The Holiday Season

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 9:03 AM in , , , ,
So what is it about the holiday season that has us all perked up? While in the USA, and most parts of the outside world, holiday season dawns around Christmas and New Year’s. But in India, holiday season translates into the break that we get around Diwali. But of course we are Indian and we love to celebrate! So with the same fervor as we celebrate Dusshera and the Festival of Lights... we also hop around when New Year’s comes along. People apply for offs in their offices, make travel plans, get excited on Christmas eve and are part of a big party on New Year’s night.

Getting drunk and happy is a fad, new winter clothes are purchased to flaunt, families go on an overdrive and install Christmas trees (‘install’ too mechanical a word?), teach their children about Santa and his stockings, have family dinners and rum cakes. All a big package of happiness. While on most years I am clueless about my plans and hate the festive season... this year I am happy.

When I was a child, my relatives from the great United States of America gifted me a huge 5-book collection of Santa stories in a giant book jacket... packed up like a gift. That green, 100 by 100 inches box (I am not kidding), was the most prized possession of my yesteryears. I held it close to my heart, showed it off to my friends and read each book carefully... turning one banana leaf discreetly after the other, to absorb and memorize each line. I learnt about Santa, his habitat, reindeers, mistletoes, stockings, chimneys, sleighs, Antarctica, decorations, confetti, rum and fig cakes... all from those five precious books. The last page of the fifth book had a full two page rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ and my toes would stand up for a tap dance each time I read it. Now as an adult, I might have misplaced my box-set... but fond memories remain. The feel of those creamy pages and the smell of freshness linger in my head. I was blessed with a colour-filled and playful childhood. Touché.

Having attended a fancy school where conversing in English right from the first grade was a fad (we were punished if someone was heard talking in Hindi), the Christmas (and subsequently New Year’s) festivities lingered on. In my fourth grade, I would hang a sparkling white stocking with my gift wish-list scribbled and stuffed inside it, on the doorknob. But to my disappointment, there would be no gifs in the morning. That was because my parents were blissfully unaware of any such activity going on in my room as me and my brother both had a separate room to ourselves. So sadness dawdled there.

But that didn’t stop me from pestering my father to get us the most baroque New Year’s reservations. While in some years he would succumb to that demand and spend oodles of money getting us a good spot... in the others, we would have street golgappas at midnight, or be snuggled in our beds watching New Year’s programming on TV. In one of those years, SaReGaMa was big and I have clear recollections of watching Anu Kapoor usher us into the New Year with his cheerful voice.

Last year, I was lucky enough to spend both Christmas and New Year’s in the Big Apple. The place to be - NEW YORK CITY. Eat your hearts out. Amazon Kindle as my gift, Times Square on 31st midnight and an American Diner for dinner. Total and absolute bliss. In the Americas, this time of the year is angelic. Most major tech companies launch their line of new advanced tech offerings to woo the buyers. And it’s a shopper’s delight to indulge in the joys of the latest iPhone or iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire or Barnes and Noble’s Nook. They are everywhere and if you don’t bag one, your New Year’s sucked.

The ‘Food’ around Christmas - means different things to different people. To me, it’s a lot of cakes and wines. And chocolates! Who can forget the chocolates?! Molten, brown, white, dark, bitter, sweet, Belgian, desi, etc. No end to this list. The more the merrier. Ho ho ho.

The ‘Clothes’ – India or abroad, there are HUGE discounts on clothing in this season. Latest fashion brands selling at cheesecake rates. Or hot bread rates. Or hot dog rates. Best time to hoard them, wear them, buy some, throw some more (money) and hoard some again for the rest of the winters. Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vuitton, Van Heusen, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Ray Ban. Time to get the best deals on everything!

The ‘Movies’ – Oscar and Grammy nominations are released. And the best movies of Hollywood hit the screens in this month. For 2011, the list is as impressive with – Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes 2, The Descendants, Ides of March, The Iron Lady, etc. I have watched the ones that have released and have plans too for watching the rest of them. The list last year was as glorious with cinematic gems like – The King’s Speech, The Black Swan, Rabbit Hole – being doled out. Then too, I watched each and every one of them, including a Spanish film ‘Biutiful’.

So in conclusion, as I sit here in the yellow glow of my room’s lighting, snug in a blanket on a crisp white winter Christmas morning, I revel in the celebratory aura that hangs in the air. I shall visit the fanciest mall in Delhi to gawk at their biggest Christmas tree, have a rum cake, walk in the evening cold and finally end the day with a few drinks to warm up. Merry Christmas to ye all :) Tons to do this year!


The whole Indian wedding tamasha

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 12:33 PM in , ,

Unlike several other countries in the world, the meaning of ‘wedding’ in the Indian context is very different. It encompasses every other factor, other than the willingness of the boy or the girl. In the ‘arranged wedding’ scenario, a concept largely ridiculed in the west, the boy and the girl are simply expected to wed as strangers and then fall in love. If any differences or incompatibilities arise later... the duo is expected to reconcile to them within four walls. Because like the couple once obliged to fall in love with the person of their parent’s choice, they are also expected to tow their lines in terms of what KIND of person they have to get used to.

I am not suggesting that such matches are always forced or that they always end up failing. A good amount of them even manage to work. But all elders in this country have got to understand that there are only a certain ‘type’ of people you can expect to put up with this arrangement. I am a journalist and I have always lived life on my own terms. Owing to adequate financial independence that I have experienced in recent years, I feel I am fairly equipped to pick my own match. And to stick to that choice and live it through, because at least at the end of the day, it is still MY decision that I am putting up with. And the decision was not made for me by somebody else. It can go wrong and things can fall apart, but that way I have at least not smothered my wishes, just to be ‘socially acceptable’. Nor have I wrapped myself up as a candy to be presented to a ‘market’ of suitable boys (don’t know what mind-fucked people come to do that kind of bidding). And I would own full responsibility for my actions.

Which brings us to the moot point of which ‘kind’ of people agree to enter the ‘arranged marriage’ scenario. This is the breed that has either loved their family way too much, more than anything else, to ever fall as much in love with anybody else. Or the variety that feels it is not in their ‘culture’ to disregard what their parents ask them to do. Now the second variety worries me the most. Because these are the same people who can never say ‘no’ to anything that is asked of them. ‘Marry him/her’... yes. ‘Have babies with them now’... yes. ‘He is cheating on you? Put up with it. Marriage is all about compromises’... yes. ‘You feel you are incompatible? Manage it... it’s your life and he/she is your spouse. Get used to them’... yes. The ‘yes-saga’ has no end but lifelong implications of this can be catastrophic. People tend to become subdued, reserved, irritable, irrational, non-objective... and ultimately end up sleeping in different rooms. Because in their words... their natures ‘never matched’. I might sound a little extreme but the crux of my argument shall come to life only if such extremities are cited.

On the other hand, people who marry out of ‘love’ are less likely to end up in different bedrooms. They have known each other, had their say, known their expectations and most importantly, the onus lies on them to make it work. Because they made their own choice. The learning of making a love-marriage work is the learning of a lifetime. You live with your ‘decision’ everyday. Wake up with them, sleep with them and grow with them. The learning might be sweet or it might be bitter, but it is of your own making. And it shall always remain that way. Everybody makes mistakes in their youth and the Indian parents need to allow their kids to make those ‘mistakes’ once. They might work or they might not. But there is never the added pressure of not having other avenues or exits. These ‘mistakes’ teach one to be independent in life, and responsible, for all things that happen to them or are made to happen.

A marriage is more than just about maintaining social standing or stature. And children are more than just mere badges that parents can pin-up on their shoulders. Nor are children means for parents to live the kind of lives that they never lived on their own. The two parties in a married couple eventually have to cope with their own lives, and the easier it is made for them, the better. At a basic level, the voices that advocate ‘own match picking’ need to be heard. Being ‘liberal’ has always been the way forward and by holding old customs or traditions very close to the heart, folks today are being insensitive to the needs of the times. They have to be more supportive and respectful of their children’s wishes. Times have changed and they can’t dictate rules about how lives should be lived. Honour-killings should be stopped and a thought has to be spared to what makes your own flesh-and-blood happy. For there is no substitute for consensual coexistence to give life to the ‘happily ever after’...


The Big White American Blizzard

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 1:22 PM

To catch the snow in New York City had been my muse since 2002. That was the year I had to return from a trip just as the city was about to witness the first snowfall of the season. That wish got fulfilled in 2011. Just as I was returning from a dream-like visit to WWE Raw Worldwide in Madison Square Garden (New York) to our temporary set-up in a New Jersey hotel, it snowed. But little did I know that almost a decade worth of wait wasn’t going to ensure an easy night in the face of an actual snowstorm... and I was not prepared for what ensued.


Borders Bookstore, 7th Avenue and 33rd Street, New York

The first few flakes of snow appeared as I sat at Borders and sipped hot coffee. There was also a hot muffin keeping me company. Looking out of the big glass pane, I thought about how beautiful Manhattan looked, how the thin sheet of snow was slowly covering the parked cars and how chilly the air was outside. I was waiting for the entry gates to open for WWE (more on that experience in a later post). The multi-storeyed bookshop was abuzz with people mostly waiting to attend the same event. I sat peacefully, enjoyed the snow and savoured my hot cuppa.


Madison Square Garden, New York

I stepped out of Borders and started my short walk towards Madison Square Garden. The air was indeed freezing and I had to cover myself with a sweater, flaming pink jacket, earmuffs, thick gloves (only available in NY... for NY), socks, heavy black boots and a very woollen muffler to keep myself from getting a frostbite. The walk was short, but bitterly cold. The sight of the blooming city kept my spirits alive amidst the rapidly increasing snowfall. At this point I will admit that the worrying thought of having to drive our car through the mounting snow did cross my mind.


Another short walk from Madison Square Garden to Penn Station

The plan was to take a train ride to New Jersey, pick the parked car, and drive to the temporary hotel before passing out fitfully in the cosy bed. Upon stepping out from Madison Square Garden, the sight that greeted me was of snowy white bliss, yes, but also sheer horror at the almost six-inches of snow that has fallen in a little less than 4 hours. And still mounting/counting. While the thought of spending the night in New York and avoiding a dreadful drive in the snow did cross my mind, the monetary considerations of implementing this idea held me back. And the car drive was unavoidable... the quicker the better, before an entire night of heavy snow totally buried the car under clusters of sinfully white ice.

I reluctantly boarded the train to New Jersey (NJ Transit trains, they call them) and waited for it to move. The same crowd from WWE followed me into the train. To see warm faces was reassuring, but the scenes outside when the train started moving were deeply depressing. Empty roads at almost 11 at night. Snow-sheets draining out almost all signs of activity, or even life, from an otherwise pretty countryside. I crossed my fingers and prayed for the best. The ghastly images of my car covered in snow filled my mind and I tried to push them away. I wasn’t equipped to deal with this. A midnight maverick adventure was about to go horribly wrong. Well, almost.

The train came to a screeching halt at the station and I quickly gathered my belongings (including a sponge ‘No.1 John Cena’ hand figure that I had waved shamelessly through the game) and stepped out into the station. The sights that followed were no respite either. The snowfall had quickly assumed the proportions of a blizzard now. The walk from the train station to my car was almost the longest walk of my life. And the first emotions of dread were starting to creep in. To walk against the freezing wind was impossible and I dragged myself on, with my boots sinking deep into the mountains of snow. I also encountered a policeman screaming at a couple, and also helping them alongside, to wade through the snow. I secretly hoped that I wouldn’t require such help tonight.

The sight of the car was no consolation at all. The deep-blue sedan was pristine white and loaded with snow. The storm wouldn’t stop blowing and even opening the door of the car proved to be a chore. I stepped in and the poor four-wheel-drive sedan wouldn’t move. It was stuck in the snow. After much effort when it finally did move, it graciously went and got stuck right in the middle of the raised boom-barrier. And it was a rented car and I started getting worried for its well-being. The parking attendant (already battling the blizzard himself and helping people leave from the other exit, while mounting curses left, right and centre) finally came to my help after almost 20 minutes. By now, I was scared as hell and fantasising about my warm bed and the safety of four walls. A mini ice-cleaning truck came to the rescue to shoved some snow away from the car’s path. The parking attendant hurled accusations that sounded something like ‘you should read weather forecasts before stepping out in a blizzard like this!’ Point mindfully noted, sir. But what about tonight?

After great difficulty, the sturdy car finally hit the road. But this was just half the battle won. Or maybe not even that. Once the ride began, and it was going to be almost 30-minutes long, my heart sank further upon seeing the conditions of the road. They were deserted. The lady on my GPS sprung to life and started dictating directions. The funny thought of satellite links going haywire and me getting lost in this strange country on the road crossed my mind. I sensed mind-numbing negativity inside me.

Soon I hit the interstate and that’s when the jams started to appear. First I encountered smaller jams, and then bigger ones. One or two broken down cars parked at the corners of roads. In this maddening chill, with crazy temperatures. Would the cars have enough fuel to make the heaters last overnight while help arrived the next morning? The car in front of me hurled a shovel in the direction of a broken down car on the right, with a lady standing in the snow hoping for some help to come by. ‘Help yourself’ was the mantra that night. My heart couldn’t have sunk any lower, but I retained faith in the deep-blue car.

The road brought along crazy turn in the snow and involved following a jeep with a family for directions. While the GPS didn’t conk off (phew!), it also didn’t help much once the jam began. The biggest, longest, toughest jam of my life. The car got stuck, almost 20 minutes away form the hotel, in a jam. It was midnight now and the traffic didn’t move even an inch for almost 3 hours!!!

Stuck in a foreign country, in temperatures hovering around -14 degree Celsius outside the car, with no help whatsoever, with just a mini cleaner to remove the snow from the windshield and a full tank to at least keep the heater on and whirring.

Now over to what the media does when these blizzards hit. The radio was blaring and I was on the lookout, ears perked, waiting for some good news to make an appearance. I kept listening on and on and on... endlessly... for some good piece of information. That didn’t happen. What I did hear was this –

‘John, so the residents of the New York/New Jersey area are battling a harrowing blizzard.’

‘Yes Tara, our records tell us that this the worst storm the area is battling for this time of the year, in the last 20 years!’

‘Wow John, that’s pretty bad! And despite weather warnings, the area was not prepared to deal with this kind of snow.’

‘For the people stuck out on the road, its a new record ($%&#$) and the traffic is showing no signs of moving on the interstate. We can’t say how long this will last, and we can only comment once it stops snowing. But this is a new record (&@@$%) and the New York/New Jersey area will have to fight a long night ahead.’

Ok, enough! I was simmering with anger... about to burst. We were stuck away from homes and hotels, out on a highway, without knowing how or where this night would end... and the radio people are busy creating records! Plain disdainful.


Some Interstate highway, New Jersey

During the course of this wait, my feelings metamorphed from anger, to disdain, to denial and then to a reluctant phase of acceptance. This was my fate tonight, stuck in a car, no food or water, no washroom to relieve myself, sub-zero temperatures outside and a non-moving jam. And of course, loathsome radio anchors. Fabulous. Price I paid for watching WWE. My only solace was the other cars stuck around me with their families. I turned off the radio and slipped into an erratic sleep pattern...

And then I heard a horn. Then another. And another! It seemed that the traffic had finally started moving. I was ecstatic and the fingers hurt from being crossed so tight! The blocked cars were indeed moving and I moved with them. The roads, to my sheer amazement, had been cleared of the snow. With salt-sprinklers and snow-shoving trucks. As I moved along and noticed the clear roads, I wasn’t angry at the authorities anymore. I was only amazed at how just in a short span of 3 hours, such long stretches of roads, covering miles and miles of distance, had been cleared before allowing the traffic to resume. I was jubilant and relieved. Soon enough, the hotel appeared at a distance. Life was good! The road exit that lead to the hotel had been cleared too. The drive towards the parking lot was a smooth one. As I looked up at the window of the room I was going to sleep in, I almost already passed out of exhaustion...


The Hotel, New Jersey

Once the car was parked, I picked up all belonging and made my way to the room. The receptionist gave me quizzing looks and with a smile on my face, I said-

‘I was at WWE tonight. And then got stuck in the snow.’

I also remember raising my sponge ‘No.1 John Cena’ hand towards her in greeting. Once in the room, I fixed myself a frozen parantha and some warm milk, and had it while browsing pictures clicked during the day on the camera...

I was finally home.

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