8

Small dreams and simple hopes (A short story)

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 6:35 PM
Nandu didn't know how it felt to have a full stomach after a sumptuous meal. Life was not very kind to an insignificant washer-man in a small city like Lucknow. And Nandu's life had been spent first helping his mother wash other people's clothes (while his alcoholic father spent all their money on his addiction), and later taking on the job full-time when his mother's bodily strengths had given way to illness and old-age. He tried to stay mellow and that had now become a habit. Nandu had learnt to smile in the face of adversity because growling had never seemed to help anyone in his situation.

His marriage has turned out badly too. His wife, still in the trance of her old lover, had not birthed him a child and left him when he tried to coax her into having one. His second wife was a divorcee herself, and thankfully, they hit it off as seamlessly as a round roti fits perfectly on a circular black tawa. Nandu and Kanta had built a happy life together. After delivering one girl and two boys, Kanta decided to help Nandu with his work as well.

The couple would set off each morning (Kanta would carry their kids with her) to the various households that had employed them. Nandu would attend to half of them and Kanta would attend to the other half. Scores of unwashed clothes from the previous day would first be soaked in water plus detergent in big buckets typically found in all Indian homes. While the clothes got soaked, Nandu would wash cars for extra money and Kanta (in her own other separate house of work) would make small-talk with the lady of the household. Then they would wash the clothes and hang them out on clothing lines to dry. Both would meet to eat the lunch that Kanta would pack for them and then disperse again to return to their respective houses and iron out the bundles of clothes from the previous day. In the evening, they would set out together to go home and prepare their meals.

On a particularly warm day on a June afternoon, Nandu had to attend to his sick mother. So Kanta decided to manage the day's workload alone. She dressed up in a plain red cotton saree (a proud sign of her happy marriage), put a big round maroon bindi on her forehead, cooked some rotis for lunch and headed out to wash clothes with her youngest son on the hip, and another boy and a girl (her two older kids) walking behind her holding her saree pallu. Kanta was a strong-headed, sharp woman. Instead of feeling pressured by the rigours of daily routine work, she enjoyed the time away from home. She also enjoyed making some money of her and helping out her husband, and had learned to treasure her conversations with the primary women in the houses that she worked in. These women were her window to an affluent life that she could never afford. Their stories about their children's troubles in school, the tiffs with their husbands over money matters and their concerns about nosey relatives were Kanta's staple food for thought. She liked these conversations perhaps much more than any other aspects of work and with that motivation, she continued to make long strides towards the houses.

Midway during her morning work, Kanta realized that today was her and Nandu's wedding anniversary. It had been 5 long years since they had tied the knot in a quiet ceremony attended by only a few relatives (Indians are known to exhibit lukewarm, squirmish feelings about second marriages). And yet, Kanta held the day close to her heart because it had made a huge difference to her otherwise sullen life. Her first husband used to beat her and pushed her out of the house after returning home drunk one night. In the scuffle that followed, he had hurt Kanta so bad that she had to be hospitalised later for a dislocated shoulder. It was then that she had decided to do something about the situation. When she threatened him with a police complaint after getting home a few days later, he had poked her with cigarette holes and revealed having an affair with someone he knew for several years. A heartbroken Kanta had then filed for divorce (after much condemnation from her relatives) and her subsequent marriage with Nandu had been a god-sent. Unlike her previous husband, Nandu was jolly and looked forever happy, no matter what the situation. Leave alone hitting her, he never even raised his voice to scold her. Having finally attained a marital bond worth nurturing and a husband who treated her well, Kanta deeply valued her relationship with him.


She wanted to make the anniversary special for Nandu. So after washing and ironing what felt like truckloads of clothes (the domestic banter did help her immensely in passing the day. The regular tea that people offered to her in the evening helped too), Kanta went to the house-mistress of the last house that she had ironed clothes in and asked her if she had any leftover food from the day. Luckily, the woman had huge quantities of food left in her fridge from the meals of today and the day before, which she was more than happy to offload on Kanta (people generally liked Kanta for her affable and friendly disposition). The leftover subzis made Kanta very happy. In reality, with the responsibility of three young kids, the couple could barely make ends meet. On most nights, they would just eat raw onions with roti because buying vegetables was expensive. Nor did they own a refrigerator to save the produce for the next day.

At around 7 in the evening, Kanta tied the tiny polythene bags containing the left-over subzis in a fold of the saree at her waist and picked up her three kids to make her way back home. The sun was almost down and the sweltering hot ground had now turned partially cool in the wake of the evening breeze. Kanta knew that on days like today, Nandu would only come back after putting his mother to sleep at around 9 pm, and so she had plenty of time to bathe, put the kids to bed and set out the food for him. At home, when she finally opened the tiny polythene bags to look at the food that had been doled out to her, she was happy to see small portions of residual shahi paneer, butter chicken, dal palak and some rajma in a thick creamy gravy. The last subzi looked like a left-over from a restaurant meal that the family must have had together sometime on the weekend. The others looked home-cooked and were still a bit cold from being extracted from the fridge.

Kanta did as she had planned. She took a quick bath, fed her kids and put them to bed. Then she made some fresh rotis for Nandu and lay them out on the floor with the now-heated subzis. The family didn't have much furniture besides a bed which all five of them shared. They often just dined on the floor with a newspaper laid out as a mat. Their 'house' was actually just one big room with a kitchen stashed on one side and a bed on another. The toilet was a dingy small room outside and they took their baths behind a small wall partition alongside the house and the toilet. It wasn't much, but the family could make do.

True to his habit, Nandu returned at five minutes past 9, looking tired and worn-out. Taking care of his mother was not an easy task and it drained him off all his energy every time. He first cooked for her, then bathed her, took her to the doctor, bought her medicines, fed her and finally put her to bed. She lived in an even smaller house in the same locality and was now alone, after her alcoholic husband had passed away two years ago from severe liver damage.

The sight of Kanta sitting on the floor, waiting for him with food , instantly cheered Nandu up. He did love this woman who would wait each night for the kids to fall asleep to share dinner with him. Kanta looked clean and fresh, dressed in a new pink saree that she had recently bought for her sister's engagement. Nandu approached her, cleaned up quickly in the kitchen sink, and sat down next to her. They both finally shared a hearty meal together and talked about their respective days. Both shared details of their work and conversations, and after finishing the meal, Kanta slowly reminded him of their fifth saal-giraah. Nandu blushed a little and kissed her gently on the cheek. He wished her and slowly began to help her with clearing up the dishes. He was happy because his wife had remembered their anniversary and made an effort to put together a nice meal for him. He wore a smile too because his stomach was finally full with delectable food after months of eating just onions and rotis (with achaar) for dinner.

As the couple returned to bed to squeeze in alongside their three sleeping kids, Nandu turned to face Kanta and slowly pulled out a small package from his trouser pockets. It looked like a newspaper wrapped around something small. Kanta removed the crumbling paper slowly to find a dozen bright, red bangles staring back at her. They were plain in appearance and wore the hallmark of simplicity that she now associated with her husband. Her eyes welled up when she realised that Nandu must have sneaked out quietly after the doctor's appointment to visit the marketplace nearby to buy her this gift. With tears dripping down her cheeks, she wore the bangles on her wrists and wrapped her arms around Nandu as a sign of loving gratitude. The couple held on to each other in the stillness of the night and quietly repeated their vows in each other's ears. After that, they slowly drifted back to peaceful sleep... knowing that the circle of life was now complete with their companionship and their three beautiful kids...

3

The hand of fate (a short story)

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 3:27 AM
The sun was still up when she left the office. Summers in Delhi were brutal and the sunlight was still sharp well past 6 in the evening. Dressed in a simple lilac chooridaar suit, with a white silk dupatta around her neck, Lakshmi walked in slow, tired strides towards her car. Her jaipuri jootis felt clammy under her feet and she had already broken into a sweat from the short walk from the office to her vehicle. With bulky files in one hand and car keys in another, she finally settled down into the driver’s seat and revved up the engine.

Grooooom… started her silver Honda Civic like an obedient servant. As Lakshmi slowly steered her way out of the crowded parking lot, she shot a quick glance at the imposing office building. Amidst the several floors and cubicles that it encompassed, she occupied a small desk as the Marketing Associate for a leading FMCG company on the 10th floor. Lakshmi liked her work, but on days like today after several meetings and a multitude of tiring conversations, she felt drained and completely bereft of energy. This, despite the knowledge that it was the earliest that she had left work in months.

At home waited no one in particular. A rusty apartment in a crowded locality in Delhi – Lakshmi’s house by characterized by crummy walls, chipped paint, stained curtains, an empty fridge and a hardly-used kitchen. She lived alone and her kaam-wali bai came to clean and wash every morning before Lakshmi left for work. The apartment was once plush, but the lack of maintenance had reduced it to its sad state of unkemptness.

The relationship that Lakshmi shared with her bai was one of the few that she could sustain at this point in her life. At the age of 32 years, without a husband or a child, life anyway didn’t come easy for Lakshmi. When she had graduated from business school several years ago, her parents had dreamt big dreams for her. But when the pressures of rigorous jobs (and living alone) consumed her, Lakshmi had found solace in the company of a man. A man who had later got her pregnant and then refused to share a part of the blame and responsibility. After he broke her heart on a rainy winter evening and left her to fend for herself, Lakshmi had decided to build a life alone. But an abortion had became imminent, and after wilfully losing her child to a callous surgical procedure, Lakshmi had lost a part of herself too.


She no longer wished to engage in the daily mundaneness of regular life. Nor did she make friends, continued to stay wary of men and falling in love, refused to engage in household work and seemed to have lost all interest in even cooking square meals for herself. Directing all her efforts towards her job, Lakshmi had found a vent for her simmering rage through the way of work. And on days like today when she could leave office earlier than usual, Lakshmi slipped into glumness and dark contemplation. Her mind would travel back to her poor lost child, and with it the lost opportunities, and she would start judging herself through the prism of a miserably failed motherhood. She thought it was the hardest burden to carry, and consequently, she occasionally lapsed into brief spells of depression and severe self-criticism.

As she drove her Civic for a few kilometers and entered a busy market area of the city, she looked around on a red traffic signal to distract herself from her dreary thoughts. Her eyes fell upon a mother scolding her two children for demanding ice-cream each time they saw a vendor. A part of Lakshmi’s stomach churned with over-bearing longing and she thought about how different life would have been if she had decided to keep the baby and raised it alone. But Lakshmi knew that she didn’t have the courage to brave the constant sneers of the society, and she tore her eyes away from the angry mother and looked ahead, waiting for the light to change to green. And thankfully, with the signal, changed her pathetic mood.

After 30 more agonizing minutes of weaving her way through the crowded market traffic, Lakshmi hit the expressway, but was still half hour away from home. The subsequent easing away of the brief spell of road-rage gave way to a pregnant silence, and soon Lakshmi was sucked again into the melancholy mood that continued to gnaw on her insides. No more traffic jams or car horns were around to distract her from succumbing to her now persistent inner unrest.

She knew that deep below, she was very upset. Still hurt and dejected by the betrayal of the man that she once loved with all her heart. Three years had passed since the tragic events, and he was even married to someone else now. What was worse, was that his wife was expecting a baby in just three months. Lakshmi knew all this because she had never stopped stalking him. Sometimes on social media and sometimes through her friends, she knew where he lived and what he was up to most of the time. Even though he made much less money than she did now, he at least appeared to be happy. And that tore Lakshmi apart because she felt alone in bearing the brunt of hardship stemming from the loss of their child and relationship. She constantly lived with the guilt of having exhumed an innocent life because of her cowardly lack of options, even as the man of her dreams who was responsible for the loss continued to live like nothing had happened. She felt tortured and slighted by his ignorance and according to her - his cold apathy.

Something turned inside of her at the thought of her past lover’s unborn child, and the bright future that lay ahead for the baby, and the unfairness of it all screamed out at Lakshmi & ran its pointy fingers on the walls of her fragile heart. The pain in her gut became unbearable to carry and out of nowhere, she decided to turn the car and give a piece of her mind to the unassuming scum-bag. While her purple jhumkas made slight chiming noises along the small bumps in the road, Lakshmi made a rough change of gears, and suddenly steered right to make a U-turn.

And then it happened. BAM!

Aftermath:

When an eye-witness was asked for his testimony about what he had seen, he narrated that a furious looking woman had suddenly changed lanes at high speed on a dangerous express-way, and had been hit by a truck coming from behind her car. The hood of the truck had rammed straight into Lakshmi’s car door, and the light of life had almost immediately been sucked out of her as a rod of steel tore through her brain. Her frozen face now wore an expression of frigid horror, like it had never recovered from the sight of the approaching truck. The grotesque creases on her body almost told the story of a life full of disappointments and injustices. Her story of loneliness and betrayal seemed to have come to a sudden, but fitting end, in the savage accident.

The eye witness, of course, had only seen an ordinary woman die in an unfortunate accident. But on a deeper level, fate had dealt its final blow to Lakshmi and taken away whatever little remained in her puny hands. Her struggles with life had come to an abrupt end and maybe her soul had finally been reunited with her unborn child. The child - that was the only source of light (and darkness alike) in her now extinguished life.

The next day when the bai knocked on Lakshmi’s door to clean the house, no one answered. The forever grieving and lonely Lakshmi didn't live there anymore...

1

Why an Indian sitting in America can still worry about the country

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 8:16 PM

After several discussions with friends about Indian General Elections 2014 and the rise of the ‘chosen one’, I obviously realized that people had their own strong views about governance. For the people who supported our next PM (which was a majority), I heard several arguments about why he was the man for the moment. While I gave a patient ear to all that they had to say, I wasn’t particularly convinced about a lot of other things that were being said. Being a journalist, I stuck to my stand of objectivity. But to my utter surprise (and not a pleasant one), some close friends came out and said that I shouldn’t be concerned about India while I enjoy my ‘comfortable’ stay in the US. This post is for those people who lost the debate the minute they brought up this argument.

I am an Indian citizen with an Indian passport. Till I renounce my citizenship and take an oath to be a US citizen (or any other citizen for that matter), no individual has any business telling me that I shouldn’t have opinions about India. Whether I live in the United States or Timbuktu, I will always have a stake in what’s going on in my country because it will always affect me directly. Whenever I decide to return to my country, and ‘my’ is the keyword here, I will have to face the political going-ons that would affect my life on a daily basis. Even if I live elsewhere, I have a sense of ownership over India. My family lives there. My life exists there. My bearings lie there. And I shall have as many opinions as I had back when I lived there about politics, leaders, elections… and whatever else happens under the big blue sky in India. Don’t tell me that it’s not my business. I give credence to your arguments for as long as you give me rational ones. The minute you say I can’t have opinions because I live abroad, you have crossed the line and stepped into my personal space. And you can then expect barbed attacks back about your pettiness.

I also worry about Indian politics because I am a journalist and that is my sphere of work. After spending years bringing election results and political doings to you on your television screens, I have developed a big appetite for governmental opinions. An even bigger appetite for showing the correct place to people who sound brainwashed by one political party and forget all objectivity and thrust their views down your throat – was an obvious aftereffect. You are the people who bring the country down. Your blind faith voted the UPA 2 to power five years ago. When you now scream allegiance to the BJP, I see you as a loser who knows nothing better than backing the winning horse. You have no sense of direction and no barometer to check the feasibility of your politician. You pick up one issue (economic growth this time) and chose to turn a blind-eye to everything else (including a politician’s past). You close your eyes to reason and give all types of arguments to glorify your point of view and vilify anything else that stands in your way. You try to look sorted, but you are not. Hence you raise your voice and find solace in being rude. You try to look selfless (‘my candidate will work to improve my country’s economy’) when actually you are very selfish (do right to equality and expression not matter in your books?). And when you run out of all your little arguments, you start attacking people’s personal space.

Third argument, my global image. Anywhere I go in the world, I am branded as an Indian. Which I am and which I am proud of. First, no politician will tell me that I should move to Pakistan because I care for a certain group of people (its called humanity). Secondly, no person should forget that whatever happens in India today will affect the way people perceive me (or you) living (or travelling) anywhere else in the world tomorrow. When the horrible attacks of 9/11 happened, the Muslims living in the US had done nothing to abet them. And yet, these were the same people who had to deal with stone-pelting on their houses, death threats to their children, sporadic arrests by the authorities for 'questioning' and 'random' checks at airports for all brown people (the malice still continues). So yes, I am concerned about what happens in my country. Because it affects me more personally more than it affects you. Because that becomes my identity the minute I step out of the country. I am seen as an Indian everywhere I go in world and so all matters Indian are very much my business.

And lastly, I shall not have my own countrymen treat me like an alien. It’s unacceptable. No one tells me where my heart lies. You only show age-old stereotypes by saying that I lead a ‘comfortable’ life here. You know nothing about my life, so save the branding. And maybe upgrade your world-views and step out of that narrow alley you call your mind. It’s not doing you any good and it certainly seems to have no grey matter in it.

So YES, I will continue to have as many views about Indian politics as I want. Close your eyes and ears if you don’t like them. Run away and never look back like an ostrich if it bothers you. But don’t try to smother my views on the pretext that I don’t physically live there. Because honestly, where I live is none of your business.  Maybe find more solid arguments for your debate next time and don’t harp on your own insecurities and stoop to the extent of making personal attacks.

2

Inexorable allure of (grocery) shopping!

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 7:42 PM
As a woman trapped in a quagmire of no job or kids, you learn to find solace in the softer pursuits of life. Vanilla things like apartment decoration, shopping to expand your clothing (and shoes) wardrobe, being an extensive part of other people's lives and happiness... and of course, being in the supermarket. The allure of those grandly-lit, bright and inviting shelves stocked up with a huge variety of utilitarian products and produce. Every time you feel the urge to spend, but don't have enough cash to splurge on fashion, you enter - the supermarket!

For me, its a mid-way option between not shopping at all and spending excessively on fashion that will (as the name suggests), go out-of-fashion soon. Grocery shopping is the fence-sitter's vent to spending without feeling guilty (because the purchases will eventually be used around the house). It still allows you to swipe that credit card, without feeling like you just burnt an unnecessary hole in your husband's pocket.

In my household, grocery shopping is a task specifically reserved for me. Primarily because of two reasons - one, it lets me be in control of the products and brands that enter my house. And two, because it fulfils my basic need of shopping as a lady. Multiple trips to the supermarket to pick up one item at a time (like a $2 carton of milk) has kept me from spending hundreds of dollars on fashion. That would be a selfish buy to temporarily excite my inner-demon who always wants to look good.


America is a very consumer-centric market. If you have cash, the economy will give you at least 2000 ways to spend it, without even leaving your house (phone servicing, smartphone apps, Amazon, virtual online showrooms). Ever since I have arrived here, my mailbox (real AND digital) has been overflowing with discount offers from my favorite stores (Francesca's, Victoria's Secret, etc. - guess they found my address from my Cosmopolitan subscription). Sales seem to go on throughout the year and the allure to purchase is almost impossible to resist. Models wearing smashing pastels and sunglasses are thronging my vision through the spring catalogues and brochures that have already found a way inside my mailbox. Given all the incentive, I have to resort to grocery shopping to curb the natural instinct to buy.

In retrospect, my biggest fashion binges have centred around the years that I have spent working. If its my own money, I don't think twice before buying that LV bag that looks so crisp and professional. Problem starts when I am playing the role of a dependent. With a husband that barely even raises an eyebrow to my impulsive shopping, my inner moral instincts kick me harder each time I decide to please myself with shopping.

So all you women out there, if you have limited depth in your pocket (which would be most of us - considering you also worry about 'menial' things like savings and retirement) but an overriding impulse to purchase, try the magic formula of grocery shopping! It will keep you in the market, you still get to experience retail therapy by browsing the huge shelves and working to get to your item, you also still get to spend a few bucks and swipe that card - WITHOUT the flood of guilt at the end of it all. This arrangement works all too well to postpone that next big, expensive fashion buy. Until a sunnier day!

2

The Pushkar Syndrome

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 4:11 AM
Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor’s wife, Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor, was recently found dead in Delhi’s posh Leela Hotel. The incident happened after a public spat between Sunanda Tharoor and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar over the latter’s alleged ‘stalking’ of Shashi  Tharoor. After the war broke out on Twitter, and between the day that Sunanda allegedly committed suicide, she gave a bunch of television interviews about what went into the making of the all-out spat. Clearly upset over the accusations of spoiling her husband’s career with her constant shenanigans, Sunanda might have decided to end her life (and I say ‘might’ because whether it was a suicide still hasn’t been proven and the needle of suspicion hangs on her influential husband Shashi Tharoor).

This is not just Sunanda’s story. Scores of women have given up their successful careers and bright lives to play accomplice to their husband’s achievements and success. Some are fortunate to have men who do not stray, but alas, some others bear the brunt of the indiscretions of their men. I am not, however, suggesting that Sunanda did the right thing by committing suicide. I mean why rid the man so easily of his crimes by ending your own life? Heard of nasty divorces and hefty alimonies, anyone? Remarriage too and living a normal life. But the larger point that I am trying to make is that women seem to get the rough end of the deal in case a marriage falls apart due to infidelities (committed by either side). If lord forbid their husbands decide to cheat on them in a ‘weak moment of temptation’, some take it so hard that it ends the way the third-time marriage fairytale ended for Mrs Tharoor.

The saga leaves no strata of women untouched. Talking about the rich and the famous – the category to which Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor belonged to – former players include Hillary Clinton (survived the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky sex scandal), Huma Abedin (wife of American politician and infamous ‘sexter’ Anthony Weiner), Elin Nordengren (Tiger Wood’s wife) and most recently Valerie Trierweiler (the French President’s wife). The list includes many more and goes on to prove that wealth and fame are no safeguards against the feeble minds of men. Further, there are more layers of women involved in this mental form of injustice. Think about the category of the bored middle class. Tired of their routine lives, they seek solace outside their home with the petty premise of jigging up their world. When their indiscretions come to light, someone has to pay the price. And this price is most often paid by the women. In the poor world, these things are more commonplace and rampant. In some cases, wife is the sole breadwinner too and still faces adultery and constant verbal & physical abuse.

So why do Sunanda’s of the world have to lose their lives? To put it narrowly, why do smart and intelligent women wrap their lives around their husband’s little finger? Why do they seek joy in their joys and sadness and in their sorrows and forget what defines them as individuals, separate from the logistics of their husband’s life? Why do they cover up their husband’s crimes (the IPL scandal in Sunanda’s case) and why do they decide to pick up fights with other women wrecking their marriage instead of first sorting out things at home? Conversely, another way to think about this is, why do men give acknowledgements in the form of ‘To the love of my life, and the life of my love, Sunanda’ on the first pages of their books (Tharoor’s Pax Indica) to their ‘beloved’ wives and then give them so much reason to worry? They are fully at fault for first leading their wives into believing that they are ‘the one’ and then letting their interest get weaned away by the endless lusts of the world.

How difficult is it to stay faithful anyway? And if for some reason, the object of your affection changes, how difficult is it to call it quits before jumping on to your next bandwagon of (flimsy) trust? Why do people not see the merits of simplifying and de-cluttering their lives? How do some women manage to stay in rotten marriages for the sake of their societal status or kids? When did the world we live in get so hostile and unbearable? And why do poor Sunanda’s have to exist and then suddenly cease to exist at a whim?

Her demise probably came down the hardest on the one person that she clearly forgot the accord some thought to - her son. To lose a mother and then face the public humiliation after the former loss of his (real) father is a bruise big enough to shade the rest of his life. Do women who choose to end their lives over men realize how much they hurt the people around them who actually love them and value them for who they are? It’s always easier to leave the path when the going gets tough and to take the easy exit out. But the path of righteousness, resistance and resilience is far more rewarding than what’s easy in the moment. History seems to suggest that once a man is proven to be a cheater, that side of his personality never seems to go away. One girlfriend after another and one wife after another, all are subject to the same callousness as the previous, disguised in the politely camouflaged excuse of ‘the charm of love wearing off’. Kings and queens and prime ministers and presidents and sportsmen (sadly these are the only people whose stories stick around long enough in public conscience) have proven by means of their lives that infidelity is an affliction - an incurable disease. Then why do women choose suicide over the drama of seeing their men break the hearts (in due course) of the women that they once picked over them?

As we lament the demise of another pretty face (and in India, it almost feels like a crime to be above average in looks – cause people then see you as a picky, narcissistic, dumb human), we also realize that women seriously need to rethink the choices that they make. Nobody asks you to leave your previous lives in the charms of that one new man who has swept you off your feet. If you are incapable of reading your man’s intentions in advance and subsequently ill-equipped to deal with the collapse of your union, please at least hold your careers and family close to you. Because when one door closes, another one can fully absorb your being (like soft cushions softening blows and shocks). If only you give them a chance.

P.S. I like Shashi Tharoor’s writings and liked his tenure at the UN. I rooted for him as he contested for the post of undersecretary. I still like his views on India and the world. But I would be lying if I say that the whole Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor episode hasn’t taken away some charm (and maybe respect, but who am I to judge) away from the old man. The situation could have been dealt with better. If it had been, then one innocent life (even if a little extra emotional and attached) could have been saved. We lament and pray in unison for the innocent departed soul.


1

The problem with time is…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 6:02 AM

This existential question arises and haunts everyone at some point in their lives - the actual problem with time. Is there really a problem with time? When do we start feeling it? Is it truly a concept or just a myth? What is the problem with time in the first place? Well, here’s the answer. The problem with time is – that there is just too much of it.

Who are the people who don’t feel it? Young students, young professionals, new couples, young parents, and basically all people young. Too much to do in too little time, too many things to accomplish in a constant adrenaline rush. Time is an essential and handy commodity in their lives. And they never seem to have enough of it. Students don’t seem to have enough time before exams to study. Young professionals are so busy earning money that they have no time for friends or family or leisure. Young couples are so much in love that life is a steady breeze of happiness and joy. No full stops and no ends. Young parents barely have time to look in the mirror, let alone sleep!

So who are the poor ones who feel that there is enough time in life for everything? Well, we’ll start with the next stages in life for all of the people mentioned above. Students graduate, professionals feel burnout and decide to take it slow, couples get old and boring, kids grow up and young parents don’t feel young anymore when time seems to stretch on endlessly as they wait for their kid to get back home from a night-out with friends. But there is also this other breed to people who feel that there is ample time in life to live, love and flourish. Those stuck in a time-travel spectrum, where their spouse is super busy and they are super free. There are also those who have retired from their jobs and are trying to find new meaning and a newer purpose in life. Then there are those who are sick and out of activity, those who can’t seem to know what to do with their time. There are the elderly whose kids have grown up and now have their own families demanding their own priorities. As they come in terms with their decreased utility in life, they find newer ways and newer places of solace (mostly in religion and same-aged company) to fill their time.

What happens when time comes to a naught? Let us not confuse this concept with the lives of people who seems to have developed routines. A ‘routine’ is the anti-dote to boredom and the endlessly stretched passages of time. Routines are developed to fight loneliness, unproductiveness and monotony. It is also the best thing to ever happen to someone who can’t seem to find a direction amidst all the extra time and space. Routine is what keeps strays from becoming strays. Routine regulates life and it ultimately also leads to more successful outcomes. But despite all the benefits, routine is boring and hard to embrace. For those who do, life is easier to sail through as compared to those others who seek their daily doses of thrill, excitement and change.

So what does one do (with a lot of time) to fill up that routine chart? Well that mostly depends on your age, interests and lifestyle. But some generic tips never fail for work. First, find company. Find similar people who are stuck at a similar place in life like you. Talk to them, share your feelings with them, bond with them socially and try to do activities together. A vacation, an evening walk, a daily 30-minute chat session, meet up at a bar, or meet up at the local library or grocery store. But do meet up. And talk away the blues (this trick seems to work with both genders alike).

Second, fall in love with your own company. Lucky are those few who have learnt this lesson early on in life. But those who are taught this the hard way in later stages - worry not! It’s never too late to fall in love with yourself. Engage yourself in intelligent thoughts, read good material, enrich that brain, watch good television programming, work out and keep yourself healthy, pamper yourself, invest money in looking good and good clothes, save for retirement, take health care seriously – it is only when you enjoy your own company and accord due respect to yourself that other will do the same and follow suit. Carve out some me-time every day to get into the habit of loving yourself. Don’t be afraid of spending time alone. If you can harden yourself up to the challenge once, it will become a lifetime asset.

And lastly, have fun. Enjoy whatever you do. It could be travelling, reading, catching up with friends or family, organizing events, contributing artistically to the world (in your writings or paintings), learning a new skill, improving your existing skills (never too late to work on and enhance your culinary style!), stay busy, stay active and you will realize that your are much happier. Because true joy lies in bringing out the best from within yourself and offering it to others to make their lives better too. True joy lies in hard-work, fun and camaraderie. It lies in being kind, polite and productive. Happiness emanates from staying true from within and giving life your best shot - in school, at work, at home and in retirement. It also lies in pursuing your passions, designing the life that you want and treating yourself and others with respect. Happy living :)

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The Alchemy of Shame

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:37 AM

I had decided I wouldn’t write about this. It seemed like a simple case on the onset and I thought I wouldn’t give it more importance than it deserved. But thanks to a voyeuristic nation that doesn’t let go of even slightly salacious cases like the Aarushi Talwar murder case – the Tarun Tejpal sex scandal has refused to leave the headlines. In the process, it has brought out the worst in the decorated writer/journalist.

Sexual overtures in the media aren’t as rare as one would like to believe. Bosses making advancement towards their juniors just because they are higher up in the hierarchy, the ‘sab chalta hai’ attitude that dominates the industry and the people who aren’t scared to push the limits to see what all they can get away with. Talks laden with sexual innuendo, passing remarks about the ‘quickest way to get promoted’ and the usual sight of girls having to work extra hard to make a mark are common occurrences within these circles. Nobody dares say a word (who would they report it to, right? Their bosses themselves are the news makers) and the constant exploitation of womenfolk continues in this unorganized and largely informal industry. The safest way is to walk away with your head bent down and ignore the overtures at the risk of a doomed career. And nobody dares make any noise about this injustice that is brushed under the carpet on a daily basis. All this until one day when someone leaked Tarun Tejpal’s internal correspondence to the media – BAM!

Tarun Tejpal, one of my favourite writers as a teenager (I devoured ‘Story of my Assassins’ and ‘The Alchemy of Desire’), and the editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine. The same magazine that was until recently seen as pioneer and champion of stories that nobody else dared venture around. That Tarun Tejpal finds himself in a sex controversy. A junior reporter at Tehelka accuses him of ‘gross sexual misconduct’ at a conference in Goa. She says he penetrated her with his finger, not once but twice on two separate occasions, in a resort elevator. Despite her reluctance and despite it being a clear violation of the employer-employee relationship that they shared. Not to mention that the girl was the same age as Tarun’s daughter and also happened to be his daughter’s best friend! He offered to recuse himself from Tehelka for 6-months (that’s unheard of) and admitted to his guilt in the letter that he wrote to managing editor Shoma Chaudhary. Later when that letter got leaked to the media (his own industry), he went back on his words and did what all men do when accused of sexual misconduct – called the act ‘consensual’ between him and the girl. And because of that u-turn, I was prompted to write this post.

So what do I think of Shoma Chaudhary and Tehelka after the expose? Tehelka’s credibility might just as well be finished after this scandal. A magazine that took pride in imparting justice to the slighted failed to assemble a cell to probe the sexual assault allegations for over a week. They scrambled and scrambled some more for some wriggle-room even as the media went berserk asking them to take stricter action against Tarun, over and above his self-determined and self-inflicted hiatus of just six months. Shoma Chaudhary’s response was a surprise too. A lesser known fact about her is that she is also a visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) and gives lectures on journalistic ethics and morality (I was a student in a few of those classes too). And yet, when her own friend confessed to a crime of sexual violation and ‘misreading of signals’ (whatever that means), she merely came forward to call it an ‘internal matter’ of Tehelka and failed to take adequate redressal measures to assuage the violated journalist. Last I heard, she quit from her position as managing editor for good.

Over to what I think about Tarun Tejpal and what the future holds for him. Well the man is known for his sexcapades and sexual adventures. I witnessed his fondness for the carnal first hand when I saw him a few years ago at the Jaipur Literary Festival’s Writers Ball, happily surrounded by a bunch of pretty girls with a malt whiskey in his hand, completely oblivious to the going-ons around him and exhibiting zero interest in starting a conversation with anybody outside his beautiful circle of companions. The lurid text in some of his books also indicates a fascination with exploring one’s sexuality and living life in a (depressing) daze. While I wouldn’t hold his text against him, there is no denying the fact that the reputation precedes Tarun Tejpal’s arrival everywhere. To think that he could get away with sexually assaulting a colleague in a lift and then whispering in her ear that that was the easiest way for her to keep her job, on two separate occasions, is a reflection of his mentality that women employees can be suppressed into submission with the threat of keeping their jobs. The complete disregard for the fact that the victim was also his daughter’s friend shows how he isn’t just a bad boss, but also a terrible father. He comes out as a person who can’t even accord due consideration to his family, let alone treat his colleagues right. His credibility has taken a severe hit and it would be sad to see him get away with a light sentence and resuming work in a couple of years (a.k.a. Prabhu Chawla after the radia tapes) and the nation forgetting about his misdemeanors.

What stands out throughout the case is the consistency of the victim’s statements, despite the duress and added pressure of media spotlight. Even after her complaints of receiving threats from several people asking her to withdraw the case, she has managed to hold her ground and not embellished her accounts of what happened on that fateful conference in Goa. Quite unlike Tarun Tejpal, who has oscillated wildly from calling the incident a ‘gross miscalculation on his part’ earlier, to terming it ‘consensual’ later when the case gained prominence. For that crime alone, and the patriarchal mindset that it reveals where he thinks he can blame it on the girl and get away with it, his should be made a model case and Tarun Tejpal be doled out the harshest punishment to dissuade such incidents from happening in the future. Maybe then the dark veil of secrecy shielding the industry will get its tiny hole in the fabric for the aggrieved to peep out from and move towards resurrection. 

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