The Art of (Hand) Writing


First time I wrote a letter was when I was 12. Probably. My mother is so sweet, she encouraged us – me and my sister – to write to our Nana who lived with the rest of our maternal family in village Naultha (Haryana). In primary school, we learned to write only on ruled paper. Therefore, our alphabets and words would look like they have been spilled over from a bowl on that 25 paisa yellow colored postcard. We used to split space. My sister would write first half and I would write the next half of the letter. That is why I love my mother so much. She taught us to write and express. In order to get more comfortable on this plain blank surface to write, we drew lines, which helped us write better.

Many years later, when I went to college, I went so far from home that my only family was my friends. I made some really close friends at IIT. Staying in Guwahati by the banks of river Brahmputra, we would spend so much time with each other that we inevitably became close. It had such a strong impression on me that when I went home for summer vacation, I found that vacation really long and wanted to stay in touch with my friends from college. I didn’t have a mobile back then. I am not sure if us kids were allowed to make much calls on landline. I guess no one was allowed, we would mostly use that for listening only! I perhaps foresaw this. Or may be not. Either way, I used to carry this little red diary, in which I would keep details of my friends. More so because of my stupid memory that never served me well enough. In first semester itself, I met 200 boys. How would I remember them? In that little diary, I would write their name, room number and any other detail that could help me place them in my memory, like long ear, or native place, or extra teeth or musical speech or ultra small short. As the time passed, when I got close to some of them, I would update their contact with their address.

That is why in the summer vacation, I was able to write yellow postcards to many of my friends. That was my first adult experience of writing letter. Since then, in the rest of my life, I have been writing letters to many in friends and family. Some of them are probably in the same city or State as mine, some are in different continent. But over the past few years, I have written so many letters that I wanted to reflect on why I still hand-write letters.

Letters, I find them very intimate form of correspondence. When I write to someone, I actually think more deeply of him or her before penning any word because I know there won’t be any delete button here. That is why, after writing hello, I take pause, sometimes long pause to think of them. If I miss something somewhere in some paragraph, I have to become creative to weave a story in which I can fit the missing piece in. Often, I write to people who are not single. They are mothers or fathers or husband or wife. So I actually write to entire family without doing BCC J . Just like most arts, writing letters require undivided focus. If the internet is ON, it takes forever to even draft an email, because many alerts coming from all directions will distract you. No wonder, some of the most expressive letters I have written were either aboard some flight or when there was no power in my apartment and I wrote them in candlelight.

Writing a letter is an exercise in patience. Unlike emails, which get to friends at the click or touch of a button, letters are quite an elaborate process. Writing indeed is a big part of it. For that I don’t need much paraphernalia. I usually carry a notebook to most places. So whenever I am bored or have time or think of some friend or notice something amusing that is worth sharing with someone, I look for a blank page and start penning down. But that’s only half the battle won. Going home, looking up the address, and slapping the appropriate stamp are subsequent big steps.   Then comes my inertia and laziness that comes in the way of me taking the envelope to the red post box. If it’s an international letter, then a major obstacle is finding someone who is going to a foreign country whose stamps I already have. It usually is America. I could send using India Post too, but I am sometimes skeptical when I use ordinary Rs 25 stamp, which anyway takes 20-25 days for the letter to get to its destination. So you see, a written letter sealed in an envelope really screams at me every day till it gets out of my hands. Once it has left my premises, then each day I wonder if it has reached. After a while, I forget that I wrote it. Or sometimes I give up. Sometimes when I think of that friend after a month, I send an email to know if receive it. There have been times when my friend got it, read it, but forgot to let me know. Thus, a lot of patience is needed in enjoying the complete process of letter writing.

Recently, I was cleaning my old closets and I found the print of an eCard that a friend sent to me on my 19th birthday. Had it not been for this print, I would have never seen those most special words – “Happy Birthday to the sweetest and dearest friend”. Back in those days, such words were not used very liberally. They were actually used for some really sweet and dear. That is why letters really help to see the past, look at old stories once in a while. How many of us really dig into emails from five years ago or Facebook pictures of that much past. While cleaning those closets, I even found printed pictures from a Euro trip.. during Orkut days. I have no idea in which hard disk those images might be saved. But these pictures reminded me of old friendships.

Letters involve longing. Even though I find Gita’s principle of karm most applicable in letter writing – do the deed (write letter) and never except results or reply, I still sometimes long for a reply, physical or electronic. Just the fact that they felt happy makes my day. I remember the film Gaman, in which Smita Patil, living in a village near Lucknow has just one way of being in touch with Om Puri, her husband in Bombay – letters. No phones nothing. She would read that one letter from him every night. That piece of paper was all she had to feel the touch of her husband, after all he actually wrote it.

Once I got a reply from Japan. It was quite an educational process for me because the stamp itself was fascinating and motivated me to look up the person on Google and learn about that. Similar I learned once about Rosa Parks because of the stamp on the letter from a friend. These stamps carry stories of the culture of recipient. That’s why ideally, I would prefer sending letters using India Post with variety of stamps on the envelope. While in Delhi, I end up getting the stamps of only Gandhi’s, in the south I see a variety – of different leaders like Ambedkar, of different events and symbols.

GoAir, Go Where? Mr Jehangir Wadia, It Could Have Been Your Father

Two days ago, my father got heart attack, my family was on its way to hospital. When I got that call from home, I   jumped into action of calls to insurance, HR, hospital etc. After couple of hours of emails, phone calls to set up cashless process, I went to Expedia and found that there was very little chance I could make it to the last flight to Delhi. Earliest I could see my father would be next morning anyway. The earliest and reasonably affordable flight next morning was GoAir at 8:10AM.  At INR 10K, it still was an expensive option for one way ticket from Bangalore to Delhi. I expected to get to hospital just in time – a benefit one expects to see in such emergencies when flights are booked at last moment for critical situations.

Getting up at 4 in the morning to pack and make it to airport, I had gotten everything in my control. Or at least I thought I did. I reached the departure counter at the designated hour mentioned on my boarding pass – 7:30AM.  The display still wasn’t saying what I would be expecting at that moment – “Now Boarding”or something to that effect. It didn’t say “Delayed”either. All it said was – “Security Check”. I  asked this person named Rajesh PR. He said flight is delayed.

“How would I know that?”

“I am telling you that.”

“There is no written information on that anywhere, on no display?”

“Some technical issue with flight, it is delayed”

In this and the conversation that followed further he didn’t say a word of sorry and wasn’t apologetic. I asked, “Can you not   be  at least apologetic when you convey that flight is delayed? Like use the word sorry?”

“What for?”

This arrogance was shocking to me. Whether it was technical issue or whatever issue, GoAir passengers had no role in it. They paid the fare and expected to get to places on time. Thus, on behalf of GoAir, how hard was it for Rajesh PR to say, “Sorry the flight is delayed”. Even Indian Railways announced, “Inconvenience is regretted.”. First the flight was delayed, next they didn’t inform customers through any expected usual means. Next this arrogance?

I didn’t want to spend a minute more there. I left and implanted myself somewhere to shoot off mails to colleagues that informing that I would be off to Delhi for few days due to this emergency.  I was under the impression that there would some announcement for the new departure time, or some legitimate communication. After a while when I didn’t hear any such thing, I was concerned and approached the departure gate again. This time that Rajesh PR was absent some other dude told me that the flight left five minutes ago from a different boarding gate. I could not control myself now. When I showed up on time earlier, the staff was rude and announced the flight was delayed and gave no  further information. An hour and a half later when I came to check what’s up with the flight, I am told that the flight left, FROM A DIFFERENT GATE ?

I can sense my anger and frustration and helplessness all coming back now when I am narrating  that incident 24 hours later because the absurdness of them saying “we don’t call or SMS passengers”was killing me back then. They had issued me a boarding pass. While doing boarding, they knew one passenger was missing. They had all information about contacting me. My email, my phone number. Yet there was no way they could reach me? They gave all sorts of arguments. “How did other 149 passengers go onto flight?”, “Why were you not here at boarding gate”, “Why didn’t you keep checking display?”, “why you did not come back again to check new time?”

My father was in hospital I just had to go. All passengers at the airport were asking them to help me.  It was an emergency. It was their fault to leave the passenger on the airport after issuing boarding pass, and more so, after I had reported once to the boarding gate and theirs was the delay. After many arguments the only option they gave was 8:45PM flight to Delhi. I really wished I could kill someone or myself at that moment. From morning 8 , now they wanted  me to take night 8 flight. With father in critical situation in Delhi and my stressed family, every minute was counting. Everybody on the airport was requesting and yelling at them for me , to accommodate me on any other airline flight. But those insensitive and irresponsible pricks didn’t show any heart. I yelled , I begged. Nothing worked. I had no energy left. They were showing off the favor they did by putting me in that 8:45PM flight.

I finally reached home at midnight. I could not see my father that day. By god’s blessings, he survived the operation. If he and my family weren’t so lucky, GoAir’s insensitiveness and incompetency would have been squarely responsible for my regrets for the rest of my life – that I could not be with my father when he needed me most.

Mr Wadia, you who run this entire show with support of such irresponsible staff, I ask you this question – what would you do if you were in my position? IT COULD HAVE BEEN YOUR FATHER.

.. On the Economics .. of PK


There is no denying that many ridiculous things are a part of  many religions of the world. Rational followers of each of them possibly testify that and know the inner jokes.  Hinduism – known for its symbols, has lot of elements to talk about, to make fun of, or to reflect upon. Hinduism is fairly open in its content and rituals and is available in plenty of languages and flavors. The number of people in India, who are very familiar with Hinduism, familiar enough to either admire the satire on this religion or complain about that satire, are way more than those who could relate well enough to similar treatment to any other religion – even purely on the  basis of  number of Hindus vs number of folks following other religion. Even non-Hindus can get the jokes and satire on Hinduism, because again.. religion is fairly open.

Now think for a moment from the point of view of producer of movies like OMG or PK. In what kind of story would he get more engaged audience that  not just watches the film, but also through the word of mouth and social media commentary, creates enough buzz and controversy that many others also feel inclined to watch? A satire on Hinduism perhaps?

Although in all fairness, PK did pass commentary on all the four major religions and granted that content was indeed skewed more towards Hinduism, now imagine if it was skewed more towards Islam. First, audience would have been very limited. Second, what in Islam would they have ridiculed that is common knowledge enough so that even non Muslims get it without explanation. How often do we even know about some art satire happening on Islam until we hear of a reactionary terrorist attack on the artists.

They wanted to make a film on religion – their creative instinct. They chose Hinduism – Economics one big factor. Of course, threats and fatwas in the alternate choices can’t be completely ignored either.

Happy Diwali


I have been back in India for over two months now. Every day since the return, my mind accumulated so many thoughts, some discomforts to blog about, so many lacunae that I either did not see before or wasn’t used to anymore, so many inefficiencies to fix. I had been desiring to write about each one of them. But my self-doubts and procrastination kept me from doing so. But as we approached Diwali, I was feeling motivated to write something. Something. Anything.

Due to poor health I was almost bedridden for a while, so I started going for a slow walk in the evening. I would leave phone at home. I would just try to observe the mélange of activities all around me. I saw many people happy, excited. Men, women, kids, adolescents, elderlies, shopkeepers, street hawkers, grocery sellers – all seemed under some euphoria. I wanted to know what was it that excited them so much, while I was still struggling to make peace with faulty foot over-bridge, or poor cell reception. I began to observe sharply and hear closely. A woman was happy she got 2 kilograms of potatoes at a desired price. A teenage boy was just happy to see some text message flashing on his cell phone. The tailor at the corner was happy because the woman liked the blouse he had stitched. The elderly woman next door was happy after washing the area in front of her house to see it clean. Kids riding pillion on the motor cycle of Rawat ji were happy because they got an extra box of phuljhari which they didn’t expect Rawat Ji to buy them.

I realized that they were happy for the milestone of that hour. The accomplishment of that hour meant the world to them. In that hour, rising prices or plaguing corruption didn’t stand a chance to appear. And it should not because mere thought of that while cleaning the front yard of one’s house or buying potatoes wouldn’t serve any purpose. Moreover, many of them seemed wise to pick the battles. They seemed to have given up hopes on some problems beyond their control and put their hopes on personal things that matterred more.

With these realizations, when I finished my walk on Diwali evening and walked back in house, my mother was cleaning diye and preparing rest of the paraphernalia for the Lakshmi Puja. The three of us – me, my father and my mother – showered and wore clean clothes , and worshipped. We ate simple meal. We watched all the prime time soaps like any other weekday. And before the smoke could creep in, we closed the doors and called it a night. It was a Happy Diwali because all three of us could be there, alive, reasonably healthy, together.

30in30 : The Family That Teared Me Up

Indian Family

A family in Colorado set me up with this family in El Cerritos, CA. I am fascinated by this chain of trust that has made it possible for me to complete this journey. Sri and Ram have made America their home for more than a decade now. Sri studied bio chemistry in India and became a flight attendant in Lufthansa and later switched to career of teaching and educating children about science. I believe this creativity and audacity of life choices is reflected in her food as well. She served me a lunch of Indian style Quesadillas !

When I asked Ram what images to come to his mind , when he thinks of India, he said, “My parents”. This was one of the few families that teared me up. I don’t know why, but I was struggling to fight my tears as I was seeing this family from behind the camera. May be it reminded me of how much I desire everything I saw there – kids of my own and a significant other. The love amongst Ram, Sri and their sweet little son Neel was so much palpable. I am sure it would have been even more overwhelming if I had seen their toddler daughter too.

30in30 : Conclusion

Stories will be told. And Retold. More people will join and leave this journey. But for all practical purpose, as I pack my bags to go to India, I will call the journey concluded. In California!

Here is how it ended! –



And thanks to all of you, we raised $3000 through kick starter!


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30in30 : What Makes A Family Anyway?

L-R: Me, Matt my host, Rob his landlord.
R-L: Me, Matt my host, Rob his landlord.

I sometimes see myself conditioned about what to find when I enter a family home – a man , a woman, two men, two women, may be a child, may be a living a room, sometimes a pet, and definitely a kitchen.. and things to those effect.  All those things give a feeling of ‘normal’ or ‘safe’.

Last night, moments before putting my camp in the Harris Beach State Park, I heard from a couchsurfing host Matt Stump that he could host me for the night. I decided to go check the host and his house before freezing myself in the park, like I did in Yellow Stone. As I entered the house, and did a quick mini tour, I was scanning not just the house, but also my own thought process. There were doubts, questions, suspicions in my mind. Absence of a kitchen kitchen and lack of a  ‘regular’ structure of house and its walls were not helping it either. My mind was racing to place Matt and the house in some imaginary bucket to make a sense of things I was observing. I was not answering his questions with complete thoughts because a part of my brain was processing something else. Matt asked if I would like to get dinner at a neighboring restaurant. With the compliant nature that I have, I answered in affirmative without saying Yes to myself first.

As we entered the restaurant, and I saw that he knew people and people knew him and were happy to see him, I felt better. When we sat down, and I bombarded him with my questions like where he was born and raised, where his siblings , parents were, what he likes to do, I  realized that he is a family. He is a hardworking man, who has reached where he is today without any fancy education degree. He is a single father raising a daughter. He follows Buddhism and tries to find inner and outer peace with that. He manages computer administration at a state prison in the town and earlier worked for Intel.

He then introduced me to his landlord – Rob and Dave. These two British brothers came to Brookings OR fifteen years ago. They run a printing shop here and enjoy the wilderness , the surfing, and the ocean here. That’s why they left London for Brookings!  Matt actually  cooks in the kitchen of Rob and Dave. And the brothers take shower at Matt’s. These people hang out often and they have created their own interesting family structure here that support each other.  I felt comfortable enough with Matt to confess my initial doubts which thankfully had evaporated by now. Matt told me that the image I carried in my head about a family was what it was there in United States in 60’s, pretty much everywhere. But then over the years, that has changed due to various reasons including economic ones. 

This road trip is definitely making me more comfortable with such alternative families and home structures. All theses hosts have been kind and gave me a safe shelter each night. That’s why I think that couchsurfing helps to break stereotypes and to un-condition our minds. It is helping me understand that it is love, respect and care that makes  a place a family and not necessarily certain gender or certain number of people or certain number of rooms. 

He offered me the bed of his daughter  who had gone to the grandmother’s place. So my twenty-nine year old self slept on a nine year old’s bed!

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And the house has these interesting lights all around.

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30in30: As I Approach California

Almost thirty days ago, I started from Central Park in New York City on a journey to meet 30 American families in 30 days before concluding my Fulbright education in America and return to India. Tomorrow, I reach the end. In San Francisco. I feel indebted to every family who became a part of this journey as I kept moving west.

I look back and I can see the happy faces of kids, dogs and parents in those families starting from first stop in Harrisburg PA till Sheridan OR yesterday. The journey has thrown many surprises, thankfully the pleasant ones. I was happy to note many tight knit families where it was hard to distinguish who were cousins and who were siblings. I was glad to find shelter in the homes who I had no common friends with. They opened their door just on plain human faith. I am quite touched but their openness and kindness. Some of them at least knew of me. At least a day in advance. Some were total strangers. Some didn’t know of me till the moment I knocked their door. Yet, the response and kindness to talk to me, or feed me or shelter me has been incredible to say the least.

As I approach San Francisco, I have some regrets that I could not see more of it. I feel happy that I have come this far. I feel longing for my home in New Delhi. I feel excited to smell ocean and enter California!


30in30 : The Ballerina Who Walked Across the Country


The first home whose story I captured on my camera on this journey was that of Frankie Price Presslaff in Indiana. They knew this woman called Granny Mary in Portland. Back then I was in Bloomington and Portland was so far on my road to west that I could not imagine who is Granny Mary or what she did or what she looked like or what she was all about. Frankie and Granny had never met. They had hardly even spoken on phone. Yet they have known each other for twenty years through internet. I am, thus, fascinated by the power of human faith – Granny opened her doors yesterday for me on one request of Frankie.

Granny Mary is the woman who WALKED across the country – from San Francisco to Boston in late 1988 to raise awareness about HIV and create support for women and babies fighting with the disease. Granny Mary is also a retired Ballerina – she waltzed since she was 9. She is also an admirer of cuisines from all over the world – no wonder she made Indian dinner for me. Oh god, she is so many things. One day is just not enough to know her life. I can spend weeks and months in this dusty old town of Sheridan in Oregon to know about her. Moreover, her partner Ralph and his fascination for Hexagons are so mesmerizing that one can keep digging this couple layer by  layer to uncover the mysteries. He has hexagons everywhere – on walls, on car, on the tiles in Kitchen, on the covers of cushion, their living room is hexagonal – like everything!

Their home and they themselves offer a vibe of  utter familiarity. When I first saw Granny as she got off that black jeep in the ‘downtown’ Sheridan, her eyes immediately gave energy of kindness – the one you imagine in the grannies you read about in fables and bed time stories in your childhood. My maternal grandmother is not around any more, I loved her a lot. My paternal grandmother is far. After meeting Granny, I felt profound familiarity. I was cutting my nails in their home without even asking. It felt like my nanny’s place in Haryana – it was just home.

When I asked her how she walked so much at that age, “Oh I am strong as a horse. A ballerina has got to have strong muscles.”

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