The Devil’s Advocate

Tractor parade starting from the Ghazipur side.

I thought at length about what to write. The young man, who lost his life: Navneet Singh, just returned from Australia, where his young wife awaited his arrival. Seeing him on the ground, left me shell shocked. The events of the day, were going to led to some disaster, that was obvious.

Rajdeep, is bearing the brunt of reporting, what the farmers told us- that Navneet had been shot. In fact, when I got the news, from one of the young farmers, I was told, that three boys had been shot in the head. It was not a rally but a protest, the kind, I have never witnessed and I have witnessed many, in the past decade. Let’s just say it was akin to the people taking to the street when Ram Rahim, was arrested. Plus, there was a caravan, a flight of tractors, stuck in a jam, leaderless, with lots of gossip mongering and alot of violence, from both ends. Now, if I say, the initial screw ups began from the side of the farmers in Ghazipur, I was there when they started to remove all the barricades and damage buses, in the morning, I will look like a right wing supporter and if I lie, I will not be able to live with it.

Men who tied the barrier to their tractor and dragged it for half km, till someone yelled at them.
Rejoicing
There’s mayhem, all over.
A young man attacks the truck, that they have pushed to one side, while another tries to stop the mayhem.
Ghazipur
Tear Gas Shells, are used early on, to deter the farmers. Most of the tractors as well as my driver take a U Turn, within minutes. Suddenly, there’s complete chaos, we get saved from being run over, by the tractors heading towards us, frantically looking for cover.
After the tear gas shelling
The farmers have no fear of COVID. But after the
mace is used, everybody has to cover their faces.
Enroute
Stuck in a jam.
My car is stuck in a jam, with the farmers. At approximately, this time, Navneet Singh is loosing his life.

If I was a politician, a follower of the religion under attack, a leftist, a feminist, an activist, a student leader, a photo journalist with a full time job, I would pick a side and stick to it. Right, wrong, evidence, no evidence, common sense, I would just flush all of it down the toilet and defend my own. I would write and argue till my face went blue about the right to protest any which way, about how religious flags are used inappropriately all the time, about how wonderful the Sikhs are and so and so forth. But, alas! one is unable to do so. Nevertheless, one is in complete solidarity with the farmers, so as a sign of respect to the most important movement, any of us will ever witness, I take a bow. I decided today, after much contemplation, that a truth that does more harm than good is not worth dwelling on and sharing.

Having said that, I just want to add, as a person born into a Sikh family, never have I ever felt ashamed of the community or any of its actions. In fact, one has always claimed, that if I ever did feel the need to follow a religion, it would be this, just for how courageous and generous, it encourages its followers to be. But for the first time, witnessing the utter disregard for human life, made me squirm and I would personally apologise on behalf of all those present at the Ghazipur border (out of which the percentage of Sikhs would not be over 20%, on the upside) for all that took place.

I said this to a young lad, initially, who I shot with the Nishan Sahab. The flag was on the tractor and he said to his friend that the reason I am taking a picture of him is because , ‘ Madam, humme Khalistani dikhana cha rahee he!’ I flared up, of course. My reply to him was, ‘ You are a cut surd, my father is a turbaned Sikh living in Delhi, who was going to be attacked in ‘84. Whatever you people do and say, be careful that you don’t risk the lives of the Sikhs living here because you all will flee and they will pay the price for it!’ I still maintain that stance. I still feel the need and the responsibility to apologise for the violence, not because I am a coward, but because due to it, we didn’t even rush our own to the hospital, we didn’t even pick up his body from the ground, instead we used him for media bytes. Two wrongs aren’t going to make a right and if I have to share images of the destruction of Babri Masjid, as a defence for the hyper masculinity flexing its muscles, shame on us!

A religion that was formed to stand up for the oppressed ( even if that oppressed person is a policeman) the visual of that religion, the turban and the Nishan Sahib, can’t be be seen on a tractor trying to drive over a policeman or attacking a policeman with a stick or a sword, that was put their in those hands to protect. It’s sava lakh nal ek ladava, not the other way round. This is a farmer’s issue, that across the board affects all farmers but in the end if something goes wrong and incase of violence, like we saw, only the turban will be held responsible and also bear the brunt of it! Never forget what the optics look like to a the man of the street. It is the Nishan Sahib, that will be used to derail theentire movement. The Sikhs are a martial race and there are rules, even in war. Let’s not forget that. This one we will win but let’s just try to win it, the right way.

P.S- This is an appeal to the Akal Takht, from factions of the Sikh community, to disallow people from using the religious flag- the Nishan Sahib for anything other than a religious procession. For it to not be hoisted on vehicles and to not carry it while running. Though, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, has said, ‘ Violence by farmers or police at Red Fort can’t be justified. But controversy over hoisted Nishan Sahib over vacant flag pole at Red Fort is a non-issue.’

Delhi By Foot

Tareekh-e-Tawaif:Saga of India’s Courtesans
The Shahi Masjid.

‘Ik tum hi nahi tanha, ulfat mein meri ruswaa. Iss sheher mein tum jaise, diwane hazaroon he!’

Tawaif, is a word that’s always intrigued me, much like an adolescent boy, of yore would have been; thanks to the eternal beauty, Rekha and Muzaffar Sahab, who made Umrao Jaan. Any woman, who sticks it to the patriarchy, is greatly appreciated by one and the one’s who could do it with such artistry, beauty and grace, I put them on a separate pedestal.

The first woman poet, to have a printed compilation of her work, Maha Laqa Bai, of Hyderabad was also a famous courtesan.

That also has do with imagery, I’m sure. If my first impression came from Pakeezah, a film that’s considered a classic, I would have been appalled, despite my love for the songs and the painful, angsty beauty of Meena Kumari. The idea, that a woman, only through marriage and parentage, can become pure of heart, takes away the power that some women, who stand on the fringes of society, actually have. Tabu, sitting on a swing, playing Saeeda Begum, with a young Ishaan Khattar, lying by her feet, adoringly glancing at this woman of pleasure, that’s the kind of image that the word, courtesan conjures up in my mind or Manjari performing the Courtesan Project On Stage.

Mariam, a history graduate from Jamia who believes in preserving oral histories, leading us into Qudsia Bagh.
Zubair Idrisi, who plans DBF’s outdoor activities, facilitating the walk.

So, of course I had to go for this walk. The facilitators Zubair and Marriam, took us to the Shahi Masjid first and then to Qudsia Bagh, built by Qudsia Begum, who was the wife of Mohammed Shah ‘Rangeela’. The Begum started as a royal courtesan, became the wife of the emperor, then a high ranking official in the Emperor’s Army and after her husband’s death a regent to her son. It was only after Rangeela’s death in 1748, Udham Bai, the Hindu courtesan, that the emperor had married, took the name ‘Qudsia’, meaning ‘pure, innocent or chaste’. Sounds, familiar?

Mariam Siddiqui, came with printouts of miniature paintings. Some of these illustrations can be found on Wikipedia and other websites. But it was refreshing, to see someone make the effort to print them out, nevertheless.

The young facilitators, took us around to show us the fragments of the palace. While Zubair played a game, with us, Marriam discussed the famous courtesans, the depiction of these courtesans in Bollywood viz a viz Pakeezah ( though her opinion of film, was more about it being Kamal Amrohi’s symbol of love, a Taj Mahal of sorts, to Meena Kumari) and Umrao Jaan; the Randi ka Masjid, the connection of Bollywood with tawaifs through parentage, David Ochterlony etc. What made the walk interesting, was not the recounting of facts, that one can always read ( if one enjoys the activity), it was the feminine point of view, accentuating the power of seduction, not deliberately, though. A little intention, would have been nicer, just a few nuggets from the Suitable Boy or a little more about the state of the women of pleasure in current times or actually taking us to Chawri Bazaar or GB road, would have made it perfect. Nevertheless, Marriam, is an engaging orator, quick witted and the walk was very well researched and facilitated by the two. The banter, the back and forth exchanging of information, between the facilitators also made it a captivating conversation.

15 years and counting…until we meet again

‘Kissi ke marne ka gham woh kare, jo aap na mare!’-Ghalib

Dear Love,

This note popped up on FB, from about 12 years ago. Cocky, much? Always! Ironic how things turned out? Totally! Tragic? Not at all, they worked out the way they were supposed to. The one thing your death taught me, everything happens for a reason.

So much for the cynicism, I sucked at calculating exactly how tough life can get. Of course, I miss you all the time but sometimes for the most random reasons-a look from across the room, a smile, the colour yellow…just the strangest, smallest things.

Do I need to be reminded of you, now? Some days, actually, your cute little face fades a little from my memory, then I look at my own ( God’s not so great first attempt and then he perfected it) and am reminded of you. You know, how much I’ve always disliked mirrors. But I peep at the eyes, put my finger on my chin and imagine you going, ‘tch tch’, like you did when I cried. Enjoy reading this and guffawing at my expense, prick!

A farmer loses his life at the Tractor Parade

I’ll write about the day I had, witnessing the madness, as soon as I can get over this moment. Running, into the crowd and finding a man on the ground, a tiranga on his body, to cover his deadness. The voyeurism of us all, staring me right in my face. Rajdeep interviewing, his cameramen telling me ‘madam, don’t say anything live he!’. The farmers gathering around, the politics over a dead body. ‘Pick him up from the ground, you creeps!’ I want to yell. But the drama, is at play. He’s no more a human, just a dead body. The mob is getting agitated. I elbow, a few men, yell at a few more, I’m so sickened by the sight, I have to leave. ‘Let’s go before the circus begins’, I tell my Dad’s driver, who is so relieved. He’s spent the past few hours, trying to convince me of the same.

I come home, gulp down a few drinks but I can’t get the scene out of my mind. Somewhere, a mother will be weeping the loss of her child, a sister would have lost her best friend…somewhere, someone will be as sickened by this world, as I am sometimes.

Dearest

Dear Love,

Missing you like mad and the Wall, also a little bit. It was nice having someone around, who can’t be scared away. Kind of loosing my shit, a little bit. This winter is harder than most, this January feels worse than others. Move, move, move, go, do, do, do the mind keeps pushing me. Between dad’s work and mine, I’m just swinging like a pendulum, not wanting to feel anything. Growled at a poor unsuspecting creature, today, who was just trying to do his job. ‘Which person from history, would you want to be?’ he went. ‘ I can’t seem to get through my own life, you want me to imagine leading someone else’s?’ You know, better than anyone, how ferocious I can be. He was so taken aback, by me I realized, I need to pipe down the crazy quotient. Two days, in Pushkar, to calm the fuck down are desperately needed but I have some work day after and then this week is your barsi…fifteen bloody years since you left. Having fun up there or are you back in the grind? You don’t tell me, I haven’t reached there to know and I’m too pig headed to believe, anyone else’s version of it.

Oye! Who would have figured, our lives were going to turn into a stereotype? Did you ever imagine, that we could watch a film and go, ‘ oh shit! That’s my life or that’s so us!’ Saw this movie, called Tribhangana, I shit you not, the brother/sister relationship was just like ours and Kajol’s character, was as volatile as I am. After Dear Zindagi, this is the second time I’ve seen that on screen. Our Mum, would have fit right in, if she was 20, today! Nothing about her life or ours would have been unusual. Who would have thought that! You missed, the new normal, dude. We are the new regular! Not as much as I would like but getting there. People are still assuming we are supposed be heterosexual and monogamous. The former I can’t fix, that latent bisexuality that I truly believe all humans have, I can’t seem to tap into it. What a waste it would be, if I don’t, at least once in this lifetime. About the monogamy part, I still seem to scandalise everyone. Yesterday, a friend and I had this discussion and I said, ‘ someday, maybe when I will be fifty, I think I will be capable of it. Before that, I seriously doubt it!’. I said the same thing to our aunt, last evening. The idea of spending my life with one man, forever, I’ll be capable of if I know for certain I’m going to die, very soon. Barring these two things, we my dear, I’m reiterating, are the new normal!

Koi setting banayee he ke nahin uppar? Please use your clout with the Big Man, na! Every morning I pray to him, ‘he Bhagwan inn aurate ko kuch kaam de de, yaar, please.’ But to no avail, he doesn’t listen. Ten months of drama, bhai sahab, khattam hi nahi ho raha. From calls to the help, to each other, to my friends, to mom’s friends discussions like, we are murderers, to what time I wake up, to why are we not collecting people on mom’s varina, to my fucking non existent love life ( yeh abhi tak sabh 6 saal peche chal rahe he) these ladies, my God need jobs. Meri importance kitni he tujhe kyaa pata! The mornings begin with messages from our dear relative. I’ll receive four messages, three will be deleted and one will be a forward. Then this goes on throughout the day. There are around a hundred deleted messages on my phone, which she has sent and deleted. I have no idea what they are. I tried nicely, to tell the person to not do it but you know our genes, zidd to amazing he na sab me. The other day, not knowing what to about this, I posted it on fb as an attempt to make this nonsense stop.

What a firing I got from the Wall, when he saw it. ‘You know, they know, it disturbs you, that’s why they do it. How can you still get triggered? How can you know people so well and not control your reaction?’ He sounds just like you. He’s so pissed because my diastolic level is exceptionally high these days, my entire face is swollen. But nahi hota mujhe, if I could I would. Who the hell, wants their body and especially, their chest to be hurting like crazy? Control karo! Abbé yaar, karna aata to mein kar nahi leti? Kuch help kar, for a change, all those rakhis I tied were not for, ‘diya, yeh mujhe tang kar rahaa he, tu Bol! I fought all your battles when you were alive, you also do something, kuch kaam kar, meri to sunte nahi he, tu setting laga, inn logo ki life thodi interesting banva.

Delhi Karavan

Heritage Walk at Purana Qila.

In the heart of Delhi, there’s a beautiful citadel, on Mathura Road, between the Zoo and Pragati Maidan called the Old Fort, better known as Purana Qila. The site has been relevant from time immemorial it seems- starting from the Mahabharat period, to the Mughal Period and even in the The Modern Era. From the beginning there is evidence of a continuous chain of settlement, that can be found here, though the builder of the fort itself, is contested. Humayun ( 1530-40) started to build his city the Deenpanah, after his conquest of Chunnar and Kalinjar and some say part of Deenpanah, is what is now, known as the Old Fort. On the other hand, Sher Shah Suri’s son’s chronicler, mentions that Sher Shah ( 1540-1545), ordered walls around the ‘fort of Humayun’, after he forced the original out. Whereas, some historians argue, that the victor destroyed all the previous buildings before beginning construction.

The only thing that’s certain is that the Purana Qila, was built in the 16th century. Though Sher Shah, was only in power for five years, this citadel is one of his most prestigious projects, yet it is said that before its completion Sher Shah died and eventually the citadel was completed by Humayun. The mile long, stone wall completes an entire circuit and the three gates- The Bada Darwaza, the Talaaqi Darwaza and Humanyun Darwaza are truly impressive. Till about 1913, the fort was actually occupied by villagers, who were made to move out and then it came under the ASI. During the partition it was turned into a refugee camp.

Delhi Karavan, organised a heritage walk last weekend, at the Purana Qila. This was the second walk I attended and the third time I met the founder- Asif Khan Dehlvi, who looks like the rock star of the heritage walk circuit. A tall Pathan man, who gave up his corporate job to conduct heritage walks in the language of love-Urdu. He co founded a heritage walk startup, left that and then in November 2013, he conducted his first walk for his new venture-Delhi Karavan.

Our first encounter, was on a cold winter evening, last November. Asif’s love for Delhi and his spiritual inclination were both quite evident and they left a lasting impression. He’d wanted to read Rumi and Shamz in Urdu, so I got him some books from Kashmir and that’s how we ended up meeting one another, for the first time. He is amicable and an obvious charmer. My opinion was reaffirmed when I attended one of his walks – he has a special way with women, after all if your greatest inspiration is your mother and you only have female siblings, you do learn how to say all the right things . The men seem to be quite taken by him, too. Of all the heritage walks I’ve been on, nowhere have I seen, so many people photographing the leader. He does make a great muse but he is thronged by photographers, so the novelty is missing. It’s the ease and charm with which he takes you around the sites, that make the walks look like performances and makes up for him being a storyteller and not a history buff. Check out the pics to see what I mean.

Asif Khan Dehlvi
Asif Khan Dehlvi

The Purana Qila, is also believed, by many historians, to be the site of the oldest settlement in Delhi, the capital of the Pandavas- Indraprashtha. Various excavations that have been carried out, prove that there was human settlement in this area a 1000 years before Christ. Ever since, I’ve begun work on my new series- Delhi through their eyes and mine, I’ve noticed how, we the privileged may have started ignoring, these archeological wonders, as we spend our weekends at malls and multiplexes but for the less fortunate, this is what family time, still comprises off, which is a beautiful sight to see. Families basking in the sun, children giggling and fighting, the way only children can! As I walked towards Asif and a couple of people who had gathered at the gate at ten, a family sitting on the pavement stopped me . ‘Please book our tickets, online, we don’t have Paytm!’. I promised to return after informing the group about my whereabouts and I did.

The Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India, have made online bookings mandatory for all the ticketed heritage sites ( though Sunder Nursery is not on that list. Today, I could purchase the ticket from the counter). Due to COVID, even the parking is closed at the venue and till the 26th the venue itself is shut. When you go to the ASI site, it asks you to give the details of your id like an Aadhar No, a Passport No etc and of course your mobile no. It also requires for you to be able to comprehend English. As I bought my e ticket as well as the family’s , another family approached me and then all hell broke loose. Suddenly, one was surrounded by young boys who wanted to learn how to use the site, three older gentlemen from (what I jokingly call my pind) Kashmir, who wanted me to book their tickets as well, as they couldn’t figure out how to. While I was doing that, my phone’s battery was running low, the guards started arguing with the people surrounding me, to leave me alone, while the Kashmiri gentlemen started insisting I take the money…in between all the chaos, when I looked up, the group had already gone in. The ASI, should reconsider this move, at least provide an alternative to people, who are there to soak up the sun, in this harsh weather…in these terrible times and spend a couple of hours with their families. Everyone is not technologically savvy and some people don’t carry their ids around. Paperless entries are fab but a helping hand would be nice.

Though, Asif will tell you about Sher Shah Suri and Humayun he will not discuss the intricate details of the architecture with you. He’ll take you through history, on flights of fantasy, meandering from one fable to the other. To be honest, I spent more time photographing the walk leader than listening to him, on this particular outing. But the general vibe that one gets, about Delhi Karavan, is that it’s a very cordial environment, full of fun and frolic- a group of old friends who like to hang out with each other and explore facets of Delhi, led by Asif, of course, whose been doing this for a long time. Like my distant relative, who is a frequent attendee, vouched for the other day, ‘ and that too, very well!’

Check out their page on FB to know about their walks, which are a bit irregular till March, due to the pandemic. Henceforth, they’ll be back on track.

Peace

What is this ridiculous concept of peace and happiness that people keep shoving down your throat all the time? Ever since they became a well marketed product, to be bought of a kitchen shelf, one has the same aversion to them as religion. Struggle is the natural state of human kind, if peace was, man wouldn’t have been banished, in the first place.

The hypocrisy of human kind never ceases to amaze me. A kind that glorifies its creator, yet rejects all the emotions, that make it human, terms them sin. From wrath, to lust from emotional outbursts to the physical need of the body, everything is terrible. Let’s contain everything, pretend and then pretend a little more. Apologise for our existence, our thoughts and our feelings. One likes the observer, the one who watches all the feelings, knows they are there and somehow learns to deal with them at some point.

Someone asked, so if peace and happiness are not the final aim, what is? To reach a higher state, I would assume, na? ‘ What is a higher state?’he asks. Higher than where you, as an individual, from where you began. Not some universal higher state. If that was the case, there would be no concept of karma. ‘What then is the ultimate state- all negative or all positive?’ How can it be anything but both, the peaceful and the angry, the yin and the yang, the balancing of all your energies, the struggle of a caterpillar not just the becoming of a butterfly.

I still look at the world in bewilderment…unable to grasp, these concepts, that I am supposed to mug up but I’m unable to. These set of rules to follow, that people follow, they just naturally know how to fall in line. Give them a book and for a long time it becomes their mantra. One on the other hand, goes through life, like one went through school, wondering why everyone is believing what they’re being told, wondering what the fuck is happening. Experimenting through it, wanting each emotion to consume one, biting into the sinful and having those moments of sheer ecstasy ( without any drugs) that can only be experienced, when one sits near a water body, staring into nothing.

They keep trying to convince me I should become peaceful, sit like yogini. Some of us, where born to whirl like mad dervishes through life and find our peace in the movement. Hum badzaat aurte sirf marne par peaceful hoti he!

Ghosts

I returned from a heritage walk the other day ( I’ll write about it, soon, each time I try, my mind wanders to other things) and had my aunt, who I absolutely adore, grill me about my ( lack of a ) love life. Ironic, isn’t it? In my thirties, my dad got my signature analysis done. Which went like all my predictions go, that I’m basically flaky and flirtatious. Though, one’s been quite open about one’s relationships with the parents ( and have received tremendous amounts of beatings for them), other than the one that was the most sporadic, Indian father, lost it on reading this. Funnily enough, now the same father and everybody else, keep trying to convince me that, I need to find someone. I wish my heart worked according to a timetable but alas! it is a wanderess, that belongs to no man and no city!

Something makes me terribly melancholic in the winters. Usually, I hibernate from the world, hide behind layers of work and books in Kashmir but this year, one didn’t have any and one hardly, ever travels for leisure, unless one is battling with one’s inner demons and is going to lock one’s self up in a room in Pushkar. So, here one is, in Delhi. For a change of scene, I’m back in my dungeon, staring at the shiny disco ball that hangs on my ceiling and going through random things. Found a bunch of photographs, the first book of Osho’s I read- for Mad Men Only, love letters from boyfriends past and these two papers, each that sum up everything from my 30s, like the two tats on my arm separated by a star, do!

The photograph on the bottom, has my late brother’s name on it and the song that the singer was supposed to sing, was, I’ll be watching you but he didn’t know it. It was the most thoughtful birthday gift, ever. The one on the top is self explanatory. I know, I know, I have been the fucking, Queen of the Rebound my entire life. ‘Tu nahi to koi aur sahi, koi aur nahi to koi aur sai’, has been my love mantra. But you know what, my 30s made me realise that, relationships go against my grain, they aren’t my core competency. I absolutely suck at them and that I’d much rather utilise all my passion in my work. Everyone needs to stop worrying about me, I’m having the time of my life. Companionship? Well, I’m thinking by fifty I’ll need someone, then I’ll find someone young, whose excited about life and can deal with my cynical ways. Love? Between the one’s who are dead and the one’s who are gone, the heart it seems keeps the company of ghosts, some you remember on the day they died and others on the day they were born.

Delhi Through Their Eyes- Aman Tomer

What can you do during a pandemic? Explore the city with wonderful company.
Aman Tomer, is the co founder of Sair e Dilli
Anang Pal II, built the strongly fortified town of Lal Kot.

This Sunday, I left a couple hours early from work to participate in a heritage walk, led by Aman Tomer. Since one has taken a break from oneself, there are no solo dates, I take myself on, these days. Though, technically, hanging out with strangers, could be considered solo dating. Anyhow, what do you do when you’re working like everything is hunky dory and most of your friends are still not venturing out? Explore the city.

Aman Tomer

Aman, who led the walk, is the co- founder of Sair e Dilli and a graduate from the prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia. He lead us through the lush green plantations of Sanjay Van, towards the walls of Lal Kot/ Qila Rai Pithora to the Dargah of Khwaja Shihabiddin (which we only saw from the outside). He spoke in Hindi and very casually interspersed into the historical fables, stories about Chudails and Snakes, that run rampant in this area. His manner was easy going and friendly, something that was much appreciated, trekking up and down the rocky terrain.

Since, it was a Sunday, one saw couples and families everywhere, soaking up the sun. The participants seemed to enjoy the experience, as did I. Don’t know about the kid in the pictures below, though, who kept telling her dad, ‘ yeh bacho ke liye jagah nahi he!’ and he kept trying to convince her, that she’s not a kid anymore. Of course, that led to clinging to the mother. Aren’t mum’s so comforting? I would have paid money, just to see that very cute father, daughter banter. Not to take away from the fabulousness of the walk and the leader, at all.

Her life gets me through some nights

A prescription from 1998. The earlier ones from Dr Kothari, I think, must have got misplaced when we moved homes.

Some nights I struggle, more than others and then the life of the woman, who bore me flashes through my semi sleep state. The ego reminds me to not become a foregone conclusion and these prescriptions save me from myself.

Though her official name was Deepika Kochar, all the prescriptions before I started taking her (much later) to the doctors were made in the name of Neera (which is her nick name). My aunt, who was a like a mother to my mum, used to take her to see the all the doctors, when we were little.

The suicide attempt after I was born should have been a red flag. Postmartem depression is a real thing. Each time I would ask my mum what brought it on, she would reply, ‘your grandfather went on a holiday and came back with gifts for his other grandchildren but nothing for you! I could bear how badly he treated me but I couldn’t take it when he treated you the same way!’ Needless to say, our relationship with our grandfather remained the same out entire lives, he never brought us anything or spoke much to us and though I will always regret not knowing my grandmother better, I have no such feelings for the one, who threw my mum out of the house. My parents moved into a rented apartment and that’s where my brother was born. A few years after my brother’s birth, there was another one. About the self immolation, all she would say, ‘ Your father and I were fighting and I was getting too agitated. I spilt perfume on myself and set myself on fire.’ I remember returning from a relative’s house and the help showing the nine year old me, my mother’s burnt clothes. ‘ Yeh dekh tumhari mummy ne kyaa kara!’

I grew up disliking my mother. The father, I adored till the first time, I saw him beating her and then went on to take out his frustrations on me. The only one who I considered home and family, growing up was my brother, much like the protagonist from Dear Zindagi. The mother was too different from everybody else for me to have any understanding of where she was coming from. People, didn’t make it easy either. Everybody those days, would talk about her- my father, his family, even her own family, up until her stroke. Though, I was always asked to take care of my brother and her, nobody told me that her behaviour was driven by her disease and that she required love. My own loneliness, my own struggles with my dark side, with my sexuality made me empathise with her, too late in life. But I think she lived as long as she did, inspite of all her attempts and illnesses because I was supposed to mend my relationship with her. That went on to help in saving me, from my own self.
Mum’s addiction to Corex went on for a long time. Every year, she would be hospitalised.
I hate when people blame my brother’s death for her depression and my father’s alcoholism. Though, it’s very convenient, it’s an absolute lie. It also mitigates, and disrespects all of my mother’s struggles with her own demons. My Ma, was born a fighter, if you ever saw her throwing a fit or in a hospital, scratching, biting and abusing two, three people at the same time (who were trying to hold her down) you would know, where I get my fighting spirit from. She was a terribly sensitive, sensuous, flawed woman who could only be controlled with love and was way ahead of her times. Though, being her child was never easy, it required for me to mother her, it was an absolute privilege knowing her. She is one of the rare people I know, who actually got better with age, less temperamental, more loving and truly apologetic for what she made us go through as kids. The only reason, I managed to forgive her is because she reciprocated my efforts with so much love, that the last few years of her life became her swan song, to me.

Farewell, Safety Net

Mariamman, was at it today. She graced us with tumultuous rain, ensuring I would have one last memorable moment with the one man, I find myself, relying on more and more, as I age. As we headed towards Noida, the wipers stopped working. ‘ Let’s stop the car and wait 007’, said my companion as I squinted and navigated through the deserted roads. James Bond, Ak 47, Poopie, he addresses me thus but never by my name. ‘ I got this’, I reassured my companion whilst he shook his head and smiled. With the passage of time, he thinks, I’ve started trusting him a bit or he’s just stopped expecting me to change, knowing it’s useless, SB consoles herself. Time nevertheless, has been kind to this friendship.

Until next year

These days, poor man, has been reduced to being addressed to as joru ka gulaam, amongst other terribly unflattering things. What are the chances of me being someone’s joru? Quiet slim. Is it his age? He’s not that much younger, by my standards, the world’s maybe. The fact, that he came to Delhi, stayed in a hotel close by for over twenty days and ensured that I had a helping hand, while I sorted some stuff out, doesn’t help his case. His demeanour, doesn’t help it, either. He’s quiet but not a pushover. A little chauvinistic but like a lot of other boys I know, doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Try making him do something he doesn’t want to or say something unflattering about his family or me, then his Alpha nature comes to the fore and how. The other day, as I couldn’t get off the tractor (I somehow climbed on) with just one arm around my waist, he swooped me off it, while the farmers hooted and whistled. I turned crimson due to the effortlessness of it, the way my mum would, as he would lift her up and put her in the car, for our outings.

‘Sab time, time ki baat he. Kabhi jaani dushman dost ban jaate he aur kabhi dosti mein darare pad jaati he. Jo Khudda chahe!’ I overheard the men, discussing the other day at Qutub Sahib’s Dargah. True, isn’t it? Our attachments then, to anyone -old or new, then are irrelevant. The few people I thought, I couldn’t live without are dead or long gone and here one is, in one piece, sometimes grudgingly and sometimes what seems like, ecstatically, surviving! The Wall, of course is not fooled by any of it. He notices the excessive drinking and the smoking is making him, wild. ‘You quit, why would you start again?’. I keep quiet but SB, doesn’t fool him with any of her escapist ways- the new fascination, the smoking, the drinking, a lot of reading, no long drives, no exercising, no praying, he’s seen her slide down that slippery slope before and he preempts the crash.

My escapists ways, may worry this one but they manage to piss off so many people, it inflates SB’s ego. While, SC, almost died, in grief and sickness, many watched her state, gleefully. As her mother’s dead body lay in her house, they discussed her past affairs, her suicide attempts and her inheritance. As she tried to make sense of it all, totally coming apart at the seams, they rejoiced in her misery. The depression transformed into anger and that rage has always been the fuel, that transforms her into SB, into Kali. Now, they see her as she struts around and poses, picture after picture, smiling ear to ear. All they can do, is pass snide comments. On a whattsapp group the other day, one of the actors of the drama, posted something about figuring out how much wealth someone has by the smile on the elder’s faces in the house. SB typed, ‘how would you know, considering you’ve left yours all alone, in another city to die of cancer, by herself?’. SC, looked at the horrible display of vendetta and was totally appalled by SB. ‘ We are not stooping to this level,’ she argued with SB. ‘ People who live in glass houses don’t realize their houses are made of glass, till you don’t fling a stone at their homes and remind them!’ argued SB. After much deliberation, thankfully SC, won. The Wall, was as relived. ‘ Let them do and say whatever they please, you do, the right thing. Khudda dekhta he.’ Chalk and cheese, number 6 and number 9, that’s what we are. Like Umrao Begum, he keeps trying to put the fear of God, in me. Like Ghalib, I insist I will end up in the esteemed company of Pheron and the Devil. His attempts at trying to salvage my soul may have failed but he did touch my heart, with his thoughtfulness, as he left for the Souks, today.