Dear Brother,

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Dear Brother,

Our distant grandmother used to tell us both that the festival of Rakhi will be tough when we’re away–when I won’t be able to fly back home, or you wouldn’t get the time to reach where I would stay.

Listening to this, we would look at each other, and giggle among ourselves, because somehow we knew that missing each other would only be a distant dream.
Being the brother that you were, I was always confused, thinking if an elder sister would have been any better?

Girls at school would say that of course, elder sisters were a treat to have.

Only some would say, “I think an elder brother is okay too”.

I couldn’t ever make a judgment of it – while you were definitely great at having charming boys all over our house, you lacked in helping me set-up my cupboard.

 

You were definitely nice when it came to cooking Maggi for both of us, but you were horribly bad when you would trick me while playing Who-Finishes-The-Maggi-First-And-Wins-The-Game.

What a fool I was, to stupidly finish it all in one go, only to see you victoriously tease me by having yours slowly – and slowly.

 

You didn’t collect the milk packets from Pal uncle’s shop, and I had to carry almost three litres of milk back home. I felt so exhausted – climbing the hill, with a bag full of books, and an empty water bottle.

 

 

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You (Left) and me (Right) – Travelling in a ferry to Essel World, Mumbai

 

Dear Brother, I sometimes wonder if you had second thoughts of me as a sister too- did you?

I remember having read your personal diary once. That one that had a lock and key? Its lock could be opened easily with a knife, I don’t know if you had tried that?

It was a rainy Monday afternoon – the usual afternoons in Shimla – I was still in my school dress, grey pleated skirt, and knee length socks, off white shirt loosely hanging from the waist (that was the trend those days).

I must have thrown my school shoes somewhere in the drawing room; I hated them for all the sores they caused every year – each year- new sore.

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The Memoir Project- Recognising Fear

I closely remember her thick black hair, wildly curled towards the ends. Her long loose kameez and cotton dupatta that would often get stuck to the corner nails of our withered wooden school desks.
 

Teja Ma’am, her only initial I remember, carried a broad mustard scale as she moved from one end of the class to the other, struggling to fit in between the rows made by our small class tables.

 

“You’d always be crying when you had to make a move to the school,” Mom recollects, snatching the photograph held between my painted fingernails. We’re warmly curled up in my bed, here in Shimla, looking at our old snaps.

 

“Do you remember this one? Tani?” she asks, further mentioning the inappropriate proportion of girls to the boys.

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Kinder Garten, Chapslee School, Lakkar Bazaar, Shimla

 

I look at the picture,

And look at it again.
Kinder Garten . Chapslee School. Lakkar Bazaar.

 

I smile.

 

“Of course, I remember everything,” I think.

 

I grab the photograph from Mother and am unable to move my eyes off me.
Bottom row, first right of the class teacher.

 

“You could have smiled at least, no?” Mum questions while proceeding towards the kitchen.
She chuckles on her way. She knows I’m hearing.

 

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A closer look at myself (Right)

 

 

I remember having cried every morning to school.

Cheenu, our neighbour’s son (whose nickname is the only thing I remember of him), was in a senior standard. I’m assuming he was coaxed to take the responsibility of dropping me to school every day.

 

At home, I pretended headaches and backaches and stomachaches, and everything else that my little brain knew about medical sciences but since Mum was already a doctor, nothing passed.

 

I had to go to the school.

 

Still, with no desire to give up, my next attempt would be to hold the railings of the staircase as we descended from our house in Jakhu Hills.

 

I’d have big tears in my eyes by then.

 

Cheenu would ferociously pull me towards the road, while I’d make all efforts to keep my grip tight.

 

People would often halt and enjoy watching my everyday scenes.

I’d only give up when my throat wouldn’t allow any more, or my legs began to tremble, or my fingers felt too weak to hold.

 

 

This photograph reminds me of the day when Teja Ma’am had smashed me with her wooden mustard scale. It hit so hard that the juncture of my eye remained swollen for the rest of the evening.

 

I was made to stand on the last bench, bruised eyed and stretched arms.

It changed the concept of a teacher for many coming years.

 

When I stood alone, at the back of the class, students did make fun of me, and I awfully missed Mother’s warmth.

 

I missed home.

 

It was a feeling whose definition I didn’t know then – Insecure, I’d say now.

 

 

I seldom think if Teja Ma’am reflects fear in my life?
Her wild wavy hair, and long loose kameez
Her shrill loud voice, and the stamp of her slap.

 

I was never beaten at home.

Then why was I not taken care of at school?

 

Kinder Garten.

 

Just one girlfriend

 

All the boys seemed to be hooligans

 

And I felt petrified.

 

And that’s why I would cry every morning- hold the green cold railing while on our descent, scream of non-existent stomach aches, and shiver as I saw the mustard scale.

 

What else could Fear feel like, then?

 

Conversations On The Move with Mohd Hussain, Taxi Driver, Mumbai

“My mother was from Andhra, and my father was from Varanasi. They got married in Mumbai,” he starts.

I giggle and ask, “Was it a love marriage?

He quickly replies, ” I don’t know”.

I grin, a bit more this time, and chirpily tease him. “Aapne kabhi poocha nahi? (Did you never ask?)

“Ammi died when I was 9 months old, got no chance to ask,” he completes.

 

Sensing unease in his voice, I think of withdrawing the conversation. However, Mohd Hussain doesn’t stop here.

 

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Conversations with Mohd Hussain (Photograph with permission)

 

He looks at me through the front mirror; and pretends to smile with watery eyes.

“When I was 8, my father died. So from childhood I’ve been earning and eating on my own,” he continues.

“Biwi thi, biwi ka bhi death ho gaya,” (I had a wife, she too has died)

I silently shriek by the thought of it.

What happened to your wife? I meekly ask, not sure if I should take this ahead.

“That’s something God must be knowing, Madam” he drops a tear.

I was in foreign that time I used to drive a taxi in Saudi Arabia. We treated her for 9 long years, we couldn’t save her.

From my wife, my younger daughter too caught the disease – her kidneys had dried, they said. Doctors had asked us to give up hopes for our daughter, however, this stress took away my wife’s life. I saved our daughter but lost all the money that I had earned.

When I was eight, I remember walking about half a kilometre to fetch two buckets of water every day. I would fill 400 litres and only then would get food to eat.

About clothes?

Maybe once a year if someone gave at all. I didn’t know of anything except underwear. Didn’t even know what a t-shirt was.

On the footpath itself, taxi drivers would come. I became friends with them and learnt driving.”

I ask him if he ever felt that only if his mother was around, all would be fine?

He looks at me and says, “Ye toh abhi bhi lagta hai. (I feel this even now)”.

 

 

 

 

Conversations with Annie, Cook-maid, Mumbai

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Annie is short and fat, and tanned. She has thick long hair, wildly curled towards the ends.

Dressed in red and black, she has forgotten to carry her dupatta to work today.

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Conversation with Annie (Photograph with permission)

The right side of her face seems to be swollen.

When I ask her, she says, a pimple popped on her chubby cheek last night.

She had even tried to dissect it with a safety-pin.

Annie asks for some Boroline, and meekly cribs about the discomfort.

She narrates how she couldn’t sleep yesterday because she didn’t hear from her son who had left for a motorcycle trek.
She now pats her head and bites her colourless lips, receiving a phone call from him.

Annie lives in the lanes of Lokhandwala, in suburbs of Mumbai with her husband, James and two children.
She was a Hindu Maharashtrian before her marriage to James who is a Christian.

Annie went against the will of her mother to continue with the relationship.

And now she wonders why?

I take out my camera and ask if I can film our talk? I think what she might have comprehended of the term film.

She questions if I’m doing this to assess my new tripod?

It’s going to be a natural conversation, I explain.

She doesn’t respond to this.

I too keep mum.

She again puts some more Boroline on her swollen pimple and smirks. Then mildly gazes at the camera.

Her deep black eyes safely meet mine hidden behind my purple glasses.

This time she smiles.

Annie’s ready for the talk.

I turn on my camera.

These are my Conversations with Annie (CLICK TO WATCH)

My Way Back Home

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Bharti gets frustrated when I ask her to clean the windows or cut the Papaya before she leaves. She says that she has a lot of work in other houses. However, Bharti never goes without playing her little game of wrapping my freshly washed clothes, neatly arranging them in different piles and waiting for my lethargic butt to get up and organise the newly bought cupboard by my landlord in Mumbai, Ram Uncle.

“It’s got a nice mirror, see,” Uncle declared as two seemingly malnourished boys dragged the cupboard inside my room. His wife, Ramini Aunty, dressed in a blue sari with a gajra around her thick black hair bun arrived with a pooja thali in hand, chanted a few mantras in Kannada, and rotated it for about three times She then offered the metallic silver door some white rice and a pinch of vermillion.

While Aunty is tall and curvy, with right bends at right ends, Uncle is short and potbellied. I’m told that he suffered a heart attack, just a few months before I moved to their place.

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Conversations with Mangesh, Taxi Driver – Part 2

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“Till I got married, my father didn’t ask for a rupee from me. My mother used to tell him; “He gave Rs 10,000 for household expenses”.

“It doesn’t matter even if he doesn’t contribute right now, but when my hands and legs stop working, I will certainly ask for money from him,” he’d say.

And see, as soon as I was married, my father made contributing to the family income necessary. When my elder brother married, he gave Rs 3000- I was made to start with 3000 as well but then they kept increasing and today I contribute Rs 5000. Now every month, two of us brothers give a sum of 5000 to my parentsSubstandardFullSizeRender 34

Actually, my parents don’t spend our money at all. They have opened fixed deposit accounts in name of their four grandchildren. Rest they manage with my father’s pension.

I remember never really enjoying going to the school. Once I told my father that I no longer wish to attend it anymore. My father caught me by my collar, and thrashed me inside the car. Till now he beats me.

I don’t drink every evening, but have this desire to enjoy Sundays. For the sake of enjoyment, I bring alcohol at my place. Sometimes I get a ninety, sometimes one entire khamba. In that case, I become out of control, and my wife tells this to my parents. Then my father comes, he beats at times, says that my wife has come to our place because of me. My wife is 12th pass, and I’m 8th fail.

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Conversation on the move with Mangesh, taxi driver, Part-1

In our neighborhood we had a newspaper vendor. The ones who distribute newspapers door to door? I used to do this work early morning before I would leave.

I was admitted in a nearby school, used to go there but never studied. I would start my work in the morning everyday and later attend the school.

School mai bhi Bhan Bhan, ab home-work nahi kiya hai, aray kahan se krega? Subah se leke sham tak toh kaam ke upar rehta hai, ek Sunday ka din hi araam rehta hai usme bhi tum home-work bol deta hai.

[In school too there was no comfort. Now, didn’t complete my homework. But when will I do my homework? From morning till evening, I’m working, there’s just one Sunday when I get to rest and in that too, you force me to do homework.]

My attendance was about 75-80 days out of 275 for an entire year. I had never crossed 100 ever.

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Mangesh, taxi driver, Mumbai

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Conversation On The Move With Shyam Mane, Rickshaw Driver, Mumbai

I’ve told my son that I’m giving him full freedom to study- he doesn’t have to study in the afternoon and work in the evening. I’ve told him that once he passes his exams; his life will be sorted. Now, if he starts working with the Maharashtra government, he’ll get about 40-50 thousand rupees as his salary.

I’m not forcing him at all, have told him the reality of private sector.

15-20 hazaar rupay milta hai private sector mai. Aur government mai ek baar lag gya, toh rashtrapati ko bhi allowed nahi hai tumko nikalne ka.

[Nowadays, one gets just 15-20 thousand rupees in a private sector job. And once you’re appointed with the government, even President isn’t allowed to chuck you out.]

 My son is in the third year of BMS right now, once that gets completed, I’ll make him sit at home and ask him to just prepare for his exams.

He’ll sit and eat and just study.

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Shyam Mane, Rickshaw Driver, Mumbai (Photograph with permission)

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On The Move With Radhe Shyam Mithulal Verma of Faizabad

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I’ve studied till class five.

Ab aap din bhar kheti mai kaam krengi, thak jaengi toh padhengi kya?
[Now for an entire day if you were working in the field, later being tired, would you study?]

I was 14-15 years old when I ran away from my house without telling anyone, neither, mother father, nor anyone else at home.
The first job I did was of washing glasses at a hotel in Surat. I didn’t know anybody there. I didn’t know the place either.

Kuch bhi maloom nahi tha. Bas aise hi bhaag gaye.
[Didn’t know anything, just ran with nothing in mind]

I left with only Rs 40 in my pocket at that time. I used to be paid Rs 10 for work of 12 hours-

subah 8 baje lgta tha, raat ko 8 baje chooth ta tha, lekin usme bhi do mahine ka 200 rupaya bach jata tha mila kar.
Rehne ke liye jaise ye hotel hai, iske band ho jane par , uske chajje ke neeche so jata tha.

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Radhe Shyam Mithulal Verma of Faizabad (Photograph with permission)

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