hour into the walk, our water supply had shrunk to half.

We rested at a huge rock. I slipped on a moss covered stone and I could only stop my fall with my chin. So with a swollen chin I moved forward, uphill again through the jungle as we moved to the tiny but beautiful village of Ailawng.
We reached there by 2 in the afternoon, panting for breath and positively winded. But caving was to follow. So we couldn't crash just yet. Mama led us to this cave through which we were to pass. The only thing I would say here is that this is not meant for claustrophobics.

It was an adrenaline pumping experience, crawling, sliding, ducking through the crevices of the cave. Their were points when you would see nothing below but just hear the trickle of water and one had to make a chimney slide supporting our weights on the rocks on either side. There was also a point where I actually got stuck, the whole huge body if mine refusing to go through jeopardizing not just my trip but that of all others who were behind me. But some how I managed to sneak through, and come out of the rabbit hole at the other end, feeling that finally I had done something quite unique for a change. 
The night at Ailawng was pretty cold, we were pretty high up and we had to go even higher the next day. It was a bunch of pretty much drained bodies that said good night to each other and crashed into their tents.

(to be contd..)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Patliputra Experience..

Ask any non-Bihari about the prospect of going and living in Bihar and you will get in return a stare that would murder you if it had arms and legs. Ask a Bihari living in Delhi or Mumbai or any other city in the country or even the world about going back to Patna and living an affluent life in his hometown, and his eyes would well up and next thing you know, you would be subjected to a huge bear hug and numerous kisses.
That, in essence, is what Patna represents. Heaven for the sons of its soil but hell for anyone else.

I m not a Bihari. Hell I m not even from north India.

My fate was sealed in a couple of mad mad seconds during the induction programme. It was my first job. I was sitting there in the hall, along with my fellow trainees, excited about the prospect of starting my career. As the list of possible locations were called out, I sat there imagining living in the city that the training coordinator had just called out.

Delhi.. my home.. would be just perfect.. but no point thinking of it.. they have given it to four girls..

Mumbai.. THE city of India.. awesome lifestyle.. cool place to work I have heard.. well.. the guy sitting next to me got it.. thats off the list too.. dream destination.. close to my hometown.. nice young crowd.. I might even find a perfect South Indian girlfriend..NOOO!!! That Punjabi girl got it.. what would she do in Bangalore!

Patna.. err.. excuse me??

The moment Patna was uttered by the faculty of the training college, everyone including myself tightened up with tension, praying to all the 36 million Hindu Gods that the next name uttered by him be anyone but mine. The moment my name was called out everyone else let out a sigh of relief. Everyone had their eyes on me. The guys from that blessed land who had half expected their name to be blessed with the Patna prefix looked around, upset, bemused, disappointed, their eyes searching for the traitor who stole their fortune from right under their nose. The others looked at me with a certain sense of pity. Poor guy, I could hear them thinking. Some offered me fake condolences, reassuring me that it was better now over there with the new government coming in. Why don’t we swap locations then, I offered, it was much better after all with the new government coming in. They cringed, shrank back in their cave, and didn’t approach me again that day. I pleaded with the nice looking madam who had come in with the transfer letters. She had been very kind to all of us yesterday, offering us valuable advice about the workings of the organisation, the dos and the don’ts. NO was the flat response I got from her, along with was a very stern look.

I was quite numb with shock. I know the more educated, wise people will always say that this is just the way you have to face life's challenges. Well dear sirs and madams, you expect a horse to walk first & run later. When I called home, my parents went silent, unable to comprehend what to say. I called up my best friend and all I could hear once I told him the news was the sound of his hysterical laughter.

Anyway, so I have been there and back now. Three years spent there, three years of my twenties. How did it go? I will tell you in detail my friends. Here is my tutorial to anyone who is given the honour of going and living in the ‘metropolitan city’ of Bihar. This is my take on what Patna is, how it was to live there and what people going there should expect.

(Paaint no. Bhan)
First of all, let me clarify one thing to everyone. Although I have mentioned the terms ‘Patna’ and ‘city’ together many times already, I am convinced that it is not a city. Biharis call it a city because they have to call at least some place in their state a city. Patna is a very very poor excuse for a city. Many names come to mind while describing Patna- a crowded hive, an unkempt township, an overgrown village, but a city? Not a chance!

(Paaint no. Two)
As to the many people (including my pals who showed me fake sympathy when my life got intertwined with this city during that fateful induction session) who say that Patna is a growing city and is the next big thing (I even heard some say that its the next Bangalore!! God bless them..), all I can say is .. Babaji ka Ghanta!! Patna is a overgrown pile of people and is only better than the rest of the state because its a state capital. Period. It is a city which was once such a stinking pile of shit that when the new government came in an cleaned it up a bit, people mistook the absence of the stench as the presence of a sweet smell of development.

(Paaint no. Threeee)
I must say that my first impression of the place was a bit of a pleasant surprise. The platform on which I alighted from the train was quite clean and uncrowded, and the taxi ride to the guest house was short and smooth; the roads fairly clean and the traffic light.
In hindsight, I realise that I saw all this only because it was 6 in the morning; and Patna wakes up only by 10.

(Paaint no. Phor)
Patna waasis, and in general Biharis are very respectful in their speech. Addressing someone as 'Tu' is very demeaning as far as they are concerned. Learn something you brash Delhites, Haryanvis and Punjabis!! Even in a serious fight they give their adversary their due respect. Its always 'Aap ch***ye hain!!' or 'Aap jaisa maadarc**d maine kabhi nai dekha!!'. Politeness, a Bihari's true virtue!

(Paaint no. Phaive)
Pavements on the road sides are not for pedestrians to walk as we have grown up thinking here in Delhi. In Patna, they are legal pathways for enthusiastic bikers who find the road an insult to drive on. If a pedestrian gets hit, he must not raise his voice in protest. How dare he think he could walk there??

(Paaint no. Chau)
The constitution of Bihar gives its vehicle drivers an additional right- the right to honk. It seems the DNA of a Bihari is such that his hands start itching if he doesn’t push that button on his bike or on the steering wheel of his car. Honking liberates a Patna commuter's soul, gives him inner peace. For in this land, honking is just loud meditation.

(Paaint no. Sebhen)
Have road, will drive. Indians drive on the left. Biharis have no such bias. Why, the right side will feel bad if we ignore it so often!! If they feel in their honking liberated minds that the right side lane will get them to their destination quicker then who gives a fuck about all these stupid traffic rules?

(Paaint no. Eight)
Any entrepreneur wishing to start his venture in this area should seriously consider the tobacco industry. A cursory look at the Region wise sales figures in the balance sheets of Rajnigandhas & Tulsis & Chaini-Khainis would lend solid support to my argument.
 I would go as far as to proclaim that the day this area stops consuming these products (wishful thinking I know, please excuse) all these firms would go bankrupt. I am not joking people. I swear by the redness and decay of every Bihari's tobacco infested mouth when I say this.

(Paaint no. Naayin)
As an impact of the point made above, one can also surmise that spitting is Bihar's national hobby. They take pride in the activity and strive to attain greater projectile range and volume with every attempt. Hell, I bought almost half a dozen red shirts just so that any unassuming spit accidentally landing on me won’t force me to go back home and change. I also stopped wearing white. Like forever.

(Paaint no. Dus)
Patna also has a healthy sale of paints. Buildings need it every diwali so that they can wipe off the creative genius of all those red-mouthed buggers from their walls. Come to think of it, dogs & such people have quite a lot in common. Just like dogs smell their way to the point where they feel safe to relieve themselves, people over here find corners of staircases making them turn a brilliant hue of red and maroon. In fact last I heard some building owners just stopped painting altogether; it was taking up more money than they earn. 

(Paaint no. Ee-lebhen)
Speaking of hobbies, another hugely popular hobby over there is peeing on the streets. Don’t get me wrong friends. People pee on the streets in other parts of the country as well. It is to a degree a national malaise. But the grace and elegance and the sheer frequency with which they do it here deserves praise. I guess it is the way men prove their manhood here. A man who hasn’t relieved himself on the streets is an outcast, a good for nothing piece of shit (which thankfully is not done on the streets, thank God for that). They don’t even need to do it on the side of the road. The more visible they make their 'instrument' to the crowd, the manlier they are!
People here also believe in a greater responsibility. Didn’t you guys and girls know? Peeing outside is a silent protest against man made fertilizers and a way to provide natural urea to the vegetation. That there are no plants on the tar covered roads is a different matter altogether. Somebody should try explaining that to these guys.
Statutory Warning: If you are unlucky enough, you might also get to see women trying it. (shheesh.. why God?!? Why did you do this to me??)

(Paaint no. Tubhelv)
Patna is cheap when it comes to cost of living. Don’t think that it means that the daily commodities are cheap. Most eateries demand as exorbitant prices as any posh Delhi restaurant would. What I meant was that bribes are cheap. While a hawaldar in Delhi would not settle for anything less than five hundred rupees if he catches you without a license, over here the hawaldar (who looks hilarious with his plastic helmet stolen from a construction site) would drool and address you as ‘Sir’ if he gets a hundred bucks.
A constable makes money for daily quota of tobacco by demanding five rupees from each auto driver who has parked in a restricted zone, waiting to load some commuters and earn his daily bread. The officer at the pension department receives an application for payment of a thousand rupees and pays only nine hundred. The rest are his ‘hard work charges’. State government babus have a fixed rate for any banker approaching him for deposits. But don’t worry, the muck runs so deep that you will get used to it.

(Paaint no. Thirteen)
Patna is also a very religious place. Well any place on the banks of the holy Ganges will obviously be religious!! How will they pollute the river with ‘auspicious’ looking garbage if it were not? It’s because of these religious beliefs that they have grown up following that even the most extreme cases of non vegetarian eating alcohol drinking perverts turn into pious God fearing faith driven saints on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Why only on these two days you ask? I don’t know; nor does anyone in this city. Just follow it and all the sins that you commit on the other five days will be forgiven by the force above.
PS- Apart from this, also be advised that shaving on Thursdays is a strict no-no. I asked why.. they said it was because of Hanuman ji. What about Hanuman ji, I asked?? No one knows. It’s because of him. Thats it. Don’t ask so many questions! Maybe he got into some serious shit with M/S Gillette and company.

The holy month of Shravan is a sight to behold. Saffron clad Shiva devotees flock the city from all over the country, using the city as a resting stop-over before the onward journey to Deoghar. Patna's citizens welcome them with open arms and the mutton and chicken eating populace share the faith in the lord by desisting from all the 'sinful' fooding habits for the month. Same is the case with Navratras. They do somehow manage to stop themselves for a month, but boy do they struggle!! I see people salivate when they see kebabs hanging from a road side dhaba. I see them pine for a chicken tikka when the so called non-believers are tearing into their pleasures. And I ask-Is there so much of a difference between you and me dear sir? You can’t take chicken out of your mind even for a second when you have vowed not to touch it for a month. I on the other hand eat to my satisfaction and pray with a clear conscience. Even when you are praying at a temple a juicy chicken leg might be dangling inside your brain, teasing you, making you drool. Isn’t it better just to get over with your temptation? Just have it if you want to, for crying out loud! At least you will be able to pray peacefully! But you won’t. Because whether you actually believe in God is not the issue here. The issue is that others must see that you truly believe in God. So even if you are one of the many eager customers that I have seen standing in a long line at a meat shop on the last day of Shravan, booking a hefty quantity of mutton for the next day to douse the fire burning inside you, you are still a true devotee.

(Paaint no. Phorteen)
Ahh, the language! The diction!! Those pronunciations!! How can I forget all those beauties! One of the first ground rules of living in and tolerating Patna is that you must forget the concepts of English & Hindi that were taught to you in school. The beautiful words of Bhojpuri when mixed with the standard English or Hindi words create such a eclectic mixture of words that first timers might find it a little tough to comprehend. Their issh-tyle will bring an iss-mile to your face. So bear in mind fellow first timers, its not “Bahar baarish ho rahi hai” , its “Bahar paani pad raha hai”; its not “Train station se nikal gai”, its “Train station se khul gai”; its not “He is such a decent guy!”, its “He is such a my-dear aadmi”; it’s not “Excuse me”, its “Haayen??”
And did you know? I have a very strong suspicion that Honda had actually named its award winning scooter as Acti. Maybe the guy who wrote down the minutes of the meeting at Honda’s headquarters was from this area. So as is the habit here of assigning the –va suffix to every single frikking thing-va on earth-va, the award-va winning Honda Acti became the award-va winning Honda Activa! Samjhe babua!

(Paaint no. Phiphteen)
People from Bihar love entertainment. And you would find it hard to believe that people from the villages have such a futuristic taste of entertainment that it is only in the recent past that Bollywood has embraced the same. You don’t believe me? Go to any cinema theatre in rural Bihar my friends, and take a ticket to any Bhojpuri film that is currently running to packed audiences. Yes please, indulge yourself to a session of Humaar bhaanji or Ay Balma Biharwala or Raja Ko Rani Se Pyaar Ho Gayil. You will realise that the concept of item numbers were discovered here. In fact, the movies are basically soft porn. So come one and come all!! Sunny Leone & Baby doll is so passĂ©, dance to the gyrating tunes of the Bhojpuri madness!!

(Last n phainal Paaint)
Every single dish that is truly Bihari must have Sattu in it. And I am not kidding when I say that it is seriously good.. this Sattu. I found a small little shop on Boring Road (Yes, there is actually a road with that name. People here are very frank when telling others what to expect from this place) where the Sattu paranthas are truly delicious.

All said and done, in amongst the pandemonium that is Patna, always make sure that you find the right people. I was fortunate enough to find a handful of really decent people who not just helped me cope with the city as incredibly outrageous as Patna, but they left a lasting mark in my life. I can honestly say that I could only live there this long because of the company of these few people. I won’t name them because I don’t know if they will like it, but they know that I am talking about them. It turns out a hundred friends on Facebook are not as necessary or meaningful as a couple who are not on Facebook, but are there when you need them the most.

So, there it is. My Patna guide book-va. Keep it handy fellas. You will have to deal with a lot bud-baks over there. And you will thank me for this!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Woman and Wine

“Well done, Sam,” Anand congratulated Samarth as the next round of drinks started at the party. Late night parties at the small but efficient Life Insurance company office in Kolkata were a norm. But tonight was a special night for Sam.

It was the first time he had been felicitated, that too by the Zonal head, for achieving 150% of his allotted target for the quarter. One and a half times the target in a private life insurance firm was no joking matter. Sam had finally proved that the company’s decision to transfer him from the small town office of Asansol to Kolkata was the right one. 
Another reason why Sam was happy to come to Kolkata was Aparna.
Aparna Bose was the operations executive at his office. Even when he was posted at Asansol as the branch head, it was Aparna who processed his client’s policy documents. All communication that he did with the Regional Office was via Aparna. Sam still remembered the day when Aparna had called him for the first time, on her first day in the office.

“Good morning sir. This is Aparna Bose calling from the Regional Office,” Aparna had said.
“Good morning, Aparna. I don’t remember speaking to you before. New recruit?” Sam had asked.
“Yes sir. I joined today in Operations. Just thought I should introduce myself to all branch heads first.”
“Well, good. Hope to meet you soon. All the best to you! Do well!”
“Thank you sir.”
“There’s no need to be so formal, Aparna. Call me Sam. Being called Sir makes me feel very old, which I am not, by the way.”
Aparna had given a short laugh and had said goodbye before hanging up. The next day she had called him, to thank him.
“And what have I done to deserve this gratitude from you?” Sam had asked.
“I talked to all other branch heads of the region sir, er.. I mean Sam, but all others had a tone of superiority in their voice. Their response was typical of what a newbie gets in a private firm. You were the only one who made me comfortable.”

Since then they had become good friends, talking often on the phone. They met the first when Sam had to go to regional office for addressing a client complaint. That was when Sam had seen that Aparna was actually as beautiful as her voice was sweet.

At Asansol, Sam surpassed all targets given to him. His rewards came when he was promoted to head a team of sales executives at Kolkata office. Since then he had not looked back. Once at Kolkata he had flourished. His skills with the clients and his work ethic made him a favourite, both with the clients and his bosses.

He also got to hang out with Aparna face to face. She turned out to be a great friend. They would meet even on some weekends for a movie or a cup of coffee. He loved the way she was able to totally zone out her work life once she was not in office. She had this wonderful quality of making everyone around her feel important and loved but at the same time not let anyone intrude into her personal life. She was fiercely protective of her privacy. For instance, she would never let anyone, even Sam-who was now her best friend- near her cell phone.

Within a couple of months of his transfer to Kolkata, Sam realized he had started developing feelings for Aparna. He knew she liked him too, but wasn’t sure if it had turned into love, just like it had with him.
He was going to tell her tonight. Congratulatory greetings from all the staff had come to an end. Dinner had been served. Once it ended, everyone started making their way home. Aparna had asked Sam to drop her home that day, so once the party was over, the two of them drove off in his car.
The moment had arrived. She was sitting beside him looking outside the window,watching the shops close down as the city prepared to tuck in for another night’s sleep. Sam was nervous. He decided to say it one go.
“Aparna, I have started liking you a lot,” Sam blurted it all out, while trying to keep his hands steady at the steering wheel.
He looked sideways at Aparna. He didn’t know if she had understood what he was trying to say, but one look at her told him that she had. She had turned red, and had turned all serious, a far cry from the playful face she was sporting just a few moments ago.

“Well..,” Sam pressed on, hoping for some kind of a response.
“Sam,” Aparna said, “I have never thought of you like that. I think you are my best friend. Nothing more than that. In fact I am engaged to be married”
“Oh,” Sam somehow came up with a word in mouth; Aparna last words had given him a knockout punch. “Don’t you think I should’ve known this already if I am your best friend?”
“Oh, Sam I’m so sorry, but I hadn’t told anyone this. You are the first one I’m sharing this with. Please Sam, I hope you can understand. I still want you as my best friend.”

“Hey, Its ok,” Sam replied, trying to sound calm although he was far from it. Aparna then told him that the marriage had been fixed almost a month ago. The groom-to-be was a doctor practicing in England. Sam didn’t ask much; it was Aparna who was just opening up. Sam wondered whether he should be happy about the fact that she thought him to be close enough to tell all this, or be sad that he was just the guy she selected to pass her time when her fiancĂ© was away in England.

About a month later
Sam had since tried to move on. He had cut down on his conversations with Aparna, trying to focus on his job. She had noticed it too, and had tried to ask him why this change had occurred. But Sam just dodged the question. He was upset that he had just been a guy to take her around without any knowledge that she was just keeping herself occupied till her wedding. Of course, he never told her this. In fact he was surprised, that Aparna was the one now who was now trying her best to get close to him. She would ask him if he was free to go out for a coffee, or a movie. He turned down all these advances, surprised at the sudden change in her behavior, and wondering what the poor guy in England would feel about all this. Obviously, Aparna didn’t seem to care.

With time, she started complaining to Sam. “You don’t pay attention to me anymore like you used to” was her normal complaint. ‘Yes I don’t, you stupid girl, because there is someone else you have chosen to do that! How many guys do you want around you?’ was what normally Sam would think of saying, but never did.

This formal friendship continued for some weeks. Aparna kept at her complaints, trying to get a proper reply out of Sam, but Sam kept his distance, speaking with her only if it was needed. He was going on a one week leave soon. His friends had arranged a trip to Goa and it was the perfect way for Sam to put this in the past.

Goa was a welcome break. The sun, the sands and the booze helped Sam forget about his job and Aparna for 7 whole days. On the penultimate night however, he made the mistake of drinking a little too much. His friends lifted him up and dropped him on his bed as he was too drunk to walk. Just before he passed out, he had a crazy idea. It was something he would repent when he would wake up the next day. Taking hold of his cellphone, he sent a message to Aparna. It said: Aparna, I fucking love you!

The day he joined his office after the trip, he was surprised to find that no one was talking to him. No one wished him as he entered, Aparna totally ignored him, no one came into his cabin regarding any matter, official or otherwise. Even during lunch, when he was normally joined by the Debashish, the Zonal sales head and his colleagues, he was alone.

In the afternoon, things hadn’t improved. Sam then called his subordinate, Akash into his office. Akash entered, looking apprehensive and checking at the door if he was seen by anybody coming into Sam’s room.
“I want you tell me exactly what is going on here,” Sam asked as soon as he came in.
“Look, I don’t want to get into trouble Sam”, Akash started but Sam interrupted him. “That’s an order.”
Akash fell silent. He began. “A couple of days ago Boss came in looking all worked up and angry. As soon as he came in, he asked everybody to assemble in the conference room. He didn’t even enter his cabin. In there, he told us that Samarth has done something terrible and no one will speak to him once he comes back, else he will throw that person out.”
“Did Aparna say something?” Sam asked.
“Aparna?? She was on leave that day. She called in sick.”
Akash left. Sam hadn’t thought that Aparna would be so upset that she would call his boss to complain.

When he couldn’t take it anymore, he went into Debashish’s cabin, where he found him sitting with others sharing a light joke.
“Debashish, can I talk to you for a second?” Sam asked as the room turned silentt. Debashish came out into the lobby with him, and Sam asked what was going on.
“How could you, Sam?” Deb said in suppressed anger. “How could send such a message to Aparna?” Sam realized what he was talking about. “I didn’t expect this from you. I was aghast when I saw the message on her cellphone. It was me who instructed everyone to completely ignore you today. Thank God that you are a performer, or I would have thrown you out of this office!!”

Sam waited till Deb had finished. He hadn’t been prepared for this. He hadn’t expected Aparna to complain to his boss about it. But he was ready to face the consequences. He had started hating Aparna and in general girls like her, who would use guys as time-pass options till the time they got married.
“Ok, Deb I admit I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have sent her that message. But do you even want to know my end of the story?”
“I don’t see any kind of justification you can give for this Sam,” Deb retorted.
“I know that and I am not justifying my act. But just remember this Deb that you can’t clap with one hand.”
Deb’s expression turned into a curious one. “You mean to say Aparna had something to do with this too? What is it, tell me?”
“No,” Sam replied. “I won’t tell you now. Now that you have said that you would have fired me, I will quit this job myself. And the day I quit, I will tell you why I sent that message.”
He left Deb and went back to his cabin, leaving his boss with the prospect of losing his best employee.

Sam went back to his cabin and called one of his friends. He hadn’t told anyone that he already had a job offer in hand. Rival insurance companies had also noticed Sam’s meteoric rise. He had been happy until now at his current job, so he had not found it necessary to shift. But today he did. He asked his friend to convey to his company that he was ready to accept their offer.
As he kept his phone down, he had a thought. He looked up from his desk across to the desk where Aparna was sitting. She got up with a couple of files she had processed and went into Deb’s cabin. She still hadn’t spoken to him today. It was as she came back to her desk that he realized what was going on.

Sam normally left office at 7. But today he stayed back. He watched everyone as they left for their respective homes. Deb was still in his cabin. Once he made sure everyone had left, he stood up and headed for Deb’s room. On the way he passed by Aparna’s desk. He saw what he needed to see.

He knocked on Deb’s door. There was noise of frantic shuffling inside and few seconds later, Deb opened the door. He had bolted it from the inside.
“You!!”, Deb said in an irritated tone. “What do you want? Didn’t I make my point clear in the afternoon when I said that I’ll speak with you only on official matters now??”
“I know that, sir”, Sam replied, stressing on the last word, which made Deb take notice. “I’m only here to ask you one question.”
“What is it?”
“Well I was just wondering”, Sam said. “In the afternoon, you said that you were ‘aghast’ when you saw my message on her cellphone. Aparna used to be my best friend before all this happened. And she never let me have a look at her phone. So how did you see my message on her cellphone in the middle of the night?? And I say that because I know that you couldn’t have seen it the next day because Aparna was on leave. And you ordered the others not to talk to me the moment you arrived the next day.”
The colour had left Deb’s face. He blurted out, “I never said I saw the message. Aparna..she.. she called me.”
“No sir,” Sam said calmly. “I clearly remember you saying that you saw it.”
“So what?”, Deb said. “What do you want to prove?? What is this all about?”
“Just one more thing and you will know what this is all about”, Sam said and took out his phone. He dialed a number and showed it to Deb. The display on the phone said: Calling Aparna. Almost immediately, a phone rang inside Deb’s washroom.
While coming in, Sam had seen Aparna’s bag at her table. He knew she hadn’t left.
 “So I guess you are the doctor from England she is engaged to”, Sam said as Deb had completely gone white. “Or did she use that line to trap you in too??”
Sam took out a white envelope from his pocket. It contained his resignation letter. He handed it to Deb and walked towards the door, leaving a stunned, stuttering Deb to deal with Aparna.
As he reached the door, he dialed another number and showed it to Deb. The display said: Calling Debashish Home