Tuesday, 24 April 2018


Another Confession… this was a long kept secret… got to get it out now!

May 2014: It was getting worse! She was getting on my nerves quite often, had to put an end to this relationship. She wouldn’t leave me easily… I had no choice!

May 31, 2012: I was making a major move in my career, a move purportedly up the ladder. I had decided to take up the promotion and leave my hometown. I had to leave my family back and stay alone for at least year in my new role.

Well, this story is not about my career move. It’s different. It’s about her!

Just a day before I left the city for the Metropolis, she was introduced to me by a colleague. I wouldn’t deny it was love at first sight, but couldn’t express it so easily. I was cautious, just gave a few glances and let the day pass.

She travelled with me in the flight, we didn’t speak. I just smiled at her, not sure if she reciprocated. But I was fine, she didn’t have to. But I kept thinking, she was gorgeous… well not the right word... demure may be. She was much more than all that, at that moment, as I closed my eyes and the flight took off, I had no idea that a rollicking hot relationship was waiting to unfold. I would discover soon…!

I was busy settling down in a far off apartment, shuttling to work by bus, hitching a ride with colleagues, eating out at new places, getting used to the change of weather. That weekend I came back to my hometown to take my car and a few necessary household items. On Sunday night I drove on the highway and again started thinking about her.
I needed new company in the new city, someone new to spend time with, someone who would give me all the attention, and be with me all the time. I let the thought pass as driving all night meant the focus had to be on the road. After 11 hours of driving, I reached my home-away-from-home, in the early hours of Monday, a fresh start to the work week beckoned. It was a day that things started to churn.

The Monday began with my office providing me with a new mobile number. I still was using the earlier number and was wary of the prohibitive money being spent every time I spoke on phone. (Back then mobile roaming charges were pretty high, and picking up calls from unknown numbers were a strict no no).

Later that afternoon the new number buzzed for the first time. I was excited. It was her. Don’t even ask me how she got my new mobile number – this is one secret I’d rather not talk about. I eagerly wanted to be home early, easier said than done on a Monday.

As I got home late and tired, she was with me. Yes, we were alone and it all began to unfold fast. We talked, we laughed, we played and we…! I can’t go into more details though. It was just the beginning. She demanded my attention all the time, she got it most of the time. I was in love! The new relationship was breezy, we were together almost all the time. Shopping malls, multiplex movies, beach, eating out, long drives and yes, she even accompanied me to the cricket matches I played on the hot Sunday afternoons. She was my sole chat companion and all those night video calls… Let me stop there.

It was less than a year before I moved back to my hometown. She followed suit, not that I detested her move… I loved her company… but things started getting sour soon.

Back to May 2014: It was getting worse! She was getting on my nerves quite often, had to put an end to this relationship. She wouldn’t leave me easily. I really had no choice… the two words that I dreaded the most was going to end a love-hate relationship of two years – ‘Break Up’ was inevitable. A smooth ending was impossible though.

I hatched a plan to eliminate her, without any remorse. It was a restless Monday, I decided the time, the place, the modus operandi and above all the getaway after committing the crime. I chose the deserted under construction multi-storey building a little away from home for staging the ‘accident’. 

The light was fading, there were hardly anyone in the street, I stealthily walked along with her into the building and climbed up the six floors, with little or almost no conversation happening. Once at the top, we moved to the rear or the east end of the building and looked west, the sun had set and the sky was reddish. Leaning on the parapet I just looked at her, she didn’t look into my eyes. In a cold merciless moment I just pushed her off the precipice and walked down the stairs in a hurried pace. There was loud thud, the watchman and a few workers living in the nearby huts rushed to the spot. They were all aghast at what they saw, she was dead before she landed on the ground. I exited the lane fast to reach home, I heard the approaching police van siren, my heart was pounding, and my steps became faster.

An hour later I was sitting at the dinner table and trying to forget the incident of the evening. Hard as I tried, it wouldn’t leave me, that's when I turned to browsing on my new iPhone and a smile escaped by lips as I thought – rest in peace blackberry!

Picture: Internet

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Festivals and Branding Mantra!

Jo tumko ho pasand wohi baat karenge… Tum din ko agar raat kaho, raat kahenge!

Today was Akshaya Tritiya, also known as Akha Teej - the third lunar day of Shukla paksha of Vaishakha month. The birth of Lord Parshuram the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is also celebrated on this day, it is also the day when Veda Vyas began to write the Mahabharata.

But that is the puranic significance. There is more to it than that for most. The cluttered newspapers with advertisements and the clogged roads in the main junctions tell a different story!

Over the past two decades there has been a fleeting change in the celebrations of Hindu festivals. Not without a reason, there is a concerted effort to rebrand the way festivals are celebrated.
Celebration – is the key word, not observation, and a celebration that is only getting extravagant and we have too many occasions to celebrate.

I remember the time when a Rakshabandhan meant besan ka laddu or motichur ka laddu from the ubiquitous Balaji or Bajrang Sweet House. It wasn’t long before Chocolates, yes branded for the occasion, made itself synonymous with the celebration of brother-sister relationship. Cadbury’s did revolutionize the branding and packing of the simple occasion.

During my days in college, we didn’t have the Shoppers’ Stop or Lifestyle or their kind of Valentine’s Day. The revolutionising of ‘expression of love’ only began after the greeting cards’ majors Archie’s and Hallmark started making it quite a wonderful reason to up their sales. They soon added more days to the Calendar. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Woman’s Day and Friendship Day cards were just taking up as much space as the Birthdays and Wedding Day cards or more.

While cards could only confine themselves to the ‘greeting’ part of the occasions, the ‘celebration’ part of the business was left for the branding gurus to think over creatively. Yes, they did quite a fabulous job in re-branding the entire gamut of greeting into celebrations. Around the time the Indian Economy started looking up in the mid 1990s, the purchase power too increased multi-fold. “Extravagance” crept in.

While the western concept ‘special days’ started getting saturated, westernization of traditional Indian occasions and festivals became the norm, initially with Rakshabandhan. Soon Diwali, Dasara, and even Karwa Chauth got branded with special packages.

So, coming back to today – Akshaya Tritiya, an auspicious day for new beginnings, also regarded as a Sarve Siddha Muhurat. The Sun and Moon are believed to be at their extreme brightness on this day, so also the planet Venus, at its exaltation this month. This auspicious occasion has been quite phenomenally milked by the Gold sellers associations over the past decade and half.
Things changed drastically with the gullible Indian masses falling for what began as “buy at least a gram of gold today” to “invest in gold, jewellery, diamonds and more today”. Touted as a day that would bring lots of good augury for ‘owning new gold’ on this day, people flocked almost all the jewellery “malls”, yes that’s what they are these days. They put traffic sense to the winds and parked almost in the middle of the roads across the main junctions. The summer heat was no way a deterrent for the “good luck’ hunting folks.

What amused me most were the newspapers of the day – Front page jackets with leading jewelers advertising in full throttle. Endless advertisements with colourful offers all across the papers, and ironically a huge front page banner news item that said – Cash crunch hits common man hard – ATMs go dry – people quite literally starving, followed up by editorials and lead articles on how the government has made the citizens’ life woeful. They are unable to afford to buy basic necessities, but lined up well with their plastic money for the glittering yellow metal

It was a different story in the end – The marketers and the branding gurus ensured that the ‘auspicious occasion’ surely brought much cheer, good luck and loads of wealth to their "clients". The commercial peddlers of our traditional festivals are laughing all the way to the bank, while the mere mortals are clutching gold jewellery in one hand and Debit Cards in another, looking out for the elusive ATM that can dish out money.

Did I hear someone singing... Jo tumko ho pasand wohi baat karenge… Tum din ko agar raat kaho, raat kahenge!

Pics: Internet

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Vaazhai ilai saapadu

 - the panacea for mobile phone addicts!

From my Vijayawada Diaries

For a South Indian, especially a Hyderabad bred Tamilian who has a penchant for full-meals saapadu, moving to Vijayawada, the first information I got was "Aah, Food is not a problem!". Well and truly this heartland city of Andhra Pradesh offers a wide variety to suit one's taste buds and more to a gourmet's delight.

I found myself at home with the numerous tiffin centres and the Andhra Mess serving hot and spicy meals typical of the region. However, I was missing home, missing that simple food.

One cloudy afternoon I strolled into a street with some expectation. It was named after Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari. The name evoked feelings of familiar terrain, but there were too many electronics and computer peripheral dealers dotting the place. For a moment I thought it was Chenoy Trade Centre, Parklane, Secunderabad or Ritchie Street, Chennai. Then I spotted the welcome board - 'Meals Ready', hungrily I walked into the restaurant.

"Take token at counter", said the old waiter. The genial owner sitting at the cash counter smiled as he handed over the change and a token. The radio behind him was playing retro Hindi music on Vividh Bharati. 'Mann chahe geet' and lazy hot afternoon lunches can get one nostalgic, reminds of School days! Kishore Kumar’s voice ‘Koi laute de mere beete huve din’ is soon lost in the aroma and cacophony inside.

The place had an air of the old-world-charm of a Mylapore Mess. The well laid out vaazhai ilai (plantain leaf) was enticing enough to expect a feast. The first item on the leaf was akkaravadisal (sweet Pongal), I learnt later, that they serve rava kesari on alternate days, my eyes brightened up - the TamBrahm choices are so predictable. I got lost in the paruppu (dal), vellarikka kootu, vendakai poriyal, moru kozhambu, even as I was busy sifting through WhatsApp messages with the other hand. This was followed by the favourite sambar accompanied with appalam. It was at this moment that the waiter cautioned me to look away from the Mobile phone.

He just said "saar, rasam!". Lo, the phone is put aside as the Tamizhan skill of balancing the ends of the vaazhai ilai comes to the fore as the rasam runs across the rice to all corners. What followed was a mobile-free involvement in enjoying food. The meal ended with the customary thair saadam with suvaiyana Andhra avakkayi.

The current season of extreme dieting apart, the experience is just not enough and craves for an encore, of course sans the mobile phone browsing.

Friday, 30 March 2018

The Project

Friday March 9th: 5.40 am

“Mom, you worry unnecessarily, I will be okay”, said Nikitha as she packed her suitcase with clothes and necessities for two days.

“I have never heard of anything as crazy as this, what sort of project is this? Who comes up with such weird ideas? Why should you be going alone?” screamed her Mother.

Nikitha was too excited about her research project. It was something she always wanted to do. A special report no one had embarked on earlier and a girl, that too.

“What time is your train Nikki?” asked her mother, who by now had resigned to her daughter’s adventures.

“Leaves Secunderabad at 6.50, and Maa, I will be alright, you relax, it’s just one day, I will be back for dinner tomorrow” she replied, hugging her mother, who was now almost in tears.

The cab was waiting. She did one final check of her handbag for charger, power bank, mosquito repellent cream, pepper spray, and wet tissues. The ticket and cash were in the central compartment, zipped safely.

As she ran down the stairs to the waiting cab, she waved at her mother, who was now smiling… “My Nikki is so intelligent and brave”, she thought to herself, and waved back.

Platform number 1 ki taraf jaana hai bhaiya”, she said, dumped her travel bag into the rear seat and jumped in.

She reached the station a half hour early, and took a stroll on the crowded platform. She spotted a book stall and stopped. She was not the newspaper reading kind, and hence picked up the latest issue of Femina. The cover had a picture of Sridevi, and she knew there would be lots of other interesting stories too. “It is going to be almost a 4 hour journey, and the magazine will ensure I don’t exhaust my mobile battery on music”, she thought.

The train arrived at 6.45,and there was jostling all around, as people with heavy luggage, trunk boxes and huge bedrolls were struggling to get into the compartments. Nikitha spotted her A2 coach, swiftly moved in and sat at the side window seat. People were still busy getting in, but soon the train was full, and started moving. She was happy to see a 6 year old boy sitting in the seat opposite to her. “Thank God, I don’t have to worry about some stupid old man trying to strike a conversation”, she exclaimed to herself.

She plugged in her earphones, played soothing Latino music on her mobile and closed her eyes.

A week ago…

Nikitha was walking across the first floor long corridor of the University’s famed heritage building. Her department was at the far end and she was pacing herself to reach in time for an important class.

“Ms. Nikitha”, she heard a familiar voice call out, and turned around to see Dr. Sandeep Sharma walking towards her.  “Good Morning Professor, I was planning to meet you after the Cognitive Psychology class”, she said. “I have some good news, we have identified a survey based project for you to undertake”, said the Social Psychology professor.

She was thrilled and exclaimed “Oh, wow, at last!”
“Meet me after your class, and we will discuss it in detail”, he added and walked ahead.

Nikitha was pursuing her Post Graduation in Experimental Psychology. She was brilliant in academics and one of the most popular students of the college. Having completed her graduation with a Gold medal, there were high expectations from her to top the University.

Though initially fascinated in exploring the psychological causes of crime and strategies to prevent it
by becoming a criminal psychologist, she chose to pursue Experimental Psychology. She was keen to apply experimental scientific methods to the study of human behavior. While her course required her to do psychological research in clinical, developmental, social and cognitive neuroscience, she chose Social psychology, with special focus on human response to the occult. Well, that’s where it all started, the persevering research on occult appearances.

Nikitha had a strange obsession for the paranormal; she did a lot of study and personally believed in the supernatural. Her professors detested her belief, but she continued her research on the paranormal and found solace in connecting them to human behavior. As part of her second semester project, Nikitha was to present a paper on human behavior to unusual situations. She chose to use this opportunity to pursue her interest in the abnormal.

She approached Dr. Sandeep Sharma who was a known students’ professor. Empathetic to their interests, he would ensure students pursued what they believed in. When Nikitha confided her choice of research paper, Prof Sharma was astounded, but promised to look into it, and he did. 

That afternoon, as an excited Nikitha walked into his large cabin, Prof Sandeep welcomed her with a beaming smile.

“So young lady, do you read Telugu?” he asked gesturing her to take a seat, even as he was searching some papers.
“I speak Telugu fluently, have been here in Hyderabad all my life, but studied in CBSE with Hindi as major” she replied. “I can actually read a bit of Telugu as well, learnt it to read cinema posters”, she went on.

“Oh, you watch Telugu movies, who is your favourite star” he asked.

“I watch mostly Mahesh Babu’s films, he is so dashing…” and she stopped.

“What’s his next blockbuster?” the professor asked casually, still rummaging through some newspaper clippings.

Bharat ane…” she was interrupted. “Ah, look at this, it will interest you” he said and showed her a newspaper clipping of Eenadu, the Telugu daily.

She looked at it and then at her professor, with a blank face. He knew what it meant. “Ok, let me read it for you….”he said, smiling.

There have been some strange occurrences in a village in Kaghaznagar Mandal of Komaram Bheem Asifabad district in Telangana. Many people have reportedly sighted a devil, and have graphically described it. The villagers, though scared, have a reason to believe that the devil is a resident of the place and visits to oversee them, offer suggestions and help.”

“Well, that is the gist of the brief report. I have spoken to the reporter who filed this and have also got some contact in the village. Would you be interested to visit and interview the villagers and ascertain their behaviourial changes post the sightings?”  said Dr Sharma, and removed his spectacles.

Nikitha was speechless for a moment, she just blurted out an excited ‘Yes’!

In the train

Tea, Coffee, Cold drinks…” The loud voices of vendors inside the long-distance train broke her nap. She looked at her watch, it had been almost two hours since the train left Hyderabad. The air conditioning was quite effective and the couple of stations the train stopped at, didn’t disturb her.

The little boy in front of her was looking out through the dark glass by cupping his hands around his eyes. Most people in the coupe were either dozing or reading. She seemed to be the odd one, everyone else was booked for the 24 hour journey to the national capital, but her destination was just an hour and a half away.

She opened her travel bag and took out the disposable foil pack that had two sandwiches packed in it. “Hmm… that was a very heavy breakfast”, she thought as she began eating.

Flipping through the pages of her magazine, Nikitha was recollecting the words of Prof. Sandeep Sharma. “Stay at the house of my father’s friend - the retired Assistant Engineer, don’t venture out much, but for the evening meeting with the Sarpanch and the villagers, return home before dusk, carry internet dongle, meet the village youth at breakfast the next day”. Most of it was regular advice, but just one thing kept echoing in her mind “look out for strangers and strange occurrences”

It was almost 11.00, and the train was running on time, which meant she would be alighting at her destination in about 10 minutes. She stood up and put the travel bag on her seat, smiled and waved bye to the young boy who smiled and waved back.

11.10 am – Vempalli Railway Station

Nikitha was the only one to alight from her compartment, and the train stopped for less than 30 seconds.The almost deserted platform had a young, handsome station master waving the green flag to the train. At the far end of the platform about a dozen labourers alighted from the General compartment and crossed the tracks to the other side of station.

“Can I have your ticket please?” The station master queried.
Nikitha looked at the six foot tall man and thought “wow, looks like Siddharth Malhotra”.
“Ticket please”, repeated the station master.
“Er… here it is” she said, handed over the ticket and walked towards the exit. She turned back to have one last glance at the handsome hunk and thought “I’ll come early tomorrow and strike a conversation with the guy”.

Outside the station, she saw a ‘one-horse Tonga’ with a young lad of about sixteen or seventeen wearing a green trouser, a pale white dirty T shirt and a red towel tied to his forehead. There was absolutely no one else around. It seemed a bit eerie, but the bright morning and the breeze made it too pleasant to be perturbed.

“Where do you want to go Madam?” Asked the boy, who nonchalantly picked up her travel bag and put it in the back of the carriage. It was like she had no choice of travel – No Uber, Ola or autos. The only shop across the slushy road next to the station was closed, she thought “Wish I had some tea in the train”.

“I have to go to Srujanapura, near the Sarpanch office. Are you the only one to take me there? No motor cars or auto rickshaws?” Nikitha asked in an exasperated tone.

“Trust me Akka, er... can I call you Akka? He asked. She nodded in the affirmative. Nobody had addressed as elder sister, ever. “Akka, my name is Sathyanarayana, you can call me Sathy, and everyone here calls me that. No one comes to this place by train, you are a rare visitor”, he added.
Nikitha cooled down a bit and asked “So, how come you are here?”
“I come to the nearby temple every Friday and then wait here at the station for any travellers, I hardly get any customers” said Sathy.“Today is a lucky day, I am seeing someone for the first time in months, and also going to my village” he added.

 “So, how far is this place Srujanapura and how much will you charge?” Nikitha asked, as she stepped on the foot rest and climbed into the Tonga.

“It is about 10 miles from here Akka, we will take about an hour. I charge Rs. 300, but for you I will take 200, as I am getting an opportunity to go to home for lunch”.

As the Horse cart went on to the main road from the winding station pathway, there were shops on
either side, small dingy shacks selling household goods, groceries, vegetables and fruits. In about 500 metres, the road became deserted with the core town, on the opposite end. They had hit the state highway.

There were trees lining both sides of the road which made the travel soothing.
Sathy broke the silence with his query, “So, are you visiting Subba Rao garu’s house?”
Nikitha was taken aback, “How do you know that I am going to Subba Rao Sir’s home?” she asked.
“That is the only big house near the Sarpanch office, and you are coming from a big city, I assumed you were his guest, am I right?” said Sathy with a smirk.
“Ok, I am impressed. So what do you know of this place you live in, any recent developments?” she replied.
“Are you a journalist? Recently some reporters came and spoke to our villagers, they talked about some ghosts and wrote about it in a newspaper” he added.
Nikitha’s eyes brightened in surprise- it seemed like her survey had already started. “What do you know about it Sathy?” she asked, for the first time calling him by his name, and thought “need to befriend this guy”. “Have you seen the ghost too?” she asked.

“Looks like everyone in my village has seen the ghost, and are talking about it, except me”, he replied with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

“Hey, that’s okay Sathy, it’s not like you have missed meeting a celebrity or anything”, she said.
“He is as good as that, they all talk about him as some big celebrity, I don’t know why I have not been able to sight him, maybe I have to sleep more, and see him in my dreams”, Sathy laughed out loud.“Why are you asking me about ghosts and all, are you going to take his photo? Will you show me if you are?” he added.

“No, no I am not taking his picture, I am a student and will be writing about your village people’s reaction on sighting the ghost.” She replied.

Sathy turned back and smiled “please take my picture Akka”.
Nikitha screamed “look at the road and ride”.
“Ha ha, no problem, Basanti knows the road well, I don’t have to look and drive, like a motor vehicle” he laughed.
“Basanti, why such a name for your horse?” she asked.
“My father was a big fan of Hema Malini, he saw the movie Sholay a dozen times, so named our horse after the famous horse cart rider role she played” he replied.
Nikitha clicked a photo of a beaming Sathy with Basanti on her mobile phone.

Just then, the road forked at a junction and Sathy patted the horse thrice. It stopped under a huge
banyan tree on the left. Sathy explained “this highway leads to the neighbouring state, we will now be going by this left side road, another four miles”. Pointing to the opposite direction across the road he added, “There, that is a dhaba, if you want to buy anything, do it here, we don’t have big shops in our village”.

Nikitha jumped down from the cart, crossed the deserted road went to the dhaba. There was an auto rickshaw parked outside and a dark stout guy, with pock marks all over his face, and gruffly hair staring at her from it. He looked like a rogue.
The dhaba resembled a large Kirana store in a city, with not just food being served, but almost all items fit for a super market available. She picked up few Lays chips packets, couple of 2 litre Bisleri Mineral water bottles and some chewing gum. She paid in cash and got about 80 rupees change. She realized that was the only change left with her apart from the 500 and 2000 rupee notes.

“Bhaiya, can I get change for Rs. 2000 or 500, please” she asked the guy in the counter.
“Sorry Madam, we do not have change for that, I can’t help you”the dhaba guy replied.
Nikitha expressed her disappointment with a shrug and was about to leave, when he asked her “How did you come here, Madam”. She pointed across the road and said “by that vehicle”. At that moment the auto driver walked in front of the entrance and grinned at them. 
“Oh… okay, but beware of strangers madam, you seem to be from the city”, replied the dhaba guy.
She thanked him and returned to cross the road towards the Tonga, even as the auto driver continued to eye her. She felt uncomfortable.
Nikitha climbed into the horse cart, and without looking back asked Sathy to move.
They took the left turn and the road narrowed into a muddy terrain. She didn’t speak a word for the next ten minutes, still a bit anxious.

It was again Sathy who broke the silence with a casual quip, “what Akka, saw some ghost or something… you look worried?”

“No, nothing. How long will we take to reach?” she asked in a harried tone.

“We are almost there, just another 10 minutes Akka, don’t worry, I am there” replied Sathy in a comforting voice.

Nikitha smiled, however she continued to look back on the road, in case someone was following her.

12.15 pm: Srujanapura

The Tonga halted at the street corner abutting the only double storey building in the village. It was a small house in a large plot with trees all around. Nikitha alighted and asked Sathy if he had change for 500 Rupees.
“No Akka, I don’t have any money, give me whatever you have, I will take the rest when you return to the station” he replied.

“Thank you Sathy, here, keep this 80 rupees, I will be leaving around noon tomorrow, will pay you in full then”, she said and handed over the money.

He smiled and pointed at the large tamarind tree behind her host’s house and said, “There under that tree is my hut, you can call me if you require anything, I mostly sleep outside”, and left.

Just as she opened the gate to enter the house, she heard the noise of an auto rickshaw, and turned back to see the same roguish guy pass by the house, gazing at her with a dirty grin. The sight ruffled her yet again. 

Mrs. Subba Rao opened the grilled door, and invited Nikitha into a cozy drawing room.
“I am Lakshmi, Subba Rao garu’s wife, please sit down. Dr Sharma informed that you will be coming. Hope you had a pleasant journey”, said the lady, with a warm welcome.
“Yes, Aunty ji, I came by train and was driven here from the station by Sathy, that guy who lives behind your house”, replied Nikitha.
“Oh Pandu, he is a nice fellow. Do you want to freshen up and eat something?” Lakshmi asked.
“No aunty, I am not hungry. I have to make a few telephone calls and will have lunch later, around 1.30 pm”. “By the way, isn’t Subba Rao uncle at home?” Nikitha enquired.
“He has gone to the sweet shop at the corner, to get curd, and will be back soon. Let me show you to your room” she said and took her inside the living room.

It was quite a large room, which had a cot with cushioned bed and an attached bathroom to the left. There were two windows – one at the far end of the room and another to the wall on the right, both were open and it was quite breezy.

Nikitha thanked Lakshmi for the warm hospitality and said she would join her in half hour. She then pulled out her iPad and plugged it in for charging, took out the dongle and activated the internet. The first thing she did then was to call her mother, “Maa, I’ve reached here, and am fine. No problems at all”.
“You take care beta, I was worried, eat well and stay safe, bye”, her mother replied.
“Bye, Maa, love you” and she hung up.

She then opened WhatsApp to find a message from her friend Radha, “You crazy girl, where have been off to? You didn’t even tell me before going off to some godforsaken place” Radha replied.
“…and How did you know?”
“Dropped in at your place, Mom said you are off on some adventure to catch ghosts”
“Oh, Mom… you know na… overtly worried… I’m on a serious project”
“Oh! Okay.Come back alive! Try not to date the ghost ;) ”
“Oh, but what if he’s hot? Let me have lunch, and then I’ll call you” …and Nikitha ended the chat.

Next on the list was Madhavi… “Hey Mad, I reached this place. It’s a weird place, but cozy home of the hosts”.
Madhavi replied after 5 minutes: “Have you spotted any ghosts?”
“Spotted? I am here to meet the people who have”
“Don’t talk to them in your English, they probably don’t have dictionaries!”
“Of course not! Listen, forgot to tell Radha, she found out, but didn’t make a mess… talk to her, I’ll catch up with you guys in the evening”.

1.35 pm: Lunch

Subba Rao was a fine gentleman, he welcomed Nikitha at the dining table and enquired about her Post Graduate studies and the project. They chatted over lunch and he told her all about the ghost sightings by the villagers.
“Uncle ji, have you seen anything like a ghost? I mean is it true or some strange group hallucination happening?”
“Well, neither I, nor your aunty here has seen anything strange, we keep hearing these stories from our milkman, maid and the other villagers”, he replied. “You can get to hear and interview the villagers at 4.30 pm. I have arranged everything. They will assemble at the community hall and the Sarpanch will also be there”, he added.

After lunch, Nikitha went up to her room and checked for emails on her iPad. There were too many mails, but mostly inconsequential and the important ones weren’t urgent and could wait till Monday. She then lay down on her bed and tried to catch some sleep, the thoughts of the auto driver haunted her for a while. In a few minutes she dozed. About an hour later she was woken up by the noise of the window panes fluttering wildly in the wind. She got up to clamp them, but the hook was broken. She looked out of the window and found the deserted street, then walked to the window on the right to look at the rear side of the building.

She saw the tamarind tree and Sathy lying on a coir cot outside his hut. She waved at him, but he didn’t respond, he seemed to have had some liquor and gone fast asleep.

She looked at her watch and decided to have a shower and change into cleaner clothes for her meeting with the villagers.

4.30 pm: Community Centre

Subba Rao accompanied Nikitha to the Community centre. She was astonished to see about 25 people seated under the large tree in the middle of the ground. The Sarpanch welcomed her and briefed the villagers about the purpose of the meeting and her project.
The villagers were quite forthcoming in their response.

However, Nikitha wasn’t impressed. She felt most of them were only parroting hearsay stories and they were actually not a wee bit worried about the happenings. Her premise for the project – human behavior in adversity, especially on sighting the unknown – was it falling flat? She was lost in thought. The next hour passed with little interest.

They wrapped up at 6.00 pm, and Subba Rao and Nikitha walked home as she began thinking about the evening meeting and dreading the failure of her trip, and more importantly the project.

8.00 pm: Early dinner, early to bed.

Her hosts usually had an early dinner and retired to bed by 9.00 pm. Nikitha as well ate her dinner and went to her room. She was a late riser usually, but today was different. She had woken up at 5 in the morning and had a long day already. Tired she was, but sleep wasn’t on her mind.

She switched on her iPad and keyed in the details of her conversations with the villagers. There were hardly any findings. Disappointment was writ large, the psychology part in her report seemed totally blank.
She spoke to her mom for a few minutes and later engaged with Madhavi and Radha, simultaneously messaging them. The random chats slowly turned into gossip as she told them about the hot station master, about boys, crushes and a lot more… she had a hearty laugh, one that lightened her mood. Eventually around 11.30 pm her eyes began shutting. She switched off the lights and fell asleep.

The noises

It was just past midnight, when a loud howling noise startled her out of bed. Nikitha ran towards the side window and looked out to find only a faint flicker from the far off street light. She tried closing the window, but the noise got louder.

It seemed straight out of the werewolf movies. The howling of the wolf now seemed to shatter her ear drums. She closed her ears and eyes and sat motionless on the bed.

After about a minute she slowly released her hands from her ears. The sounds had stopped. She opened her eyes and slowly approached the window. She could hear the barking of street dogs, one of them was wailing in a muted tone, as if it were injured. She composed herself and decided to peep out of the window. In the fraction of a second, as she looked out, a human hand brushed outside the window, inches away from her face, with a loud grunting noise. She shrieked loudly and fell.

By the time Nikitha regained her senses and stood up, she was trembling. She rushed to the rear window and could faintly see Sathy sleeping on the cot outside, as in the afternoon. She shouted out his name, but at a distance of almost 300 feet, she could hardly be heard. She wanted to go down and wake up Subba Rao, but thought otherwise and returned to her bed.

She had to talk to someone. With a bit of courage she made a video call to the friend who expected her at that hour.
“Hey”… she said. 
“What happened, your face looks so pale!” said Shreya, her all weather friend,
“I’m… I’m scared. Don’t ….know what… to do” She was fumbling for words, her hands still shivering.
“Relax, good you called me, just tell me what happened, is there help around?”
“I don’t know if it is a ghost I saw, or some rogue playing a prank on me, but that’s it, I can’t wait to get away from this place” Nikitha answered.
“Drink some water, don’t panic, I will be on call as long as you want” Shreya replied.
…and then they talked for about an hour.

After the call, over the next two hours she tossed in bed, thinking about the strange phenomena, the auto driver and sleep simply wouldn’t happen.

Finally Nikitha garnered courage and decided to shut the window.She slowly pulled in the panes and as she latched it from inside, she heard someone knocking it from outside. There were three distinct knocks and then it stopped. She ran again to call for Sathy, but this time he was not to be seen. It was a bit cold outside and she knew he would have gone inside the hut to sleep.

Over the next few minutes she closed her eyes and prayed hard, fatigue overpowered fear and she passed out.

Saturday March 10th: 8.10 am

Nikitha woke up to a splitting headache and walked down to the hall, where Subba Rao and Lakshmi were having coffee, their second round of the morning. She stood there with tears waiting to roll out of her eyes.

“Good Morning Nikitha, hope you had a good sleep, come have some strong coffee”, greeted Lakshmi.
“I can see you had a really good slumber” added Subba Rao.

“Good Morning Aunty and Uncle.”, she replied controlling her emotions and sat down to have coffee. The aroma and the rich taste had its effect.
She started feeling better, and the thought of the return journey back home actually brought a smile on her face.

She stepped out and stood near the gate, and abutting the compound wall of the opposite house was the same auto with the now familiar 1111 number. She decided to skip the breakfast outing and had idlis at her host’s place.

11.50 am: The return

Nikitha had a quick bath, readied her bags, and waited in the ground floor drawing room. As Subba Rao and Lakshmi bid her a happy return journey, she touched their feet, sought blessings and thanked them again for their hospitality.

Sathy, wearing a bright blue T shirt, stood beside the cart parked under the large banyan tree at the street corner. He had the usual welcoming smile. Nikitha hopped into the cart and even as she heard the sound of an auto rickshaw veering, ignored looking back.

She plugged in her earphones and turned on some music. The back curtain was drawn down as she chose to shut her eyes and relax.

As they hit the highway, Sathy spoke. “Want to pick up some water bottles or something Akka?”
“No, I am good, let’s reach the station”, she replied.

There was no further conversation. As they entered the compound of the railway station, Sathy reminded her “Akka, you owe me Rs. 200 of yesterday too”. “Yes I remember Sathy, let me buy the ticket and then I’ll give you the change” she said.

1.00 pm: Vempalli Railway station

Sathy parked his cart under a neem tree, at a distance from the station building. Nikitha strode in, hoping to see the hunk Siddharth Malhotra. The train from Delhi was to arrive at 2.12 pm and she had over an hour. The station master’s room was empty, but for a little boy playing with a ball. An old man walked in from the platform and asked her. “Yes madam, how can I help you?”
“Where is the young man from yesterday? I need a ticket to Secunderabad by Telangana Express”, she replied.
“I am the station master here, and have been for the last 27 years. I can tell you there is none else here apart from me. Also, Express? No such train halts at this station.” He answered.
“What? I came here yesterday by the same train from Secunderabad and…” she was interrupted. “Can I see your ticket Ms…?” he asked.
“Well, I gave it to that handsome young station master yesterday”, her voice turned worried and she looked inside the room and seemed to recognize the little boy.“That boy, that little boy travelled with me yesterday in the train, he was sitting in the seat in front of me”, she was almost screaming now.
“Madam, he is my grandson, and he has not travelled in a train the past 6 months. Besides, yesterday he had his primary exam at school” he replied.
“Well, I need to go to Secunderabad, and you have got to help me Sir” she was almost in tears, couldn’t believe what was happening.
“You will have to go to Sirpur Kaghaznagar by auto, it will take 40 minutes. From there you can catch the same train”.

A confused, scared, tired, hungry, and emotional Nikitha didn’t know what was going through her and stepped out of the station. The same Auto driver was standing beside the 1111 vehicle.

She was now furious, and screamed at him “Why are you following me, where is the Tonga and Sathy?”

“Tonga? Sathy? Madam, you have been travelling with me since yesterday and I have seen no horse carts in this state for almost 15 years”. What little colour remained in her face, had drained.

Exasperated, Nikitha opened her phone 'Gallery' to check the picture, of Sathy and Basanti, she had clicked... there was just a blank white screen.

“Akka, Can I drop you back in Kagazhnagar, now?” Pandu asked in a humble tone.

Pics Courtesy: Internet

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Yearning for the Achche Din? Look to your past...!

Nostalgia drives us!

अलबेले दिन प्यारे, मेरे बिछड़े साथ सहारे, हाय कहाँ गये… 
आँखों के उजियारे, मेरी सुनी रात के तारे, हाय कहाँ गये… 
कोई लौटा दे मेरे बीते हुए दिन, बीते हुए दिन वो हाय, प्यारे पल छिन... कोई लौटा दे मेरे बीते हुए दिन... ♪

Over the past few years, there has been lot of brouhaha over the much anticipated Achche Din... some good days, promised by politicians. While most are bickering over the belied expectations there are more of us recreating the Achche din on our own.

Nostalgia plays an important part in our lives. We just love to relive our past. What else explains the numerous Alumni meets happening across our lives, throughout the year?

There was a time when the word ‘Alumni’ denoted the group of classmates from one’s alma mater - mostly from school and college, now all that has changed.

Groups, start with WhatsApp, the social media cross-platform messaging application, which has virtually revolutionized communication. We have groups for friends from school, college, sports team, literary club, socializing club, the café club, kitty party club,  colleagues at current work place, former colleagues and of course multiple permutations for family and extended families, just to name a few.

These then get extended to catching up on memories from the past. I have been part of an Alumni meet of school mates, most of us meeting after 30 years. We had a wonderful time regaling memories of the innocent age, of naughty pranks and errant homework to strict teachers and playful memories. That was such a enriching experience that we thought we should meet more often. Though it never happened at the frequency we expected it to, but we were all connected through the daily whatsapp messages, sharing jokes, news, happenings and lots of friendly banter.

Well, that’s not all, I was soon participating in my literary club’s Alumni meet, a first of its kind in 49 years of the club’s existence. A meet-up, where members from different eras, met and exchanged memories of a different kind of achche din, had dinner and dispersed. No, we didn’t end with that – we revived the club, brought in new blood, created more groups and more meet-ups started happening. Did someone say - Jaane kahan gaye woh din, well… not really, there is always a repeat. The Golden Jubilee is round the corner.

Among the other active groups that I am part of is the club cricket team. I played with them for over a decade - some exciting cricket. There were loads of fun - lots of wins and losses. Most importantly - tons of memories. The not-so-ageing cricketers meet often too. 
Some of the best memories of growing up years however were the time spent with local friends at the dingy Irani café in the colony. We now have a ‘Good Luck Café’ whatsapp group, named after the erstwhile joint. Yes, we too meet often, an alumnus of sorts. We discuss everything on earth from sports to politics to movies and careers, over numerous chai and unending 'whiff of fresh air'.

Not to forget the exclusive and elite groups of ex colleagues - some funny, some intellectual, some boring - but mostly bitchy!

While the number of whatsapp groups run into dozens for some, for some it’s just a handful – but we all believe in the adage – No man is an island. We thrive in groups and the social activities are part of our everyday life, may be the degree of involvement varies.

I started this nostalgic journey with... ♫ Koyi lautaa de mere, beete huye din,beete huye din wo mere pyaare pal chhin... ♪ ~ heart touching lyrics by Shailendra for the 1964 Hindi film 'Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein', made immortal by Kishore Kumar's mellifluous voice. Re-lived through the unending greets, meets, get-togethers, parties, picnics and more!

So what are you waiting for – Achche Din? Go create one yourself - go nostalgic - walk down the memory lane! Who knows, you might even end up meeting your first crush! On that note I sign off with the lines… ♪ कहीं करती होगी, वो मेरा इंतज़ार... जिसकी तमन्ना में, फिरता हूँ बेक़रार…! ♫


Pics courtesy: Internet

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

It's Strange... how we treat strangers strangely!

A few weeks ago, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I and my friend were sitting in an Irani cafe sipping tea and having an animated conversation. A man sitting two tables away was watching us, I didn't notice him. After about half hour, as we got up to leave, he just waved at me and in a friendly tone said... "Hello, I am Narender, an Executive Engineer with the Electricity Dept, nice to meet you". and I responded, "Venkat, into Advertising and branding, glad to meet you". He waved bye, and we left. In my frequent visits to the cafe later, I never saw him or heard about him.

That was one nice encounter and reminded me of another incident. This was in January this year, my cousin from abroad had visited us. One morning on a walk at the local park, we ran into a bunch of five middle-aged men. They were having a hearty laugh while walking. My cousin mad eye contact and instantaneously in a boisterous tone said "Good Morning gentlemen!" They simply ignored his gesture and walked ahead. He looked at me asked, “don't people reciprocate here?” Well, I said, not really. We are made of a different thread. We don't meet and greet strangers. But we respect their space. He wasn’t convinced by my reply and I left it there.

Over the next few days, I tried looking into the eyes of strangers and was surprised to elicit a few smiles. Somehow, there was this strange feeling of how we treat strangers.

No, we don't shy away from striking conversations with total strangers on long train journeys or sharing few laughs with unknown people at the street corners. We, Indians have an uncanny knack to help people. Totally unasked for advice comes from strangers. Ever seen the number of times people knock on your car window to tell you that the rear door is not shut properly? The umpteen times two-wheeler drivers are cautioned about an open side-stand or the loosely dangling pillion’s long garment getting stuck in the wheel? Waiting for the traffic signal you find the biker beside you telling you to get the air checked in your wheel or inform of a flat tire. Numerous occasions we just stop by at a playground and appreciate an unknown kid with a “well played”! There are endless examples of how we are concerned about the well being of strangers, of humans in general.

Strange are our ways, we are different from the West. We don’t believe in exchanging pleasantries, but we show concern to the strangers, we are kind to them. Well, almost always!
No, we don’t greet the cabbie - the autorickshaw wallah or the street vendor with “how are you, hope you are having a great day?!” But we do address strangers with an Anna, Amma, Bhai, Bhaiya, Sir or even Boss. We respect them. Don’t we?

The advent of social media has brought a revolutionary change in how we perceive strangers. We don’t mind befriending unknown people – gender, age, social strata, nothing matters. We just get friendly, chat, share an opinion, pass remarks, comment and even fight. But there is still harmony. Ideological differences apart, strangers do get along well on social media. I have made quite a few friends through Twitter, whom I have subsequently met and bonded with, as though I have known them for ages.

There are pitfalls of this new-age friendship too. You get easily perturbed with the unwanted comments or unwarranted advice. There may be people who irritate you to the extent of disturbing your mental equilibrium. But then the World Wide Web does give enough opportunity to Mute, Block and Unfriend people. You can simply walk away from the strangers and continue your quest to explore the social medium through the eyes of more strangers.

So, here is something we can do as a social experiment:
The next time you are on a bike and see a stranger driving towards you from the opposite direction, just wave at him/her, sport a big smile and say a cheerful Hello! You will leave the person baffled for the entire day. You will surely leave them thinking - Do I know him/her? Have we met? An acquaintance? A former colleague? A distant relative? A Facebook friend? Who was that?

Welcome to the strange world of connectivity – Welcome to the strange world of strangers behaving strangely!


PIctures courtesy: Internet

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Assumptions! ...and I assume, will never end!

Oxford dictionary defines Assumption as a noun: A thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof. 
So an assumption is basically a statement that is feigned to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn. Every day, across the world around us, we are victims to various assumptions. Now don't just say I am assuming that, check it out - you'd be baffled (oh no, another assumption) as much.

Let me take you to the root of this post, and why I am not assuming that assumptions are not fading away too soon!

Recently, an old relative of my father passed away, his nonagenarian paternal aunt (my grand aunt). As is the custom with Hindus (and more so with TamBrahms), my father - being from the same clan - had to observe a 10-day theetu (Tamil for exclusion or social isolation). The same obviously extended to me. Unfortunately, the death went uninformed for six days. Yes, you heard it right, in the communication age where technology has enabled mobile connectivity to every nook and corner of the world and instant messaging makes news spread fast, 6 days of no news is quite a surprise. None of the family members, my father's brothers or sisters or cousins got in touch. Each one assumed that someone or the other would have updated us. I am not going into details of what transpired in those six days. It’s disheartening, to say the least.

So, there we go, that is just one incident. I realised (not assumed) that almost every bit of happening in the social media revolves around assumptions. Most 'Breaking News' on TV is riddled with assumptions. Most relationships are made or broken by assumptions.

Most times we assume about what is going on in someone’s mind. We take it for granted to assume why one behaves thus and we do so mostly based on our imagination or bitter-sweet experiences. Likewise, most of us simply put a reason to why things happen as they happen and believe it to be fact, actually ignoring the fact, that it is just another assumption. 

For a human, judging others is the biggest of assumptions. In a majority of cases, our assumptions may not be wrong. The reason is we make quite a few assumptions for a single incident. We attribute various motivations for a person's attitude or action. Eventually, we tend to justify ourselves with the incorrect assumptions as the truth. We all make assumptions that can sometimes make or mar lives, some are flimsy while some could be a relationship or even life-threatening.

So, coming to the question… why do we assume? I read somewhere that human nature forms its understanding based on what’s happening psychologically within rather than on facts. We often tend to make judgments based on emotions, beliefs, expectations, and wishes. We fail to understand that our inner self is painting the way we see and understand the outer world, thus assumptions are formed and distorting things for us. Assumptions are only addictive and cannot be waned away easily. It ruins our rational thinking, practical approach and above all creates problems for everyone.

Is there a way to get rid of these assumptions? Can there be a way to base our understanding on facts? There are two ways to define or differ assumptions. Either assume things by observing factual information or do one’s own fact-checking, the choice is clear.

There is an old joke that goes: “when you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME”. If only jumping to conclusions based on assumptions were to be made an Olympic sport, we sure would have Gold medals for hundred years to come… with that random assumption, I conclude this rant by repeating what I started off with - ‘Assumptions… and I assume will never end'!

Pic courtesy: Internet


Another Confession… this was a long kept secret… got to get it out now! May 2014: It was getting worse! She was getting on my nerv...