Laugh under a veil, my dear!

“I’m very scared,” she whispered softly.

“Don’t be,” he reassured calmly.

They had just recovered from a hearty laughter.

“But, I’m not used to so much joy.”

“Every time they catch me laughing out loud, they send one of theirs to restore balance… I hate to cry.”

“Oh! Then laugh under a veil, my dear!”

The last epic train journey of 2013

indian-railway-electric-engine-at-khandala

India is a densely populated country. I bet you know that and have a very own personal experience to vouch for, for if you’re living in this country other than the remotest towns lying strewn across the bosom of the Himalayas, you sure have been magically transported from point A to point B through the Great Indian Railway Network at least once in your life.

I live in the Queen of the Deccan, Pune – the twin city of the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, and often travel by trains. I’m travelling on one right now – the Pune-Bangalore Udayan Express and do not have many better things to do, other than observe this cacophony called co-passengers. This is my last train journey of 2013 and it seems to be as epic as the ones before.

Trains form the lifeline of this country. With over a billion and another 270 million people travelling across the length and breadth of this country, the Indian Railways sure deserves a pat on its back, or rather it’s amazing maze of rails that work in clockwork precision. Thanks to the British rule, this is one system that works at sigma level 4 to 6, depending on the assorted group of passengers it is dealing with.

Right now my Udayan Express is dealing with an assortment of passengers from all corners of Pune. The noon sun isn’t kind either. The Express train has just overcome a massive panic attack. Passengers have invaded it from each of its doors and windows. And most of them haven’t even bothered to reserve their seats. But, that goes because in India just about anything goes.

The ticket checker is working hard to ensure this. After securing a cancelled seat for his daughter, he goes about allotting vacant seats to the hundreds of distressed souls moving helter skelter inside the express train. (It doesn’t move like one though!) And by the way, I also learnt that TCs have a special quota reserved for their sons and daughters. And, there are free meals for them too!

There’s more going on –

There are guys selling ‘thanda pani bottles’ (read empty mineral water bottles refilled at the railway drinking water tap). Remember – anything goes? This isn’t adulteration; it’s called ‘innovation’ and it is a thriving business in a tropical country like ours.

Some guys making the rounds are selling everything from safety pins to recycled tea/coffee/meals to metal chains for anchoring your luggage to your seat. They want to make the most sales in these 20 hours, by whatever means possible, even if it means scaring you enough to buy it.

Even more interesting to observe are my co-passengers. There’s a party of colourful people returning from a wedding. I know because the women’s palms are smothered with intricate mehendi designs, and the men are carrying in all the booty. For starters, there are endless boxes of fragile porcelain, just what the doctor prescribed to carry on a jam packed passenger train.

The cartons say ‘Handle with care’ and the party has been fighting tooth and nail to handle them with care. There are tea cups, saucers and a teapot in one box. There are dinner plates, bowls, and casseroles in another. I read the branded labels on the other carton boxes  – XYZ air freshener, LMN microwave, PQR cooking range, UVW cooler and EFG something something . If all this was not enough, there is a carton of possibly fifty 200 gm packets of unopened potato wafers too. Some poor soul has been fleeced at the wedding.

Plus there has been a scene at the wedding; I can tell for sure. One of the young lad has a bandage across his wrists and is also making gigantic efforts at standing on his feet. Nobody is bothered a teeny bit though.

And then there is the ‘distinctive’ ubiquitous fragrance of the Indian Railways emanating from each and every nook and cranny of the express. Food mixed with poop or is that pee, I don’t know nor do I care. The family beside with the know-it-all mom, the errand-boy dad, their darling daughter and her super irritating little toddler, are also adding their distinctive smells to it. A floral perfumed hand spray goes foosh foosh on each of their palms every one hour. The combination is lethal. My olfactory senses have been deadened by now.

And, let’s not talk about my auditory senses. The darling daughter with her high-pitched voice has successfully managed to out-perform the many wheels chugging along the rails. Her know-it-all mom has been giving her a piece of advice on ‘how you should not disturb your co-passengers’ while being completely oblivious of the noise pollution she has been spreading around. The only adult male has visibly surrendered to these female forces. Life goes on as they discuss what’s wrong with the State Railway Minister.

Evening has arrived and we are now waiting at the Gulbarga train station, the letters of the language are rounded now; we’ve crossed Maharashtra and are now at Karnataka. The telecom service providers are always happy to welcome passengers in roaming, aren’t they? All of us receive welcome SMS’s from our delighted service providers.

Talking about my co-passengers, there’s also a trio of boys who are dead bored. I guess they could do with a real Temple Run 2 kinda adventure right now. They’ve been talking all the time and wondering what the hell am I typing away on my laptop!

I am thankful to this last moment tatkal quota ticket the agent could get us in the sleeper class, because nowhere else could I have had experienced such an epic journey at the end of the year. I consider myself the chosen one. In fact the mister and me are equal in status of being the chosen ones.

Here’s to more epic train journeys in 2014. Cheers!

Image courtesy: Amit Kulkarni

Turning three and feeling young again!

I can’t believe our blog – that is also our source of bread and butter – turns three today! Here’s our mascot with the birthday cake:

LI-mascot-cakeAfter a false start on April fool’s day, our blog ‘Lighthouse Insights’ was formally launched on December 1, 2010. A day before I had confided to my hubby and partner-in-crime (then fiancé) that I plan to look for content related jobs to help moonlight my daytime struggle with design assignments I was struggling to find.

Why go outside when you can join me?” he said. Surprised and amused, I asked him what was he talking about!

He sent me a blog link with around 10 posts on marketing, word of mouth marketing, customer service, social media magic and more. I liked the substance in this blog but would I be paid? It was named ‘Bee Societal’ and I couldn’t imagine working for a blog named like that. Also, I was living in Mumbai and we didn’t know when to get married!

When everything is a big question mark, you surrender to the divine forces. I did that and almost magically, we worked on this blog with me in Mumbai and him in Pune. First things first – ‘Bee Societal’ was renamed to ‘Lighthouse Insights’ after a brainstorming session on the phone, minus our brains!

The initial months were full of self-training and observation – social media practices, human behaviour, blog content, SEO basics and link building, digital marketing, Seth Godin, English & grammar (actually studied through Wren and Martin which was optional in school!) and much more. This process of learning kept me engaged and excited as well.

But, the location difference was still a problem and we couldn’t be engaged forever. So we got married. One month later, we moved to a personal domain and there has been no looking back ever since. Within seven months of marriage and the blog’s first anniversary, the hubby put down his papers at the IT company that used to pay our rent and bills. January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012 was a complete roller-coaster ride of a year, we didn’t know what we had gotten into and didn’t know where it was leading us. With God’s grace, we were able to pass through painful wrists, a broken back, and some ‘medical conditions’ caused from insomnia, nervous tension et al. The most exciting bit was, of course, paying our bills right on the due date!

2013 has been a ‘floating’ experience. Both of our systems have been reconfigured and we don’t remember much of when we fell in love with each other, or when we met and decided to get married. Survival has taught us focus, discipline and perseverance, something our parents tried in vain!

Three years and counting…three years young and getting to kindergarten…relearning the childish way to explore…Thank you God for everything!

The Avian Invasion of 2013!

The Mayans were wrong. The world had not ended after all and the happy new year was peeping in all its false glory. But, my world had certainly reached a dead end and good thing was I didn’t know it then. Struck by a back injury, I could barely sit or stand, let alone shoo away that pair of pigeons whose 2013 resolution was to spend some ‘cozy’ time in our kitchen attic.

If any of you ever happen to be in my city and walk past a bus depot near Kothrud, don’t forget to ask for the smelly house. You will be led to our apartment unfailingly. That’s how bad the scene was back then.

The mister was already juggling with cleaning, cooking, laundry, and keeping a check on me all round the clock, lest I make superheroic stunts like jump on a trampoline or something. The doctor had advised for a complete bed rest, but I managed to keep my ears open. My hunch was right – we were going to be invaded soon and how!

cozy pigeonsOne day sometime on a cold February afternoon, we heard the flapping of many wings and were quite taken aback to find two dusky grey pigeons making themselves at home, in our kitchen attic. The mister tried shooing them away but his pleas fell on deaf ears. These two smart fellows had also built a nice little nest complete with dried twigs and a chocolate brown rope. At once I realised the handles of my designer paper bag were not really stolen after all. What a relief!

These guys had long been following a modus operandi of sorts. They had been sneaking in twigs one at a time, when it was ‘all-clear’ in our kitchen – the long interval between breakfast and lunch and the few hours before tea time. The braver of the two made his/her way in through the window and stayed vigilant for some time. With a bunch of little twigs in his/her beak, he/she ensured we were where they wanted us to be, and nodded to the other one waiting at the window sill.

This guy would set the twig and fly out while the other got in and set his/her twig. The twigs that fell off their beaks and onto our floor was promptly picked up and set in place. Their operations were so smooth, little did we get an inkling of what’s happening in our kitchen. In this way, perhaps a thousand tos and fros later, their nest had been built on the sly, while I was sleeping…quite literally!

But, I swear I did hear some sounds, some very low frequency squeaks like pigeon whispers or something. But then I imagined these sounds as part of my wild imagination and let it go. However, I also did smell a faint poultry-like odour in the house, and blamed it on my strong sense of imagination.

By mid-March, I was able to walk around. Despite our pleading and shooing and then pleading again, this duo did not bother to move an inch, giving rise to our deepest fears – what if they have laid eggs? How long will the eggs take to hatch? What if the eggs fall down before hatching? In case, the baby pigeons do hatch, what if they fall down and we are held responsible. And worse, the place will get even more smelly. These stupid stupid pigeons!

Then came a day when they were gone. Yes, vanished before one could say ‘Shoo!’ after having a good time in our home for nearly two months. I managed to climb on top of the kitchen platform and investigate upon the smelly mess they had left behind.

But, what I saw was a couple of tiny little pale white eggs lying cuddled beside each other. “These two would surely hatch a very close-knit sibling love,” I thought to myself with a melting heart. All disgust vanished; I named them changu-mangu and immediately called out to the mister to supply me with some maize for the new parents.

pigeon eggs

Ever since then, our home was full of smiles and happiness, all four of us waited anxiously for the new members. The eggs hatched and what came out of them was ‘not so cute’ to look at, but an amazing act of nature, nevertheless. Never before had we been so happy with an invasion on our territory.

These dark ash balls covered with pale yellow hair and really long beaks were breathing away quite rapidly, while sleeping most of the time. It was a fascinating sight; one that deserved to be captured forever. Here is a video I managed to shoot of changu-mangu, balancing myself atop the kitchen platform, with one hand holding the attic base and the other holding a nearly-SLR Olympus camera recording from a safe distance.

The babies grew up so fast and flew away, leaving us with smelly memories and this smiley video.

P.S: This is my entry for Ambipur’s ‘From smelly to smiley“. When I took these pictures and the video, little did I know they would play a vital role one day.

The real beauty called Annie

Courtesy: Desicomments.com

Annie lay still, as still as a corpse. But she was alive, more alive than any of us. For she had to fight; she had to win over little battles that made up her life.

Her room was not a room at the working womens’ hostel I stayed in. Rather it was the space that joined two rooms with the main passageway. She occupied one of the two aluminium beds that lined the sides of the space, and had a medium-sized suitcase underneath the bed, to call of her own. She used the common bathrooms, and hung her wet towel and worn clothes on the metal railing that roofed the bed. She did not own a locker as in all probability, she did not need one!

Very few of the girls were aware of her existence. She worked nights while we slept inside our comfort zones. On Sundays, while we lazed around the common mess and consumed the ‘news-sance’ blaring from the mounted television, one part of the mind hovered around Annie. What would she be doing right now? The girl who occupies the side bed and owns only a suitcase that lay in gay abandon, what kind of a girl was she?

Was she simple living and high thinking or careless and wanton? The latter was an easy assumption while the former got us nosy, and in good spirit too!

A girls’ hostel is crazily busy on a Sunday. Girls are running around beautifying themselves – exfoliation, deep pore cleansing, herbal hair oil massage, pedicures, manicures and facials made from all kinds of ingredients from the kitchen. Basically, just about everything that society has burdened them with eons ago.

But, a chosen set like me, stayed at the rooms and indulged in small talk. While we flipped through our news dailies or women’s magazines, and spoilt ourselves with extra Sunday coffee, we got talking and somehow the conversation drifted towards that girl who occupies the side bed. This is how I came to know so much about her.

But, one day I stumbled upon much more of her story. Being an immigrant, I wasn’t much welcome by my then room mates.  It so happened that they locked me out of my room, as part of their torture tactics to drive me away. Banished from my room, I set up a temporary base on the unoccupied bed, adjacent to Annie’s. I took a day off from the job and stared at the motionless body in the next bed.

There she lay – the girl with a suitcase and no room of her own. Having no willpower to reclaim my room, I continued to wonder about Annie. She had no room to reclaim!

Annie, eventually awakened from her light dream world, and I smiled at her at once. She was frail with dark circles under her alert eyes. She might have travelled a hundred life years but her body belied that – she looked like a partially malnourished adolescent girl with no dreams shining in her eyes. I wanted to know her story.

Annie took a liking to me as I was exiled just as her, even though for a frivolous reason. And she lightened her heart to me – Annie was a single mother of a six-year old girl and worked at an outsourcing venture, mostly in the graveyard shifts. Very harmful for the human body cycle but a great boon for people who study or work in the day, just like Annie.

Annie’s mother had passed away after a long illness during her school days and later she got a step mother. Her step mother didn’t bother much with little Annie and the family grew to include two more step brothers.  Her dad gave her all the love in the world; he even took her on foreign trips. But, as destiny played out, Annie’s dad passed away from illness too, eventually leaving Annie to fend for herself. All the property and belongings were taken by her step family.

Annie then worked as a teacher and found moral support from her paternal aunts. But, this too did not last long as love invaded in the form of a man who said he cannot live without her. She married him and soon found out he had no stable income nor the will to give her a good life. He was a loser looking out for someone to fend for him.

Then there was trouble with the in-laws so much so that a small gathering of all his relatives accused Annie of being a loose woman. She left to never return but to her horror found out she was carrying a baby in her womb. Since then she has been working hard to make ends meet, however, the poor soul missed out on the joys of life with her daughter. She had to be at work the whole day so the little girl stayed with Annie’s aunt.

Her story was getting brighter. Annie had by then managed to save enough to bring her daughter – who was turning six – to stay along with her. But, destiny had more in store. Her daughter’s headaches were diagnosed to be caused from a tumour developing in her brain. Annie took help from the church and the community, who all roped in enough money for an operation to remove the tumour. This chain of events had taken a toll on Annie for the last seven years, without her ever realising it since the time she had left her own home.

Annie said she cannot cry. She knows no pain for she had surrendered to God above. But, I had tears in my eyes and they just wouldn’t stop!

Annie left the hostel soon thereafter as she was able to rent a decent flat near a school for her daughter. And I know she will be very happy in there always.

Keeping up with the Dhorkandes!

The Dhorkandes were my ex-landlord plus neighbours, and as with all ex’s, I find it impossible to forget them. Its been a peaceful two months in our new rented flat but the Dhorkande nightmare still does not cease to haunt me.

Once our LIC agent had come home visiting for his duty-bound premium collections. It was around ten-ish on a Monday. While in deep discussion about some insurance plans with the agent, I did not realise that the door hadn’t been locked. All of a sudden Lady Dhorkande just kicked open the door and barged into our living room. Her face fell ten inches to the ground, when she didn’t see what she had imagined.

I thought she would get epileptic any moment then.

The lady has an extra-sensory power of imagination, fuelled by her 24×7 watch outside her verandah and windows. Seeing a young and dashing man visit me on a weekday, especially at the time when my man has left for work, erupted the best of the wildest crap from her head. She was so certain to catch us live in action that she didn’t bother to ring the bell or give it a second thought before stomping right in.

And to top it, she was at her un-satsangly best – electrocuted hair, clumsily-clad saree, barefoot, clutching a piece of clothing in her hand. I assume she was folding this piece while at the verandah when the golden idea struck her.

My man hadn’t left for office till then. He leaves a good half an hour later but her window-watching schedule went wrong on that fateful day. The agent, my husband and me were into serious analysis about annuities, better yielding retirement plans and most importantly whether we have the means to invest in a plan now. When Lady Dhorkande kicked in like Inspector Dhoble on a raid mission, all three of us looked up, shocked, amused and slightly annoyed.

True to the Dhorkandes’ she did not apologise. I asked her if anything’s wrong but she couldn’t utter a single word with that open mouth. In fact, it was so wide open that she could swallow a hippopotamus if she were hungry. Highly dejected at not seeing a twosome, she eventually blabbered something inane, before leaving. That could have also been Inspector Dhoble leaving saddened from a massage parlour raid, while carrying a huge lump in his throat because he couldn’t save the rotting world.

But what about the lump in the brain? Lady Dhorkande has two children and three grand children, sadly she has transferred or would be transferring this lump into them. I have more about the Dhorkandes but let’s park them for some other day.

Life 2.0

It is not often that you sit back and wonder, thanks to the paucity of time or I’d rather put it as disrespect of time. But then, some days you got to slow down. You got to ceasefire the fury of the moment and just be. Today was one such day. I asked myself ‘Where are you going?’ I’m afraid to admit though that I had no answer to that. Then I remembered a little story of two streams and found my answer.

Once upon a time, there were two streams that were flowing towards the edge of the valley. Said one stream to the other, ‘Friend, I’m afraid of the falls ahead. Why should we keep flowing like this?’ To which the other stream replied, ‘What are you afraid of? The falls should be exciting!’ The first stream said, ‘Exciting? There may be sharp boulders or slippery moss or strange creatures ahead.’ The second stream had a hearty laugh. Then as they were nearing the edge, the first stream stopped to turn his flow.

Years had passed and they say that the first stream is now a muddy mess of water infested with strange creatures. The second stream who joyfully took the plunge, faced sharp boulders, brushed through slippery moss and made friends with strange creatures, has now grown into a clear pond!

Well! Although it may seem easy, you can imagine the pain the second stream had to go through. But such is life – you got to flow to be able to grow. In this second phase of my life, which I lovingly will refer to as ‘Life 2.0’, I wish to write a little more, read a little more, be kind a little more and flow a little more.

Keep flowing. . .