Story of a lost journalist

March 25, 2016

My Train People

Filed under: People — Cris @ 03:12

Train travelling almost always leaves you with a story to write about. I have been missing these because I take the Jan Shatabdi every week and this sort of corners you into your seat especially if it is a window one, what with the one-way seats and the partitions in between, which actually makes it a comfy ride. But you miss the people stories. You don’t have to be the social kind, or the small talk kind. You just have to be the curious or the observant, the one that enjoys it all.

I had taken the Ernad Express grumpily, because the Shatabdi was already full and Ernad took two hours more than Shatabadi, and was more crowded. I felt guilty about claiming my seat which was taken by someone else and guiltier later for not sharing half of my seat as so many were standing. But then no one seemed to be complaining, the standers or the sitters. There was a certain happiness in here, in this really crowded coach that I took, that was somehow catching. And within an hour or so, you sort of establish a connection with your neighbours, without actually exchanging a word with them. It’s suddenly people you know, people with you.

On my right was a teenage couple, speaking what I suppose was Hindi, I have no idea of what. Opposite me, it’s a married couple with their toddler son, and one chubby fellow with a beard and a gigantic set of earphones. Standing to my left was a girl, who had to lose her seat to another claimer like me (the bad us), and uncomplainingly moved hither and thither with her earphones, one tenth the size of what Chubby had. There are more, the green shirt who took her seat, another green shirt who read a Sidney Sheldon and whom I might have had a crush on two years ago, an older woman who woke me up to ask about my seat and the hundreds (no exaggeration) of sellers who’d pass by.

But my forte had been established. It was the young couple, the married couple and kid, Chubby and Standing Girl. The family opposite me was like the happy families you watch in movies – laughing, loving, eating. This I believe was genuine, because if it weren’t, they couldn’t have made it last all five hours in the train. But there was not one annoyed gesture as the patient parents took turns to look after the little one, who hasn’t been still for one second, and kept insisting to eat the biscuits that fell on the floor, throwing an empty bottle at the opposite seat (which meant my feet and my hands and luckily not my face), and jumping up on their laps. The dad had been the bigger surprise, I never see fathers so patient, not only sharing the chores but doing it so happily. And unlike the typical Kerala families, this one was expressive. They look the typical Malayali trio but they don’t behave so. It was actually a happy sight to watch the mom put her hands affectionately on the dad every time she laughed or rested. I am not being a voyeur, this is hard to miss when you are seated in a crowded train and not sleeping.

I suppose the teen couple next to me was expressive too but they are on the same line as me so I couldn’t see and their language was alien. But what touched me was when the girl stopped her chatter and offered a candy bar to our Restless Kiddo who took it happily and gave her a baby-teeth smile. Later the young man would keep petting the child. He was irresistible that way, the kid, for all his restlessness, you could easily make a pet out of him. Love needed no language really. So good to be a kid, I thought, anyone could love you and also express it freely, no moral policing there. Yet.

Chubby in the meanwhile had brought out his gigantic earphones and plugged it to his mobile phone. He had not stopped laughing since. I imagined he is watching a Jagathy movie. But I also imagined, meanly, that there was nothing funny at all, he was just pretending to laugh to show he wasn’t lonely and bored. Poor Chubs. And then there was Standing Girl. I kept looking at her wondering if I should offer half my seat. I don’t know why I didn’t proceed. It’s simply one of those things you think and do nothing about. It’s when she stepped down at Haripad and walked away I felt so absolutely guilty. Why don’t we do the things we know we should – if it is for some temporary comfort, trust me it is no good at all compared to the later guilt you will feel. Quite for selfish reasons, I have decided to act as soon as I have such thoughts again, if only to save me from the torturous guilt.

So there, those were my people for the journey. I realized this when at some stop, the teens had stepped out and a suitcase man who boarded the train came to sit in their place. I said protectively, that seat’s taken.

February 12, 2016

Sabarimala, a fight for no one

Filed under: My Musing Moments — Cris @ 22:39

Questions of equality struck me later. At first it was accepted, the inequality – I mean of the genders – and frowned upon like a bad fact of life. That it can be questioned didn’t occur to me. It’s the same with faith. At first you accept it, like the sights you see and the sounds you hear, you think of it as a belief to believe in. That it could be questioned, again comes later. Now I put the latter under the category of feelings. Faith is a feeling, like love, like hatred. You can’t choose what to believe in, you have to feel it. Nobody can make you.

And here at Sabarimala, both these questions come together. That of equality and that of faith. It just became one of those things I wasn’t concerned about. And that’s strange, that I wasn’t. Now I have mentioned my problems of being identified a feminist, if only for the strong reason that the word is highly misconstrued. But fact is I boil every time I hear about some kind of inequality – big or small. I don’t believe you have to be the one discriminated against to feel the injustice. But when it is a woman we are talking about, I can’t help it. I would have liked it if I were a man when I boiled. But never mind that. Point is I can’t take it. And that’s earned me the feminist tag that I am not fond of. The cause of equality is lost if you add a fem to it. It can’t be fem, it can’t be masculine either. It should just be.

So that’s why it’s strange I didn’t boil for Sabarimala’s women. When I heard words like tradition, I may have twitched an eyebrow but that’s about it. It is somehow not my area of concern. And I could brush it off as my agnosticism coming into the picture. Perhaps that’s why I am not boiling. And then again I hear it is the atheists that are actually “causing trouble”, raising voices for the women. I can see where that thought comes from. Women of faith – of the extreme kind who want to go through the pain of climbing the sloppiest slopes of Sabarimala – possibly also believe in the traditions handed down. Which is to say Ayyappan, the lord worshipped here, doesn’t wish for their presence. So then they make that sacrifice of not making that sacrifice they so want to make.

The atheists now are mostly rationalists, strong believers of equality and boil like I said I do. It’s plain discrimination, they feel, even though they probably have little wish to go themselves. They are fighting for the women believers who do not want to go against Ayyappan’s wishes. It’s not irony, it is not catch-22. It is just a fight for no one.

Fundamentally, I should be against it. And my question to those raising the argument of tradition is, if that were so, the temple entry proclamation could not have happened, and people of lower castes would still be standing outside, untouched. If traditions had not changed, there’d be sati still, child marriages, education a taboo for the antharjanams, and on and on and on goes the list.

That said, I somehow still feel we are fighting a non-issue here, despite my strong feelings for equality. Because those who care for rights, do not wish to go, and those who wish to go, do not wish to go.

December 2, 2015

Reality Check and Email Lady

Filed under: Journalism — Cris @ 22:29

I never thought I will have to use words like reality check. But those things are real. They have got to be. It’s like when good times become the norm, they suddenly wake up and remember they have to show up so someone could say, ‘Ah reality check’. Which is what I am going to do. Ah, reality check. It came with an email. Now, when I receive an email from someone I wrote about, my hands usually twitch a bit. Is this going to be good? It has been for a couple of days and I have just about stopped twitching when this unexpected email comes. From a name I did not know. This was not the person I wrote about. This was the person’s mother.

Mother starts it with Dear Cris. But the dearness ends there. Here is an absolute stranger telling me I am an irresponsible young journalist (that’s the silver lining here, the word young), that I have taken advantage of her child’s casual talk and made a story out of it. The story itself is not the problem. Certain lines of it are. And the child here is an adult, about to get married. But I panic of course. I call the person. Person says person is absolutely happy with the story, it is just that the mater is upset by it. But the panic doesn’t die. I write an apology first, but tell person’s mother that nothing has been written without person’s consent. That in fact the lines she objected to were the ones person had specifically asked me to write.

But the email exchange goes on. I forward the first to my boss and as usual, I had not gotten the insults thrown at me. I did not see the irresponsible part, I did not understand the take-advantage part. But that’s the story of my life, I never get insults till it is too late. I am sure the insulters find it embarrassing to insult me anymore. They have to insult me and then take pains of explaining it to me. Much like those who crack poor jokes and then explain them.

All this email exchange is not merely typing sharp words out to each other. It takes something out of you and puts something inside you. No, no this is no drama. Really, I am telling you, this thing called heaviness in your heart is real. I am sure if you go on a weighing machine every time you are upset, you are going to see 10 pounds more. That is the weight of your heaviness, no less.

I twist and twirl in the bed that night, not able to sleep, still composing lines in my head for the email lady. I am told to stop writing, to ignore. I am asked why take these small things to heart. Well, possibly because you can’t tell the small things that they are small and have no business hurting me, so please go away. They don’t really wait for permission to get inside your heart in the first place. And they can’t be thrown out, unless you are one of those yogi types who are said to meditate these guys out and stay detached. I am also glad I wrote to her, because if I didn’t, I would keep composing lines for the rest of my life. That’s what I do. I still go to an eighth standard day to that near-the-toilet classroom we had and tell lines that I think I should have said then, when a group of 13 year old girls stood and mimicked my funny dance steps and I walked in on them. I laugh at it now, laugh at my own non danciness. But my 13 year old self still hurts, and wants to tell things.

Sad, yes, but people are people with their strange little hangovers. I don’t know how many hours I must have wasted telling lines that I should have said and couldn’t say in the far far past. It is a good thing email lady chose email. If she had stood face to face I probably would have done what I did in eighth grade and 20 years later, said things I should have said today.

Mom says these things happen to journalists. Friend says block her. Me, I say, reality check.

October 11, 2015

My speech: It’s so easy to be happy

Filed under: life,My Musing Moments — Cris @ 18:38

Some day if I get ‘high’ enough to be an orator, I am going to speak about how easy it is to be happy and how we like to choose to be not. Like Dupree has his ‘ness’ speech in You, Me and Dupree.

Here’s the idea.

(Gee, I have imagined this so clearly, that I actually feel the initial reluctance you’d have if – and that is a big if – you are up on a stage, about to talk).

The idea, people, is as simple as it says it is – it is easy to be happy. Now, I am talking about everyday happiness, not the big hurdles that come to your life with truckloads of agony.

I will take an instance. Say, a friend of mine says we will have lunch together today. Later, she calls to cancel. Now when I hear it, I don’t feel bad, I say alrighty and cut the call. So my natural reaction is to go on being happy – or rather, status quo. But here’s where the second part of my speech comes – how we like to choose to be not happy. So I will sit and think. I will think why is she cancelling on me like this, this is not very nice. I will think will she do it with someone else. I will think she is doing this because I don’t mean much to her, I am not important. By then, I would have lost my train of thought, and all my focus would be on being irritated/ upset. It’s almost addictive. You get addicted to becoming unhappy whatever way possible.

This is a vague instance I quote. But I am sure everyone would have something to relate this with. Something microscopic in the large picture, something that probably never bothered us in the first place, but we focus so much on getting angry or unhappy, we forget it.

And this tendency to choose the unhappy route is something that develops in you as you grow older. I mean, you don’t see kids walking angrily, thinking thought after thought about something someone said and later seemed like a good reason to be mad about.

No one would agree easily, but really this is what we do day in and day out. So much that it’s become a habit with us. We could ask ourselves honestly – and this would be hard, the honesty part – did that something I got so upset about today really bother me in the first place? This would be difficult – getting ourselves to admit that it didn’t. Like I said, we really like our unhappinesses. For some strange reason.

The secret lies in figuring this out. Cause however much we like it, unhappiness is a pain in the neck. Kicking out is a lot easier than we think. The minute we sense our mind trying to get upset, just ask if it really matters to us, if we are just making an issue out of nothing. And very importantly, be honest to yourself. Really works wonders, I tell you. Though the adult inclination is towards unhappiness, once you choose the happy path, it is really so beautiful, like a new landscape you discovered, that you’d want to keep going back to it.

September 5, 2015

To small-talk or not?

Filed under: My Musing Moments — Cris @ 13:52

Say you need to ask someone something. So you make a call. What’s the first thing you say after hello?

Here’s how I work. I say hello, and then I say this is why I called you. Right on to it. Not that I believe this is the way it should be. I am bad with telephone manners. I am bad with any kind of manners. And if I try any other track like ‘how have you been’ or ‘so long now, isn’t it’, it would sound absolutely artificial coming from me. So artificial even to my ears that I doubt if I would do much more than cackle and make strange sounds. Hi, cough cough, how, cough a lot more, are you.

Now, a lot of people are good at this. They call a rare call and ask you how you are, what’s up with you and all before they tell you why they called. They are comfortable here, but the question is, is the person they called comfortable. Sure it is done with exactly that intention. That people think it is bad to call out of the blue when you need something after not calling for so long. So they make the compulsory small talk first. See, we care about you, we are not just calling for our needs. And while that good intention is appreciable, I really wonder how the other person – the receiver – finds it all.

If he is a bad phone person like me, he would be uncomfortable. He’d prefer the hello and the why after that. That way, you can just talk about that. Oh, that’s why you called, oh yes, we could do that, or we can’t do that. It’s easy, see, matter of fact.

The argument now that could come is, what if the small talk is genuine. What if the caller, despite calling for a need, actually wants to know how the friend has been, what’s been going on. That it is only the busyness of a busy life that’s kept him from calling before, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. They’d like to know for real.

That could be true now, but my counter argument is, if this need had not come, or the need is no longer there, would you still make the call and ask? Clubbing the small talk with the purpose seems somehow the preferred choice.

Because see, if the random just-for-talk calls come too sometimes, it sounds more genuine. I wouldn’t say the bad-with-phones person would find it comfortable. But it might grow on her, and she’d learn to be comfortable with the person. I talk from examples in my life. There is this friend who used to call at first and I would never answer. Or say flimsy excuses like ‘work’ (yeah, right!). But later I’d pick up, at first be very uncomfortable, conscious. Then somewhere along, learned to be myself, blurt out if I want to cut the call and go. That was easier. No different really from real life talks. But won’t work with everyone.

So erm, I don’t really have a concluding point here. I guess if I am the caller calling for something, I’d just get straight to it. It would definitely work with friends you call often (even when you don’t need anything). And it would work with the rare callers too, cause my guess is they’d prefer it, even though they would tell at the end of the call – Selfish brat, don’t call all these months and calls now when she has a favor to ask. But that’s going to come anyway, small talk or not. With small talk, that line would be – Selfish brat, calling me now after all these months and trying to pretend she cares!

August 9, 2015

Where is the word lesbian in Fried Green Tomatoes?

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 18:34

Lesbianism is never mentioned in the book. No ‘queers’, ‘gays’ or ‘homosexuals’. It simply says two young women who are in love with each other start living together, running a cafe, raising a child. One raises hell when the other gets married. One is a tomboy, again an unmentioned word. But then there is the very clear mention of racism, many many episodes of white against black. This is the 1920s n 30s. I am talking about ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe’ by Fannie Flag.

My fingers stop at this book on the Blossoms Fiction Floor in Bangalore, I admit, only because of the beautiful grey cover of an old house in some strange land. And then on habit, I turn to the first page, like the writing, look at the back, like the summary and reviews. There is a line from Harper Lee, she thought it loverly. Those perhaps were not her exact words but so to say.

And I was only expecting an old time story, switching between now and then, now being 1986 and then the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. But then there comes Idgie, in an unnoticeable paragraph, one of the many Threadgoode characters an old lady keeps talking about. Ninny, that’s our old lady. The nice old one with lots of tales, looking like, I imagine, the granny in Tweety cartoons.

Ninny says Idgie was looking wonderful in an organdie dress one day and just stands up and declares she won’t wear another dress again. She becomes a boy, in her dressing, in her manners, in her doings. And loves a beautiful girl called Ruth. Being used to the ways of fiction as I am, I keep looking for the word ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’, some sort of confirmation to make sure that’s what was happening between these two. But nothing, not even the mention of a kiss. Only their words, emotional moments and the easy love that didn’t need to be expressed tell you they belong to each other. I read someone writing about it, that he felt happy to see no explicit tags, because being gay was seen normal, nothing to be pointed out.

But this was the 1930s. Like I said there are the black and white differences that make you angry. A sick little child who couldn’t go to see an elephant because blacks were not allowed in – but who gets to see it anyway thanks to Do-it-all Idgie who brings the mountain to Muhammad. The elephant to her. And yet no one – neither in Idgie’s big family of oldfashioned lives, nor their many friends or even the locals – says anything about the relationship between the girls. Shure, I like it that it was considered as normal as a boy liking a girl. But it was not how 1930s was, it is not even how 2015 is. And when it is not a fantasy set in no man’s land, it is real. It is still in the world where two world wars and a 1929 depression happened. Fannie talks of all that, why skip this?

She could ask, why not? It’s her book, her story, why can’t she happily avoid that little scenario that is frustratingly real in real life. Why not wish it away in her creation of a world?

July 7, 2015

Why I fast for Ramzan

Filed under: My Musing Moments,Personal — Cris @ 13:40

This is the fifth year I fast for Ramzan, my fasting not all that proper (I take water). I have been asked a lot why I fast, for I declare most fervently I don’t belong to any religion. And that is exactly the reason I fast.

From the time I did not quite know the meaning of equality or the idea of fairness, I have quietly murmured when I heard lines like you are a girl, go help in the kitchen. And it is exactly those words that made me stay away from the kitchen for so long. I refused to wear earrings and deliberately kicked stones when I walked because someone would then comment that’s what boys do. There has always been the strongest of feelings to do these, and not fall into a stereotype.

When I grew up, I understood there was nothing wrong in thinking the way most people did, in being a cliché, as long as it was original, genuine, real. So if I wanted to cook, I could. Clean, or love dresses. Be pink. And if I wanted to play video games all day or watch a cricket match at 3 in the night, I could do that too.

The gender stereotype was easier to solve, at least in my mind, but the religious one, not so. All through my adult years, I would cringe every time I heard the mention of a religion. When someone would inevitably separate a small group sitting with their coffee, into many – “You Muslims, We Hindus, You Buddhists, We Christians.” Stop with the yous and wes, I would grit my teeth and not utter my irritation. But it would swell up.

I hated even giving my name because immediately, they would associate me with a religion, or maybe a caste too. I now watch happily when confused brows go up and down, hearing my name that could belong to any religion. Some would then ask my parents’ names. And when I keep declaring my non-religious status, they dig all the way to my grandparents and great grandparents. “Surely, someone would have had a religion?”

There was this urgent need in me to disassociate with any particular religion.  So I would visit churches, wear sandal paste on my forehead, and fast for Ramzan. The following of rituals is more in need to disassociate from every religion, than to follow one. The labels just had to go. Only ‘human’ should remain. To be one in a world without religion or colour or caste or race or gender or class or the many other differences, one John Lennon dreamed of. I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one.

June 19, 2015

Conversation.

Filed under: Conversation — Cris @ 01:45

Stupid.

Stupid?

Stupid.

Oh.

Underlined. Dotted. BOLDENED.

But not understood?

Not understood.

Sad.

Not sad. Not unexpected.

Bored.

What?

I’m bored. Let’s expand.

From one-word?

Yes. From one-words. From phrases. To full lines.

Lines like why don’t you and I have a real conversation?

Lines exactly like that.

Didn’t we have those before?

Once upon a time.

Why did we stop?

Must’ve seemed like work.

I think it was to stop fighting.

Confrontations. To avoid confrontations.

That’s what I said.

No, you said fighting.

So what’s wrong with that?

You just won’t make the effort to use the right words.

Why is that so important?

Because it is. And why do I feel like Deja vu?

We must’ve had this conversation before.

Many many times.

Yes.

Oh.

Stupid.

Stupid?

Stupid.

April 25, 2015

Short Story: Morals and stuff

Filed under: Fiction — Cris @ 01:09

No one noticed her pass, with her big broom and cleaning stick. At first. Hair tied into a top knot, she set to work, cleaning the rails, picking up the many cups and plastic covers people on the train drop all the time. It was the break time between two trains, she barely had 15 minutes with her. And then all that she cleaned will be freshly wrecked. She must know it but that didn’t alter her speed or thoroughness. Just that no one clapped when she finished. A guy on the platform took the trouble to walk to where she was cleaning and drop his white paper cup drained of the last coffee drop. She picked it up too and he walked away, like a scout who did his deed for the day.

But then something happened.

Not an accident, not a crowd-pulling moment. Just an everyday every moment gesture of today. She opened a sling bag and took out a mobile phone. ‘Sssss’ went the kids nearest to her. ‘An iPhone’ one hissed. She moved some screens, pressed a couple of icons, touchphoned a few seconds with changing expressions. The broom and the stick had rested on her legs all that while. She picked up the tools in one hand, climbed up the platform and with the other hand made a call. “Yea, I will be there, can you give me 10 minutes please?” she spoke in English.

Now suddenly all the attention came to her. Not people up far, they could still see only a cleaner cleaning. But the nearby ones looked at her, watched her steps. Was she an overly educated sweeper or a someone else doing the sweeper’s job. One of the kids finally had the courage to ask. “Oh neither, I just saw all that junk out there and didn’t like it. I do the same thing when my son leaves his room messy. Always makes him guilty,” she winked. The kid who had dropped his candy wrapper two minutes earlier went to pick it up. His father smiled.

“That’s like the stories you tell dad, morals and stuff.” Yea, said the father. “But you know what I learnt?” The kid looked around him, “To not litter?” No, said the dad. “That you shouldn’t just ignore people or write anyone off as insignificant. The sweepers in these rails are cleaning after us, like our mothers at home. See how we looked at her when we saw her rich phone, like we are attracted only by wealth.”

“Oh but you can’t just pay attention to every single person you see, dad. There’s no need for a guilt trip there.”

“Maybe, but you need to show respect. Like you would a TT when you saw him. Not stand up from your seat and salute, I mean just the basic head bow if you catch their eyes. Not treat them like another rail on the track.”

“Dad”

“Yea?”

“No more morals, just do it like the lady and I follow thee.”

And the dad and son watched every passerby the next ten minutes and tried to smile till a middle aged woman stopped walking, came back and asked them what the hell did they think they were doing. “No overdoing, son, let’s just acknowledge everyone in the mind,” the dad said. “That one’s only for you dad, everyone loves a smiling kid,” said the kid, smiling at a girl five years older, and getting a ‘cute kid’ in return.

April 7, 2015

i know fashion too, yeah

Filed under: Daily Rot — Cris @ 15:28

Less work or lazy to work.

Sweaty self after a day of no electricity at home.

Summer.

Three reasons I think has finally brought me to my blog. And a fourth, seeing a girl’s blog where she posts some kind of a dupatta pic and then calls it a fashion blog. Heck, i could do that. I could be fashion maestro. So here’s my tip. You should wear a long long longgggg t shirt, that’s too big for you that you have to tuck in a lot of the sleeve and just about manage to pop your head out. Knee length and really lose. Then you should wear leggings. That’s it. That’s the fashion tip. It is the in thing.

What? It is! It better be! Cause I am wearing it today. You understand? So it is.

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