Dear Doctor.

Dear doctor,

Before I write this piece, I must take the opportunity to state that I am not against doctors or medicine in any way. My General Physician in Mumbai is very good and we have two very capable and thorough doctors in my own family, who we consult whenever in doubt and they’ve always guided us through the best course of treatment. So, I hope this is not seen as an attack against all doctors, but as a request. A request to some doctors to be a little careful with us, their patients.

My last ultrasound, two weeks ago, felt like I was participating in a race. I was asked to get one because my doctor feared my PCOD had returned. I was miraculously declared okay as per the ultrasound, though the pain and the problems still persist.

I, however, was a little uneasy after experiencing what transpired behind the closed doors of a well-known diagnostic centre in Delhi. Sitting in the examination room, bursting from all the water I’d drunk, I could only observe silently how the doctor, the nurse and the assistant went about their work. And, there was a lot of work.

As the clock struck 4, there was tension in the air, a kind of impatient buzz in the room and things started moving really fast. The woman before me was hurriedly ushered behind the curtain, scanned and sent on her way in a jiffy, the doctor shouting uterine dimensions for the assistant to log into her computer. The girl, however, was too busy gossiping with the nurse over an unmarried patient who was sexually active and the doctor’s instructions were blatantly ignored. As they poured over the patient’s history, my name was called out and I was immediately bundled behind the curtain, even before the previous patient had had a chance to fully dress herself. I was told to quickly get on the bed, shoes or no shoes and my stomach lathered with gel. The doctor’s irritation at having to work longer that the stipulated hours was visible. The story has a few more embarrassing quirks that I’ll spare the reader. Even before the examination began, it was over and I was hurried off the bed again and shoved outside before I’d wiped myself clean, struggling with my clothes. I was not surprised. This was the third time I’d experienced problems during an ultrasound. Obviously, nothing had been detected.

This is not an isolated event. A question I posted online about cases of medical neglect – simple or life-threatening – that people may have experienced, led to my inbox blowing up with messages, from India and abroad and I knew it wasn’t just all in my head.

Last year, a psychologist friend went through hell when her mother was diagnosed with a severe chest infection. Their doctor, who knew she was pre-diabetic, went onto to prescribe cough syrups with sugar, causing her sugar levels to hit 608 and a stroke. Ignoring the source, the madness continued when she was hospitalised and the doctor wanted to put her mother on Parkinson’s medicines because he connected her case with that of her distant uncle’s, knowing full well that she had none of the symptoms of Parkinson’s. My friend, even with a degree in Psychology, was ignored when she asked them to first concentrate on lowering her mother’s sugar levels. The events resulted in her mother going into a 40-hour delirium, untreated because it was the weekend and later restricted to a wheel chair for months. In another case, a colleague’s baby was diagnosed with Erb’s palsy after a mishap while giving birth. Her gynaecologist, who forgot to note the baby’s weight during her last ultrasound, assumed he would be 3-3.5 kilos, enough for a normal pregnancy. When the mother found it difficult to push the baby out, the doctor used forceps, yanking the baby out of the womb and as a result, damaging her son’s arm nerves. The baby was 4.7 kilos at birth. Another friend in Sweden was allowed to go 12 days over her pregnancy due date because the hospital was understaffed during the holiday season. In some cases, the doctors have admitted their mistakes, while in some others, they’ve shrugged it off as ‘medical expertise’.

There have also been examples where patients have been refused treatment, based on judgements passed by doctors or nurses on their weight, marital status and lifestyle. In 2006, when Jaymie Vaz was a college student in Mumbai, she began experiencing back-breaking periods which lasted a month or two at a time. She approached several gynaecologists for a solution and was always turned away because they insisted it was because of her weight and college stress. Later, after exercising, following a rigid diet and losing weight, she was ignored by gynaecologists again because they refused to believe she had made any effort in fixing her weight problem. It was only in 2012, in Bahrain, that she was finally taken seriously and diagnosed with PCOD which had gotten worse from lack of treatment. Another friend from Belgrade whose hand broke in an accident at home and rushed himself to the ER was refused urgent treatment and put through a series of drug tests because the doctor was convinced he’d hurt his hand in a drunken scuffle.

The list of stories is endless.

My mother used to say, ‘Tell your doctor everything’; and while that is the best way forward, there are still several hoops a patient jumps before their illness is diagnosed and a conclusion drawn. I obeyed her rule sincerely till I went to a doctor complaining of severe pain in the abdomen, who went into a long interrogation of my life and my choices before declaring it was because of my lifestyle that I was in pain and sent me on my way. She refused to examine me, not even a physical examination but was quick to offer an easy solution to my weight in the form of weight loss pills. Luckily, for me, my pain was from an injury while exercising. Small mercies.

So, I ask, why? Why does this happen? I am fully aware that doctors are burdened with massive responsibilities and have to face the repercussions of any harm that comes to the patients. What I do not understand is these tiny oversights, the small mistakes they make with their patients that could cause serious damage to the person or even death. Relying less on physical examinations and more on scans and tests from diagnostic centers, I have, at times, been asked to take multiple blood tests for the same problem because the doctor wants it done at a specific lab or via someone in-house, rather than rely on the results from another lab. This is a waste of money and time, all of which is irrelevant and let’s not forget the PAIN and bruising from needle jabs!

Most of the time, especially with patients from poorer backgrounds, the family doesn’t even know what questions to ask the doctors and just accept everything that is told to them. When my father was going through chemotherapy for throat cancer, we weren’t even told about the health precautions one has to take when the patient is back home. Everyone was eager to get the job done, but no one bothered with the details. Is it because most people self-diagnose by googling their symptoms that it is assumed we will figure out the details ourselves? Why should my marital status determine whether or not I have cysts in my uterus? These are the questions that often go unanswered because after a tragedy has occurred, it’s too exhausting to go back to the start.

And so, dear doctor, this is a plea. A plea to help us get better. A plea to tell us everything. A plea to consider our lives more worthy than you already do. A plea to factor in the details. Because, tomorrow, if you’ve overlooked something tiny and life-altering, you may administer the best treatment, but it will already be too late.

We promise to trust you. Now, please promise to respect us.

Thank you.

The Dog Lady of Malad

MIRA DEVI SHETH

I have always marvelled at some people’s ability to devote themselves whole-heartedly to the caring of animals, especially those who take strays under their wing. Naturally, when I heard 85-year-old Mira Devi’s story, I immediately wanted to write about her, document her work so that her efforts are recognised. I began filming her and realised that if there is one firebrand in Malad who is willing to take on anyone who challenges her, it’s definitely Mira Devi Sheth.

Mira Devi Sheth on her evening round.

The first time I saw Mira Devi was during my exploration of Malad when I had just moved here. She was nestled comfortably in an auto-rickshaw, surrounded by buckets of food, supervising the feeding of Evershine Nagar’s stray dogs. The dogs, needless to say, excitedly flocked around her awaiting their evening meal. In her words, she has been doing ‘dog seva’ for 50 years.

Born in 1935, Mira Devi lived with her parents and two sisters at Grant Road. She was an extremely accomplished young girl with a business acumen, trained at the Nashik Bhonsle Military School in swimming, horse riding, shooting and lathi daav (stick fighting). While in college, she enrolled in stitching, typing and telephone operator classes to widen her horizons and secure her future in case of any problems. And, problems she faced.

She was hurriedly married off at the age of 22 through a family arrangement and sent to Orissa. Within 15 days of being wed, her mother-in-law began harassing her for a larger dowry which persisted for two full years. In 1957, when Mira gave birth to a son, the harassment got so bad that she left her husband, took her son and returned to Bombay for good. But, things didn’t get any easier. As a single-mother, she knew she had to work really hard and bring up her son in the best way possible.

Between the years 1963-64, she worked discreetly for two rival cloth mills in Mumbai, without either of them ever finding out. Always on the move, she used her travel time on the local trains to study various subjects, including journalism and business. Apart from taking care of her son and paying for his schooling, MiraDevi spent a lot of her free time taking care of the strays around Grant Road, but with limited medical knowledge and contacts. She also started her own stationary supply and printing business on the side, saving enough money to buy herself a small apartment in Malad.

Mira Devi and her students at the primary school. 

She moved to Malad in 1977 to escape everyone constantly nagging her about her failed marriage and the fact that she was raising her son single-handedly. She and a friend started a private primary school for poor children in her living room which ran for 12 years till her son got married and they had to accommodate his family. It was only when her son gifted her a book about caring for dogs that she began her ritual with the strays of Malad full-swing. Now, 50 years later, if her son disagrees with her activities, she is quick to remind him that it’s all his fault. Her association with the National Association for the Blind for 20 years and the primary school are proof enough of Sheth’s spirit of kindness and love.

An old photograph. 

What began with 5 stray dogs has now grown into a family of 500. Mira Devi has developed an intricate network within the sprawling suburb and is always on call, especially when it comes to abandoned and homeless dogs. She is associated with SPCA Mumbai as well as the neighbouring veterinary hospitals and has admitted a number of sick and injured dogs using her own finances. Over the years, as her commitment to the animals became more serious, she sold all her gold jewellery her mother and sister gifted her to pay for the increasing amounts of food she had to buy.

There has, however, been opposition on all fronts. Be it the local dada of Malad who (according to MiraDevi) went around murdering dogs in order to rob houses minus the ruckus they create with their barking or the BMC who, in 2008, put a fine of Rs.500 on the feeding of stray dogs and birds in public places. But, Mira Devi found a way around all these challenges, continuing to feed the animals to this day. She is afraid of no one and is still, despite her age, willing to fight anyone who tells her she’s wrong. In her case, at the end of the day, the heart wants what the heart wants.

There is a certain spirituality connected with Mira Devi’s dedication to her animals. An ardent follower of Sathya Sai Baba, she bestows a great deal of faith in the love she receives from these animals – an emotion most humans find difficult to express. What others see as a hindrance, she sees as God’s work and this is exactly what motivates her to step out every evening and feed every single stray in the locality.

And, she is not alone. She is accompanied by Raj, her current auto-rickshaw driver who owns 40 cats in the neighbouring slum and whose mother cooks the meat that Mira Devi buys specially for the dogs. Due to religious constrictions, Mira only prepares the vegetarian portions and outsources the meat preparations. Suresh, Raj’s younger brother is a kung-fu trainee and animal lover who joins him in the evenings to help the old lady. There are several little boys and girls from Raj’s slum who join her whenever they can, their fondness for the dogs blatantly apparent. But, as beautiful as this simple act of kindness is, one is acutely aware of the money that goes into this elaborate plan. “It totals up to 60 thousand rupees a month, with the food and auto expenses and the boy’s salaries.” Mira, however, doesn’t believe in hiding away her savings, donating it all to the cause.

Mira Devi with Raj, Suresh and the kids. 

MiraDevi has faced every obstacle with the obstinacy of a determined child. Her only fear at this stage in her life is the fate of her dogs when she passes and this gives her sleepless nights. She is extremely aware of her mortality and doesn’t shy away from it, which is probably why her heart soars when she sees some of the society folk follow in her footsteps. “In my life, I regret nothing,”she says, mirroring a fact I’m absolutely certain of from all the time I’ve spent with her.

MA

I still remember the day my professor asked the entire class to write a 5000-word essay on our mothers. The memory is etched in my brain, not because of the fantastic piece I wrote on Ma, but because of the massive blank I drew, not being able to put a single word down on paper. The only thing I did manage to do was type the word MOTHER on a word document and save it on my desktop under the same title. The document glared at me every time I was on my computer, but I was at a loss. This was the BIG assignment and after struggling for a week, I finally gave up.

The reason I couldn’t write was not because of some big fall out with my mother or because we were never close. No. Ma is my best friend, always has been. At the risk of sounding like a fool, I’m still one of those kids (adults) who goes crying to my mother when things are tough, even if it means being mocked by my little brother. I couldn’t write 5000 words on her because I didn’t know where to start. I still don’t. How can you write about someone’s personal life, even if you’ve been a part of it?

The first time I ever stopped talking to Ma was in the 9th grade. The rules were simple. Communicating with your parents was considered extremely uncool at school. Teenagers were supposed to rebel. If your mother and father tried to do anything for your own good, you had to roll your eyes and complain about how misunderstood you were. And if you had a crush on a boy, you had to hide it from your folks. If I were ever to go back and meet my younger self, I’d slap myself. I really would. When I read journal entries from that time, I have no clue who that person is.

Now, my parents, themselves belonged to the cool, rock & roll generation, who believed that parents were parents, but also had to be friends with their children. The house was an open field as far as communication was concerned and my brother and I knew we didn’t have to face any of life’s challenges alone. With dad posted in Kashmir most of the time, however, the task then fell on my mother to tackle all our problems single-handedly.

Therefore, when I chose to rebel and stopped talking to Ma, I was shocked to see her fight to make things normal again. She just wouldn’t accept her teenage daughter keeping things from her and frankly, that was the most miserable time of my life too. When I got over that phase, and thank God I did, she became my chief confidant, a post she holds even today.  

Ma is a fighter. She hasn’t had the easiest life and everyone who knows us, knows how tumultuous it’s been. The more shit she faced, the stronger her resolve to fight it. It irked me, her decision to put family first, even if it meant burying a part of herself and her own happiness. Papa had a massive temper, which my brother and I inherited and she was always at the receiving end of our wrath, whether or not she was the cause of it. But, no matter how big the fight, she still wakes us up with a cup of chai and a smile on her face. According to her, there is nothing a good chat (or screaming match) and tea can’t solve and honestly, even with our enormous egos, it’s difficult to hold a grudge against someone who refuses to take no for an answer.

I have, over the years, come to realise the nature of her sacrifices, mostly hidden in plain sight. There were the big ones, like when she put away her big college degree to bring us up because Papa said that one parent had to always be around. We obviously didn’t think it was a big deal then, but I now realise how difficult it can be, having to give up something you’ve earned. And there are the smaller sacrifices, like when she claimed to LOVE the bony pieces of chicken, just to save the chunky pieces for us. Ask her about all this and she says, what all mothers say, “You will only understand when you have your own kids”.

Being our friend meant being a friend to all our friends. I still don’t understand her ability to draw people to her, especially our friends who would rather confide in her than us. There is so much love and awe for her and it just shows what a wonderful person she is. She even brought in her birthday last night with our friends because my brother and I aren’t around!  

So, Happy Birthday Ma. Thank you for being you. Life doesn’t have the guts to knock you down and never will. I’m sorry this is still not 5000 words, but I’ll get there someday. Love.

The Coolest Place on Earth!

2). DISTRICT CENTRE, JANAKPURI.

My oldest memory of the District Centre, a.k.a Janak Place, was the lines of workers I’d see, while rushing to catch my school bus every morning. Whether it was the chilling winds of winter or the dreaded summer heat, the workers moved like clock-work, carrying water bottles under their arms, determined to perform their morning bowel duties anywhere they found a spot in the vast white complex that stood abandoned, down the road from our house. It was no wonder then that the complex was referred to as ‘Potty Centre’, which had a few offices at the back, but lay invisible to our peripheral vision for a long time.

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District Centre.

And then came McDonald’s! Before this, pizzas and burgers were still things we only dreamed of, unless an aunt or uncle visited from abroad and these dreams actually came alive. To have a McDonald’s open right next door became the second greatest thing to being alive. The Delhi Development Authority took over and cleaned up the ‘poopy’ mess, the buildings re-painted, the giant, yellow and red ‘M’ logo beckoning every passerby and suddenly, everyone flocked to fancy Janak Place, named after King Janak from the Ramayan, as if all roads led only there. ‘Opposite District Centre’ became THE landmark to my house and I beamed with pride when the kids at school recognised ‘the cool, new place’ in Janakpuri! The Vanilla McSwirl was the greatest attraction, not for its taste, but because it cost 5 bucks and parents didn’t mind buying a scoop to stop their whiny kids from ruining their evenings out. Young school boys and girls sat at McDonald’s for hours and hours over a single burger, blushing and batting their eyelids at each other, too nervous to speak. It was a known thing then, that if a boy ever asked you meet him at McDonald’s, it was absolutely, one hundred percent, a date.

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The death and re-birth of McDonald’s.

The people of Janakpuri, and beyond, took to Janak Place like ants take to food or Apple fans take to the latest I-phone. It didn’t take very long for a Barista to open, followed by Music Land and Wordsworth. Pocket money, Birthday money. Diwali money, Christmas money, ANY money was locked away till you had enough to purchase the latest CD’s or the newest Harry Potter, factors that determined your existence on Earth and friendships at school. You could beg, borrow or steal, but at the end of the day, if someone had read a book before you, rest assured, you’d have to kill yourself to protect yourself from spoilers. There was a new restaurant every corner you turned and the food options blew our little minds! Toy-sellers Gopal Prasad Gupta and Rakesh Suri set up shop on opposite sides of McDonalds, spots they hold even today, 15 years later.

A Crafts Bazaar opened up in the centre of the complex, a local version of Dilli Haat and cheaper and while women shopped for hours, the kids were promptly given 100 rupees to play 10 games of their choice at the gaming arcade, with its colourful, electric mini cars and air-hockey tables. Janak Place soon got its first movie hall in 2004 and metro stations on either end and the world was never the same again.

I remember being floored by Bunty aur Babli, Bollywood’s very own ‘Bonny and Clyde’ and the first movie I watched at Satyam, planning to use similar tactics to take over the world with my brother. Things were moving fast and property rates in Janakpuri sky-rocketed over-night. This was a good time in the history of the locality.

The fantasy that was Janak Place quickly became a horror when it came into the spotlight due to a number of successful suicides, quickly earning the name ‘Suicide Towers’. Rakesh Suri saw four people die in front of him, young boys and girls who climbed to the 6th or 7th floor and jumped off. He remembers trying to save a girl who had jumped off the second floor, with not an injury on her, but died anyway. District Centre was in the news for all the wrong reasons, with people considering it haunted because of the several deaths that took place in a short time. Grills were installed on every floor with immediate effect, but the impact lasted for a couple of years, until the suicides were altogether forgotten. By this time, Janak Place was teeming with street children and their families, who were addicted to sniffing glue and begged for a toke of Korex correction glue over money. If things weren’t looking good, they became worse when Pacific Mall opened in Subhash Nagar, drawing all the crowds and leaving Janak Place an abandoned mess.

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Wordsworth, with it’s shutters down.

In my head, Janak Place is a fighter. When you google it, you’re faced with a ton of bad reviews about the place and I don’t blame the people. The place is a wasteland. Wordsworth, the book shop, was the first to go because, sadly, people don’t read enough and especially not today, when you have access to information and the latest e-books on your phone or computer. This was followed by Music Land, when the owners realised that the latest cassettes and CD’s weren’t flying off shelves anymore. The restaurants are mostly empty owing to food ordering apps. Gopal and Rakesh have resorted to setting up their mats, laden with toys, only in the evening and earn about 150-200 rupees a day. Ambika Pillai took her salon and ran, what seems like, a million years ago. McDonalds was in the midst of a massive lawsuit and had shut its doors on everyone for a while. But, with all of this backlash, the place still sees enough families on a Sunday afternoon, their little kids crowding the chocolate fountain stall or the tinier one’s in their remote operated mini-cars, banging into people on purpose. The most recent addition to the food stalls was the Kolkata puchka guy whose puchka game is on point, but dangerous if you’re brave enough to exceed two plates.

The goods at the Craft Bazaar are still beautiful and cheap, defeating the branded stores that are still holding on, lining the higher floors. The complex still houses a lot of smaller gadget repair shops, Xerox and printing places and trinket shops, tucked away at the back, hidden in plain sight. And you will still find the scores of couples, crouched beside one another on rusting benches, planning their futures. To everyone who lives or has ever lived in Janakpuri, though, District Centre a.k.a Janak Place, its tall, white towers covered in grime, will always be the “coolest place on Earth”.

AMMA

It wasn’t until her death in 2011 that we realised Amma was mortal. She was just as human as the rest of us, waiting for her turn to show up at the gates of heaven and demand to see her loved ones.

She was hired the week I was born, when my grandfather finally gave into my mother’s persistent pleas that she needed a little help running the house, with a new baby in tow. And so, Amma came to work the very next day, taking charge of the household and becoming a part of our lives for 23 years.

Born Ram Devi, Amma was always called Amma. She seemed like the kind of person who had been old all her life, her face weathered with time and the name just stuck. It wasn’t just us, though. Every house down the street, where she worked, knew her as Amma.  This was the time when house-maids were part of a hierarchical system and since Amma was the oldest and had come to B-Block Janakpuri first, she got to pick the houses she wanted and everyone else had to fight for the left-overs. So, the time she began working for us, she was also working ten other houses in the neighbourhood, hopping from one to the next till she took the bus home in the evening.

Amma had lost her husband very early in life, leaving her with three sons and not a penny in hand. She barely had time to grieve and got to work immediately, scouring housing colonies in Uttam Nagar near Kali Basti where she lived, marketing her skills door to door, even begging for work. She had a good reputation as far as her work was concerned, which earned her more houses in the area and soon, one of her sons was graduating from school. This was one of the happiest moments of her life, but it was short-lived. The boy died in a road accident, which should have knocked her down emotionally, like when children die before parents, but not her. Amma was back at work the next day, striving to do better with her remaining kids. So, she left Uttam Nagar and decided to hit Janakpuri, an upcoming locality in the 80s and took over 3/4th’s of our block.

Amma (2010)

Amma’s voice fluctuated between a shrill croak and a low, gurgling rumble that could both scare the living day-lights out of us. Because of her small, skinny frame, we’d miss her comings and goings and sometimes, she’d creep up behind us, when we were engrossed in a book or mugging a lesson, her evening tea in hand and begin humming a tune, something that always made us jump and fall off our chair in shock. This was often amusing to her and she’d laugh out loud, clapping her hands, her toothless mouth in its fullest glory. I can still hear the ring of her laughter at the back of my mind somewhere.

Draped in her pink or purple floral saree, she’d trudge to work every day without fail. Her younger sons were married and she entrusted the care of the house to their wives. She had never wanted her daughters-in-law to work, not unless they were faced with challenging circumstances and she made sure of it. All she needed was a hot cup of tea every morning before she set off to work and a meal when she returned.

Every time Amma saw good days, they were inadvertently followed by bad days. By the time I was on my way out of school, she had developed a cataract in her eye, the milky glaze keeping her from performing the simplest tasks. That year, families that had employed her for years and years, gave up on her and she lost a lot of jobs all at once. Her family, as a result, gave her trouble because suddenly she wasn’t earning as much money and was, therefore, “useless”. Those days, Amma came to work either angry or sad. She’d sometimes break down while discussing her problems with my mother or reprimand her imaginary sons in our kitchen while washing the utensils. She was afraid she’d lose all her work and be forced to sit at home and deal with them all day. But, we weren’t done with Amma yet. Yes, she wasn’t as good with work anymore, unable to see food stains on plates, her swabbing in patches across the floor and she couldn’t hear properly either. Her hilarious exchanges with my deaf grandfather would result in them screaming at each other but in vain, with the rest of us screaming louder to get through to both of them. But, in any case, we weren’t ready to let go of her.

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I saw her less and less when I went to college, but when I did, she’d greet me with so much love and excitement. She was older now, reduced to a shadow of her former self, a shadow that sat in odd corners and talked to herself in broken, incomprehensible grunts and murmurs. You could watch her endlessly without her realising it because she had lost about 80% of her vision by then. The only thing she made clear was that she was prepared to die and that was that. Despite the eye operations, the cataract kept coming back until she was done trying to fix it. It was only when she was hit by a car crossing the road that she finally realised she had to stop. My father asked her to stay put at home and promised to pay her whatever we could afford (then) as a monthly stipend. She was supposed to come back the following month to collect her salary, but she never made it. Amma died in 2011, shortly after my grandfather and one part of the house, which they usually occupied, each of them lost in their own heads, fell incredibly silent. You can still sometimes hear their screechy banter, if you sit still and listen.

Amma will always hold a special place in our hearts, where reside all the loved one’s we’ve lost over the years. Our Amma.

UNREMARKABLY, REMARKABLE.

1). COMMUNITY CENTRE, JANAKPURI

This may seem like one of the most unremarkable places on the map of Delhi and in some way, it is. It isn’t steeped in the rich history that the older parts of Delhi are and neither does it have the unique crumbling architecture that takes you back in time. But, for me and the thousands living in Janakpuri (West Delhi), the Community Centre has always been our hub. It was where ALL the banks known to Indian’s were stationed; where our grandparents stood in long lines to update their passbooks, with us in tow. Of course, there had to be incentives – chaat or candy floss or ice cream – to have us stand with them so long! The square was also home to bustling tea shops, lunch stalls, ONE stationery shop that thrilled me beyond measure, the dry-cleaners (who, for a long time, charged for dry-cleaning but conducted regular washes), ROOP-RANG which sold colourful soaps and shampoos and the big pharmacy run by a Sikh gentleman and his two sons.

Bank work was and always has been incredibly boring to me. As an adult, entering a bank still gives me a dull displeasure in my stomach, something I have to fight vehemently because I can’t whine about handling the money I earn (Ugh). The only thing capable of motivating me to embark on this journey is the Satya Prakash chaat stall that has existed and stood in the same place ever since I was a toddler. Managed by different men over the years, I am confident the taste has remained unchanged. I have been so in love with his gol-gappas that I distinctly remember telling my mother in my teens that I was going to marry the owner and spend the rest of my life churning out (and devouring) his exciting treats. This was the only life goal I was actually serious about till I moved for college, my love for gol-gappas was replaced by my love for beer.

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Satya Prakash corner at it’s busiest!

The second place that I loved visiting as a child was the stationery shop managed by a man with a hearing and speech impairment. Apart from items of academic importance, his shop also included greeting cards, shiny, crazy balls (yes, they were called that) and slam books that were a mighty rage back then. He also had an endless supply of Hero fountain pens that broke often and had to be replaced every month and scented erasers in all shapes and sizes. People were often impatient with him, displeased at his disability, but my mother’s big-eyed, angry looks would shut them up and put them in their place. As a result, he was always eager at our arrival and we knew him as the teddy bear like, nameless man with a giant smile on his, otherwise sad face. I still sometimes stand in front of his crumbling shop, his items faded and less shiny, an abysmal, brown discolouration on the walls and I watch him sitting in the corner of his forgotten shop. He stopped bothering about the hordes of customers flocking towards the brand-new stationery shop a long time ago. I buy a pen or a postcard for old time’s sake but I know he’s forgotten me and I’m okay with that. The shop and him stand frozen in the frenzy of development and competition in Janakpuri.

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The Photo studio and the stationery shop (left to right)

The Community Centre is presently steeped in dualities, juxtaposing the old with the new, the colourful hues of modernity with the aged, sepia toned look I mentioned before. There’s a huge, new café in the centre of the square, along which are numerous tandoori stalls that have stood the test of time, producing a variety of tikkas to the drinking public (mostly men after 8 P.M.) sitting in their fancy cars, a stream of loud music blaring from each of them. It’s what the people are used to versus the options they have been presented with and I have come to the firm understanding that people are only momentarily excited by new spaces, but immediately lapse into their old ways when bored. This is the case with Janakpuri and the people residing here. It’s no wonder then that people visit the numerous malls coming up in every nook and corner but also prefer their local, grimy food stalls to the plated delights offered in air-conditioned restaurants. I always find the tea stalls brimming with people, loudly conversing with each other, as opposed to the well-lit but often-empty restaurants that have taken over the area.

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Pishori’s Chicken Corner!

I know all these folks and don’t know them at all. Pishori, the chicken tikka man, recently handed over the responsibility of his stall to his son, once a puny little sardar, who is now taller and bigger built. They always recognize my mother’s voice and broken Hindi, sending the orders directly home without having to note down the address. Needless to say, we always get the soft, succulent chicken pieces, the pick of the lot! The Sobti’s of Sobti Medicos are an energetic bunch, with a vast knowledge of things beyond medicine and occasionally found reprimanding the odd Benadryl addict about his ways. There’s the lady who sells purses and pouches opposite the ATM, who spends more time gossiping with her customers than actually selling her goods. The Fujifilm shop that is perpetually closed and obviously of no use anymore. I tried my luck with them last month, calling and asking if they’d have old film rolls to spare and was laughed at and told to go digital already! The single, thriving liquor shop which has now multiplied into several of them, placed on all four sides of the square, teeming with alcohol enthusiasts (drunks). The chole-kulche stall run by Ram Niwas, who is my mother’s favourite person to this day! And the chai-wala, whose stall I visited earlier today and munched on matri’s with tea with my Ma and I realised that, come what may, Community Centre will always stand out in my memories for not changing like the rest of the city did.

 

 

 

 

 

HAMPI, HAMPERED.

WARNING: This is not a travel post. This is an informative post, so you aren’t bullied like I was.

Hampi is a geological wonder. It is visually stunning and the ancient temple structures situated around the Tungabadra river are simply astounding. The place had been on my travel list for a really long time and I finally made it there two weeks ago. (Yay.)

This piece, however, is NOT about Hampi or the temple structures – which if you google, you will find tons of information about OR you could just go there and see for yourself this amazing wonder of nature. No, seriously – how those rocks manage to stay stacked up on each other is, plain and simple, awesome.

I am going to focus on the boat rides that ferry tourists across the Tungabadra, which separates Virupapura Gadde (or Hippie island) from the more religious (party phobic) Temple side (Hampi). I have to say that no matter how beautiful the tourist spot, if the transportation systems are bad, your whole experience can go to the dogs.

At the entrance to Virupapura Gadde stands a barely visible board that lists the rates for ferry boat rides and coracle rides, respectively.

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Rates for Ferry and Coracle rides.

Even Hampi’s Wikipedia page states: ‘The ferry boat is available at the river side near Virupaksha Temple. Ferry trip costs Rs. 10 one-way and usually stops by 6 PM, depending on the crowd waiting to cross over. Coracle rides are available at INR 50 per head throughout the day and are available until 9-10 PM. If you don’t like getting your feet wet in a coracle, ensure you don’t miss the ferry.’ (http://wikitravel.org/en/Hampi)

Didn’t mind the wet feet, but the prices were steep! The boatmen are bullies who have a massive monopoly on the operations of the ferry boats and coracles, leaving the tourists helpless and without choice. The ferry boats charge between Rs. 50-100 per head, depending also on the number of people in the boat. If the total head count is less than 10, the boatmen can choose to postpone (or cancel) your trip across the river. I say boatmen, because they all gang up against you and travel, in the boat, with you to make sure you don’t run off without paying the quoted amount. I kid you not.

These guys also assign specific boats to each side – for example: Boat 1 will go from point A to B and Boat 2 will go from B to A, but never the twain shall meet. Confused? Basically, the boat that brings tourists from Hippie island to Temple town will go back to Hippie island empty because that’s against their rules. Wasting petrol, however, is a hobby.

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The Ferry Boat that refused to move.

My friend and I faced hell when we got stuck on the wrong side of the river after a long day’s walk. No matter how much we begged the boat guy to ferry us across, he just sat there, smoking his cigarette, waiting for the boat to fill up. It eventually did not fill up and we had no choice but to pay a hefty sum, dying of hunger and ready to pass out.

And then there are the coracle boats. Don’t even get me started on the coracles. Yes, I sat in one. Yes, it was fun. But paying 200-250 bucks for a 45 second boat ride was the biggest expense on an otherwise, fairly budget trip.

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Bad picture of a coracle.

The people in the area say that due to some illegal land dealings, as far as Hippie island is concerned, this issue has remained largely ignored by the government, who’d rather let these boatmen operate how they want than get their hands dirty.

Hampi is a truly lovely place. I swear. Besides this one (major) issue, the trip was perfect. There is plenty to gush about, but nobody talks about the smaller problems that can really bust everything good about a place you’re visiting. Hence, this post.

Let’s hope this is looked into very, ‘ferry’ soon!

Experienced enough?

A person is only as experienced as the number of chances people are willing to take on them.

As a part of the entertainment industry from 2011, I have seen an active increase in the number of people (especially the youth), who switched from jobs with a better shelf-life to jobs that were more ‘fun’. I will not quote statistics because I am basing this information merely on my observations while working as an Assistant Director on advertisements, independent feature films and other visual content in India.

Coming back to the point of this piece: Experience. Fun job or not, one of the biggest roadblocks I have experienced while working in this field is my (lack of) experience, as future (or maybe not) employers are quick to point out at every interview. “You know…”, they say with a thoughtful pause, “… we’re looking for someone really experienced. Someone like *insert famous name 1* and *insert famous name you’ve never actually heard of*, you know?” And you shake your head, surprisingly calm, wondering why they even called you for an interview in the first place, confirming the fact that despite asking for your resume, they never actually opened it and really have no idea who you are and what work you’ve done. (What also confirms the aforementioned fact is when they tilt their head sideways and say, ‘Tell me about yourself’ in the same tone as they would ask a 3-year-old about their favourite poem – but more on that, later.)

Which leads me to the question: How on Earth can someone be “experienced” if they don’t actually get work in their field?

Another aspect that plays an important role in defining the kind of “experience” employers are looking for (in the entertainment industry), is the kind of movies you’ve worked on. ‘Good experience’ is directly proportional to the number of commercial (Such glam! Much wow!) films on your resume. “Koi badi pikchar nahi kari naa! (But, you haven’t done any BIG films!)” they say, turning you away. The independent (or small) films listed on your resume do not matter. “Kaunsi film kari? Acha? Nahi suna yaar. Sorry. (Which film was this? Really? No man, haven’t heard of it. Sorry.)”

Yes, I know this sounds like a bitter rant – but it’s really not. What it is, is an ardent plea to employers (in the film industry and otherwise) to take a chance on the ‘inexperienced’ lot, just like someone took a chance on the ‘experienced’ lot and watch as the heavens open their gates and shower your with money and fame and …

Okay, no. Not all that. Take a chance on us and watch the work get done in a timely, efficient manner, because the number of films on a resume has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of hard work a person is willing to put in. True story.