Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Retarded Development


 Asha Kiran is a facility for the mentally challenged. For the common man, it is a mini fortress in the middle of Avantika, Rohini. To write this story, I had tried breaching in, on the pretext of making donations and feeding children, but the facility is impregnable for an outsider. After a series of permissions, I had managed a supervised tour to the institution. This is an account of what I saw. Written in 2007, the piece never managed to find any readers. This article was never published... yet it remains pretty close to my heart.

Shah Rukh Khan
Shah Rukh Khan may never come to know about his namesake in Asha Kiran Complex for Mentally Retarded, an institution run by the Social Welfare Department, Delhi.
Housed in a one-room cottage along with 32 other mentally challenged children, this eight-year-old (now may be 13, if he is alive) namesake of the Bollywood superstar feels isolated and lonely. He has been abandoned by his parents. Abandoned because he is mentally retarded and a burden to his family.
"He must be from the Nizamuddin jhuggi. Many children were displaced when the JJ. Colony was razed to the ground," says Dia Banerjee, the welfare officer at Asha Kiran, who is looking into Shahrukh's case. "Since he already had a low IQ, his parents didn't really care to look for him," she adds.
Brought in from Kasturba Niketan, a home for destitute, also run by the Department of Social Welfare, Shahrukh has an IQ of 30.
"A child qualifies to be normal if he has an IQ of over 70. Shahrukh has mild schizophrenia too, but we have started his medication and he is showing signs of improvement," says Banerjee.
Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood actor may always stand out in a crowd. But this little Shahrukh in his dirty white uniform and shaved head looks like all the other children dumped in the boys' wing of the complex.
But Shah Rukh hates his uniform, he tears it off, trying to pull a Salman Khan. "He doesn't like wearing clothes, he keeps tearing them off because of his schizophrenia," explains Banerjee.
While Shah Rukh poses for a picture, I try to engage him in a conversation. "Where is your heroine?" He doesn't answer. "Mera naam Shah Rukh Khan hai," is all he says.
"He is not much of a talker," says Banerjee. "He can at the most complain about other inmates or ask for something to eat. Rest of the time, he keeps quiet," she says.
Away from the glamour of Bollywood, this Shah Rukh lives in a world of his own. Not worrying about his fading career. But maybe about his parents who just abandoned him to get rid of their responsibility…
 "Looking after a mentally retarded child is a challenging task. Ideally, the entire family should take care of the child. It is a huge responsibility,” says Anand Rao, the superintendent of the boys' wing at Asha Kiran. “Most of the children and adults housed in Asha Kiran belong to poor families, who don't want to take up the responsibility of raising a special child,” he says.

The Way to the Fortress
The Asha Kiran Complex is situated in the busy Avantika area in Rohini, Sector 1. Hidden behind tiny shops and narrow, cluttered lanes, the massive, six-acre complex is quite difficult to locate in the first go. But poor, abandoned children with a low IQ, spasticity or any sort of metal disability find their way to this walled fortress.
 “The inmates sent here through the Child Welfare Committee,” says Rao. The process is simple; if anyone finds an abandoned child on the road, he hands him/her over to the police. The police are then supposed to track down his/her parents. And if they don't find any claimants, they send the child to adoption agencies or children’s homes. In case a child is discovered by an NGO or Childline (a 24-hour helpline for children started by Salaam Balak Trust) the child is kept in that particular NGO. But the real problem starts if the child is mentally retarded.
“No one wants to take the responsibility of a mentally retarded child. So invariably any child with any sort of a mental disability is sent to us,” says Rao. 

Mental Retardation?
The Persons With Disabilities Act 1995 defines ‘Mental illness’ as any mental disorder other than mental retardation; while ‘Mental retardation’ means a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, which is specially characterised by sub normality of intelligence.
But 10-year-old Geeta (now she must be 14 or 15) doesn’t fit any of the above descriptions. She is visually impaired and lives in the girls’ wing of Asha Kiran. Geeta has no signs of mental retardation.
“I want to go home,” cries Geeta. “I am from Lucknow. We used to live in a house. We lost everything when our neighbour cheated us. We came to Delhi then,” she recalls. Geeta had then taken to begging at the railway station and was brought in by the police. The CWC had then referred her to Asha Kiran.
“She has a perfect IQ. She is just blind. I don’t know how CWC sent her here,” says Bimla Chaudhary, the superintendent of the girls’ wing. “We have written to the CWC, but haven’t got a response. Right now she is very angry with me because I am not sending her home. But her parents don’t want her back,” she adds.
Nine-year-old Vicky in the boys’ wing has a similar story. “My father’s name is Ramesh, my mother’s name is Aarti. I live in House no.82 in Raja Vihar. Please take me home!" he breaks down. “I don’t want to stay here,” says Vicky.
The welfare officer, F.C. Khandelwal surprisingly had a prompt explanation ready for this. “He might give a name and address now, but it will change after some time. Sometimes they just make up names and addresses,” he says.
 There are more such voices. Voices – which crash onto the walls of the fortress… never to be heard again. Avantika Complex is brimming with such heart-rending stories. Stories of lonely, lost helpless kids seeking an identity, a family, a better way of life.  
Lost in the crowd
With a sanctioned strength of 400 inmates, the complex has 695 children living there. “Though we have four homes with a sanctioned strength of 100 inmates each, we can’t say no to anyone. These people have been abandoned and have nowhere to go,” says Rao.
Asha Kiran has a School Home for Mentally Retarded and a home for Severely and Profoundly Mentally Retarded Persons, for both boys and girls.
The total strength of boys, including adults and children is 513, while that of girls is 282. “According to the sanctioned strength the number should have been 200 each,” says Rao.
To compound the problem, Asha Kiran is perpetually facing a severe staff shortage. According to the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped (NIMH) guidelines, for every eight mentally challenged persons, there should be a team comprising one physiotherapist, one welfare in-charge and one aayah or house aunty. But in case of Asha Kiran there are just seven house aunties looking after the 12 cottages, which have an average of 30 children each.
“Our main concern is the hygiene of the child. Most of the children are not toilet-trained and so they keep sitting in soiled clothes for a long time. The house aunties, who stay here round-the-clock, have to ensure that they change their clothes,” says Rao.
“The house aunties or the watching ward are backbone of the institution. They even accompany the inmates to hospitals when they are ill. So if the house aunty of one particular cottage is in the hospital, the house aunty of another cottage has to substitute for her,” he explains.
 Not surprising then that with the severe over-crowding, space crunch and shortage of basic facilities, the young inmates are always falling ill. Asha Kiran has often been in news for the death of children in the facility. 
Manoj Kumar, the physician at Asha Kiran says that since most of the inmates cannot explain their problems, his job becomes even more difficult.
“We still manage to do a good job. The mortality rate has come down significantly. This year we have two deaths from the girls’ wing," says Kumar.
The mortality rate in the year 2006-07 was 12, while 29 children died in the year 2005-2006. (Recently there were four in a week. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-01-10/delhi/36257631_1_asha-kiran-women-inmates-deaths )

“In 1998 there had been five deaths in a day. But we have improved. We have introduced a medical screening system for all the inmates. It is a thorough medical check-up in order to detect their diseases,” informs Kumar.
Things have changed a lot since Rao took over as the superintendant for the boys' wing. “I am really proud of him. He stays in the complex and has dedicated himself totally to this cause,” says Gyanendra Shrivastav, secretary, Department of Social Welfare.
Rao, however is modest. “Taking care of these inmates is not a mere eight-hour job,” he says.
But still, about four-five children are taken to various government hospitals on an average everyday with problems ranging from epileptic attacks or respiratory diseases like tuberculosis. “They are accompanied by an attendant and are usually taken in our van or in auto-rickshaws,” says Rao.
This, despite the fact, that the Centre has three Maruti Omnis at its disposal. The drivers of the Omnis parked inside the complex usually disappear after lunch. If an inmate has to be taken to the hospital, he or she is taken in an auto-rickshaw to far flung areas like Shahadra or on a cycle rickshaw, in case the hospital is nearby (Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Mangolpuri).
“We have given proposals for an ambulance and even a mini hospital. But you know how a government set up works,” rues Kumar, lending credence to the belief that anything related to the government or run by the government has to be dysfunctional. It is now taken for granted that a government-run institution has to be a mismanaged one. And when it comes to mentally challenged people it is even worse.
This is something that Sushma Malhotra, administrative officer of Matri Chhaya, an adoption agency for children below six years in Paharganj, learnt some time back. Malhotra decided not send Niny – an 11-year-old girl (now probably 15 or 16) suffering from delayed milestone- to any home for mentally retarded.   

Niny’s story
“No Asha Kiran or any home for Niny. She’ll go mad if she goes there,” is what Malhotra says firmly. "We had sent her to Jeewan Jyoti – a residential school for special children in Janak Puri, but she didn’t like that place. We thought she would learn something there, but it was of no use. She didn’t like that place and her condition worsened. She contracted some sort of an infection and developed lumps on her neck,” says Malhotra. “We had them operated soon after she came back in October last year.”
As she walks down the sunlit corridors of Matri Chhaya, Niny looks happy to entertain her visitors. The girl excitedly opens her book and counts aloud up to 100. The 11-year-old is mentally retarded and is probably a little better off than the four-year-old kindergarten kids, who can count up to 10. But that doesn’t bother her. She is just happy that she is at home in Matri Chhaya.
“This is her home. Why should she go anywhere else? She was brought in when she was just a baby and has been here since then,” says Malhotra.
The girl had been abandoned by her father. “Her mother died giving birth to her and when I first saw her she was in a very bad state,” recalls Malhotra. She had blisters on her body and was very weak. “We really didn’t think she would live. But we tried our best. And now just look at her… she looks like any other normal child,” she adds proudly.
It is probably the reason why Malhotra got her admitted to a regular school. For the past few months she has been attending classes in Guru Ram Rai Udaseen Ashram in Aram Bagh.
“We wanted her to interact with other normal children and be independent like them,” says Malhotra.
But like any other child, Niny too sometimes feels the need of parents. “All the children who are brought here get adopted, but Niny is left behind. No one wants to adopt a mentally challenged child,” says Malhotra.
 
No homes for mentally challenged 
Neena Macedo, the chairperperson of Palna, one of the most famous adoption agencies in the country agrees. “A child with a missing arm or any physical disability can find a home through overseas adoption but a mentally retarded child can only find refuge in a home," says Macedo. "There are very few government-run homes and those that already exist are over-crowded.
Palna houses about 28 mentally challenged children in their home in Civil Lines, Delhi. “Here we have a surveillance camera that keeps a tab on all these children and we make sure we take good care of them,” says Macedo. “But we can’t afford to keep more children. So we just have to send them to other homes. We know they won’t be adopted,” she adds.
Whenever Niny sees younger and healthier children being taken away by their foster parents, the only question she asks is, “Mere mummy papa kab aayenge?” A query that always renders Malhotra speechless. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Shit happens! We are not potty-trained for a Clean Up Act


Of the many Acts that are passed in the Parliament, a ‘Clean–up Act’ will never see the light of the day. Indians hold the distinction in hastily cleaning up their acts only after things get out of hand and scandal-gates open up. This applies to all --be it the government or a small colony full of bickering neighbours. This fact was divinely revealed for me a few days ago.
 
Amidst the gargantuan bungalows in west Delhi’s posh Punjabi Bagh, there lies is a slum spread across 2,200 yards. To be honest they are really flats built up on an area that is otherwise occupied by a bungalow in Punjabi Bagh. So by Punajbi Bagh standards the colony is no less than a slum (similar to the conundrum attached to Parsee poverty line). I happened to move into one 2BHK flat in the colony five months back.

Demographically, the colony is a cosmopolitan – a majority of course constitutes Punajbis (its Delhi after all). The several squabbles among the neighbours have never let a resident welfare association form in the colony. Yet, the colony is not bereft of petty politics and groupism. And they are proud of it. We are like this only naa! With around 30 flats, the colony has been lovingly nicknamed gande paani waale flats by the MCD workers. I was unaware of the history behind the genesis of the name until one day.
That was the day when butter chicken, kadhai paneer, mooli ke paranthe, along with idli, sambhar, rice and machher jhol – all of whom had been satisfactorily digested, and flushed to dwell in the dark underworld – decided to seek revenge. The flavours united in the sewers only to re-enter our homes one dark rainy day. In other words, our sewers choked. That’s when I came to know about the history of gande paani waale flats.
We were lucky. The water level at our place was just enough for a cockroach to drown and a small paper boat to sail safely in the living room and the kitchen. Since ours is a duplex, our bedrooms upstairs had a dry day.
The choked sewers brought about an astonishing display of bonhomie amongst neighbours, who are otherwise at each other’s throats. ‘Who is paying what?’ ‘Why should I pay?’ ‘Why does your kid cry at night?’ ‘Why do you feed the dogs here?’ ‘Why is your undergarment in my balcony?’ My neighbours hold a PhD in digging out topics for picking up a fight. But on that day, they all united, just the way their food united in the sewers.
Just the way people in 8000 B.C. Scotland did when for the first time, they built indoor plumbing pipes that carried wastes to a nearby creek. The same bonhomie was observed 4,000 years later in Iraq, when people built 30 to 40 ft deep cesspits under the homes, lined with perforated brick. Closer to home in 3000 to 2000 B.C., the phenomena, was repeated by the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilisation when they built a separate room in the house to be a latrine room connected to a sewer in the street. 
But in Punjabi Bagh, sadly the genius of an architect, who designed the apartments, learned nothing from his predecessors. Bidding farewell to ancient wisdom, he designed a sewer system that was completely flawed. The ground floors have been constructed in the basement. So our sewers are below the basement and the water needs to be pumped out to join the mother drain on main road.
The Man Friday of our colony, who hasn’t been paid for three months is responsible for the switching on the pump everyday and ridding the sewers of used condoms and sanitary napkins whenever they jam the pump rendering it useless. But in any case, with an eerie regularity, every year on a rainy day the pump gives up. Kaput. And that’s when the neighbours forget about the money, dogs, wailing kids and undergarments and get together for a clean up act.

That day money was collected. A new pump was installed. A sewer cleaner was brought in for disaster management. The cleaner was promptly paid an advance and he disappeared only to come back drunk on country-made liquor. All of this was done within three hours and for Rs 30,000. Yes, they can! Indians have it in them. They can really get things in a matter of minutes. All they need is collective will for a clean-up act. With that faint glimmer of hope lingering in my mind, I went off to sleep.
I woke up the next day. Went out to collect my newspaper. Met my neighbour aunty at the door. I smiled. She – cold and distant turned her back on me.

We’ll meet next year again.

Monday, November 08, 2010

How I did not take a walk with a gigolo on hill top and earned `1

Disclaimer: The reason why I am writing this is because I am being paid for it. I hereby declare I do not ever intend to hire the services of a gigolo.

Facebook has little charm for me left. Of course I am not including spying on profiles. I hardly ever check my Facebook inbox. It is perennially cluttered with unread messages from various groups I have joined just for the heck of it. But with more than 800 unread messages, I felt guilty about the clutter. I could sometimes imagine my mother scowling at me, “Clean it up now!” she grumbled. So one fine rainy day I decided to do a little spring cleaning and what do I find? A message from a man called Aah Ooh!

Now going by standard baby nomenclature, no mother would want to name her child after the noises she made while she was in labour – unless of course she had a ball screaming her lungs out. So I halted my ruthless mail deletion mission and started reading the rest of the mail.

“Hell .... O cuty. Greetingz. I am a Gigolo, so if someone in your circle is looking for the same … please let her inform. Looking forward to grab you there.” Below this introductory letter, Mr Aah Ooh he had listed out his chat IDs and cell numbers (all Delhi numbers). Inspired by the great Indian rope trick, Mr Aah Ooh’s professional name was ‘Greatindiangigolo’.

The homework

If it hadn’t been for a colleague of mine, I would have deleted the mail and resumed my inbox combing operation. “Do a story!” she said with her eyes twinkling. Women may never intend to hire the services of a gigolo but are always excited to know more about them and their female patrons (that is if they really exist). So I decided to explore this further.

I noted down the email IDs and blocked Mr Aah Ooh permanently from my Facebook. These were some necessary precautions I had to take. I created a new Gmail ID. My new name was Avantika Rathode. The name was my favourite as I had used it a long time back while I was writing a script for a film in college. My heroin Avantika Rathode was a serial husband killer, who married rich men, killed them and ran away with their money. Obviously the sequel would have her stinking rich, alone, bored and looking for excitement. She was called ‘avlooove’ in cyberspace.

Journos, back off

An excited avlooove then shot a crisp professional mail to Mr Aah Ooh. “Hi I saw your profile on Facebook. I wanna know more about your services.” There, I had written my first mail to a gigolo. As I looked snugly at the screen, a reply popped up. “If you are a journalist, looking for some story, I am really sorry as too many magazines have already published a lot about me. I communicate through sms which u can send anytime. Or else just drop me a mail. As of my services ... I don’t give oral”

How did this man know I am a journalist? I decided not to give up and I replied back; I praised him for his PR skills and assured him that I had nothing to do with newspapers. I said I couldn’t send him an SMS as I don’t give out my number to strangers and asked him if he could do a striptease at a party.

Sugar moms please

“Hmmm, he replied. “At the age of 39 don’t you think I am not so young to do striptease? Now I am only looking for few matured women to offer my services.”

He is 39! I gasped. Was he an out-of work gigolo trying hard to make money? “You are a little too old to be a gigolo. I thought only older women availed the services of young gigolos. Do you have any other job or are you a full time gigolo?” I tried to probe.

“Well, as per gigolo standards, you are free to say I am too old. But what I prefer to say is that I am XXXperienced! Itz not a question of being young or old, women prefer to hire my services because I know how to love and please women by all meanz.” He admitted that sex starved women prefer younger studs. “But not all women are sex starved... I satisfy them physically and mentally.” In this perform-or-perish world, there are gigolos talking about mental satisfaction... strange! Was he really a gigolo or was he just fooling around with women for his own satisfaction... I tried to find out. He might as well be a middle-aged, hen-pecked husband looking for some cyber-space thrill.

Gigolos – fact or fiction

I googled out ‘Gigolos Delhi and greatindiangigolo’ and found that he had advertised himself on various web portals. A few more google pages later I came across articles that said that well-educated men took to prostitutions because of the money that was being offered. But I still had my doubts whether rich aunties of Delhi really hire their services. They can get all this for free. “Historically I am not aware of women hiring the services of gigolos,” says Sudhir Kakar, psychoanalyst and writer. An Australian man once told me, “What Thailand is to men, India is to women. There’s plenty of sex available for them. And they don’t have to pay for it either.” With these points in my mind, I shot another mail enquiring about Mr Aah Ooh’s charges, the reason he was in this profession and the number of women he had ‘please by all meanz’.

Money for honey

“Right now, I’m not attending clients, as women are getting as much satisfaction from younger men without paying a fee.” My Australian friend was right, I thought. “ I am looking for some sugar momz only. I am in this profession simply coz I love to please women by all meanz. It is quite paying as I was getting up 5K + all XXXpences for first 24 Hourz and Mzximum 3 Roundz. As for as numbers may be 700+”

I did a quick arithmetic. Going by his rate, he would have extracted `35,00,000 from the 700 women he pleased. Quite unbelievable, I thought. By this time, I was quite tired of playing Avantika Rathode so I did not reply. A few days later he wrote again. “What happened? I was thinking of having a long and lonely walk with you on a hill in rain.”

Enough is enough

“Too much flash floods happening so it is not a good idea to walk on the hills.” I couldn’t think of anything better and almost spilled the beans. “You talk too much for a gigolo. I heard gigolos aren’t very good with words. I am not a sugar mom either... I am just 26. Are you still interested? If this is a prank please tell me.”

“I am too old to play games,” he sounded like a tired old hag. “It doesn’t matter if you are 26. I am not getting clients due to self-imposed restrictions... so why not? Any chance of SMS?” So now he was okay with 20-somethings! I decided to call him and end it for once and all.

The phone booth

I scouted for public telephone booths that could not be tracked to my home or workplace. I took the metro to Connaught Place and decided to call him from one of the paid telephones at the station. Out of the eight phones I tried, only one was in a working condition. So as per standard procedures, I picked up the phone strained my ear to hear the dialtone and put the coin and dialled the number. “Hello,” a voice called out from the other side. “You asked me to call you,” I said trying not to panic as two drunkards were hovering around me. And then without any notice, he hung up.

I was furious. I took all the pains to call a gigolo and he hung up on me! As the smell of alcohol from the goons became stronger by the second, I banged the receiver and lo... the one rupee coin I had inserted came out of the slot. It was lying there with another coin some poor guy had inserted and didn’t realise that it had come out. I quickly pocketed the two coins and walked off ignoring the goons who were muttering under their alcohol-loaded breaths. I was too elated with the two rupees I had earned just by talking to a ‘gigolo’ (if he was one)! Mr Aah Ooh can now only dream about the walk with avlooove.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dating Shating Hai Rabba.com

I AM 39, and I am a fun-loving, successful career woman, looking for a man inmy life.” If the lives of the Sex And The City girls had centred around Orkut,their profiles would have read much the same. And if they had done it in India, they would have laughed their guts out discussing their experience over lunch.
This was the response to the fake profile I created on a dating website, Datingfunda.com: “Mandyji, Iam online and waiting 4 u,” said a desperate message from a guy called Krish (a 32-year-old software engineer from Bhopal, and NOT the superhero) onmy G-Talk. In my new cyber avatar, my name was Mandy, I was stinking rich, successful, single and I’dadded 15 years to my age. And in just a day as Mandy, I had become popular in cyberspace, like never before. Besides my profile on Datingfunda.com — a website that tops your searchresults, if you Google for “dating India” — I had also created a profile as Mandy Smith on Orkut.Within a few hours I was receiving responses from all over India. From 20-year-old rookies to old hands in their 40s, everyone wanted to be my ‘true friend’and have some fun with me. So much to choose from? Depends on how you look at it — some might argue that it’s not a happy choice that you get. Well, in my case, Krish wasone guy I zeroed on to. “Hi Mandy, I am waiting 4u. U r my true friend.”
True friend? Was he suggesting a previous-birth connection, I wondered? As far as I could remember, I had chatted with this guy for about one hour, the day before. And this is how he started: “Mandy I am married but I am not happy. Mandy I need true friend to share ourfeelings. Mandy r u ready forfriendship?” I guess I was amused by the way he kept on repeating my fake name —maybe I have developed astrong empathy towards women named Mandy.
“I was married too,” I said.“But I got divorced a few yearsago. Now I am happy, single and ready to mingle,” I replied cheerfully.“I thought so,” said Krish.“Tell me Mandy, why did youget divorced?” Now this was a tricky question. It is not an easy job for a 25-year-old woman, who has never been married, to cook up reasons for her divorce. “Well, it is a long story,” I said.
"Tell me ur story Mandy. I m ur true friend,” he said. No matter how true a friend he was, I knew he could not have helped me out. “Well, we didn’t really gel well and we decided to call it off,” short sweet and crisp… this was the perfect reply I could have thought of. “But I am running a successful chain of boutiques here in Delhi and I am pretty content with my life. So what’s your story?” I asked. After all it should be a fair deal. I had literally described my entire life, albeit fake one, in a nutshell.
"Mandy you are interested on friendship or only time pass,” he said. Wow! Could this man really read minds? “Of course, I am looking for a meaningful friendship here. Tell me what’s bothering you?” I tried my best to further the conversation.“Mandy I am touching person,”he said. I wondered what he was touching and I didn’t letmy imagination run too wild. Obviously, this man was grammatically-challenged.
“Mandy I need friend who give right advices and where I have no hesitate to share our personal feeling,” he said and then he went on and on. All I could dowas reply in monosyllables. He asked me for my contact number and when I said I needed to know him better, hesaid, “Mandy give your mail address where I mail.” Krish was chatting with me through my email. I drew my conclusion:this man wasn’t just grammaticallychallenged but was also technologically illiterate. Yet he claimed to be a software engineer, who, during our brief conversation learned that he was nominated as the IT head in his company. “In my point of view your friendship is so lucky forme thanks.” But it is a headache for me. Sorry Krish!
For a single woman, it is a tough job to find the perfectman. And if it is the Internet she is turning to, it is a disaster. “I keep away from these dating websites. They are shady and sleazy. Online dating in India isjust not an option for a woman these days,” says 25-year-old Aparajita Kumar, social researcher who is single but not readyto mingle with just anyone. “I have profiles on Orkut and Facebook and I chat only with peopleI know. In fact, now I am fed up of these sites as well. Internet is definitely not the place forme to socialise,” says Kumar. So what does a single woman in Delhi do to get herself a new boyfriend? “Tell me if you know,” she says. “It is difficult, and finally youjust have to end up with theman your parents have selectedfor you.” Aparajita definitely doesn’t seem to be a You’ve Got Mail fan.
Arjun Madan, a medical student, meanwhile, has vowed to “teach alesson to those who have no respect for women”. And how? “It’s easy — I made a fake profile on Orkut and chat with men who try to hit on me. Later, I let them know I am a man.”Madan refuses to divulge the name of his feminine cyber avatar.
“I don’t want to reveal itand reduce my clientele,” he smiles. “It is fun to see how people drool over a woman onthe Internet,” says Madan.“There is a man whom I have barely talked to, but he misses me already. Every day I get scraps from him reading: ‘Baby I miss you. Where are you?’,” he says.
Now, even I have myown collection of lousy scraps that scream out in desperation.Francis, a 37-year-oldmarried businessman, was rather a little too ecstatic for my comfort when he learned that I was “one of those gifted women”. I had to take sometime in explaining what ‘gifted’really meant.And when I told him that I was wearing a black sari, he nearly fainted.
“Black saris are a favourite among men. They keep fantasising about it. But the factis that none of these men everget anything,” says Madan, who claims to have culled all this information from books on the male psyche. “Men always think of one thing and that is sex.”But Francis claimed he was different. His hobbies were,“music... friends”, and after along pause ‘sex’. And when Iasked him, “Sex? With your wife or someone else?” he said.“With my wife, of course.”Now here was a man whose hobbies included having sex with his wife, but drooled over women in black saris over the Internet.
And then came the icing on the cake -- a from the UK who was willing to pay me 850 pounds per week alongwith a monthly shopping allowance as well as accommodation, if I joined him and his two beautiful daughters in the UK. Though he was sorry to have contacted me this way, he seemed to have found the perfect housekeeper in me. Talk about taking quick decisions!
I checked again… was it still adating website or a classified for hiring housekeepers.
Anyway, I still have time torespond to this guy. But somehow, he’s helped me make upmy mind on never logging on to this website again.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

'Men'strual Trouble

"I think I am having my PMS." My over-macho, hairy-as-a-cave-man friend declared to me a few days ago, while he was driving me back home. I was not surprised. It was high time that a man admitted having the Pre-Menstrual Syndrome. But I would rather call it Psychotic Mood Shifts.
"I have it every month you know," he continued. I looked into his eyes and the conviction in them made me believe that he must be marking his calendar. And I was right. "My date is 28 th of every month," he said. "What's yours?" he asked with child-like innocence.
Now this was no giggly girl talk. I got suspicious. This was the perfect way to get close to a woman. All a woman needs is a man who understands her. And a man who claims that he has PMS, and that he knows what a woman has to undergo during that period, is like the sapno ka rajkumar for every woman.
"What are you getting at?" I asked him suspiciously. I knew no man would ever admit that even he is prone to psychotic mood swings. Nothing in the world would make me reveal the details of my reproductive system to a testosterone-fuelled beast. "You really think I'll believe you? No matter what you say I am not going to tell you about my date," I warned.
His face drooped. He looked like the street mongrel that had been denied food. "It is the truth. I do have my PMS and I am having it right now!" he cried. I would not have believed him until … "Sister F*****," he spat, looking out of the window. It made me jump out of my skin. "Who the f*** has given them a license?" He hurled a slew of MC-BC abuses to the man who overtook his car from the wrong side. The man was obviously oblivious to my friend's wrath.
So was it a part of his PMS? I thought. Maybe not... All men are in a bad mood when they are driving. "Someone ought to kill these people. How can anyone call this place the national capital?" he said. "All I need is a gas chamber."
There… he said it. Did Hitler have PMS too? Was the World War II a resultant of Hitler's PMS? Hitler surely did not have PMS… but he was one crazy man. I let my thoughts wander. I thought about Hitler and how he must have kept track of his monthly cycle. I don't think he did a good job. It is better suited for a woman, I concluded. By that time my cave-man-like friend had pacified.
"Do you want to go for a movie?" he asked. I had not seen one for a while. I agreed. But I wasn't really destined to watch a movie. This, I should have understood the moment we entered the theatre complex. It looked as if all the Dilliwaalahs had descended at the theatre. A long queue outside the counter made things worse.
My friend decided not to stand in the queue. I braved the crowd and joined the gang of 'uncivilised' people who like standing in queues. My friend was chivalrous enough to stand beside me. "Is it the night before a holocaust or something? Is today the last day of their life? Why is this place crowded? I don't think I deserve to live among all these people. I think I should go to the Himalayas," he kept on muttering under his breath.
"You know you don't really need to stand here. Go sit somewhere. I'll be back with the tickets," I said. I should have known that this was probably the biggest mistake of my life.
"Then you'll say you had to do all the work. Does anyone care about how much I work? I am doing a thankless job. I never get credit for my work in office. I am under-paid and over-worked. But does that bother anyone?" He walked off. I followed him. My dear friend was having his PMS and I knew exactly what to do.
"Chocolate?" I held out a piece of Toblerone for him. He took it from me. His eyes welled with gratitude. He was about to cry. But he didn't. "I think we should go back now. I will be okay after a few days," he said as he gobbled up his chocolate and took another piece.
I was confused. I went back home and asked my father. "Do you feel cranky during a particular time of the month?" I asked."Yes… the 28th," he said grimly. "Your mother finishes off all my hard-earned money by that time." Ah! I think I got a clue.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I Spy

Caution: The content of the following story may not be suitable for all good-looking bachelors.

I really really wish that this paper does not reach my prospective husband. Not that I don’t want my newspaper to sell (no way… it’s my bread and butter), but I just don’t want him to know about my evil plans in advance.
After 10 years of marriage, I am planning to hire a detective agency to keep an eye on him. Boy! Wouldn’t it be fun to catch him red-handed, hanky-pankying with that stupid bimbette? Aah! The joys of a bad marriage!
Being far-sighted is not a bad idea at all. Though I may not have a very satisfying answer for my next employer, when he asks me that ‘how-I-see-myself-five-years-from-now’ question, I definitely know what my life would be after ten years of marriage.
So I have already talked to a few detective agencies in advance. And believe me, it was not that difficult.

Mission Possible
For me, the magic number is 22222222. Just Dial has always been my oracle for digging out phone numbers. They virtually have everyone’s number except Santa Clause’s
(I had asked for his number when I was 12). I called them up and asked for phone numbers a few detective agency’s in the city.
“Ma’am what kind of detective agency are you looking for?” cooed a chirpy voice from the other side.
I was surprised. “They even have different kinds of detective agencies?” I asked.
“Ma’am, detective agencies offer different services. What kind of a service are you looking for?” she chirped again.
Now, that was a difficult question. I simply couldn’t tell her that I was looking for a detective to spy on my husband, who by-the-way, is still happily unmarried and doesn’t even know me. And yes, I would hire them after twelve years.
“Can you just tell me the services they are offering?” I asked.
“Ma’am there are agencies that specialise in frauds, corporate frauds, cyber crimes, marital discords…”
“Marital discords,” I cut her short. “Yes that’s what I exactly want. What are the numbers?”
The chirpy voice told me that I would shortly receive an instant SMS with this information. And so it happened. Soon I received an SMS with all the phone numbers. Long live Just Dial!

Search Begins
They sent me a list of seven numbers. And I chose the ones with the most interesting names. Morpheus Detectives was my first choice. I kept calling but the phone was busy. So I chose to call the agency with the second-most interesting name: Fireball. The concerned person at this agency was a woman called Sunita. I imagined her to be someone like Mata Hari and excitedly dialed her number. Alas! It was switched off.
I was third time lucky. The investigator Gautam Kumar of the third agency, C Three India Detectives, answered the call (and my prayers). And I decided to get down to business. I told him I wanted a detective who could keep an eye on my husband.
“You see I am working in a multinational company and I hardly get to spend time with my husband and on weekends when I finally have the time, he flies off to Mumbai on the pretext of some official work. But you tell me, can anyone afford to work during every weekend?”
“Hmm,” he said understandingly.
“And this has been happening for over six months. I think he is having an affair,” I literally sobbed. “Can you help me out?”
“Yes, madam, the best way to do this is through physical surveillance,” he replied graciously and furnished me with his charges.

The Calculative Wife
Infidelity is easy but a fidelity check is costly. A fidelity check is the technical word for keeping an eye on a cheating spouse. A physical surveillance would cost me Rs 3,500 per day and if my detective had spy on my unfaithful husband after nine then his rates would shoot up like the autowaalahs of Delhi. “If we have to follow him after 9 p.m., we will charge you at a rate of Rs 460 per hour,” Kumar informed.
“And if you had to follow him after midnight?” I asked.
“Then we’ll charge Rs 4,500 for entire night,” he enlightened me.
He told me that if had to follow my husband to Mumbai, then his rates would go up to Rs 5,500 per day and that does not include his air fare and accommodation.
As soon as I hung up I took out my calculator and worked out my budget. I finally arrived at his conclusion: A 24-hour physical surveillance for five days in Delhi would cost me Rs 40,000 and if my spy follows him to Mumbai the next two days, it would go up to Rs 11,000 more which amounts to a total of Rs 51,000 (not including the air fare and accommodation).
With an inflation rate that’s currently above six per cent, I can imagine how much I have to pay after 12 years. But wives who are from well-to-do families and are working in big companies don’t mind shelling out this amount of money.
“More and more wives are coming to us with such cases. In fact, 60 per cent of fidelity check cases are lodged by women,” said Sanjeev Kumar from BLS Detectives, whom I had called as a journalist to get the real stats.
Money problems don’t worry me. I would get reimbursed with the fat alimony that I’ll receive after I file a divorce against my husband on the grounds of infidelity. I may become a rich divorcee some day. Amen!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Marathon Blues

I look at my watch. 9.56 am. “Ain’t I a little late for my morning walk?” I say to myself as I drag my feet towards the three-kilometer mark.” Just then my overenthusiastic friend chirps. “Wow! Three kilometers… this is so exciting. Just look at the way Delhi is running today… I am so proud that I am running too!”
Running? Did she just say the word R-U-N-N-I-N-G? Oh yes I had forgot, we are at the Hutch Marathon and no part of my body except my nose is running. But if a marathon means dragging ones feet along with the crowd with your arms and face buried under layers of sunscreen lotion, (which eventually wears off with the sweat) then, yes, technically speaking, we are running.
The three-kilometer mark takes me down the memory lane… to 7.37 am of the same morning. “Aaaaachhhhhu,” I sneezed just when I was about to get out of my house. I realised I made the biggest mistake of my life. The sneeze triggered a torrent of oohs and aahs. “Oh my poor baby… you sneezed… you’re not going for any run-shun. This is bad omen.”… I tried to protest … “No darling… you sneezed after all. Ok just sit for sometime and then go.” I protested again… “SIT” and I obediently sit for exactly six and a half seconds and then barge out again with another “Aaaaachhhhhu” followed by another scary, earth-shaking “Aaaaachhhhhu” that completely demeaned my mother’s screams.
Now after two hours and 21 minutes, I am wishing I had listened to my mother. But then, yeh hai Dilli meri jaan... and despite all superstitions… Delhi is running.
“You know we can always back out,” my friend wisely says as I sneeze out my 23rd sneeze of the day. She points at a couple of ‘desi-turned-mod auntyjis’ who were back-tracking from the other side of the road. For a moment I am forced to think that it is the best idea to ever have cropped up on the face of earth. But then the athlete inside me suddenly springs into action… No way… I am not a loser… and with a fire in my eyes, I start running. My friend follows me. About half a kilometer later, we reach the four-kilometer mark... the athlete inside me has had her seven-minutes of fame and is now looking for an auto-rikshaw on the other side of the road.
“We should have got a camera,” says my friend breathlessly as I cling to the lamppost to regain my breath. I look at her blankly… I think she gets the hint and shuts up automatically. We cross the road and reach the other side of the road. An auto stops. A paan-chewing autowaalah pops out. “Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium chaloge?” I ask. “Phiphty Rupees madam,” he says promptly. Before I can respond he drives away. I give up. I look at the other side of the road… people were still running.
Despite the autowaalahs… Delhi is running.
After the four-kilometer mark, I realise that the run isn’t that bad. My friend is busy talking about her latest crush. Just then I hear people shouting slogans. “Nahi chalegi nahi chalegi, Dengue –gardi nahi chalegi” I see an army of bankers from Standard Chartered marching towards us with a gigantic cardboard Baygon spray and an even more gigantic mosquito. “That’s a good idea… even we should have thought of something,” my friend interrupts. Idea? She’s talking about ideas… and all I can think of now is Odomos. The killer mosquito bites in the morning and I am wearing half sleeves without a drop of Odomos on my body! What if there is an Aedes aegypti casting an evil eye on me from some open manhole? “Nahi chalegi nahi chalegi, Dengue –gardi nahi chalegi” I repeat after them. For a moment I find some solace in those slogans… and then I walk on.
Despite dengue… Delhi is running.
The crush talks continue. I collect water-bottles from the Kingfisher stalls and stuff then into my little marathon pouch. I drink the water, spit it out, splash it on my face and then throw the bottle on the roadside… “I am a real athlete,” I say to myself as I throw away another bottle. A kid of about six quickly picks up the empty bottle and stuffs it into a big jute bag. Something strikes me. “Wasn’t child labour completely banned in India?” says the activist-cum-journalist inside me. I ask the kid, how much he’s getting for doing the job. “Do sau rupaye de raha hai wo uncle,” he says enthusiastically. I am taken aback by his enthusiasm. There goes my first investigative story. Still I try. “Kaunsa uncle?” I ask. The urchin runs away… just like all the other people in the crowd.
Despite child labour … Delhi is running.
We were now nearing the six-kilometer mark. The crush talks have ceased, all we can think of now is to reach the stadium as soon as possible and get some breakfast. All I had since morning were two cups of Maggi tomato soup. Helicopters are hovering us with cameras. “Can’t we get a lift in one of those?” whines my friend.
Kyu baby lift karu kya?” echoes a voice from nowhere. Wow… is that an Akashwani? This really works. The Akashwani is followed by a prolonged flying-kiss. I see a couple of ‘roadside king Khan wannabes’ on an auto showing their teeth. If they think they are making an offer I can’t refuse, then they are sadly mistaken. I ask them lift their respective mothers and sisters instead. They scoot off … and Delhi runs. Despite these flattering eve-teasers… Delhi is running.
Now I am on the last leg of my ‘run’. Should I start running now? If despite everything Delhi is running, then why can’t I? Are a bad headache, a running nose and a flurry of sneezes, that big a hindrance? If Delhi can run despite high-headed autowalahs, child labourers, dengue, rowdy buses, flattering eve-teasers… then why can’t I? So I run. I run for Delhi… just that my run is in slow motion.