Ctrl-Alt-Delete

Ctrl-Alt-Delete

2002: Most of Shahzeel and my story was written! Right from June 2002, we started writing to each other over emails. Emails that ran pages to form an array of emotions. We shared an email even after a phone call or a physical meet in the college. All that could not be spoken in physical space, was expressed over the virtual space. Those emails encapsulated our time together in the initial phase of knowing each other. Funny that even after attending the same graduation college, we absorbed and discovered most about each other, and a part of ourselves, through those words and sentences in a written format. We safeguarded those emails over the years. It was our fixed deposit of the time spent together, something which fetched our interest and compounded to a relationship. 

2005: We left our family homes for our respective MBA colleges, and we carried our data with us. It helped us come out of the stormy days when the feeling of missing someone got to us, we found comfort in those words. 

Now, as a person, I am super organized with my work, and I love details – in my thought process, my home management, and most of all, my writing. I label, color-code, compartmentalize every product and services, in physical and virtual space. I am addicted to sticky notes, and I use them often to deliver a one-liner, impactful message. One of my biggest possession is my letter and greeting card stack, which holds every letter and card that came my way right from the time I was conceived. And I have made sure they all are sorted based on the sender and time stamp. They are my absolute pleasure stack, something I love to revisit, time and again. 

The above paragraph may have told you what written words mean to me, so you can imagine what those childish emails written by us meant to us. 

Fast forward to 2013: We were married for four years, and over the years, we kept hopping cities and countries, and so did our data – from a floppy to a CD to several laptop hard drives to our personalized external hard drive. And then one fateful day, as luck may have it, someone somehow cleared the hard drive and poof! The data was LOST! GONE! GAAYAB! 

“Summy! Where are those emails?”, he cried.

“I don’t know. I seriously have no idea. I think we have a copy. Did we not? I don’t know. I don’t” my repetition of a few words made him realise my regret and denial to accept the reality that it was gone. 

After ten seconds of pause, he continued, “I don’t care how you do it. Go back to 2002 if you have to but get me those emails. Write to me again.” 

I remember his resentment. His equal obsession with those written moments surfaced. I recollect us falling in disbelief realising that we lost our initial years that were preserved in that data. Over the years, we dusted the bygones, accepted the real, and moved on. 

Last lap; August 2020: We have a six-year-old younger version of ourselves (Mysha), and putting up at Melbourne. Yet again, one fateful night, Mysha’s water bottle slid over my laptop, kept on my bedside table, to have a conversation. The next morning, I found the laptop in tears. It wasn’t complaining, just dripping. On further analysis, I came to know that the sipper had banged its side on the laptop, and so the latter CRASHED! The motherboard rescued, but the hard drive succumbed that night. After several futile attempts, I started ‘gadit’ – kya gaya? kya baccha?

“No! No! No”

 “What?” he asked.

“I had my book on this laptop.”

“You do have a copy of it somewhere on the cloud, don’t you?” he looked at me, demanding a logical answer. 

I dodged my eyes with, “I think so.”

 “Summy”, he read my eyes and continued, “How stupid are you? You have to back-up every single time.”

 He could have passed on more gyaan but terminated at the sight of my wall-banging guilt. 

Oh! So, the book, you ask. Yes! There’s a book! A book of mine that made a start three years back, picked, parked, reignited, and the story is ‘my story’ but as you can imagine, it’s going real slow. I have said it time and again, I can only pen when I am wrapped with emotions. I need to feel what I felt at that hour, and it’s not easy to drive two decades back. And I got to admit the other, and a more valid reason is – I lack the discipline to pen a book. It’s HARD! PERIOD! 

None the less, it’s my 50 pages of blood and words, and working or even sniffing it made me feel alive. 

So post collecting myself, I recollected what all I could have possibly lost and started fetching copies of data. Once I started, the universe started along, and I was able to collect part of my work from last saved copy on google drive; found a chapter I sent over to the husband over Gmail; a snapshot of a page I sent to a friend over WhatsApp. I still have to assemble to assess cumulative loss as my laptop is still non-functional, but I did adjust to the news.

Very late in my life, I learned the art of patience – to accept what’s thrown at you because you don’t have control over a situation. One should learn to absorb and move on because life is meant to be seen from a bigger lens. But that momentary lapse will hit you, no matter how prepared and patient you are! The written word loss for a writer is a brobdingnagian monstrosity. Digging from your past to present it on a paper requires a great deal of homework. Those black alphabets on white paper challenged me to the hilt, and suddenly in a blink, they fizzled! More than the time consumption, even if I recreate my work, the magic touch of that last moment is lost.

Anyhow, yesterday as I started from the debris of my shattered scribble, getting them in a place – collecting, sorting – pulling the leftovers from the cloud, emails, external hard drives, and a small pen drive which I found in a tiny pocket of my gadget bag. I scanned the Pen Drive and found a folder label as – Education, which carried copies of all the certificates from my school to my Masters. Everything seemed normal until I landed on a hidden folder labeled – ‘Don’t Delete’.

I was reunited with 17-20 years old Saumya as only she believed in those under-cover antics and names. As I unlocked the folder, the folder unraveled my past and flashed it over the screen – the origin of my love story! The chats, the letters, the emails, the whole written world with the date, and the time stamp came alive, seven years after I believed to have lost them.  

It took me a moment to register how the universe works. The data which I thought left my corner was always at my corner, disguised but right there, waiting to be fetched. There’s a time to everything and if it belongs to you, it will find you, even when you aren’t looking for it. Even though the future in form of book is still to come, my past caught up with me, and may I say, it’s exhilarating! 

When I read what I wrote at 10:30 PM on July 12, 2002, I laughed! We both were morons back then, who had no idea what world encompassed, but now, almost two decades later, we have somehow drafted a realistic world with the core intact – pagalpan wohi hai, bas junoon ab nahi hai!

My two biggest learnings from this whole lost and found episode was – 

  1. Laptops will crash. Hard drives will accidentally wipe off. So please keep backing up your data. Make several copies, if required. Even then, if you lose it, accept it. It’s a part of life. 
  2. Universe has surprises in store for you, but those gifts will only be presented to you once you accept the role and rules of this universe. 

Khuda Hafiz, Abba!

Khuda Hafiz, Abba!

Such is life! 

July 24, 2020: 13 months of painful, wreckful fight ends here. 

In June 2019, Abba, my father-in-law was detected with cancer. Shahzeel, my husband and I located our base from Melbourne to Kanpur to be with him and then in November 2019 we came back to Melbourne to reboot our life and our daughter’s studies. While leaving Kanpur he told me, “I have to visit Kanpur to be with Abba in every three months, Summy.”  

I nodded.

At the mid of February this year, he got his tickets done for Kanpur for the start of March. Enters Corona. As destiny may have planned the virus shut the borders two days before his flight could take off. He was left helpless but the fact that the borders will open soon kept us hopeful. And then hope slowly left our court as the world came to a standstill. Unfortunately, Abba’s life did not. It depleted and came to a halt. 

I don’t need to explain how cancer breaks a family’s heart while it plays with the victim’s anatomy. So many people have dealt with it, on a personal level or at a distance. We went through the cycle with Abba. Chemotherapy extended his life to an extent but it comes with its own set of side-effects and limitations. Four months back Abba became immune to Chemo and that ended the therapy abruptly. 

Abba’s body was left to battle the malignant growth without shield. For the last four months we have seen the struggle ascend. Right from blood transfusion, to bed sores, from stomach infection to allergies, from diaper-reliant, to being in almost vegetable stage, we saw the long-lasting aggression of cancer. But the worst was ‘karaahana’.  Jab Abba ‘Aaaah’ kartey toh mera ghar haul jata tha. Sitting miles away Shahzeel video called his place for 2-4 hours a day. He asked his family members to keep the phone on his father’s side. As Abba rested with eyes shut, Shahzeel absorbed his father with eyes open. 

Kabhi dua padhta, kabhi dua karta, kabhi unhe dekh ke muskarata, kabhi do aasu bahata, par atoot shidadat se dekhta rehta!   

Shahzeel being Shahzeel prayed and prayed. I have seen this man lying on janamaz and make it his home. Jab dua nahi karta toh ussi 4*4 ki janamaz mein simat jata. Rota, bahut rota kyuki ro uske saamne jo aapko de sakta hai. In times like these, you come closer to Lord and fall on the ground to beg, kyuki insaan ke fitrat mein hai maangna. Dena uske haath hai par bheekh mangna aapki zaat mein hai – insaan ki zaat!

It was a 13-month long fight for our home. At times I wondered why it lasted so long as at a certain point, Abba’s ordeal and grief was beyond our control. Dil dukhta hai jab ilaaj nahi milta. Remember how your parents cried before you did when you encountered little pain, the story stays the same when the roles are reversed. But as time progressed, I got the answer. HE gave us time to digest, to absorb our loss. We started at a point when we were shook with the news and he prayed “Ya Allah, mere Abba ko sehat de, mere Abba ko theek kar de” but as the days progressed and we knew what we are dealing with and where it was progressing it went to “Ya Allah, aafiyat ka mamla farmaye.”, and then to a point where we begged HIM to listen and make Abba’s transition to the other world smooth.  

 Last Friday, as Shahzeel was about to commence his Juma ki Namaz the news came to our home. And even though we were prepared and prayed for this, understandably he cried with “Abba gaye. Mere Abba chale gaye.” Tears rolled and he started walking. I followed him without talking. He needed his space and I social distanced myself at home. He may not need me then but I needed to be there. Finally, when I got hold of him, I hugged him to convey. 

Shahzeel, Abba ko kya din mila? Juma, wo bhi namaz se pehle, taaki tum hamesha ki tarah unke liye maang lo. That too it’s the month of Hajj. he had to leave, we wanted to, requested and now we have received.” I told him in what he believes. 

In just a matter of moments he gathered himself and sat on his Janamaz. And for the next two hours he did dissolve himself there. He read, he cried, he begged, and he prayed. As for me, I sat there, right behind him for hours together, like humsaya. We didn’t talk, we hardly do. After 18 years silence works best for us.  

One of the worst hardships for today’s people is to bid adieu to their loved one via technology. No human contact is challenging people’s sanity. In 2012, when we were putting up in London, one phone call from my father told me that my Dadi left for thr heavinly abode . I vividly recall registering this news while looking outside of the window as I saw a big red bindi (the one my Dadi wore everyday) fade away. Everyone has their own journey to cope up with pain. People might walk a mile with you, but then you are left to cover your journey ahead, alone, your way!

We knew Abba had to leave and we wanted so but not being able to attend his last riots hit Shahzeel hard. My husband is the eldest of the three brothers and two of the them were back home. When I made a futile attempt to explain that his brothers are there he said, 

Mere baap ko mere kandhe ki zarurat nahi hai, Summy. Waha unke do aur ladke aur bahut aadmi hai kandha dene ko. Ye sawaab Allah ne mujhse cheena kyuki mere ek hi baap they aur mera kandha us farz se mehroom reh gaya.”

Last year, as we stayed six months in Kanpur, Shahzeel performed every single duty a child MUST perform – tan, man, dhan se. I remember and I quote, “Even if I spend every single penny I have, and even if I quit my job to serve him, I am fine. Allah ne chaha toh hamari zindagi padi hai, dubara se shuru karenge. Mere baap ke paas nahi hai. Is aadmi ne apni zindagi hum bachhon mein daal di, ab hamari baari.”

He might sound like an extremist but then that’s who he is – highly devoted, courageous and astonishingly rooted!        

So, on Friday we went to Abba’s funeral online. Right from the time his lifeless body was kept on the courtyard, to the prayer assembly, to the time he was laid to his final destination, we glued our eyes to the screen as his brothers made sure that their bada bhai doesn’t miss their father’s last riots. 

And I saw Shahzeel break and reboot several times as he kept explaining me the proceedings. When the men picked up Abba’s body for the last walk, he said “Ab mere Abba gaye.” When they wrapped his face in kafan, he exclaimed, “Gaye Abba” and when they finally placed him in the soil bed and placed the last plank of wood slab, I whispered, “Khuda Hafiz, Abba. Khayal rakhiye, phir milenge.” 

Shameel, the youngest of the three brothers, cried the hardest. The moment he took hold of that video call, he bawled staring at Shahzeel stating without words, “Bhai, ye kya ho gaya?” Something in him tore beyond repair. Being the youngest, Shameel is the khurchan of the family. I remember when I met both Adeel and Shameel for the first time. In November 2010, after almost a year of my wedding, I visited my in-laws place for the very first time. Shahzeel and I were in the US at that hour and after a long haul we landed on the destination – Kanpur. On the railway platform, I saw two tall men, one smiling, other uncomfortably hiding. 

“Hello Bhabhi”, cried the younger one while the older one held on to his reserved nature. The two men drove their bada bhai and me to their home. I remember how Shameel made a quick soup for me once we stepped at home as I was impacted by seasonal change. Life is made of small details and I reminisce by dipping my toes in those moments. 

I look back at Shameel as that 22-year-old who stood in front of the stove stirring the soup in a pan, making sure it doesn’t get stuck to the bottom. Friday when I saw him break down reaching out to his elder brother on the phone, my eyes met a man in that boy, a man who lost his father and craves for his brother. We can’t hug him, we can’t pat his back, just watch him and say, “Nahi Shameel, Abba ko dukh hoga.”

Such is life!

You plan and plan and plan and then HE acts. Our plan was to make Abba visit Australia. He did not visit us in the US and London and this time he was all set to visit us in Melbourne. I remember his excitement with our garage door here. It’s a remote-controlled wooden door and he gasped in excitement when he saw it first. 

“Shahzeel yaar ye darwaza dekhne aaunga zarur.”

Wo aaye nahi aur ab Abba ke ghar ka darwaza mitti hai. Jaha se zindagi shuru ki, wohi chale gaye. 

Saturday morning, we were thinking how Abba would have opened his eyes in his new home, new world. How his new life will be now? 
“Abba se sawaal jawaab shuru ho gaye hongey. 7’*3’ ki kabr mein adhera hai par Khuda ki mohabbat kabr mein bhi ujala kar deti hai. Ab Abba ka asal safar shuru. Jaane wale ki duniyavi rishtey toot jaatey hai par aulaad ka farz nahi. Apne Ma-Baap ke liye padhtey rehna chahiye, unki gunaho ki maafi mangna. Hamari is zindagi ka sawaab unhe us zindagi mein bhi milega.” pitched Shahzeel. 

My daughter and I lost our grandfathers in the same year – 2020! Only difference is that my Dada lived a full life and was 92 and her Dada’s retirement was just about to start and was 62!  

Earlier this year on a separate conversation Shahzeel said, “Summy agar kal mujhe kuch ho jaye toh please mujhe mere ghar le jaake dafnana. Kam se kam koi meri kabr pe faatiha (verses from the Holy Quran) toh padhne aayega.

Witnessing Abba’s funeral on Friday, I promised Shahzeel, “Baaki USKI marzi, par agar tum mere se pehle gaye, I will ensure you rest near your father. You people deserve to be together.”

Life moves on and so it will. I haven’t cried and I will not. I want to celebrate his life and I will but then once I will reach in-law’s home (God knows when) I will break as no one will come towards me with a huge smile and place a hand over my head saying, “As-salamu alaykum! Mashallah Mashallah, khair se aa gaye tum log.” 

Shahzeel will meet his father once we reach Kanpur. Even after an address change, we have a place on earth where he can unearth his man and I know even from his grave, Abba will say, “Aa gaye tum. Bahut intezaar karwaya, beta.”

Meet the in-laws: A lot can happen over coffee

Meet the in-laws: A lot can happen over coffee

December 19, 2009; Noida:

“Just take him to a nice place. Have a civil conversation. He is a nice man, just don’t over speak. Take it casual.”, He laid it down in plain terms.

“Will you stop making me nervous? I will handle it.”, I asserted.

“I know you will. But first impressions last. Also, you are dressed in salwaar-kameez na?”

“He knows I wear jeans, right?”

“Of course. But we will slide one thing at a time. Let’s not overwhelm them, no?”

“Fine.”

“Summy. We got this.”, he comforted.

“As-salamu alaykum”, a voice caught me from a distance.

“Sheikhu, I think they are here. Bye.” I slid my phone in my bag and contemplated my next move.

Should I do the aadaab bit – the traditional respectful response of greeting? Or how about basic Namastey? Let me take the high road and do the Indian thing – I will press my hands together and so I did. With a bow of the head and folded hands, I was no less than Ms. India at that hour.

And standing in front of me was a frail man, almost 6 feet, with salt and pepper working for him then. We had been introduced via photographs but that was our first live meet – a tête-à-tête. He smiled as his eyes met mine. I tried to shrug-off my nervousness as I walked towards him in a pink kurta and white chudidaar.  

The female standing behind him demanded courtesy too so I folded my hands in her direction as well.

“Kaha baith saktey hai”, he asked.

“Chaliye. Bas 5 minute ki walk hai yaha se.”

I walked with them and in that short duration to the café, I felt the ease. He was a smooth talker, chuckled often, and even with a slight hunchback, his pace matched my walk.

“Aur beta, kaise ho tum?”, He tried filling words in silence.

“Theek hoon Uncle.”, I tried to keep it short.

“Abba. Aaj se Abba kehne ki aadat daalo.”, he smiled and demanded.

That was my first meet with Abba, my father-in-law.

I got married to his son in a court nine days before. Shahzeel signed the papers in Delhi and left for Hyderabad. I stayed back in Noida as my last working day happened to be December 16th. I was flying out to Hyderabad on December 20th morning. And a day before my flight I was asked to prepare for a test – meet the in-laws!

As fate may have it, my in-laws came to NCR to meet a ‘rishta’ for my brother-in-law and they thought of meeting me as well.

“Chalo, lage haath badi bahu se mil le.”

So the badi bahu found a bada café for Abba and Amma.

As we entered the café, my in-laws were greeted by a cluster of young boys and girls of NCR. While some played guitar in their booth, some laughed their hearts out, some were experimenting with hookah, while some were happily soaking themselves in their beverages. We took a table at the corner and the server quickly came to take an order.

“A cappuccino for me. And..” they caught a look of each-other before saying in unanimous tone, “chai!”

The server took the order and proceeded to do the needful.

I remember the pieces of the conversation. I remember how I was mindful of what I said. I remember how both the parties projected and placed their best foot forward. We were glued by a man who was sitting miles away from us, waiting for that call where we could have filled him up with details, once the meet was over. The first meet is always difficult as it is new and you expect the unexpected. My meet with the in-laws was biryani meeting pulao. The common factor that could have acted as raita was missing. So we tried our best to put the pieces together, kyuki biryani ho ya pulao, dono ka apna hi zaika hai!   

Soon the server graced us with his presence. Gently he placed a big white cup with a bigger foam heart on top. I knew all that love was to come in my direction. As the distinctive red-brown color beverage stared at me, my in-laws stared at the enamel colored bone china set. Several tiny bits of cans and kettle came to play, a cup of tea was so far away!

Every time a person comes out of their comfort zone they sense resentment, nervousness, and exclusion. I sensed that panic and offered my help but Abba denied respectfully. It dawned on me that even they were trying to march on unchartered territory. After maneuvering their way and assembling their tea as they sipped, I caught the contempt. After all, the kadak chai lovers couldn’t handle English tea!  

The meet was less about the conversation and more about the observation. We kept sipping our beverages softly while exchanging comforting smiles in an impromptu circumstance.

As if the assembly bit was not enough we were soon slipped a bill quoting 832 in bold digits. Now, this was a very sensitive issue. As I was the host, I should have run for my wallet and laid the numbers there. In fact, I sprinted to my pocket at the sight of the bill but the thought of being misconstrued overpowered me. They weren’t my friends that I would have recommended: “Let’s split!” And before I knew, Abba took charge of the situation. He paid the bill, and the tip for his cold assembled tea. May I say, I loved the cappuccino!

30 minutes. This all happened in a quick 30 minutes. As we walked out of the café into Sector 25, they took my leave and asked, “So ab kya karogi?”

“Zyada kuch nahi. Soch rahi hoon mehandi lagwa loon. Kal Hyderabad jana hai.”

He laughed his heart out, “Acha hai, khush raho.” Both of them placed their hands on my head and kept waving until I lost sight of them. It took seconds for me to fathom that I met my new family.

 Soon enough I called Shahzeel and the man picked it up within a ring, “Kya hua? Kya bole? Kya poocha”

Post filling him with details, it was followed by, “Hookah bar le gayi thi kya? Mere bechare Abba..kya soch rahe honge.”

“Aur mera kya? I was the only one in salwaar-kameez in a café.”

“Par sabse pyaari tum hi hogi.”

“Shahzeel Jawed, cholbey nahi.”

“Haha, see you tomorrow morning.”

That night, my two friends accompanied me on the streets of Sector 25. It was 9 PM and we were still figuring out mehandi wala. I decided to get 100 bucks worth of heena on my hands. In my defence, I wore 300 bucks of red kurta at my wedding in a court. I remember sitting on the roadside step-stool with a dusky man pouring thick heena on my petite hands. My hands were freezing, thanks to Delhi ki sard raatein and uspe heena ki saugaatein. The two boys, my dear friends, stood on either side talking about the pattern and designs they could not comprehend. A few days back, they underwent the pain and wondered in the lanes of Lajpat Nagar finding just the right chooda and bindis for me.

As I found a pattern which I liked for mangalsutra for a meagre price, my friend exclaimed, “Take a better one. You earn so well!”

“Chooda, managalsutra ya designer lehenga shaadi nahi chala sakti, niyat chalayegi.”I protested.

“Toh phir le kyu rahi hai?”

“Shauk mein. Par budget mein. Kal agar shaadi na chali toh relationship mein investment ka dukh hoga,  monetary investment ka nahi.”

That night, we had one last dinner together in Delhi. I could not believe I was leaving the city, as it always had my heart until I found my love for Hyderabad. Early morning, the next day the solicitous two dropped me to the airport. I towed my suitcase towards the entry door and vividly recall holding on to my black puffy jacket before parting ways, “Ök Boys! My vidaai is here. I will see you both soon.”

I said goodbye to Delhi and I knew I will carry those five milestone years in my heart and I still do.

As I landed on the arrival gate in Hyderabad I saw my husband standing there – The new world awaited me.

That mehandi left my palms after two good hand washes but the effect of marriage remained.

Now as I write, I reminisce about the first meet with my in-laws. The setting was off-beat but there could not be a perfect metaphor for my marriage. Everything seemed disparate, daunting, and required work and understanding but if you are open to your surroundings, they open up to you, kabhi jaldi, kabhi der se hi sahi!

I didn’t ask for this but it was sent my way and honestly, after 18 years of S&S and being married for 10, I could not take it any other way!

A lot did happen over a coffee, that day. Our relationship brewed, and the aroma lingers.  

High Heel te nache.

High Heel te nache.

Traditions. While some have come a long way, some you want to carry along your way!

June 14, 2018: “Abba, main ye lungi.”
Ye?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

An hour earlier to this conversation, Abba and his three bahus – Saumya, Sadaf, and Amreen – were maundering on the streets of the Naveen market, Kanpur. Chand raat, an eve of Eid ul-Fitr, had decked the town like double-decker Chandani Chowk. I have never been a shopaholic, and the introvert in me detest the sight of the crowd, yet I was there, standing with all of them, finding peace within me while my devranis stooped at the very sight of each bling placed on shacks. They wanted choodis and clutches, bags, and bangles while I wanted space and air, sleep, and peace.

Even though I say I wanted to stay aloof, I assure I am there with my girl squad for one primal reason – Every home has its own story, and if you try, you become a part of their story.
Pata hai Bhabhi jab hum chotey they hamara poora ghar Ramzan se pehle shopping kar leta tha Eid ki, lekin sandals, wo nahi khareede jaatey they. Ek dastoor tha ki Chand raat ko hi wo lena hai. Aap keh saktey hai ki wo ek riwaaj tha“, Sadaf told me excitedly one day back on Chand raat in 2011. It was the first for us two as bahus.

And so she continues to do that even after marriage. Amreen, my baby devrani, abide by one tradition – to shop, and it’s not exclusive to Eid. She does shop 365 days a year, and I, the eldest and a recluse join these ladies because of riwaajriwaaj of sisterhood, riwaaj of laughing when we experiment with unusual. Their high spirits get to me, and I swear they remind me of kids who came out of Munshi Premchand’s Eidgah. Kisi ko chuski peeni hoti hai, toh kisi ko bhuddhi ke baal khane hotey hai, ek main hi hoon, Miya Hamid ki tarah chimta dhoondhti phirti hoon.

So on that fateful night, as Abba insisted that I buy something for myself, I kept walking down the lane until a black beauty caught my attention. Standing in a showcase was a pair of 4 inches stiletto heel with a black exterior and a red bottom. They were tall, sleek, ready to be worn, and called out to me. Now before I get to the pair of beauty, let me get it straightened that I have never worn a heel. Couldn’t; can’t; won’t! My all-time favorite wear is chappals followed by sports shoes, so much so that I have pleasured my foot with chappals on international flights too.

So when a comfort-over-fashion person like me walked in a high-scale showroom trying heels, everyone followed.

And then I came face-to-face with the heels followed by a six-feet lean man leaning toward me.

“Abba, main ye lungi.” I said while facing towards him.
“Ye?” Abba squeaked while trying to hold his emotions. He took a short walk with his humpback and hands tied at the back. He looked at those heels from left and then from the right; then he looked at my feet, from left and then right. He mentally got all permutation and combination into consideration while I witnessed his discomfort forming words.

Then I did what I do best – I took the lead and put words to better use, “Mujhe pata hai mujhe heels pehan-ni nahi aati. Main gir jaungi, do-chaar daat toot jayenge, par Abba the heart wants what the heart wants.” I smiled and looked at Shahzeel, who was standing outside eating chana jor garam. Well, mulla ki daud masjid tak.

“Miya Shahzeel ko tumne 16 saal ragad liya beta ji par ye heels do minute pao mein nahi tikaa paogi. Samjho meri baat.”, Abba understood my metaphor.

I still couldn’t keep my eyes off it, and then Abba did something he often does as a father, something I don’t approve of as a parent. The core difference between Papa and Abba is – Papa has been a disciplinarian throughout his life. No means no, something which I take a notch higher while parenting Mysha. Abba is lenient, which at times beautiful, is used to advantage most of the time. Anyhow, this very characteristic of him made him talk to the shopkeeper two minutes later, “Nikalo beta, 5 number, beti sahiba yehi pehnengi.”

Before I could react, Sadaf and Amreen almost pushed me on the brown sofa and started analyzing the shoes at the display. And then the moment came, the black beauty found my some-what toned feet. The heels were slightly slid on my feet till it clicked and then zipped by a golden hook at the back, it had found it’s place.

As I stood, I finally matched Shahzeel’s eyes. I could have given bird’s eye view on some products as “aaj main upar, aasmaan neeche.”
Everyone had an expression to convey their feelings.

Shahzeel, “Lene do mui ko, jab giregi tab poochunga heroine ko.”
Sadaf and Amreen, “Jach rahi ho, Bhabhi.”
Abba, “Achi bahut hai jab tak bachi raho.”
Salesman, “Ab ye Didi le lengi. Aaj commission achi milegi.”

And then the haggling started.
“Babu ji, aap design dekhe, buckle ki chamak dekhe. Iski polish kabhi nahi jayegi.”, said the smart salesman.
Beta ye baal na aise hi safed nahi hue. 13 saal ki umar se dukaan-daari kar raha hoon. Customers ko sheshe mein kaise utarna hai ache se pata hai. Meston road mein meri dukaan hai, ye raha card, kabhi aa jana kuch leather products lene.” Abba will also be a dukaan-daar first.

So after a good uthayi-patak, what started at 3,500 came down to 2,500 bucks, and I know we still provided a decent margin. But Abba put up a good fight with his street-smart attitude.

Much like Hamid, I got my chimta ulf heels home. And the moment I opened them, everyone clapped in its honor. I wore them and gave a beauty pageant walk with people on both sides waiting to hold me if I fumble, but I survived.

Later that day, my six-year-old came and sat next to me. He looked at those heels at the corner of my room.
“Mummy, aap ye heels pehan ke chal payengi?”, he sounded curious.
“Kyun? Tumhe lagta hai tumhari Badi-Maa buddhi ho gayi hai?”
The boy did not respond but smiled and kept looking at that footwear.
Affu Bhai, ek promise raha, jis din tum dulhan laogey, main muh-dikhayi mein yehi 4 inches ki heel dungi apni bahu ko. Sahi hai?” I questioned.
The boy smile broadened as he ran out of the room.
“Aur suno Affu Bhai, make sure tumhari Cindrella ka pao 5 number ka ho!”, I yelled as he left.
Haye mera sharmila banna!

Several times I have tried placing those heels on my feet, but that walk has been painful. I’m sure you all have something you love, you own, but you can’t utilize it. It’s just an obsession with possession.

So every time I take them out, feeling resurfaces. The black beauty and I share a moment, maybe a picture, and then off it goes in its bag on the shoe shelf.
It’s an expensive, uncomfortable love affair. So what if we weren’t meant for each other, pyaar ek tarfa bhi hota hai. I loved them, still do. I wish they accepted my feet like their own. When I give them my feet, they reciprocate pain, but I have gained good memories with them.

At least, I have a future planned for them. I am keeping it for my future-bahu-to-be, you know the one with feet size 5. Why? Because some traditions you design along the way!

Abba had this tradition of accompanying his bahus, and one day, God willing, I will walk with mine – in high heels, maybe!

Back to Kinder. Back to Basics.

Back to Kinder. Back to Basics.

“Mysha, you never fill me with the details of the school. Never. ” This was my persistent complaint over the years.

My ever-so-talkative child turns mute at a place where she is not supposed to. Whenever I check about the on-going in the school, she doesn’t fill time with words. Our walk from her school to our home, which is not more than five minutes, is filled with nothing more than silence and her amateurish acrobats. I always felt I am missing out on the school details – what’s going on there – until three weeks back! Bhagwaan jab deta hai, chappar phaad ke hi deta hai. 

More than a month and a half back, we saw everything closing down, level by level. First the entertainment units, then personal services, followed by amusement parks, auctions and open houses, public playgrounds, international and domestic travels and finally a place which is a blessing for parents more than children – schools. Honestly, I asked Mysha to sit at home much before the administration asked us to. It was March 10th when she last saw the grounds of her school.

After assessing the situation and realizing that the lockdown could stay-put for months, Mysha’s school decided to open for the second trimester but not physically. So they had their grand opening on WebEx calls instead from April 15th. The first time I heard the combined sound of ‘WebEx call and Prep students’ it felt unnatural – no symmetry, no co-ordination.
“How is this possible? Aren’t these children way too young to be seated and entertained for six hours in a conference call, 25 students together with a teacher? I mean how?”

But then like every good thing, you don’t discover until you experiment. The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us but then it has opened new avenues and jargon for everyone. Words you didn’t hear and work that seemed impossible in bygone days are the new normal. Every day we are getting a hang of new technology and terminology as we are working our heads around it.

So then on April 15th, Wednesday at 7:45 AM, hell broke in this house. Both my husband and I dragged our daughter out of bed. While one of us brushed her teeth, the other picked out her clothes. While one ensured she peed, the other ensured to run to the kitchen to get her a piping hot cup of milk. And while we both worked at the lightning speed, often bumping into each other, we witnessed the star of the show was missing. After a minimalistic search, we found her on her bed, wrapped under layers clinging to her hot water bag. And then I lost it, “Mysha. Uthooooo. Time ho gaya, beta. Roz kehti hoon tumhe time se so lo, par nahi, tum subah hi sona.”

 

After the initial hiccups, at sharp 9 AM, the class started. As Mysha logged on to WebEx, while I sat beside her, she and other munchkins were greeted by their teacher with “Good Morning Prep.”
“Good morning Miss M” roared a cumulative voice of enthusiastic burrow holders.

Initially, this 9 AM – 3 PM timetable took a toll on my back, schedule, and time management but then I streamlined. The breakfast, lunch, and other chores of the house all are maneuvered based on this frame of WebEx calls, aka web of calls.

The silver lining is that the children got into a routine. Their time is compartmentalized into subjects. Even subjects like Mandarin, PE (Physical Education), Robotics comes to your home. We take the video calls in the backyard for those PE sessions. While some children practice catch with their siblings, some get hold of a parent, some are lucky to make it a family session while some make a pact with a wall. Everyone is dealing with their baggage.

Life has provided me another opportunity to be at school and this time it’s booting with an advanced version of me. I can sit with her in her classes, and guide her the way I wanted to. And in times like these I am revered by the working parents because as I am fighting to hold up the fort, I see the struggle much more rigid where the parents can be heard taking official calls at the background while children work. There are children who are raised by single parents, children who have three if not more siblings at home, and then there is one girl who is been dropped to school on a requisition as her father has an outdoor job and the girl can’t be placed at home.

There are days when I laugh with them. Like the other day the students were asked to draft a sentence saying “In my home, I see *which so ever family members stay with you*. Mysha had a smaller sentence thanks her family size; so it went as – In my home, I see my mum and my dad. Other students drafted similarly but then there was one precious soul who read out hers – In my home, I see my mum, my dad, my baby sister, Ashar, Amal, Joyce, Raina, Mysha…. and she counted all 25 students in one go. She had my heart at Ashar; the moment that little girl started calling out her classmate’s names, I couldn’t help but applaud. She realised that we have started dating each-other through these calls. You could hear the parents guffaw from the background while the kids clapped for the beautiful-thoughtful girl. These moments make my day.

What seemed uncanny at one time is life in today’s world. It’s a routine. Every morning these 25 students come to my world through a screen. With them comes the baggage – their parent(s), sibling(s), pet(s), their homes and backgrounds, their language and accents, their taur-tareeka, and their voices. These tiny ones empower me – they tell me I am not alone, they tell me that we all are struggling; they tell me that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

One particular anecdote comes to my mind. A happy, curly-hair, blonde named Anna pops on our screen making funny faces. I remember most of the students by their features than their names. Last week as their writing session geared up, something in her broke and then I heard the class teacher break the conversation with,
“Anna, what’s wrong?”
Both Mysha and I lifted our heads which was drowned in the former’s writing and I swiped the screen fast to get hold of Anna’s window amongst the 25 popping heads.

By the time I found her, the malaise had discovered the passage from her heavy heart to her big blue eyes. “I….I….I….can’t get it. You…you…are…going…too…fast.” Sob-sob, sniff, and sniff. Her lips trembled and her cheeks went red as she stifled.
“It’s okay. I am sorry. I will be slow.” said Miss M.
“Miss M,…I…I…can’t…write….a question mark.” Anna’s downpour continued as she poked her fingers in her eyes.
“No problem. Breathe Anna, breathe. You take your time” Miss M assured the girl with gentle slow words.

As I saw her rubbing her eyes, I felt water tinkle on my cheeks; her pain spoke to me. She did not have help and got lost in the session. After all, it was a question mark! It’s in the name and it’s hard to make.
While Miss M gave Anna instructions to breathe, I followed the slow breathing too to unburden a heavy heart while Mysha wiped the salty water off my cheeks.

That’s the thing about humans. They need humans to survive. They speak to others with emotions.

Have you ever thought about being alone in the world? Like being the only soul on the planet (for some reason) much like Wall-e. I have. In fact, I have a whole story in my head but scribbling it on papers itself will make me isolated. And this is coming from me! I am the biggest introvert I know – I love my home, my time, my isolation but then I do need MY people. Thoda companionship ka tadka zaruri hota hai!

A time will come when the clock will be set straight! We all will be back in life which we called a routine in the past but then who knows what’s on the other side of the horizon? Deduced from my behaviour, even though I wince at the sound of WebEx calls and school coming at home, I’ll miss these tiny souls and their collegial approach. I detest having tea while listening to them but then looking at them working collectively makes me hopeful and, really happy. They have taken me back to Kinder, back to the basics – in the state of life, in the art of living.

2020 is a disparate year! It will go down in history as a year we all gave in our all, did the unreal, and lived life more alive than ever!

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing the Unknown_Version 2.0

Knowing the Unknown_Version 2.0

Diwali became a part of my existence at birth; Ramadan was gifted by Karma. Eons ago, my affiliation with Karma was established. I believe that I was chosen to unearth a practice/belief and it drove its way through deserts and mountains to find me. Being part of one religion and married to another was part of my destiny. I was under the impression ‘I’ designed it that way but the fact is someone above you provides that nudge, before every decision you make. Anyhow, Ramadan’s birth in my life happened in August 2010, as a result of being married in December 2009. I remember how vulnerable, naïve, and nervous I was at its arrival. After all, I was plebeian to the whole idea.

“So you will fast till the sun makes it peace with the earth, for a month?” I questioned Shahzeel, my husband. I knew how it rolled but then when you start living with someone who observes this month; it’s a whole other experience. Your perception and thinking pattern broaden and you acclimate and accept the changes in your life. If not accept, you understand that what’s unreal for you may be living for the other.

Not that my intention was wrong but I foresaw Ramadan as additional work; it’s eccentric and I couldn’t gauge how his schedule will modify. There are a dozen amends that I make in this month. The foremost is the smell of tea. As the month starts, I start dodging guilt – the guilt of sipping that tea when he is fasting. It’s difficult to share a house when I can entertain food while he refrains. So today, like every Ramadan, I got a bit early to make tea so that the smell of chai patti in boiling water doesn’t find his smell buds. He might be okay with that but even after 11 years, I struggle to deal with that guilt. Over the years I have learned to have my breakfast and lunch in seclusion, away from his eyes.

“I am fine, Summy.” He always says.
“I am not.” I always say.

Even while making tea in the morning, I placed two cups on the kitchen slab, only to realise it won’t until May end that we will share that morning tea. But like I said, gradually it gets easier and you adapt. I know what Ramadan means to him.

What’s eccentric to me is an innate and most desirable period of the year for him. It’s a month of gratitude, of giving, of living a life different than our routine life. You switch off the world and tune into your inner consciousness. I know my husband does it all year long as he is rare “Allah ka banda” but then the design and fabric of this month is surreal for millions of souls. Ramadan brings alive a higher sense of morality and your responsibility to your community, to the human race, to your creator.

I know how I feel when Diwali is around the corner and so a decade later I do understand, partially if not completely, what Ramadan is for him!

The first and the last time I observed a fast was August 10, 2010. I wanted to accompany Shahzeel for his first roza as a married couple. As food met my mouth as 8:30 PM, Beaverton, USA time, tears rolled from my cheeks to add more salt to the gravy on the plate.

Kinta bhi sympathise kar lo, bhook (and gareebi in a bigger picture) aise cheez hai jab aan padti hai tabhi pata chalti hai.

In these 11 years, I have seen Shahzeel hold his fast under different circumstances as we were sailing in different boats in different years. In 2011 we were moving from Chicago to Hyderabad this month. And last year we were making a move to Kanpur from Melbourne. As the lunch hour progressed the cabin was filled with the aroma of ‘chicken or fish’ and airline meals were passed under his nose.
Tum khao abhi. Thodi der mein main bhi kha lunga.” he said handing over a meal. As I ate with my fellow passengers, he kept resting with eyes closed. Lufthansa was kind to provide him food at the time of iftar. My eyes watered as I saw him eat with patience. I can’t control hunger so it was hard for me to witness his gumption and strength.

Ramadan is not about those elaborate iftar parties, of women being in the kitchen making kormas and biryanis, of converting nights into the day as you wake for your prayers at night. It’s about striking a balance – between deen and duniya, between function and submission. It’s about being simple – in terms of food and appearance and if not all, then at least being open to the idea of being respectful and humble.

This Ramadan is different as Mosques are closed and Tarawih will be performed at home (ritual prayers performed by Muslims at night) but then dua toh niyat se ki jaati hai. HE will find you no matter you call for him from your home or a religious gathering. The power of collectively is divine but then the power of isolation is exquisite. Different times call for different exploration.

I explored the goodness in khajoor and he explored the power-puff balls, i.e., sabudana.

It’s hard to attain a balance but like COVID – 19 taught us how staying at home is the new normal, we understood a decade ago, how culture difference and amalgamation is the new normal for our household. It’s about words I can’t emphasize enough – perception, co-existence, and acceptance.

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Mother Earth is rebooting.

Mother Earth is rebooting.

In moments like these, you realize how small you are in the big schemes of life. How a small particle got the whole world at a standstill – crashed global financial markets, made the business cut back, triggered panic, left a huge gap in demand-supply of commodities, and is leading to a global recession. It’s a way of understanding how HE rolls, and you rock! How chalta hai attitude doesn’t work but these choti-‘moti’ mistakes over a while, made us all come under a dramatic lockdown.

And we had this coming! A man may weigh lighter on Mars, but we have certainly taken our planet Earth very lightly. Coronavirus is just the wake-up call we needed, and with ‘we’, I mean, we – the people, beyond religion, colour and geography! While isolation is the need of the hour, it’s the invention of repair that will be needed in the longer run. You can’t outrun Corona. Tomorrow there will be something else that will stand our way. Because every time a human or a nation acts complacent – with technology, a booming economy, aim to reach for the stars, someone above tells them how small they are and how only HE plans and mind you, HE is the biggest scriptwriter of all!

I feel it’s nature’s way of restoring balance, saying “I had enough, I gave you all of this and what did you humans do? Cut and slice me exhausting my resources. You didn’t think twice and kept living your selfish life in denial. You thought no one is keeping a track? Bas. I had enough. Now it’s my turn and think twice before you call me crude because your race has been far worse over the years.”

Who thought this is where we will land in 2020? So many centuries have gone by yet mankind remains the biggest threat to mankind. What we are undergoing happens only in movies or fiction but when HE plays, reality becomes chilling than fiction. It’s real. It’s out there and it puts everything under perspective – relationships, food, air or even a toilet roll! Aaj har us cheez ki keemat pata chal rahi hai jisse apne halke mein liya.

Given my fascination for geography, Siberia more precisely, two weeks back I landed on this documentary of a woman named Agafia. She is a 75-year-old Russian Old Believers who still lives in up a remote mountainside in the Abakan Range, all by herself, 240 kms away from civilization. I was aghast as I could not comprehend how she chose to stay alone, without human interaction. She is at home arrest most of the day as temperature freezes out in the open. And look, where I am? Not in Serbia, but yes, at home arrest.

But you know the sad part of it? People will still not learn! While some will scoff with “Arey, abhi kuch dino ki baat hai, sab theek ho jayega.” Some will get into jantar-mantar and some will keep blaming a country, an ethnicity or a nation. My concern is – when will we see the bigger picture? It’s same as when people cry with rising heat in summers but close their eyes while installing five air-conditioners in their homes. The vicious cycle for demand of air conditioner – need for power – emissions – hotter temperatures is a loop.

Back in Hyderabad we had an air conditioner and a cooler and trust me, I was the later person. It was more refreshing, consumed less energy, had no effect on Mother Nature and bought back my childhood. Boond boond se saagar banta hai aur thoda thoda kar ke zeher bhi banta hai. Now you decide where you land?

The same goes for water. I don’t remember how many fights I had with the maids back home yelling on top of my lungs, “Pani band karo Amma. Sabse pehle tum-hi logo ko dikkat hogi.” But then humans have a problem learning solutions first hand. Chalta hai attitude has blocked their thinking capacities.

2020 has been harsh so far. Earlier this year, my country was fighting with a virus installed in their heads, color coding every fellow citizen in saffron and green till some were soaked in red. We may be able to find a vaccine for coronavirus but I don’t know how to handle the earlier bit. Sometimes the believer in me feels the current ordeal was a seething God’s way to intervene, to let humans know “Main hoon aur sabr bhi rakhta hoon, par mera imtehaan lene ki galti mat karna.”

Times like this also bring us to regain focus on things that matter. In our daily rat race, we often forget the importance of living and reason for our living. And then comes a day you know what is what? In April 2017 I stood outside the operation theatre as they took my two-and-a-half- year old daughter from my hands to lead to the OT. Mysha had to get a procedure done to get her urine reflux fixed. Till today that moment stays in my head because I remember closing my eyes and saying, “Nothing else matters but this.” I realised how we can’t take life for granted. The same goes for Mother Earth and I think it’s rebooting; so while we isolate from the world by sitting at home, nature enjoys its much-deserved privacy and detox.

A pandemic should be enough for us to meditate, to change our lifestyle. To think – about our wrongdoings, our vulnerability, our fragile environment, our people and civilization – in a holistic manner. Together we can and we will make a difference so let’s look out for each other in these testing times.

And on a lighter note, with every day a new story coming in, when all is changing, one thing remains constant. The way my five-year-old sleeps on me every night, sniffing my neck, thinking “Mummy hai toh sab theek hai.” And looking in her eyes, I realize even though I am a small atom in this big galaxy, I may be a world for someone because, for her, it starts with me!

P.S. Like always, I am most sacred for future generations. This human drafted derelict planet is not the heritage I want to leave behind. They deserve a better world!

Learn a bit. Laugh some more.

Learn a bit. Laugh some more.

Last year I rekindled my long lost relationship with driving. Knowing that it was an absolute necessity, I gave my heart to it. The driving wheel accepted my persistence and we bonded, much like Ikran and Jake in the Avatar movie.

It has been a year-old alliance and we are now in a steady romantic relationship. Mastering the art of controlling a wheel not only boosted my morale but made me feel loved and accepted. Just add a song on a radio and a coffee flask in the cup holder and it can be one of the best dates of your life.

After swooning my way over the wheel in 2019, this year I wanted to approach an unchartered territory – something which makes me come out of my comfort zone and draws me excited. After all, it’s 2020! Ab nahi toh kab?
So I picked on an idea I abandoned last year. Basically, the locality I put up at entitles us, the residents, to access the club offering us community classes. The club provides a variety of activities which one can espouse based on one’s interest, stamina and the willingness to experiment.

One such offering is Pilates. It was something I was eyeing for long but did not make an effort to be a part of. So with determination in head and a yoga mat in my hand, I marched to my first session in February this year.
Being respectful towards time, I became the first attendee to the class. The instructor was there fixing her music box while standing tall in a correct posture. The very sight of her made me stand straight with shoulders set right – Tadasana or the Mountain Pose. We had a small conversation where she told me how Pilates is about strengthening one’s core which helps the posture. I guess our whole generation is struggling to get the later bit right. And as the clock set 7:15 PM, the class was filled with 15 odd ladies. We all looked pumped and sorted on mats, waiting for the green signal. As the piece of music started so did we start following our instructor with the basic breathing exercises.

It dealt with the signatory SRK pose leading to Namaskar pose with inhaling and exhaling when been instructed. Our instructor chose a piece of relaxing music which helped me feel composed, calm and divine.
“Ah! I got it. I am my own master.” I told myself, smirking within.

And then it escalated. “Oops! Spoke too soon.” The postures got tedious, and in no time, required daunting abs workout and demanded to put thigh and arm muscles to work. After thirty minutes of rigorous workout, I started feeling stretch where I did not know it was possible.

So in class sixth, physics tug my heartstrings as a subject. The concepts felt the right fit, I understood their operations and they excited and enveloped me in their world. The obsession continued till class 8th and then in 9th, bhaisaahab Physics badal gayi. It dumped me as the relationship became complicated and beyond my comprehension. Pilates ke saath bhi kuch aisa hi hua. By the end of the hour, Pilates ki physics badli aur meri haddiyo and maaspeshiyo ki dasha. 

 I fought hard to get into poses while lying flat on my belly with my upper body and legs in the air. There was co-ordination required as she asked for the left hand to be stretched with the right leg to be rotated clockwise and then in 20 seconds she said, “now switch and remember to breathe in when you rotate your left leg and breathe out when switch to the right.”

At a certain point I wanted to scream and let the lady know that my breathing has lost track of me so how was she expecting me to track my breathing.
Song in my head at that moment: Jaan meri jaa rahi Sanam. 

There was a time she made us fold one leg, while other went to our back and then with a hand running down my back via my neck, I was supposed to hold my feet. Before I entered into that dynamics, I wanted to ask, “Behan ye toh batao, is chaukadi ko kholega kaun?” And then I saw this ~65-70 year Asian woman seated in front of me getting into that pose with such ease.

 Andar se enthusiasm jaga, I said “yes I can” and then I did it with “yaay, I could” and then I found myself in “Abey atak gayi.” It took a few seconds but I was finally able to untangle myself with a nerve pulled in my leg.
As it was the last asana, I was able to rescue myself with just a limping foot. That day I sweat like a pig and went to bed before time with a Savasana (Corpse Pose).

Fast forward to class #6. Pilates is like Siberian weather, you need to let it grow on you. Either you acclimate or you get brain freeze. I chose the earlier and I felt the change, post going through the trauma of the later, now and then. The muscles were stretched and my posture felt better. I finally know how to move with ‘As long as you love me’ by Backstreet Boys. The instructor has a definite playlist and it helped me fall into the routine. I get their beats and have my heart and body beat by that. The eagle has landed!

I was settled with my new found love until another love interest came knocking on my door last week. While exiting the club, I found a flyer announcing “Zumba is back from March 05”.

Zumba? Dance and aerobics exercise, right? While I can attempt aerobics, dance is something I leave to the imagination, i.e. in my world I am a good dancer but that being said, I don’t dance. Never had (since my tweens) and never could and maybe never would. It’s a convoluted relationship.  None the less, because I made up my mind to attempt the unchartered territory, I convinced myself and went there last Thursday.
Zyada se zyada kya hoga? Ruswa? With the lyrics of Mugal-e-Azam song I entered the premises, “Teri mehfil mein kismat aazma kar hum bhi dekhenge.”

And dekhenge I did! It was a class full of vibrant souls. Apart from the instructor, I met some experienced dancers, while some were just enthusiasts. I hardly got time to make my uncomfortable stand at the end of the class that the music started with “Gandi baat”. They say we all can dance when we find the music we love; well this was just not that one. I tried swaying as my instructor kept insisting of doing ‘gandi baat’ with Shahid Kapoor’s signatory steps. Problem was that andar se nahi aa raha tha. Much like writing, you dance with your heart.

I have three babies. While I gave birth to one, two call me Badi Mummy. Give any one of them a piece of a song, any song, I dare ya and they will dance their heart out. I have seen music take control over them like a possessed entity. Ek aatma aati hai jo unka tan-badan jaga deti hai. 

30 minutes and five songs later, I stood there introspecting.
You know it’s very hard for some people to accept that they don’t have a talent for a certain trait. Not in my case. I did not take a moment to realize that Saumya can’t dance saala! Not a single bone of mine grooved while my instructor swayed and swirled in an absolute delight. And because I haven’t danced for two decades now, my bones have decayed. Ab, inherited talent nahi hai, ye samajh aa gaya tha, so then what you do? Well, you make an absolute fool of yourself and try. I jettisoned my apprehensions and mortified stance and danced like no one is watching because honestly nobody was and wanted to!

Having a glass door right behind me which provided the perfect aina to my grooves wasn’t helping my stance but then naach meri jaan, hoke magan tu, chhor ke saare, kintu, parantu.  I gulped laughing more than I want to admit, catching a glimpse of myself and almost died of heartburn due to all the jumps and loops but then I did it.

But you know what I saw that day – when you stand there making a fool of yourself, figuring out your dance through music, you will find others sailing in the same boat too. Some have learned the art to row and are guiding you, while some are with your still struggling to pave the way, like me. Then out of the blue, someone smiles at you or bumps into you laughing as she makes a wrong move. And that moment you know that even if you drown, you aren’t alone! We all learn, kuch jaldi, kuch der se sahi.

As I entered home wrapped in a sticky shirt and sweaty hair, Shahzeel, my husband checked, “How did you found Zumba?”
“Begaani shaadi mein Abdullah deewana” I laughed “par kyuki ab Abdullah pahuch hi gaya tha, usne besharmo ki tarah kood-kood ke nacha.”
“Aisa kya”, he chuckled.
“Oh BTW, you know na how I always say that I dance well, just that I don’t opt to dance. Well, aaj wo brahm bhi toot gaya.” I concluded with utmost conviction.

As Shahzeel laughed, I left for the shower humming, koi humdum na raha, koi sahara na raha, hum kisi ke na rahe, koi hamara na raha.

 

 

 

 

Hello Tim Tam boy!

In the first week of December Shahzeel, my husband, and I took a trip to New Zealand to celebrate a decade of our matrimony. We have worked hard to survive this relationship and to celebrate our partnership, we thought no other place could do us justice than the paradise that is Queenstown.

Situated on the south island of New Zealand, this place offers dramatic scenery with its green majestic mountains, breath-taking fjords, and wildflower display of yellows and blues.

After absorbing and inhaling the cleanest air on earth for good five days, we left the mountains to return to the plain reality of Melbourne.

While standing in the line for security check on Queenstown airport, I came across a desperate couple trying to soothe their one-year-old. The boy was dressed in a white tee and endorsed red-with-rage written all over his face. The parents took a corner, standing out of the queue to attend to little master’s demand. As they started rummaging in their toddler’s paraphernalia – a soothing toy or, maybe, a magic potion to calm his nerves, other passengers kept moving ahead.

As I passed by them, I checked with the mother, empathetically, if they wanted to re-join the queue and she smiled and waved with “no, we are good. You go ahead.”

I wanted to go out of a limb and help them out however I could, just that I couldn’t at that hour. Well, who knew? The journey was yet to start.

As we entered the aircraft and placed ourselves, all we aimed was to catch on some sleep. The last five days we spent in New Zealand comprised of early mornings and late nights, with the day involving long drives and longer treks. Shahzeel took the window seat as he complained that ever since we got married he never got the aerial view and further less since Mysha, our daughter, came along. I happily offered the window seat to the big baby while I graced the aisle, as our five-year-old made herself comfortable in the middle, as usual.

We were just sinking in the relatively smaller seats that I saw a familiar face arriving towards me. Before I knew it, the little miffed man and his exhausted parents took three seats next to ours. The boy looked better though the parents had ‘kill me now’ written all over their shivering bodies. It’s easy to trace the struggling parent as the fight is real and connective.

As the aircraft started taxiing to the runway, the boy started getting fidgety. A part of me knew that it won’t be easy three hours ahead. Without them uttering a word, I listened to those parents. I have been there, I know how it feels. I started traveling with Mysha when she was barely two months old. I remember those walks near the lavatory, those fiascos on the tightly packed airplane changing stations, and worst, the cabin pressure.

The parents sailed quite well in the first half of the flight. They made the little one glued to their iPad, keeping him involved and resilient during take-off and further ahead. The boy dozed off soon easing their pain and providing them some desirable breathing moments. Alas, their peace was short-lived. Somewhere above the Tasman Sea, the little fellow opened his eyes and voice. He roared and rocked our world flying at 35,000 feet above the ground.

And then it started – the persuasion by the parents, the tantrums thrown by the toddler, the miffed voices at the background, and the looks from the air staff.

The father tried hard and managed to glue his junior look out of the window and keep him occupied. The look on their faces as they kept checking their wristwatches was palpable. We had 30 more minutes to land and as a protocol, everyone was busy using the lavatory.

Then came the moment – the man asked the woman to hold the fort as he advanced to use the washroom. No sooner had he closed the door of the restroom than the little guy gave a huge cry. He wanted to get off his mother and run at the narrow passage. She couldn’t handle the daunting task and fight anymore.

“Stop it, Howard.” She cried out in a thick Australian accent.

Little Howard did stop resisting at the demanding voice of his mortified mother but he refused to keep it low.

I was withholding an action for long but that cry got me to work. I opened my handbag and took out a box of Tim Tam and offered it to the lady in distress.

“Here. Take this. Maybe this will calm him down.” I slid open the half-eaten pack of Australia’s favourite chocolate biscuit.

It took two seconds for the woman to register ‘who’ has said ‘what’ from ‘which’ direction. After a five seconds registration process, she nodded yes to my proposal. The mother was slow to nod as Howard had already set his eyes and chubby hands on the chocolate-dipped biscuits.

As the boy happily nibbled on one of those, the distressed mother called out to me with “I can’t thank you enough.”

“Don’t bother.” said a mother to another.

The father rushed to his seat as the plane was about to descend. As he took the seat the announcement by the crew made us all secure our seat belts. The good note was that the journey was about to get over; the bad note to it was conquering the evil at the last – the cabin pressure.

Little Howard must have started feeling the ear-popping sensation which is a normal part of flying but holds the abnormal intensity of pain for toddlers.

Mysha too had a slight discomfort even though she had placed her index fingers submerged in both her ears tightly, but watching Howard she forgot her pain. She was more concerned about his wellbeing.

He was done with the biscuit and more-so the plane and threw his hands and legs in pain. The father tried holding the little one’s head against his chest, while the mother tried feeding him water so that sucking helps Howard relive that air pressure but none came to the rescue.

“Here. Take the whole pack.” I jumped in again and offered whatever was left behind in the box.
“Äre you sure?” checked Howard’s mother.
“He needs it more than anyone else.” I said assertively.

The mere sight of Tim Tams calmed his nerves as the chocolate spell was cast on him. Millions have this addiction, what chance did poor Howard had to survive it?

As the boy painted his face with the brown sweet, my heart went high on sugar. He shoved one in his mouth, and then looked around. Realizing he had three more to go made him go all the way at peace!

As we heard the plane wheels crush the ground below, we knew it was over – the cabin pressure, and the inbuilt pressure. The parents sighed in relief as I found it difficult to cope with adulation, every time their eyes met mine.

What I did was a plebeian’s task, very basic; an act of humanity which is not equivalent to benevolence but the way a human should interact with other human or reach out to him. Somehow, the way those parents kept flooring me with gratitude and warm looks made me realize how hard it is to find empathy these days. To fill in someone’s shoes when you aren’t called. To listen and act and take charge as if the situation as your very own!

As I lifted from my seat to get off the plane, Howard’s father held the biscuit high in his hand and exclaimed with a smile, “I will keep it in mind for my next air travel.”
“Well, you never regret carrying some sugar. Sometimes it’s for these tiny ones and most of the time, it’s for us.” we indulged into an instant guffaw as I ended the sentence.

And then I placed my red coat over my shoulder, knowing somehow I have pulled off a Saturnalia miracle – everyone was happy, everyone was high on sugar – While one ate, others shed with smiles.

I bid goodbye to little Howard who had set a date with chocolate, least caring that he was in his white tee.

As we advanced to the immigrations, my better half asked softly,
“Did they ask? You know, for those biscuits.”
“Nah. They didn’t need to. Sometimes you just listen to your heart and extend your hand, or a Tim Tam, in today’s case.”
“Allah tumhe salaamat rakhe.”He whispered while placing his hand on my head while Mysha patted my back.

Who knew that out of all the souvenirs I bought from New Zealand, these Australian biscuits would be my best pick? It was easily the best NZD 3.65 I spent so far!

Mummy sahi kehti thi, daane daane pe likha hai khane wale ka naam.