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My Skirt Celebrated My Womanhood

Women’s Day. Nice day, Women’s Day. The one day that everyone is supposed to believe in women and promote feminism (and for those of you hate that word I suggest a synonym – gender equality). The one day that everyone wants to celebrate womanhood.

When my professor asked me to take part in the women’s day celebration in college, I was curious. I was supposed to role play as Elizabeth Loftus and represent our Psychology department in the event. As amazing as Elizabeth Loftus is, I immediately agreed at the chance to even pretend to be her for a mere 5 minutes and tell non-Psychology janta about this remarkable woman. Background? She proved memory can be altered and false memories can be implanted in people because of which eyewitness testimony can be false. Saved billions of lives, she did. She’s still alive, by the way.

Anyway, I was to tell the audience a few of my experiments as if I were Loftus herself. My professor’s asked me to wear a skirt and shirt so I could portray the Western woman all the better in western wear. If you know me, I ride a bike to college (which I didn’t on this specific day, because skirt, duh) and am found in Jeans. I asked my professors if I would be allowed to enter in a skirt and they said I just had to tell the security that I was performing at the Women’s Day Program. Very well. After spending over an hour dressing (which I never do for any event) in a skirt of suitable length, I went to college in a knee length skirt, a high neck t-shirt and a full sleeve shirt to top it off. All despite the glorious heat that has made its early appearance this year.

The lectures proceeded as usual. During break time, we began to rehearse just a little bit when a troupe of (my college?) girls passed by. They looked at me like I was an alien life-form sprouting some sort of tentacles and proceeding to devour my classmates alive. I ignored them. My phone rang just then: ominous background music like the opening track to a day of horrors. My professor asked me to come down to the staff room. As my friend and I walked there I told her that I had a feeling that they would say that my skirt was in issue. And it was. Ta-da. Much surprise.

They asked me if I was carrying a spare skirt (longer one, of course) or pants that I could change into. Of course I did! I had this tiny string purse that I carried around my body which could be reached into the depths of and extracted fabrics from. I was Hermoine Granger. I was taken to the principal’s cabin so I could be granted permission to wear a skirt for the duration and purpose of celebrating Women’s Day. Before going down, I entered the washroom and pulled down (tried to) my skirt as low as possible so that my knees would be covered even when I sat down. To be very fair, my professor said I didn’t have to go out of my way to become uncomfortable in pulling the skirt down. I appreciated that. Anyway. We waited outside the principal’s cabin to seek audience with her as a peon passed me by. Please note, the skirt had been pulled down enough so as to cover my knees even as I was sitting down. And Mr Peon looked at my legs, looked at my face and looked at my legs again. But then, he didn’t really say anything offensive or cat call anything ashleel so I had no right to be offended. I stayed mum and didn’t create a scene.

As I entered the cabin, the principal looked at me like our parents look at a fridge’s exterior before buying it. My professor explained the circumstances, and the principal said, ‘Oh, that’s why she’s dressed like this’. As if I needed a reason to wear a skirt. She proceeded to say that I couldn’t wear a skirt because our college had strict rules and I was to wear pants. She even suggested I buy new pants. Well, that’s only logical I guess. It was my fault I wore a skirt to college for a Women’s Day event and it was only reasonable that I buy new jeans for a five-minute performance. We exited her office.

So angry was I that I stormed into my class, hiked up my skirt enough to show more skin than the bite your friend takes from your burger and sat on top of the table. I calmed down within 5 seconds (there has to be a 5 second rule about how fast a girl is supposed to gulp down her feelings, no?) and pulled my skirt back down to a modest level (which, according to my college, is at par with ankles).

My professors suggested that I head back home, change into the requested clothing and head back for the performance. There was still half an hour before the performance after all! I politely requested that someone else take up my role as they could read my dialogues out from a sheet I had prepared. But my professors thought I was an excellent orator and no one else could really take my place on the stage. One of them even offered to take me home on her scooty, wait till I change and then bring me back to college. I kept making excuses.

Excuse 1: My house is too far, it takes Rs 70 to Rs 80 one way and I wasn’t willing to spend Rs 200 on five minutes.

Excuse 2: It’s too hot to ride on a scooty back and forth for such a long distance.

Excuse 3: I’m too lazy to change clothes.

Excuse 4: I would prefer to go home only once and sit to study rather than shuttle back and forth.

Excuse 5: It wasn’t really fair what had happened.

But my friends and professors all requested me to take up my role because ‘I had taken so much effort for it’ and ‘I deserved it’. And a girl is supposed to give in to pressure, so I did. We found a classmate whose pants would fit me. I changed into them and went on to deliver my 5-minute performance about an intelligent woman. Once it was done, I changed back into my skirt and trudged down the stairs and out of the college all the while being either eyed head on or from the corner of people’s eyes (all genders and ages, so I guess that’s equality or something).

But it was a nice day over all. I got five roses for being a woman today.

Posted in Cultures, Short Stories

Candle Light

I opened the door. I had left the house to find relief downstairs from the oven that it had become. But the electricity still hadn’t returned. The faint light from the corridor that illuminated the house revealed tan leather shoes near the shoe closet. Not in it, but near it. Dad was home.
I shut the door, flipped a few switches just in case electricity had made a sudden appearance, and then trudged dejectedly towards the room. ‘There’s no electricity’, I declared, even though I was pretty sure Dad had figured that out since the last half an hour of lying on the bed in darkness. I sat on the bed next to Dad. ‘How am I supposed to study now?’ I asked. (I assume) he smiled and replied saying, ‘We have candles in the house’. I involuntarily let out a snort of contempt. In the pale glow seeping in through the windows thanks to the streetlights, I saw my dad half rise from the bed and turn towards me. ‘Why are you laughing? Seriously! There is nothing better than to study by the light of a candle. Do you know why?’ he asked. I nodded harder than Noddy, and said, ‘Yes, yes. Lamp, knowledge, light, enlightenment. Metaphors. I know all that.’ At this, my dad got up completely, sat up straight and leaned forward. ‘No’, he said.
‘A lamp or candle’s light lets out a single flame in a dark room. That single flame illuminates only the immediate area surrounding it, and not the entire room. If you study under candle light then the flame will only illuminate the book. Everything else will remain dark, and therefore there will be no distractions.’
I just stared at him as this sunk in. And I realized that this was the more traditional and probably the most effective way of ensuring ‘out of sight, out of mind’. No wonder we heard all these stories growing up of the generation before us who studied under candle light or ‘burned the midnight oil’ and ended up successful. Our generation has practically everything but maybe that’s our bane. Switching off your phone and keeping it on the table next to you doesn’t do the trick, but keeping it on airplane mode in some other room of the house does. Switching the TV or laptop off does nothing to help you study. But cutting off the cable does. Closing your door and sitting in your room may still not help you. But studying in the dark under a single candle flame might.

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Of my two years in boarding school, he was in one. In the beginning, I would’ve described him as a pompous, narcissistic brat. And he was. An NRI from a well-to-do family with a high-end fancy DSLR camera. He probably had costly branded clothes as well, but since we were always in one or the other of our three school uniforms, clothes didn’t really matter.

I couldn’t pinpoint a certain moment where we became friends, nor could I explain how or why we became friends. I have random flashes of him strutting around with his camera in hand, trying to flirt with random (or all) girls. I remember him walking into the empty class I sat in during my free lectures. I was pretending to study while actually reading Percy Jackson on my laptop. It began with him asking me what I was doing, catching me in my pretence and then sitting next to me to do his own reading. Eventually, we started spending all our free periods together in that empty classroom. I would sit on the bench with my laptop and he would sit on the floor beside me. We would do our respective work. An occasional doubt would be asked and answered. A random fact or quote would be shared. Calculators and pens would be shared. And if he felt bored, he would find a way to annoy me. Typically, he would keep pressing the button of my laptop’s CD drives so it would pop out and I would be forced to push it back in. Only for him to do it all over again.
In the middle of calculus and Shakespeare, we swapped life stories. I learnt about the life he used to live, the life he wanted to live and the life he would probably end up living. I learned about the mistakes he had made and the mistakes he kept repeating.

I guess it’s something to do with boarding schools. Or maybe our particular one. It broke you. It brought you down. And once there was nothing left, it created a brand new you. I didn’t want to be a brand new me. Neither did he. We just wanted to be better versions of ourselves. We weren’t broken pots that needed to be remade. We were decent pots who just wanted to be painted well. And in that fight of ours with the world we were living in, we found a friendship that fuelled our resilience.

Then I left. I graduated but he still had one more year to go. When I visited school a few months later for our annual week celebrations, we spent all of two days together. It was like I’d never gone away, except that now I was allowed to visit the boy’s dorm because I was an alumnus. We spent the entire time catching up and walking around campus reliving memories. When he graduated the year after me, he came to study in Pune. And in the one year that he lived there, he visited Thane twice. Once, just to hang out, check out my house, eat my food and meet my family. The other time he came all the way over from Pune for a day and a night even though I couldn’t host him – all because that day was debatably one of the important days in my entire life. And the best or worst part of it is that he didn’t think it was a big deal. For him, he wouldn’t have done anything differently. It was an important day in my life, and I needed a friendly face who wouldn’t judge me no matter how I performed. I needed him, and he was there. No questions asked.

And that’s what makes him one of the most beautiful people I know. He’s not without faults. But he is unquestionably the best friend one could ever have. He’s not without mistakes. But he learns from them. He is my harshest critic. But he doesn’t judge me for the things I do. He always forgets to message. But I know that if I needed him, he would cross the oceans to be with me. And one day, I hope I can do the same for him.

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Most Memorable Birthday

Shivam and his parents had a deal. Every year at his birthday, Shivam could ask for any gift that he wanted. Shivam would to tell his parents what he wanted one month before his birthday, and they would get it for him. This year, Shivam wanted the giant Lego set that he had seen at the mall. So, on his birthday, everyone got ready to go to the mall and buy Shivam his Lego set.

In the store, just as they had picked out the Lego set and were waiting at the cashier’s, Shivam saw a small box of Lego characters. It was a limited edition collection of many different Lego people that could be mix-matched and assembled. Never in his life had Shivam wanted something so much. He knew, nonetheless, that his parents wouldn’t agree to let him have this gift as well. He had already gotten what he originally wanted.

Resigned to his fate, Shivam took his gift from the cashier and headed out. As he was leaving the store, Shivam saw Rs 500 note fallen on the ground. Quickly, Shivam picked it up and turned around to see who it belonged to. As he turned, his eyes fell on the gorgeous Lego character box that he had wanted only a while ago. His greed got the better of him. Shivam pocketed the Rs 500 note silently and walked out of the store.

Meanwhile, his parents had no clue what had happened. On their way out, Shivam told his parents that he had forgotten something inside the store and rushed back in after giving his excuse. He quickly picked up the little Lego box, took it to the cashier and stood in line for payment. 
As he stood there, he heard a little boy crying loudly. The little boy’s parents were trying to console him, but he kept crying. The cashier went over to the little boy and asked him what was wrong. The little boy told the cashier that he had saved Rs 500 over the year to be able to buy a toy today but he had lost the note. Now the little boy wouldn’t be able to buy the gift that he had saved money all year to buy.

Hearing this story, Shivam felt very guilty. He had parents who were willing to buy him anything he wanted. Moreover, he already had his birthday gift. Because of his greediness, he was about to deprive this little boy of his gift. Shivam quickly put the Lego box back on its shelf. He walked over to the crying boy, handed over the money and informed them that he had found the money fallen on the ground.

By this time, Shivam’s parents had come looking for him. They witnessed this entire incident. Not only were the little boy’s parents grateful to Shivam for saving their day, but Shivam’s parents were also proud of their son.

It was only later that Shivam told his parents the truth about the money and the little boy. His parents told Shivam that he had done the right thing by returning the money to the little boy. That evening during his birthday party, Shivam got one more gift from his parents. They gifted him the small Lego set he chose not to buy as a reward for his honesty.
Published in Balvihar, January 2017 edition

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I feel guilty about crying for her.

I didn’t know her that well when she was alive, and  I probably wouldn’t miss her that much now that she was gone.

But I cried.

I knew people who would miss her much, much more. People who would actually feel her loss deeply. They deserved to shed their tears for her because their feelings and memories were more genuine than mine were. I didn’t really deserve to  cry. But I did.

I guess I could try to explain why I cried. It’s not very difficult actually. I cried because Shreeyal deserved tears.

There are some people you can hate for no reason, and there are some people you like for no reason. We never grew close but we had our moments. I honestly cannot remember one memory of her being mean or cranky or throwing a tantrum or being demanding. She was good and the world is now short of a good soul. And God knows, we need more good souls in the world. Good souls like her only leave the world a better place than they found it. They touch the lives of all the people they met.

I also cried because it was scary. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what Death was. I studied Psychology and our textbooks outlined the difference between sadness and grief, the signs and symptoms of Depression and how to work with people who were suspended in perpetual sadness. I’d read morbid books and watched tragic movies and shows were a character dies. I’d cried rivers for them. But while I’d felt sad there, or understood sadness theoretically, what I felt now was a new combination of emotions. I felt sad, and I felt scared. A person I knew was dead doing something I (and many of my friends) did. Not frequently, but at some point or the other nevertheless. She died because she was traveling in her car with her friends at a high speed. Everyone does that at some point. And that’s what scary. She died doing something mundane. Something no teenager thinks twice about doing. A living, kicking, thriving soul vanished into nothingness doing something you or I would do. It was scary.

It was scary how her friends and family and everyone that knew her just woke up one fine day to hear that she was no more. It was like a tiny drop of information that was dropped into the otherwise still lives of people, then forming ripples of change and imbalance into the ocean of people that surrounded her. Not physically, but mentally or emotionally. The wave that ripple caused was ginormous. Imagine the number of calls that were made, the tears that were shed, the ‘you’ll be okays’ that were told and the memories that were relived. Then imagine the innumerable times that her friends and family will meet in the future. The laughs they will share with a pang of sadness, the memories they will make with a hint of tears and the nights they will live with a twinge of nostalgia. The hole that won’t be filled because no other person can fill that Shreeyal – sized hole.

Its scary.

And so I cried my heart out for Shreeyal before getting my shit together and calling the people who also would need to cry their hearts out.

Posted in Cultures, Short Stories

The Girl, the Mother and the Wardrobe

‘The toy seller had… a most mysterious and fascinating bag, one in which no one but the toy seller was allowed to look’, Somi and Rusty, friends in small places, Ruskin Bond.

There’s nothing truly fabulous about this specific sentence by Mr Bond, as compared to other fabulous things he has written. Except that it struck a chord within me. I immediately paused my reading, took out my green Camlin 3B pencil and scribbled a pair of brackets to enclose this statement. It’s a habit despised by most (including myself, only 3 years ago) but explaining why I grew into this habit would take two whole pages.

My family and I had lived in many houses, but we had our own house when my sister arrived in this world and that’s the house we grew up in – all four of us – for 12 solid years. I remember all t he reformations the house had gone through over the years, but the one thing that never changed was our mother’s cupboard.

My parent’s shared everything, except their cupboard. It encompassed of an entire wall in their bedroom and was equally divided into three vertical compartments – one for papa and two for m umma. This 2:1 ratio automatically gave mumma some sort of advantage and a foreboding air. The only person allowed to open the cupboard and rummage through it was mumma. She was the only one with keys to access it (not even papa) and I only ever sneaked a peek – that too with one door shut and one partially open.

The keys that hung from the cupboard’s key hole weren’t just meant for opening locks. The number of keys on one humongous key ring was so remarkable that if we lived in England in the middle ages, my mother could’ve been named ‘Master (or Mistress) of Keys and Cupboards of the Castle’. The real purpose that the innumerable keys held was to warn everyone – even Mrs Kapoor on the third floor (we lived on the sixth) – that the cupboard was being opened. As a result, I didn’t dare sneak into her room and open the cupboard while she was napping or in another room out of fear that the jangling keys would give me away. So the door remained closed, I remained out of it and mumma the only one with access to it.

When I grew old enough to watch the Chronicles of Narnia, I compared my mother’s cupboard to the one in ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ – a doorway to something magical. Turns out, it was exactly that. Anyone from an Indian middle class family would assume that the gold was to blame. All Indian women have gold that they keep hidden or locked away, but not in our case. All the valuable things were at the bank, but that did not mean the cupboard was devoid of treasures – the very opposite to be very true. That cupboard was a treasure trove, as I learned once I grew up and was deemed old enough to hold my tongue and temptations.

It held the following list of items:
1)  Chocolates – Toblerones, Kisses, Ferrero Rochers, Mars, Snickers, Lindt, Milky Way, Kinder joy, Milka bars, and so on and so forth.
2)  Gifts- received on birthdays and repacked to give others
3)  Spare stationary, utensils and buttons
4)  New clothes
5)  Boxes of cookies that actually stored needles and threads
6)  Fancy wrapping paper and used folded wrapping paper
7)  Fancy paper bags
8)  Old broken jewellery
9)  Photo albums and spare passport size photographs
10)  Safety pins
So you see, while there were the most ordinary things in there (or the most extraordinary, depending on how you see it), the cupboard was mysterious only because ‘no one but the toy seller was allowed to look’.

By Vedanti Shinde,
Published in Know Your Town Volume 1 Issue 6

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My Superhero

We hear so many stories in our childhood, and my childhood stories have been full of legendary figures like Lord Krishna, Lord Ram and Shivaji Maharaj. I was always in awe of these people, who achieved such inhuman tasks, and yet were mortals just like us. But no one, NO ONE, can be my superhero more than him. He’s the only only who could awe me, support me, lift me, give my life purpose. The only person who could motivate me to be a better person. Even as a child, it was him I wanted to impress; his appreciations that I seeked.
I remember this one day when I had to choose between him and Shivaji Maharaj as my icon. I was as small as three yrs old and was on a trek with my parents. I reached the top of the trek only because everyone told me I could meet Shivaji on the top. Little did my little self know that he had actually passed away decades ago. I gave up all hope of ever seeing Shivaji, until I saw him sitting there. He lifted me on his shoulders, carried me to the fort, and told me about how bravely Shivaji had died. And I found my Shivaji – my dad.
He has literally saved me from wolves and cobras that we encountered during our treks. He picked me up while carrying a fifteen kg rucksack when I was about to pass out.
But the reason he is my Shivaji is because of his own horrible mountaineering accident. On a rock climbing accident, two of his friends and him almost reached the pinnacle before the rope gave away and they fell metres to the ground. One died on the spot, one got a broke shoulder and my dad’s knee tore away from his leg. Having no other option, and leaving his dead friend’s body, he pulled himself and his friend through for hours, dragging his torn leg along, before he collapsed on the side of a road. He woke up on a hospital bed in Jaslok hospital. And months after he recovered, he said he wouldn’t resume normal life till he went back to the cliff, climbed it again, stood on top of the pinnacle and came back down safe. He did that. He did it. And then resumed normal life.
Years after this, he runs multiple marathons in a year. He has trained me all my athletics years, and would race me 100mts. He took me trekking every year. He travels the world. He is the one who encouraged me to do my basic mountaineering course, and finish it successfully. He is the reason I push myself harder and harder every time. He’s the reason why I will always look at nature and smile. He’s the reason I expect more out of myself. He is my reason for everything. He’s my dad, and he’s my superhero. He will always be my superhero.

(This is a piece I had written for the college magazine in 2015. Themes- Childhood and Superheroes)