Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What is this bhangad?

"What is this bhangad?", he said, disapprovingly, and looked up at me. He was looking at my passport application papers. The policeman in charge of the papers scrutiny at the local police station was referring to my name 'Banno Zai Muk'.

'Bhangad' in Marathi should roughly translate to "What is this headache-inducing nonsense?" First of all, why did I have this complicated name? Second, why would I not use my husband's name like any decent woman should? (Unsaid and implied questions, ofcourse. Even the policeman has learnt political correctness.)


He looked at me, and said, "Muslim?" I nodded. He looked at my husband's name, and then my husband, and said, "Teja? Hindu?" I nodded again. "Love marriage?" Very disapproving, that. Directed more towards Teja than me. I nodded mutely again.

Ofcourse, I was tempted to say, "No, arranged marriage. Arranged by deranged parents who did not know any better."

But a police station is no place for humor. And anyone who has spent 8 debilitating hours, standing in three different queues, for a passport application, only prays that they are not going to be sent back there for another lifetime. So mutely pray, that the policeman finds nothing objectionable about your name, marriage, profession, living arrangements.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Coffee and me

Shared an instant coffee with Dhanno yesterday evening at 9 pm. Am still wide-awake at 11 am next morning, in a "wish I could go to sleep" way. That's me. Get a caffeine shot with 2 sips, and get drunk when I shampoo my hair with beer.

Meanwhile, a new short story, 'A Perfect Circle'.


Nupur stepped off the sidewalk with a slight leap that took her springing across the road, careless about the traffic, unusual for her. She wondered if Aman could see her from his window, and a small smile hovered on her face. She stood on tiptoes on the road divider, and she felt ridiculously young. She used to love walking on a road divider, pretending to be performing an incredible balancing act. She cringed now at what a show-off she had been. But when you are young and pretty, even the embarrassing things you do, are cute.

The non-existent traffic on this quiet side-lane did not warrant her standing on the divider for long, and she crossed the road with a bouncy walk that she had long forgone. These days, her gait was that of a graceful elephant, according to her husband Prateek. But if Aman were watching her right now, he would think her as agile as he had known her.

She entered the 5-star hotel foyer with a familiar but long-forgotten sense of doing something forbidden. How enjoyable that feeling was! So sweet, and exciting. Only Aman and she had never met in a 5-star hotel before. The receptionist called Aman’s room, and asked Nupur to wait for a few minutes. Aman would come down to the lobby as soon as he finished his meeting with a prospective employee. Nupur sat down, relieved to have these few moments to calm her before Aman came.

Aman had called her this morning; he had wanted her to come over as soon as she could. He thought she could hang around while he conducted the interviews he was down in India for. But Nupur did not want to sacrifice a day of her holiday to her Maa’s house in Bangalore, and hang around Aman the whole day.

Besides, what would she tell Maa? Her mother knew all her friends in Bangalore, and in fact, she had finished meeting all of them in the last few days. If her mother knew she was meeting Aman, she would be very worried, even if Nupur pretended to be cool about it. Even if Nupur told Maa that she had spoken to Prateek about it. In fact, that would worry Maa more.

Finally, she told Maa that she was going to Trupti’s house for her son’s birthday. That had allowed her to doll up a little without Maa wondering what she was up to. Nupur thought she should call Trupti and tell her about the lie, but it seemed too juvenile. She’d just leave it, and if Maa found out her lie, she’d explain. In all these years, that’s one thing Nupur had learned. It was easiest to get away with a lie, if one didn’t set it up too elaborately.

She had spoken to Prateek before she came to Bangalore about this meeting with Aman. Prateek had not paid much attention to her nervousness. She felt a little irritated that he was not more jealous, but then, at a traffic signal, he suddenly said – “You must wear that blue saree of yours. You look lovely in it. You must dazzle that Aman. Let him know what he’s missed.” She looked at her husband with disbelief. He was laughing, and he punched her affectionately on her shoulder, she began laughing too, comforted as always by his good humor. It was moments like this that she felt incredibly lucky to have met Prateek and married him.

Remembering Prateek now, she felt herself again, a happily married woman, who had no reason to feel these butterflies in her stomach, because she was meeting an old boyfriend. Aman had been her first love, but it was she who had broken up with him. Right now, she could not quite remember why. Even back then, her decision had confused her friends and family, and Aman himself. Everyone thought they were the perfect couple. Aman, handsome, laughing; with all the signs of becoming a successful man, a sports champion. Nupur, pretty, shy, but very clever. But Nupur had been bored by Aman, a little, and that had frightened her. Perhaps she was too young for the relationship, who knows?

Today, she had not worn the blue saree Prateek loved her in. She remembered that Aman liked yellow, and she had worn a yellow shirt and her blue jeans. Aman had mailed her his family photograph, and his wife had been wearing a dark purple saree. Nupur did not want to wear a saree like Aman’s wife. Today, Nupur did not want to be the 38-year-old woman she was, but the 16-year-old girl she had been. She wondered what the receptionist must think of her, sitting here, waiting for a man. Did she look the sort of person who usually did that? Nupur laughed to herself, and wondered if she should call Aman again, and tell him she would leave if he kept her waiting any more.

Even when they were in college, Aman kept her waiting for hours on end. Sometimes, they would have arranged to meet at the corner of a road, and Nupur would circle around endlessly on her moped, until she caught sight of him. She would be upset, he would be laughing. And even today, she was waiting. It only increased her anxiety. What would Aman think the first moment he saw her? “Oh thank God, I did not marry her. She is not pretty anymore.” Nupur wished now she had worn the saree. She looked plumper in the jeans. And perhaps he would not like her in this boyish outfit. Why did she have to be so perverse?

When Aman did walk towards her, she felt dazzled by her own emotions. She forgot the jauntiness of her steps a few minutes earlier, and rolled up to him, clumsy and awkward as usual. He was laughing with all his brilliance, and he engulfed her in a hug. She wondered frantically whether she smelled all sweaty. Aman looked down at her from his imposing height and said – “Hey, do you want to go out? Or shall we just sit in my room? It will be cooler there.”

Nupur nodded quietly. It did not even occur to her that she should suggest they sit in the coffee shop. She followed Aman to the lift. She thought the receptionist’s eyes were boring into her. Aman looked at her up and down in the lift and said – “Hmm, you’ve put on a little weight. But so have we all. What?” He looked at his own little paunch and laughed again. For the first time, Nupur noticed that yes, Aman too had put on weight, and he too had strands of grey in his hair, and his hair too had thinned, and he too had signs of a double chin. She sighed deeply; she didn’t feel so bad anymore.

Aman’s room was quite swanky. The TV was on, some music channel. “I love the remixes. I watch this channel all the time when I’m here. I don’t get it back home.” He went and switched off the message tone on his laptop. “Otherwise people will keep beeping me.” Nupur looked around, and tried to remember the days they had spent together, in small inexpensive coffee shops, or better still, on open pasture lands just outside the small town where they grew up. Their moments of intimacy had depended on finding either one of their parents out for a couple of hours. They had been luckier than their friends. Their parents knew they were dating, and they did not have to sneak around too much. But even then, being alone in a room was taboo. And here today, they were alone in this hotel room; expensive room, air-conditioned luxurious room, and they were sitting across a small coffe-table chatting about this and that. Nupur glanced at the big, soft bed behind Aman and then smiled inwardly at her own helter-skelter thoughts.

Mainly, Aman was talking, about his family, his parents, his wife, his children, his work, his success. Nupur listened, and put in another question whenever he seemed to stop talking. Somehow, she was reluctant to talk about Prateek. Reluctant to talk about the last 18 years she had spent growing away from Aman. She hoped he would not come out with the anguished cry he had sent out to her for months after she had broken up with him. “But why did you do this?” She had an aversion to answer him then, and she had no answers even now. Perhaps all her nervousness today, was her desire to avoid this question.

But Aman was too demanding a personality to leave well alone. The next time, she asked him an inane question, he did not answer. He only looked at her, and said, “Why?” She shrugged. This time there was no anguish in his voice, and she wished she could have given him a more honest answer. But she could not tell him that he bored her a little.

Aman said, “You know I never forgot you all these years. I still love you, somewhere deep within my heart.” She looked at him confused. “But you never tried to get in touch with me all these years.” He shrugged. “I figured that you did not want me to. I loved you enough to set you free.” He laughed, “You know, all that romantic idealism.” Nupur said, “You never came across as a romantic. I thought it didn’t matter too much to you.” “But there was never anyone else.” “But you didn’t say it”. “But I didn’t need to.” Both of them laughed sadly.

He hugged her again when they left the room. In the lobby, he booked a taxi to take her home. At the last minute, he jumped in. She held his hand in the taxi, and said, “Maybe we were too young.” “Hmm.” Later, she watched the taxi leave. She wanted to cry, to stop him, surely there was something more, so many things that they had not said or done.

At night, she called Prateek. “Prateek, do you know something funny happened. He said he loved me still.” “Oh probably, he just wants to sleep with you.” Nupur wanted to hit Prateek, “How can you be so mean? You are not romantic at all.” Prateek grunted. “Yeah maybe. All I know is you are my wife. He has his own. That’s the love I believe in.” Nupur put the phone down, huddled up in bed alone. She thought as she always did, “Love, what was love after all?” All these years, and she still couldn’t figure it out, quite.
© Batul Mukhtiar

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Poem About Me

Don't I feel important?


boomerang-for-batul

Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep

Baa Baa Black ... no Brown ... no Yellow ... no Rainbow sheep.

Who ever 's heard of "rainbow sheep".

So am I not to be called brown anymore? My delicious brown color, wheat brown, golden brown, caramel brown, coffee brown, chocolate brown. Am I then to be "Asian Indian"? And who is to say that "Asian Indian" won't become, in time, politically incorrect, like "Muslim" for instance?

So, then am I to be "of a certain minority community, melanin challenged, geographically hurdled, socially impaired, economically deprived"? Because I'm a brown middle-class Indian Muslim who does not figure on Page 3.

Racism has nothing to do with political correctness or the lack of it. In fact, it can simmer quite beautifully under the facade of political correctness.

Racism is of course, believing that people are different because they are differently colored, or belong to different geographical, social, economic backgrounds. Believing that someone is inferior because ... but also believing that someone is superior because ...

I'm happy to be "Brown and Lovely", thank you.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Truly Grossssss

My nostrils quiver all the time with the dust from the quarries. Snot congeals every few minutes, and has to be dug out like the stone for buildings. Except that there is no demand for my snot.

The yellow fungus inside the toilet bowl is growing quite well. I'm pleased. I feel it likes me. I walk out of the bathroom and fall while taking a 90 degree turn. The big thud brings no one running. When I come to, there are only aching bones, and no kind soul around. I realize the yellow fungus cannot be much of a friend.

I shuffle to the computer, and hit my home page "Creepies and Crawlies Unite". We of the CCU believe that men and women are not meant to walk. I post my experience of the morning, riling against walking in general, and 90 degree turns in particular.

I immediately get 23 hits from my chat-mates. Carbohydrate levels are high this morning.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Chicken, Eggs and Shit

So, we e-mail each other, call each other, ask tentatively, are you eating chicken, eggs? In moments of rebellion, we decide to hell with it, and take a few illicit bites. Then, feel awful. Is my daughter sniffling because of ....

I feed her banana milk shake everyday. Ofcourse, the milk is no good, pumped as it is with steroids. And now I know the bananas too are poisoned, to ripen quickly, more likely to cause depression and cancer, than alleviate it. Spinach is out, grown as it is on public lavatory grounds besides railway tracks. Oranges, carrots, tomatoes, pumped with unhealthy red color. Potatoes, rice, wheat, capsicum, grapes, apples, strawberries .... all contaminated. The water too, ofcourse is laced with sewage, is it? Fish is mercury, meat is rotting.

Of course, we could all shift to organic foods, and meats imported from New Zealand or wherever. If domestic budgets permitted.

If I sound grumpy, it's the lack of protein doing me in.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Poem I like

A friend, David Raphael Israel, writes well. Here is a poem by him, posted today, which I liked very much.

MOST POEMS

Mixed Doubles

Finally saw the film, “Mixed Doubles” yesterday, after much should we/shouldn't we. The tickets in the multiplexes are so expensive; the show timings are odd; it’s an adult film, and we have to make http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifarrangements for our daughter; there’ve been so many films released this last couple of weeks, and so on.

But ultimately, because so many of our friends have worked on the film, we went to see it out of loyalty. Given our reluctance to go for the film, we were pleasantly surprised. Didn’t get bored for a minute, and came out feeling it was money well spent, which happens rarely these days. But once we are in the car, we MUST analyze, tear apart the fabric of the film, and put it together again. Our daughter’s used to this by now, though it was hard for her initially to accept our hair-splitting discussions on films she had thoroughly enjoyed.

A little mixed up

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

150 Seconds Ago

Any film that you make doesn't go into oblivion. It keeps coming back to you for one reason or another, enquiries, reactions, self-analysis. The moral of the story is you must do your best the first time round. If you are ashamed of your work later, there is no way you can keep it under wraps.

I'm cutting "150 Seconds Ago" to a shorter, more manageable version. Metaphormedia, a company that distributes documentaries to schools, colleges, institutes, NGOs has asked for it, and I'm happy for the film to be seen by as many people as possible.

Synopsis and other details of the film

Of Marriage Registers

Read Mukul's post today on the marriage affidavit. Id and I were married enough by the vows of a qazi, but Idris thought it best that we get our marriage registered. I was 24, but looked 16, we travelled a lot, and had got called up a couple of times by policemen, who thought we were running away from home!! Visiting Id's home in Nainital, we went for an early morning walk, stopped off to have tea and breakfast at a friend's place, where the local magistrate came in with the marriage register, and had us sign. We got a lovely marriage certificate with our photographs attached.

Later, when I was getting a divorce, my lawyers at Majlis wanted to use my marriage certificate to push for similar ones in Maharashtra. The marriage certificates here are nothing but a very insignificant scrap of paper.

When Teja and I decided to marry, Dhanno was six, and adamant that we should not marry. It took a year's gentle persuasion. When she did agree, she had it firmly in her head, with no prompting from our side, that it was to be a marriage between us three, herself included.

At the Bandra court, our lawyer was absconding with all the relevant papers. All of us hung around, sure the marriage was not going to happen that day. The lawyer appeared just before the day was about to pack up at court. A clerk yelled for us to come inside. Unnecessary people were not allowed in. Within 2 minutes, everyone signed. Outside, Dhanno howled because her sign had not been asked for. Ar ran around, and came back with a piece of paper, which he asked her to sign. She grinned, happy, that the formalities were complete.

P-Bapu and Gaz, my witnesses, confessed that they had not got around to registering their marriage in 12 years. Maybe they would get it done soon. All of us knew it was never going to happen.