Accepting mental illness without judgement #internationalyouthday #mentalillness

I remember her as unpredictable, but affectionate. She would have very dark moods, but she could also make me laugh. She was so much older than me, yet I thought of her as my playmate, my friend and someone who would protect me, no matter what! One day, I remember she looked at my hand and said, “I am darker than you. See?” And then she slapped me, just like that, without warning! I was seven. The tears sprang into my eyes, but I did not complain. I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me.

Mangal was my father’s first cousin. She was independent and smart, full of life but gradually, over the years, the demons seized her. Diagnosed to be schizophrenic, she drifted further and further from ‘normal’ as the years went by, till she finally gave up and passed away in her forties.

But back then, in those early days of her disease cycle, we bonded. On the streets of Mumbai- in her house in Andheri, at our home in Parel, on Juhu Beach. Walking together and laughing, staying home and playing make believe games, sitting around Ajjee (my grandmother) and helping her with her work. On some days, she would be full of angst and pain, and I can still hear her voice ringing out at the unfairness of what she was experiencing! “Why me, Aati?,” she would say, addressing my Ajjee. “You tell your God to make me all right. I don’t want to be sick like this. I also want to get married, have children, I also want to go to work, have friends. Why me, Aati?”

My parents, as doctors, were the natural port of call for every emergency and every incident related to Mangal’s schizophrenia. I saw a lot up close, first hand. As a child, my family did not need to teach me to accept. The acceptance was built into the fabric of my family.  I am sure there were some who were mean, but in my immediate surroundings, I only saw people being kind to Mangal, inadvertently teaching me the most valuable lessons about empathy.

Years later, I would visit Mangal and find it hard to get through. After my marriage, when Udai was born. She would refuse to speak with me and if she even looked at me, I would see the pain in her eyes.

Today, as we reflect on our attitudes to mental diseases specifically as part of celebrating the International Day of Youth, I am thinking of the value Mangal brought to my life and the enormous courage it took for her and her family to face the realities of a mental condition. I think of the happy times, the insane giggling fits and family outings, and I resolve to be there for others like my parents were there for Mangal.

As a dear friend mentioned on her FB page today, sometimes all we need is someone to talk to. Here’s hoping we can create more neutral and non-judgmental spaces, more opportunities for young people to share what they feel.

Another thing. One of the things that struck me most about the Nazi xenophobia was the elimination of the mentally ill. No, those with mental conditions need our support and acceptance, not our hatred or violence. I experienced this first hand as a child with Mangal’s story. And I know it made me a better person.

Note: Quotes in the piece are translations from Konkani, in which Mangal and me spoke back then. And Ajee too, even now!

And apologies for the slightly disjointed, hurried, emotional post today. I’m wanting to go look for a picture of Mangal’s. Wondering where to find it!

Happy apple days are back again! #farmfresh #pahari #apples

The first time I witnessed the pahari’s passionate relationship with the apple was way back in the mid ’90s. I was in the hostel and all the pretty girls from Shimla would bring back crates of apples with them when the new session started in August each year. Then they would proceed to lovingly polish these divine fruits off, some generous enough to share, others crunching away after the roomie had dropped off to sleep! My friend Charu was thankfully the sharing kind and I had the fortune to revise my opinion of the apple. Until then, I had eaten the ones we get in the market and the taste of Charu’s apples was a million times better.

Back then, we did not get the imported apples in the markets where we lived in Lucknow. So my mother waited eagerly for the apple season in Himachal to begin. My parents had lived in Chandigarh for many years and they had developed a taste for fresh Himachali apples, my father having a weakness for the golden apples. In those pre-globalisation days, Indians still ate fruits seasonally, and personally I think each fruit was special because we learnt to associate it with certain memories, certain routines–the mango with the summer vacations, for instance and the orange with the winter sunshine!

Nowadays, fruits we buy from the markets in Gurgaon are usually a disappointment. Local produce is hard to find and it’s got to the point when you can taste the chemicals in what you eat! Apples are particularly problematic. My kids love them and it breaks my heart to feed them peeled (because the skins are so waxy) and often soft apples, which the poor darlings eat happily because they don’t know any better!

And so, a few years ago, when a friend mentioned that he’s getting apples from his organic orchards in Himachal, I was hoping he’d be as generous as my friend Charu had been. He did better and sold me an entire box! We had an apple party, called everyone we knew home to taste apples, sent a couple to our neighbours and everyone reminisced about their own memories of the ‘happy apple’ days of yore!

Well, I’m glad to tell you that the ‘happy apple’ days are about to be back for my family. Saazid sent me these pics on my phone a few days ago, knowing my mouth will water.


To tell you a bit more, Saazid is my “cool farmer” friend, by his own description. He is passionate about farming and dairy without additives and chemicals and has helped his father transform his family’s apple orchards up in Kotgarh into something they are very proud of today. The story goes like this.

The apple trees on their land were planted by Saazid’s grandfather in the early 1900s, who was one of the first to do so in that area. In the ’90s, Saazid tells me, Dayal Orchards faced a crisis. Climate change meant a sudden drop in production. As the century turned, Saazid finished his education and came back the farm full of fresh ideas. “Given the circumstances, I knew I had to do something different,” he says. “The various sprays we were working with had to stop and we decided to take the orchard back to what it was till the ’80s. We revived older practices and we now have the satisfaction of producing healthier apples, devoid of chemicals,” he adds.

Today, Saazid is looking to bridge the gap between the farmer and the consumer. For fresh produce, this ‘last mile challenge’ is important and the world over, farmer’s markets have sprung up to address this gap. In the absence of adequate institutional mechanisms to do so, Dayal Orchards has decided to ahead on its own, and is reaching out to consumers in the NCR area who value the quality of the produce and are willing to pay a premium for it.

Now I know that many of us sit on the fence with ‘organic’ food, understanding its value but not quite biting the bullet and paying more for the quality we want. Also, in my experience, sometimes the quality doesn’t match the claims made. But in this instance, I’ve experienced the quality first hand.

So I’m thrilled to have ordered my box of farm fresh apples this season. I can’t wait to hear that crunchy sound and taste the juicy bits of apple. And I’m looking forward to the delight on the faces of my children when they do the same!

If you are in the NCR and want to reach Saazid, reach out to his FB page and he will be happy to answer your queries.

Feeding the sparrows! Aadyaa’s best moments in #Berlin

Tired after spending the morning inside the Bundestag dome in Berlin (post here!), we picnicked in the lawn outside. We had had a rainy morning and the bright sunshine that followed offered us the sort of bright light that brings the colours alive and makes everything around look like its straight out of the pages of a computer-rendered drawing!

Picture perfect!

Picture perfect! The buildings surrounding the Bundestag greens

In this setting, Aadyaa discovered the pleasure of feeding the birds when she accidentally dropped a morsel of bread on the grass beside her! The eager and clever sparrows, well versed with tourists, began to seat themselves in the bushes and trees nearby, waiting for one of us to throw out  piece of bread or a broken off potato wafer. Slowly they began to wait in the grass beside us, only a few paces away and it would seem that if we had spent the rest of the day there, they could have eaten out of our hands as well!

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to...

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to…

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

They know that little girls will feed....

They know that little girls will feed….

...and in return, they will make her smile!

…and in return, they will make her smile!

Needless to say, our little girl was thrilled! My intense pleasure of experiencing the Bundestag dome paled a bit in comparison with her genuine happiness while feeding the sparrows. Rahul and me were spellbound by the extreme simplicity of a child’s mind. Sitting there, deliberately not rushing the kids towards another touristic destination, we were able to see, for a bit, life the way our kids see it. Uncluttered and in the moment!

This post is part of a series on our family’s experiences in Berlin and The Netherlands in the Summer of 2014. Some of the more popular travel posts from this series are:

Udai’s Tenth: The best birthday ever!

Dinner at a windmill: How Dutch can we get?

Remembering Haarlem #1: Of music and dancing

Not a brick in this Wall: Profoundly affected by the Berlin’s history

Visiting the Dinosaurs! What kids loved in #Berlin 2/3

Udai’s Tenth: The best birthday ever!

We chose The Netherlands as our summer destination primarily to visit family. It had been a while since I saw my uncle, aunt and cousins who live there. Plus Rahul and the kids had never been to what Rahul teasingly refers to as uncle-land! As soon as we landed, we were enveloped in the warmth of family, but the highlight and the most amazing demonstration of family love was the way Udai’s tenth birthday was celebrated; in his own words, “the best birthday ever!” The large share of the credit, of course, goes to Liduine who the kids call Oma, Dutch for Grandma. But everyone chipped in. Follow the fantastic day in this photo essay of the “best birthday ever”!

Udai woke up to a decorated home. Oma had taken care to do this the previous night. I think we tend to forget he is a kid….he was so excited!

A little joy jig!

Oma is the best!

Post breakfast, we took a trip down to the market nearby to choose our own gifts as well as cake! Udai took ages to finally choose two Lego Technic boxes and a delicious apple cake

Doesn’t this pic say it all?

Next in line was a visit to the cousins, the ‘little people’! Olivier (5) and Berend (3) are delightful kids and Aadyaa had been asking to meet them for years. Her dream came true…

The kids spent an hour or two jumping and playing sand in the backyard plus general shouting, running and laughing around. Much pandemonium! And cake cutting too...Thomas (my cousin) and Coleta (his wife) have a beautiful house on a canal. Typically Dutch, with lots of place for the kids to play

The kids spent an hour or two jumping and playing sand in the backyard plus general shouting, running and laughing around. Much pandemonium! And cake cutting too…Thomas (my cousin) and Coleta (his wife) have a beautiful house on a canal. Typically Dutch, with lots of place for the kids to play


Udai and Rahul are full of cake by this time!

Next destination: Zandvoort! It’s not very far from Haarlem, this beautiful Dutch beach. It’s a fixture on most of our visits to the Dutch family, but the 11th of June was a beautiful, windy but warm day to be at the beachside…


The van you see in the background is driven by a tractor and sells delicious seafood preparations. We ate calamari (a favourite with the kids since the 2011 Barcelone trip!), a mixed seafood platter and the quintessential summer Dutch delicacy- new herring which is eaten raw or smoked and served with chopped onion!

Shells galore…

…and running away from the numerous jellyfish in the waters (here, some kids have made an artwork of the helpless jellyfish!) were the beach highlights!

Some horsing around too!

Oma had been chilling out at a beach restaurant nearby, sipping a cool drink, while we were at the beach. We joined her for a drink and then realised…

..that the rest of the family was driving down to Zandvoort as well! We were going to have a beachside birthday party!

A party in which you got gifts (check out his new watch!), ate some delicious food and…

…ran back to sea for a quick dip in the cold waters

Raising a toast for Udai here before heading back. It’s late and the deceptive European summer light invites us to linger, but the children are tired and we must go now…

Oma has another trick up her sleeve, however! A quick pit stop for Italian ice cream on our way home. She clicked this picture and sent it to us. It sort of says it all, doesn’t it?

Remembering ‘billi’ and ‘rasta’ in the unending chaos of NDLS

I deboarded the Shatabdi late last night at New Delhi Railway Station, aka NDLS. Waiting for Rahul to pick me up, I walked out onto the main road staring at the glitzy multi-level parking opposite the station entry and the long line of cars streaming in, winding their way out, looking for parking, honking, waiting in strange place. And I thought of all the zillion times I have dashed into this station, usually on the Ajmeri gate side where trains to and from Lucknow tend to loiter. I have missed trains and boarded moving trains and also waited for hours on these platforms. I have come here by auto and car and recently by Metro as well. NDLS has been incarnated and reincarnated, but the chaos caused by simply too many people always remains. I was smiling, standing there by myself.IMG_6231IMG_6233And then I remembered the most hilarious incident I associate with NDLS. Rahul and me were here to drop someone off, I do not remember whom. Just as we turned left into the station entry (at the same point were I stood, but back then it was dingy and potholed, narrower too), the car before us braked suddenly and came to a complete halt. There was no car in front of them, but they wouldn’t budge. From the corner of my eye, we saw a cat slink into the shadows. I remember our eyes meeting for a brief instant, Rahul’s and mine, before it dawned on us. We were expected to cross that line first! ‘Billi rastaa kaat gayi thi’, the cat had crossed in front of them and superstition says that if you cross that line first, you get bad luck! So this car just sat there, passing the bad luck to us, as we overtook and drove past the fateful cat line!

Suffice it to say that no bad luck chanced upon us, but we now have another beautiful memory of NDLS and a story to recount to our grandchildren, who hopefully wouldn’t encounter the madness of people so steeped in superstition (wishful thinking I know!).


Things we take for granted now, like the ubiquitous A4 paper!

As I drove to work this morning, I saw two young men outside one of the those small standalone offices by the road. They were talking to each other, but what struck me was that both of them were folding pieces of A4 paper and putting them away. My mind flashed back to my childhood. Both my parents were academicians and our house was filled with those thin longer than A4 papers that came out of typewriters. Also those pista green sarkari papers with a blue margin line running one side.

Our childhood was filled with all manner of different types of stationery to write on. From the regular ruled notebooks to one side blank and one side ruled notebooks, to checked ones to long notebooks (register!) etc. We rarely used loose sheets of paper. Even drawings were usually made in drawing books of some kind. Or on one-side used papers that parents painstakingly got bound for us to scribble on.

A4 sheets aren't just used to write and draw! In a pilot's home, they get used for this!

A4 sheets aren’t just used to write and draw! In a pilot’s home, they get used for this!

A4 paper was a luxury back then. I remember teachers cribbing about how early they have to set exam papers because the ‘cyclostyle’ machine (ha!) would need to be free to make copies. Today the photocopy machine rules the roost and A4 paper is easily (but not freely we must remember) available. A lot of the work done by kids are not not in notebooks but on worksheets. The idea of working on loose pieces of paper floating around sort of bothers me, but it’s normal now even for adults in workplaces to pull an A4 out of the printer in the middle of a discussion without bothering to look for a notebook or diary to do the same.

Language of youth. These two participants of a Jan 2013 workshop in Delhi, one from a low-income settlement in Delhi and the other from Univ of Wisconsin are sharing music through the earphone! It;s a new world all right!

Language of youth. These two participants of a Jan 2013 workshop in Delhi, one from a low-income settlement in Delhi and the other from Univ of Wisconsin are sharing music through the earphone! It;s a new world all right!

This train of thought made me think about how many things we use nowadays were rare, expensive and exclusive items just a few years ago. Like earphones! Very few could afford portable music playing devices before, but now with mobile phones being ubiquitous, you see wires coming out of people’s ears wherever you go!

Life is changing and changing fast. Sometimes, It’s good to think back to what it was like before. No judgements, just nostalgia!

Guest post from Udai: A day at the passport office!

So much fun to have my nearly nine-year old write on my blog! Udai (and his parents) had quite an experience trying to get him a new passport at the Passport Seva Kendra in Gurgaon. You could say we spent some quality time together. I would say it is a waste of time when things could be much simpler and faster! Here is his very to the point description…

A day at the passport office

I was thinking ‘how much time it would take to make the passport?’ when we reached. When the form checking person checked our form he sent us to the A.P.O [a scary dragon lady]. She checked our form too. She said an affidavit was missing. Then we made the affidavit. We got sent to the A.P.O again. This time there was a problem with an ID. Then papa went to print it in a better way. We got our brown file at last [that got us a token number].

After some time we went to counter A [where the TCS staff verified and scanned documents]. We had it done quickly. We waited to go to B counter and we made a joke- the “bees are not buzzing”! This was because the counters closed for lunch for one hour and we had to wait. Then we cleared the B counter [where the Passport officials verified the documents as well, asking strange questions and with stern expressions on their faces]. Then we did the C counter quickly [a final check and cancellation of the old passport if new one is granted] and it was finished. The whole thing took us from 10:45 in the morning till 4 in the evening.


Done and dusted!

I must tell you though, that it has been a week today and the passport shows no signs of arriving. The status still shows it is under process even though I have a ‘granted’ receipt in my possession! I suppose I have to wait till the police bother to verify. Sigh!

Bizarre search terms that get people to my blog!

So checking the stats page of my blog is a routine activity, even on the days I haven’t posted. But today’s routine check had a little surprise. Someone has typed in the search term “can i cut my public hair in salon gurgaon” not once, but twice and got to my blog! Usually, the search terms are all about people looking for my blog directly, or those interested in urban planning issues, housing, travel and the like. This one really tickled me, though. Of course, by spelling one critical word wrong, he (or she) got to my blog and I really wonder what the reaction was to my ramblings.

At my end, with my rather graphic imagination, I am wondering what kind of person wants a salon employee to cut hair from that part of his/her anatomy? Still tickled and intrigued….and also wondering what kind of blog or website answers that question!

It reminds me of a conversation with the lady at the salon who usually attends to me meager salon needs- threading, waxing and the like. I was asking her what she thought of the huge numbers of spas that are opening in malls and shopping centres in Gurgaon. She said, very matter of factly, “Ladies ka haath lagna chahiye na, isliye aate hain bahut saare aadmi log!” Translation: Many men come to get touched by women.

Clearly, I live in a very interesting city!

An afternoon of art and nostalgia @ Mandi House, New Delhi

Stolen moments of pleasure are always special. But often times, when you suddenly find yourself at a loose end with time on your hands, when a meeting gets over too soon for example, it’s hard to figure out what to do. I rack my brains to think of all the stuff I always want to do but never seem to have time for, and nothing comes to mind.

The walk from SPA’s archi block to planning block never looked so good in our days….some things do change for the better!

Well, today the cylinders inside my brain fired up at the right time when I realized I was done early at college and my car wouldn’t pick me up for another hour at least. I walked briskly to the other side of the road and caught the first auto to Mandi House. This was a nostalgia trip for sure, for Mandi House was where we went whenever we had a free afternoon, back in the days when we studied architecture in SPA. A sort of culture hub, we were always sure to be able to see a few art exhibitions and would end up catching a play or music performance at one of the 5 or so auditoriums there.

This afternoon, I headed first for the Triveni Kala Sangam. This was always our favorite among the Mandi House venues because it is a Joseph Allen Stein building, beautiful, always serene and quiet. As usual, most galleries were open and walking through the art, both paintings and sculpture, was pleasurable indeed. ‘Polemics of a Soul Catcher’, an exhibition of very large paintings, oil on canvas, by Satish Sharma offered a commentary of the place of modern man, his moral dilemmas, his new increasingly urban environment..thought provoking. A group art show in the open air court offered a variety of techniques and themes and the sculpture court was also full of interesting works.

Triveni has been a magnet for art lovers for years. Now of course, many modern art galleries have opened up in South Delhi and suburban areas too, and the importance of Mandi House has diminished somewhat.

You can’t not be in love with Stein’s architecture

Lallan Singh’s work filled the sculpture garden at the Triveni Kala Sangam. This was one of those endearing spaces where we spent some afternoons sitting around and sketching the exhibited work.

I had but a short time left, but I still tried to dash across to the Lalit Kala Akademi building, where again I know there always is something worth looking at.This ws quite a job with all the construction happening in this area. Thankfully, there were marshalls who were actually stopping cars so pedestrians could cross! I don’t come here often, but since I was a pedestrian today I noticed just how much the vehicular traffic has increased by in Lutyen’s Delhi. It completely destroys the charm, the constant whirring of cars with impatient drivers who don’t really want to wait for the pedestrians to cross! And this is the only walkable part of the city!

This is what the lovely patch of green at the cnter of Mandi House circle looks like now! To think that we spent many hours of one memorable night sitting in that patch of green on our group date as fresh hostelers in 1994! Hope this gets fixed soon…

Rabindra Bhawan’s memorable arches

I had only about fifteen minutes at Lalit Kala Akademi. The building, Rabindra Bhawan, hosts important cultural institutions for literature, fine arts and performing arts and is an iconic building designed by Habib Rehman, one of many public buildings he designed in the ’50s and ’60s. The art gallery here has been renovated and I was entering the renovated space for the first time. Rather nice and uncluttered. The exhibition, and I cannot remember the name of the show or the artists, was an exploration of abstraction using new media. I quite liked some of the works, especially those depicting nature and human form.

An hour or so well spent, in my own company, soaking in art, the city and its spaces….

Metro musings: The gift of solitude in company

There is something hypnotic about being transported at high speed across the city crushed within a sea of human bodies. Zoom in and you see myriad expressions, people’s worries and preoccupations etched so clearly on their faces. The hassled employee late for work, the group of women armed with passes to go to the India International Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan, gloating over how they had lied to their bosses and mothers in law! College kids withdrawn into their own world, earphones welded into their ears. Groups of them yapping away, discussing boyfriends and profs and other stuff I no longer understand.

Zoom out and all the noise around subsides. All you hear is the rhythmic sound of the train on the track, the sound of comfort and excitement. The sound of motion, familiar from zillion childhood journeys and yet signifying another adventure, another destination.

It is impossible not to love this journey on the Delhi Metro. To me, it has come to mean precious time to myself. I read, I listen to music or I simply sit and imbibe the sights and sounds, the feel of Delhi citizens off to work, study or pleasure. It is a lively place, this train, despite some serious and glowering faces. Most of us seem to enjoy the status quo that comes with being on a train, suspended between somewhere and elsewhere. I see many lost in thought, one with themselves, introspective or simply dormant.

It is this opportunity that high speed travel offers that people around the world love so much. Many songs and books eulogise the metro experience in New York and the Tube in London has an iconic status for people across the works, even if they’ve never been to that city. The most bizarre scene in Skyfall, Bond’s latest, is the one jn which the train falls through a hole and crashes into the subterranean landscape of the tube. All who see it imagine the horror of being on a train that meets such a fate and we hate the bad guy who would want to go that to our beloved metro!

Indeed, I have come to love the Metro ride. I greet it as I would a dear friend and savour the experience each time. I remind myself that this is a gift we must appreciate, considering that only a few years ago we were helpless commuters with very few options.