Message for idiots everywhere- “Don’t look it!”

In my limited flying experience, I have encountered people dressed a variety of ways. But it is the immaculate dressers who never cease to amaze me. Men wearing razor sharp suits at 7 in the morning and women gliding in their 7 inch heels ready to outdo the plane on the runway. I always marvelled at why anyone would go through so much trouble merely for a commute. I observed these specimen from the comfort of my track pants wondering what it would take for me to become them. Except this one time when I was scheduled to fly back to Frankfurt after a month spent at home it was slightly different.

Owing to my meticulous planning, I had reached the airport early. Owing to some packing decisions, I was dressed in a a new outfit. I had also just gotten a haircut so I wouldn’t have to get one in Germany. Long story short, I looked okay. As I kept glancing at the information board to check if the counters had opened. When they did, I ran up to the counter, feeling immensely smart for having the foresight to have done a web- check in. The lady at the counter was wearing a dark blue overall and a red lipstick. After looking at my passport for a minute, she informed me that my visa had expired. Convinced that she was mistaken, I explained to her that I had a one year multi-entry student visa, which could not have expired in six months. After consulting with her colleague and seemingly convinced with what I told her, she handed me my boarding pass and my passport. I glanced at the visa stamp on my passport only to realise that she was right. The visa stamp on my passport had printed October 2015 int he ‘valid upto’ column. I remember thinking, either that was a typo, or I was in great trouble. Still wondering what the problem was, I trotted along to the immigration. Now I know from experience that immigration is a line of government officers viciously guarding the duty free shopping area. I remembered before my visit to Thailand when a sleepy looking salver-kameez clad me with hair spilling out of a braid, encountered an immigration officer who seemed convinced that I was a victim of human trafficking even after I presented every document that he asked me for.

This time, I wondered how I had managed to turn up to the airport with an expired visa. This seemed like something one would prepare for in advance. As I walked up to another immigration officer, I tried to assure him that the expired stamp on the passport was all the visa I needed. However, unlike the ‘lady at the counter’ he did not give in and kept insisting that I must have a ‘card’. As I politely pleaded aimlessly, I was increasingly becoming convinced that I was not going to be able to board the flight. Somehow, just before I was going to give into dejection, my rational brain decided to come back to its senses and I realised that I had obtained a one year residence permit months ago. I showed him the  permit, and was cleared in less than three seconds. As I walked on, I couldn’t help but think, how I had managed to obtain the boarding pass despite the obvious inadequacy and the way the immigration officer had the patience to repeatedly explain to me what he needed after I had failed to produce the singular piece of evidence required to be presented at immigration.

As I pondered this enigma over breakfast with idli-vada and filter coffee, my thoughts were interrupted by a friendly looking airport worker, who came up to me and asked, “Seri?” (which in this context translated to “Are you finished?”) before whisking away my plate. Pleased for having been mistaken for a tamil, I thanked him and proceeded to my boarding gate. Over the walk from food court to the boarding gate, I realised that instead of a security tag only a loose string remained attached to my handbag. Clearly, my troubles for the morning were not over. I dreaded having to go all the way back to some security counter established for fools like me who misplaced their security tags. But there was no way I was going to be able to get in without a security tag. Helpless, I went up to the gate crew to tell them that I was going to need another tag. Funnily enough, it turned out to be the same lady who had issued me the boarding pass. She merely smiled and informed me that one of her crew would shortly help me, and I merely had to wait. Surprised and happy that she hadn’t told me to go back to the security check, I waited and waited, until the boarding finally began and I was still without a tag. As I proceeded to board mouthing and pointing that I was still without a tag, I was merely ushered on with understanding nods. How could that be right, I was being let on a flight with a bag minus a security tag. I was a self- declared safety hazard.

As I approached the the last checkpoint I saw an officer checking boarding passes and security tags and I became convinced that that was going to be the point, where I am sent back to redo a long string of security processes. Amidst mounting tension, as the lady before me was checked for her tags twice, I awaited my ordeal. However, contrary to what I expected, I was let inside with a mere look at my boarding pass and a huge smile.

I could not understand this behaviour. The day was turning out to be contrary to everything I had experienced on flights thus far. Despite my callous behaviour, the airport staff had been unfathomably patient and helpful contrary to numerous occasions when I had to deal with numerous hassles despite having had proper documentation. And then it dawned on me that the only difference that airport staff perceive between me today and me every other time was the appearance. Every other time I had all requisite security tags but was plainly dressed. This time however, even though I acted like a certified idiot, I happened to be dressed fine. The realisation that the world judges you merely on how you look was not a surprising one but was unsettling nonetheless. I wondered how many well dressed idiots are walking amongst us being allowed to do what they are doing as long as they look all right.

Birthdays are like egg fried rice

The periodic commemoration of the day you began to breath air instead of amniotic fluid. Not many people question the reason behind celebrating birthdays. In the present day culture, birthdays have come to be considered rather celebration-worthy.

Surely, about 200 years ago, people must feel amazed that they managed to survive another year without succumbing to cholera or plague. However, after the advances made in medical science and the resultant increase in life expectancy, for quite a few of us (at least the vigorous birthday celebrating demographic) the more worrying causes have been reduced to dementia induced from facebook overuse or the emotional trauma we went through when the dress we ordered online didn’t quite turn out to be what we had hoped for.

However, the real reason I am averse to the idea is not because I think it is an insignificant occasion. (I  sometimes like to mildly celebrate how good my clothes smell after they have just come out of the dryer or having woken up at 10 instead of 11 in the morning). I am no one to judge what someone’s choice of celebration should be. The only reason it bothers me is when it places upon me an expectation to wish the ‘celebrator’,  especially when they mind if you forget, which is what happens most of the time. This is also a tad pitiful for those of you who manage to remember, courtesy- hoards of messages pouring on the ‘celebrator’s’ wall. Even if once in an eternity that one does manage to remember/ see someone’s wall being painted with birthday messages, there is this roughly  48 hour window  to wish the person after which can be considered acceptable. This 48 hour window can be compared to the duration of time you can keep a plate of egg fried rice in your room before it starts to smell. And if you are anything like me, you will most probably miss it on account of being lazy. Once you have missed the window, you don’t have a choice but to live with the slightly annoying feeling of being aware that you missed it and pray that you do not have to speak to that person ever again. Am I the only one who feels like this?

Disadvantages of waking up early

Numerous sources will tell you that waking up early is good for you. Your parents, neighbours, better performing cousins, a barrage of online and print articles pleading with you, selling you the alleged benefits. Your brain is fresher in the mornings, you read better, breath fresh air, work out, get chores done and so on, they chime. The early risers eventually become the wisers.

However, there are some drawbacks no one tells you about. First of all, how hard it is going to be wake up early if you have not been blessed with the genetic condition of a ‘morning person’. These are people suffering from ‘sunrise bed claustrophobia’. I would say to them, go to a doctor, but as it turns out, these people have taken it in their stride and turned this into some kind of an acceptable practice in the modern society.

“You can do it too, they tell you, if you manage to have the courage and grit”, which only sounds mildly preferable over a voluntary check in to a aversion therapy toward to make you hate puppies.  In the initial days, you might feel nauseousness or breathless like you have been taken off the ventilator, but if you survive that, you discover what a joy of waking up to a tepid sun feels like. Your problems start, however as soon as you wake up and realise that you have a good couple of hours before you need to leave the house. You have no choice but to sit sipping tea, and think what to eat for breakfast, pack lunch and what to wear, etc. With plenty of time at your disposal, and a buzzing morning fresh brain, these are difficult questions.

Over time I have mastered the art of getting dressed and leaving the house in less than twenty minutes from waking up (and that includes having a bath). The beauty of this lifestyle is that one simply not have the time to mull the inconsequential. The exercise is simply not efficient. On the contrary, if one argues that you can read or perform chores at this time early in the morning, in my defence, I have tried all that. Reading for me cannot proceed without my brain rejecting it like a investigational drug in its pre-clinical trial stages. Despite being a glutton, I somehow never feel hungry early in the mornings. I have tried doing laundry at half past seven in the morning thinking it would be done in an hour, so I could pop them into the dryer before catching the 8:41 bus. At 8:32, however, the machine has decided it would be nice to take three extra minutes of scrubbing. Pleading with the lifeless is not more rewarding than the living. Override command does not work, because you handed over sovereignty the moment you put the clothes in. I therefore have no choice but to endure the tense three minute wait (I could cut the tension between me and the machine with a blade) and eventually gallop to the bus stop.

Peeing on a bus

No good story begins with desperation. Or it might. I don’t have much experience of it. But I learnt something regardless- desperate times call for desperate measures. And the desperation I am talking about relates to not being able to pee. Not clinically, just for not having access to a toilet, or anyplace appropriate (woods, desert, in a cup in a hospital, et cetera). Also when one takes a bus. Don’t get me wrong, I can take on long journeys in rickety buses without feeling the need to pee. Coming  from India, you are trained to zen yourself into not peeing. You achieve the ability to drink the right amount of water you need to without dehydrating or overshooting your bladder capacity. I would start rationing my water intake from the night before if i were to undertake a long bus journey the next morning. Healthy or not, that’s the only way you are going to survive.

Here in Germany, buses are equipped with toilets which function based on the vacuum ejection system, same as the ones you find installed in aircrafts. But sometimes these toilets don’t function. So what do you do, if you get on a five hour journey, without spending that 50 cents that you know you can save since there is going to be a toilet on the bus. However, once you get on and realise that the toilet isn’t available. First stage is shock and disbelief. You read the trilingual sign slapped on the door thrice and it still says the same thing- closed. Then comes denial. You deny that you even need to go, try and forget about it. When that doesn’t help, you start to pray to every god that you can imagine. Once it dawns upon you that God is probably busy tending to things more important than facilitating your natural calls, you decide to take matters in your own hands. In my case, I surveyed the surroundings, everyone was fast asleep. Which I thought was a good setting, if I were to bend down in front of my seat and pee in a bottle. So I place my backpack next to my seat to camouflage my feet. The next step was to obtain an empty container. My problem was that I didn’t have an empty bottle. I considered drinking the water in the bottle before peeing in it. But somehow that struck me as suicidal. I, then saw a McDonald’s cold coffee slurpee container in the mesh pouch diagonally placed to my seat. I appropriated it, only to realise that it wasn’t empty. I toyed with the transparent plastic glass in my hand for about two minutes, before replacing it in its original place. By now, an hour and half had passed since I started hatching the brilliant plan of peeing inside of a bus without getting spotted. I concluded that whatever that it was that took to pee in public view (possibly in case things didn’t go as planned) in a bus, I didn’t have it. I was then forced to imagine the horrendous conversation I would have had to have with the german bus driver, if I had to beg him to stop the bus for a pee break. “Können Wir eine Toilettepause machen, bitte?” As I repeated these words to myself, I saw that the driver was pulling the bus to the side in front of a tiny cemented structure with a roof, which was presumably a toilet. My heart took a giant leap with joy, as I jumped out of my seat and out of the bus.

Neues Jahr in Berlin

This was the first trip in Europe which Namrata and I had carefully planned over our Christmas break. We decided to meet in Hamburg and after spending a day there, we went to Berlin. We had chosen to be in Berlin for new year because we thought that it would be a crazy place to be at for new years and we were right.

Every year, on the new  year’s eve, an open party featuring sing and dance performances, food and drink stalls is organised at Brandenberger Tor. At 8:00 p.m. we decided to leave for the venue because we wanted to beat the crowd. Even as we walked early towards it, we saw hordes of other people who had apparently decided to do the same. In our journey to the Tor, we crossed two checkpoints of security checking and arrived at the ferris wheel in front of the Tor. There were stalls selling noodles, crepes, sausages and whatnot. Gluhwein and cocktails were flowing. Radio jockeys were hollering at you for attention from their high mounted stages. There was a light drizzle which was slightly uncomfortable but covered in our newly purchased jackets and caps, we felt alright.

As we were crossing the third check point, the security guard told me that rucksacks was forbidden from the venue. We tried arguing, pleading, sneaking but nothing worked. Another frustrated girl complained that this information was not given to us at the previous gates. Finally, we were forced to walk back to the central railway station where we thought we could rent a locker for the rucksack. It was a long painful walk, but even more painful was the walk back to the Tor. By the time we got back, most gates were closed, for overcrowding. However, about two hours later we had managed to cross the checkpoint where we were stopped earlier. We could not get ahead,  since the area in front was already full, as we were told by the message flashing on the screen in front of us. The spot we found ourselves in was still nice since we could hear the music and see what was going on at the stage. It was around 10:30 p.m. by now accounting for the walk to the central station and back. We were both a little unhappy because of the fiasco but realised that there we still had enough time. As the evening progressed, we began to enjoy the atmosphere, despite the rain and alien music. Finally, the clock struck twelve giving way to the fireworks. We wished each other slightly soaked but happy nonetheless for having resuscitated the evening.

A little while later amidst the growing chaos, I noticed a man howering about us as I clicked a picture of namrata on her iphone. That man had taken the liberty of touching the screen as i was trying to adjust the focus. I didnt attribute much to it then, but  Namrata told me later he had been by her side throughout, creepily hanging close for comfort. Not much later, a man approached us and began talking to me. After I returned his hello with a smile, he continued talking and poking me with his elbow and wouldn’t shut up despite being ignored. We decided to move from our spot which we had dearly held for most of the evening. By this time the crowd had thinned out and the area beyond the third checkpoint was accessible. We jumped barriers and ropes and arrived several yards from where we originally were. Seconds later, however we noticed that the man had followed us. A couple more attempts to run away were unsuccessful as this man would always manage to find us. Finally we lost our head caps figuring that it was easy to spot a white and a blue cap in the crowd, we found a spot where we could stand. As I constantly looked over my shoulder to check if we were followed, I was reminded of the feeling of vulnerability which had managed to find thousands of miles away in another continent.

We asked a man perched atop a railing to take our photo. As he clicked our photo we felt a presence close behind us. As we turned back we saw the same man who had been following us, was standing triumphantly posing with a victory sign. The man taking our photo told him politely in arabic that we wanted a photo without him. He however egged him to click  it with him still in the frame. We firmly refused him and this time, instead of leaving, we stood resolute until he left.

Still later, as the party was in full swing, when we went ahead to see what was going on. Everyone was dancing, and things looked joyous. As we walked through the crowd, several people would go “happy new year” seemingly inviting a hug. Namrata and I merely smiled and refused the invitations with horizontal nods and walked ahead. Interspersed in the dancing crowds  we saw a woman having been encircled by a few men, with all their gazes fixed on her. As she continued to dance the men encircling her waited for her to stagger close to one of them. As it happened, one of them attempted to kiss her. Visible annoyed  and disgusted, she pushed him away and continued to dance. The man merely laughed, and continued to stand there.

A few minutes later, as we walked back to the train which was to take us back to Babelsberg, we were disillusioned and slightly relived that the evening had concluded.

 

This could happen to anyone, you know!

Kkklaaaaasshhh! As I turned back, a young man hastily limped across the road to lie down on the footpath. His face contorted in pain and several bystanders rushed to comfort him.  A lady in dark overalls, bent down and secured his neck with her satchel underneath. She began talking to him partly to find out who he was and where he lived and partly to assess if he had sustained serious damage. Someone picked up the mangled cycle and propped it against the footpath. Several halted and gathered around merely to witness. One of them made a call looking very serious, presumably to the police or the ambulance.

I then turned to look at the man whose range rover had hit the cyclist. He looked as if he could have done without the accident. As he attempted to park his car away from the main road, the witnesses, hastily clicked pictures of his license plate, and told him to stay until the police arrived. Raising hands above his head as though to surrender, he clarified, “I am here. Not going anywhere.”

I didn’t know whose fault it was, for I hadn’t turned back in time. As someone asked the driver if he was drunk, someone also pointed out that the cyclist was too fast.Things would be settled once the police arrived. It was apparent to the woman holding the cyclist’s hand that his wrist was fractured. She tried to calm him and told him not to look down at his knee as he attempted to raise his head. The blood trickling from his knee which was scraped to the bone had now made a rather large spot on the footpath.

“He is losing too much blood” someone said.

I somehow woke up upon hearing that statement. Looking on to the woman to my right, I proposed, “I will get a first aid kit, so we can try and stop the blood.”

She nodded, and I darted across the street to an automobile showroom opposite the accident scene and peeked inside the glass door. A young couple was getting advice on their new purchase from the store manager. They hadn’t noticed me yet.

“There is a man here who has been hurt and he is losing blood quickly. Do you have a first aid kit?” I said as loudly as i could.

The store owner looked around as if confused. He then walked to the pillar marked with a green cross and pulled out a box from the entrapment.  Still holding the box, he then looked through the glass wall to the street and said. “The ambulance has arrived.”

Indeed, there was a neon van which had come to a halt at the traffic light. Two medics were stepping out with a stretcher.

The driver after having parked his car to the side was still pacing around the cyclist apparently looking worried. As cyclist was being secured on to the stretcher, middle aged pleasant looking woman walked in. She saw the cyclist and smiled, probably due to realization that the damage to her son wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

The driver turned to the cyclist’s mother and said, “I am so so sorry.”

She consoled him, “Don’t worry about it. Its alright.” Her face was kind and reassuring. She then hurried towards her car to follow the ambulance carrying her son.

As we waited for the police car to arrive, the crowd had softened.

“This could happen to anybody you know!” The woman who had held the cyclist’s hand said to the driver as others nodded in agreement.

The police arrived seconds later and began recording statements. Soon after, the bystanders too began to find their way back. The next day, as I walked through the same spot, there was no blood there anymore.

Can people turn into snakes?

It is interesting to live in an unusual habitat. One gets to meet unfamiliar people who often have interesting perceptions about you and your affiliations. These perceptions, often flatter, annoy and amaze you.

In the past one and a half month, I was mildly pleased when someone noted that the Indian GDP growth rate has been flourishing, and responded with, “Not as well as China though”. And when I heard that Indian software developers are unmatched, I thought, “Yeah, certainly so”. But then there was the, “Do you have elephants in all your streets?” to which I responded saying, “probably not, even if you inhabited the Sal forests of Jim Corbett”. And then of course when I heard, “Whether ancient Indians had the capability to transform into snakes?” shortly after we finished watching Sridevi gracefully hiss in ‘nagin‘ on youtube, I was just a tad short of yelling out, “What!”. Instead I simply stared, flabbergasted.
A recurring theme of questions, though has been the state of women in India. Most of them related to their safety, and some about their subservience. These were the difficult ones to answer. Back home, I would frequently engage in heated discussions with my friends where a sense of anger and disgust regarding the state of affairs which is common us all. This was, however, was the first time I felt ashamed, for it felt like I needed to answer to someone outside. So, the first time I was asked whether women are really unsafe in India, I reluctantly admitted that as a society we had indeed failed to ensure safety for women. Things were getting better, just not fast enough, I added.

I do admit to checking out country wise rape statistics, later, something I had never done before. It felt strange. Almost like I was preparing a defence for someone who I knew was guilty. Also it seemed incorrect to approach a problem by comparing how much worse off your neighbours are. But while I was doing that, I realised something Adichie sums up really well in her talk about ‘multiple stories’ and their significance in building complete understanding of something which we are not familiar with. We cannot judge anything effectively without context. And it is sad that more often than not, we are unaware of the remaining context. We could blame the media here, but despite their inadequate self- regulation and race for the next viral phenomenon, media personnel respond to what they perceive is in demand. There must be something wrong in the way we choose to access information, for even when it is available in heaps, we fail to obtain the truth, or more so discern it from trash. But since it has turned global attention to the issue, it makes me think, why not now? If we are going to make this debate, now seems like the perfect time to discuss patriarchy and how it affects the vulnerable gender.

Recently, when someone asked me about how women were unequal in India, to my own surprise, i confidently answered, “Ofcourse, but it is a global problem and the least we could do is to acknowledge it.” Except, I only could say the first part out loud.