Saturday, December 27, 2014


(Published in Business Standard on December 27, 2014)

It is ever thus that the years come to a close: with the strong sense of having undergone a beating, and having survived.

My 2014 was an anarchic orchestra led by a wild-eyed conductor who bears a striking resemblance to me, and who has spent twelve months stumbling around the stage, sometimes dancing and sometimes on her knees, trying, with only limited success, to control her instruments. It’s been fun, but it hasn’t all been easy. At some point the pianist went off to take a leak and never came back, the drummer sometimes used his sticks to beat the crap out of the violinist, and one of the horns malfunctioned and played the same one note no matter what the musician did. Everyone has been drinking heavily to get through it all. Yet, one recognises the result as music, some of it okay.

As December 31 draws near, the maestro, now totally shit-faced, gets ready to trim her frenzied baton into one last hysterical wiggle and then a final great, exhausted down-stroke. Then she will turn to the audience and take her bow—dripping sweat, clothes torn, with a red nose, a black eye, and a huge grin.

And as she does, a giant trapdoor on stage will open and the whole act will fall into its maw, un-mourned by the audience of herself (it’s all too meta for words), who will already be transfixed by the entrance of the fresh new musicians and shiny new instruments of 2015, prancing on from the wings, all hopeful and excited.

It is ever thus that the years begin.

My expectations are rather tempered—though keep in mind that my big takeaway from 2014 was that cleaning your laptop screen once in a while makes a huge difference, so it’s not like I’m some kind of intellectual racehorse.

Here’s all I want from 2015: Just stop beating up the world so hard, okay? I don’t care if not one new gadget comes into being, as long as we start managing our resources better. I don’t care how many Indians are on a list of the wealthiest people and biggest corporations in the world, as long as increasing numbers of the poorest and sickest get food and healthcare. I don’t care whose book or film or play is better, as long as they all come out and are all received peacefully.

I don’t care which school the kids go to, as long as they get to come home and do their homework without blood on their uniforms. I don’t care who anyone sleeps with, as long it is based on consent freely given, and I definitely don’t care which god anyone worships as long as they don’t try to make anyone else worship the same one, the same way.

I don’t care if you want to call Christmas ‘Good Governance Day’, as long as you don’t expect everyone else to take it seriously. I don’t care if you protest for or against things, as long as you are allowed to protest peacefully. I don’t care if you live in sin or by yourself or in a huge joint family, as long as you have love in your life. I don’t care how much we yell and scream at each other, as long as nobody picks up a weapon or assaults anyone with their bare hands.

So all I really want for Christmas—like any other red-nosed, black-eyed, grinning orchestra conductor, I suppose—is world peace. Is that so much to ask for?

I can see 2015 peering out, fresh-faced, from the wings, itching to get on stage. It hasn’t the faintest idea, the poor little sod.

By which I mean, happy new year!

Helicopter daughter

(Published in Business Standard on December 13, 2014)

“The Sundarbans mangroves were amazing, and we saw a fresh tiger pugmark one hour old. Now I’m at the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland. We had to stop at the liquor shops at the Assam border—Nagaland is dry!! I’ll text you when I get to Dimapur. What’s your news?”

“I told U. to use the clothespins on the laundry line, and asked L. to dust the tops of all the cupboards, bookcases and air conditioners. Now I have a tea appointment with M. Are you warm enough? Expect the temperatures to drop sharply at night. If you don’t send me your itinerary I’m going to cry. Can you please tell me that you’re warm enough and you’re going to survive, so I can stop chewing my fingernails!”

“Stop worrying, you silly old goat! I’m having a blast.”

This exchange between my mother and myself should tell you what it told me: our role reversal is now fully and horribly complete. She’s tracking man-eating tigers and hanging with tribes in the remotest corners of the country; I’m overseeing the housekeeping and worrying myself sick over her health and safety.

It took her three days to send me her itinerary, and I spent them grinding my teeth. How cavalier she was being—what if something happened to her? How would I know where she was, how would I reach her? I fretted until I knew she had left Bengal without getting eaten by a tiger. I was all nerves until I knew she had landed safely in Jorhat and gotten the hell off that plane they make out of tin and scotch tape and fans.

I was anxious about her remembering to take her mask and jacket to the Hornbill Festival because the dust and cold is bad for her asthma. I reminded her to take the jacket even if it didn’t feel cold when she was setting out for the day. I texted her to ask how it was going, and was nearly out of my mind by the time little miss independent finally deigned to reply, a day later. She was so distracted by her friends that she “just forgot!” I was so stressed that all my heart bits curled up into little shrimpy knots and are plotting some kind of insurrection.

And when she finally got back home—I couldn’t rest until I knew she was getting a ride back from the airport with one of her friends—she announced that she is leaving again in a few days, for a couple of weeks, this time to Pune.

My heart sank. We get so little time together—they grow so fast—and all I want is to have her around for the holiday season; but of course she would rather be with her friends. I do understand, I’m sure it’s boring for her to hang out with someone my age, but I still can’t help feeling a little hurt. Couldn’t she just bear up with it occasionally, for my sake? It’s so hard to let go.

I’m dealing with my empty nest syndrome by taking on extra work. One of my meetings ended before the bottle did, so we stood outside the office for a bit, finishing up (waste not, want not).

When my mother heard about that, she said: “You stood in the street, under a streetlight, drinking rum! Like some kind of hoodlum!”

I swear, sometimes I do not understand the woman. But that’s the comforting thing about family: the life cycle may include slowly and awfully turning into your own parents; but some things, at least, do not change.