The back-to-school season is on!

It is that time of the year when schools in India reopen after the summer vacation. Classes have started already in states like Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. Many other states are set to welcome students in the next few days. While children are excited to meet their friends after a long pause, there is also nervousness. The school situation during COVID, a surge in covid cases, and adverse weather conditions have all added to the complexity. It is yet to be seen how schools and parents prepare the children for the current state of affairs. 

The reopening of schools in India brings an end to weeks of summer break. All this while kids were baking, swimming, or learning new things online. Some were participating in summer camps while others were watching a little more television. I grew up in the 90s. Summer holidays were incomplete for my generation without a trip to grandparents’ home. Everyone’s Nani, Aaji or Pi would lovingly prepare her home for the summer and the arrival of her grandchildren. I, too, spent my summer with my maternal grandparents at their home in Satna – a small town in Madhya Pradesh. While I still get to spend time with my Grandmother, my limited time with my Grandfather ended with his demise in 2019. 

My Nanaji is no more with us, but his memories still are. It is interesting how memories never come in isolation. Rewinding our memories of someone brings back memories of our own younger selves. When I think of Nanaji, I also think of the younger and quieter me, clad in my many insecurities and questions. I was always unsure of myself as a kid. From how I looked to my inability to talk to people, I could find a reason to feel a little more out of place every day. But in my memories, my Nanaji stands tall like a sunny island in the dark sea of doubts. He offered me a safe haven where I was loved and accepted for exactly who I was- no filters needed. Always clad in a cotton shirt and flowy white pyjamas, he was as tall and lean as Mr Bacchan. In my eyes, he was only one front tooth short of looking like the ‘Angry Young Man’. Although he was rarely angry and was hardly young. 

Nanaji was fond of Urdu Shayari. Every now and then, he would recall a couplet that he knew. This one by Khwaja Meer Dard was one of his favourites-

Sair kar duniya ki gaafil zindgani fir kahaan

zindagi gar kuch rahi to naujawani fir kahaan

All of Nanaji’s grandchildren were different in their own ways, but he was the same for each one of them- treating them alike with Ghalib’s eloquent couplets and sometimes embarrassing personal hygiene remarks. His favourite one was “Daant kitne peele ho rahe hain. Acche se maanja karo.” or “Haddiyon me zara bhi dam nahi hain. Acche se khaya karo.” But it came from a place of such love and sincerity that we never took offence.

Nanaji was an immigrant uprooted from his home in Gujranwala after the Indo-Pak partition. He was a young boy who had to build a new life from scratch in an unknown land. However, he took it in his stride and made a life full of love and devoid of hatred. By the end of his decades-long career in the excise department, he had worked in almost every small town and village of Madhya Pradesh. 

A fit man himself, Nanaji encouraged us to spend time outdoors. He took us on long walks with him on the way to the sabzi mandi in Panna Naka or the local Kirana shop in Rajendra Nagar. What changed over the years was that while I did the catching up in the earlier years, I had to let him catch up in the latter. And, of course, I was no more dressed in those frilly frocks and Hawai chappals like in my younger days. He stuck to his white pyjamas and shirts till the very end.

Nanaji had not read any self-help books; instead, he learned from life. Till his last years, he was a member of the 5 AM Club, years before Robin Sharma made it a fad. He was also a minimalist at heart- owning 3 identical pairs of white cotton pants and shirts. Mr Jobs and Mr Zuckerberg later followed suit. Like all grandies, he was a master storyteller before any such title existed. We learned so many things by just spending time around him and absorbing his presence. The lessons continue to unpack as I grow older. 

We see that children these days hardly get an opportunity to spend time with their grandparents like children from the previous generations did. Maybe it is a beautiful idea for parents to encourage these grandchild-grandparent interactions. Ofcourse with changing times, certain things may need a twist. Some kids might prefer an activity like spending time at the mall with their grandparents to show them what type of music or games they are into. Some other would plant saplings with their grandies or do an assignment together. ‘Grandtravel’- a trip with grandies might be another cool idea. I’ve heard a few travel companies do offer such tailor made trips. Well, it does not need to be that fancy. There’s so much these two generations can do together- weave fun stories, make paper boats and above all, build a strong character- all things that matter outside the virtual world our children live in today.

Meanwhile, Monsoon has announced its arrival in several parts of India. As our kids make their way to school, crossing the puddles of anxiety and apprehension, I hope we send them off with an umbrella of beautiful memories crafted during summers, somewhat like the one I just opened up.

Happy Birthday Grandpa!

Today is my Dadaji’s 89th Birthday. We could have been congratulating him and celebrating with him, he clad in his flowy cotton Kurta-pyjama and child-like smile, cheerfully clapping and singing the bday song along with us. Only thing is we can’t, anymore…

We lost him to a month-long battle with a hip injury on the 2nd of December. The separation was painful and I am still coming to terms with it. So it was a double-blow when I lost my Nanaji two days back, also to frailty. My Nanaji, with Urdu Shayris ever on the tip of his tongue and a carefree heart, was another gem of a person who left us with countless amazing memories to cherish. Our schools, colleges, or work-spaces, in all these years, never teach us how to deal with death, in spite of it being the ETERNAL TRUTH of our very lives. We don’t discuss death openly in our homes. We hear about it, see it from a distance, but do not fully realize what it means unless it happens to someone so close to us.

Death indeed is a great teacher and if there is one lesson that I have learnt in the last few days, it is about understanding what remembrance is. Grieving a loved one is a natural process and very much so. One must give themselves the time and space to mourn and cleanse the pain that the parting leaves. However , real remembrance of a person goes beyond mourning his parting. It would be in celebrating and if possible, imbibing the amazing qualities that made him the person he was.

When I look back, I realize there is so much that I have learnt from both these amazing Gentlemen by just observing them living their life all these years and it will take me a while to put all that in words. However, if there is one thing that could define them, it was their ‘Zindadili’- the endless love for life and every human being around them. Both my Dadaji and Nanaji were Indo-Pak partition survivors. They saw the place, they once called home, become part of another country which they were no longer allowed to inhabit. They were teenagers at the time, in the exciting phase of their school days who were now forced to build a new life from scratch in a place unknown to them. However, they took it in their stride and built a life full of love, devoid of any hatred whatsoever. No one could ever leave unfed from our home or without a hearty chat with Dadaji who could effortlessly strike conversations with anyone he met. ‘Hello Sir’..’Ram Ram Amma’, he would carefully choose the salutation to suit the receiver, however, always said with the same fondness. My Nanaji, the quieter of the two, would greet everyone with a gentle smile and if one was lucky then with a Shayri or two from his amazing collection. Both of them lived easy, stress-free lives, their daily routine filled with plenty of walking, spending time in nature and indulging in their hobbies. Like true Punjabis, they loved their food and ate it with absolute reverence. For many years, I heard the Panchatantra story of crocodile and monkey, customized Dadaji style with added description of the elaborate dishes prepared for the monkey’s bday party(Garma garam Jalebi…Samosa..)

Today it is yet another of Dadaji’s birthday but he is not here to plan the elaborate menu with us. However, I am sure he is having a wonderful time with Dadi and Nanaji up there. Happy Birthday Dadaji !
Meanwhile, I fondly and lovingly remember the two of them with a Sher that Nanaji recited to me on one of my visits to his home in Satna.’

ज़िन्दगी ऐन दीदे-यार ‘फ़िराक़’

ज़िन्दगी हिज्र की कहानी भी ..

Apna Time Ayega! (Our Time will come)

“So comes Snow after Fire and even Dragons have their endings.” -JRR Tolkien.

In February this year, we got three flower bulbs as present from our lovely airbnb hosts in Teesta Bazar, Darjeeling . Our host Karan and his family grew and maintained a beautiful farm and his father who was a authority on horticulture handpicked the plants for us. He told us that these bulbs give birth to some really spectacular flowers. Well, the bulbs did a week-long journey with us through Darjeeling and Gangtok and found their new home, here in Pune. We happily planted them in two pots expecting to see flowers in the next 3-4 weeks time as told to us by Karan’s father.

Well, six months passed by and the bulbs just did not show any sign of growth! They just remained a bunch of hopelessly dried stems… We gave up all hopes of ever seeing those mystery flowers. One thing that we didn’t do was uprooting the plant ( maybe out of love or sheer laziness :P).

Our watering efforts did yield many leafy greens (a.k.a weeds) in the pot but still no sign of our exotic mystery flower till a point where we absolutely forgot about its existence right there in our balcony…Until one fine day when we woke up to something unimaginable-

Voila! Two glorious yellow flowers popping out of foot-long stems that seem to have emerged through the soil magically overnight..

glorious yellow beauty standing tall in the wilderness around it.

Or magic it was not…

While we forgot about the plant, there was work happening under the dark soil every single day and when the right opportunity came, our bud was fully prepared to seize it!

And that morning, as I took a moment to admire the yellow beauties, they whispered these three golden messages in my ear-

Never say never: Don’t lose hope, even if it seems like ages that nothing worthwhile happened. Nature ensures that every thing happen in its due course and your efforts are never wasted.

Don’t give up on your people: They may do wonders with the right nurturing! There is so much hidden potential in each one of us and it just needs the right encouragement, a slight nudge for someone to bloom to his/her full potential.

Also, long time Dude! High time you pack your bags and set your foot on yet another land so more of nature’s wonders can make their way into your life.

This is it for today. Until next time, leaving you with these wonderful lines from Kipling-

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

If: A Father’s advice to his son
Rudyard Kipling

cover image credits: Ashim D’Silva source: Splash

Nothing else matters !

In this life, there is no bigger pursuit than the pursuit of creating a better version of yourself every single day of your time here. You need to keep reinventing and rediscovering yourself all through your life not only because you want to stay relevant but I believe  because life in most probability is about ‘evolution’. 

A tree starts off as a tiny seed , packed with immense possibilities. There are a number of seeds which are thrown out there in the open, but only those survive which keep evolving, no matter what. The seeds turn into tiny saplings, then into sturdy plants and then one fine day into giant trees, giving birth to countless leaves, flowers and fruits. What’s more, it becomes the creator of  many more seeds , just like the tiny one it came from . Had it not worked on reinventing itself than on anything else, nothing of this magic would ever have happened. 

Evolution of homo sapiens from apes has taken ages, something which none of us could have witnessed in our life time. But what we can manage to witness in our lifetime is our own evolution from that tiny seed of immense possibilities  into a giant tree of wisdom, hope and bliss. After all , the ‘what ifs ‘ have never created a difference. It is the ‘so whats’ that have made a dent on this universe.

Metallica summarizes it the best-

‘Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters’

Take a bow !




What does little birdie say ?

It is almost  6:00 AM in the morning. My mother is busy in the kitchen preparing lunch for my father who works in an early morning shift. “It is almost time.She must be here anytime soon”, my mother says to herself while she puts the tea on flame. She does not have to wait for long . As soon as the minute clock strikes 12, the guest arrives.  Elegant,poised and dressed in a beautiful black fur coat with a soft white lining, the guest makes her way from the front garden into the kitchen garden in a tip-toed fashion and calls out with a peculiar chirp. My mother smiles while she adds a tiny cardamom  into the tea. “kaloo is finally here”, she sighs. Read More

The summer of ’99

Summers in India, a typical of our tropical climate , bring with it two basic things- bright yellow sunshine (you always wish for less) and bright yellow mangoes ( you always wish for more ). One more thing summers bring that we as kids loved  ( I take the liberty to speak for my entire generation) were the long summer holidays. The months of May and June,  ‘celebrated’ as Summer holidays in India were something that every kid looked forward to. After a long spell of exams and a new session in April , it indeed felt like a well-earned holiday. In fact the main motivation for attending classes in April were those fast-approaching holidays and we spent a fair amount of time day-dreaming about them and planning them.

The real fun began on May 1 , the first day of summer holiday with no early morning hassle of getting ready for school but long hours of cycling in the nearby streets with my sister. Home would welcome us with the cool breeze of a desert-cooler and a glass of sweet ‘Rooh-afza’. Throughout the day  I would play endless rounds of video games , board games and hit-your-sister-with- a-plastic-bat-and-run-for-your-life games. In the evenings my Grand father would take me and my sister to a nearby park where we would go wild and jump around while he would catch up with his grey-haired buddies. He would buy us peanuts coated with mint-chutney from an old man who would always give us a little extra.  On days, mother would give us a tiny allowance to buy a chocobar icecream (quite the in-thing in the 90’s) and we would relish it till the last drop of cream melted and a choco chunk fell on the ground, breaking our hearts with a ‘thud’. As the sun would go down, all the kids were still to be found outside,  playing yet another round of ‘Ice-water’ or ‘Vish-amrit’ as we called it locally.  The tiny streets used to echo with the roar of our laughter and chirping of sparrows ( both found in abundance back then).

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