Nuggets of Life: Journey back in time, reliving romance of NH44 in Punjab

The past few months involved a lot of consecutive travelling to and fro the length of my state Punjab for personal reasons. I mainly travelled on (NH) 44. On my first visit, I paid no attention to whatsoever bus, truck, city, or animal I passed by while I travelled. All I wanted to make sure was to reach my destination on time. On my second and third travel, I mainly went on complaining about the road work still under progress that created massive traffic chaos near Jalandhar Cantt and Raiya further ahead.

It was sometime on my fifth visit, when all the fussing was done and the road started to feel familiar, that I sat back and looked outside and this historic highway completely romanticized itself in my mind.

G.T Road I remember everyone addressing it as and not just an expressway how we see it now. I wasn’t sure if this expressway still was the exact GT road so I asked Guru Google and yes it turned out that the old Grand Trunk road to this day coincided with NH44 and NH3 in Punjab. This was the majestic GT road whose foundation was laid by Chandragupta Maurya and dated back to 3rd century BC. The ancient trade route about which even Kipling said, “It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.” And here I was travelling on the same route.

As we crossed one city after the other I noticed how patterns and structures changed alongside the highway. Ludhiana and Jalandhar were the two main cities that fell in the way of NH44. It was interesting to note how the overhead water tanks changed from city to city. They were more ‘box-like’ in the Malwa region, while they mostly consisted of footballs and airplanes in the Doaba area and consisted of lots of eagles in the Majha. It amazed me how this highway exhibited and explored the diversity, cultural values, expectations and hopes of cities or regions that came under its radar, as one traversed  through it.

Another impression of NH44 that stayed with me was when we entered Kartarpur, a small retro reflective yellow sign board caught my sight. It said: Welcome to the historic city of Kartarpur. I’m sure it must have been here all these years but this was the first time I saw it. And despite knowing that Kartarpur was associated with Sikh and Punjab’s history, reading the sign board for the first time hit me different. Then there was the Jung -e – Azaadi War Memorial that stood their magnificently honouring the courage and strength of Punjabi soldiers who laid their lives for India’s independence. It was as if pages of history flipped one after other as I passed one milestone after the other on this highway, defining my state and national identity.

Eventually my four and half hour long journey on this mostly smooth highway, interspersed with picturesque green fields as well as encroaching concrete buildings, turned out to be nothing less than a road narrative which created a romantic dialogue in my head all the way; where my mind and heart discussed who we are, what are our values and where does our history go from here on.

Published in Hindustan Times on 3.1.2023


NUGGETS OF LIFE: The Tiffin Saga

The times change and so does the content of these little portable boxes packed with food, but it is interesting to note how its varied roles never change.

Each morning I switch on my daughter’s zeal for school by alluring her to solve a riddle. The riddle of what is inside her tiffin. I would tell her that I have packed a yellow crescent moon with tiny red hearts while combing her brown curls. Well, at times her conjectures are right while other times they are not. There is always a mother’s urge compelling me to reveal the secret and put her to ease but I purse my lips and hold back until she finds it out on her own in the class.

I am sure it is tiffin time she must be looking forward to with all her heart. Not so much because of the food or the hunger pang but the grand revelation – the answer to what’s inside her tiffin. It’s mostly fruit and nuts. She knows that well and proudly tells everyone that she is a ‘fruitarian’ except on one occasion when she went and asked the cook why he does not pack burgers and pastas for her. He politely sent her back to me with ‘ask mama’ statement for an answer. I tried to explain her the ill effects of junk food, yet to keep her heart, I gave her once a week junk food day concession for her tiffin.

But sitting in my room I thought to myself that the peer pressure had already begun at this tender age. I imagined red, blue, pink, round and rectangular, Spiderman and Frozen, tiffin boxes being opened during the food break and burgers, pizzas, muffins and pretzels shimmer through as the lids are removed.

This took me back to my school days when we friends would open our tiffin boxes. Potato patty, spinach parantha, dhokla, parantha with mango pickle, veggie sandwiches, home baked cookies, cold coiled maggi were our generations thing. Although to this day, with a giggle in my head, I do not understand how cold maggi in our tiffin was a happy thing back then! Tiffins were always shared. Each time everyone liked the other person’s parantha or pakora more than their own stuff and a sense of bonhomie prevailed.

The times change and so does the content of these little portable boxes packed with food, but it is interesting to note how its varied roles never change. They are snugglies for kids which give them the warmth of home in their classes. They are a box of rest and pause in a busy man or woman’s day.  They are comforting connection to cultural heritage for people working in foreign lands. They are a travelers box of security. A dabbawala’s bread and butter. A laborer’s box of well being. A wife’s box of love. A mother’s prayer. A cook’s art.  

Anyway, my role is duly accomplished every day when my daughter comes back home and gives me the answer to the morning riddle. Much to my happiness and peace of mind I would then know that the tiffin box is empty now.

Published in The Post India on 31.10.2022

NUGGETS of LIFE: When the New meets the Old

Art is just used to depict those emotions.

When I recently visited my parent’s house, my mother took out a stack of yellowish worksheets. Some of them were from my kindergarten days, while others were from various other junior classes. My daughter sitting in my lap carefully observed or I would rather say inspected them. She pulled out a particular sheet with men and women dancing and asked, “Mama, who are these colourful uncles and aunties?”

The very next second I was in uncontrollable laughter. I tried my best not to embarrass my daughter but she was spot on with her remarks. Of course, my mother stepped in and chided me for not answering her granddaughter. “These are men and women celebrating a very special day…” my mother explained, “…long time back people were thankful and celebrated all plants and trees when they gave us food to eat.” My mother spoke in very simple terms so that my toddler could understand the message she wanted to convey. Still giggling I chipped in, “Yeah mama BUT who dances like that in the fields on Vaisakhi ever?  Why did they even make us draw that in school?”

My mother was in no mood to extol a lecture, so came in a sarcastic gibe “If you haven’t seen doesn’t mean people never celebrated! There is something called Punjabi folklore! Thank God you kids did all this in school otherwise you wouldn’t even know what Vaisakhi is!” (For parents you are always kids even when your hair starts to grey). 

This made me curious. Even though I come from a family with agricultural background I haven’t seen Vaisakhi being ever celebrated with bhangra on dhol beats or folk songs being sung by women with saggi phul glittering in the daylight. So I asked my mother if she has ever seen it. “No” came the straight reply. “Art, culture, folklore are immensely symbolic. May be in the bygone era they actually did it but it mainly symbolizes culmination of hard work into a fruitful yield. Even the LokGeet are all about husband and wife bickering around the harvest time because there is so much work to do and they do not get to see each other for days. Eventually the bountiful harvest brings good times making every one forget the bickerings”, she smiled. “Art is just used to depict those emotions”, my mother added.

That day when I went to bed I was wondering what the next generations are going to draw. They are more familiar with ballet dances, moon walking and remix music than bhangra, jindwa or traditional Lok geet. As far as bountiful harvest – with change in climate and dropping water levels, yields are affected now. I do not know what the next generation is going to paint for Vaisakhi but if we continue to ignore, somebody in next generations might certainly paint Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’ again.

Published in THE POST INDIA on 29.4.2022

NUGGETS of LIFE: When I missed mishap by an inch

Did the zebra cross the road? - The Hindu
I could not stop thinking and overthinking about what went wrong.

The incident left me numb for several days after it happened. Each time I would sit down for some peace and quiet, ‘the incident’ would play itself in my head.  It happened the day, I drove down to my daughter’s school and parked a little ahead the front gate. As per routine,  the nanny takes about five to 10 minutes to go get my daughter from class and accompany her back to the car. However, that day she was out in no time and I could see both of them walking down towards the car in the rear-view mirror. So,  I did not shift the gear to parking mode. And that was it! That’s when it all happened…

The nanny was settling down my daughter in the car and I had my face turned towards both of them. The moment they settled in and I turned my face in front while lifting the brakes; a man and his son were passing right in front of my car. It shudders me to think that in that moment I could have rolled over them for my car had promptly drifted forward.

God was kind that day, and the petrified father and his cute son, who had no idea what could just have happened, were saved, because I applied the brake in the nick of time. However, for a few seconds after that, I could only shake my head stupidly. Onlookers may have seen me mumbling sorry from behind my face mask, and perhaps the father could have taken my head shake, as either aggression or simply a “gone-nuts” case.

I politely gestured them to take their time and cross the road. The father thankfully nodded when he passed by and I was still stupidly shaking my head. Anyway, I drove back home at the speed of 20km per hour that day much to the nanny’s irritation. It was a simple human error. It might have happened to many. Yet, I could not stop thinking or over thinking about what went wrong because with due humility I say I am a good driver despite my gender (sarcasm intended).

It was a simple pick and drop your kid from the school task and yet my reflexes were not square enough. I scrolled through doctor Google and came across a recent published study that said that over the years with upgrade of technology, especially the internet, our attention spans have greatly reduced. We have become more absent minded than ever before, losing touch with the subtleties of life that bring the real joy because everything is getting automated. No wonder, our generations have forgotten the art of knitting, the touch and feel of the slumbered brown paper of a Nietzsche book, the thrill of using manual four by fours.

Surely, fancy technologies in our daily lives are altering our behaviour pattern, our instincts and reflexes. Or perhaps, I should stop over thinking altogether because “there no zebra crossing” as my father opined.

Published in Hindustan Times Sunday Read on 28.11.2021

NUGGETS of LIFE : To women who made a difference

No one is greater or lesser, all do the best to their abilities

Women have always been the equals. Only, their form is different. Yes, their style is different. And certainly their language is different. It is a fact and that is that. Therefore, I often wonder the need of highlighting the Women’s Day. Every year, United Nations declares a theme for the year’s campaign. There is lot of activism as well as commercialized activities around this date. Sometimes I feel that the more they point out that women are underdog and need to be treated equally, the more they are likely to remain an underdog in the collective minds of people.

Am I being mean? Have I out rightly dismissed the heavy history of the struggle for women civil and political rights and the need to celebrate it? Should I look back? I conjure up events in my head – the horror that so many women had to endure and the social milieu of yester years. I get shaken. I open my eyes.

Now I sit straight, and thank that supreme light for being born in freedom, born in good times. We have come a long way from the absolute torturous times, yet we know there are still many suffering helplessly. Albeit, we should thank all the women who walked the line of fire to bring this change and to bring us to this point in time. It must not have been easy for them. When you read autobiographies and memoirs of women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg or even young famous Indian women like Priyanka Chopra, you realize how much grit and effort it has taken for these women to bring about social changes or make their own way. These are women who dared and razed the less travelled pathways for the younger generations of women.

My reverie takes me closer home now. I think about the two women in my family, whose stories I had heard and whose actions I had seen closely – my paternal and maternal grandmothers. These women were special in their own way. The former got married to an officer, yet chose to work and become an officer herself, breaking the glass ceiling. The latter was orphaned at a young age, in the violent Partition, but in spite of such loss in early childhood, she grew up to be a wonderful woman. She set an example of resilience and grace for one and all. They are both long gone but this Women’s Day, I thank them for their unique contribution in my life.

Finally, my eyes browse through Google as I look for this year’s theme chosen by United Nations. It is ‘Women in Leadership’. There is an instant reflection – I think of Queen Elizabeth II; the Forbes list doesn’t miss my eye too. I think of all the women I know or have known and conclude – no one is greater or lesser; all did their best to their abilities and circumstances; all are great leaders who have made a difference as career women or homemakers.

Published in The Tribune 8.03.2021

NUGGETS of LIFE: Fleeting moments turn lessons for a lifetime

Some moments turn into lessons for a lifetime

I fell down, got up and dusted my knees for the third time, and smiled back at my father. That was precisely when he took the photo. Holding it in my hand after all these years now brings that smile back again. I was trying to learn to ride the bicycle. In fact, I was learning the biggest lesson of my life:  Learning to balance and getting back after a fall.

It’s wonderful how photos capture emotions and feelings, freezing them for life.

As I flipped through the album, my fingers lingered along another picture that has made me stop every single time. A little girl, that’s me, is sitting on a chair with a big pink turban on the head. It was my grandfather’s turban and I was posing like a queen. It makes me laugh hard when I see it as a grown up. But did that little girl understand that symbolism? I bet not. There was a powerful lesson that I was taught gradually as a kid. My grandfather was indeed a progressive man and he would often say: “It doesn’t matter what your gender is, what matters is how you honour your turban.”

Years rolled by, and there came my wedding album. I’m smiling through all the pictures. Even during my ‘madhania’ moment. How is it you didn’t cry during your ‘vidaai‘? Some friends and family were pleasantly surprised. I would answer, “Why? Nobody was dead”!

It depends how you look at it. I was embarking on a new phase in life, and starting it with tears wouldn’t be the last thing that I would’ve done. Those moments captured in photos have left a happy impression on my mind and a lesson reassured. Whenever you begin a journey, career or life, begin it with all your heart; let the fate take care of the rest.

Yet, years later when I became a mother and now when my daughter scrolls my phone gallery, full of her pictures, she hugs and cuddles me seeing them. There are pictures of her dancing, posing, celebrating, and playing pranks. I find the whole joy of the world captured in the photos. They too remind me of a lesson, that pure love transcends you to your happy place – to your best version.

Before I close the album, there are many more blank pages to be filled with love, laughter and happiness. As I look ahead, I’m amazed at how these pictures turn a fleeting moment into a memory for a lifetime that not only provides an immediate connect but also serve as pearls of wisdom gathered as life rolls on.

Published in Hindustan Times on 15.10.2020