the fatwaif diaries

the workings of a wandering mind

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

three years downstream

a relatively happy fish, still trying to find meaning in life. but now with a baby.

Friday, January 05, 2007

second chances

a long time coming, this post. another year ended. another year begun. the turn of the calender year isn't always the marker of new beginnings its chalked up to be, but oddly this time round, it is. i feel a gentle but definite click of the kaleidescope and the image is rearranged. somethings have ended, neatly, satisfactorily. i made it to the other side of the m.a. despite my dithering, self doubt, lack of awareness, despite myself almost. pleasantly surprised, a little bit. relieved, yes very much so. ashamed, a little bit. hopeful, a lot.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


it will be one year tomorrow, says my host. the cops will be up and about. my heart nearly skipped a beat. what if... mental note: try to avoid peak hour. mental note 2: stop being paranoid. don't let the fear take over and the terrorists win. after all it's 'us against them' isn't it, whoever they are.
well, so much for mental notes. night comes but sleep does not. i try to trick myself every way i know. i attempt what little i know of meditation - hoping the stillness will let me drift into sleep - but it makes me want to scream and kick my legs violently. out of courtesy for the old friend sleeping next to me, i settle for some frustrated but feeble tossing and turning.
i hear the birds chirping, i feel my pulse racing. my thoughts are going wild at four in the morning when all i really want is sleep. by half past four i abandon my mission, say goodbye to megs who was surprise but too sleepy to ask questions, and venture out into the first light.

the street is silent and empty with the sky suspended above like a pink-purple curtain on a film set. i feel crumpled and inappropriate in clothes from the night before and slippers too noisy for the morning. A lone man unloading a truck makes a lewd comment but my loud slippers drown his words out.
the first train to victoria. and then a fifteen minute wait outside the london underground for it to open. sniffer dogs. cops everywhere. people waiting to get in. my eyes burning and bloodshot by now, my skin dry from lack sleep. but the fear even at five a.m. was palpable and it gets me by the throat. i contemplate a hot chocolate.
i look at the people around me. fat white couple kissing unmindful of place, time or bad breath. impoverished bangladeshi man and skinny wide-eyed son with massive suitcases. grubby american backpackers who just don't care about how dirty the ground is. elderly man with cane. east european lady in fishnets. and then i see them looking at me. fatigued indian girl with a worried face and messy hair who stares at everyone else. it's strangely reassuring how we're all different but in some human way, all the same.

the morning metro looks ominous with a black border to mark the anniversary. eerily happy faces look out from the smudgy pages. people who passed last july 7 . im sitting in a near-empty underground train, the first train out on the first anniversary of the bombings reading about the bombings and the latest terror threat - this will happen again. spooky.
could it happen again. it could. please dont let it happen again. please god. my faithless mind surprises itself by conjuring up prayers.
i feel sick in the stomach and long for my bed. the sleep deprivation does crazy things to my mind as i walk through the tunnels of the underground. i make it to canary wharf and i feel relieved if only momentarily. as i walk through the empty mall, i think target, target, target. 9/11 remember?!
i get on the dlr and my heart begins beating normally again. i see the river in the morning light and it looks peaceful. i feel the breeze hold my hand as i drag myself home. i feel immense gratitude for being safe and for reaching home. i crawl into bed and sleep finally washes over me.

july 11. i turn on ndtv and watch as policemen wash blood off the road in srinagar. bomb blasts. i notice that they use water and a jhaadu. how practical, i think. i feel an all-to-familiar distant kind of sorrow, but i'm impatient and i change channels.
i eat a healthy breakfast of oats and wheatgerm. wash dishes. run the washing machine. watch a couple of sitcoms. check ndtv again. seven blasts in bombay. or were there eight. trains. people dead. people injured. chaos, madness. barkha dutt in the studio barking at a bewildered reporter. the same mms footage, grainy picture of injured/ maybe dead man. "please be aware we aren't censoring the images that we are receiving at this time"
the toll rises sickeningly. the same familiar-distant sorrow but this time im shocked into feeling more. more, but not enough not to feel guilty for not feeling enough.
the same panic prayers in my head, but this time they are truly faithless. oh god. oh god. i feel a dull thumping in my veins. i'm alive. i'm alive.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

false starts, frustration and football

it's been so long, i think ive forgotten how its done. so here i am summoning all my courage to overcome the most excruciating case of writer's block ever. there have been false starts and i feel i owe them a mention. the time i attempted writing about my trip to amsterdam and gave up, so cliched i thought. the other time i wanted to pour the sadness in my heart out on the blog but then backed off - scared of saying too much. in retrospect, maybe its best i didnt write.
lots has happened since my last post. too many things to recount here. but its been a difficult time full of dreaded deadlines, as anyone who knows me knows are not my forte.
well, despite or maybe because of my general harassed state, i went along with k the day before yesterday to watch a football match in a pub. me in a pub watching football!!!
the match- arsenal vs. barcelona in the champions league final. to be fair, i had a vested interest right at the start. m and i had bet about the outcome. a win for arsenal meant a meal with chicken from me (something i have never done before) and a win for barcelona meant a good vegetarian meal for me home-cooked entirely by m(something unheard of in his meaty world).
so although i started out motivated by food, the amazing thing is that after a double whisky and a pint of guiness, i began to finally understand what makes people almost religious about a bunch of grown men chasing a ball.
we were at a table right under the television. and i was half planning my escape route during the first 15 minutes. but then something unprecedented happened - my eyes, unaccustomed to following one tiny spherical object across screens, between screens etc. , actually focussed. and for once i wasn't asking, where did it go? who has it? - you know the kind of questions im talking about.
as it turns out, it isn't so bad watching all that testosterone on the field after all. all that sweating, running, kicking, screaming can be quite charming, especially if you are with girls who are also vocally appreciative of football players and aren't always talking about the game.
and then there is the atmosphere. watching football in a pub is totally entertaining! throughout the game i didn't know where to look - at the screen or behind me at the crowd that had gathered. the girl crying for thierry henry! 'till i die! till i die' the men who couldn't stop badmouthing the referee and charged forward pulling up their t-shirts every time arsenal came close to a goal. people crying, screaming, shouting like their lives depended on it. the way the room leapt up when they scored a goal. and the way people buried their heads between their knees at the end.
arsenal didn't win, some suspect foul play on the part of the referee, and true fans have been in mourning since. as for me, at the risk of sounding smug, i won my bet and i'm looking forward to a hearty meal this weekend!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


a chilly friday night and we line up outside the jazz cafe in camden, hot chocolate fresh in our tummies. not only chilly, it's windy to boot and i pray that the doors will open soon. so we get in, and wait for the act to start, except that we wait for a good hour and a half before seeing anything move, leave alone croon on stage. k says the idea is to get drinks, spend money first - that's what they want us to do.
the opening act is a string quartet that is soon joined by a bengali-looking popstar wannabe who's obviously aiming for the sex-kitten look. she winds her body quite amazingly, i think, all accentuated by the black sheer leggings and stilletto boots - m keeps pointing out that she forgot to wear her pants. anyway the sizzling and smouldering is clearly the main dish and the singing is the side. To be fair, the singing isn't all bad, but then she makes a couple of serious faux pas.
"i composed this song with a famous bollywood music director - a.r. raman" (yes she said raman instead of rahman) and later went on to claim as original a song that sounded suspiciously like the once-ubiquitous choli ke peeche. evidently, she does she not expect there to be any knowledgeable desis in the crowd.
m's face is falling all this while. he can't even complain because the evening was entirely his idea. but it is about to become memorable.
a woman in a worn pair of black pants teamed with a torn net-like green halter dress takes the mike and begins a most subliminal rendition of tamil hymns to murugan, saraswathy, etc. she goes on to bewitch everyone with songs that combine the earthy, sensual tamil sensibility with the fluid cosmopolitanism of jazz and soul. there's a bit of sufi as well.
what i still can't get over is how she got away singing what she did - plenty of Carnatic along with plenty of jazz - without exoticising india and indian spirituality. this is quite a feat if you consider the context: a jazz club in camden.
and for desis like us not to feel the slightest bit odd about hearing these songs in a london club sung by a woman in a torn net dress - this was something else. i think it has to do with the kind of passion and devotion she brings to the music. for example, when she sings 'vel muruga' it's the real thing, no pretences. to the audience.
makes me think long and hard about authenticity and culture. in a different time, place and attire i could see her singing demurely at a carnatic vocal recital in madras. but here she is - susheela raman - boldly belting out her music, stomping her feat, banging her head, notwithstanding the chunky thirumangalyam on a gold choker on her neck.
the force of hybridity hits me like a tonne of bricks. not only does it borrow from tradition, it transforms the stuff of tradition into something new, fearless and creative.
as for the rest of us, we find ourselves questioning what we know. "so this is also sublime," we think. And because what we consider special is closely connected to who we think we are, in acknowledging sanctity elsewhere, we broaden our definition of ourselves

Saturday, March 04, 2006

a disease called nostalgia

it's an almost-perfect saturday with the sun out as it should be. the bendy river outside the window sparkles like a million diamonds. the gulls are screaming at the top of their lungs and i've drawn the sail-white curtains all the way because otherwise i'm squinting! the past week has been mostly dull, grey and depressingly cold. it's the stillness in the air that does you in. doesn't help that you have to bundle up every time you venture out or that every journey involves plenty of walking, and that you can safely expect not to know anybody you see on the road or in the train or even in the elevator back to the apartment.
while taking my daily journey on the train the other day i finally identified the empty pit-like feeling in my stomach. i used to think the word 'homesickness' was off the mark because feeling homesick - nostalgic for home, is entirely a state of mind, nothing like a disease. but i've found now that it's very much a physical experience that saps the body as much as it saps the mind.
i find myself confronted with visions, sounds and smells from particular home places every now and then - unexpected and lovely but also discomforting and disruptive. i woke one morning thinking of that ugly busy area around saidapet with ridiculously disproportionate affection. another dark day on the train i was plagued with thoughts of a random place - a leafy slopey old street near iisc. i find myself longing for noisy indiranagar mornings and trying to feel, longdistance, the maddeningly warm madras sun that seems to yells 'wake up!' in the most ferociously anti-depressant way.
how lame, you must think. yes, i'm increasingly annoyed with myself for allowing these reveries. and then something my mother mentioned the other day rang true: about living in the present, not the past, not the future. she called it a yogic attitude. i think there's something there.
so here i am, determined to make the most of the english sun, however watery and weak. not very convincing, huh?!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


my parents have known me longer than anyone else - having met me the day i was born. She knows me from the day she was born - and that means something else altogether.
the one who followed me around as a kid. the one who would be willing to try any silly game i invented. the one whose respect i had without having to try.
As we grew up, she found her own friends, i had mine. the chubby cherub became a dazed, well-loved school girl who i'd fight with every day.
we lived in such proximity, yet we were so different. she was as trusting as i was doubtful, as generous with her affection as i was awkward and as much of a doer as i was a dreamer. my first partner in crime, opponent in argument, my favorite target for every sort of childish prank, and the one i would hug when i was scared at night.
i used to think we had a lifetime to be friends together. after all, we were sisters no? how far can sisters ever be from one another. i know she thought the same. and then suddenly, without much notice, i left home. found a life apart. got married. moved to a different country.

now so far away, all i can think about is her. the girl who, no matter how grown up, will always be my very own baby sister. over the last couple of days i've been made painfully aware of how much a part of me she is, this sister of mine. why should it be so shocking? i don't know.
what i do know is that i will have no peace of mind until she is perfectly healthy again and i can take her for granted once more.