They & I

What will they say? 

What do they think about me? 

Just how vulnerable can a person be? Does it affect me? Oh! How it is killing me.

On a chair, tucked in a cabin, a lone computer staring at me. The air condition blowing a cool breeze. I sit next to a window, on a cold December day. Today is an unusual day. The sun is out. Maybe just to comfort me.

But it does little service.

Out there I can see them together. I can see they are talking. Discussing. Planning.

Are they plotting against me? I am sure they are.

Incapacitated. Debilitated. Humiliated. My eyes transfixed at the wall before.

They are all out there. Am I the one they are talking about?

How do I tell them that I am with them? Where do I begin? They will never believe. They will never hear me.

After all I have done for them…this is the end of a long, long road. A journey that we began together, one that we couldn’t complete.

I failed them. I faltered. I didn’t stand up for them.

I have lost my family, my friends, my colleagues. And with them gone, I have no one to call my own.

But how can I win them back? I need them. To live. To believe in myself. To go on.

This is the end of the story. Just mine. Their will go on forever.

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘People’

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Hushed Screams

Where are you Maa? I can’t hear you here. Everyone else I hear . Papa, Daadi, Dada. I can hear Naani cry. Her voice is just like yours. I remember you telling me that you are just like her. Her mirror image. But where are you Maa? I want to hear your voice again.

So many voices but I can’t hear yours. The one that I know best. The one that defines my life. It belongs to me. Your voice is my rhythm. My heartbeat. My only source of music.

Yes Maa, I love your voice. It calms me more than anything else in this world. When everything else in the world is a buzz, I can always hear you. Loud, clear and beautiful.

Remember that tune you hum. How does it go? Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…I have heard it so many times, but I still can’t get it right. Can you sing to me again?

You always tell me to stay calm. Even when the noise of the cooker whistle alarms me. Or that rude horn of Papa’s car. Why does he honk so much? There is no music in his car. Just like his voice. Always grunting. Always shouting. Always alarming. Did I tell you I am scared of his voice?

I know you love to read. The thud of a book on the night stand, the soft rustle of the pages of your book. You gently tap your book at the edge as your read. Reading and soaking all that your eyes cover. Yes, Maa I can hear that too.

Your telephone has a lovely chant too. Not like Papa’s shrieking tring-tring. Isn’t the sound on your phone the Veena piece you play? Is that you Maa? Is it your tune?

I love to hear you doing your riyaaz. You say it calms you, gives you strength. To me it is the most magical hour of the day. As you sit and position your Veena, I can hear you breathe. As you close your eyes, the voice travels from your stomach, up your throat. And there comes the silken voice that always makes me smile. As your negotiate the crests and troughs of your raag my heartbeat moves in sync. Sometimes fast, sometimes at its usual rhythm.

Where is that magical voice Maa? Where are you?

When you say you will protect me, I believe you. Like that day when the loudspeakers blared all night? When there were people knocking at our doors. I was restless that night. Scared of them. Scared that they would come to get us. You said, there is a riot outside. You shut the windows. Thud. The voices deadened. And then to calm yourself and me, you began humming that song again.

Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…Where are you Maa? I want to hear that sound again.

And then you stopped singing. You talked to me. You read the Gita. You prayed to God. But you didn’t sing that song. I was restless again. The night before you and Papa had a  fight. Thud I heard you fall. No you screamed. You can’t do this now. You can’t do anything now? Accept her  you said. Accept us you cried.

He shouted at you. Called you names. Even me. I wanted to hug you Maa. I know you were hurt. I could see you bleeding. Your heart was bleeding.

And then…all of a sudden you stopped singing.

Where are you Maa? Why can’t I hear you sing again?

I remember the rocking of the train. It lulled us both to sleep. The roar of the sea. The sound of the seagulls. These were all new sounds to me. You said we were on a holiday. Just you and me.

And then I think I heard it once again…Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…Maa I still can’t remember the rest of it.

You went to the beach for three days. You didn’t talk to anyone. You didn’t hum your song again. There was no Veena. No riyaaz. No music. You didn’t even talk to me. But I was happy. Because I could now hear your heartbeat. Loud, clear and beautiful.

And then one night I heard your voice for the last time. I am sorry you said. I heard the sea again. The water. The sound got closer, louder. Your heart beat faster. I woke up. Alarmed. Scared. I kicked hard. I tried to tell you that I am worried. You clutched you tummy hard. I could almost feel your grip on my bones.

And then there was a silence. I could hear nothing. Not you…not anyone.

I can hear everyone now. I can hear Papa say She walked into the sea. I can hear Nani cry. Yes, her voice reminds me of you. But where are you Maa? Why can’t I hear you now?

II am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Music’.

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Book Review: The Lowland

When I read The Namesake about a decade back, I didn’t aspire to write. But I decided that if I chose to write, I would want to be a writer like Jhumpa Lahiri. You know…fanciful, wishful thinking! In 2003, fresh out of college and having studied the very new Indian writing in English, I fell in love with a this emergent genre of writing. Powerful, moving and evocative, Lahiri’s writing made me look at my concept of Indian-ness and everything drives my identity.

Ten years later, when I pick up another Jhumpa Lahiri, I know what to expect. After all, here is a writer who has come to represent the voice of the immigrant Indian so beautifully.  But here there is a remarkable twist of tactic. It is no longer only about the immigrant Indian. It is no longer about a protagonist’s identity. It is about his past, his present and his future. It is about politics. It is about ideology. The Lowland is all that and more.

the lowland

For those of you haven’t read the book, here is the book blurb from Goodreads:

“Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan–charismatic and impulsive–finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind–including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.”

At many levels, The Lowland is a book of expectations. Expectations of parents, sons, siblings, wives, husbands, revolutions, the country’s…every character in the book has expectations to deal with. For here are a set of parents who toil through the lives, build a home and raise it just like their sons, hoping and expecting their sons to live in it. A mother who expects her son to marry a girl of her choice. A brother who expects his sibling to follow his path of ideology. The other driven by his duty towards his parents picks a path that they approve of, but fail to walk the whole road. He never returns. He too doesn’t marry the girl of his mother’s choice. He too abandons them to do his own bidding. A widow doesn’t live up to the expectations of her mother-in-law. Or even to the memory of her slain husband. In fact for that matter, she doesn’t live up to the expectations of her own daughter. The only one who does justice to some of the relationships he lives through is Subhash. Subhash  as a father and a husband plays his part well…a bit too sincerely, to be honest.

The Lowland is also a complex and intricate tale of siblings. Udayan and Subash, two brothers who grow up together, inseparable and very alike almost look at one another as shadows. Rather early in the book, when the story begins in the past, we are told how the elder looks at himself as inferior to the younger. A compelling force drives him to match up to his brother. He loves him, no doubt. But in everything they do, Subhash tries to keep up with Udayan. It is not until they grow up, do their personalities walk different paths. As Udayan is sucked into the Naxalite movement, Subhash steers away. Choosing the safer shroud of academics and a safer, farther haven of the United States of America.

In a typical Jhumpa-risque way, Subhash’s American life pans out just as I expected. A life of a loner, one far removed from his family and brother, there is a fleeting affair too casual and flippant to be called a romance.

At one point of the story, I began predicting the story. I hadn’t read reviews of the book, but I could sense what was in store. For instance, I knew Subhash would marry his wife’s brother. I also knew the marriage would be an unhappy one.

Gauri’s is powerful. Yet too cold and distant. Her dreams are never revealed. Only her place in the story is juxtaposed with those of other characters. She left me with a feeling of unease. Of not knowing what her motivations were. Or why she does what she does. But here is a character for who America is a place of liberation. She never surrenders her Indian identity. She keeps her passport and her identity as Mrs Mitra. But she also earns a new one. She becomes a renowned Professor. She snips her locks that Udayan loved so much. She abandons her life as a mother and wife. She lives with the ghost of a husband she had briefly. I have a problem with Gauri. But then maybe because it is a personal reading of a character who is a mother. As one myself, I have trouble accepting a character who abandons her child from the moment she is born. I look at it as a failing. And as I read through the book, I kept looking for that one moment that would absolve her of her imperfection. I couldn’t find any. Maybe she was meant to be like that.

The Lowland is not the perfect book to understand the Naxalbari movement. But it is a telling tale of how the revolution affected hundreds and thousands of men. Of how young boys believed that they could change the face of the country, rid it of its imperfections that had begun to creep in. The Lowland in that is a perfect picture that helps the reader understand history and society of Bengal. One passage that deeply moved me is below:

“She wants to know who has done this. Who has desecrated this place? Who has insulted Udayan’s memory this way?

She calls out to the neighbours. Who was responsible? Why did they not come forward? Had they already forgotten what happened? Or were they unaware that it was here that her son had once hidden? Just beyond, in what used to be an empty field, where he’d been killed? 

She waits for Udayan to appear amid the water hyacinth and walk toward her. It is safe now, she tells him. The police have gone. No one will take you away. Come quickly to the house. You must be hungry. Dinner is ready. Soon it will be dark. Your brother married Gauri. I am alone now. You have a daughter in America. Your father has died. 

She waits, certain that he is there, that he hears what she tells him. She talks to herself, to no one.” 

The Lowland reminded me of an uncle. A now very close family friend, who Maa says was in throes of Naxalbari way back in the late 1960’s. He had a body-warrant, she says. At once, alarming and exciting for me to know. A reading of Udayan’s story therefore is an close encounter for me, and anyone who has heard stories about the movement.

The Lowland is gripping and poetic. It is a powerful tale of love, belonging, duty, responsibility, loneliness and dreams. It is the story of a nation. Of political courage and aspirations. It is the story of an unfinished life. Of a life interrupted. It is also the story of a relationship halted, of discovery, faith and unconditional belonging.

Ten years later, I still want to grow up to write like Jhumpa Lahiri.

 I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. And today’s prompt is ‘Books.

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Munch, Munch, Munch…

The heart crumples

The stomach grumbles

I eat

Munch, munch, munch…

To discard the hunch

To drive away the fear

The verdict as I hear

Oh! It’s painful

Hurtful

Disdainful

To be shunted out

To be booted out

I eat…

Munch, Munch, Munch…

Lunch from home

Hooking up to Chrome

To find a friend

To find a rope at the loose end

To talk

To hear

To think

I eat…

Munch, munch, munch…

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Soon it runs out

The food

The patience

Everything

Then I want more

To eat

Munch, munch, munch…

For comfort

To hide the discomfort

To please

To ease

The pain

The fear

Something sweet?

Oh! I want to eat

Munch, munch, munch…

 I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Food’.

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Memories That Money Can’t Buy

Maa tells me that when she was a kid petrol was 40 p / litre. Baba earned 800 bucks a month. Their first dish of lobsters in Taj Mahal, Mumbai costed Rs 350. It was an extravagance, but they weren’t paying for it. My parents’ childhood sounds idyllic to me. Gosh, really, how inexpensive was life then!

My own childhood was not extravagant either. Once a week, Maa would be give me 5 bucks so that I could buy dosa for lunch at school. Or pepsicola like we called in those days…iced colas squeezed in plastic pipes.

pepsi cola

Or a round of kala chana salad that I called ‘Vitamin’. The thrill of handling money was of great joy. At once empowering and full of responsibility. With a small amount given to me on certain days, I felt I had to account for every penny spent, or saved.

As I grew up, my ‘pocket money’ also increased. 50 bucks a month was such an extravagance. Sometime later, while still in school I started tutoring a little girl. Her mother out of gratitude paid me Rs 250 as fees. To a girl of 17, it brought the first thrill of earning her money. Then there was a dance competition that fetched us Rs 4000 as top prize. Between 10 of us, we shared not more than 400 each. I remember I bought myself my first high heels back then. Black in colour, I soldiered on in them for a long, long time. They gave the height my own legs didn’t. A confidence of having earned something. To be worthy of a prize. To be able to spend it. To make a choice of putting my money in the right place.

Money didn’t matter then. What did, is how I earned it. Or spent it.

Years later, I take my son out to the weekly haat. There are fresh vegetables you see. As a mother, I strive to put the freshest and healthiest grub on the table. Oh yes, it is a task to walk from one stall to another. To find the juiciest tomato, or the perfect lemons, or a flower of gobhi without hidden pests inside…to carry the heavy bags back to the car, sometimes five of them heavy with kilos of food for the family. Of course they are cheaper, but what is a good wife who is not penny wise?

Haat Memory

Our trips to the haat are not about vegetables any more. They are also not about finding the cheapest onions that don’t sting my purses. It is about my son learning his ways in a market. Every Sunday, mother and son, we go to the haat to pick our veggies for the week. To haggle a little. To sort a little. To pick the best. To eat the best.

Hand in hand we walk from one stall to another. We sort the veges we want, we ask for the best rates. He likes the feel of soft, squishy tomatoes in his little palms. No, we don’t want them, I tell him. Look for the firm ones. They have to be tight…yes, look for the red ones. He picks one and wants to dig his teeth into it. Oh, you can’t do that yet! Wait till we get home and you can wash it first. 

The firm form of green capsicum also tease him. He picks up one, just enough to fill his hand, like a little ball. He looks around, aiming for the weighing scale, wanting to throw it right in. He looks at me for encouragement and then at the shopkeeper. Both of us yell, No baby, don’t throw it…put it down! Disappointed and defeated, he puts it right back.

We pick our lemons. He notices that I don’t pick the ones with spots. A spotted lemon makes it way into the basket, and he quickly pops it out. While the shopkeeper weighs our pick, the little man quickly picks one and hides it behind himself. What do you think you are doing here? I ask. He flashes his dimples and puts the lemon back.

Me, me me…he screams when the pumpkin man returns 5 bucks to me. He wants it, you see. Three pieces of coins all for himself. I let him have them. He fingers them carefully and puts them in his pocket. Clutching it tight. Back home, as his Baba helps me carry the bags home, he pulls out his tiny hands from his pocket and says, taka..Baba, taka.

Oh yes, my boy…taka (money) is what you will handle when you grow up. But will you remember the innocence with which you went to the haat? It’s all worth a penny’s sake…but to me, it is worth it to gather a moment that will become a memory for me. And for you… 

Memories are special…because they can never be bought. Long after you have grown up, you may remember our trips to the haat. And every time you do, they will make you smile…

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.Today’s prompt is ‘Memories’. 

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Goodbye 66

What do you call a house? A structure of four walls and a roof where a family lives, perhaps? A home? A nook where one lives  her life. In my 32 years, I have lived in many houses. But if there is one place that I call home, it is where you stand. 66 New Baradwari. On my passport, in my psyche, in my sub-conscious, my heart and in my life…if there is any place I call home, it is this one address.

We met when I was 8. Maa and Mimi (maasi) where making daily trips to transfer small items and settle the house. I’d insist on going with them, but they thought I’d be a nuisance. That one day when they took me to Baradwari, I met some of my school friends in the neighbourhood. I disappeared into one of the homes for the next few hours, blissful that I already had friends around. I fell in love with you that day.

You were bigger than the house we had lived in earlier. Baba’s room had an air conditioner now. Our first in the house, because the earlier occupants left theirs! Baba got it painted and offloaded his noisy air cooler to our room. Years later, the air-conditioner came to our room, but by then, it had stopped cooling. It remained as a piece for such a long, long time until birds made nests inside! Remember that?

Sometime later, we got new furniture. Our room was done in pink and white. You see, both of us were young, Saurav (my brother) and I. We got a jute swing in the verandah, a coir rug on the floor. Maa brought in love for plants and we had huge palm pots taking up a lot of space.

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Saurav had a little corner to himself on the verandah. He would stand on a stool (with a glass top) and look at cars passing by. He loved the Contessa as a child and his baby eyes would wait for one car to pass by the house. Remember you jumped so hard that he broke the glass and cut himself? He was so so naughty!

A few years later, you got a fresh coat of paint. Maa had asked Saurav not to touch the walls. But the little terror that he was, he landed a perfect kick on the wall leaving behind a small brown stain. Maa got furious and she hit him with a torn calendar. It bruised his leg and shed a small trickle of blood. He still reminds Maa about it…saying he was punished for dirtying your walls. As the years rolled by, you survived more of his onslaughts. Afternoons spent bouncing the ball off your back while Saurav hit it with a bat and Maa tried to sleep.

You remember how Saurav would whizz down the length of the corridor on his tricycle? Maa would stuff his mouth with a ball of rice and off he’d go wheeling down the passage till he hit something and stopped. Turn around and the drill continued till he finished his lunch.

Enough of his stories now…

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You remember how I skipped my milk? Downed the cup’s contents from the window of my room; oblivious of the fact that Baba was on his way back from the weekend bazaar, looking up at the window, watching my hand sneak out and in of the window.

Or that time when I went up to the terrace and emptied the contents of my tiffin? Maa had seen me get off the bus and climb up to the terrace. I had dropped the spoon with the idlis on your parapet. I was more worried about the spoon!

The terrace! How we loved playing on the sun-kissed deck. Remember that huge cemented water tank? As long as it was there it caused a perpetual damp in Baba – Maa’s room. But we liked it always. I remember us sitting there, that picture of Saurav dressed as Daaku Potato (dressed as a dacoit for a fancy dress competition) was taken on it. Years later when schools were closed due to riots, we spent lazy winter mornings playing on the terrace. As I grew up, we had loud dance parties on the terrace. Me and my friends…Gosh! The amount of noise we made.

Our rooms got another makeover. We were growing up and this time we had dark blue and red furniture. Our own study tables. Bookshelves and enough privacy with our beds separated. And since Saurav was sent to boarding school, I had the entire room to myself! J

Remember that little red phone? How many conversations was my room privy to? Late night gossip sessions with friends, A and I had just started talking on the phone…

My room…so many, many memories. Of growing up, confessions, secrets, whispered dreams and lonely tears. The walls were covered with posters – Shah Rukh Khan, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, Beverly Hills 90210 – some of which I made my friends climb up and sign. They gave me those as gifts. The posters remained on the walls, long after I grew up. Long after I left home and moved to Delhi. Long after I started working. They were part of you…my space…my room.

You remember the sleepovers I had in my house? Friends staying over? Our house was the only one where parents didn’t bother us J I miss those pyjama parties. I miss my friends and I miss my room.

Do you remember the birthday parties? Mimi would come from Kolkata, yield her magic and put together a treasure hunt! And of course, you, our house was so big that kids could run from one corner to another looking for clues and the secret prize.

Choto ghor (the small room) had suddenly become a favourite during my board exams. I turned it into a special nook for studies. Put together a study table, a table lamp and a bean bag for leisure. It was a room away from my usual room. Choto ghor, unless the washing machine was running was a quiet corner of the house. And I loved claiming it for myself. What I did to humour myself!

Remember that time when the cow climbed up the stairs and couldn’t turn around to get down? How he emptied his bowels on the stairs!

Or the fruitless mango tree and mulberry bush? Kids from the government school would climb its branches. We were always so scared that they would fall and hurt themselves. Someone did, actually. Remember how I made Saurav bark like a dog to scare the kids away?

The garage has its own stories. A and Saurav playing cricket as kids. The Valentine’s day stalker was locked up till the police came!

Thamu (grandma) had her own room. She played devil every morning when she turned on the hot water tap in her bathroom. We shared the geyser in the bathrooms, between her loo and Maa’s and we screamed and protested between hot and cold showers. She of course claimed the drawing room in the afternoons to watch television. And we could never do anything about it! Come Saraswati Pujo and her room found instant reverence. Our books would pile up before the goddess and I would hope Thamu would convince her to bless us.

Maa was always obsessed with the house. To keep it spic and span. To tidy the table cover. To keep our things in place. Once back from a trip, she would pick up her jhaanta & neta (broom and duster) to restore to your beauty.

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You bore the brunt of the fire accident too. Looking back at 1996 and remembering that evening when the generator burst and Maa got burnt…I am still amazed at how you survived. The fire was big enough to take down the house. But like a little miracle, you took it in a stride. That cable wire which had burnt its length and melted all the way to the edge of the ventilator didn’t go inside the room. The windows burst but the silk curtains didn’t catch fire. The room was covered in soot, all dark, black and morbid…but nothing caught fire. Not the foam cushions, the huge bookshelf or the countless books standing on it.

It was within your walls that we brought back Maa from the hospital. It was in the same passage that Maa started to walk again. Years later, went we brought back an injured Saurav from the hospital, another part of the house lent its walls for his recovery. The ground floor was mostly empty, making everyone believe that we were owners of the house. If we hadn’t had that floor, we would have been compelled to keep Saurav in the hospital longer. Thanks to the ground floor, we brought back Saurav earlier. We painted the room for him. Brought in the TV. An air-conditioner too. And yes, curtains…because he wanted the room to look like a room. As long as Saurav lived on the ground floor, all he wanted to do was climb up the stairs to our home.

Ever since he was a boy, to even now I believe he goes into every room. Every time he returned from boarding school, or came back after a golf tour, he would go from room-to-room; looking into cupboards, pulling out drawers. Covering every inch of the house again, even the bathrooms. He didn’t like things changing. Such was his love for you.

You have seen it all. Our childhood. My growing up. Our first kiss…A and mine. For A, who would cross my home several times on his blue bicycle, you are still the house that he cherishes. After all, it is right at your doors that he saw me for the first time. You have witnessed our friendship, our love… Remember how spoke on the phone, met at home but didn’t speak in school? Gosh…you have seen A and my story unfold! You have witnessed it all.

My marriage. I got married, but you continued to remain my permanent address. On my passport and my son’s. You were with me on my journey into motherhood. In that same room where I grew up from an adolescent, to a teenager…I spent my early days of motherhood in that room too. I cried again…the nervous wreck that I was. You saw me shed tears as I was battling baby blues. On your floors, my son crawled for the first time. Will he remember this house at all? Perhaps not!

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Yes, these are memories. These are all experiences that I have lived through. These are moments that I have spent inside you. To me, you are more than a house. You are home. You are my family. And just like I miss my family, I miss seeing you. Even now, I am happy as I set foot into 66. The moment I leave, I still feel a prick of pain and sadness.

In these 25 years, we stayed away only for 2.5 years…but call it divine design that Baba didn’t like his own house. Yes, we moved into our house, but Baba hated it there. We returned to you once again. By now you were heavily renovated and resembled a modern day house with tiled floors and false ceilings. Mosaic floors suited you better. 🙂

25 years ago, on this day we moved in to you, to make you our own. 25 years later, on this day again we leave you one last time. We move on, because we have to. Because you belong to someone else now…you always did actually. But we never realized that from being tenants, we began considering you our own.

None of us want to leave. Baba perhaps wanted to live at 66 till he breathed his last. Maa may have wanted a smaller, easy to clean house. But she wouldn’t trade it I know as long as we all stayed happy. Saurav would have wanted to ‘grow up’ to buy the house. And I would have always loved to go back to you…

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So Baba will have to let go off his favourite spot on the dining table for his morning cup of tea. Saurav will have to find new rooms to discover. Maa will find a new house to potter around. And Thamu will never walk again to see the new house.

But will I find new walls to speak to? Will I say ‘hello’ to the new house? Every time I leave the new house behind, will I tell the walls to take care of my family? I don’t know…

They tell me you will be razed to the ground…to be built again. I believe you have a soul, a soul that has loved us always…don’t stay back. Please come with us…

Good bye 66…as we leave you for the last time today…a little part of me ends forever.

Remembering 26/11 – Exploits of a Television Producer

I remember the night of 26/11. We were at a colleague’s wedding when the first reports of a gang war in Mumbai reached us. A videojournalist called his colleague in the Mumbai team and he said that there is news of gunfire in CST and around Cama Hosiptal. I remember reaching home that night to switch on the TV and spending the next few hours transfixed. This was no gang war. It was more than that.

I was working for a news channel which until then had a scattered viewership. 26/11 as it was to be called would go on to become its big ticket story…the one that would make every Indian sit up and watch its coverage. By the next morning when I reached my office everyone was on the story. As a producer in the programming team, stuck in Delhi there was very little I could do. Some of my reporter friends were flying away to Mumbai. The team needed more hands and feet. By then the channel had flung into action, calling all its forces to report to duty. I remember feeling a little disappointed. I have never considered myself an on-field reporter. But at that moment, on that day, I wanted to be one. I wanted to help…somehow. Naïve that I was, I think I was largely swept by my emotions. Looking back at it now, I don’I think no news event has ever affected me more than 26/11.

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A year later, I was still working for the same channel. The editor asked me to move to Mumbai with my team. I picked two of my most able producers, leaving behind another bunch to produce the weekly that we put out every weekend. With a team with 2 producers and a video-editor we landed in Mumbai. We were two weeks away from the weekend before 26/11. Since I was a producer looking at long-format shows, I began counting the days. He gave us 3 shows to produce.

Our first was called I Will Never Forget. I remember meeting 9 year old Devika in her house. She was at CST when Kasab and his accomplice fired bullets are passengers. Devika was shot in the leg. A year later, she had testified against Kasab and in her resilience I saw a face of Mumbai that I had only heard of. The story of the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel and its general manager Mr Karambir Sing Kang was of a special importance to us. He had lost his family in the Taj attack and when I was lining up the interview at the hotel, my friend who worked in the PR team asked me not to ask about his family. We didn’t. The hotel had renovated its singed walls and was opening its heritage wing again for the public. As we heard and recorded the stories of valour and duty, we knew reconstruction was not easy. Farzad and Fahrang, the brothers who own Leopold had not removed the bullets from its walls. A year later, Farzad told us about Peer, his staffer who was felled by bullets. He said, “That man Peer Pasha put in 22 years of his life in this place. How can I let him go? He was the man who every afternoon made tea for me. I would say Peer chai banao even after his death.” Five years later, I doubt he has forgotten him. Swastika, the show director pieced together several narratives. Of witnesses, survivors and people who saw the carnage unfold right before them. We decided to end the show with the story of Vishu’s baby girl who was born on the night of 26/11. She was named Goli. She would be 5 years today.

The story of 26/11 was also the story of bravehearts – The Men Who Fought. The chilling, brick-by-brick account of how the Mumbai police, army, marine commandos and NSG carried out the operation was documented. At a time when television cameras were beaming live visuals of the rescue operations it was believed that Pakistani handlers gave directions by watching news channels. When the siege had ended I remember watching reporters choking with emotions, thanking NSG commandos and all officers in uniform. Arun Jadhav, the lone survivor in the Qualis that had Karkare, Kamat and Salaskar, said to us, “It was a matter of how many seconds more I am going to live. One second. Two second.” A year later as Dency brought back interviews and we pieced the show together, the objective was to relive that same emotion.

Moshe’s Story was a particularly difficult one. Here was a story that we had to knit together without any access to the real child. The cries of that 2 year old wrenched everyone who heard the baby cry. Or the brave stories of Sandra, the child’s nanny or the family’s cook who rescued the child. We had a tough time getting Qazi, the cook to share his story with us. It took a lot of convincing for Abhishek, the show director to get him on board. We recounted the story at Chabbad House with those chilling interceptions betweens terrorists and handlers. As a mother now, Moshe’s loss is still very poignant to me. His aching cries of ‘Ima, Ima’ still send shivers down my spine. The story of a little boy orphaned in a foreign country.

Two weeks was spent in a wink. We spent hours at work, shooting, logging, scripting, editing. We spent days at work. Meals were skipped. We slept in turns in the editing rooms. We went back to the guest house only for a shower. We worked feverishly. It’s all part of the job…but what came of it was a series that remains close to my heart.

Five years later when I look back at the series, I realize that for a journalist – producer, a story or a show comes and goes…what remains is the passion with which she chooses to pursue it. I am not writing this blog to showcase my work (which I have never done on this blog); instead it is to recount a moment in my career where I worked to tell a story like no one else. Anniversaries are not always good. It’s one thing to celebrate a wedding anniversary. But calling a day of death, horror and destruction as an anniversary mars the positivity of the word. Remembrance is a better word. A day can be remembered for its dark memories, for the hurt, for the lessons learnt and the tough battle towards recovery. It is a moment that we must never forget, not on this day…but every day.

Five years later, I still spot errors in the shows I produced back then, but then that’s me… so much so for remembrance and picking up lessons!