Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dear Diary

In another 3 days the year 2006 will begin its 365 day life.

I like all the hoopla surrounding the birth of a new year. The parties, the countless resolutions that everyone will keep for a few months (or a few hours), and the general feeling of hope, that this year will be different and better somehow.

But my favourite New Year thing by far is buying a new diary. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was 8 and it’s one of the few childhood things of mine that have stood the test of time (the Mickey Mouse filo fax lasted about 6 months).

The first diary was a freebie – one of the many my father would be inundated with at the beginning of the year. I won it guessing the bill amount after one of our family lunches at Bombay Palace. The prize was getting ‘anything I wanted’. I beat my sister and asked for the diary. The relief was evident on my parent’s face. (Thank god she’s too stupid to ask for that kitten she’s been pestering us about). But on that day was born a tradition that has continued for more than 16 years.

Now when I say diary I don’t mean the ‘Dear Diary, today he finally smiled at me or at least he squinted in my direction’ kind of diary. I had those too but stopped when my sister found one and amused herself with the pathetic outpourings of my tortured soul. No. This was a proper diary that grown-ups used. It had a world map on the first page. The STD and ISD codes of every place on that map (very handy if I ever needed to make a call to Angola). Metric conversions. SI Units. Fahrenheit to Celsius conversions. Each day was split up in to tiny one hour slots to pen in appointments and important working lunches. In short, it was everything an 8 year old girl needed.

Most of my initial diaries were like the one above. Covers in vile dark blue or depressing grey with the year stamped on the cover in a gold that would peel away if your finger brushed against it. But it was nothing a quick nip/tuck couldn’t fix. So armed with left over wrapping paper or tiny pots of my sister’s Camel paint (remember those?) I would give my diary a face lift. Tiny sprigs of spring blooms, Cindy Crawford in those Omega print ads, multi-coloured stripes – whatever could be spared and that no one would miss found its way to the front of my diary.

Of course, every year I would try my luck and see if my parents would buy me those expensive diaries at Landmark. For Rs. 125 a gorgeous CRY diary with lovely pictures or abstract prints. Even my ‘it’s for a good cause’ argument didn’t work.

Then in 1998 I met The Tulika Celebrate India Diary. Colourful, vivacious and so Indian – it was fuchsia slap in the face of all those dull grey tomes of the past. I was in college then and could afford it with some of the money I’d won in inter-collegiate debates. I fell in love with each page of the diary – peppered with a little illustration and snippets of trivia.

Since 1998, every December the Tulika Diary finds its way to me. Some years as gifts to myself and some times from a loved one. When I moved to Bombay my mother started sending them to me as little year end pick-me-ups. Always with a little note of love and luck from her inside. It’s something she still does even though I now live in London. Every day of the last few weeks of year are filled with a delicious anticipation till it arrives.

Some people can’t understand this love affair of mine with diaries. Why not get a Palm Pilot they ask? How old fashioned they say.

There’s something about the blank pages of a diary that fascinates me. It’s almost as though I’m presented with a fresh start and that only the ink of my pen will charter my path. I know - it sounds so silly. But I love writing down the birthdays and anniversaries of friends and family. And I love making little lists – the mundane – grocery lists, things to do lists, guess who’s coming for dinner lists. Other’s rather baffling even to me, with just – CHANGE YOUR LIFE FROM TODAY on them.

And as the year draws to an end I like looking back through the pages of my diary. The first few months of 2005 were filled with job application information – later angrily scratched out when I didn’t get interview calls. A little later there were job interviews pencilled in (with fingers crossed written in brackets). There was a big smiley on the day I got my job. There were lists of things I wanted to buy with my first salary. Accounts. Promises to lose weight. Books that friends had recommended to me.

What strikes me is that even during October and November when there wasn’t much of the year left – I was still making resolutions and promises to myself. And that’s the beauty of a diary. There’s always one more blank page. Waiting to be filled with happy thoughts, promises and most importantly - with hope.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


She was tiny.
Translucent skin.
Hair as soft as down.
A helpless baby.
Bathed, fed and burped at regular intervals.
Nappies changed when she soiled herself.
Put to sleep with lullabies.

ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything

Monday, December 26, 2005

Stayin' Alive

This post is no ode to the Bee Gees. Neigh, it is in fact a tribute to one woman’s bravery and courage in the face of a man-made disaster so sinister my hand trembles as I type its name. The Boxing Day Sale.

The 26th of December began like any other day. The sky was a delicate shade of oyster and a steady drizzle fell - well steadily. There was no ominous sign - no black cat no one eyed kangaroo that told of what was to come. She watched the breakfast news and caught stray reports - £ 5 billion would be spent over the next 5 days, 250,000 people expected at Bluewater Mall. She looked at her sherpa (her husband) “ We should take part in this pagan festival that celebrates the indiscrete spending of money”. The sherpa looked doubtful but she brushed aside his worries with a threat to cut off his free food supply.

The streets near their home were deserted. The trains sparsely populated with other adventurers – their faces set in steely determination. At each station though their numbers grew, and by the time the iron worm carrying them stopped at Oxford Circus there was hardly room to breath. The sherpa’s eyes begged her – lets turn back. No! We’ve come too far she silently told him by stamping on his foot.

Outside it was like the earth had vomited human. Everywhere she looked people were being pushed forward whether they liked it or not. She tied herself to the sherpa and they set off – careful not to step on the toes of the already irate mass of humanity.

After a couple of failed attempts at shopping (The Gap, River Island) she drew herself up to her full height (5ft2) and strode in to Zara. It was bedlam. Women were willing to kill, maim and jab in the chest to get that silk blouse at 50% off. After an hour of staving off such physical attacks she emerged triumphant with a shopping bag filled with treasures in silk and 35% cashmere. She had been separated from the sherpa though. She found him crouching in fear near the entrance.

Next on the list was Selfridges. Imagine if you will well coiffed Chelsea women carrying Prada bags and wearing row upon row of Mikimoto. The vision of grace and good breeding. Until they see you admiring a Mulberry bag they want. Then it’s good bye good breeding and hello take your hands off that you bitch it’s mine. The shoppers in the luxury bags department of Selfridges are about as well mannered as a bunch of stampeding elephants. Serpentine cues wound around the ground floor – just to gain entrance in to the hallowed spaces allocated to the brands. Their founders no longer alive to see the hysteria their creations arouse.

It was the same story everywhere. Debenhams. House of Frazer. Nike Town. And the hundreds of other stores that she didn’t venture in to. The roads seemed to get more and more crowded with every passing hour. But she refused to let a pesky few hundred thousand people scare her off. The sherpa wasn’t as sure. But she bought his support with a wool and cashmere coat. Sucker.

Feet aching, hair resembling a bird’s nest and weighed down by the shopping equivalent of a small nation’s GDP she and her faithful sherpa dragged themselves back home. They had appeased the pagan consumer gods and -

‘OOH! Marks and Spencer start their sale tomorrow! Leave your snow boots on sherpa!”

Tips to make your sale shopping a success

1.Know what you want. Do not think you can window shop during Boxing Day and January Sales. You will find yourself being scraped off the sidewalk by a loved one if you try.

2.Have a plan. Decide where you are going and do not get sidetracked. Even if the sparkly sweater calls to you from The Gap as you stride purposefully towards your patent leather heels at Faith – Ignore it!

3.Forget your manners. Don’t be polite and say ‘Lady, please take your hands off the trousers I’m holding’. Just snarl instead. Watch a few Vampire flicks for tips.

4.Feel no guilt. Very important. You’re helping the economy. Or so you tell yourself.

5.Wear comfortable shoes.

6.Don’t forget your sherpa.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The top 100 prime numbers of all time

Is it just me, or have there been a lot of Top 100 shows lately? Every time I switch on the television there seems to be some countdown or the other. The Top 100 Movies of All Time. The Top 100 Stars of All Time. The Top 100 Family Movies of all time. The Top 100 hottest stars of all time. Get the picture?

Some of these countdown shows aren’t all that bad. The movie ones give me a list of flicks that I haven’t seen or heard of. Unfortunately neither has Blockbuster. But many of them seem to have been created because the creators couldn’t get any other ideas through the network.

“Damn! They trashed our idea about former dope addicts who have found god. What should we do? I know – how about The Top 100 celebrity dopers of all time? Who have found god.” And before you know it you’re watching Pete Doherty smash a £50,000 vintage guitar on stage after doing a few lines.

So far I’ve seen at least 4 different Top 100 Celebrity Fashion Mistakes shows. And they all have the same people in the same weird clothes. Bjork and her Swan (or was it goose?) outfit at the Oscars. All the clothes ever worn by L’il Kim. Christina Aguilera’s ode to hot pink ostrich feathers courtesy Mr. Cavalli. And how can we forget Vin Diesel in a leather kilt?

Celebrities are always the subject of these shows. Which makes sense, because no one would want to see The Top 100 fashion crimes of the smelly old lady next door.
Back to celebs though – very few of these programs show them in good light.
Like the top 100 Celebrity Oops of All Time. It’s nice to know that people who make millions of dollars and get to wear free designer clothes screw up this much. But after running the show for what seemed like a century, E! decided it was time to update the list. So now we get to see The Top 100 Even bigger Celebrity Oops. How original.

As a famous physicist who had a lot of time on his hands (no top 100 shows back then) once said ‘For every action you have an equal and opposite reaction.’ So if you have a Most Beautiful list you have to follow it up with a Top 100 Mingers show. If you list the Top Hollywood Hook ups, you can be sure of catching The Juiciest Hollywood Break-ups the week after.
Best sex scenes, best villains, best hot bodies, best cribs, best pre-nups, best scandals. The list is never ending and no topic has been left out.

Some topics that I’d like to see covered

Top Turner Prize recipients that no one understood but everyone agreed should win

Top 100 Bushisms of all time (though I doubt 100 would be enough)

Top 100 Celebrities who are famous for no particular reason

And my favourite - The Top 100 Top 100 lists of all time.

Any more suggestions?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In my head

Beginnings (so hard)

The first line after a beginning (even harder)

Turns of phrase

Jokes (or so I think)



Awkward middle bits

All sit in my head

Waiting to be chosen

Like a mixed bouquet in the 1.99 bucket at Tesco

Hoping to be bought before it wilts

What use is a wilted, awkward middle bit?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Of clogs and cannabis

If one has less than 24 hours to explore a city what should one do? Hop on and off a city tour bus and see as much as two eyes can possibly see? Run from one monument to another and take as many pictures as one can – ‘This is at so-and-so bridge’, ‘Here I am at what’s-its-name Palace’. Or should one merely walk about – armed without maps or guidebooks but some good old fashioned wanderlust instead?

I chose the last option when I found myself on a 5 hour date in Amsterdam. This year, the city of windmills and clogs found itself hosting my agency’s annual Christmas shindig. And what a do it was!

Roused at the ungodly hour of 5:30am to catch a flight from London Luton to Amsterdam Schipol, I found myself sharing a cab with J and M. The former an over-enthusiastic account exec in the early stages of pregnancy and the latter my boss whose usual eloquence had been replaced by ‘I’m-not-a-morning-person’ stoicism. So while J twittered on about pregnancy caused wind, nausea and incontinence, I feigned sympathy and tried to decipher what M’s occasional grunt meant.

4 cups of coffee and a rather lesbian body frisk later I found myself on the flight. Sandwiched between K and M1 (the other big boss) I fended off questions about the caste system, female infanticide and dowry. And all this even before breakfast. Thankfully the flight was short and K’s panic attack prevented me from having to answer anything in great detail.

On landing, the big bosses insisted on doing a quick head count and roll call. At least we didn’t have to wear flashing neon badges that would identify in case we got lost. A smooth train ride later we found ourselves outside the Central Station. The map indicated that the restaurant we lunching at was a short 10 minute walk from the station. The map was lying. After trudging for half an hour along the docks through the freezing cold we finally found the place – Onassis. An Italian restaurant with a Greek name in Amsterdam. Oh well.

The lunch was lovely. Raspberry Bellinis, freshly made pastas, wine, heavenly ice creams and Babboon - the sweetest dog in the world. I hasten to add that Babboon was not on the menu but did wander about looking working hard for scraps from the table.

After a very long lunch we stumbled in to waiting cabs and were whisked off to DeWaag. Built in 1448 this old building now houses a trendy restaurant in the heart of NieuwMarkt. The big bosses M and M1 wanted to shop and N – the quiet studio boy offered to drop them off at the mall and rejoin us. We didn’t see him again till we boarded the flight – causing much debate over which nefarious activities he’d been indulging in.

Our group began ambling along the tiny back streets near NieuwMarkt and rather soon we found ourselves in Amsterdam’s famous red light area. While SoHo is in-your-face and seems a bit crude The Rossebuurt, as the locals know it, is unlike any other place and rather – nice. A lovely canal runs down the street. Old fashioned street lamps soften the red lights that illuminate the windows behind which the girls stand. Some girls sat still. Some did their nails. Others were chatting on the phone. Apart from the few gawking tourists (like us) everyone else were walking about nonchalant - as though passing a live window display at a lingerie store. Not at all the seedy, sordid place I had thought it would be.

I soon broke away from the group. I wandered alone about a small market and haggled unsuccessfully with the stall owners for some rather Dutch milk maid skirts (No corsets though). I found stores that sold cannabis lollies and drug paraphernalia of every shape and size – from the phallic to Hello Kitty Bongs. Boutiques with cutting edge Dutch design. Hippy hang outs that sold kalamkaari beadspreads and lambadi embroidered bags. A little bit of Goa in the heart of Amsterdam.

I bumped in to R and C outside a shop specialised in rude and bizarre gifts. Pen holders fashioned from plastic men bending over with their pants pulled down. The pen fits right in the… well you can guess where. A little rubber woman the size of my index finger. The packaging claimed that if you put her in water she would grow 600% in size - ideal for nights when the Mrs has a headache.

Half listening to R and C discuss N’s sexuality (they both think he’s gay) I dodged manic cyclists ( there are more chances of being mowed down by a cyclist than a tram or car) and came to the conclusion that I liked Amsterdam as much as I did the edam cheese it’s famous for.

Amsterdam doesn’t overwhelm you as Paris does with its grand buildings and boulevards. It isn’t as large and impersonal as London can be. It doesn’t make your head spin as Rome does with fountains, obelisks and stunning chapels on every street corner. Amsterdam is lovely in a quiet but quirky way. Unassuming but certainly not unprepossessing. It makes you feel welcome, at ease and at home. It allows you to soak up its ambience at your own pace. It doesn’t impose itself on you.

I suppose I’m rambling. But somehow that seems appropriate for a day spent doing nothing but just that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tube travel 101

One would think that there is nothing simpler than travelling by the tube. The maps are easy to read and the tickets can be bought from the helpful staff who man the booth or from the not so helpful, not-so-fast, coin-swallowing fast ticket machines. However, tube travel seems to really stump some people. So my good deed of the day is to provide some basic tips to make travelling by the underground easy. (Yesterday’s good deed was eating all the chocolate biscuits in the office tea room. There were none left for J who is struggling to stick to her diet and hence the action is labelled ‘good deed’.)

Do not buy tickets in the aforementioned fast machine booth. They are not fast. They will consume all the change that resides in the netherworld that is one’s bag. They will usually be out of order. But there will be no out of order sign. So you’ll carefully count out all the change, put it in one by one and then wait for the better half of a day before a friendly soul will come and tell you – ‘Tha ain’t workin luv’.

So you then stand in queue to buy your ticket from the man at the booth. You wait. And wait… and wait. You wait behind screaming children. You wait behind amorous couples. You wait behind old people. With flatulence. And then finally your turn comes. By then friendly man at the booth has gone for his tea break and the fast tickets machine has been fixed. And not wanting to be left out, it too has a long queue.

Hopefully you’ll be able to purchase a ticket sometime in this century. Next is to find a map. Now London Underground is wonderful. They print these lovely pocket maps with Underground Art on the cover. These maps are free and can be found at every station. Not really. Where they can be found is in the fist of the child who was wailing in the queue. Remember her? The cute little critter who spit on you? In order to shut baby darling up, Mummy dearest has taken all the maps left in the dispenser and given them to her to play with. Try stealing a map from a kid. Candy is easier.

Ticket? Check! Map? Check! Poster of you as a suspected paedophile and map stealer everywhere? Check!

You are now ready to embark on your journey. Walk towards the electronic turnstiles. Put your card through the slot provided and walk through once the gates open. This sounds easy right? However some people find this the most challenging part of tube travel. Their card will go through and proceed to flash a red sign– PLEASE SEEK ASSISTANCE. Now for most of us these words are rather self-explanatory. One must go and seek assistance. Yet some people interpret this statement as PLEASE STAND ROOTED TO THE SPOT WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN AND CREATE ANOTHER QUEUE BEHIND YOU. Which is precisely what they do. They will look up, down, left and right but will be too proud to ask for help. They would prefer it if the next commuter put their card through by mistake so that they can slip through with them. I urge you not to do that. There is nothing worse than being sandwiched in an electronic turnstile in a position that you wouldn’t even get in to with your husband.

So now you’re on platform 5. It’s crowded. People are pushing. An old lady comes and stands next to you. You’d like to do the right thing and let her get on the train first. You need to make enough space to let just her through. An inch more and you’ll have all of platform 5 squeezing past you without a ‘cheers’ or ‘thanks’ in sight.

On the Aldgate fast? Good. If there isn’t a Triwizarding tournament on for a seat and you have a number of them to choose from, choose with care. I once spent half an hour on the train listening to a strange man tell me about the corns on his feet. The only reason the conversation ended was because I got off two stations early. If all the seats are taken avoid standing near the doors. They tend to be crowded and you’re more likely to be elbowed, kneed or the victim of some egregious bodily blow. Someone dropped a bag of heavy books on my feet today morning. One should really practice what one preaches.

Off the train? In one piece? Excellent. Glad to see that you’re doing so well. Now, when exiting, please follow the signs. There will usually be two sets of stairs. One, an exit and the other an entrance. There will be signs saying ENTRY and NO ENTRY. Here again, we find people confused. They think they can use whichever stair they please and that NO ENTRY is some clever guerrilla advertising done by the promoters of the recent Hindi film of the same name. It is not. If you decide to brave the No Entry side (as many people chose to brave the film) be prepared for perambulators gone wild and the opportunity to learn a few new swear words. It’s wonderful to be in a country where education is free for all.

So you’re out in the open now. Take a deep breath! Fresh air! Blue skies! Twittering birds. You deserve a pat on the back. A gold star. A purple heart. Or is it cross? Class dismissed! Walk forward with confidence my friend for… What? You need to catch a bus now you say?

That’s another post for another day. I need to soak my feet in hot water.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Date: 8th June, 2001

A day old bride. Back in her parents’ home. Her sister is leaving the next day. The house is full of family and friends. They all decide to walk the sister back to her husband’s home down the road. The new bride and her two best friends dawdle along, enjoying the sweet evening breeze. They remember walking down the same road countless times before. To catch an auto to Satyam. To buy ice cream. To nowhere in particular. They wonder if things will ever be the same again. When will they meet next? Is it out of sight, out of mind or absence makes the heart grow fonder? They instinctively reach out for each other’s hands in the darkness.

Date: 8th December 2005

A married woman of more than three years steps out of office. It is dark and the air is cold and wet. She walks to the station and thinks of another evening from her past. She doesn’t know why she is reminded of it. Perhaps it is the single lamp post illuminating the street. Or the Sri Lankan Tamizh boy at the shop who hums Rajnikant songs under his breath. Whatever it is, it brings salty, sharp tears to her eyes that take her by surprise. She reaches out instinctively in the dark. But there are no hands to hold.

After all, tomorrow is another day

Today will be the day I change my life.

‘I will exercise more’ I say to myself as I catch the bus to the station.

‘I will eat the recommended 5 portions of fruit and veg a day’ But let me finish this Mars Bar first.

‘I will start my job hunt today’ I decide. Perhaps I should wait for my bonus.

‘I will control my temper, be more patient’ I vow and silently curse the woman before me as she negotiates stairs, cell phone and wheelie suitcase at the same time.

‘I will watch less television from today’ I promise and settle down for The Simpsons, The F Word and Friends.

‘I will look after my skin’ I pledge and fall asleep with my mascara on.

And tomorrow becomes today.

The day I will change my life.
They lay on the cold stainless steel surface. Bodies that once throbbed with life now lay inert and limp.
The sterilised tools of his trade impeccably arranged to his right.
He looked at the fingers. Long and slender.
Like an artist’s he thought.
‘Well not in this lifetime’ he muttered, cutting viciously into them.
Eyes were gouged.
Hearts cut open.
Skin peeled.
Blood mingled with flesh.
He stepped back, surveying the carnage.
‘Everything done?’ a voice barked from behind.
‘Chef, yes Chef’

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

One flew over the couture nest

I have come to the conclusion that my agency is not really an agency. That my job is not a job, but a form of therapy designed to exorcise me of my love for shopping. My shrink – my ‘creative director’, the chosen form of therapy – ‘100cc of shopping centre direct mailers – non diluted’ and the evil nurses that chain me to the bed and force the bitter medicine down my throat – ‘the account team’. All of them I’m sure in cahoots with my husband who figured that paying for such an elaborate set up would be far more cost effective than having to shell out for a life time of my extravagances.

Like all sods lured to the loony bin under the pretence of a visit to the Zoo or a day at the beach, I was promised the chance to do cutting edge work on high fashion brands and premium centres. I had visions (what they call hallucinations in here) of Alexander McQueen, Roland Mouret and Bill Blass.

I should have realised that things weren’t ok when I was given Primark instead of Prada. This isn’t want I’m meant to be doing I protested! I’m destined for bigger, better things I claimed. Of course you are the nurses cooed as they ruthlessly hosed me down. Soaked to the skin and trembling in fear I went to my boss. ‘What’s going on? This isn’t how it’s meant to be’ I said. He made me lie down on his couch (another clue) and asked me about my childhood. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ I said. ‘Oh everything’ was the reply.

‘Don’t worry’ my husband said when I complained ‘they know what’s best for you…just listen to what your Doct… er I mean boss says.’

In the last 6 months they’ve been working quietly on me. The brochures, the Sale ads, the radio commercials with the jingles that remind me of women with triangular haircuts, blue eye shadow and shoulder pads. A sample ‘It’s got the look, it’s got the hook, it’s got style, it’s got space. It’s got the look, it’s got the hook.’ Words that will make even the most intrepid shopper quake in her heels.

I try to protest. I try to write interesting, witty copy. But I look up on the screen and see ‘have a bright, glittering Christmas with Randy the Reindeer. Move over Rudolph’. I try to delete the words but the key seems jammed. The words cannot be taken back.

The Christmas rush is over. A quiet has descended over the agency. I try and drum up enthusiasm for the Boxing Day sales. 50% off Chloe blouses at Selfridges. Tweed jackets a steal at Monsoon. But my brain refuses to co-operate. The latest edition of Vogue sits unopened on my desk. ‘They’re winning’ the last, sane refuge of my brain whispers to me.

Snatches of conversation reach my ears. ‘Easter promotions …’ ‘… next Father’s Day’ ‘ Summer sales’. The words surround me like a designer straight jacket binding my arms to my sides. They’re mounting their next and final attack.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Dear Santa

Growing up, my sister and I were lucky enough to have a part of our education abroad. Lucky, because it gave us the chance to experience different cultures, cuisines and classroom politics.

One of the things we managed to bring from classroom to home was Christmas. Every year, we would dress the fake, silk palm tree that stood in the corner of the lounge with tinsel. An angel fashioned from aluminium foil would be perched precariously on the top of our make shift fir. My sister and I would be given a small allowance to buy gifts for each other with and there’d always be a gift for us from our parents too.

The years progressed. We returned to India. The silk palm tree was stowed away in the attic and long forgotten. Our Christmas tradition along with it.

In the last 6 months I have been reunited with this festival. And unlike in India, where Christmas is more about Midnight Mass and family lunches here all I see around me is mass consumerism. Gift guides, top 10 lists and must have presents. I should know – I’ve written enough of them myself. Since April, I’ve worked on brochures, radio spots, TV commercials and direct mailers for over 15 clients. I’ve encouraged people to buy Homer Simpson shower radios, cranberry scented candles and naughty, Santa’s little helper lingerie. While there’s nothing like receiving a well thought out gift, I’m sure people would rather get no gift at all than an electronic, singing trout.

This year, the average Briton will spend an average of £450 each on Christmas gifts.
That’s enough to feed a family of 6 in Sudan for a year. Now I’m not suggesting that
all of you return the gifts you’ve already bought or don’t buy the ones you’re planning
to. But I am suggesting this.

I’m sure the establishments many of you work for send out Christmas cards and gifts to
clients. Mine do. This year the agency had a budget of £2000 for corporate Christmas
gifts. A fine wine perhaps? Handmade chocolates flown in from Paris? Food hampers
from Fortnum and Mason? Donkeys? Donkeys!

A visit here gave us a wonderful list of unusual, Christmas
Gifts. Gifts that can be made on behalf of friends, family and business associates.
Donkeys, goats, school books, mango plantations – even a motorcycle. All of which go to
people who need
them the most in countries devastated by war or natural disaster. After much thought we
decided that the money would be used to build a classroom – replete with roof, toilets and
clean drinking water.

If your organisation is in the UK and hasn’t decided what to send clients yet give this a thought. Apart from Oxfam, The Independent has chosen 3 charities as part of its
Make a Difference initiative which are doing fantastic work across the globe. If you’re in India you can make a contribution to CRY, Project Why, ASha or any other charity that your organisation would like to support. Then send an e-mail out to your clients telling them what you’ve done in their name.

So maybe clients won’t get a chocolate walnut log this Christmas. But they’ll get to feel good knowing that they’ve made education a possibility for a child somewhere. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


They used to fight over her. They would fight about who got to lie on her lap. Who got the first and last vaai (mouthful) of food when she fed them. About whom she would bathe that day. They even fought over who she loved the most. And which one of them loved her the most.

“My house is too small” says the eldest daughter-in-law

“My son needs the extra room to prepare for his board exams” says the youngest son.

Silence from her daughter.

“How was I to know that she slipped and fell in the bathroom?” says her other son.

They still fight over her. Who will keep her. Who will pay for her hospital bills. Who will clean up after she wets herself.

Her granddaughter looks at her. The wrinkled skin. The worn, gold bangles. The frilled nightgown from Pondy Bazaar that has replaced the regal, nine yard sarees she once wore.

“Amma, we will keep paati” she says.

They take her home. She sees her two grand daughters fight for their mother’s affection and attention. They fight over which one of them she loves more. Who gets the last vaai of food. Who gives her the last kiss goodnight.

And she hopes that history does not repeat itself.

Friday, December 02, 2005

People on the platform

He went round and round stamping his feet
Arms crossed over his chest
A clumsy, whirling dervish
Trying to dance away the cold

Blonde where there was once black where there was once brown
The pink velour tracksuit proclaimed that she was No Angel
Juggling cell phone and crisps
She pushed the pram with her free hand.
Child and mother at the same time

‘Hello! How are you? How’s Sue?
Has she had her baby yet? What are you doing for Christmas?’
The old lady chatters away
But only the cold December wind listens