A complete circle

I was sitting on my bed and reading a journal paper, laptop beside me with at least some 10 tabs open. One of them being NDTV. It was 11:45 at night and sleep was just showing its first signs after all that cycling and exercise. I casually clicked on the tab to glance at the latest news and the world now knows what I saw. The mastermind, supercriminal and most wanted fugitive who managed to evade the mighty US forces for a decade was now dead. It brought back memories of 9/11, an experience that I would never ever forget.

Cut to 2001, warm summer Chennai evening. Mom doing her puja, I had just returned from play with Whisky and was giving him some water. The phone rang asking for my sister’s phone number in US. She worked in NY on the 78th Floor of the WTC North tower. It must be around 7pm. I ran upstairs, booted that ancient computer and gave the number. Then another call came and another. I wondered why so many people were suddenly asking her number. My mom got suspicious and asked the latest caller, must be atleast the 20th that evening. She hastily told “Nothing Aunty, official work”. Dad was home and eating dinner. I was now upstairs playing with whisky in my room. And then one of my sister’s closest friends called and told. “Uncle, turn on the TV”.

The next three hours were the most horrific of my life. Even as I type this, 10 years on, I can hear my parents scream in horror, the disbelief that something so awful can unfold and that my very sister is there under attack. Images that I never want to see again, but unfortunately captured by my brain flashed past me as I muttered “No, no nothing can ever happen to her. She’ll be fine.” With no calls being answered and the ultimate collapse of the towers, my parents lost hope. I could not believe what I was watching and was hoping against hope. I remember being so blank that nothing was entering my mind or getting processed. Amidst all the tears, the witch like boss of my sister announced over the phone. “We’ll let you know one way or the other”. One way or the other? What does she mean? How inhuman can one get, I wondered.

At 2 am, the phone rang. It was a long call, the ISD variety. I picked up the phone,heart thumping so loud I think the caller could hear and heard the voice that made me realize the value of life in an instant. Silence (time delay) followed as I barely muttered “Hello!”, I heard finally ” Chotu?” It was my sister. That instant is one I will never forget in my life. Ever. I could not say anything more and passed on the phone to my mother, who was in tears. We hugged each other and smiled. Whisky jumping around in happiness, confused and tired but happy nevertheless. The cold dinner was warmed up and eaten at last, hunger returning out of giddy relief. It was past 3 am.

For the next few months, horrific images flashed across the world with unbelievable headlines swamped across the front pages of The Hindu. It has been a long battle, the pain of loss easing a little, but never being forgotten. I know how hard it must be for thousands of people who lost their near and dear that fateful day.
I came back to reality, listening to the White House briefing. I smiled in happiness. “Finally! “I said to myself and thanked God for his blessings, the gift of life ,family and my sister once again. This is a day I wont forget. Just like the one 10 years ago.

Goodbye, Uncle Pai

Uncle Pai passed away last week. It is another bitter reminder that our childhood days are long gone. I, like millions of other Indian kids growing up in the mid-1990s loved them. Railway journeys were exciting because of the inevitable trip to the Wheeler & Co. mobile stalls where my eyes would scan hungrily for the latest issue of Tinkle Digest. Summers were even more looked forward to because of the Tinkle specials ‘ Suppandi’ or ‘Naseeruddin Hoodja‘(who was also my absolute favourite). I cannot remember being more excited about any other birthday gift than the 12 volume ‘Mahabharata’ that my mom gifted me, or the sheer pleasure of opening those old wooden boxes during hot summer afternoons and unearthing the millions of volumes of ACK that my sister had lovingly sorted and bound into volumes. I can so connect to all those carefree summer vacations spent reading and re-reading those books. Not only were they excellently educational but they were my initiation into the intricacies of Indian mythology. I jumped right into it. There were days when every character’s past and role in Mahabharata was etched clearly in my mind, days when I could recite Ramayana in my sleep (That is partly because of my Grandpa, he spent hours everyday telling me the story while I imagined colourful pictures of the monkey army, the evil Raavan (until Abhishek Bacchan came and made me feel like the mythological one was an angel) or the loyal Hanuman. )The news of Anant Pai’s death brings back some heavy duty nostalgia which I am not really a big fan of. It makes me feel so deprived now. But what it also brought to light is the conspicuous absence of cartoonists/children’s story tellers/ grandpa’s who told interesting mythological tales in modern India. (Forgive me for my ignorance if they are, but I doubt anyone has such an impact – except maybe Karadi Tales?)

I know that off-late, my blog is full of complaints about the way modern India is losing out on a lot of things so I won’t prod along the lines of how India has no taste for satire (since people take themselves SOOO seriously or that post R.K Narayan, we won’t have anyone left to fill that space of ‘The Common Man’). The point is we all should laugh at ourselves in a while. While we should aim at educating our genX about Jataka Tales, Panchatantra, Ramayana or gift them the wonder of ACK, we should also aim at encouraging comic-cons. It is astonishing that a country of 1 billion with the most fertile minds does not have a gazillion comic strips, a hundred stand-up comedians( Russel Peter -he is Indian origin!) or picture books. The point is, it does,just that those people never really get a break to the big league. I subscribe to a whole lot of such funny blogs (many of them columnists in renowned newspapers) which keep you in splits. Take a bow ,Ashish Shakya (the co-writer of our only funny show ‘The Week that Wasn’t’). He is one funny man.

It takes a genius to keep a child engrossed in an activity that does not involve plunder of some object. So I totally respect folks like Uncle Pai, the editors/creators of Champak, Chacha Chaudhry (ooo, Sabuuuu), J.K Rowling (now she deserves a standing ovation – 400-600 pages on average and we literally swallowed it!) and all the Cartoon Network shows. Hell, they’ve changed too! No more Pinky and the Brain( my fav) , Dexter, Scooby Doos, Centurions, Swat Cats, The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, Captain Planet, Johnny Bravo, Top Cat etc etc. I saw recently the cartoons looked way more dumb-er and looked all very Japanese-y to me. (Is it becoz I’m old now?) Gah, the point is certain events act as bitter reminders of the enjoyable times you had and you cannot help but look back and smile wryly thinking about those absolutely blissful days. Why do we grow up again?!

And then we can always sit around and discuss about how the kids of today are missing out on real childhood pleasures. But in this case, they are.

Goodbye Uncle Pai. I enjoyed all those nights and days I spent on the top-berth of a rattling train drinking frooti and reading about Tantri,the Mantri or Shikari Shambu. I wish I could do all that again.

PS: How much do Tinkles cost now? Plus, do the Hoodja specials still come out? I’m adding items to my list I’m making for my next Landmark plunder. 🙂

To my dearest little Bikki and Paneerselvam

Loss is always hard. Especially when it is that of a pet you so dearly loved. In a span of three weeks I lost both my pets – my fish and my cutest little hamster. My fish died suddenly Christmas morning. To see my fish like that floating lifelessly curved in a peculiar way was so hard. Hell, why am I calling it a fish. He had a name – Paneerselvam. Not a very hep name but it is my way of connecting with remote and ancient Tamil Nadu. He wasnt that active from the beginning and I suspected I had an old fish from the start. But he used to swim upto the surface everytime I came close or hide in his plant when the light was too bright. He used to wait impatiently for his food and frolic in delight by swimming furiously through the bowl when the water was new. I will never know what killed him. “It is only a fish”, “Fishes are like that only”was said in consolation,but I missed having my bright blue fighter fish waiting for his food every morning in his bowl. I miss him.

My hamster was even more tragic. I could not cope with her sudden loss for nearly half a week. She was by far the cutest hamster I’ve ever seen. (Yes, Ive seen a lot of them since I always scout the Small Animal section of every pet store religiously). She was soft and pretty and curled into a cute ball when she ate her food or groomed herself rigorously. She used to snatch nuts and treats from me, loved to run on my table and wait every morning hanging on the metal wires of her cage asking me to open it. Her life was cut short abruptly and I found her lifeless and cold on the floor of her cage. She was breathing, but only just. I tried to warm her, held her close to me praying for her to revive. She opened her eyes and looked at me,all pale and helpless. That image is ingrained in my head. She died on my palm and you have no idea how hard it was to see her like that. That cute little bikki who escaped from her cage and hid under the kitchen sink and behind suitcases, who chewed up the carpet and made instant holes in my T-shirt, the little monster who got snappy if you didnt play with her for a while and the super lazy bum who had to be woken up at times and fed. I miss her so much. I miss calling out to her every night or drumming the sides to disturb her.I loved buying her new treats from the store and watching her expression as she had them for the first time or loved the way she’d follow me everywhere in her ball and apologizing if I accidentally kicked it. I liked the way she’d come out and watch me brush my teeth every morning and enjoy me stroking her head gently. She liked sitting in front of the fan in the summer and loved being held near the heaters in the winter. I will never know what happened to her so suddenly. She might have been old (yes she had become extremely lazy) or choked on something she ate. I love you bikki. You have no idea how much I miss you.

I realized how the presence of a small pet changes our life. I never paid attention to these small things they did that made me so happy and you never realize how much you miss them unless they are not with you. I miss my dog terribly but that is one thing I have still not learnt to live with. I live with the fact that he is extremely happy and pampered at home and never tire of seeing him on skype until he gets bored and walks away. Gosh, whisky I wish you knew. I miss my fish and hamster equally but know for a fact that they were happy. I did and cared all I could and made their lives comfortable. I am more than thankful to them for coming into mine and making it worthwhile. I know people who squeal when I showed them bikki or looked away when I showed my fish. But to me they were precious. Any pet of mine is and losing them is very very hard.

I know this isnt a new year’s post or a post thanking 2010 for what it gave me but I dearly miss my pets. They were a small way for me to compensate for not being around Whisky. I will move on, but Bikki and PS, will always remain with me, just like my fishes from the aquarium I had as a little kid which I remember, my cat Pintu and my dogs Fluffy and Blackie. I love you all. I will not forget you.

(Gosh whisky, why can’t you somehow be allowed in an airplane cabin and fly straight to Atlanta. That day would be the best day of my life. Second only to the day I got you.)

PS: I got myself two female fishes (apparently female bettas are calmer and can exist in groups) so here is introducing Paneerselvi & Komalavalli. (Nice names no? :D) I am still searching for that perfect Teddy Bear Hamster who had the same colours as my Bikki. Hopefully next week my cage would be full of life again. 🙂

Happy 2011 Folks. Hope your lives are enriched and enjoyed far more than the last!

For you, Aarushi…

I am back after a mini-sabbatical. Forced sabbatical more like. But this is something that has kept not only me, but the entire nation hooked to the daily news. As many channels put it in a sensationalizing manner ” The Murder of 2008″, the “Murder of the year!” and what not, this is my dedicated post to that poor little girl, Aarushi.

Someone whose existence I sadly came to know only after her death, I cannot but feel terribly sorry for her. Yes, for life to be taken away in such a brutal fashion, that too at such a young tender age is terrifying. But even more terrifying is the disgraceful way the media has been treating her case. With her photograph being flashed in every news bulletin, with one of these apparently “catchy” slogans underneath it, what is the media trying to do ? First, throw a truckload of rut on her character, by sensationalizing totally false information about her, then blaming the servant without even looking around the house?! ( I sometimes wonder what if the killer actually was walking on the terrace and enjoying all the ruckus below?). Then blame a father for killing his daughter, conduct narco-tests every now and then..I want to sometimes just scream at the news channels saying ENOUGH!! Havent they lost enough already ?

The thing with the Indians is that, we love to lap up these things. Agreed, some amount of public interference is needed. Like the Women and Child’s commission was required to make the Noida Police shut their trap and stop throwing nasty ideas about her character into public’s minds. The more you show the details of the case, the more tongues will wag. Some smart, young girl has become the object of public sympathy, dinner table discussions and even articles about how her murder is making people watch more news. Sad, aint it ?

All I would now just request people ( I know in vain…) to leave that bereaved family alone.The highest federal body of investigation is on the case now and I think even they would perform better outside the media glare. Maybe the case gets resolved faster. They have lost perhaps one of the brightest spark of their family and the most loved. In addition, the family must be totally shattered now and i am not sure, society is going to accept them back.

So, Aarushi, you are long gone now, but the fight for your justice will continue. It is sad you had to become headlines only because you were snatched away by some animal in the most brutal manner. Hope your soul rests in peace. I truly feel sorry for you everytime I see your beautiful pic flashed in a news-bulletin.

PS: Im sorry that my return-to-blogging post has been on a sombre topic. But this is what I could gather from the flashes of news headlines I managed to catch every now and then. Its been Aarushi , Aarushi and Aarushi all the way…