Thursday, 31 January 2013

From Counselor to Wife

Aashi was tired. It had been yet another late night and even after so many months, her system had still not adjusted to just a few hours of sleep. Added to that, working weekends was really not her idea of fun. Not that there was any choice but to grin and bear it. Ordinarily she loved her work but today was weighing heavily on her. Things were not right with Gurman and their nth argument last night had left yet another tear in what was already a fragile relationship. She gazed morosely at the engagement ring on her finger. Who would have thought that what she wished for would cause her such grief when it happened?
“Next student Meenu.”
Aashi jolted out of her reverie at the voice. She looked across at the counselor beside her who looked ready to cry.
“Komal, I have just finished a whole family’s counseling ya. Isn’t there anyone else?”  
“I’ll take it Meenu. Komal give the form to me.” Aashi held out her hand and nodded to acknowledge Meenu’s grateful smile. She might as well keep busy; at least her mind wouldn’t wander to unpleasant things as it had a tendency to do off late. She looked down at the form to process the student’s information.
Samar Sharma. 1975 born. Looking for an LLM.
Aashi groaned mentally. These 30+ students were tough to handle. They came with all their research done and asked pointed questions. She sighed. Ah well, there was no avoiding this one. She looked up to see a distinguished guy walk into the office. He was smartly dressed in a coat and trousers and looked like he was ready to fight a case in court. Slight sprinkling of salt lined his wavy hair and spectacles added to his self possessed air. Aashi felt her heart sink. This one looked like he knew everything. She hated those types. They made her feel like she was under a microscope by testing her knowledge. And today of all days to be saddled with such a student. God really knew how to pick his moments. She pasted a smile on her face
“Hi, please have a seat. “ She waited until he sat down. “So how can I help you Samar?”
“I am looking for an LLM. I believe that you have representatives from some good UK Universities here. I would like to meet them. Here are my documents.” His voice was deep and husky; a pleasure to hear was Aashi’s startled thought.
Four sets of neatly bound documents were placed in front of her. To cover up her discomfiture she picked up one and looked through it-Class 10, Class 12, graduation, LLB, work experience; it was all there. Seldom in her experience as an education counselor had she come across such an organised student.
“This is great. Shall we first shortlist the colleges and then you could meet with the ones which are here today.” Aashi took a sheet of paper and started jotting down names of universities on it. Much to her annoyance Samar leaned over to see what she was writing. She sighed again. Maybe he had OCD?  She briskly slid the paper across to him. “
“These are the ones I think you should target. You have good grades and work experience, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be made an offer. The only thing working against you is that you’re applying late. You missed out on two of the good ones because their deadline is past but I think Queen Mary should definitely be able to make an offer, especially since they are here today.”  
“What about Australia?” Aashi gave him a look of horror. “Why would you want to do Law from Australia? It’s not recognised back in India and you wouldn’t be able to practice as a lawyer since their legal system is different. UK is a much better option. Now shall I set up an appointment with Queen Mary & Birmingham?” At his affirmative nod, she slid out of her seat with his forms and went across to the reception. “Komal, please register this student for these universities.”
She walked back to her desk where Samar was. She couldn’t help noticing how straight he sat, like a soldier.  “Samar, if you could please take a seat at the reception, Komal will guide you to the universities when it’s your turn.”
“Sure. Thanks a lot for the information. Should I come back here once I meet with them?” Samar stood inadvertently bringing him close to her. She took an involuntary step back. Damn, she hated feeling intimidated. Not that the poor guy had said or done anything but he felt made her feel…strange.
“Yes, you can let me know what they say. All the best.” She heaved a sigh of relief as he left. These mature students were the bane of her life. This one was particularly bad. He made her feel like a kid who didn’t know anything. Oh well, it was just a matter of a few months and then he would leave for the UK, if he got good enough offers. Dismissing him from her mind, she went back to work.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Ahmedabad-A Miniature Delhi!

My work has taken me to different cities over the course of the past year-Jaipur, Lucknow, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. In each of these places I came across a distinct culture that made the city what it was and in each of these places I longed to get back to Delhi within a day.

My latest tour was to the state of Gujarat; more specifically the city of Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad was a pleasant surprise. From the moment I stepped off the plane I was engulfed in a feeling of bonhomie and goodwill. Travelling to my hotel in the taxi, with the driver pointing out the various landmarks, I felt as though I were in a small scale version of Delhi. From the shops to the hoardings, everything had a sense of familiarity, albeit with Gujju subtitles!!

Over the years one has heard of the way in which Gujarat has risen to become a prosperous state. The wide roads, cleanliness of the city and friendly nature of the residents are a testament to this fact. While the Gujaratis are known to be extremely moneyed their tastes are far subtler and toned down than the average Delhite. So you will still get to see a Mercedes and a Range Rover but minus the blue disco lights and blaring music!

After work I went exploring and landed up at the Law Garden market which is a daily occurance in the evenings. Here you get a mind boggling range of traditional Gujarati clothes-in all sizes. I found myself totally at ease with bargaining (something I hesitate to do even in Delhi) and picked up some really cute stuff. Roaming around, I soaked up the sights and sounds that are peculiar to every city in India. During a school visit the principal told me that Ahmedabad is an extremely safe city for women. Walking around after sunset I sensed the truth in her words. Living in Delhi I have gotten used to being checked out by the paanwala to the driver to just about everyone. If you’re a woman, irrespective of how you are dressed, you are fair game to be ogled at. Ahmedabad proved to be a refreshing change. I could feel myself relaxing as I relaised that no one was really bothered about where I was going or what I was wearing. It felt good to lay down my guard briefly.

One of my fondest memories will be of the auto driver who dropped me to the airport the next day. While driving he kept getting a call on his mobile. When he finally answered, it was to exasperatedly explain that he was with a customer and would be late. Catching my eye he sheepishly explained that he was newly married and usually reached home by 4pm daily. Since he was late his wife was calling to find out when he would reach. He also said that she would call at least thrice more by the time we reached our destination. The third time the call came he asked me if I could speak to her and assure her that he was indeed dropping me to the airport. I was most amused and touched to be given a glimpse into his simple life. I spoke to his wife and reassured her that her husband was not up to mischief and was indeed working. She calmed down and said “main unko bahut miss karti hoon jab who time se ghar nahi aate!!” 

Whenever I look back on my tip, it shall be with fondness at the ease which Ahmedabad put me at. The city boasts of an exciting duality of being cosmopolitan while retaining its traditional flavour. For the first time I didn’t find myself longing to get back to Delhi; Ahmedabad was indeed a wonderful surprise.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Choice

“Are you gonna stay with the one who loves you
Or are you goin' back to the one you love?
Someone's gonna cry when they know they've lost you
Someone's gonna thank the stars above”
                                                                  -Glenn Frey (The One You Love)

This song brings back memories of late nights, snuggled under blankets with my earphones plugged in during my adolescent years. Even back then the dilemma in the song captured my imagination. How does one decide who will make a better partner- someone you love or someone who loves you?

Everywhere I looked, whether in my own life or in my friends’ lives, the need to be loved seemed to outweigh the need to love. At the same time it seemed impossible to be with a person who loved you without loving him back. But what if such a situation arose?

My mother always says that no relationship can ever be completely equal. The balance of power or need will always be heavier on one side even if by a small margin.  In such a scenario would I rather be with someone I am crazy about even if I need him more than he needs me? Or would I rather choose someone who loves me much more than I love him? The questions never seemed to get easier as I grew up.

Robert Frost has rightly said “Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”  Our need for love stems from the deep seated desire to have someone who cares for us beyond boundaries. Unfortunately I have found that such people are few and far in-between! Usually the people we fall in love with are the ones, where we end up being the needy party.

Age has a way of putting a lot of things into perspective. What love meant at 15 is far different from what it means at 30! Violins and bells; moonlight and magic; passion and flowers; these things become secondary. What one ends up longing for is the simplicity of an emotion that can be accepted and returned.

And if the choice happens to be between someone I love and someone who loves me-then with all the wisdom that age has bestowed upon me, I would choose the person who loves me. For you can learn to love someone, but you can never teach someone to love you…

Friday, 30 September 2011

The Chakrata Road Trip

When a group of seven of us decided to add excitement to our lives by going on a road trip, we never realised just what we were taking on! Since one of us was getting hitched in November, the theme became a bachelorette road trip.

The main task was choosing the place. After much deliberation, the bride-to-be picked Chakrata. This is a small cantonment town around 100 kms from Dehradun and at an elevation of 7000 feet.  It’s known for its majestic views and serene environment. For us it was a gateway from the daily pressures of life.
I never really realised just how much organizing goes into a road trip till we got down to the task. First and foremost was of course creating an event on Facebook and sending invites. This was done with great enthusiasm and over the next couple of weeks invitations were accepted and declined; people moved from Yes to Maybe to Yes again; and one friend even managed to accept the invite just a day before the trip!! Event pictures were changed; comments made on everything from the weather to the drive to the food (read alcohol!). People fought, made up and basically the event page read as a biography in the life of seven very different individuals :)

Finally The Day arrived. It was unbearable sitting in office and pretending to work. At different corners of Delhi & NCR seven people were busy looking at their watches and counting the hours to evening.  The group gathered at my place and the car was called at the stroke of midnight; if nothing else than to add to the dramatics of the situation. Excitement levels were at an all time high and when we set off the car rang with shouts of “Jai Mata Di” and “Yayyyy”. Needless to say none of us slept for quite some time; some errant dozers were rudely woken up. Horror stories were narrated and Punjabi pop music sung to. It was fantastic!

Being the good souls that we are, our first stop was the Poanta Sahib Gurudwara. This is a city sacred to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikhs. The Gurudwara overlooks the Yamuna and is a repository of serenity. After duly asking for pardon for sins committed (and those that we were planning to commit) we set off for our main destination. The drive to Chakrata took us around 2 hours and the climb was breathtaking. While 4 of us snoozed, the other 3 took scores of pictures in an attempt to capture the mountains.

There is something about the majesty of nature that humbles you. The towering peaks bring home a sense of your mortality. Work pressures, difficult relationships, parental arguments all fade into the background; for those few moments nothing exists except you and the mountains. Of course least did the people of our hotel know that we were going to very soon destroy the peace that radiated all around!

The remainder of the day was spent in getting some rest and exploring the nearby market. As the clock ticked towards evening the main event began. Unfortunately going into too many details would entail in a lot of us getting into hot water but it was without doubt the most fun any of us had ever had. 

Coming away from home somehow enables people to let their hair down. And boy did we let go! There was dancing and music and food and drinks. There were confidences exchanged and tears released. There was even one of us trying to jump out of a window in the belief that she had seen a headless man (courtesy of the horror stories narrated). Memories were shared, some memories lost, some more created. When we woke up the next morning we felt as though we had known each other forever. We were a new found family.

There are moments in life when time seems to stop. When the present is just so perfect that you don’t want to move onto tomorrow. When you realise that life’s canvas would be so bleak without the people you call friends. This trip was that turning point for us. What more proof was needed than the fact that when we had to take a detour on our way back which delayed us by a couple of hours, we were actually happy coz none of us wanted to get back home? It’s been a week now since we have been back, but the bonds still remain. We have already met up twice and are planning future trips. 

I have been on trips before but never have I discovered such comfort and understanding among such a diverse group of people. Those three days in the midst of the peaks of Chakrata will forever be etched in our memories as an absolutely crazy weekend.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Seize the Day

Sometimes all it takes is one person to make you realise how life can be lived. There I was living a perfectly normal, albeit boring, life for 29 years, watching the years go by without doing anything much to mark them. I had been through my share of ups and downs, heartbreaks and successes but when I looked back there was nothing extraordinary or remarkable about any of my days. In short there was nothing that set me apart from a billion other people.

When I was younger I had a wish list of things I wanted to do before I turned 30. Of course at that time 30 seemed ages away; giving an impression of endless time before it arrived. Now as the age looms ahead I look at my list to see how far I have gotten. It reads something like this

  • Get a tattoo
  • Learn swimming
  • Go rafting
  • Learn how to ride a bike (if only till my colony market!)
  • Go on a road trip with friends
  • Go on a cruise
  • Get married
  • Experience camping
  • Go sky diving
  • Complete my PhD
  • Buy a car

And so on. Some things I managed like getting a tattoo and buying a car but some other wishes seemed completely out of reach. Till an old friendship was rekindled and a new journey began…

Yesterday I went on what you could call my first biking trip. A friend of mine invited me and giving in to a somewhat buried reckless spirit I said yes. As the day drew closer I had my apprehensions. I mean lets face it; I am this organized cautious soul who has learnt the hard way not to be impulsive. So what exactly was I doing, thinking I could be a useful pillion rider; considering that my first and only bike ride was 8 years back and had lasted for exactly 2 minutes? However it was too late to back out so with trepidation in my heart I approached the bike which overnight seemed to have assumed mammoth proportions.

Thanks to countless movies I knew how to get onto the bike without embarrassing myself. My friend of course was extremely amused at my expression and assured me that I wouldn’t fall off. However for someone who’s accustomed to the safety and comfort of a balanced four wheeler, suddenly the two missing wheels seemed very ominous! Needless to say I held my breath as he started the bike and then we were off.

The experience of being on a bike can’t be captured on paper. There are no words which can quite describe the feel of the wind against your face, the power of the machine under you, the throttle of the engine as it accelerates, the image of objects whizzing past in a blur and above all the sense of utter, undiluted freedom. There’s this sensation that you exist only for that moment. Yesterdays and tomorrows fade away; what remains is an absolute sense of today.

For me yesterday changed everything. It slammed home the fact that life is for the living. It’s for today, it's for the moment. I have been so busy lamenting about the past and fretting about the future that somewhere I ended up burying the present. Those precious minutes of exhilarating freedom made me realise that the wish list shall have many more completed items before I turn 30.

Carpe’ Diem is what life’s all about.  And thanks to an old pal, adventure no longer seems to be a daunting word.