Saturday, February 21, 2009


I've now been alive for twenty one years, four days, twelve hours and thirty five minutes. But I choose not to measure time in standard units. Time should be measured in moments. Moments, silly, sweet, bitter, happy... that burn themselves into your memory and make you who you are.

I remember the moment when a priest shaved my head in Tirupati. I fought so hard, he cut my scalp. Appa held me down while the priest finished. I didn't speak to Appa for a week after that. I still have photographs of myself at the time, in a frilly green frock, staring dejectedly at the camera, with a dome shaped scalp that reflected light.

Then there was my 1st Standard play- I was the sun and all my classmates were flowers basking in my light. I had gleaming yellow robes and a giant, pointy crown. It's a wonder I didn't burst with pride on that stage.

My first and last TV recording, in a sleepy studio in Delhi. I wore a green satin dance costume and my hands and feet were dyed red. The skit was based on a fable about the lives of jungle animals and the pond was a circle of blue painted on the floor. My head hurt with the tremendous weight of fake hair, jewelry and plastic flowers. I wished it would end soon.

Then there was the moment when V, my best friend in Sacred Heart High School, whom I had called to say goodbye to, told me on the phone that no one in my class regretted that I was leaving. They all thought me awfully stuck up.

The moment when Race, our German Shepherd, who was bathing in a river, got carried away by the moving water. He wasn't yet fully grown, and not strong enough to fight the current. He disappeared behind a giant rock and I ran after him desperately, only to find him perched on another jutting rock, shaking the water off his coat.

The moment when Appa brought Race's body back from the Veterinary Hospital. I didn't believe he was dead till I touched him. He was cold.

The moment when I held hands with my first ever crush, on a train back from Agra. After hours, our plams grew sweaty and slowly slipped apart. I remember thinking that it was unfair that they never mentioned things like sweat or dirt or acne in romance novels.

The moment when I waved my parents away, and stood at the door of my hostel, alone for the first time in my life.

The moment when I stood before an audience of 600 people I didn't know and sang. My hands were trembling and my heart hammering, but still, somehow, my voice was clear.

The moment when I ran in from the rain and didn't care that clothes were soaked or my shoes squelchy, because for the first time ever, I was in love. I forgave the romance novels then- they knew what they were talking about.

The moment when I first realised that I was never bored as long as I held a pen and paper in my hands.

And then today, when I proudly looked over a pile of shoes, clothes and accessories, and discovered that, despite what I've said in the past, shopping is a great deal of fun.

Life is full of so many such moments, all in turn silly, sweet, bitter, happy, embarrassing... These are but a paltry few of all those thousands of memories I have acquired in my twenty one years. It's nice to pause sometimes, to simply think about the past. Not to learn lessons from it or to air regrets, but simply, to remember.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sweet Cigarettes

We lived in Delhi for three years, from 2nd standard to the end of fourth. Appa was a Lt. Col then and accommodation was hard to come by. So, we spent the first 6 months of our stay, living with Mummy. Mummy was the mother of one of Appa's course mates and had graciously offered to take us in while we were house hunting. Everyone called her Mummy, I've never learnt her real name.
She was tiny, with a tongue like a whiplash and jet black hair that she dyed every Sunday. She taught Amma north-Indian cooking (for which we will all be eternally grateful) and she communicated her love for mushy Hindi movies to me.

On weekends, Mummy used to bribe me and K with money, to help her out with the dusting. After a morning spent carefully dusting Mummy's drawing room china, I would hurry out importantly to the general store outside, a five rupee coin clutched tightly in my palm. Five rupee coins in those days were giant and weighty. I couldn't close my palm around one. There was so much you could buy with five rupees in that general store. Poppins in violent colours, coated with crusty sugar. Giant toffee eclairs that didn't quite fit in my mouth. Heart shaped lollipops that I could never lick on patiently and would simply crunch down in a jiffy. But my favourites were the cigarettes. Long white cylinders of sugar, with a vermilion tip painted at the end.

Those cigarettes were fascinating. You could literally smoke one- the stub would get shorter and shorter as the sugar dissolved in your mouth until you finally reached the tip which you then crunched down. I don't think they ever tasted really great- they were rather chalky and bland. But that didn't matter, because they came in a proper paper pack that you could flick open and hand around to your closest friends- they were the essence of cool. Winter time was the best, because then you could blow out in the cold air after pulling at the cigarette, and the condensation would form 'smoke'.

I don't think they make those sugar cigarettes anymore. I haven't seen them around for years. But thanks to my seven-year-old, knee sock wearing, chubby, earnest self, they'll always be the first thing I look for in a general store.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When's my turn?

Appa visited me over the weekend. He gave me flash-fiction-story ideas, helped clean my room and fixed my fan. Last time he visited, he fixed my veena and bought me a toolkit.
Every time he visits, he fixes something. Often, things that I didn't even realize were broken. When my turn comes, I hope I'm half as good.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My Style Icon

I was trying today to write this article about a person whose style I admire. I cast over movie stars and designers, college friends and girl crushes, for several minutes, till suddenly, I knew.

Amma has always been the epitome of chic Army wife. She slides into and out of the role with so much grace. She wears cotton sarees for coffee mornings, chiffons and light silks for evening tea parties and gleaming Kanjeevarams for dinner nights. Ever since I can remember, on the nights when she and Appa would go out for a dinner, I would watch her getting ready, fascinated. She would open her closet revealing sarees piled high, arranged according to importance and occasion. Despite the several score sarees in there (whenever we moved, we always needed two trunks just for them) she could always tell me exactly when she got which one. Sometimes she would let me select for her and I would agonize over finding the right saree, a matching blouse and perfect jewelery.

She would let me play with her makeup and jewelery as she dressed. I would carefully paint my face in rosebud shades and try on elaborate gold necklaces, but I could never manage to look like her. I would watch as she deftly formed perfect pleats and tucked them in and carefully folded the pallu and pinned it to her shoulder. Often, she would tuck a rosebud Appa had given her, in her hair. As a final touch, she would mist herself in jasmine scented perfume and then stand before us for our admiring inspection. At times like those, she was a perfectly beautiful woman with a lovely smile and rosebuds in her hair, but she always seemed so unfamiliar. We knew Amma was in there too, but she was someone else then- standing erect, all five feet of her, next to Appa's lounge-suited, towering frame. She and Appa would leave for the party after many exhortations to us to sleep in time.

When they returned, she would always come quietly to my room to check if I was asleep and kiss my forehead. She smelled of night air and jasmines, of roses and warmth, and then, she was Amma again.