“Children see magic because they look for it.”
My White Elephant,
I wake up feeling like a part of me just went missing. My behaviour seems a bit ubsard to the people around. Of course, if we are going to get money from the insurance company and I have a car to drive, I shouldn’t feel bad.
If you were around, I would have locked your door, we would have stared at the sky and I would have cursed or better still we would have driven to our favourite flyover and the blarring music would have drowned out the ambient noise.
I have always believed , “To know a person, you have to observe them when they are alone with no one around to play the game with. When you see them with their guard down, you catch a glimpse of their essence.” Question is-unless you are a Peeping Tom, how would you do that? But you my Dear Friend, were the Peeping Tom, my five year old diary, my most consistent companion.
We’ve gone on such crazy adventures, you and I. You remember, when the Srinagar -Delhi highway was closed and we took 42 hours to get back home. The number of times, my assistant would cover your windows with a black background, so I could park you on the side of the road and sleep for a few hours. You remember how difficult your first winter trip to Kashmir was? After a while, I guess you realised that it was your fate, to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Whether, it was the harsh weather or the men who tried to follow us, together we braved it all.
I can’t recall the last time I acknowledged loving someone. But I loved you, loads. That you were not a living being doesn’t make two hoots of a difference. Thank you for being there and for keeping me safe. Thanks for letting me cry over your steering wheel, every single day for almost a year. You were my unflinching shoulder. In a few months, your replacement will arrive. It may be new, bigger or faster than you…but you will always remain my favourite partner in crime.
One of those years when I need to frequent Police Stations. My beautiful white elephant, my bestest friend in the whole world, was stolen last night. That I’m furious and heart broken is an understatement. For someone who has had one constant vice – incessant driving, my vehicles have witnessed the best and the worst times.
Have always had an aversion to the vardi. When I was little and there was much drama in the house, some cop or the other would frequent our house for disruption. But it’s a different day..sitting across some very helpful vardiwallas, right now, waiting for a hard copy of the FIR.
Parked my car by the side of the road, to type the previous post. On Sundays, the cops don’t ask you to move the vehicle from the flyover. It’s always a lovely setting to muse. I try to start the car but the battery is down.
I wait a while since I love the place where I am stranded, then start to call a few mechanics. But can’t find anyone to help me, today. Message my friend, to inform him of my whereabouts. Over the past year, he’s been fussing over me like a mother hen and wants regular updates. Of course, he instantly calls up. “Leave the car and go home”. No can do.
I get off the car and decide to push my white elephant, myself. Of course, I can’t move it at all. There I am- trying to push my vehicle, laughing uncontrollably, on top off my favourite flyover, when a family stops to help me. The husband and wife with the help of their teenage children push my vehicle a little and then I’m able to drive it down the descending slope.
I park the car… hail an auto… go to the nearest petrol pump. The mechanics are leaving for the day but are kind enough to help me out. While, they fix the car a lady who lives under the flyover, stops to chat with me. We are old acquintances. Time flies by between messages from my friend and conversations, with some lovely people. What dull stories, the kindness of strangers make? That’s why we never recall all the times when we reach home safe, after dark.
After a few hours of fretting and fuming, my very wise friend puts everything in perspective. “Can we do anything about it?” “No”, I reply. “Will it change anything?” he asks. “No”, I say timidly. “But”, I interject and start again with the verbal diarrehoea. A few more minutes of venting my nonsense on this long distance call and I feel better.
A while later he laughs, “there’s a way in which someone needs to calm you down. One practical word when you’re upset and your reaction will be like that of a grenade going off. Say the same thing, once you’ve screamed and cried…you’ll listen to anything.” Wow! I think to myself, good luck on having a long term relationship with a man. But for now I have the sweetest friend.
A restless night later…I’m on a different train of thought. What if we could just forget the people who caused us pain? If we ever did bump into them, wouldn’t it be easier to meet like strangers, as if for the first time, without the burden of the past? With no expectations, no memories…nothing. They say time heals all wounds. I don’t agree. A scab forms over it…but a slight pressure on the same place and the wound is exposed, again. Sometimes, a wound just festers. Each time I bump into someone from my former life, I’m reminded of the ostracization. I think it’s more convenient to have a bad memory. Wipe the slate clean. Drop it all and live as if nothing existed before the present moment.
Over the past year, I have imagined many a times what it would be like to bump into people from my former life. Asking the Universe for only one thing…that when I do, it shouldn’t be in a vulnerable moment.
And I have bumped into a few of them along the way and of course they’ve looked right through me! But it’s understandable. Everyone stands with the stronger party… I won’t forget it. But I don’t grudge it. Though, there’s one friend…I won’t mention his name..don’t want him to get into trouble with the others…who was nice enough to say, ‘we shouldn’t be strangers’. Of course, we shouldn’t! Everyone comes into our life for a purpose and when that’s done we part ways. Parting doesn’t have to be bitter. The nicest part about what this friend did- wasn’t just what he said but that he didn’t say it in front of an audience or play it for the gallery. It wasn’t done to show everyone, neither my friends nor his, what a nice person he was. It was an act of genuine courtesy and kindness.
Today-Making my Mother do anything, is like going into battle. It requires a mix of persuasion, stubbornness and aggression. So, my Father leaves it on me..he likes to be the good cop. I’m great at playing the Bad Cop. Somehow, manage to take her to meet her Doctor, with the help of my soldiers. As I’m sitting there waiting with a nurse and a domestic help- in trots in a person from my past life. She just sits down- her butt glued to her seat and watches as we take my Mother to see the Doctor and then kart her out in the wheelchair. My former friend has the best seats in the house and she sits there as a mere spectator, while the people around try to help. The funny thing is, if there was an audience, someone who would say how nice this lady was, she would have sprung up from her seat, immediately. But there are no witnesses and how and why should we be courteous, then?
It’s been a strange year and half. I’ve learnt many harsh realities of life. But the most crucial lesson I’ve learnt is this- At some point in life, we have to decide what we are going to choose to remember. We can choose to remember the latter and say the world is a horrible place- where relationships are based only on money, sex and power. Or we can choose to remember the former and say- Well, shit happens. But there are a lot of nice people in this World. I’m not a practical person, so I don’t mind burning bridges. I can’t think better be nice-God knows who I’ll need next. Practicality, isn’t going to lead me to making a vital conscious decision. But it’s time to decide or get thoroughly burnt out.
Flew back yesterday from Kathmandu. The trip was too short and I did too little. On the flight back, my co passengers discussed where they were, when the big afternoon tremor shook the daylights out of us. One of my co passengers, a lady from Chhattisgarh, was trying to get to Barpak to hand out relief. She returned to Kathmandu, the same day and preponed her flight to Delhi. “I am a mother after all,” she tried to explain to me. No justifications were required. If I had made any babies, maybe the choices I make would have been diffrent. Whose to say?
Another passenger, was returning from Pokhra, when his ‘vehicle shook’, he said gesturing his hands from one side to another. Everyone, was quite shook up. But the strange thing is, that yesterday morning when I hailed a cab and went around Kathmandu taking pictures of the various houses that had come down, the bystanders seemed calmer than the tourists. For us it was an unusual occurence. For them, it’s something that they are slowing resigning themselves to. Read an article on Indiatimes.com, which stated that the worse is yet to come and an earthquake 32 times worse, is likely to hit the region..
I returned home, to a very upset family. My choices have always bothered them but this was legitimate… I would have hated to be in their shoes, too. But they’ve come to a point where they know asking me to not to do something is futile. So my Mom very sweetly just looked past me, turned to my Dad and asked, ”Why did we produce her?” and my Dad shook his head and replied,”Now, I can’t do anything about it.”
It’s going to be a loong night. Find myself outside on the restaurant’s couch.
Takes a lot to wake me from my slumber. Another earthquake…at this hour. Let’s see what happens.
It’s my last night in Kathmandu. Have a two pm flight tomorrow. Wish I could stay longer. Wonder how much I’ll get done before that. Thank God there aren’t as many casualties as the last Quake. Though, people are terribly frightened.
Will never be able to forget the few hours of sitting on the ground feeling the tremors…people running-helter, skelter; the cries of frightened women and children.
I feel like God’s special child, tonight. People just go out of their way to ensure my safety. Today, people took me under their wing when they realized I was alone. They were as worried about my safety as they were of their own. Blessed to be here…blessed to have this life.
I couldn’t drag myself out of bed this morning. The excess luggage has screwed my back. Somehow, managed to leave for Tudi Hill by late morning and what a trip it was. At around 12.50, as I packed up my cameras and was making my way towards the exit, I suddenly felt the tremors and then there was just utter chaos.
Men everywhere seem to be the same. My cabbie, is very upset that I ‘m alone in Kathmandu. “Koi koi boyfriend nahin, koi husband nahin! Next time akele nahin aana.” But he says, “jab tak shaadi nahin karega, tub tak khosh he. Uske Ke baad nahin.”
Half the drive is spent listening to him go on about me being a ‘danger lady’ and the other about how this relief never really reaches the people who most need it.
He’s right! It doesn’t because all the distribution channels shut down. We return to a rainy night in Kathmandu. Tired and confused about what the purpose of anything is. Grateful for all the things we have.
Woke up not knowing what I wanted to do. By 7, I has decided to leave with Narendra, to Gorkha. It took us around four and half hours to reach a tiny. village, where the army had made a base camp for distribution. After an hour of taking pictures and distributing relief, we decided to head towards the Gorkha Durbar.
We were told that Barpak wouldn’t be possible in an old rickty Maruti. A number of organisations were already there and sending aid towards the villages. Saw the vehicles of Save the children, World Vision and Norwegian Church Aid Alliance.
I don’t know how one is supposed to remain detached and worry about the image at such times? I don’t think I can ever be a serious photographer.
Wonder if the Gorkha day trip, will work out after all. Narendra, my cabbie warns me against it, not realising it’s the easiest way to get me to do something. Return to the hotel, to grab a quick bite and just as I finish my fruity nutty salad, I feel the earth shaking under my feet. A few staff members, run out of the hotel into the outdoor restaurant. Another earthquake rocks Nepal at around half three and this time I feel the tremors, too.
It’s the perfect setting for dinner- a deserted restaurant, rain, World Music playing on the laptop of a Westerner sitting across from me. The thunder interjects into the music…a staff member approaches me to ask if I’m afraid. “We are”, he says. “The ground shakes from below and sky from above.”If I was in his place, I would be afraid, too. Experiencing loss is painful but witnessing it can be as traumatising.
Gorkha, hmm. I’ll have to see how tomorrow plays out. Whatever shall be, shall be.
Witnessed the magnitude of the destruction today as my cabbie Narendra, drove me to Pattan and Bhaktapur. Volunteers from all over the world can be found in all the tiny nooks and corners in and around Kathmandu, working relentlessly with the locals to mitigate the effects of the Gorkha Earthquake.
The displaced can be found in tents, everywhere. Though, the situation is grim, I’ve yet to meet an angry person. There’s a certain calmness about the people I meet. Even as a sixteen year old, goes through a pile of rubble- which was once her home, she smiles through the pain.
Life returns to a normal pace , for some- the shops have reopened and the streets are crowded. Now, that the gravity of the situation has slightly subsided, volunteers can be seen leading a helping hand as well as taking selfies, in front of some of the tourist spots. It’s an odd mix of volunteerism mixed with tourism.
Spent the day, working and getting a feel of the place I visited last when I was 12 or 13. By afternoon, I had figured out that this was going to harder than I imagined. Being alone, the pace at which I was doing things was much slower.
But everything happens as it’s supposed to. I was trying to figure out how to get to Gorkha when the manager of my hotel introduced me to Phil. This English man was taking a medical team to Ashrang, a small village in Gorkha. They were leaving the next morning and would return in a few days. He invited me to join them. I told him I would let him know by evening. By the time I joined the American Doctor and Nurse for dinner, I had decided that I wasn’t going to go with them, after all. For me Gorkha, would have to be a quick day trip by bus.
Handed Phil, a few cartons of supply, just in case I wouldn’t manage as much on my own. Spent a pleasant evening talking about Nepal, Kashmir and Austria. Tomorrow I will head out to a few villages close to Kathmandu and Phil will take some stuff to Gorkha. People just unnecessarily try to scare us. Things turn out the way they are supposed to.
I have never felt like a Sardarni because I was never asked to be one. My parents are partially liberal. As long as I don’t convert, they don’t bother about my flirtations with other religions. But other Sikhs get perturbed by me and I feel a bit akward around them. The fact that Punjabi doesn’t roll of my tounge doesn’t help my cause.
But there’s something I like about Sikhism – Seva. That’s why I head towards the gurdwaras, in tumultuous times.
There are two main Gurudwaras in Kathmandu one is Nanak Math and the other is Gurdwara Guru Nanak Satsang. Though, the former is a historical landmark for Sikhs, as Guru Nanak Deviji is believed to have travelled here. It’s the latter where the relief was being distributed. The only Sikhs to be seen around were the Sevakars and the recepients were the locals from the surrounding areas, who had been affected by what is called the Gorkha Earthquake.
I waltzed into the airport, with my stuff at half eight, not realising that there would be a formal procedure for carrying relief internationally- meaning a letter from the government. At the Indigo checkin, I was asked the same question for the umpteenth time. “Are you from an Ngo?” “Nope, I just have very generous friends”, I replied. It wasn’t a lie. During the Kashmir Floods as well as this time around , I just needed to inform my classmates and they arranged for as much material as I could possibly carry.
The girl at the check in-Ankita, just didn’t know what to do. She called her superior. The man who turned up, turned out to be a really kind soul. He asked me a couple of routine questions, I showed him some of my work from the Kashmir Floods and he gave me the green signal. Jaspreet, allowed me to carry a hundred and thirty seven kgs of excess baggage without charging me a penny.
It was such a tedious task for both Anikta and him, they spent more than half an hour trying to sort out my affairs. They further gave me a reference in Nepal, just in case I got into trouble with the authorities.
Today, as I arrived another earthquake rocked Nepal. There was utter chaos at the airport. But despite that: whether it was arranging extra trolleys, loading the stuff or locating porters for me, my co passengers helped me with everything. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.
Though, they did open up a few cartons, the Nepalese authorities, on their part, let me breeze through with a warning.”You will not be able to do this alone without a local contact. Try to go through an organisation.” “I’ll manage”, I replied.
I’ll see what to do. Tomorrow is another day.
P.S- Thank you Bineeta Grover, Mrs Grover, Shruti Chabbra, Mrs Chabbra, Ankita, Jaspreet and Indigo Airline.
Yes, I am a stubborn, selfish, incorrigible, impossible, narcissistic woman. Sitting at the airport, recalling the past two days. They say I don’t care about my mother…Well, what should I say? They say my priorities are wrong…I am totally and completely impractical. How should I respond? ” Khud dube huye chale he dosro ko bachane.”
They say this crazy behaviour is because of the ex. Classic. That is something I am going to hear…till Kingdom comes. They say…they say…they say and I pretend to not care.
My Maternal grandfather had two wives. The older one bore him one daughter and the younger one- five daughters and three sons. My mother was the daughter of the second wife. In every story there is a central figure around whom the plot revolves. But it’s the characters that stand on the sidelines, complimenting the central figure, who allow the plot to move forward. In my mother’s family it was Pabiji, my Grandfather’s first wife, who kept everything going.
You hear stories of women who make extraordinary sacrifices for the men they love, who epitomize everything maternal. Pabiji, was an exemplary woman. There’s a reason she chronologically precedes my mother’s biological mother and this it-
My mother, the youngest daughter was the seventh child my Maternal Grandmother bore. Just a short while after her birth, my Grandmother, as was in common in the 1950’s, was on her way to have her Eighth child. Pabiji, took care of My Mother as her own. When Mom was in school, the teacher asked her to get a paper signed from her Mother. ”But my Mother is illiterate”, replied my Mother. Up until that moment she was unaware of who her biological mother was. The educated one was!
Pabiji, spent her life taking care of her Husband’s children. When they were young she nurtured them..when they grew older she loved them, like her own. When my Brother was to be born, it was Pabiji, who came to take care of my pregnant mother. Though, Pabiji wasn’t my Mother’s Biological Mother…I will always remember her as that.
Photograph Contributed by Ataminder Singh Bhasin
Contributed by Ataminder Singh Bhasin (Neeru Bhaiya).
Text By Ataminder Singh Bhasin- He was our Maternal Grandfather. Born at Jehlum town (now in Pakistan) in 1910. His father was Sardar Malik Singh jee Chhabra and mother was Bhag Sudhi, fondly called Be-jee. He got his higher education at Govt. College Lahore. The entire family migrated to East Punjab during partition of India in 1947. Sardar saheb chose to settle down at Jammu, which was a good market then for their ancestral trade of timber. His elder brother Sardar Mehar Singh jee lived at Chandigarh, Younger ones Sardar Inderjeet Singh jee settled down at Bombay and his youngest brother Sardar Zorawar Singh jee lived with him at Jammu.
Sardar Gurdial Singh jee left us forever in 1982.