spiti on fifty


the pilot’s voice streams in through the overhead speakers, announcing that we will shortly land in mumbai, where the temperature is thirty two degrees celcius. as soon as that number registers in my head, the voice seems to lose clarity. it fades away, syllable by syllable, in the end, becoming a garbled mass of disconnected sounds filling the plane.

i am transported back to kaza, losar, chandertal…shivering, watching my fingertips go blue as i step out of the tata sumo to take a pee. i am struggling for breath at kunzum, hallucinating at losar, sitting with my back to the sun in the hotel window, trying to trap as much heat as i can under my trusty blue sweater. i am not in that plane at all, which will land in the filthy furnace i have somehow managed to live in for more than thirty years, never having run out of breath except while climbing train station bridges.

i am in spiti. with my fifty stuck to the face of my camera. capturing as much as i can. taking in the views, the thin air, the faces of people, the mind-bending landscape. and i am smiling through it all.


 

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS 

anand, renuka, shweta and i left for delhi from bombay on the 12th of september. the destination – kaza in the lahaul spiti valley, up in the northern himalayas. it was shweta’s first time in the rajdhani, and much to her delight, food started coming in within half an hour of us settling down in our seats. a steady stream of snacks, sandwiches and cold drinks began, and we dipped our hands into the river of eatables. soon, it was dinner time. we ate our fill and went off to sleep.

reached delhi at around eleven the next day. then began the shooing off of taxi and rickshaw drivers who hovered like flies around us. we patiently made our way to the prepaid auto stand; the flies followed. one of them expressed his disdain at our refusal and said, “yeah yeah go and stand there in the heat. there’s a long queue.” i looked at the auto stall to notice about twenty people standing with bags slung around shoulders, newly married women with bangles up to their necks guarding suitcases while the husband struggled in the sun to get an auto…the usual delhi scene. i had half a mind to call back the sneering auto guy and telling him that we are from bombay, queues do not faze us, and twenty people standing in line in the scorching sun for us bombay folks is an everyday scene of watching a cricket match on the large screen tvs from the outside of an electronics store.

took the autos to chayanika, one of shweta’s friends who lives in delhi. freshened up and lazed around her place for a while. ordered huge amounts of food for lunch, which included the famed galauti and tunday kebabs. the meal was too heavy, and the rest of us conked off for a couple of hours while shweta and chayanika chatted away.

got up, said our goodbyes, dumped the bags in the auto and went to himachal bhavan where our bus to manali was to leave from. spent some time getting bottles of water, chips and having ice-cream. the bus left a good half hour late, but picked up once we hit the highway. within an hour or so, all of us were asleep. stopped somewhere near ambala for dinner. good food. went back to our seats and dozed off.

got up for breakfast for the first glimpse of the beas river. making its way through boulders, it looked beautiful in the morning light, with the mountains filled with pine trees framing it nicely. manali was just a few hours away. stayed up till we reached our stop, watching the landscape go by. made a turn and the snow-capped mountains were in sight. and what a sight that was!

reached manali. booked a hotel right opposite the bus stand to spend a few hours before we set off to kaza. first contact with hot water! off of us had nice long baths. a good breakfast and a couple of hours’ rest, and we were ready to move ahead. that decision, like any seasoned traveller will tell you, smacked right in the face of logic. ideally, we should have spent the day there getting acclimatised. but the lords of altitude sickness were especially pleased with us and were waiting to welcome us with both arms. so, bags repacked, we left from manali in about three hours. got a tata sumo in spite of telling the guy to get us a toyota qualis. bad choice, as were soon to find out. the driver was an ex-army guy called fauji. i didn’t quite get his name but i think it was qasam or something.

after long winding roads and passing rohtang, we stopped at marhi for lunch.

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had good chicken, spiced with fresh green chillies and handfuls of ginger. moved ahead. the road onward from rohtang deteriorates with every kilometer or so. kaza is about 220 kms from manali, and takes 11-12 hours. our last stop was at this turn where everyone stops to take pictures. not wanting to feel left behind, we took a few shots.

this pan is composed of 6 shots –

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this was one of the three places we stopped.

the next stop was chatdu, where we had tea, stretched our legs a bit before giving ourselves entirely to the unforgiving journey in store ahead.

the road after rohtang practically disintegrates right before your eyes. the landscape starts getting sparser by the minute, and all you see around you are mountains of rubble, blue-purple mountains in the distance, mountains with sharp jagged edges, mountains that look like heaps of sand, and the river playing hide and seek between these endless mountains. not a single tree, no animals, a bird here and there. the signs of life we are accustomed to in journeys seem to have been hidden under the rubble that surrounded us. the sumo, notorious for its suspension (or the lack thereof) jumped about at every turn and every rock it went over, throwing us and our luggage a foot in the air.

anand and i got down for a while to break away from the constant tossing and turning to free our cramped legs. took a few shots before i realised just how cold it is outside in spite of the sun being out bright.

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this road led us to a chatdu, a village down in the valley.

population – 150.

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had nice hot tea at the stall, got back in and moved ahead.

the milestones along the way kept our hopes high. at every sighting of a run down stone, we asked fauji how much longer it would take. he would reply in hours. the equation not making sense in our heads at all. after all, how can a mere 75 kms take four hours?

i mean, in what world does that even make sense? and these godforsaken mountains, will they ever end and why is the car jumping so much all my bags are all over the place give me some water i want to puke i can’t keep my eyes open oh fuck fuck this headache my brain is being squeezed why are we stopping let’s go back screw this kaza business

that’s when the altitude sickness really hit us. an hour from chatdu, and all of our heads were reeling. the water bottles were empty, the car had become a roller coaster, looking out of the window gave an impression of being stranded on the alien planet from prometheus. renuka asked the driver to stop; she wanted to throw up. i got down to pee and the wind outside instantly froze the sweat on my back into a sheet of ice. memories of my first london winter flashed for a few seconds in front of my eyes. finishing my business, i almost ran back to the car and went off the sleep.

we reached kunzum pass in what seemed like an eternity. everyone except me got down to see the place. i opened my eyes with all the energy i could muster, glanced out of the window and closed them back. all i wanted was a place to drink a tank of water, lie down and sleep in peace. that opportunity came soon, as we reached losar. i have no recollection of what the place looked like, how i managed to go up to the room and sleep. all i can remember is the smell of fire and chants of om mani padme hum playing somewhere.

“civilisation! i smell civilisation. i want that song.” that’s what i remember saying to shweta.

got into the room, took off my shoes and crashed on the bed. woke up the next day with a splitting headache, achy eyes and a feeling that someone had siphoned off all the energy and the will to live out of me overnight. had breakfast, felt slightly better.  filled up on water and moved ahead. reached kaza in three hours.

i cannot describe the ecstatic feeling of seeing a ‘town’ after a gruelling journey, after not having seen more than five people anywhere at a time, after being surrounded by dry, dusty mountains. kaza was a breath of fresh air, and much more life-affirming was the smiling face of karanbir singh bedi, the owner and manager of hotel deyzor. karan runs himalayanshepherd, where you can get your fix of everything you might need for a trip like this. warm, welcoming and reassuring – that’s karan for you. one look at our faces, and he knew we were bombay chaps whose only introduction with altitude sickness was when the lift goes up or down too fast. karan accompanied us to our rooms,showed us how the geysers worked, handed over pills to cure altitude sickness and told us to keep drinking water.

i do not remember when and how sleep came over, and within minutes, we were flat out.

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the next morning saw all of us, except anand, struggling to get back on our feet. multiple glasses of piping hot ginger tea later, life seemed to come back to my drained body. still in a bit of a daze, i decided to step out for a while in the sun to see what the place looked like. and i wasn’t disappointed at all.

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every room was named differently, with different keys and locks.

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didn’t have too much energy to go sight-seeing, so we went back to the rooms, recuperated with hot water, awesome food and deathly sleep. the next day, we took a walk around, drove to the market and had lunch. experimented a bit with a polariser, hence the deeper blues. not that the sky there needed to be any bluer!

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the closest places of interest from kaza are key monastery and kibber. we left for these places early next day. the road from a checkpoint all the way to the monastery is the only tar road in this side of the world. felt great to sit in the car and not being tossed around like chopped vegetables in a chef’s wok.

kibber has the distinction of being the highest village in the world. located at around 14,000 feet, one wonders just what in the world possesses these people to live there.

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the little white dots you see at center left in the mountains are houses. i asked fauji if that was the real kibber and was it approachable by road, to which he mumbled something incoherent. i guess he wasn’t ready to drive for the 8 hours it would’ve taken us to reach there!

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heard some music. walked towards the source to a small building next to the monastery, where the local women were practicing their dance for a program arranged for a group of foreign tourists.

 

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headed to key monastery from kibber. it started out as a fort around 700 years ago. consequent attacks and an earthquake reduced it to its current form – a stack of white boxes from a distance in the middle of the mountains.

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came back for lunch in kaza market. as usual, over-ordered.

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and just like that, it was time to leave deyzor, karan and the lazy days we had just gotten used to. had to forgo visiting tabo and nako as we decided to go back to manali and spend anand’s birthday there. next stop – chandertal lake. got karan to fix accommodation at the lake. if you are ever there, stay at parasol camps. look for bishan thakur on facebook. he runs the camps.

stopped en route at losar, the place where i had almost passed out on the way to kaza. i looked around and had absolutely no recollection of the hotel, the rooms or whatever.

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stopped at kunzum pass along the way to chandertal.

a place of faith practically in the middle of nowhere. chill winds carrying the prayers wrapped in the flags to whoever’s in charge of their fulfillment, snow-capped mountains behind standing guard,  the barren landscape folding in places like a bedsheet just visited by the house cat. the stupas at kunzum pass are a reminder of the strength of human faith. every car passing by that road goes around the stupas before going ahead, a parikrama, a bow before the absolute power of nature over man.

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reached chandertal and headed straight to the lake.

the lake has the power to render you speechless. the blue of the water, the sound it makes as it gushes over rocks, the absolute clarity of the lake, and the fact that such a beautiful, life-affirming thing exists in those surroundings is enough to wash away any trace of pain or fatigue you might be riddled with.

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the sun had started to set, and once it did, the temperature dropped sharply. we started back for the tents. by then, shweta had gone cold. wearing just a top and a thick sweater, the cold got to her pretty quick. rushed back to the tents, had tea and rested for a while.

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that smiling face soon turned distressed. having no desire to eat, shweta went off to sleep while the rest of us went to the dinner tent. had a nice big bowl of steaming hot garlic soup, followed by a full meal of rotis, vegetables, rice and dal. went back to the tent to find shweta shivering in spite of wearing four layers, gloves and socks. not having dinner was the biggest mistake she made, resulting in me giving her half my duvet, leather gloves and all. the food i had was enough to sustain me through the night.

got up, had a nice breakfast and prepared to leave. but not before playing cards in the warm morning sun with bishan, and him giving me one of the best head and shoulder massages ever! my headache disappeared within minutes, my body felt relaxed and i was ready to take another ride all the way to kaza and back.

said our thanks and left for manali.

 

flew back to bombay from chandigarh the next day. all in all, this had been the trip of a lifetime for all of us. we survived biting cold winds and mind-altering altitude sickness, relished every drop of ginger tea at deyzor, took in every view with an awestruck look, experienced a kind of blue that probably doesn’t exist at all in any colour palette…

 

and the only image that will probably stay in the mind’s eye long, long after all memory is gone, is this one –

 

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this is how

this is how
we will say goodbye

words will fall out
of our mouths
and

become

vapour

 

snatched by time before
even having had a
chance to live

 

an embrace will
come loose before
heartbeats match

even if
for that little moment

 

this is how
we will say
goodbye

no regret
no pain or torture

except for in one heart

 

and there will be
no way of knowing

 

which one

 

 

The wedding

The bedroom looks like a storm enjoyed a few days stay. My cupboard looks like the face of a fast food fanatic, stuffed to the absolute limit. My dad is snoring away, sprawled on the bed after days of running around, sending out invites, going shopping and the usual chores that come with an occasion of this scale. My mother is having one last chat with the maid before the madness of the next two days hits home. My brother is just back from his cricket.

And me,
I’m sitting by the window, my favourite window, typing this on a four and a half inch screen, waiting for the ‘glow’ to appear from yesterday’s herbal facial, wondering how did it all comes to this next couple of days.

I’m getting married on Monday. The 25th of November 2013. To Shweta Bhatia. The girl I met four years back on my first day in college as a visiting faculty for ad design. The thing about time being relative, and a second on a hot surface seems like an eternity and an hour with a loved one like a second… well,  all that rings true now.

Four years.

All coming together in one day.
This time day after, we will be married, probably having lunch, or maybe resting for a while before the evening reception begins. And thereafter, we will be Mr. & Mrs. Pawar.

And yet, no butterflies have made their home in my stomach, my feet do not feel the slightest cold, nor is any feeling of panic slowly taking over.

Maybe that will happen day after. Maybe it won’t.

But all said and done, I’m enjoying this. Sitting by the window that I saw so many monsoons through. The window which I will leave in a month to go live in my own house. I’m letting everyone else take control, relishing the attention, and just lying in wait.

For a new life to begin.

Two dancers

There are these two mischievous buggers I happen to know. They go by the names of Could’ve and Should’ve. These two have a nasty habit of showing up after I’ve managed to get into a good sleep zone. You know that moment when you’re eyes are not heavy anymore and you’re breathing has settled down to a decent rhythm. Yes. That’s when the two monsters crawl up right on my chest and do their dance of regret and wishful thinking. There is no escaping their constant murmur; a murmur that reaches deep into the recesses of memory and pulls out all that which rests peacefully, awaiting its silent passing away. It tugs at the sleeping souls, digs their graves, fills its fingernails with earth.

The murmur slowly rises, becomes a roar. And I’m lost in its ear splitting cacaphony. Could’ve and Should’ve enjoy this dance of the rebirth of the dead. They sit and watch the puppet show, a show where I am the puppet, the string, the stage and the audience.

Tracing memories

Fingers

Used to trace faces
Glide softly across a cheek
Stop at the corner of a quivering
Lip and go further down
Being braver than
what the moment demanded

To trace
A softness felt
For the first time, the heat
Of skin
New to the touch

Fingers

Used to caress
An outline of breasts through cloth
Wanting to explore
Admonished by a swipe of the hand.

Run through hair
Try to capture the smell and fail
Twirl a lock,
pull slightly.

Fingers

Used to meet fingers
And stay.

Wishing for more
Being content and still
Thirsty.

Fingers

Now trace flat
Slabs of glass
Grappling with words
That refuse to come
On a bright screen and make sense
Of time.

Fingers.

Used to trace
A known face

Now rummage through
Memories.

what needs to be done

“can i ask you something?

what do you think keeps a world like this as shit together?
it’s not magic, it’s not.  

it’s rules. it’s people abiding by the terms of the deals they sign themselves.

you know what’s more important than the rules, though? 
it’s the enforcement of those rules.”

— repo men (2010)

……………………………………………………………………………

 

imagine a world before the orwellian world of 1984. 

a world where there is no law. where crime, poverty and corruption are so rampant that they become the norm. where the perpetrators fear no one, and victims have become desensitised. 

a world, much like ours is today.

and in this world is a handful of people, merely a one percent of the entire population, that believes this needs to change. they are disgusted with humanity as a whole. they are distraught that it has come to this, that what they once knew and loved as pure and good, has ceased to exist, or is taking its last desperate breaths in a garbage dump, ravaged by ‘reality’. 

their helplessness is slowly boiling over to an anger that wishes to knock down everything, destroy the world order as they know it, and construct a new reality based on new ideals. 

and instead of being consumed by their spite, they slowly start building their way forward to this new world. they get together people who think like them, and then formulate a set of rules. rules for themselves and for the outside.

and then, they go on mobilising this movement silently, covertly. 

 

rule no. 1 – every single individual on the outside, regardless of state imposed or self-imposed differentiation, must be united to a common ideal. for this, people must be told what to believe since they have completely lost the ability to do so. they must be shaken from their reverie and made to see the horrible realities around them, and see the ideal as the solution.

rule no. 2 – these individuals must be monitored, to ensure they do not deviate from the common ideal. this might be done by way of enlisting them to a few common interests and activities. 

rule no. 3 – truant behaviour must be punished publicly. for this, a single uniform organisation must be formed which weeds out crime in all its forms, be it the smallest theft, or the largest scams. no crime can escape the vigilant eyes of the organisation. for this, monitoring systems in rule no. 2 shall provide necessary support. 

rule no.4 – distorted pasts and histories need to be cleansed of political influence. this needs to be done through dedicated research. people need to understand where they come from and where they have been lead. this will instill pride and support a cohesive thought and belief in the ideal. 

rule no. 5 – an industrious outlook and a desire for education and knowledge needs to be inculcated. people need to see what these two things can lead to, and for this, leaders of conscience and character need to be the face of the movement. 

 

this change will take time; the change-makers know. and it will need time beyond their lifetime. therefore, they make the rules strong. they inculcate a strict discipline in their families. they ensure no deviance in their personal lives, so that their future generations build upon what they have founded. 

the organisations that handle control become the ministries. the ideal becomes big brother. control, enforcement and discipline become norms, instead of crime, poverty and corruption. the transformation of the individual is complete. 

 

 

call it dictatorship. call it totalitarianism. call it the reemergence of the third reich. call it what you will. but that is what we need – 

the enforcement of rules. 

16

sixteen 

it’s about the sudden realisation that you can indeed grow a beard

about coming to terms with a voice that struggles to stay back in the age when it was okay to talk, and not sound like a baby

it is about understanding fathers and first loves, all because of a particular show called ‘the wonder years’

about wondering why winnie cooper was always better than all the other girls and why kevin arnold was, in fact, what you wanted to be all this time

about wondering how to fall in love and stay that way forever

about wishing she was there when you were watching films together on your 14″ CRT monitor, for her to hold on to you in the horror movies, to lean on your shoulder and let the tears run when robin williams walks out of the class in ‘dead poet’s society’

about phone calls that went on till 3:45 am

it was when flowers and archies cards suddenly became very interesting

when thinking about a gift was easy

when going weak in the knees had nothing to do with the physiological condition of the knees

 

 

sixteen

 

was all play and no work makes johnny someone who knows how to climb a tree 

about having a fight and winning and losing and getting beat in front of the entire class in recess and drawing blood and scraping knees and falling off and getting up and not feeling vengeance or revenge but just a feeling ‘i have to get this right now’

finding that there are other uses to that thing in your pants

about the mute button being your saviour at 11pm when mtv grind used to come up

about when mtv played music

it was more than an age, more than a number, more than anything else in the world that mattered so much

about unearthing secrets, digging out the long-kept unknown 

coming home at 3 in the sweltering afternoon after a cricket match that started at 10 in the morning, to find freshly fried fish waiting for you on the table

about not having to worry how you’re going to pay the emi for the 40 inch television 

not having to bother about how crowded the train is going to be at 8:15 on a monday

about not even batting an eyelid at the mere mention of monday

 

sixteen

 

was sixteen years ago…

 

 

 

 

 

 

mannerless kids and moms in hot pants

disclaimer: the title has nothing to do with digital playground, vivid, private media or any other purveyor of pornographic material. any resemblance to actual individuals is intended on purpose, with deliberate sarcasm and the usual ‘end-of-the-world-run-for-your-lives’ tone this blog has maintained over the years of ranting.

the girlfriend and i went for a free show of ‘the croods-3d’ yesterday at juhu. now juhu is one of the toniest suburbs in the city, or so it likes to believe. filled with rich people, it is teeming with the usual cavalcade of bmw, audi, jaguar and mercedes vehicles, cruising along in the insufferable traffic, sunroofs retracted, kids barely old enough to understand the function of clothes flailing their arms about in the wind.

it helps to start young.

shweta went ahead to get the tickets from the counter and i made my way into a queue. now, if you’ve been in the city long enough, you’d know that being in a queue is infinitely more frustrating than not being in one. the jostling, pushing, shoving, impatient fiddling and general discomfort reaches its peak when people are put in a position that demands the least bit of discipline – much like most affairs in the country.

so yes, there’s me in the queue trying to keep my cool with over-perfumed women chattering away behind me, and BAM! a couple of fat kids push past the line, jab me in the kidneys with their chubby elbows along the way and go right ahead. they manage to trample a few toes (they’re fat, remember, and ‘trample’ is a kind word in that reference), break the queue and enter the mall. while doing so, one of them even manages to give me a look of utter disdain, crushing my attempt at trying to stop him and the smaller tub of lard that trundled behind.

having digested that bit of defeat, i hung my head in shame and quietly took the escalator. the two horizontally challenged devils did not stop their march even there. they pushed past every available individual, broke through every barrier of flesh that stood in their way and reached the theatre lobby, huffing and puffing and blowyerhousedown style.

and because croods is a kiddie movie, i was immediately confronted with a screaming mass of tots in all sizes and attire. the lobby was pretty small, and for some strange reason, people had queued outside the theatre door in spite of there being enough place for everyone to stand. but then, you cannot get rid of the typical indian trait of ‘i-want-to-get-there-first’. you see it displayed in all its glory in flights, buses, trains…basically everywhere. a flight is the best place to spot an indian. as soon as the wheels of the aircraft touch the tarmac, his seat-belt will be the first to snap open, his cellphone will be first one to ring back to life, his baggage will be the first to tumble out of the overhead storage. and he, our proud indian, will be the very first one to stand in line to get out and breathe the shitpissfishbonesrottingcabbage fumes of bombay.

“oh it’s such a joy to be back home! i’m the first one to get off the plane. maybe they have a nubile model/starlet holding a bouquet and a hotel room key for me as i step out.”

back to the movie. there were about fifty million of those creatures (the little ones). now i don’t dislike kids at all. but i despise them when they have no manners, decency or respect for others. and for no fault of theirs, i feel like landing a few slaps across their faces, holding them by their arms and making them stand in line, quiet. i agree they’re all full of energy and need to play, run around, have fun while they can. but then, there absolutely has to be a sense of what to do where. you just cannot allow your kids to create a scene at a public place where other people could get annoyed, disturbed or inconvenienced. it has to be the parents and not the kids who need to understand discipline, and have the sense to enforce it as and when required.

which brings me to the second half of the title – the moms in hot pants.

it is a well-known and internalised belief in this city that the better well-off you are, the shorter your clothes are supposed to get, regardless of age or place. you need to show that you can afford to show off those toned legs. as one of the swish set, you need to look as young, or probably younger than your 16 year-old daughter and try to outdo her in the garish make-up department. the number of moms trying to look sexy outnumbered their daughters and sons. ugly cellulite bands and tummy tires notwithstanding.

more than the boys, it was the girls that disturbed me more. call me regressive or whatever, but i believe little girls have no business being dressed as adults. barely there shorts and dresses, awful make-up, grown-up mannerisms, awkward heels, breath-arresting tight tops…i mean, what’s going on here? have they stopped making those beautiful summer dresses for little girls? have they entirely cut down on the production of decent attire for kids?

children imitate their parents first and then their surroundings. and i was not the least surprised to find tiny shorts, tinier tops, bad make-up and general bad behaviour that day. if your parents are cutting corners, pushing and shoving their way through perfectly sane queues, dressing up as if they’re permanently marooned on a beach in miami and spending hours in front of the mirror preening, you as a kid are bound to be affected by that, and will see it as normal adult behaviour.

it got me thinking how difficult it is going to be for us to bring up our kids in this environment. as they grow up, they will see everyone around them acting differently, looking all dolled up and nice, and they will begin demanding the same. if that kid’s dad can drop him in a car everyday, why can’t mine? if her mom arranges her birthday party in a big club in south bombay, why can’t you? if he is celebrating his tenth birthday in an open-top bus, i want it too.

where do you draw the line? and how? and is it even possible to keep a sane mind and discipline your kids? i guess it all starts with us. i do not support relentless child beating, the kind that harms psyches and leaves children maladjusted, but a spank is sometimes necessary, and justified when a line is being crossed.

be it the way we dress, the way we talk to each other and our friends, the way our phone conversations go, the kind of movies we watch, the kind of music we listen to, the way we conduct ourselves in front of elders, the way we travel…everything, everything we do reflects in our children. and if i don’t want my kids to push and shove and dress cheap, i will have to ensure nothing i do gives them the idea that it is okay to do so.