Life as it is...

I was feeling blue since yesterday night. But then I went and bought an Asterix (Asterix and Cleopatra) and a Tintin (The Seven Crystal Balls) this afternoon --the old ones I had having all gone on various trip to friends somewhere or lying in my library room back home. Nothing gives me a high as much as looking at books, reading and browsing through them. Dark chocolate edges in as close as it can of course. Considering the fact that I have been demolishing bars of Lindt's Madagascar, Cuba and plain bitter flavours every single evening with alarming gusto and persistence, I guess it would be kind of an understatement.

I have been meeting people, who I would like to believe, would make a difference in my life and that of others they have touched. Dame Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop came over to Delhi to formally launch the store here.

My pre-conceived notion went somewhere along these lines: that she would look down her nose at everybody. What I saw instead was this spunky little woman with her head full of unruly brown curls. I have not heard a Brit be so un-Brit.

The dame was unconventional. Swear words came tumbling out by the second along with witty one-liners. And yet what touched me was the fact that she was stuck about doing the 'right thing'. How being an entrepreneur she has used her money and power to help others. The best part was that she didn't sound like a preacher or too self-important in the least. We all like to live for ourselves. I do. How many people actually reach out to those not so fortunate as us?

She was a funny and special woman. Her mother is 92 years old and wants her ashes to be exploded along with fireworks when she's gone. And she sneaks in chilli into her neighbours' tea. That tells you what a scream such a woman's daughter would be.

And in the mean time I have re-discovered my passion for vintage cars. My grandfather owned a Morris that was a cute black number. Over the years, however, following his death my uncle (father's elder brother) let it fall apart. Then one day we heard that they wanted to sell it. I was as loathe to let them do it as was my father. You see, my dad loves driving and he had learnt it in his dad's Morris. So there was much sentimental strings attached there. On my part, I might never have been in the car, but I love anything old and a vintage is authentic. Plus I have memories of the Morris lying unattended and in a decrepit condition in the garage of my uncle's home. I used to keep telling dad that we should have it with us since he was so attached to it. But his reply would go such: "You know we can't." Caught in the politics of the family, the Morris was sold. That was it. An old man's dream sold off. Just like that.

When I went on a lunch to a corporate lawyer's farmhouse, I was amazed by the collection of vintage cars in his shed. The stately black Minerva, the gleaming Buicks, the shining yellow Cadillac, the brilliant red Chevrolet, the black car from Zubeida, the Ford Station wagon from Gadar, the lavender Ford Zephyr driven by Hema Malini once, a beautiful old carriage with gas lights belonging to a Maharaja -- I was in another world altogether. Oh and there were lovely old Lambretta scooters too. I was so envious as I listened to the lawyer say that once a year he takes off in 10 vintage cars to Sariska with family and friends. Must be some sight.


Here, come put another candle on the cake...

While some things remain exactly the same -- like the Birthday Girl turning Sarojini Market up and down literally looking for The Birthday Outfit till she finds out the perfect shirt dress, the perfect belt and perfect leggings, the parents looking for a guy for their 'over-the-hill' daughter (mother reminded me this very morning that I am on my way to turn 27 next year!), a brother calling up his sleepy sister and cracking poor jokes on the morning of her birthday and and on the afternoon of her birthday finding to her delight beautiful flowers and feminine gifts lying on her desk from her colleagues -- some things somewhere, somehow change you as a human being.

These are not things that would bring about a literal change in a day or a week or a month probably. But they would be there with the self. Now I don't know necessarily whether that makes any sense. Cause I am a tad bit exhausted. I have tottering around on heels all morning, cutting yummy cakes, opening gifts, taking food orders from editor and colleagues, munching and talking a lot.

Right now I am seated quietly and thinking about other stuff. Stuff like will the guy I care about ever wish me. I guess not *sigh* and here I am, a fool, waiting for an e-mail with bated breath.

Then scenes from yesterday evening flit through.

You see, I was at AIIMS. I have been of late plagued by a case of tiny rashes on the upper lip (let me state here that I am not HIV-positive!). So my brother suitably alarmed me by saying that since the whole face is linked to the brain through a particular vein, I am in considerable danger of having my upper works affected. As ridiculous as that sounds now, you have to hear my brother at it. He even convinced me once that I was in danger of retinal detachment.

Now my idea of AIIMS has been rather exalted.

The sight that greeted my eyes when I walked to the casualty ward was that of people lying on the pavements -- lying, sleeping and eating on the ground. Who were these? They were the attendants (the families accompanying the patients from various states). My brother's friend Dr S (who was taking me to her fiance for the check-up) commented: "It is sad you know. These people hear such big things about AIIMS. And then the poor sods arrive here from places like Bihar to lie on the pavement."

We entered the casualty ward and the smell of urine and sweat was strong enough to penetrate my blocked nose. Then there were the sights of people with bloodied shirts lying unconscious on stretchers and dead bodies being carted away. Soon I was in the room where Dr X (S's fiance) rests during the night. It was dirty, with grime covering the white floor tiles and the bed sheets unwashed for god knows how many decades.

As I perched myself on one end of the bed waiting for Dr X to manage some time from his harried routine, Dr S told me how he hardly gets to sleep any night thanks to the fact that there are hardly 10 doctors taking care of 200 or more patients. "X was very enthusiastic when he started at AIIMS. Now he has resigned to his fate here," she said. "Do you know that AIIMS has the lowest mortality rate?" That really impressed me. "No, wait," she added. "Let me tell you why. That is because all the serious cases are never accepted here. The moment they get such cases, they send them off to Safdarjung Hospital. And if a junior resident at night happens to take such a case, he gets jacked the next morning by the senior resident."

It was reality check.

Even meeting Dr S. She was so simple and one of those earnest people who only care about studies and work. And she told me about my brother who is right now in Assam working and studying in a hospital there. "Half his bed is covered with books and he sleeps on a narrow strip. He's so thin. I guess that's how he manages. He studies all the time and just doesn't do anything else. He is a walking encyclopaedia," she said.

All of it just makes me very sad.

If I sound disjointed, blame it on the mood.