Category Archives: India Experiences

The Dilli Collection

If there was one song for Delhi: Yeh Dilli hai mere yaar, Bas Ishq, Mohobbat, Pyaar

Romance in Delhi (Sigh, those long lazy perfect winter afternoons…)

The barsaati: A small room perched atop a proper house. Rented to a single person, often a student. A certain way of life… a freedom, parties with friends who were as broke, passionate learning, political discussions… a way of life. A song from one of those: Kali Ghodi Dwar Khadi

This one is a rare view of the inside of Qutub Minar. (Some parts closed off now) (Who hasn’t explored Delhi with that special friend?)

They do say that there is something special about the Dilli di Kudi…and old Delhi. Here, take:

Staying with Old Delhi…
Tujhse milna puraani Dilli mein… what a fun movie. For those who know Hindi, the inside jokes in the verses are enough. For the rest, dance along! (Delhi appears at 6:06)

Of course the Dilli wali girlfriend doesn’t give much patta…gotta say this to your girl. Even heartbreaks in Delhi are danced away

Rabbi Shergil on Delhi: Is this about his love or a commentary on the city?

A bit surreal – From a movie about Delhi.. but just the spirit of Delhi…Don’t care what anyone says, we will do as we please! “Ham to karenge!”

School days this! Every school year had at least one competition or assembly that danced to this:

Everything in this song has a tale, from her maroon nail polish to the earrings the shape of the monuments, to the dozens of silver bangles (which Delhi girl hasn’t..) Love in Delhi is to leave a mark on it’s stones

On the eve of elections, bitterly fought elections… this reminds us of the many times this moment has come

The raw, definitive Delhi Song has to be …Kaat Kaleja Dilli

Delhi Women – 1

Growing up in Delhi came as a rude shock after spending my first few years in small town Gujarat. I came from the land of simplicity to the land of bling, of ‘shosha’ – a term that is difficult to translate, but roughly means ‘show off’. And most of all, I moved from carefree to unsafe.

The rules in Delhi were clear – stay at home unless you need to go out. Never go out alone – always move in pairs or groups. That way, if you are in trouble, somebody can run and get help for you. Be aware of everyone around you and never let anyone even walk close to you. Be aware, you may be followed. But of course, with your eyes lowered. Never, ever make eye contact with anyone, certainly never with any male. And certainly, never ever smile. A smile is an invitation without limits.

Even today, I never sit in the seat behind the driver in a car for fear of eye contact. Ladies do not, if they can help it.

Each one of us who grew up in Delhi had dealt with eve teasing. I speak not of the disgust, the shame, the fear and the violation. However minor, it hurt our souls – we were minors too. We learnt to cope. I still do not walk at the edge of the road, leaving enough room to dodge in case some one lunges towards me. We learnt to walk with our elbows akimbo. In buses, we learnt not to sit on the aisle seat. A friend carried a compass and did not fear poking those who poked her. We were never alone in public transport, yet we were silent. Grim women, who feared to speak – for one never knew what revenge might be extracted for opening our mouth. Hushed stories were shared, and fear fostered. We were young. It took me years to start saying loudly and clearly – Bhai sahab, thoda peeche ho jaayeye. (Brother, please step back). Accompanied by the clear eyed look that teachers have.

There were more rules – never step out after dark, certainly not alone. Even during the day (we learnt later after a near miss), ensure that there are more men than women in every private vehicle. Never enter a bus after dark, definitely not one where there are no other women. Even today, decades later, I look at every passing bus and rarely see a woman there after dark.

Ensure clothes were camoflague – large, shapeless and designed to blend in. Of course we dressed prettily, for fun too. We were Delhi girls – we don’t get beaten down that easily. But we did not break the rules. There were bounds to everything we said and did, Lakshman rekhas never to be crossed. We looked like everybody else – bright voluminous ships floating by unseen. For to be seen, to be noticed was dangerous.

My grandmother had come through the partition. She never spoke of it, so I fear there were stories not to be told. I rebelled when she said that my arms must always be covered, I screamed when she asked me to look dowdy on most days, I ranted when she or my grandfather followed me when I stepped out to go to a friend’s house in the evening. It was much later that I realised that they were not judging me. They were judging the animals out there on the streets and wanted to be sure they were there for me.

There were those who did break the rules. No, not talking about ‘bad’ girls. We did not judge our friends, they made their own choices.  I speak of the ones who did not have to stick to the rules – the ones with brothers in politics with goonda friends or the ones with connections in the police or the army. Those girls were safer, they could even party in the evening, not ordinary girls. Those girls had more power than we did – their connections could get the predators beaten up – and they did. They were left alone. They had ‘back’.  We oiled our hair and studied at home. We cooked, we wrote, we repaired fuses – but all in protected zones. Did we miss freedom? We did not know any different.

We were not backward or awkward, nor did we see ourselves as conservative. But staying safe was a priority. The first filter in any decision making was safety. Stepping out of our bounds was unthinkable, the consequences too brutal to even imagine. I now look back and wonder if we grew up in paranoia. Then I read the newspapers, hear and remember the stories, and sigh – At least we were safe.


I do believe that self referencing is not a good way to judge a society or a market. This is but a personal note, not an article.


Waiting in a car, sheltered from the world, I am a princess. The streets are paved for me, my carriage is plush. I pause, looking casually at the shining lights – surely they burn as bright as this even if I am not looking. Or have they been charmed by my sight?

I pause in the glimmer turned to gloaming in the shadow of my covers. A tinkle,  smooth and rhythmic breaks into my thoughts. A brightly painted elephant, swathed in multicoloured malmal glides past. Four thin young boys swing back and forth on the seat in a game of dare known only to mahout boys. The elephant continues, its matronly gait unperturbed by these antics. The day may be done, but her footsteps know that steady and sure is the only way.

The traffic noise fades into the background. Ghostly cars whiz past soundlessly, as if from a future that has not been built yet. They are grey in the fuzzy halogen that greys even the stars above. No matter, for this is but a dream. I am awakened by the steady clip clop of hooves, horses pulling a chariot. The king of the day has been put to his chamber, his chariot of the day merrily celebrates its freedom. Jingling bells to clopping beats, untold stories waft past. Merging into the gloom, a bright red and white shadow left behind.

I look to the left, smelling the food. InDelhifood is never far away. Each flare either bad news or food. The gas light hisses, the steaming pots lie open casually next to the rhythmic slapping of paranthas on the pan. This is comfort food, the anda (egg) parantha of one’s youth. When time was eternal. Revisiting eternity in a moment of truce with time.

Indian children…

Indian children being snatched away from the presumably loving arms of their natural parents by a government is naturally an emotive piece of news. Facts are few, and fed to us in drips by one side alone. Received through our various filters of patriotism and ancient practice, this seems wrong, very wrong. And yet we stay silent.

The Norwegian child protection services took a four year old and a one year old into their custody almost a year ago  stating that they were not being adequately looked after by their natural parents. The boy was picked up from his nursery school while the infant girl from home. The case is not being discussed by the Norwegian authorities as they say it is sub-judice. Presumably the privacy rights of the children also stop them from making many details public. What we have been told is that the elder child demonstrated autistic tendencies and  was not being looked after properly.

Some of the accusations seem horribly warped – the younger child co-sleeping with the parents is supposed to be wrong and punishable. That is ridiculous – most civilizations ensure that babies sleep close to their mothers. Not only does it help the child emotionally and physically (the mother’s heart beat has been known to revive children), it is much easier for an exhausted parent to constantly look after the baby. There are arguments on both sides – as there are for everything relating to good parenting – but for any normal human – co-sleeping cannot be a crime punishable by separation. Similarly, they have been accused of feeding the child by hand. And pray, what did you do before cutlery was invented? Feeding by hands provides two way communication, is the natural organic way of doing things. Billions of people feed their child this way. It is also the Indian way of doing things – and the children are Indian.

Co-sleeping, feeding by hand – the story cannot be as simple as this. Conversations with Indians who live in Norwayreveal their faith in the authorities. Yet, the Norwegian CPS has been slammed by UN agencies for its harsh judgements and large number of children it has taken away from parents. The results of these fostering arrangements have not always delivered positive results. The internet is rife with stories of children being ignored, mistreated or ill treated  by their foster parents despite it being a lucrative arrangement for them. There is clearly something very wrong in a country where over 12,500 children are taken away – a double digit percent of their child population.

Clearly the Bengali parents were unable to assimilate and figure out the Norwegian way of doing things. The family is now bearing the consequences of  something travelers the world over face – dealing with laws and rules that are strange and unfamiliar. There are many who say that just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for a crime, ignoring your current cultural circumstances has penalties. In this case a bit of both seems to have happened. If they live there, however temporarily, they should know the norms.

More importantly, it becomes incumbent on every traveler to be aware of the mores of the places they go to in order to ensure their own safety and well being. For it takes very little for cultural cross connections to be triggered off. Want proof? Start a conversation about the use of toilet paper and watch the divide that cannot be bridged. The poor family is trapped in such a situation where neither side can comprehend the other point of view.

The family has not helped their case much either – more evidence of their naiveté in dealing with different cultures. When the children were taken away, the couple went to the police station to seek redressal. Where the mother apparently shouted and cried. This is perfectly normal and expected behaviour inIndia. The parents were distraught. Worse, motherhood had been violated. This is extreme provocation. Yet her outburst was seen as further evidence of emotional instability, thus making her more unsuitable to look after children.  C’mon, try it inIndia- snatch a child from a mother and that is exactly how they will react. Ghaayal sherni is the ideal that has been placed before us for centuries – or at least since Bollywood took over. Here, in India, if you are not loud and hysterical, you are not taken seriously. That has been their training. In a different context and place. They forgot that last bit.

Even her parents have not helped their case – after meeting the West Bengal Chief Minster to help them with this, they spoke to the press and were quoted saying that the mother of the tiny tots ( and I paraphrase here) had gone crazy with grief – and elaborated on that. That does not support their case at all! While her grief does need to be publicized to garner support for their cause, the language needs to be carefully crafted to support their goal.

The Norwegian authorities seem to have pinned the blame on the mother, even asking the couple to separate, saying that the mother is unfit. Do they even know what they are asking? Splitting a couple (saat janam ka saath and all) is far more offensive than simple stuff like co-sleeping and feeding with one’s hands. Here  they clearly advocate breaking up a family. If one were to given to conspiracy theories, the current evidence seems to indicate that destroying this family was what they wanted.

This case seems to have been mishandled all through. The elder child has shown signs of autism, the CPS says. Firstly, autism is not a disease – it is a spectrum disorder that shows up in different ways, often in extraordinary gifted maths and music talent, often as social incompetence. (Been to IIT, anyone?) Some children need some support to navigate societies, others need intensive care. Was the child really autistic? Was the abilty of the Norwegians so limited that they could not offer support services without uprooting the children?

Even the evidence, as shared, is inadequate.  The child went to nursery, sat in a corner and banged his head on the floor. If the child has been brought up in a traditional Bengali household-and there are plenty of them spread across the world – then he was facing an overwhelming situation and merely reacted to that. Indian children do emote with their bodies and throw more tantrums in public than most other cultures. If he did not know the language, was left in a corner by other children and was given limited portions of bland white looking food that he has rarely been asked to eat, then a three year old child will certainly want to bang their head in frustration. In a traditional household, a three year old would rarely have had to feed themselves – and would not know how to. It is a wonder they have not brought that up as a disability.

This neatly brings us to the other learned disabilities that are a consequence of our parenting techniques, but we leave that for another day.

But it is true that inIndia, we are a co-dependant culture. This is seen as a psychological condition in other parts of the world and the right way to bind families and societies here. We build networks based on creating dependencies. A person coming from such a bright world filled with affection expressed via dependence, via incompetence (there is even a word for it in Bengali – Naekami) is thrust into cold and lonely climes where interdependence is neither sought nor encouraged. Indeed the concept of community is very different, with nobody to share the burden, no family to take for granted when you need that desperate break from the continual burden of parenting. Let us not fool ourselves into saying that parenting of young children is easy just because it has been done before.

It is said that it takes a village to bring up a child. Indians are normally not trained to do things on our own. We have people around us – servants, relatives, cousins, neighbours. Our social structures share the load, seeking to spread it so that nobody cracks under the strain. Is it possible that the mother was overloaded and overwhelmed. Sure. Which mother is not? Does that mean you take her children away? Which parent really knows how to juggle two children when they are only three months into the job? If this mother was unable to take the elder child to nursery on time as she was breastfeeding the younger one – was that neglect? It would be far worse to snatch an infant from her food – she prioritized, as mothers do. Punctuality, for Indians, for a three year old is not such a priority – being late cannot constitute criminal neglect. We are humans, not programmed machines. Flexibility, adjustment and learning on the job is the stuff of life.

Norwegian CPS have been cold and cruel in this case. Unless the children were abused (which we will never know), the evidence in the public domain combined with the past history of the CPS indicts the service agency. Their rulebooks need to recognize the cruel trauma of separation as child abuse.

What of the children? What happens if they stay in care? What happens when they get sent back – will the four month old, now at a year in age even recognize her mother? Will the four year old recover from separation anxiety ever in his life? If he is autistic, will he get good care away from his parents? Or will he be better off in alone, fostered in a country with institutions to guide his life. There is no good way out of this horribly mangled situation. The key concern in this should be the welfare of the children, and whatever the outcome, the current series of unfortunate events has compromised that for ever.


I think it is mandatory to bemoan the state of traffic in India and to write a few posts on it. There is so much to say – to paraphrase the Tolstoy – every traffic mess up is unique in its own way. There must be a theory to this – the uniqueness of stupidity. Or the Myopia of the Masses.

So, one pleasant sunny day, I try to turn right at a traffic light. As one does. Of course the lights were not working.


Obviously, that is a clear signal for everyone to press on.. No signal, no right of way. Right side, wrong side.. weave your way into any space possible..


But where are all of them headed?

(Into each other – much, bit much me thinks)

Ah no, the one nosing out to the right is planning an escape route.. a simple U turn out of the mess, even if that means doubling back to where they came from.


So, what do the children do – on their way back from school?


Gridlock for some…


Life carries on for others …..


And how did I get out of there? Considering the location, I knew the cops would be along and sort it out. A solitary young traffic cop had this cleared in ten minutes. Or maybe it was twenty. When magic happens, time can wait.

Ok.. the trick is to keep edging forward. If you cannot beat stupidity, join it.  (This makes no sense, but neither does magic – and it works)

Memo: Must take car to workshop to have clutch checked.




P.S. If you think there is anything remotely crazy or out of the ordinary in this Delhi drive, you are not going to be able to hack it here:



May God bless my country

There is this story about Guru Nanak who visited a village that was perfect in every way. Prosperous, polite people; clean, wide roads, and of course perfect hospitality. As he left the village, he cursed them – may this village be devastated and blown apart by the winds of fortune.

The next village he visited was terrible. The people were rude and dirty, the roads were chaotic, markets had goods piled up haphazardly and everything was valued at the same price. Nobody offered them food or shelter. As they left the village, Guru Nanak blessed the village with prosperity and stability.

His followers were puzzled. (there was just one, maybe). Guru Nanak explained patiently that he wished for the ills of the second village to be contained where they were, and the best practices of the first village to be disseminated far and wide.

May God bless my country.

Rs. 27

Thats all it took – a demand for Rs.27 at the toll booth. Everybody pays. Unless your name is on the billboard leading up to the toll. That is about half a dollar.. not a fortune, especially for those whose arrogance is based on the wealth they flaunt. So this is what it boiled down to – Sir Arrogance could not cough up the equivalent of  (less than) half a litre of diesel.

I have no idea what really happened at the toll booth – but a life was lost, a young life. For no reason other than somebody did not know when a line is crossed, it becomes wrong, embodies evil.

We see these lines crossed all the time, and say nothing. Traffic on the wrong side of the road? Shrug. Red light being jumped? Sigh. Small child begging? Look away. Road being dug up and not tidied at the end of a work day? Workers never clearing their own mess? Ignore. People spitting, spreading infectious diseases?. Not my problem. Men masturbating in public, pissing everywhere?  Blind eye. Rubbish thrown out of expensive cars? Whistle on.

Each of these, and many others, is a line that is crossed. Where I am denied the right to a dignified clean city. I am denied the right to walk in healthy, safe places. You, who do this, are stealing this right from me. And dignity from yourself.

Do the aggressors not realise that the first loss of dignity is theirs? They suffer more than others? No, you did not get away with it, you moron. You just proved that you are dumb enough not to be able to intelligently calculate consequences to yourselves and others.  How is it that somebody who can argue and harangue so well does not understand that holding back when driving gives other cars room to get out of your way?

It is not as if these people are totally dumb, for animal cunning is amply displayed. Human intelligence? Human intelligence is about making cognitive choices, not instinctive ones.  Being human is about caring, doing good and making the world a better place. Not necessarily crusading. It is easy, like saying please, thank you and sorry. About sharing with permission, about respect for others. That is it.

So, when the toll both says, Rs 27, you assess – am I cheaper than that? And pay up with dignity. And the next time you want to do something truly selfish – just pause for a second and think – can this damage anybody?  And decide how low you want to stoop or high you want to rise. Choose well. It is your right as a human being.


Lo aao dil cheer lo mera,

Na sheher na bashindon mein ab khoon kesara

As I write this, a second bomb blast outside Delhi High Court is rumoured. Eleven are declared dead, scores injured and I cannot get through to my lawyer on his phone.

And I reflect on what could it have brought it on. I will not blame the ones who did it because they are wrong and damaged anyway. Their evil is neither forgivable nor intelligent.  I will not rant about the ineptness of the security forces and the failure of intelligence. We almost live in a police state, here in the centre of Delhi and the layers of irony and tragedy are heaped thick on us.

But I pause, away from the mayhem to what allowed it to happen. On the word kesara, on the colour kesari and all that it meant to us in India.

Kesar is the colour of anger

The colour of sacrifice

The colour of bravery

In blood, not quite red – so not enough to boil

In spices it is the queen.. gently spreading through, more persuasive than aggressive..

It was the spirit above the self, thus placed highest on the flag…

As, in the verse above – where has that spirit gone. Because, I truly believe, that when that spirit stands strong, it becomes the strength of the nation. A moral force that cannot be denied or blasted away.

P.S. A couple of days after I wrote this, I suddenly realised how the colour saffron had been arrogated to themselves by the Hindu Right.  This post has nothing to do with Hinduism or its ‘elements’. It is about a fragrance, a set of values that we seem to have lost.

To be a Teacher

To be a teacher is to be a seeker. A greedy grasping seeker for that spark that will ignite the world. In themselves and in their students. A need to give, to share and to see the eyes of their students light up in comprehension, as they see more of their path ahead.

Teaching is not just a vocation, nor is it pure science. Mere knowledge does not make a teacher, nor is it about empathy or reaching out. The former makes it clinical, the latter makes it a social gathering. A teacher is not just the conductor of an orchestra, nor just a facilitator, nor is teaching about increasing knowledge and getting marks. While all of these have been discussed ad nauseum, the mysterious core of what is a good teacher remains- like all good philosophical mysteries – available only to the initiated, to those who have experienced it.

And this much is true, that good teaching is an esoteric art, to be practiced with skill and precision. The art of teaching needs to be taught – it does not spring forth from a surfeit of knowledge, nor is it cultivated with an ability to analyse. Teaching does not require the ability to churn out books and papers. There are no guarantees that a teachers improve with involvement with ivory towers and specific branches of knowledge that earns them higher degrees.

Teachers are nurtured by teaching them the skills and supporting them through their journey of honing these very skills. The job of a teacher is to learn how to teach, to adapt to every need, to evolve over time along with the content and the audience. To learn is to grow, to teach is earn. Earning for a true teacher does include money, no doubt, and is much more.

And so, today, when I remember my teachers, who taught me both how to learn and how to teach, I cannot miss the one that was practically perfect in every way – Mary Poppins. Yes, of course she was a fictional character in a Disney movie, but everything she taught me holds true in every teaching I do – Teaching is about making magic happen. It is about laughter and rosy cheeks; about a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down; about order and discipline (Spit Spot!) and equally about imagination running riot. It is classless, yet about good manners. Above all it is about adventures, breaking bounds and understanding other perspectives. And then, when the lessons have been learnt and the bridges built, it is about gracefully gliding away, often ignored and forgotten, yet fulfilled.

The Vacuum

The people need a voice, a channel. With full respect to the angst, the sorrow, the anger and the frustration of having to pay taxes and rents for what should be served to us with a smile, I still cannot bring myself to place my trust in an all powerful Lokpal.

Where I bow down in admiration is the power of the people.. we still have it in us to rise above our petty (or not so petty) needs and step up for what we believe in. We still have it in us to recognize right from wrong, at least when we lose out when things go wrong. (just being honest here.. )

Also, kudos to Team Anna for excellent execution of their strategy.. their tactics, their timing and their passion have kept the people engaged. And steadily increased engagement over the days. The masterly identification of a common cause that can unite India – corruption has been the foundation of their success.

We listen to teamAnna because our channels do not speak for us any more. Our left seems to have abandoned its post, our opposition silently (or noisily) watches as Parliament steadily becomes more and more dysfunctional. If the counterbalancing forces that keep a democracy vibrant are subsumed in the chaos, then the field is left wide open for any and all.

We had a point to make, and nobody to make it for us in the legimate forum. We were left feeling like fools who would turn up once in five years and choose between the indicted, the accused and the surely-it-is-a-matter-of-time candidates. Politics was a dirty business and pathways for the honest but poor aspirant were all but blocked. Democracy was being strangled – and the people felt the squeeze.. there seemed to be nobody looking out for the people’s interests.. All it needed was for somebody to step up and fill that gap.

Does that make a LokPal a good solution? Does it feel like the last resort when all else has failed? Probably. In any case, acknowledging the felt need for a Lok Pal is an admission of failure. Failure of current systems to provide the counterbalance to venal governments and bureaucracies. Yet a weapon of last resort is to be looked at with caution. I for one am terrified of another system that puts the burden of proof on the accused – ruining lives merely on the basis of a pointing finger. Another system built on lack of trust, on catching what is wrong rather than fixing what is wrong.

(This is a part of the analysis of the current issue. As the debate rages – much has been said, some sensible, some partisan, some passionate, some just immature. Not wishing to add to the noise in the op-ed columns, I hold back my views, just placing this – that needs to be said – on my blog)