All’s Well

On a rainy day or a grainy day, I wouldn’t turn down tea any day.

At times it trickles down my throat and calms my sore heart, and at other times it trickles down my throat and takes me home. It’s like PJs for my soul. It makes all well.

I took this photo in Darjeeling while walking around in a national wildlife sanctuary. We had stopped for a tea that replenished our tired cells with a perfect balance of caffeine and bitterness.alls-well

Brunch and the Buck

Black Buck
No. Not this one.

It was Sunday and I was brunching with a few foreigner friends. And with us were an Indian couple who loved talking about their exotic trips to various parts of the world.

Everything was fine. Sushi is deceptive, I learnt. They packed my unsuspecting mouth with so much of rice and flavour that three rolls stuffed me. Though it could’ve been because I had also eaten some risotto, bread and brie, and noodles, washing it all down with a tall glass of Mocktail.

By the time the storytellers began their cruise somewhere in central Europe, I had almost dozed off. But it was a party, and I had to play my part. I smiled and nodded as if it was the most interesting thing I had ever heard. It was, too, to an extent. I even felt a tinge of jealousy that they could lounge in a jacuzzi for thirty minutes while on a ship that in itself was a large jacuzzi.

And then the man of the couple began narrating the incredible story of his iPhone meeting water. Since they were in the middle of the sea, mobile network was out of the picture. Great. But he had taken his phone over to a water tub — a jacuzzi if you prefer the fancy term — to take pictures. Pictures of what, he didn’t say, and I didn’t know him well enough to ask. Anyway, he had become engrossed in the water to remember the phone in his pocket.

To summarise, he had spent a fortune on the cruise and had gone into the jacuzzi with his phone still in his pants. Awesome. Thirty minutes he relaxed before kicking himself for losing his iPhone to the perilous chemicals of h2o.

Social convention seemed to dictate we laugh at this point. So we did.

He went on. His heart had broken and his phone’s soul had shattered, but he had given it a royal goodbye. At this point, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or put on a sad face. I decided to plaster a smile, showing I was politely interested. Not too much, not too little I thought to myself.

While I had been busy thinking, he had been talking. When I turned my attention to him again, he began telling us tough it was to replace the phone he had just finished mourning. It’s hard, I heard, to get an iPhone replaced. They ask a lot of questions. And a lot of money. Not too surprising, since we were talking Apple and a drenched iPhone that they never claimed was water-proof. “It cost me a bloody 20,000 bucks!”

Hold it right there, buddy.

I was wide awake now. “20,000 bucks”?

A lot of Indians used “Rupee” and “buck” to mean the same thing, but our North American friends — from the looks on the faces — didn’t. The storyteller seemed too invested in his story to notice, but for a moment, there was silence. And “buck” was the culprit.

Plenty of my close colleagues say “buck” when they mean “Rupee” and it always left me with a knot in my stomach. I’d ache to give them a stern look over my glasses and correct their distinct sense of senselessness. They are two different things; a buck in America is 65 rupees in India, which is the approximate cost of a cup of coffee in a semi-fancy restaurant.

Twenty thousand Indian rupees is about $300. And I could imagine our company’s horror when they heard a figure that meant $20,000 to them. Sure, they were all too nice to blurt it out to my Indian friend, but he did sound silly.

We might spend weekends watching Hollywood movies or pretend to read modern American literature, or even chat on Tinder with people from the other side of the world. But some things don’t change. The “Rupee” couldn’t ever become the “buck.” And I wish my iPhone-losing friend hadn’t interwoven our economies like that, given how unstable they are. (But that’s for another time.)

I’m No Goldfish

Yesterday, I read an article about goldfish. The author claimed that the human attention span has equalled a goldfish’s.


So now my attention span is just about 9 seconds. That’s one piece of trivia I can relate to. I forget to finish a lot of my tasks, and I don’t read past the headlines in most of the pieces I see online. And thanks to Buzzfeed’s listicle culture, most articles nowadays follow the same format. So I don’t need to read past the heading of each paragraph. As someone who writes for a living, I can sympathize with the writer’s hard work, but I still I don’t read that huge chunk of content myself.

It’s obvious. People take articles for granted now. No one expects a random online surfer to read through an entire piece about how the economic bubble is bubbling. And so, most writers, too, focus only on the headlines and a paragraph or two in between. (Just in case.)

And the article I read yesterday also said people don’t read longer posts because they’re mobile most of the time, looking for instant answers. And the author also says we jump from one tab to another.

Sure, I do that. If I can’t find what I’m looking for in a website, I close the tab and move on. Any writer beating about the bush would drive readers away. After all, there are plenty of sites out there littered with information.

Why do we do that, though? I wouldn’t go to another site if I get what I want from the site I’m looking at. That’s more of a case of what’s in the article than a case of my attention span.

So I disagree with the author. Our attention span isn’t that limited. Plenty of people read a thousand-word article and still stay on in the same page. I’ve done it and I can attest that even impatient readers will sit through an article if it’s gripping enough.

Attention span and content are two different things. If I’m boring, I’ve lost my reader. If my title doesn’t resonate with the reader, they won’t read more. If my writing is too convoluted, I’ve lost my reader. If I make the reader refer a dictionary for every second word, I should know they’re not coming back.


It’s got nothing to do with the goldfish and its attention span. I don’t often credit people enough, but humans are cleverer than fish. We have the capacity to assess before we process, and process before we prosecute. Goldfish can’t do that.

The Twentieth Century

Here in India, we love the West. And by West, I mean the Western culture — or what we think we know about it. As technology crossed the seas and landed the television in an otherwise untelevised society, we became adept at making Friends our weeknight companions. We went from staring at stars in the sky to staring at stars on the screen.

While we indulged in “Seinfeld” and “The 70s Show,” and laughed at Homer’s jokes, the British came over telling us to “Mind Your Language.”

And we thought that was funny. Every time a funny episode aired, we’d huddle around and gape at white women sporting little black dresses and short shiny skirts. And as time went by, it didn’t feel awkward anymore. The white men in the sitcoms didn’t think it weird, so perhaps it isn’t.

Our women tried fancy clothes and our men tried perfumed sprays. Oiled hair became gelled hair, and the once turmeric-clad skin now looked “up to ten years younger.”
Thirteen-year-old girls went to school instead of their mother-in-law’s house. They learned to do their homework rather than their home work.

India — or a part — of it, saw a whole new world blooming under the influence of the West. There was a time when we got goosebumps as the hero and heroine made eye contact, but now, not even public display of affection (or PDA!) makes us flinch.

And we have fewer 19-year-old mothers cradling 2-year-old children. The system of the woman in the kitchen and the man on the porch reading a newspaper made less sense to a breed of youngsters born in a new era.

We’re now in a world of promise and freedom of thought. From being a suppressed generation of youth, we’ve embraced the wisdom that came with booze and books. We learned, and we craved for more. We adopted new ways and gave way to newfangled emotions.

We fell in love with the modernity that the West showed us. And we shunned the peculiarity that home instilled in us.

From being a society that had its eyes cast down, we began looking up at others. We started talking to the others, dating, falling in love, and did everything else we hadn’t heard of before. Arranged marriages are no longer the norm. We’ve dabbled in life and experienced things we’ve seen only in sitcoms before, like nuclear families, sex before marriage, pregnancy before you’re ready, miscarriage, abortion, divorce, and — distortion of reality.

We thought we had become forward. We thought we had it all figured out. We thought we’d become trendy folks, that we’re revolutionary, that we’d gained the right to free speech and opinionated blog posts.

We love the West because we think it changed our thinking.

It didn’t. The West changed our thinking about thinking. We think we’re more open-minded and free . We live in fallacy. Because, every day, at least one person undergoes harassment and abuse because of our “modern thinking.”

It’s not the fancy skirt, and it’s not the drinking. It’s the thinking.

We’ve adopted many important practices from the West, but we missed the vital ones. Sex is fine but talking about it isn’t. We don’t have sex education in school but encourage aborting unwanted pregnancies. We say love is universal but *gulp* men holding hands? We talk about the wage gap in careers and ignore the chore gap at home. We think like the West, and we stop at thinking. Thinking is no good unless we do something.

It’s the twenty-first century. But for most of India, it’s still the twentieth. We’ve moved on from vintage to montage, but most people live under taboos and traditions. We’re nowhere close to the West of twenty years ago. We are not modern. We just live in a fake version of reality that we created to feel good about ourselves.

Even though we haven’t moved on since Friends, the world has. Sure, technology will bring us closer to the West, but we need more than ideal ideas and tall talks.

Otherwise, we’re just a powerful society clueless about the power they hold.

The Midnight Snack

When she walked into the threshold, she stepped into the unlit “World of Clink Clanks”. She looked down and could make out the outline of what she knew were her hands. She flexed them and gasped as her gold ring glittered suspended in mid-air.

The room was silent except for the occasional throat clearing and the clackety of ceramic on ceramic, which seemed to come from somewhere beyond her vision.

On one corner stood a man behind a counter with a light bulb over his head. He seemed out of place, shuffling with his foot, wringing his hands nervous to get away. She wouldn’t have noticed him if it hadn’t been for the light, but she could see his look. It was a familiar, the look of a man on his first day in a job. He flashed her a warm smile as she approached him, and she returned it without hesitation.

She felt none of the warmth herself, though. It bothered her that the inside mimicked the darkness that enveloped the outdoors. And it didn’t help that the street lights had died.
She steadied herself long enough to walk into the range of light coming from the counter. The employee seemed confident and asked what he could get her. She looked around the counter at all her favourites: mustard, ketchup, parmesan, salami, sausages, and on the other side, five kinds of bread.

“I’ll have a hot dog with parmesan and extra mustard, please.” He nodded and asked her to wait. And as he gestured towards his right, she noticed a small table lit with a single candle. It was just enough for her to figure the outline of a round table draped with a red cloth. She took her place at the edge of the seat. The next moment, the young man at the counter came over with her hot dog, placed it in front of her, and left to man his station.

A chilly breeze grazed her ear, making her shiver. She should’ve stayed home and made instant ramen. Her stomach growled again. As she signed, reaching for her meal, blinding lights flooded the entire restaurant, and Sinatra began singing “The way you look tonight” in the background. By the time her eyes adjusted to the lights, her best friend had come from nowhere and stood before her. She now saw the restaurant was empty and much larger than she had imagined. About thirty round tables lay vacant, expecting to groan with food. She raised her eyebrows at him. He was her best friend and her longest friend. He smiled, his blue eyes glittering with joy.

“I don’t want you to eat alone ever again.”

And he went down on a knee.