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Study life, study literature. Eat food. Lots of it.
Also, I use a lot of adjectives- working on that, so bear with me.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Development in Sherisa

Development in Sherisa  
[I work with Sauhard, an NGO that runs an education centre in Sherisa, a small village about 30 kms from Ahmedabad. The centre works with students who have dropped out of school, to ensure that they get the life skills they deserve, along with a chance to appear for their board exams through NIOS. The centre is a remarkable place to see how far the will for acquiring education can take you.To know more about how you might be able to help, or contribute to this project, feel free to contact me!

This write-up came about as a result of a special visit to Sherisa. We took a group of our students from Ahmedabad to conduct a social mapping exercise, and open dialogues with the residents of the village to understand their life better. It was during this dialogue that the idea of the write-up emerged, from a chance interaction with a child in the village. He had a burn on his foot, which had festered into a boil. I spent about half an hour speaking with his family, and throughout that time, he wailed about how he was in pain and did not want to go to school. When we sat down to speak about our day, those screams about the pain and not wanting to go to school stayed in my head, and this piece resulted from the same interaction, from the idea that schools and education are scant, but pain isn't.]

It has a boil on its feet, the development in Sherisa.
It wept for an hour, not wanting to go to school, because it has a boil on its feet.
Fitting, that it burst, the boil.
The feet hurt now, they need to be carried.

It has an open lake full of our trash.
Of everything we do not need.
Of every letter we did not read, and of every word we could have written but did not write.
It has a lake full of garbage we did not care to throw.

It has a house which is a compound wall, a house which is the safety and isolation of my people.
Development in Sherisa is development of communities by themselves.
Of ‘our people’ and ‘them’.
Development in Sherisa has concrete toilets for the rich and sand for the poor.
It has a pile of dung- human and otherwise.

Development in Sherisa is Farzana’s smile as she looks me in the eyes when she asks her questions,
But development in Sherisa has a boil on its feet.
Development in Sherisa has stunted feet that long to jump, but they have been burnt by your response.
They smile, will you smile with them?

Development in Sherisa has a boil on its feet, it doesn’t want to go to school today
So it cried for an hour.
It will learn though, I hope, and its feet will heal.
The boil will burst, and it will heal, the feet will fly.
They will lead to newer steps, newer letters, and newer words.
Its feet will ask you new questions, and if these questions still your feet in discomfort, don’t worry.
At least, they aren’t burnt with a boil.
Walk. Run. Learn. Walk.

27th December, 2017.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

I Dared to Disturb the Universe. Yes, #MeToo

Tolerance is a virtue, as is grace and the ability to take the high road and let things go. Letting anger fester leads to knots of it forming in the pit of your stomach, and that doesn't go well with our disposition. Or so I've been told. You know what? At this point, I couldn't care less. Conquer the world, I'm told, but stay safe, I'm told. Push the boundary, but don't invite trouble. Dress as you'd like, but stay decent. Be a feminist, but don't let feminism typecast you, I'm told. Don't be cheesy, but be cute. Write about strong women, but also about the stronger men who helped them. Be like a bro to the boys, but don't brozone them. Write what you feel, but why are you so angry yaaa?
I'm not usually an angry person. But I am angry right now. 
I don't usually do Facebook, I'm a Twitter person- because fewer people on Twitter. Turns out, a lot of people use Twitter for the same reason. For the last week, my Twitter timeline has been filled with heartbreak, fear, outrage and shame- the seeds of a revolution. Harvey Weinstein's truths slipped out from under his sheets, High Spirits now has a call for sobriety. A hashtag that Alyssa Milano spoke about, broke through a glass ceiling painted in silence. This week, people from all over the world used #MeToo to come out- to share stories of pain, but more importantly stories of strength and survival. People from every gender, people of all ages, people of all nationalities, religions, economic brackets- people from every label and box that we know of, made this cut. People spoke about their scars- that stemmed from sexual harassment, abuse and assault. Things that people have been through, and emerged from- whole or otherwise. The hashtag was meant to highlight the frightening commonality of such behavior. Unless you've been living under a rock, there is no way that your timelines were not inundated with these posts. Stamps, battle scars, so to say, because lets not deny it, it is a battle.
 Ironically, the hashtag also served to highlight bigotry among so many around me. People opened up about experiences that broke them, and how they put themselves back together, and learned trolls on the internet gave out pearls of skepticism that are best left in dustbins. I've realised this, Feminism trends. It brings your views, hits, reads and additionally, good karma. I think the whole world has learnt from Gujaratis now- go where the faayda is. Might even be a good thing, sometimes, until it is time for it to actually count. That's when so many stakeholders of "progressive thought" begin to question the legitimacy of a movement and change the conversation from the intended impact to a detour of tribulation. With #MeToo, in stead of acceptance, change or shock, trolls (I refuse to use a more polite term that leaves space for remorse) either dismissed it as a "social media fad" or they went into overdrive, questioning every account, finding ways to justify such systemic violence. "yeh sab toh hota hi hai na yaar". "It is a part of growing up, such incidents". "At least you didn't get raped". "so funny that such ugly girls are claiming to have been molested often". "men will now be scared of professing their love to women because they will be blamed as abusers". "koi aurat mujhe bhi ched de yaar". Also, the age old classic "arre even the victim isn't completely blameless yaar". I kid you not, each and every one of these is an actual response, not things that I made up or even extrapolated from different comments. I would attach screenshots, but my phone gallery would throw up if I subjected it to such company. When a marginalised community's voice doesn't echo your gain, you don't just ignore it, you actively try to shut it down. I'm sorry Sir, not this time. I'm going to say this, because it needs to be said- again and again and again, till it will no longer need to be said. If this makes you uncomfortable, fasten that seat-belt tight. 
Abuse does not "happen". Someone perpetrates it- an active voice, not a passive one. We live in a world where we'd have to worry about complaining to an authority about being harassed rather than worrying about whether the perpetrator will get caught. We live in a world where it is "only natural" if a stranger's erection digs into your hip in a crowded bus, because too much stimulus, right? We live in a world where it is totally cool for a man to lean over and look into your phone sneakily in a local train. We live in a world unsafe enough that your government has to create special ladies' compartments in local trains, but if in a hurry I do get into the general compartment, I sometimes hear a snigger and a whispered "inko toh accha hai. khudka alag dabba bhi aur hamara wala bhi". We live in a world where I have to whisper when I'm talking about blood flowing out of my own body through a natural process, because other people may not be comfortable hearing about it. We live in a world where the makers and upholders of the law promote a sense of fear, not of safety. We also live in a world when there are no safe spaces for us- not our workplaces, not public spaces, more often than not, not even our homes. I live in a world where my own body is not my safe space, and if to reclaim that I have to append a hashtag to the conversation, why not? In stead of overlaying unjust stereotypes on someone who goes through abuse, how about we acknowledge that the people who do this are real people? We are "required" to hide the identity of the victim, but we question their character. We should, ideally, punish the guilty, but we go out of our way to reduce the perception of their crime. How many of you have rubbished the idea of an attack when you hear about it without any proof? How many of you wonder what the 'victim' was wearing, whom were they with, what had they eaten or drank or said before or after, what their profession is, whether they asked for it or just dismissed it altogether- "acche gharon mein nahi hota" or "no but this wouldnt happen in such a well reputed hotel/restaurant/office" or "these things dont happen to people like us!" or "just forget it and move on". A hashtag, a first-person account, an anonymous complaint, or a hushed confession- we need to realise that the first, sadly instinctual response, to these cannot be to question its legitimacy over anything else. You cannot help in the fight to bring a monster to justice, I hope you figure out how to, but at least, do not be a skeptic in the path. Ask the valid questions, for sure, hear out every person that you need to, but do not rubbish an incident or series of incidents that could very well define someone's entire life- they did not consent to it. 
It is time for Prufrock to knock at the Universe's door, to rock the apple cart, because what I enlisted above is not even the tip of the ice-berg: not for me, definitely not for countless others. 
Men, women, and every other one of us whom this has happened to, we believe you. The onus of guilt is not on us. Yes, everyone is allowed a voice, but your silence is telling as well. The burden of patriarchy falls on every gender, but so does the burden of humanity. There is no possible excuse in the world for such behavior, or for anyone who supports it or does not speak up against it.
In this day and age, your silence is no longer just your silence, it is your active denial. Dare to disturb the universe, will you? I will not be silent- I will speak up, be it about my private trauma, be it about awareness, be it about asking the right questions. I am tired of being scared. I am tired of clutching onto my pepper spray all the time, I am tired of your rape jokes. I am willing to answer your questions, but not your accusations. You should be too. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Shaking A Few Words Out of a Toybox

I don't know about writer's block, but frozen fingers, hovering just above a keyboard are very real. It has been a long while since I wrote. At this point, I've lost count of the number of unfinished blog-posts I have, and the number of incomplete breaths in my phone notes. I have always taken a lot of pride in my words, and so to find them lost at shore like this shakes me more than most things can. One of my earliest posts on this blog was some of my poetry.
I don't like it when my hands are so clean and ink-free, so for the last few days, I decided to force myself to write every day. Such an alien feeling, that I wrote in a format that I hadn't particularly dabbled with much; micro-fiction. Without any more preamble, I'd like to share the tiniest pieces of fiction I've ever written.  They're mostly unconnected, things that I've seen or felt and regurgitated on paper over the last few days. (Yes, I am worried that trying to fix my stalled writing by writing things that end faster than a tweet does can be counter-productive, but I'm playing this on the fly. Hoping that small stories will break open the bigger sentences too. Yes, some of them are cheesier than I anticipated, some scary, but extremes work when normalcy deserts you).


She found the number written on a tissue paper.
A broken voice picked up the call.
That night, two fortunes were reversed, all thanks to someone who didn't follow the 'Do Not Litter' sign.


Two single tickets for one horror film.
Shaking hands found each other across the seat-handle.
The story on the screen wasn't the only one in the auditorium that night.

When he broke my bangles, it was abuse.

When the elder women broke my bangles, 

It was widowhood. 

No one knew it was murder.


Every single mirror in the house was broken.
The supermodel met herself that night.


They passed the book between themselves at the library, smirking as their eyes met over scribbled words.
What grew in the margins could not be tamed by the dog-ears.


"I need a size M, this is size L, dude", he said.
"Sometimes, that's even better", he replied.
The Men's fitting room holds more joy than the Closet store ever will.


Each touch of his ignited fire in her. 

The acid was quite potent. 


He can't father a child. He fathers thoughts instead.

She is a mother. To his words.
They conceive everyday.



Two languages, one word.
In 1947, it meant the same.


She smiled every time she came to the girls' hostel. Love is a rainbow flag on her door.


Power windows, rough hands.
Expensive sunglasses, ambitious eyes.

Both the car and the beggar had a long way to go.


Each bindi stuck on the mirror.
One dot. One thousand memories.

She wailed as amma's hands picked out the lice in her hair.
Today as she cleans amma's hair one last time, she wails again.


Time waited for tide that evening.
Idioms were a common enemy.


His eyes were glued to the meter of the auto. As each glowing red digit moved to the next, his hand ghosted over his pocket. Phantoms pains were applicable to wallets too.


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Rain, Dates and Museums: What I Learnt in One Afternoon in Bombay (But Really in Two Years)

It is pouring outside. Rain, thunder, and rain-related Instagram posts- a deluge of everything. Naturally, any form of internet in my house has decided to take a day off, ala rain check. 

I woke up early today; whatever early means for a relatively work-free Sunday. (You're going to have to read about my day for this post to make any sense, sorry!) For once, I woke up early (8:45 is early, deal with it), and did not have the urge to roll over and go back to sleep. Wide awake and in a little bit of shock, I took a bath and got dressed, with no earthly idea what to do with all these extra morning hours. I spent some time talking to the people who wake my brain up further, and then decided that I needed to get out of the house. It is, of course, the season that makes Bombay what it is, or so I've been told. 

Packing the essentials (wallet, umbrella, Kindle), I set off to the nearest train station. For more on these, refer to the previous post on this blog, thank you very much. Cloud-cast, rainy days demand that I visit town. That's the fancy name for South Bombay. From Churchgate station, a nice little walk brought me to the Chatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the much-easier to pronounce and spell- the Prince of Wales museum. Now, I'm usually not a museum person unless the exhibits are about fields that I understand. But I was told that "doing a museum alone" is a must do, you know, in this whole living-life thing. So here I was, doing this rather vast museum, alone. I spent the better part of two and a half hours walking around one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, staring at statues and coins and gorgeous sarees and guns and porcelain and paintings and most importantly, annoyingly loud children. Safe to say, there were a lot of things I didn't understand, and a lot of things I found endlessly fascinating. After I left the museum, the area around it, soaked in the rains, was too beautiful to let go of that easily. I spent the next hour walking around Fort, Kala Ghoda and Marine Drive. Monsoons really do turn Mumbai into Mum-bae (yes, yes, apologies about using that ghastly word, but it fits). Once the drizzle turned into a torrent, I alighted the train again and came to my regular chai-cafe, Chaayos, pulling out my Kindle. 

As I sit here, clutching my kulhad of ajwain wali chai for warmth since I'm now rather rain-soaked; , my observation turns from the objects in the museum to the patrons of Chaayos, who, very much like me, have braved it in the rain to come get a good cup of chai and Wifi. As the comforting flavour of ajwain takes over, I'm typing away furiously to get this post out.

Why did you have to read about my day so far, you annoyingly ask? Is this just a story that I'd rather have told my mum? (Yes Netri, this is the one from your blog. People, go read her posts!) Do I just want to flaunt Bombay? Why why why?
Short answer? Because I can.

Long story? Here goes.
This is the point of the post, really. I can, and I want to. This may sound endlessly narcissistic, thus quite familiar to the people who know me, but besides that, because I needed to say it. There is a lot of joy and pride in being able to wake up late on a Sunday or wake up early on a Sunday and deciding to go explore your city. Pride, not because you wake up early, but pride, because you've made a life where you can. The experience, just half a day from my increasingly manic, ancient life of 23 years, is something that I needed to share. We spend most of our growing years studying and rote-learning and doing all kinds of things that are "right" but not half as much fun. Those few hours that we get by ourselves, it is high time we seized them. Not every free weekend is about partying with friends or binge watching Friends tucked into a blanket with ice-cream and chips. Both are great, but sometimes, just sometimes, it is important to step out, and take a train ride by yourself. Walk through a museum by yourself. Sit at a cafe savouring chai, or coffee, or a single malt, by yourself. Walk through a dubious neighbourhood with a bottle of pepper spray clutched in your palm by yourself, once. Go on a date with yourself, if nothing else, then do it because you won't have to share your food. Sit at a seashore with a book or your music and drown out the rest of the world. Watch a movie by yourself. Go to a concert by yourself. Do all of this, and more.

Not just because you can, but because you need to. Your people, real and fictional, are essential, but so are you. To some, this may sound outrageous, and two years ago, it sounded outrageous to me as well. Back when I lived at home in Ahmedabad, I never felt the need to do this. It felt unnecessary, and frankly a little scary and two tons of awkward. One day, you too will move to a different city, and eventually be forced to do this at least once. (I blame you Falak Choksi, but also, thank you). Do it before you're forced to, because there is a lot of fun in discovering how comfortable you are with just yourself, or conversely, how much you drain your phone battery because you can't be bothered to just sit alone and do nothing. Either way, it is fun. And because in a couple of hours, you'll again be forced to start packing up, trying to remember if you need to pick up sabzi or poha or salt, or head to a different shop because you need to pick up condoms or sanitary napkins or pay your electricity bill. Or you'll have an office mail to write, a research paper to proof read, an episode to check, or another appointment to keep. In a few hours, all the bloody responsibilities of reality will take over, and that little date with yourself will help settle you, just as much as the hug of a friend or the touch of a partner.

Give yourself a breather, see how long you can sit by yourself. People are amazing, but so are you.

P.S: I know the brackets are annoying, but what can I say, when I'm talking to myself, I tend to have second voices force their way through, hence I cage them in parenthesis. 

P.P.S: Chaayos isn't a sponsor for this post, I swear, but it has been home to a lot of my dates with myself, and is worth a try, if you're in any of the cities where it operates. There, happy, Chaayos? Now you can pay me in chai, if you're reading this.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Yeh Gaadi 12 Coach Tej Local Hai

No matter what city you live in, there are some things about each city that you cannot escape. 

If you live in Ahmedabad, there is no way to ignore the teeming groups of under-age school kids driving bikes like they're starring in the Gujarati sequel to Dhoom 3. 
If you live in Delhi, your vocabulary cannot shade itself from the rather colourful terms for female genitalia.
If you're in Bombay, there is no chance that you haven't experienced its bloodline, the local trains. 

I've realised that Delhi has a lot of songs about itself, Mumbai has significantly lesser. Think about it. Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan. Bambai Nagaria. How many more can you remember? I was beginning to feel a bit cheated, but then recently it dawned on me that Bombay makes up its own soundtrack. Close your eyes and picture it: The vocals from the hawkers, the strings of the Sea Link, the percussion of hundreds of thousands of feet, the rhythm of the waves, and oh do you hear that? The steady beat cycle of the local trains, on those weather-beaten tracks. 

I've always been a bit of a voyeur, but the trains make it easy for everyone to be one, whether or not you have kinks in your head.  You know somewhere just past the half-way mark in Hindi films based in Bombay, there is a sad song? You know how many of these sad songs are framed around the mellow young protagonist or their love interest seated against a window seat, the city whooshing past them, wind in their hair? In essence, that is the perfect encapsulation of the local train experience. Except for a few tiny details, that is. One, there's never an empty window seat unless it is raining, and if there was, there sure as hell isn't enough space to fit in a camera there. Oh also, try singing in a Virar fast, I bet you, please. However, during those rare off hours, if you do manage to snag a window seat and let a tune play in your head (or through the headphones, put away that Candy Crush, will you?) and feel the wind in your hair, it really is worth the film reel.

Most days when I travel by train and if ever I manage to get the above mentioned prime real estate, I like to picture myself in a music video. And it is exhilarating. However, if you don't find the drama in the wind tousling your hair, do turn inwards. (Towards the inside of compartment, the introspection can wait a minute.) You know how they say Bombay is a city of a million dreams? It is also the city of a million stories, and a few thousand of them fly past you in the locals every single day. Honestly, just look around, and stop the music on your phone for just a while and listen. See that mother who is smiling at the child who wants to use the bar as a stool? See that other woman grumbling because the same child is squashing her bag? Look at that woman who is munching ceaselessly on that pack of potato chips in her hand. She knows that this is the only time she gets to eat in peace without worrying about work or cooking for her family. Look at aunty there furiously chanting the Gayatri Mantra as she turns the pages of a holy book. Look at that girl with the pretty nails giggling quietly into her phone while her friend anxiously memorizes those last two formulas from her notes. Look at the ads for the all-capable jyotish who claims to solve all your problems, plastered across the walls of the train. Look at the experts who reserve your seat even before you get up to go to the door next to your station. Look at the woman sitting on the floor near the door, counting how many aam-papads she has sold so far, and look at the hair-clip vendor who's haggling with her. Look at amma, fumbling with her umbrella while her neighbour aimlessly watches the latest film that her son loaded onto her mobile. Look at the bunch of women waiting at the platform with bated breath and bhel packets, never once contemplating taking the next train because this one is too full. Look at that girl, standing by the door, weeping while on call, unaware of who heard her, distraught (If you actually do ever come across this post, I hope you're doing better now, and I'm sorry I couldn't muster up the courage to give you a hug and tell you that it's going to be okay.) Look at me, staring hungrily at the imprints of so many lives, while trying to figure out how to get to my destination once I get off at the station. Look at us, look at our multitude of stories, all bundled up, hurtling towards Borivali and towards Churchgate. Some of these stories culminate in a bunch of discarded tickets inside the dustbins at the platform, some stay with you till you come home and wash the trains away from your scratched bodies. If the lifeline keeps going, the stories keep going. And I keep going.

While I'm aware that all my instances and observations come from the Ladies Compartment, I do know that the stories extend to the rest of the 9 compartments on the train just as much, if not more, but I'm not experienced enough at those to churn them out as passionately as I can write about the women who sit across from me so often, whose lives temporarily cross tracks (see what I did there?) with mine.  Those smiles, those grumbles and those voices are the heartbeat of this city, much more than any film or any trade can be.

If you are in Bombay, get up, go out and get a ticket to the farthest station on your line. Sit back (if you find a seat), relax (if you can), and let the Great Mumbai Talkies begin (they will, whether you like it or not.) 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Life, Stuck in Instagram Filters (Don't Sue Me for This)

It is hard to have a genuine smile on your face when you're surrounded by cameras.

Oh no, this is no snide reference to what I do for a living. It is a rather grating reminder of the fact that everyone and their aunts are now armed with smart phones and cameras and, as if that wasn't enough, selfie sticks. (Side note, I take a lot of joy in the fact that my computer still spits out a scraggly red line under the word "selfie". Just saying.) Ironically, when almost every other photograph comes with the hashtag #candid, there is no such thing as candidness anymore. We're all now just parts of someone's cover photos and we can find each other lost behind a myriad of instagram filters. 

While people argue rather passionately for both sides of the oversharing on social media debate, I don't suppose a blog post is the best idea to take my stand on it. What I couldn't help but write about was the fact that every experience of every day now comes with a caveat for posterity built into it.  
"But first, let me take a selfie."

You're getting ready for a night out with your friends? Time to whip out that cell phone and cram six faces and an ample amount of cleavage into one screen. You're spending a lazy weekend at home in your pyjamas? Time to spend ten minutes getting that messy bun just right for the perfect Instagram post. Found a cool looking butterfly? Oh wait, photo toh chahiye yaar. (All butterflies are cool, just saying.) Going to see a new film? Wait wait wait, I need a photo of the title credits. Diwali? "Look at how pretty that flame on the diya is." Makar Sankranti? Photos with beautiful tukkals in the sky are mandatory, duuddee. Vacation? Oh you have to begin right from the boarding pass. Take one good scroll through a Facebook timeline, and you know exactly where that person has been, whom with, and what they were wearing and eating. Makes the whole idea of  "What's up? What have you been up to?" rather useless, doesn't it? Sometimes it feels like our life gets reduced to a Facebook album. 

Our routines now involve including an extra few minutes to click the right photographs and another few to upload them on all our social networking accounts. Don't get me entirely wrong, sometimes I'm just as guilty of this as the next person, but what I fail to understand is when it became a priority for us. So much so, that it is now imperative to capture a moment even before we live it, if we live it at all. The fact that you saw a beautiful sunset or shared it with someone who was sitting next to you is clearly not enough any more. We need to share it with the thousand other people, because of course it we don't, they will have no clue what a sunset is like. We share to show off where we are, we share to show off who we're with, what we're doing.

What scares me the most is the fact that whenever I go to any place, or for something that is going to be a unique experience, I know that I make a special effort to take photos and videos and record everything. I assume there is nothing wrong with that, but my problem occurs when I get so busy capturing photographs that I actually put taking all of the visuals in at the back-burner. I have a hundred photos of the Jeep Safari I went for, but ask me what it felt like or looked like, I'll take a while to recall it. I went to see Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at Maratha Mandir- which is unarguably a historic moment for me. Everything was perfect, but after I kept interrupting my viewing process to take photos of iconic scenes on the silver screen, I knew I had ruined the charm. Having the perfect Facebook and Instragram posts just wasn't enough. I view everything through a camera lens, but I don't always know what it looks like to the naked eye. Just the other day, there was a woman on the local train that I was on with a pet monkey on a leash. Before it even registered that it could be dangerous or to think of what her story could have been, the jaws of my phone had already snapped the image. And that was that- I may have sent the photo to five people, but my thinking process stopped there. When we have a strong opinion, we voice it on our Facebook status. Again, nothing wrong with that, except that the voicing ends there.

I try thinking of the whys and the wherefores, but honestly I can't. At some point in our journey from sitting through newly developed photo albums from the neighbourhood One-Hour Studio and bonding over them to stalking random people and their Instagram accounts, we lost the idea of truly living a moment. We've lost the charm of being so involved in an experience that we have no clue of the outside world. In stead, we now make it our priority to make sure that the whole world is involved in our moment. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Soliloquies with Strangers

First off, yes, I know soliloquies are not dialogues with someone else. I haven't quite forgotten what I studied in college yet. 

As always, it's been a while since my last post, and I feel searing guilt because of that. Something compelled me to write again today. What? A soliloquy with a stranger. 

As a part of my work, I'm currently on a gruelling internship stint with a production house on a daily soap. Those experiences by themselves could fill a book, but it'll be a book that I'm not sure if you or I would like to read. Long story short, I'm sleepwalking through a crazy schedule, because shoots happen 24x7. Yes, Sundays are no longer a thing for me. So the point is, every free moment I get, and there aren't a lot, I cherish. Like a bloody gift. The problem, however, of being on your own in a new city with very few friends is that that you don't quite know what to do with a free minute, if  at all you have the energy to do something. 

One evening like this, while leaving my editing studio, on a whim I asked an auto driver, "Bhaiiya, Prithvi Theatre yahaan se kitna dur hai?"  Turns out, it was 5 kms, 58 rupees away. Now, if you know me, you know that I'm not the kind who can even cross a road on my own. So going to a theatre by myself was alien Plutonian territory. None the less, I reached. The next show (The Glass Menagerie) was four hours away, and I didn't have the luxury of waiting till then. So a trip to the Prithvi cafe would have to do. I'd heard a lot about its Irish Coffee, and I ordered, but I couldn't find an empty table to plonk myself down on. 

I looked around, and in front of me was a table, with three seats, and just one man sitting on it. 
"Do you mind if I sit here?"  

I drank my coffee in peace, feeling the Irish bit of the coffee settling quite smoothly in me.  
Another twenty minutes flew by. 

"If you're here for the invitees only show, it'll start in five minutes", he said. 
I wasn't, I told him. I got a smile in return, followed by "So you're just sitting by yourself?"
And that was the beginning. I spent the next forty-five minutes talking to an actual stranger about life and Bombay and theatre and English grammar. I discovered that he was a producer, and in just as desperate need of time just to himself as I. He assured me that I work at a good company, and that I'm in the right place at the right point in my life, and I'll learn a lot from my struggles. We also spoke about truck drivers and PHDs, and the quickest way to get to Vile Parle Station (which is a 25 minutes walk crossing Amitabh Bacchan's bungalow). 

What fascinates me is that in this entire conversation, the only thing we exchanged were smiles and first names. Nothing more, nothing less. In effect, it was one conversation with a stranger, but it was one large vent. It was my soliloquy, and his answering soliloquy. 

It took nearly two and a half months in this city before I walked into a place and spoke to a stranger who reassured me against so many of my doubts without even knowing any of them, without any ulterior motive. This, and a quick trip to the Prithvi book store, and suddenly, the sun was shining through the clouds as I walked towards Vile Parle, which as it turns out, did take 25 minutes, and Amitabh Bachan's bungalow doesn't shine like gold, in case you expected it as I did, for some reason.) 

That evening, the hour long train journey home wasn't any trouble at all. In fact, I might have scared the woman sitting across from me because I was smiling to myself, staring out of the window humming to the music from my earphones. I might have scared her even more because this filmy display was followed by fifteen minutes of furious typing on my phone- the first half of this post. 

To a whole lot of you who are reading this, my experience will be nothing out of the ordinary. For me, video game boxes are jumping in my head:

Achievement Level- Grown Up; Unlocked.