I was standing in front of the mirror. Looking at my hair. I had curly short hair and sadly it wasn’t the fashion in those days. My classmates had silky, soft and straight hair and I madly wanted those silky smooth locks. Being a naive 12 year old girl, I was quite unaware of the safe methods of hair straightening. I had just one aim in mind and that was to make my hair lay straight and wavy, like those seen in shampoo advertisements. I knew that heat could straighten things out because I had seen my mom ironing shirts and making them crisp and stiff. Hence, that great idea evolved in my immature brain. The iron box would sort out my hair problems and make it like the one in my dreams. When my parents retired to bed for their afternoon nap, I locked myself in my bedroom and took the iron box from the cupboard. I plugged it in and waited for it to heat up. I spread my hair on a table and pressed the iron box to it. For a few seconds, I was in my own fantasy world, thinking of my hair and how beautiful I would look. I was awakened from this reverie by the smell of something burning. And yes, you guessed it right, my hair was melting, like literally!!! I quickly turned off the iron box and went to bed. The entire room was smelling of burnt hair. My parents were awakened by the smell. They feared the worst thinking there was a gas leak or that there was a fire somewhere. They had no idea that the little culprit was hiding under her blankets praying to high heavens that they don’t open her bedroom door. After checking the whole house, my dad understood that the smell was coming from my room and from nowhere else. He opened my bedroom door and checked the whole place. I pretended to be fast asleep, but I could hear my heart thumping away. My dad saw a handful of burned hair in my dustbin and the cat was out of the bag. I was caught red handed, but surprisingly enough my dad did not punish me. Instead he explained to me that I was pretty the way I was and that there was no need to change the way one looks for pleasing others. With that incident I learned an important lesson: We are perfect the way we are , why to become someone else?
It takes a lot of courage to study arts in today’s world. When everyone is grappling for a B.Tech or MBBS seat it is very difficult to opt for an arts subject. I don’t exactly know the reason for it. Being a student of English language and literature I have often had to face contemptuous looks from both my parents and relatives alike. It felt as I was doing a crime by learning about the great Shakespeare and Milton. When education is being commercialized, every individual aims at securing a high paying job. Lack of ethics is a major drawback of such education. I am not claiming that all arts students are ethical but education isn’t always a means to fancy cars and luxurious bungalows. I remember the look on my aunt’s face when I told her about my plans of taking up literature. It was indescribable. It was something of a cross between a smirk and a contemptuous shock. She did not ask any further questions about my education. My choice of arts had sealed and declared me as a definite loser. There have been times when I regretted my decision of taking arts because of everyone trying to convince me about a dark future with me flipping burgers in some filthy kitchen. The words of T.S. Eliot would often ring in my ears,”…..with the voices singing in our ears saying that this was all folly.” Was it a folly after all? But after a year or so into my course I realized that my subject was not all that easy. It wasn’t a cakewalk like how my relatives had described it. Amidst the piles of books I started seeing a future brighter than a filthy kitchen. A thousand opportunities lay open before me: law, journalism, marketing, politics, teaching, advertising, civil services and the list goes on. The fact that 74% of all Indian prime ministers were liberal arts graduates ignited a spark of hope in my otherwise depressed heart. I slowly learned to discard the looks of everyone around me. Studying arts is like playing the different levels of Candy Crush. It looks easy, interesting and colorful, but no matter what you will never get a good score. Your victory lies in the way the candies are arranged just like how the mood of your evaluator determines the quality of your essay on Macbeth. There are no facts, no truths but only beliefs and opinions and views. That is the part that makes arts much tougher than science. I wouldn’t like to begin a clichéd debate on Arts vs. Science because I believe that every subject is important in its own way. We need to be more inclusive in our options and views about others. Being a doctor or engineer doesn’t always guarantee you success. That is a misconception created by a money-crazed society. It is a misconception that should be hastily brought to a declining influence. Those who follow the crowd, usually get lost in it.
I recently finished reading Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. The book deals with the lives of a group of people living in the makeshift slums of Mumbai, the sparkling city of Bollywood. The one reason why the book touched me so much was that it was of the non-fiction genre. Every single word, character and event is true!!! The Annawadians(Annawadi is the name of the slum) live in such deplorable conditions that the very mention of the situation can nauseate a normal human being. If mosquitoes are a nuisance to the middle class man of India, rats are the nocturnal partners of the slum dwellers. Rat bites are considered as normal as an ant bite. The facade of an all-is-well society is torn away in this brilliant book by a foreigner. Boys who collect garbage for a living, humans who take bath in a sewage lake buzzing with flies and toxic chemicals are common sights. The children have no access to education. The slum exists in between the five star hotels and spas looking like relics from the past. Mirchi, a character in the book, correctly puts it this way, ‘Everything around is roses and we are the shit in between.’ After reading the book I took some time to take it all in. Where was I when compared to the slum children?? I had got quality education, had access to internet, television and almost anything I wanted. But what about these humans?? The usual pictures followed. The ones that occupy your mind after reading a book on the lower sections of the society. Every time I turned on my laptop, a feeling of guilt gnawed at my heart. Am I too not playing a part in making them poor?? Was there equal distribution of money? Is it wrong to use modern amenities when a majority of the population was denied access to it?? One of my literature professors always repeated a statement when teaching Dalit literature and African-American Literature ( all those works which portrayed the sufferings of the poor): I am poor because you are rich. I am uncomfortable and suffering because you are comfortable and enjoying. So are we the fortunate ones to blame or is it the government, legal system or the society to blame??
Yes we accept,
Our books are measly and thin.
They sometimes look frightened,
Sitting beside your mammoth sized books.
“What do you learn?”
“Are you not a good student?”
These questions are thrown like bricks,
At our faces every time we step out.
Sometimes baffled, sometimes confused,
We listen quietly while our inner strength disappears slowly,
To all your questions with a heavy heart.
We say we learn about life and its ways,
You scorn and ask, “Don’t we live?”
“Why should you spend your golden years for that?”
You say our reasons are not good enough,
You say we are sinners for we love to sloth.
For there are no complicated equations,
Or names that don’t fit in mouths,
But we learn the history of mankind,
From where all the sciences began.
We learn the languages,
Without which no man can express his thoughts.
What about the books that you read?
Books that took you on a joy ride to a fantasy land.
So please don’t scorn or mock,
For we too are worth something, if not everything.
So just one request, fellow beings,
Leave us ALONE.
I have searched for years to find a soul like yours,
But I admit that I have failed miserably.
I don’t know if you remember those wild and free days,
When we’d dream of the impossible and make it all real,
Within the well furnished fantasy rooms of our mind.
We separated and went on our own ways to build the impossible,
And bore the blows of life.
Somewhere, somehow we lost our starry notions,
And stumbled down, our tears mixed with dust.
But with letters and words we remained together,
And your words would always raise me up,
They were bringers of consolation,
To never give up hope was their explanation.
But then my dear friend, you disappeared,
For those consoling words never came again,
I didn’t know my friend,
That you were at an unreachable place,
So let my words be the petals of flowers I keep at your grave,
And let my tears be the fragrance.
These flowers shall never wither die,
To you, my heart shall never say goodbye……
It is not easy to find a mobile without apps. The so-called programs which claim they make our lives easier. But is it entirely true? Sometimes an app can be a pain in the neck. I am not actually a very techie person but I get along well with mobiles and laptops. Nowadays there are so many apps that you literally drown in a deep pool of confusion while using these. A small malfunctioning can lead to great problems. The voice recognition feature is present in most mobiles, but I have never found it useful. I need to scream out the word ‘Bluetooth’ a billion times and then the much dreaded message appears on my mobile screen: ‘Not recognized. Please try again.’ The voice recognition feature was present in mobile phones long ago. Some of the new features actually makes me want to laugh. They include, blow on the mobile screen to answer a call, stop blinking your eyes to pause a video etc etc. But does all of this actually make our life easier or does it make it more difficult? It was a moment of celebration and extreme happiness when my uncle bought a smart phone. He was completely ignorant about the modern stuff and I wondered how he was going to operate this extremely complicated and delicate phone. He couldn’t read English. He was long-sighted but refused to wear reading glasses because he thought that it was an unwanted luxury. What more is needed to make the life of that poor smart phone more miserable? I looked at the sleek body and shining screen of the phone. Oh! Poor thing?!! My uncle entered the room and took the smart phone in his hands. I was surprised to notice that he knew how to turn on the device and make calls. It was the eighth wonder. Then he went on to write a message. As I had mentioned earlier, he didn’t know English and he decided to type out the message in his native language but using English alphabets. The phone had auto correction and it corrected all the words he was typing out. In the end the message read as follows:
‘Nanny original poor kite.’
My uncle was frustrated. He was a short-tempered man and couldn’t make head or tail of how to use it. He had actually meant in his native language: I am going to sleep. The vast difference between what he meant and what appeared on screen blinded him with anger and a bit of despair. He had spend his hard earned money to buy a phone that wouldn’t succumb to his needs. He was too clumsy to use the touch screen. At times he would swipe the screens and then forget on which screen the dial pad is. He couldn’t call anyone because the call went to unknown people as he didn’t know how to use the contact list. In the process of scrolling he would accidentally press some contact number and the call would go to that person. Within two weeks he stopped using the phone. He went back to his old mobile phone which was more convenient and was much more easy to use. This story of my uncle may look hilarious to some and some may say that it was because he was not educated that he was not able to use it. But I have one question in mind. The purpose of technology is to make the lives of people easy and less stressful irrespective of education, gender or any other factor. But the modern technology of today goes against that in some ways, especially when it comes to electronic gadgets like mobile phones and laptops. Some of the procedures are so complicated that we literally give up hope and become slaves of these gadgets, hoping everything will change for the good. But as technology progresses, it somehow pushes away the less fortunate and makes itself available to the rich and fortunate people. Does technology have to be complicated to make it more useful? Is it the duty of technology to make itself more comprehensible to the less fortunate or is it the duty of the people to learn the complexities put forward by technology? Now, I leave that to my readers.
It had a shining face, clear as a crystal, when I first saw it. It had two hands working systematically and rhythmically like a heartbeat. The watch my dad bought me after my third standard examination was a wonderful creation. I didn’t know which brand it was or how costly it was but it was everything to me. Like how a fruit would protect its seed, I looked after it as if it was as delicate as a petal. Its dial, white as the snow would dazzle my eyes when I looked at it in the bright sunlight. My mom taught me how to read time for the first time from that watch. I realized from that watch, like enlightenment, how Time could run and also the tactic to chase it. Yes, I learned all that from my dear little watch. I couldn’t live a moment without it and I even went to sleep with it, tied around my wrist. Then I would go proudly to school, showing off my new watch to all my friends. I loved to keep the small dial to my ears and hear the soft sound of the hands ticking away. One day, while I was going home from school, I looked at my watch and I felt that my heart had stopped beating. The poor little thing on my hand had stopped working. I could no longer hear the sound of the hands. I went home wailing about how my watch had passed away. It was no less than a friend to me but my dad laughed at my pitiful state and consoled me that he could it bring back to life within 10 minutes. He claimed that he had a magic potion which when poured on top of the watch could make it go tick-tick again. I pleaded with him to bring my dear watch back to life. He went into his bedroom and within 10 minutes, lo behold, the watch was working as before, strong like a bull. It was only years later that I understood that all you needed was a button cell to keep a watch working. As the years passed by, my bond with the watch only grew stronger. My father even said that he would buy a new watch for me but I resisted and turned down his offer. I believed that no watch was as perfect and accurate as mine. When my friends changed watches almost every 6 months I held on to my watch. As years passed by and when I reached high school, many of my friends stopped using watches. They relied on mobile phones and other such gadgets. Even if they had a watch they would keep it inside their pockets as they found it very unfashionable to walk around wearing such lowly things. But I never parted with my watch. During examinations I would constantly glance at it, in doctors’ waiting rooms I would look at repeatedly and impatiently, during boring classes I would look at it with the hope that the class would last only 5 minutes, during picnics and parties I would pray that its hands would never move and looked at it for every important moment and event in my life. With the passage of time, it lost it glitz and it had scratches all over its face. I remember one incident very vividly. I was on one of my treacherous bus rides. It was really crowded and I could not even breathe. In a frantic attempt to get down at the correct stop I called out to the conductor, and asked him to stop the bus and I hurriedly jumped off the bus. In the process my hand hit the bus door and my watch suffered terribly. That scratch is still there, clear on its face, the shape of a sickle. My watch was in a very battered state but I could not replace it. I felt that replacing it would erase my past life. But eventually I had to stop using it. It stopped working forever and no magic potion could bring it back to life. I took it to a watch repairer with the hope that he could somehow retrieve it from its death bed.
“Oh miss, this is really old.”
I realized that it was just a euphemism for the fact that it was dead and beyond repair. I kept it inside its box and locked it up in my cupboard along with my certificates and valuables. I walked about without a watch for almost a month, but I could not manage without one so I bought a new one. I felt it uncomfortable on my wrist but had to get used to it. Sometimes when I get time, I take out my truthful friend and in its tiny little dial I could see an excited little third grader.