Sunday, May 23, 2010

Potatoes with the meat – the side order memories of boom

When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated -- May 21, 1991 -- I was 6 years old, in Delhi for the summer, and sleeping on a mattress laid out in the room with the cooler. My brother and I, in our cotton night suits, were woken up by my mother charging into our grandparents’ room saying something hysterical like Hai Hai Rajiv Gandhi ko mar diya!

Either way, sleep time was over.

That might have been my earliest memory of public loss. Then on, images get clearer.

When Princess Diana died -- August 31, 1997, it was the morning of my 13th birthday party and I took it very personally. I loved Princess Diana. I loved her older son even more. I would paste pictures of Prince William in my diary. The Internet was new to us and I would bully my friend Nanta, who had a new PC and a dial-up connection, to take print outs for me on her new colour printer at home. I thought I was going to marry Will. Actually, I thought once Will met me, he would desperately want to marry me but the poor, poor boy -- much cuter pre-puberty -- was in mourning and there was nothing I could do. It was all very sad, but I had friends coming over that evening and all I was doing was sitting on my ass, watching BBC and crying discreetly because that white envelope with 'mummy' written on it was piercing right through my young heart even though Harry wrote that and not my husband-to-be.

A week later Mother Teresa died and I didn't care. I was watching the telecast of the funeral service while a friend dictated to me on the phone answers to math problems that were due as homework the next day. There was less glamour to this death. Mother Teresa wasn't a gorgeous bulimic slutty princess who danced with John Travolta and had a thing for men who in turn had a thing or horses. No, MT was old, and had it coming. It didn't pierce my heart at all. Maybe I belonged to the brand of children that was nasty and capable of much callousness.

When 9/11 happened, I, still v bad with numbers, was taking a test at my math tuition centre. It was a Tuesday night, and everyone in class was hunched over their answer scripts in silence. Suddenly I hear the frantic horn of our Maruti van -- beep, beep, beep-beep-beeeeep! There was still time for the test to get over, but that didn’t matter. My mother had reached, was waiting outside and I could read her mind: never mind your goddamn test! You’re going to flunk anyway! Move it, move it, get in the car, America’s been bombed!

Sure enough, I rushed out, she didn’t ask how the test was, and we went straight home to put on CNN. All the scrolling news tickers were saying: twin towers, planes, Osama, and Black Tuesday. Overnight, ‘terrorism’ became a part of our new vocabulary. I wanted to understand the seemingly irrelevant fine line between atankwadi (terrorists?) and ugarwadi (separatist/ jihadis?)

My natural disaster memories are around too, somewhere, but since there’s less blame, less hatred and fewer violent speeches, the impressions seem a bit diluted. The day the Tsunami struck – December 26, 2004 we were lunching with family friends and having a surprisingly nice time. There is a photograph of my parents my brother and I, all four of us laughing really hard. I was wearing my glasses and drinking wine and I have on a grey sweater that I wore a lot. We didn’t hear anything about this tidal wave business. My grandparents were down south, driving somewhere along the coast where the Tsunami had struck, but had for no good reason changed their plans last minute and were, touch wood, safe. They had assumed we’d be sick with worry and should call us immediately. Not knowing we clueless-types were at this happy lunch party, they had rung to say, don’t worry, we’re fine, disaster has been averted, god has been kind, all is okay, and we’re all a bit like, huh? What?


Bhuj earthquake – my brother was on the pot and refused to leave the house. Concerned family bangs on his door to make everyone vacate. Foolhardy brother lovingly addresses little sis: “It’s just a bloody tremor, you idiot!”


I think for us 26/11 was the worst. Since I’ve been working at the paper, there have been many hectic bad-news days: bombs – Delhi, Sarojini Nagar, earthquakes – J&K, blasts, Cyclones – Orissa, assassinations – Benazir Bhutto. On such occasions, the newsroom turns into a manic hub. There’s an ant-like efficiency, people are moving, phones are ringing, TVs are on, corridors are the runways for reporters with print outs of more information, deskies are subbing copy, pages are being made, cleaned copies are coming in, editors are shouting across cubicles and new developments are being kept a tab on. It’s usually an organised work flow, but often it’s plain chaos.

26/11 was plain chaos. The work was happening, the paper was being brought out, but our immunity to bad news was being attacked. You think after a point two dead, three dead, ten dead, accident, fire, bombs, grenades and rising death tolls don’t make a difference because shit happens and you read or hear about it every day so how long can you remain affected, but that was bleak. November. Mumbai. Taj. Terror. There are very few parallel memories. Glued to the T.V, yes, but it was nothing like when, say, when Princess Diana was killed. Those were just tears for a mother-less blonde boy. Here we were scared, losing hope and unable to talk about anything other than if the NSG managed to get more hostages out.

That remains the memory -- doing nothing other than watching T.V for three whole days. In time, that’s got pushed back.


Yesterday, a plane crash killed 158.

When your friend who is a news-reporter (as opposed to the further-from-journalism feature-writers) is called at 7 am by his Editor-in-Chief to get to work, you get to know what happened immediately, especially if he and his wife have stayed over at your place after a party, and are scrambling out of the door, no breakfast, only earrings left behind.

So that’s what happened. The day before yesterday – night of my previous post – I had friends over to dinner, mostly colleagues. It was a long, shitty day. We were in office till later than usual, and by the time I got home and around to playing hyper hostess, there were five people already home. Basically, my boyfriend (bless you, thank you) was playing the proxy host to two couples. The evening got better as everyone fetched up and, given that my parents were out of town, it was okay to roll weed in the drawing room, even if actually smoking it was best left to the veranda.

When I trooped into work yesterday, my eyeballs were hurting. I felt drugged, I was under slept and there were these bloody pages to make. Not a chance in hell was I going for the Vegas night I had so lovingly written about. For one, I wasn’t wearing theme-party clothes. If I were to go wearing my yellow Benetton tee that says I love my car, I was going to become the one jerk at a fancy dress party who thinks its funny he came as himself that I had been uncharitable about. Serves me right. But turns out I can selectively swallow ego.

I went. I went to the party. In my yellow tee, with no present – “Oh shit! I forgot your wine bottle in the other car!”, boyfriend equally exempt from dress code, and in spite of me thinking for an excuse – hey, there are 158 people dead, surely this is no time to live it up Vegas style.

Yes well, no one cares about respect for the dead if you’ve spent a packet on having your birthday party catered. Or was it too soon to be sensitive? I don't know if I would have cancelled a party, maybe not. There were giant posters of the queen of hearts dangling from a false ceiling. Life carries on. The pilot overshot the runway.

And thus, I will remember the day a little clearer. May 22, 2010, the plane crash in Mangalore? Mayday Mayday? Worst aviation disaster in the country in decade? Yea, of course I remember. I went, under dressed, to a Vegas-theme party where three people celebrated their birthdays and the Russian roulette-shaped chocolate cake tasted very good. I might have even taken a shot of the tragic mess they made of the carpet. Once again, I didn't understand this barbaric trend of smearing faces with cake, trashing the place, and leaving the mess for a mother or a maid to clean up. But that's the stuff we don't feel.


Queenmatrai said...

Gosh. You took me on a trip down memory lane. I remember each of those days so clearly as well...

On the other hand, a Russian Roulette bday party, now thats a wild idea. And PS I love the cake :D

The Mystic said...

At times when I read about these things I feel like we should be doing something more to somehow help out or even pacify the situation. But, its not that easy and when life moves on, these incidents just become remembrance and nothing else... btw the Russian roulette cake looked nice :)

The Bald Guy said...

There have been too many plane crashes in the recent years. Scary. So much so that each time I touch down, I cross my fingers and pray till the plane stops and the doors open.

The Bald Guy said...

Another blogger who lives in Mangalore took some pictures of the bodies too and put it up on her blog. Very scary pictures. Now I wish I hadn't seen that blog post. Damn.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Random thoughts:

I’d like to point out that the sainted Mother Teresa taught her poor minion that the use of contraception was a sin in God‘s eyes, thus, adding to their misery. Church rules, you know.

I watched 9/11 unfold live and in living color through a midtown Manhattan conference room window. What a long day THAT was!

The roulette wheel cake is inaccurate. The green slots are always 0 and 00.

…trashing the place, and leaving the mess for a mother or a maid to clean up.

Isn’t that what wealthy people do? Bankers? Governments? etc.?

My Lord, you’re a good writer!

Nimpipi said...

Queen: Hey hey, you emerged again:), how's it go? My apologies for being a slow poke and not replying. Often I get conscious about blogging/commenting from work and it seems rude. But really, you remember all of those days too? Damn, and here I was thinking I was the only one with a blessed memory :P

As an idea, I'm sure the roulette wheel worked well, the execution left a lot to be blah blah. Oh but the cake. Yep, gooey cake = good cake. Smacks fingers!

The Mystic: It's not that easy is right, but I know at times I've quietened my conscience by just donating a piddly amount. PM's relief fund, long live.

Bald G: My mother was an air hostess. She would always say plane mishaps happen three in a row. So, if the plane carrying the Polish prez was the first, and the Mangalore crash the second, I don't want her to be right about a third, but I don't know anyone with sharper instinct than my mother, ex-air hostess, with Air India, might I add.

I don't want to see any more pics of the victims either. That orphaned 4-year old at her parents' funeral? What about the aged parents leaning on the coffins of their son and daughter? Na, no more pics.

Un B B: Mother Teresa had a chip on her shoulder about condoms?! Wow.. the things one learns.

I don't at all envy you having a first-hand view of the twin towers going down. Goose pimples just thinking about it. Sad hug for you.

Green slots 0 and 00 is news. I'll remember that and I know me, I'll use it in conversation somewhere.

It's not just the wealthy who leave a mess. In India, you don't have to be rich to have an ayah. Every middle class household has a servant it can't do without. Either a part time maid, someone who comes in at 5 pm to chop vegetables and make chappatis for dinner, or a sweeper who at 8 a m does jhadoo-pochha -- sweeping, swabbing, often even a full-time housekeeper, a driver, a gardener, a car cleaner... domestic help is very common. Labour is cheap. And here, people in the government -- the defence service, the police force, the Indian Administrative Service and foreign service IAS, IFS -- have the nicest bungalows allotted to them, will have domestic help, but may not necessarily be the richest. Bankers, lawyers, the private sector guys -- oh yes, loaded. I should've put up the photo of the maid with the huge back side, but you get the picture -- lots of people to clean up after you.

P.S: For the writing compliment, thank you. It made my day. =)

rajat said...

i remember when mother teresa died, that day we had celebrated "Treacher's day" at school, and i knew then i'd never forget the date mt died...
see, i still remember