Tea and Cake or Death!

30 Day Writing Challenge

Dear Tea,

I know I’ve struggled with you in the past, especially during my binge coffee drinking days where I made faces at you and called you a pathetic excuse for a beverage. How did you sneak into my life and become my sense of peace? I know I don’t say it enough but your perfect brew is what holds me together when I’m struggling.

Navigating Bangalore’s traffic is no mean task and I’m stressed out when I reach work and my body is in knots. You untangle me with such ease and skill that before long, I’m chirping along like a Disney Princess in love with the world. When I’m stuck with a work problem, I take time to listen to your calming notes and then the problem isn’t a problem anymore. And when I’m home after a long day, you are the perfect way to unwind. I never sleep as well as I do when I have my rendez-vous with you.

Doddles about Tea

I am like a teenager with a serious crush. The pages of every notebook could look like this. Honest. How can you possibly expect me to feel any less? I love you, I love you, I LOVE you!

Marry me?


Don’t over-think it bro!

I had never been to a holiday for the sake of a holiday till I was 24. This shouldn’t be surprising considering I’m born to self-realised Social Activists/AidWorkers who can never really draw the line between work and anything else and it would be hypocritical of me to complain because in this field, work is life. And I’m pretty much the same. Still, any holiday we took as children would be combined with a work detour. When we went to the beach, we also made a side visit to the fishing villages that were struck by tornados or a giant tsunami. If we went away elsewhere, there would be villages with a flood situation, with food scarcity and with sheep I could kidnap.

For every essay we had to submit on Shakespeare and the Skeletal System, we had a summer of adventure to look forward to, so much so that the idea of just getting away to do nothing seems preposterous even after all these years. I went backpacking across Europe to end up volunteering in a small village in France. I went to Africa to see the place but ended up working for 7 straight months – even in places where I went to take a break. You know where this is going right? Classic movie sequence of epiphany that hits because of something a stranger observes that you hadn’t even realized before? Yeah, that.

That was my first holiday, and like all firsts, you remember it fondly. I went to Zanzibar thinking I’d spend one day looking around and the evening at the beach and the next day, volunteering at a Madarasa. I ended up staying a week and doing nothing but sipping gin cocktails, making friends with a cat that was older than the island and taking in sunrises and sunsets on the Indian Ocean. I had quite a bit of unlearning and letting go to do.

Stone Town – Zanzibar

Earlier this year when I realised I could go away again, I picked a place because my grandmother, who I’ve come to know only through the stories I’ve been told, was born there and came away to India by a treacherous ship journey that took months and months. I learnt that she used to be royalty in Malaysia and when they came to India, they lost everything. And she had her adventures- she was the first of her family to study in a British School when they opened up the schools to Indians (It was the same school my sister and I studied in) She fell in love and married an orphan boy and lived a life she never thought she could/would.

When I booked my tickets and got my visa, people asked me why I was going – I had a massive Sméagol fit.

2 weeks on a holiday doing nothing but exploring? Not going near a volunteer project or a social cause? Not on any freelance travel writing project? An empty itinerary/list of things to do? Just going with the flow? And then I was finally able to say it.

I’m going for me.

The other side of goodbye

Either I only truly get attached to people who stay or … well, what else can it be?  Like a web, I’ve built a solid foundation from which I jump from place to place knowing that even when I fall, I can drag myself back because of that strand that binds me to my architectural masterpiece.

This, this is home. A place that you carry with you when you go looking for adventure in strange lands, a place where you can make friendships with people you never would have otherwise interacted with. A place in your being that reminds you that you can go where you may because when you come back, things will always be the same. People will be here. Waiting.

I’m not always here – on this side of a goodbye. The last two times I was, it was a blur of pain and tears and some dark place I never wanted to visit again. There’s no Doctor to rescue you in his blue machine. There are no smiling faces of children in exotic lands that’ll carry you through it. Just you and the them size hole throbbing inside you since they left. That and the urge to set fire to the airport and the harbour and the front door – just so that there is no place left for anyone to say goodbye.



This is for you, Rami

He was the first person to ever tell me I was full of shit, not as an insult but as an observation. I was in the habit of using my words to get away with everything – of convincing people I was okay and that life was great. He saw right through me and I hated him for it. I thought he was a pretentious old man with nothing better to do with his time. I hated that he hosted me in Mumbai because I had always wanted to explore the place. I hated how he took me to a book store and then for some batata vada by Juhu beach. I hated the goddamn penthouse view of from his living room. I hated that he knew I was escaping a broken relationship. I hated his knowing smile when I listened to a song about heartbreak that reminded me of the one who was no longer mine. I couldn’t stand that he knew … he just … knew.
R – What do you want to do with your life?
A – I want to be a war correspondent – I want to be there where the action is.
R – Who are you?
A – What sort of stupid question is that?
Years later when he came visiting, he told me how he didn’t want to be buried because he was claustrophic, he’d prefer the electric cremator. I giggled for the first time with him. This is exactly how I’d like it too – a cremation and a kickass wake. I was older and less angry. He had the same old kind eyes, he whistled the same songs, and he spoke of love. He told me that there was nothing more terrible than experiencing the most beautiful feeling in the world and then being condemned by people you loved. He told me that if ever I got kicked out of home for falling in love, he’d provide me the shelter and support I needed. He was a hindu man who fell in love with a catholic woman at a time when he could’ve been killed for it. But he persevered and she said yes. They remained happily married till the day she died.
R – What do you want to do with your life?
A – I want to be a writer eventually. I want people to read by books and go “Oh.”
R – Who are you?
A – Why do you keep asking me that question?
R – I find that it is more effective than the “how are you” question to which you are only just going to say good, okay, well and a slew of other abstract words I don’t care for. But who you are at moments change – and the answer to that question will tell me how your heart is doing and how you’ve grown.
A – Oh.
R – Who are you?
A – I … I don’t know.
He knew me from when I was little. He was my dad’s professor at TISS where he caused a lot of controversy for refusal to get in step with policies he didn’t believe in. He refused to be called Sir or Professor – he thought that it was hard enough to learn without the added terror of a self-righteous teacher. His students called him Suncle (Sir+Uncle). He pushed me to call him by his childhood name, Rami. He was my story-teller – he knew how much I craved for them. And always stories of war and travel – my two favorite categories. And when I was low, he’d hug me and sing me a song sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
R – What do you want to do with your life?
A – I want to travel – Latin America sounds wonderful. But I learnt in georgaphy class today how lovely Canada looks in Autumn. And then, there’s Africa but you know more about that than me (He lived in Nigeria for a while)
R – Who are you?
A – I’m a restless soul looking for a place to call my own
We would shuttle between Mumbai and Bangalore to see each other. He would do the sweetest things. Out of the blue he’d send me a book or a quote that would arrive just when I needed it. And somehow, he’d always be home with a box of chocolates for Valentines day. When I came back from my Europe trip, he was there with a twinkle in his eye and a tootless grin. He became my teacher on an intensive course on applied social research with 15 other students. He gave a moving speech on how the social sector approach needed to move from charity to transformation and suddenly I knew the joy that came from being his student. While answering numerous questions, telling us stories from his field work, sitting silent sipping a drink after class, he would look at me from across the room and smile – that smile that would light up the world. He became my sunshine. My only sunshine. Later that month, we wrote a book together.
R – What do you what to do with your life?
A – I want to work in the social sector. Make a lasting difference. I want to change lives and bring smiles on the faces of children.
R – Who are you?
A – I’m a driven and happy woman waiting to be let out into the world. The universe is not going to realise this till it’s too late but I’m going to re-arrange the furniture.
R – You notice this is the first time you’re happy with and proud of being female?
A – Oh.
The last present he gave me was this

The last words he said to me was this

“Glad that you are getting what you want but as usual wondering ‘now what? and so what’. It is so reassuring to feel that my Anju is still the same young Anju. Can’t wait to see you soon, you can pour me my whisky and I will make you Tomato soup as always. Till then, keep happy and review what you are upto and want to become. I am with you. Love as ever, Rami”

R – What do you want to do with your life?
A – I’m confused. I tried the social sector and I tried writing. And I’m lost
R – It’s the first time you sound dejected and without a plan. This is as it should be. You never learn if there are no more challenges to overcome.
A – But aren’t you supposed to know by now, stick to a career, find someone good and marry them?
R – I’m 82. I’m still clueless. But isn’t that what makes life exciting?
A – Life Sucks.
R – Not so long as you are around.
A – Oh Rami. When will I see you again?
R – Chin up. And smile.

And then he burst into his favorite song
A smile is quite a funny thing,
It wrinkles up your face,
And when it’s gone you never find
Its secret hiding place.

But far more wonderful it is,
To see what smiles can do.
You smile at me, I smile at you,
And so one smile makes two.

I smile at someone, since you smile,
And then that one smiles back,
And that one smiles until, in truth,
You fail in keeping track.

And since a smile can do great good,
By cheering hearts of care.
Let’s smile and not forget the fact
That smiles go everywhere.
I learnt he passed away this morning, a ticket to Mumbai for next week still on the computer.

Rest in Peace Suncle Rami. I will always remember you.

Dearest Lisa

We’ve never met but I feel like I know you. I’ve known you for a while but it’s only when I put down the Deathly Hallows that I thought of you and I couldn’t get you of my head. You didn’t get to read this one. You didn’t see that Severus, dear, dear Severus, he was good. He didn’t betray Dumbledore. His patronus was a doe and there is this one dialogue that I know you and R would have cried over, you’d have sketched it on every page of your book and on the hem of your skirts.


I first saw you in her eyes. I was in the middle of my coffee and she was waiting for her red dosa chutney. The canteen guy was yelling “dosa, dosa”. He was used to it, he used to think she was a deaf-mute. Except this time we weren’t signing like we used to, we were discussing Harry Potter. She was telling me how Harry and Hermione were meant to be together and I was telling her that I have always loved and trusted Snape. We were in the middle of a heated discussion and she sighed and said, ‘I wish my friend Lisa were here’. It was always like that, she’d bring you up when I least expected it. When she did, I would catalogue your name and put it aside for things I would ask her later. “Who is Lisa?”

I don’t know what came first, us almost drowning in our loaded schedules or you bursting into stardust. Something had changed and my only clue was when she bumped in to me, harrassed and out of breath, ‘I’m trying to reach my friend. I can’t get through’. When she found out, she first couldn’t stop talking about you. It was as if talking about you meant keeping you alive. And then she stopped. I never once saw her cry.

She was good at keeping her pains to herself if she once thought she was being a burden to someone. You know that better than all of us. But you are so much a part of her that I think of you when I watch Grosse Point Blank. I hear your voice when I listen to Drops of Jupiter. And when I watch a 11 year old Daniel Radcliffe swallowing hard when he sees Hagrid for the first time, I miss you – the you that peeked out from the twinkle in her eyes. Does that sound strange?