soniaraowrites

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Archive for the category “life in the city”

Mumbai’s First Safety Sprawl – Auditing the streets with Safecity and Badal Ja!

FEELING SAFE! OR NOT?

It was 8:30pm. The train had stopped at Kalyan station. Inside, 28yo Sujata sat as did an elderly couple. It being the evening of Holi the train was unusually empty but just before the train could move away from the station, three men boarded the compartment in which Sujata and the couple sat.

The weird way in which they looked at Sujata terrified her. Images of gang-rapes and murders she had seen on TV filled her with dread. Perhaps the fear showed on her face, because the elderly couple told her not to worry. They stayed with her till the train finally halted at Dadar and then accompanied her till Andheri Station.

At Andheri Station Sujata felt completely safe and any person, male or female, who dared to harass her now would not come out of it in one piece. She and her brother had even beaten up a 40yo ragpicker when she chanced upon him sexually abusing a five year old girl. She makes it a point, she told us, to train her 9 and 11yo daughters to take care of themselves in this city which she perceives to be ‘safe’.

This then was the paradox of women’s safety revealed in an audit conducted during the Mumbai Safety Sprawl held on Saturday, 14th of March, 2015.

Conceptualised by Elsamarie D’Silva, co-founder of Safecity (an online platform created to map areas of sexual abuse) as part of their ‘Pin the Creep’ initiative and implemented in co-ordination with Caitlin and Nilima of  Badal Ja! (a group working proactively to bring about a transformation in gender justice) this sprawl threw up some surprising facts and perceptions.

LET’S SPRAWL

BREAKING THE ICE

BREAKING THE ICEI

It was a motley group of about twenty: students, professionals, graphic designers, social activists. From Bhayander, Marol and some staying near Nana Nani Park in Andheri, which is where we all gathered to play icebreaker games which involved answering questions such as: Do you agree a woman should beat up the person who has groped her in a public place? Do you agree a woman too has a right to pee in public when no public toilet is available? Depending on the reply, one joined the Totally Agree, Neutral or the Totally Disagree group. From the questions you can imagine that a lot of vociferous discussions took place.

ALL SET TO SPRAWL

ALL SET TO SPRAWL

From there we broke out in groups of two, to go over to pre-designated streets in Versova, Seven Bunglows and Four Bunglows to conduct the safety audit. This involved checking out the conditions of that particular road and the civic amenities such as streetlights (existence and condition) and safe walking spaces. Also, three persons of apparently different demography had to be interviewed for their perceptions and actual experiences related to safety issues.

FINDINGS

  • Safety has different meanings and perceptions for different people. Older women had the fear of their chains being snatched while younger women were often subjected to groping and sexual exhibitionism.
  • The presence of working streetlights was a major factor in enhancing the safety factor of a street. During the audit it was discovered that 14 streetlights on one of the roads was out of order. Calls were made by the volunteers to the BMC and RELIANCE. The pole numbers (printed at eyelevel on each pole) were given to the company. For the poles that didn’t have a number, the location was given. BMC said relevant action would be taken in 5 days.
    LATEST UPDATE: Reliance fixed the streetlights in 24 hours.
  • Sexual harassment often took the form of men masturbating in public. In one such case, the man who witnessed this incident said he felt mentally harassed while the girl accompanying him observed she felt sexually harassed. Different responses to the same heinous act.
  • It was also noticed that most citizens do not raise their voice against injustices and harassments. Many housing societies had a frontage with a well-made pavement but just beyond the pavements, dilapidated cars were parked by the neighbouring garage owners and this posed a huge safety risk, forcing people to walk on the roads in the face of traffic.
  • In another case of public apathy towards women’s safety, a couple of men daily stood in front of a housing society, twice a day from 10-11am and 5-7pm, fondling themselves and indulging in sexual exhibitionism. Shockingly, NO-ONE raised a voice against them. Inspired by this audit, the volunteers, realizing that they can make a difference have complained to the police and the BMC to get rid of this menace.
  • 1091 is the national helpline for WOMEN. Any woman in distress can call this number for an immediate response. 1098 is the National helpline for child safety. The BMC Number is 1916 and all relevant complaints can be lodged here. Save all these numbers in your phone.
  • It is the duty of each and every citizen to hold the existing systems accountable and this sprawl is an activity to test if the systems are fully functional. Every individual in the city might feel safe but when the surface is scratched, stories of sexual harassment, terror and abuse spill out.
  • STREETLIGHTS THAT DON'T WORK

    STREETLIGHTS THAT DON’T WORK

  • CARS THAT POSE A SAFETY RISK

    CARS THAT POSE A SAFETY RISK

    COLLATING THE FINDINGS

    COLLATING THE FINDINGS

    If you are keen to organise a Safety Sprawl in your locality, please get in touch with Safecity. 

(All pics courtesy Elsa D’Silva and Safecity).

Zen and the Art of watching TeeVee

Indian television serials can test your patience. The other day I was watching one that has been on air since more than a year. The beginning episodes were interesting because it had an unusual storyline. Underlying it were the standard MIL-DIL face-offs that characterize most of the serials today. It had been a long time since I’d seen any of the episodes but I noticed that the character of the Mother-in-law (MIL) was as antagonistic towards that of the Daughter-in-law (DIL) as she was when the serial took off on air.

This was surprising because quite a few episodes had been devoted to the tele-family comprising of the FIL, MIL, the son and the DIL travelling together to a foreign country for participating in a cooking competition. Could one be faulted for expecting that such proximity would have led to thawing of the MIL’s antagonism towards the DIL especially since the DIL, being educated, had helped to make the trip successful? Apparently, such things do not happen in Indian serials.

So, here I am, watching this episode in which the archetypal cunning Elder DIL is provoking the MIL against the other DIL (the educated one – these serials can get complicated that way).

This is how the scene plays out:

The camera zooms in on the cunning E-DIL who mouths her dialogues with the appropriate twitching of eyebrows and curling of lips and once the dialogues are done, the camera focuses one by one on all the other characters present in that scene. First on the MIL, then the FIL, followed by the DIL, then the E-DIL’s husband and a couple of others that seemed to have joined the cast since I last watched this serial.

The camera then focuses again on the MIL and then goes back to the E-DIL’s face. This happens twice before the E-DIL speaks a few more lines of dialogue and then it is the MIL’s turn to talk. And during the camera-focusses, one should not be surprised to note that the expressions on the faces are completely unrelated to the happenings in that scene. This interplay of dialogues and the intense focus on the characters’ faces continues unabated and at the end of the episode not much action has taken place. Ah, but that’s not completely true. The viewers might have pulled their hair out in frustration.

Contrast this with some other serials such as Homeland. Or Mad Men. One just cannot get enough of them (though Mad Men is somewhat beginning to grate). Snappy dialogues, snappier expressions, not a second of airtime is unaccounted for. The viewer gets drawn, willingly, into the action and lets it go, oh so very unwillingly, when the time is up, on tenterhooks, in anticipation of the next episode.

Does this remind you of writing? Of ‘clunky’ prose and unnecessary backstory when what the reader actually wants is some action. Action, which might not be actually physical, but anything that takes the story forward. Swiftly. Interestingly.

Asides:

Zee TV’s ‘Connected Hum Tum’ promises to be a reality show with a difference, in which six women have dared to bare all (emotionally) in front of the nation. It begins tonight.

And continuing with all things TeeVee, here’s wishing a very Happy Birthday to Alan Taylor who wrote for the HBO series ‘Deadwood’.

What has been your TeeVee experience?

The Adorable Vamp – Helen of Bollywood

In the late 60s and all of 70s, no Hindi film was complete until a dance number (called an ‘item number’ now but a ‘cabaret dance’ then) by Helen was included. Helen with her exotic wigs, feathers, paints, beads, sequins and alluring makeup brought a sense of style and sensuousness to her performances which were never lewd or obscene.

The story of Helen began many years ago when a young woman and her three kids escaped from Japanese domination in Burma. Through wilderness and villages they travelled, foodless and penniless, till they reached Assam. There they rested and recouped and then shifted to Calcutta. The young woman, who was a nurse, could barely manage to support her family on her meagre salary. This is when they shifted to Mumbai and her young daughter took up bit roles as a chorus dancer in movies. This young girl named Helen Jairag Richardson, got her big break in 1958 when she performed the song, “Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo” in Howrah Bridge.

From then on for almost thirty years, she ruled the roost as the Vamp with the golden heart all the while performing what was termed as the “Cabaret Dance” in all the movies that came out of Bollywood.

What is the secret of her long-lived success in the film industry?

Besides her looks which were very different from those of the demure, conservative heroines of that time, the lyrics of the songs that she danced to were musical and in good taste. In sharp contrast are the dances and songs of today, where the top heroines of the country gyrate to songs with unambiguously offensive lyrics and body movements that make the viewers go red in the face with embarrassment.

Besides dance numbers, Helen has done many character roles and even won a prestigious film award for her role in Lahu ke Do Rang.

Helen has appeared in over 500 films. She is often cited as the most popular dancer of the item number in her time. She was the inspiration for four films and a book. A book about Helen was published by Jerry Pinto in 2006, titled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, which went on to win the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2007. In 1998 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Filmfare.

It has been an interesting life and Helen, now 74, has been quoted as saying that she lives in the present and that is the secret of her serene and peaceful life.

Below are videos of a couple of her popular numbers. Enjoy.

OF RECIPES … AND CULINARY DISASTERS

When I was fourteen I once felt the sudden urge to cook Batata Poha (I am now cured of such dangerous urges). It was as unexpected as it was unnatural because I didn’t know how to cook. My mother’s specialty lay in cooking chicken and chhole (chickpeas) – both dishes beloved of Punjabis – and she had no clue how Poha was cooked so I could not expect any help from that quarter.

The other expert, my bench-mate in school, was an awesome cook or so I was made to believe by her words. Who wouldn’t want to learn at the feet of a master? Having adopted her as my Culinary Guru I begged her for the recipe. She agreed to give it to me, but on one strange condition. She would dictate the recipe to me but I was not allowed to write it down. I would have to memorise it. I was desperate and could not disagree. I did wonder about the reason behind it. Was she deliberately trying to make things tough for me? Why would she? Hadn’t I always given her my books to copy notes from?

The only option I had then was to rush home after school and jot down whatever I remembered from the dictated recipe. Thankfully, it was not all given at one go. The first few days was about memorizing the ingredients. It was a slow process because the only time one could talk was during the twenty minute recess. And half of that went in deciding what to buy from the canteen and then buying and eating it before the bell rang.

There were one or two lucky days when the teacher was absent and then one had the whole of half hour to discuss the ingredients and the merits of a well-cooked Poha.

The day dawned, two weeks later, when the recipe was jotted down, in full, in my diary. It was time to put the plan into action.

A Culinary Disaster

A Culinary Disaster?

Onions, potatoes and green chillies were already available at home. Even the oil. As well as the sugar and the lemon for the lime juice. My bench-mate insisted that coriander garnish was a must, both for the looks and the taste and so I went to the corner vendor of vegetables and bought a bunch.

Onions were sliced thin, potatoes were diced and green chillies were chopped fine. My mother hovered nearby but I wanted to do this my own way so I shooed her away.

Once the pan was heated, I poured in the oil which sizzled as it hit the hot surface. The notes did not mention how much (did I forget to jot down the quantity) but I had seen Mother pour oil in the vegetables while cooking so a huge serving spoon size of oil seemed quite right. I dropped into the pan next the onions, potatoes and chillies and stirred. I waited for the onions to turn pink as my friend had mentioned. And they did look pink, swimming in the oil. The oily steam that floated out of the pan made me want to throw up.  I added the turmeric powder and the salt followed by the sugar and the lemon juice. The food cooked faster than I expected and Mother whose dog-nose smelled something burning shouted “Stir, Stir” from inside the living room. I stirred with vigour.

The book said, “Add Poha when the onions are cooked and stir gently. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve.”

I was excited to discover how easy cooking was and so much fun. I could almost see my mother’s face light up with pride when I, her dear daughter, served her Batata Poha.

And as I took the bowl holding the Poha and upturned it into the pan, a mini third world war broke out in the pan. Particles of Poha sprung up and flew out of the pan in all directions. Some burned in the pool of oil that now bubbled inside the pan. Thick plumes of steam wafted out with the smell of burning food. The sizzling and sloshing continued even as I quickly put off the gas and picked up the pan and kept it gently on the platform.

As the noise abated I dipped the serving spoon inside the pan and hauled out some of the Batata Poha. A multi-coloured blend of black, yellow and dark brown stared at me, daring me to eat it. I took a bite and immediately spat out the mess of tiny grains of hard, stony Poha and crunchy bits of uncooked potatoes. Clearly, it was a recipe for disaster that I had received from my Guru.

I re-visited the whole process over and over again with my bench-mate but I could never figure out where I had gone wrong. It was my first culinary disaster and put quite a dampener on my future efforts at cooking. That one day I would become an excellent cook is a story for another day.

And it was many, many years later that I discovered the cause of the Poha disaster. The puffed rice needs to be washed and soaked in water to soften it before it can be cooked and which step I had overlooked. Either I had forgotten or it was missed out in the dictation.

Ah, well!

Have you ever had such culinary accidents?

 

 

 

KITTENS AND CATS

There exists on Facebook a covert rivalry between Cat lovers and Dog lovers. War is declared and in the manner of all things Facebook, kittens and cats emerge the winner with maximum number of ‘likes’. And the pictures are the ones to either drool over or then have a hilarious laugh over. Maybe, I’m biased. Maybe, in reality, dogs are getting more ‘likes’. They are after all, man’s best friend (this statement deserves its own blogpost, ha ha ha).

But in real life, cats do what they have to; and that is to live their life without much caring what we humans really think about them, whether we like them or not. Maybe we humans would  be much  happier if we emulated their way of life? (Another blogpost??)

So, some pics here, of real-life cats, unedited and with no funny, sarky comments. We do have Facebook for that, don’t we?

KITTY SLEEP

WHERE ART THOU? (Calling out to a rat, a cat or a kitten?)

WHERE ART THOU? (Calling out to a rat, a cat or a kitten?)

TWO CATS
TWO CATS
TWO CATS AND A CAR

TWO CATS AND A CAR  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
So, are you a Cat-lover? Or a Dog-lover?

(Loving to blog everyday, thanks to A to Z Blog Challenge and Ultimate Blog Challenge. If this was a poem (yeah, poetry in pics is stretching it a bit much, no?) I would have added NaPoWriMo, too).

GOD CALLING…

SHREE SAIBABA OF SHIRDI

SHREE SAIBABA OF SHIRDI

Seven years ago, Jyotiram M More, was a troubled man.

More (pronounced as Mo-ray) could not sleep at night because of the weird sensation he had of ants walking all over inside his head. A complete CT scan, paid for by an altruistic resident of the area of which he was the Main Recycling Man (aka Radiwallah) revealed nothing which the doctors needed to cure.

Sleepless and helpless, More was at his wit’s end. And that is when he got the call from Shree Saibaba of Shirdi.  In reply to the voice that said to him, “Shree Sababa of Shirdi can cure you,” More replied, “Lord, make my head better and take me out of this poverty. And if you do that, as long as I have strength in my limbs I shall come walking to get your darshan.”  And thus began his saga of faith.

Like More, thousands of men from all over Maharashtra, on an appointed day every year, undertake this bare-footed pilgrimage to Shirdi. Different men, different vows. If More did it for health reasons, others have done it for their children’s marriages, or to get a home or any other reason where they saw no succour except to resort to faith.

Shirdi is almost 296kms from Mumbai so covering 30 to 40 kms a day (in case of crossing a jungle before you settle down for the night) is almost mandatory. A princely sum of a thousand rupees per head is pooled together, beforehand to buy provisions and hire a tempo and a cook or two, along with a helper to cook food during the journey.  This is a spartan trip, where you lay down your bed wherever you see a piece of empty land. No pricey hotels or lodgings for these men, and often times, it could be a cremation ground that is the temporary resting place. Fear does creep in then but singing of bhajans and chanting of ‘Om Sai’ gives the devotees the faith and enthusiasm to negotiate this difficult path.

“If the heart is pure, the travel becomes very easy and smooth. And if it’s missing, I’ve seen feet covered with boils as the journey progresses. But once they reach the temple, the boils just disappear,” says More. This is a mini miracle for More who feels disappointed he’s never seen a vision of Shree Saibaba. But his faith has not wavered. It gives him intense joy that since the last two years, his twelve year old grandson has been accompanying him.

When they finally reach Shirdi on the seventh day, they freshen up and hurry to the temple for ‘darshan’ of Shree Saibaba.

And these groups who have walked all the way to get a holy glimpse of their Lord, are ushered into His presence immediately irrespective of the snaking queues of devotees eager to see Him face to face. It is a moment of ecstasy and gratitude. Head bowed low before the diety they have that personal conversation that a year’s wait has denied them. Once, that’s done, the jubilant men are met with eager families that arrived the previous night. It is fun-times as they take in the sights and visit other temples and then, as night falls, get into the bus that will bring them back to Mumbai and the grind of daily life.

More only rues that he has not been able to get out of the morass of poverty that he is still chained to.

EK THI DOYENNE (Once upon a time there was a doyenne)

(Legendary writer Anita Desai and daughter, Booker Prize winner, Kiran Desai, together in public conversation, for the first time ever)

 

At noon, on 7th December, 2012, at the Times Literary Carnival, a sense of excitement hung in the air as an eager audience thronged the Aditya Birla Hall of Mehboob Studio. The legendary novelist Anita Desai and her daughter, the Booker Prize winner, Kiran Desai were together on the same stage for the first time ever while Chiki Sarkar of Penguin India, adroitly steered the conversation to throw light on the life of two beautiful minds living together.

So, how much more fabulous can it get when two writers of great caliber, a study in opposites  with their differences in age, looks, style of writing and even their method of working, tell us they are companions in solitude when they are writing.

Anita Desai is soft -spoken and her words flow out in a gentle stream that often miss the microphone but wrap themselves around us in a warm cozy embrace.  On the other hand, Kiran Desai, passionate, whimsy and as unexpected as her writing, often ends her sentences abruptly, the words as awkward as a dancer caught mid-stage in the glare of the spotlight that did not turn off when the dance ended.

It can be strange to experience life with a mother and in her writings recognize those moments and marvel at the way that life has been woven into her stories, which is what Kiran did when she read Anita’s works. Anita, for whom writing has been a natural progression rather than something she planned, said her life made sense only when it was put down on paper. Immigration and re-settling away from one’s roots has been the common undertone in both their lives. While a young 15-year-old Kiran traversed a lonely path in a foreign country (and which is why most of her characters are solitary types), Anita’s journey has been back towards her parent’s era.

Along with the angst has come some benefits too. Having an award-winning writer as your first reader can be a great advantage and Kiran Desai agrees. Anita Desai has, on her part, always given her first draft (revised at least four to five times) to a neutral person such as an editor for feedback and never to a friend or family member.

Ah, yes, dear readers who are also writers, you are not forgotten.  You ask, what message is there for us?

Anita Desai says,“Read a LOT. Commit to writing and make writing a daily habit.”

‘Be lonely and be alone’ are the best conditions for writing. One’s social life might have to be curtailed for the sake of writing but it does not mean you stop living. All material for the writing is out there. “Be sharp in your observations; pick out the significant to use in your writing,” said Anita Desai.

“You need to decide whether you have the right to the solitude you need in order to write.” Thought-provoking statement, indeed, by Anita Desai.

All warm and fuzzy feelings almost gave way to a Koffee with Karan moment when someone from the audience asked if they ever felt jealous of each other?

No-one must have been very surprised when Anita Desai replied,” I don’t think of it as rivalry. The world is richer for so many voices.”

I’m so looking forward to Times Lit Carnival 2013.

(Anita Desai received the first Times of India Lifetime Achievement Award at Times Lit Carn).

WOMEN AND THE CITY

MUMBAI FOR WOMEN BY THE TIMES OF INDIA
(Refer 1:21 – 1:26 of video)
Aani aapun kaibhi kaam karo naahi
(And no housework waiting for me)
Asaa noostt bassoon, garam garam jevaa-oo
(I  will relax and enjoy my meal)

The giggle is girlish and the attire is traditional but the words serve to highlight the truth of women’s position in this city.

The sub-text is : go out and earn, we need you to earn. Go, work as hard as the next man or harder. But when you come back home, you are the wife, the homemaker. Go on, go into the kitchen and cook the dinner.  And after that, take care of the housework.

Who cares that you might be earning more than the man? Who cares that the travel in crowded buses and trains with the sickening groping and pressing has aggravated you mentally and physically? Who cares that you are judged on the way you look?  Who cares that you want, nay, need the time and the privacy to be just yourself and with yourself; that for some time, you want freedom from the MSD (Mother/Daughter/Sister) Syndrome or the Superdomesticgoddesswoman Syndrome?

This also brings forth the truth that the enemy is within rather than some unseen, unknown, outer foe that could attack you anytime.

The Mumbai for Women meet held by Indiblogger along with the Times of India threw up interesting albeit unexpected facts about the issues facing the women of this city, Mumbai.

One of the enemies is the self-limiting thoughts so steeped in tradition, that keep a woman chained to her situation.

Why else would a highly educated woman in a highly paid job not operate an independent bank account and continue to depend upon her husband/partner to decide where and how her earnings should be invested?

Why else would a woman go all out to take care of her husband and children’s well-being to make sure they eat the best foods and get the best medical care if required but neglect her own health and diet?

Why else would she be unwilling to request her partner to share the burden of the housework and the cooking so she can also enjoy some soul-rejuvenating time?

Why else would a woman submit to the physical assaults of her husband and camouflage the scars next day with makeup and made-up excuses?

Why would a woman not take up a profession of choice just because it is considered ‘unsafe’ for her?

Isn’t it time to SPEAK UP, Woman?

It’s time to find your identity in Mumbai, your own city. It’s time to demand safety and security for yourself, whether you are at home or at work; whether you are taking the public transport or whether you are just going for a walk; whether it is 2am or whether it is 9:30pm, whether you are dressed in a sari or a short skirt.

Respect and safety are your rights and you should have them.

Light is penetrating through and the powers that be are giving an ear to women’s woes.

The Railways, which are the lifeblood of Mumbai City, have shown that they care. Their helpline which covers all three rail-lines is 9833331111 and it works.

Can women in the city expect the same respect, love, care and consideration  firstly from the men in their families and then the services?

There is hope. Always.

HOW SAFE ARE YOU INSIDE THAT ‘BEST’ BUS?

This is my piece written for the Safecity.in blog.

Travelling by bus can be hazardous as this video depicts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l3C_Wd9CvU

Two standees, a boy and a girl, in a not-so-crowded bus. The bus brakes suddenly. Boy lurches against Girl, once. The second time it happens, Girl slaps Boy. The angsty Boy now moves away (makes you wonder why he couldn’t have kept his distance from the beginning).  The bus brakes yet again. This time Girl loses her balance and lurches against Boy. Boy slaps Girl.

Read more about how to tackle sexual harassment in the public transport buses, here: http://safecity.in/new/how-safe-are-you-inside-that-best-bus/ 

BIRTHDAY BUMPS

(Today is my dear friend, Laxmi Chichra’s birthday. This reminded me of a piece I wrote, three years ago. A morsel from the archives, then. The content rating is 13+, I think. Nowadays, one can’t be so sure. Your comments, as always, are most welcome. And Laxmi, I hope you are having more fun that the narrator in this piece, LOL).

I had been restless and uptight the whole week. Every small incident at work and at home was being bloated into a full-fledged showdown.

“PMS,” sniggered some of the interns, behind my back.  I know because I heard it when I was in the loo, in the staff common room. Juvenile thoughts such as these were easily brushed aside.

The ones that hurt were the ones that in an indirect way suggested I needed to get laid and this is the tamest way of saying what they were whispering behind my back.

“Who needs a man? I have everything: a great job, a great pay packet, membership of the Elite club and most of all the freedom to do what I want whenever I want. Who wants to always be at the beck and call of a man?” These thoughts swirled around in my mind and made me even more restless and uptight.

The maid gave me a quizzical look when I castigated her for coming late; I had hitherto never raised an objection to that.

I imagined I saw the same ‘not getting laid enough by a guy’ thoughts running through her mind as she gave me a thoughtful look.

It was my birthday on the 10th and I had no plans for celebrating.

I work for a multi-national that believes in giving a holiday and a monetary allowance to employees on their birthdays to make them more productive. How this could help the employees escape from the addictive clutches of the myriad social networking sites and help in raising the productivity levels was beyond my ken. But who was I to crib? The gift coupon to the spa at the best luxury hotel in town was handed over to me by Sushila, the HR Head with a smile and birthday wishes. She had just had her birthday the previous week and the visit to the spa was at her recommendation.  It was a separate issue that our firm got a 70% discount on the regular tariff.

I woke up very early, at 6 am, to be precise. This was a treat, as I loved to walk bare-feet in the dewy wet grass at the same time as the sun woke up and illuminated the world slowly, at first, and then steadily with his golden rays.

A quick cup of green tea later I was handing over my voucher to the receptionist who wished me a very happy birthday with her bright eyes and equally bright voice.

“Their CRM is good,” my mind kept up its cynical talks.

I firmly believed that the spas were overrated and had agreed to enjoy their hospitality only because it was being paid for by someone else.

A tall slim girl with oriental eyes shyly welcomed me with a towel wrap. Thank God I had worn my St. Michael’s innerwear. I had treated myself to two sets for Diwali. So what if I was the only one to see them? The nude-coloured set was suitable to be worn under semi-transparent tops especially white ones. But it could stand alone, perfectly, in all its glory, if the need ever arose. Let’s just say I had a pleasurable 90 minutes of massage, scrubs, steams and some more massage, and add to it another half an hour of the nap I got pulled into by the ministrations of Angelique, the oriental masseuse.

My face shining anew after a quick hot shower, dressed in the new dress from Ravisshé, the latest designer on the block (a birthday gift to myself, the dress, not the designer), I walked towards the buffet for lunch. The emerald green crêpe-de-chîne dress fitted like a dream and felt as smooth as a shift of rose petals against my skin.

The spa treatment and the perfect fit of the dress made me feel self-confident and indulgent as I tucked into the pasta made by the chef on my instructions with just the right amount of vegetables and cheese.

I then attacked the dessert counter, keeping all thoughts about the calories at bay by promising to work out for half an hour more the next day.

As a solitary luncher, I attracted a few glances but it felt so good to just concentrate on the flavored textures and fragrances of the food without the distractions of an unsuitable partner.

Chocolate truffle pastries with mixed fruits, the mango soufflé that melted in my mouth as it transported me to paradise and the tiramisu with its medley of tastes were just the tip of the iceberg.

The bookshop beckoned and the weekday tryst ensured that I was the only browser. A cappuccino and the latest best-seller on how to manage my time better; could there be a better way to spend my time on this day that was turning out to be much different from what I thought it would be.

Half an hour elapsed before I started getting restless. What’s the matter, I wondered? I wanted to write. The sales assistant provided the paper and pen, they were used to people being visited by their muse in the inspiring environs and were used to this demand which they fulfilled without much delay.

Two hours later I was still at it before I realized that I had started writing the novel which had been at the back of my mind since the last two years.

“It has been a day full of pleasure as I have pampered my body and my soul,” I thought, at dinner, as I bit into the garlic breadstick dipped in mushroom soup.

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