Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Expectations...

Yesterday, I read a short story ‘The Cut Off’ published in Brunch, Hindustan Times – the first ever by Chetan Bhagat. A young man’s story who wants to commit suicide just because he knows he hasn’t made the cut off of a highly sought after and reputed college even after scoring 92% in HSSC Commerce, just because he’s afraid he’ll disappoint his parents and others.

Familiar? Very familiar… in my small town school of Goa itself, 2 boys have committed suicide in the last 5 years. And not a day goes by when you don’t hear about it from someone or read it in the newspapers.

Expectations – the word itself has become a taboo, like a naked steel blade hanging inches over your neck, perennially reminding you of the price you’ll pay for failure. And not just any failure, a failure combined with guilt of breaking your parent’s heart!

And academics isn’t the only issue here…
No – it’s the clothes you wear, the friends you have, the time you come home…
It’s the career you choose, why commerce? Why not Science?
Creative arts? That's so risky... do you think it's easy? Just do MBA!
It’s the person you choose for your life… she’s from the other cast???
Why do you want to adopt? I only want biological grandchildren.

Maybe I’m biased. But at 23, I still find it very exhausting to try and keep up with my parent’s outlook. Being a fiercely independent individual is like a curse.

Let’s just go back a few months, when pressure started building on me, it took its toll. I would burst out at every opportunity, blaming my parents and the world around for their over-expectations. I have a few friends who do the same.
My mum asked me, “You say we expect too much! But is it wrong for us to want to see our kids succeed and do well in life?” I understand it's normal for parents to expect from kids, a person to expect from spouse, a friend from another friend. But how much is too much? When does it stop being caring and start coming in way of relations? Don’t we need to keep a track of that as well??

Up until a few years ago, any expectations from my parents were only a chance for me to prove that I was the best daughter in the world. No matter what they put on my shoulders, I deftly carried it through. I was always a brilliant kid and the expectations only kept mounting.
But ever since I got into CA, any expectations began to be a burden, a put-down. I couldn’t understand, was it because of the already demanding profession or was it that I just grew out of the age where I would do anything to please Mommy and Daddy.

I’m not used to disappointing my parents, but lately that’s all that I seemed to be doing. And I always carried a fa├žade of superficial strength, and that started breaking through too. For me, it feels like I have reached the ‘crossroads’ where its more important for me to find myself apart from them, but how do I explain it? I’ve come so far walking on a path somebody else showed me, that lately all I do is look back and wonder. And I’m confused, because I do not know if there’s a path left to choose from here or even the courage to do so.

I don’t know when its time for me to live for myself… whether that means anything at all?

The Monk who sold his Ferrari states, ‘The secret to happiness is simple. Find out what you truly love to do and then direct all your energies towards doing it’. Personally, I’ve always believed in it. But I also know that freedom of choice isn’t an easy virtue. There’s always the fear of breaking someone’s heart when you make the detour on their path of expectations; but an even bigger fear of losing yourself if you keep riding along.

You’ll always have the world telling you what’s best for you, your parents included. But finally it comes down to the choices we make…. the choices that define us… the choices that make or break us - the choice to take a stand or commit suicide, the choice to believe in yourself and surge ahead or quietly follow somebody else’s footsteps. Finally it does come down to this… whether or not we have the courage to break through expectations, whether or not you have the courage to define yourself!

Link to the short-story by Chetan Bhagat 'The Cut Off' : http://www.hindustantimes.com/thecutoff

Monday, July 20, 2009

The White Tiger

Dear Mr. Wen Jiabao, (that’s how the book begins)

What is this book? I look down at the first page by Aravind Adiga and look up to stare outside the grilled window of the almost empty compartment of the Mandovi Express at 8.30am on 16 July. I feel more apprehensive about the book than of the 13 hour journey and what lay beyond. The only other person in the compartment is my dad, silently reading the newspaper. The train starts to pull of Margao station and I look back down at page number 1.

This was my second journey in less than two weeks, this time in train. Why do I make such a big deal about journeys like these? Well, I think I better explain that first.

I come from a family who doesn’t believe in traveling much. Ever since my childhood, all my journeys were restricted to going over to various relatives or trips to various temples to pray to a variety of gods. I, on the other hand, am a person who loves traveling for experience sake, to see different places and enjoy different weathers. So traveling anywhere is a big deal for me. So when I was packing my bags to go to the most hustling bustling city of the country for a course of 3 months, I couldn’t help but write about it.

I begin the journey with 3 heavy bags (courtesy the books), my dad and the White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. I normally prefer traveling alone, or doing pretty much anything by my own – not just because it gives me the freedom, but also because I stand responsible. With my dad, I become a complacent 5 year old, oblivious and feigning deaf to everything, mostly because he takes care of everything and well, it avoids arguments.

But not always – a tip to those who don’t travel trains regularly, make sure you check your tickets thoroughly for every little detail. Our TC pointed out that our ticket showed two female passengers as opposed to one male and one female. For not being watchful, dad got an earful from the TC and I got an earful from Dad. What could I say? What can a complacent 5 year old say anyway?

We reach Sawantwadi and that’s when ‘The Talker’ walks in with his wife. ‘The Talker’ is a big, burly, almost albino fair guy in safari suit and big fat gold rings on his many fingers.
“Hya aajkalchya traininch kai khara nai. Tumhala saangto, magachya veli asach station var eka chorala pakadla me, an don kanpatat lagavli tyacha. Asa tirmirla, pani marlyavar shudhit aala”
I hide my grin, pretend I’m not interested, and edge towards the window, while he immediately starts talking to my dad. I think this is an appropriate time for me to mention that I’m enochlophobic (phobia of crowds), not literally so, but pretty much. Being comfortable in large social circles and striking conversations with strangers doesn’t come to me naturally. The more the space around me fills up with people, the more an unexplained loneliness presses down at my windpipe. But I don’t want to get into that right now.

I bury my head once again into the book. The white tiger has reached Fourth Morning, I flip through the pages and see that his story is spread through Seven days – his story about the transformation from being a half-baked son of a poor rickshaw driver to murderer to a Banglore entrepreneur.

Meanwhile, ‘The Talker’ is rattling off from across the seat. I can hear snatches of the conversation – about the 15 lakh bungalow he recently built in Sawantwadi – servant who stole 20 crates of mangoes from his farm – his business in Mumbai – and mentioning slyly that he is nephew of a famous Mumbai politician. On that last one, I try to catch his tone – bluff, boast or a subtle hint dropped to show who you’d be dealing with?

Suddenly I catch my name and realize that dad told him about my trip to Mumbai to attend CA classes.
“Baby,” I flinched as he addressed me thus, “Be careful in Mumbai… stay away from strangers… blah… blah…”
I wonder why it is that people who blurt out their ‘Janam kundali’ and financial history to complete strangers in the middle of a train compartment without even asking their name are the first ones to give advise about being safe in an unfamiliar place.

I just nod awkwardly at the end of the sermon to show I understood.

By 4, we had crossed Roha and I had reached the end of the book. My verdict of ‘The White Tiger’ – boring, the kind of book to be read by people studying literature… or those who have a 13 hour train journey with nothing else to do.

The rest of the journey passed pretty much uneventfully, with me staring out of the window this time, at the mountains decorated by streams and waterfalls, with occasional showers adding to the whole beauty; paused only by many ridiculously long, dimly lit tunnels. But if we were traveling by Konkan railways that connected Goa, Mumbai and other coastal areas, than why were we passing mostly through mountains and tunnels? I felt like a 5 year old again wondering that. Probably should catch hold of an atlas!

Anyway, fast forward to 9.45pm, Dadar station, Mumbai!
What happens next – keep reading!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TWILIGHT & THE KITE RUNNER

I read two great books this week –‘ TWILIGHT’ & ‘THE KITE RUNNER’

The first book ‘Twilight’ is a love story with a difference. You see, one of the characters is a vampire. It’s set in the rainiest town of Forks in US, where Bella must move even though she hates it there. What she never expected was something that would be waiting there for her for almost a century, something that perhaps she had been waiting for too.
It is author Stephenie Meyer’s debut novel, and she does a wonderful work. What I liked the most about the book has to be the amazing characterization of Isabella ‘Bella’ Swan and Edward Cullen, the way these have been intricately defined and the delicate way their love story is woven leaves you absolutely spellbound. Of course, I’m sure you have to possess a little romantic trait to agree with me. I didn’t like the ending much, simply because it continues in a sequel ‘New Moon’, sot that I have to get my hands on that next. But either way, you have my full recommendation for it.

I then followed it with the movie version and was a little disappointed, mostly because of my unusually high expectations. Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen failed to leave the same impact as the book. He along with Kristen Stewart who plays Bella has a long way to go as actors. But the movie has its moments. The desperate search of Bella to find Edward’s truth and Edward’s soul-searching are portrayed well and their moments of togetherness are shot beautifully. But seriously, read the book first.

The next book I read was ‘The Kite Runner’. I had been meaning to get my hands on this book for a while. And now I don’t have good enough words to describe how good it is. It’s a man’s journey living through a vile of guilt and trying to earn his father’s love, to finally finding the courage to search for redemption. It’s set in an Afghanistan that no one remembers anymore, and the transformation of this land of culture and peace to the hellhole of Taliban breaks your heart. It’s a unique story and yet so familiar that you can easily connect to it. Read it!



A special mention to my favourite quote in the book:
‘I remembered something I had read somewhere a long time ago: That’s how children deal with terror. They fall asleep.’
I just felt that was something true with almost everyone, not just children – a retreat where we all escape trying to turn our woes into a bad dream that we’ll be able to forget next morning.

Anyway, my next stop: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Every day as our lives get more hectic, the fine lines that separate the different parts of the day grow increasingly blurred. Mornings merge into afternoons into evenings and we barely stop to notice. Shadows sway as the sun moves across the sky and we ignore their beauty. So, lets pause. Lets take a moment and cherish the uniqueness that every moment of every part of the day brings with it.

- Advert of CCD's latest line of beverages dedicated to each mood of the day! I just thought it was very beautiful.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Travel Tales

You know how it is when you are travelling long distance alone in a bus and all you ask for is a good company in the form of the person sitting next to you? Doesn’t matter if she (in my case of the ‘ladies seat’) isn’t too interesting or fun as long as she can just be quite and not bother you much? Well, that’s all that I was hoping for this Friday when I was travelling Goa to Bangalore. And due to lack of ladies seat elsewhere I had inadvertently chosen a double sleeper, which meant that I was praying twice as hard. Little did I know that god also had something double in store for me – a middle aged plump, seeming illiterate grandma with her fidgety two year old granddaughter.

It took me two whole minutes to digest the shock. Which abysmally foolish person reserves a single sleeper for two people, even if one of them is a child? They’re the ones who need a more comfortable setting. Suddenly the 14 hours seemed monumental. How was I supposed to get through the night in this situation?

"Yeh bhi aapke saath hai?" (Is she with you too?) I ask pointing at the child, just to confirm.
"Haan! Ek raat ki hi to baat hai" (Yes! Its just about one night, anyway!) Comes the reply.

‘It seems like there was no way out of it’, I think. I timidly get on the berth and make myself room in one corner wishing time to run faster. It was ok till we were in the city and the lights were on. I concentrated on the rains and the sights outside the window. But as soon as the lights went out, the woman started with her bedtime routines. She fed the child, gave her water and some medicine and then started taking off the child’s clothes.

I wanted to vaporize on the spot. She coolly then changed her into pyjamas, tied a scarf on her head and then pulled a sweater over her.
"Woh baarish mein bheegh gayi thi na, to thoda bukhaar hai." (She got wet in the rains, so has a slight fever!)
By now, I was beginning to feel like I too was coming down with something!
She then puts the child to sleep who comfortably takes up more than half of the space. Unable to take it any more, I ask her where I was supposed to sleep.
“We’ll adjust somehow. She has fever and even I have a sprain in my leg. But what can we do now?”
I ask her why she dint book the entire berth for herself in that case.
“But this is our seat! Why dint you go to your berth when you had the chance?’
I don’t understand her, “This is my berth!” I tell her.
“Nahi! Yeh 4 number hai. Aapka to 3 number hai na?” (No! this is berth number 4, and you had berth number 3)
“This is berth 3 and 4.” I try to tell her.
“Don’t eat my head. This is number 4, I know it!”

I understood by now that the idiotic woman dint realise how the double sleeper system works and she actually had the nerve to think that she was doing me a huge favour. I could already imagine her complaining to her relatives the day after about some girl who captured her seat. Definitely, Fools are god’s way to remind us to be thankful for our intelligence.

I knew there was pretty much nothing I could do then, at least till the bus reached Karwar where the last of the passengers embark. By the time we got there the woman had already asked me a number of times if it was possible to shift to a different berth. You wait, I kept thinking, I’m not too thrilled about sharing this one with you and your fidgety grand daughter anyway. So after it reached Karwar, I asked the conductor if there was any empty seat explaining him the entire situation.

It took me a while to convince him, but thankfully there was a double sleeper empty and ultimately I ended up sleeping comfortably on the entire berth alone for the rest of the night.

I kept thinking; there are some memories that want to make you experience travel alone. I remember one of two times, when I had great company, people who made the journey not only easy but worthwhile. But then, life’s nothing without the spice of a few hiccups here and there, right? And these three hours made up for more than my share of hiccups! All in all, I’ve discovered that travel stories are always great fun. Whatever the experience, good or bad, you are either left with a great memory or at the very least you can always flashback and have a great laugh.