Lunch with Manu

Manu is my little Bhaiya.
We grew up together.

Sheetal and Manu have 2 year old twins. Busy, busy.
I am an angel attendant in my own right.

2 Sundays ago, by some twist of events, we found ourselves, Manu and I, having lunch together in a coffee shop. Just us. Rare event.

On a table nearby were a family we know. Couple and two beautiful teenage kids. (media celebrity couple, our colleagues)

Manu made some comment about their marriage being not so good. Too much public display of not-love.

The boy had a beautiful shy innocent half smile on his face. I had just embarrassed him a bit by telling him that I had shot an Ad with him when he was a precocious 4 year old.

N: He’s so beautiful, it hurts a little when I look at kids like him.

M: What?

N: You know kids whose parents are not good to each other. The pain shows on their faces. And then the over-compensation to hide/drown that pain.

M: Hmmm

N: I think something breaks inside you.
I feel that I have many broken bits inside me.

M: (looking down at his plate)

N: That’s what I am doing these days. Finding the pieces, putting them back together…… sticking them with fevicol and putting them in the sun to dry.

Manu nods slightly, looking down.
I don’t make eye contact, either.
Both of us pick up our phones and check mail. He office mail, me Facebook.

Its a very happy moment for me. Having lunch with Manu.

(Later he told me many blood-curdling inside stories from 26/11 Mumbai while we were stuck in traffic together. Manu works for news television.
I used to as well, but now I can afford to nurture my weak heart, short temper and high standards. So I almost never watch TV)

Connecting the dots

I saw a film called Khamosh Pani once. I was pregnant with Aliza, our second born. We probably had two more weeks to go. January 2005.

At some point during the film my identification with the central character became very deep.
In a flashback in the film, we saw her as a teenaged girl. Her Punjabi father and younger brother were trying to drag her towards a well and make her jump into it. Asking a 12 year old daughter to jump to her death because they would not be able to protect her from dishonour, as they themselves left home to face violence as they crossed the border from Pakistan to India.
Horror story from Partition. She escaped from her father’s grip and ran back to the village. Her family abandoned her in Pakistan and crossed the border to India.

She survives, marries a Muslim man and we see her as a middle-aged widow with an 17 year old son. She now has a Muslim identity. She never goes to the village well to get water. A young girl brings her pots of water everyday.

Towards the end of the film, General Zia-ul-Haq is in power, her ignorant fundamentalist son is likely to reject and betray her, her Sikh brother will return to claim her allegiance to the family that abandoned her as a child. Thereby exposing her original Hindu identity in the village.

In the end, the spirit of the brave valiant woman breaks, she jumps to her death in the same well.

By this time my hormones and other melodramatic parts of my brain had completely taken over. I was holding my belly with Aliza inside me, I became aware that I was carrying a daughter. My entire body had become very tight, there was a horrible scream stuck in my throat……. I was crying from very deep inside me and on the whole I felt that I was just going to die. From the tightness in my heart and lungs.

5 years have passed since then.

In 2008, following some incredible sense of intuition I managed to organize a creative Screenwriting Workshop with the writer of the film, Paromita Vohra. In Goa, I sat in class as Paromita spoke to young writers about the process of screenwriting. I heard that one needs to zero in to the central philosophical question being asked in every story…. right in the beginning of the writing process.

Three days later, the connection poured out on paper. Why was I holding Aliza in my belly, choking from crying and feeling like I was going to die…… just from watching a film in PVR?

The central philosophical question of Khamosh Pani is the same as was the central philosophical question in my life when I was 12.

If you feel that your family/parents have given up on you and would rather see you dead than disgraced…… would you agree to kill yourself?

Conversation: Go back to being Mama and Papa!


Breakfast Table.
Af is building a dream home for us. And I am getting to colour it. (she swoons…..)
My colourful, somewhat eclectic dress sense is going to get translated into a colourful home. Co-ordinating my clothes is all the training I have. Not even designing, just buying haphazardly and then co-ordinating.

Af seems to be addicted to building homes. Built one for his Mum. One for Bajjo. Keeps wanting to trade the ones he has built to build a newer, better one for the same people. Always slows down the car and looks dreamily at the ones they built and sold to other people.
Is struggling, suffering to complete this magnum opus we started building 3 years ago. And is already talking about the next one he will build for our family. Same size, open inner courtyard, bigger plot.

I grew up in flats, so I’m pretty slow to catch on to this mania.

Anyway, Af is sitting at the breakfast table and swooning over the wood that he has got for the doors of this house.

Oh Natasha, the wood, the teak, the polish, the grains…… after the doors are put in nothing else will matter. No one will look at anything else…….We will stop looking at each other. We will only look at the doors.

I lean forward towards him and whisper, “So long as I can still touch you in the dark….”

I have barely registered the twinkle in his shy eyes, when Ali cries out loud:
GO BACK TO BEING MAMA AND PAPA!

Oh my God, how does she know!

Just because I make it look easy, doesn’t mean its not difficult


This conversation took place somewhere in the middle of the 25 day adventure trip that Afzal had gone for. From Benaras to Gangasagar on the Ganga: to cleanse, refresh, rejuvenate his exhausted and cluttered life.
Little women and I were adventuring on our own at home.

Madhab called. He wanted me to see and give feedback on the 3 minute trailor for his new film, Main bhi Kalam.

Ha ha ha, for a mother of three, you spend a lot of time on Facebook, he said

Maddy, sometimes I wake up in the morning and first thing, I feel like drinking half a bottle of whisky, neat.
Is it such a bad thing that I log on to facebook and check my notifications instead?

Ha ha ha, he said

Get out of my house right this minute

My therapist/trainer is called Fr. Os

I said one day, I seem depressed. I have no energy, where’s my spirit?
He said: Ask the depression what it wants?

So I did. Depression, what do you want?
The cheeky bastard, it said, I want to defeat you. I want to show you up for what you are. Incompetent, lazy, incapable. A failure.

Mera pride jaag gaya.
You good for nothing cheeky two faced dog, I said. Get out of my house right this minute.

(to think that I once thought it was a friend. to be nurtured, fed and fattened up)

Find a way to change the story, Mama

Radhika and I
Exhausted in the late afternoon heat
On a news shoot.
Can’t remember right away where we were
Not Banda, not Muzzafarpur, not Raipur
Seems somewhere in Rajasthan.

I remember the hut.
Long, not square like children draw.
Big shady tree outside
Men sitting on a charpai
Invite us to sit with them
A large open space
Our taxi nearby.

We walk into a dark, cool hut,
low door
Small children with pieces of dry roti in their hands
Big brown eyes.

Women offer us food
Roti and something wet to go with it.
No water, thank you, I say.
Even though my eyes are watering
Hot spicy food
For a hungry camera team.

I take a few shots afterwards,
A dramatic plough in the foreground
Famine
Others in the village
have gone
Migrant labour on city roadsides.
Silence all around

Our hosts, the amused, generous women

They are wearing the big ghera skirts
Just like the tribal women at Delhi intersections
With starving babies clutching them
A dirty empty milk bottle in their hand
Pleading, Begging

It hurts to look at them
To even think about them as I see them
I look away and
Try to shut my mind

Even though Mother Teresa
explained, Give to the poor,
Its better than giving to the rich
Any day.

The car moves again
The girls will say
Mum, you said you will tell us a story
after we take this turn.

In their village
They were gracious hosts
In my city
They are beggars
(Find a way to change that story, Mama)