Monday, May 8, 2017

Three Days and A Weekend in Shanghai

2004 was when I had been to Shanghai. I was part of a regional agency team working on a body wash brand.  It had been a mixed experience. Could also be because I had just started travelling on work. Had no experience on my side.

13 years older, with life and work changes redefining me, I boarded China Eastern last Tuesday. I did not know what to expect. So went with just that.

A decade  and more does change things. More so in economies that are driving things at a furious pace. There were more skyscrapers lining the clouds, the Bund had buildings that came alive with light and images that could beat most cities in the world, glass facades of new office buildings stood high against the sun and the rain. 

What struck me most, however, was the friendliness, the smiles and general positivity that was clearly in the air. 
I had no problem engaging in conversations.
Getting directions.
Made very few faux pas while ordering food in the little alleys off Nanjing Road.

Work was pretty much a global culture.
Designed to be such.

But as I boarded the home bound aircraft, I looked back to the city.
Realised I was going back with hope and expectation.
At many levels.
Ambitions at work.
A desire to come back again.
Know more about the culture.
What drives. What doesn't.
Dreams. Fears.
Families. Relationships.

Until we meet again, Shanghai.
Thank you for a great three days and a weekend.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Ninety Days

“Around the world in 90 days” used to mesmerize me as a young dreamy eyed girl, wanting to see the world. An avid reader of Enid Blyton, I used to imagine the London Bridge, picture postcard houses with beautiful flowers in the window sill, rosy cheeked kids playing in the sun, cows grazing in lush green meadows. 

The daydreams usually culminated in a long sigh as I was pulled back to reality… reality of a life with my mother and my younger sister in Digboi, reality of growing up to be a son in the family and “taking charge” , and the reality that some daydreams are best cherished as dreams.

Little wonder then, that February 7th, 2004 was probably one of the happiest days in my life. It was a day when I was awarded the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship, for 12 outstanding women professionals in India, for a three-month course on Women and Leadership in the University of Bradford, U.K.

The three months that followed before my departure for the land of my dreams were one of panic, worry, turmoil, ecstasy, sudden bursts of laughter, pride and almost childlike disbelief… this couldn’t be me… I couldn’t be going all the way to UK and that too for three whole months…

Three months… it seemed like a lifetime to me. With three large suitcases, a huge handbag, a laptop (on loan from office) and a heartful of hope, I eagerly looked out of the window for my first glimpse of Bradford, as the coach from Manchester airport rolled into the city at 9 pm at night.

We were put up in Wardley House, a student accommodation, with independent rooms. I was very excited and immediately put up pictures, and little curios I had carried from home, to give my room a “lived in” look. All 12 of us arrived in Bradford by May 15th, and after a few initial hiccups, we were on our way to life as a student….

The three months that followed was an experience I can never forget. The interactive classes, the professors who were established experts in their subjects, our study trips to London, where we actually met a baroness and visited the House of Lords, Wakefield, Manchester, Haworth, the Chevening dinner at the York railway museum, where we got an invitation from none else but the Queen herself (Her Majesty’s office), my two weeks in London where I did a project with my parent company J Walter Thompson, the life as a professional in London traveling in the tube… these were Life’s blessings to me, Life’s way of telling me that dreams are not just dreams, they are the seeds of hope and fulfillment.

Life has been a strange teacher to me, and I have learnt to accept all trials, tribulations and joys in life as ways of teaching me how to appreciate what I have, instead of complaining about what I do not.

I learnt about the lives of the women in the UK, and realized that though they are more exposed and experienced and maybe have an “advanced” way of thought, they have their own set of stress points. Whether it be work life balance, their way of coming to terms with the impermanence of relationships, their positive outlook to life.

The most important learning was the fact that they often listened to that “Inner Voice” or their hearts. They were not stuck onto a single career, or a monotonous way of life and their spirit of experimentation, and “no looking back” attitude were stepping-stones for the confidence they had in themselves.

These three months taught me that a woman’s life is to be celebrated, not scorned. And that, our strength lies not in being “one of the boys” but in our own special way of leading through emotions. Leadership for us is about complementing the accepted norms found in men with our own softer feminine values.

I was away from the mad race of Mumbai, the never ending run for money, career and material possessions. When I had forgotten to look up at the morning sun or the beautiful night sky. Bradford taught me that it is these daily pleasures in Life that make us look forward to each day with new hope and enthusiasm.

But the unforgettable part of Bradford had nothing to do with UK per se or to the fair skinned inhabitants who I had befriended. The unforgettable part was my acquaintance with a family who had lived there for years, who had made Bradford their home away from home, and yet had left their roots strong and intact.

I met Dr. Karuna Das and his wonderful wife, Rumi at the fag end of my trip. They are the only Assamese family living in Bradford, and together with their two daughters, Paporee and Pranamee, have made Bradford their home. In their house, I experienced the warm amalgamation of the best of both worlds- the lifestyle of a “Brit” family peppered by strong Indian/Assamese values.

Dr. Das is a person who has silently contributed to Assam what very few people of a much higher stature have ever done. He is a person who has actively encouraged Assamese artists to come to the UK and delight the hearts of the Assamese populace there with their culture. He has encouraged and patronized many cultural organizations and has even had Dr Bhupen Hazarika as his guest more than once. The doors of his house and heart are wide open, for encouraging young talent from his homeland. No wonder Dr. Bhupen Hazarika conferred upon him the title of “Sagar”… Dr. Karuna Sagar Das.

It’s been 12 years since I left Bradford. I came back to my life in India, with renewed hope and vigour, and with great confidence in myself and the people I work with. Life met with changes. Some big and some bigger.

But those ninety days will forever be in my memory for showing me where Life can take me.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The HomeComing

( HomeStay: Courtsey

The Home is back.
Not just as a unit of love and togetherness.

The Home, today, stands for specialization.
Unique experiences that  industrialization actually takes away from.
An Adventure Trail that leaves others wanting the same.

Home Stays.
Where the ringing of a doorbell  itself signals the change from a hotel or a resort.
And kitchens are a place to hang out and not walled away.
With hosts who are not salaried for their smiles.

Home Chefs.
The pleasure of home food, served up as fine dining or a regular lunch at work.
Varied cuisines.
The touch of the lady who has always led her recipes with love.

Home Bakers.
The cakes may not be sliced to perfection by the knives of an established patisserie.
But in that slight "imperfection", or is that the real perfection- lies a new taste.
A new experience.

Home Made.
Curtains. Apparel. Accessories. Pickles. Rooms. Dining.
You name it.

It is a force  the market has to reckon with as a hot trend that is set to grab a share of our wallets.
More importantly, a share of our time.
In a society increasingly more time poor than just wealth poor.
Brands have to look at the power of collaboration.

It is the new experience and one that most of us are dabbling with, in some form.
It has a power that is eternal.
The power of a home.

Truly, Home is where the heart is, today.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Turn the Chair

This struck me as I was sipping my morning tea on my balcony at home.
The placing of the few plants and the two chairs and table there is dictated by the space. Or constrained by it, at times.
Being a creature of habit, I always place the chairs flanking the table at an angle, facing the rooms inside. Framed by yellow curtains, this gives the balcony a nice look from inside our apartment.
This morning, I decided to turn the chair.
With my back to the usual view of our home and life within.
And stared at things that had escaped my eyes before.
The way the hedge framed our building. The small shops lining the other side of the road. A few people using the terrace of a half ruined building for a temporary home. The skyline. The horizon.

Made me realise that sometimes, we get used to the view.
And work around that to better it.
Expecting different outcomes.

We examine the same challenges.
Turn around and mash the same solutions in our minds and across the proverbial table.

When all we need to do is turn that chair.
To see a different perspective.
A new answer to our challenges.
Fresh possibilities to explore.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sing for Change

( Picture courtesy:

Sometimes I feel women do the most dis-service to our brethren.

From the time women gathered the spirit and gumption to speak up, they have been labelled as feminists. Bracketing them as a lot that rebels rather than half the sky expressing what they feel.

Much has changed since then, with the morning goodbyes being a part of both genders in households.
But has the change been enough?

The thing is, we feel apprehensive about expressing realities.

We like to say we come from societies that have no discrimination. While reading about violences almost everyday.
We like to believe that we have never been victims of domestic violence. After all, a rough shove or an angry push once in a while is not such a big deal, is it? What will happen to our lives if we speak out?
We rarely talk about work place discrimination. It's much nicer to say we face no discrimination. The workplace is happy. We are happy. At least we think we are.

We keep mum when we face expectations every single day from our families- playing that battling vs balancing role. How can I be expected to put my feet up after work- I can't. So what if I am as tired as everyone else with the newspaper or the screen in front of them.
Paints our families in a good light. We are the blessed lot who are given the permission to work.

The ones who do sing out face the wrath.
Are branded selfish or self centred or the allegations being "personal".
The ones who read about them are sarcastic about them enjoying the money and good life and yet complaining.

So we stop singing.
We compromise.
We say we are good.
When we can be better.
Way better.

And yes, for every one of us who is truly privileged and happy, we still owe it to some of the others to be sensitive to what they face and battle with.
At work and in life.

For when we start singing, the world will listen.
That's the first step.
Towards real winds of change.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Adventurous Five

This was the name of our "Club" when we were young.
Inspired by Enid Blyton and Famous Five.

My sister, our friends and I.
Armed with torches in broad daylight, as playing after dark outside was out of question.
Some food provisions. No fancy cans of candied fruit and sausages like the books.
We had biscuits. Something that was available in plenty in the kitchen.
And an old set of binoculars that had long been discarded by my father.

We would meet  in the garden and draw out plans for our "adventure".
I would run up to tell my mother that we were going to the hillock beyond our garden.
My mother would nod a yes- busy with her kitchen chores. Maybe she never heard me clearly.

We would troop out in a single file through the gate in our back garden.
Make our way through thickets and low bushes, following a cattle track.
Jump out of our skins when a squirrel rustled down a tree.
Sit in a clearing and gobble down our biscuits.
Walk some more.
And then head home for lunch.

Happy with our adventure.

Little did we realise then, Life itself is the big adventure we embark on.
That every cattle track we follow may not lead up to what we aim for.
That we may soon run out of our biscuits and yet have to plod on.
That our torchlights and binoculars fail to show us the treacherous turns and bumps.
And that, when we are tired and hungry, we look for the path back home to see that it is long gone.

Truly, we are in the midst of an adventure.
And maybe we can look back at our Adventure Clubs of yesteryears and see whether we can fall back on some learnings... maybe...

( Picture Courtsey:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting away with a Cake

The Cake.
It makes it's sweet, iced appearance on almost every occasion nowadays.

Birthdays of course are a must.
What's a birthday without a cake and the customary smearing.

At work, promotions see cakes being sliced.
Clients say a thank you with cakes.
Agencies say a thank you with cakes.
Cakes do allow for creativity.

At home, anniversaries must have a cake.
The red velvet or black forest make their appearance on Indian festivals as well.
Proudly grabbing centre stage at the dining table.

There is something about cakes.
We can express ourselves.
Or not express ourselves.

Everyone loves a slice.
The layers.
The fondant.
The toppings.
The sugar dust.

The person who cuts the cake is usually the star of the occasion.
The birthday child, the proud team, the happy couple, the jubilant parents.
There is always room for a speech, a few words, some kisses, some hugs.

But when cakes make their appearance at farewells, it leaves me wondering.
What is a person supposed to say when you cut a cake before saying goodbye.

Or maybe, a cake always does do the talking.....

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Back Pack

Had a house cleaning service come over and give the house  the long overdue cleaning.
As the young men started going about their work, I saw them in a corner.

A stack of back packs neatly in a row.
Black. Red. Black with a blue stripe. Red with a green patch.

There was a time when we saw plastic packets half rolled, carrying their lunch boxes, and a few personal belongings  needed for the day.
These packets were usually white with the name of the trader printed in bold blue.
Sharma and Sons. Raju Sarees and Dress Material.
Or some jute bags that we called "Muna" in Assamese.
Or in some cases a "jhola"- that even stereotyped people.

The Back Pack stands for so many things.
To start with, attitude.
The posture of swinging a back pack over your shoulder itself shows confidence.
Easier mobility.
Cues of travel.
Of someone who is outdoors, up and about.
Back Packs are great levellers.
They stand for a dynamic nation- not content with what they can earn , but with what they can dream of  and achieve.

For stepping out.
Of traditional jobs, roles, lives.

I said thank you to the team that worked all day and made my home a sparkling one.
They changed out of their work clothes, swung their packs  over their backs and walked off.

Made me realise how  some things are not just an accessory.
They are a bridge that makes us walk into the life we are striving for.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Dance Teacher

His name was Sarbeswar.
The clearest memory I have of him  is  him wheeling his black cycle up the hill  into our driveway in Digboi.
The winding lanes  had been made for  cars or hardy walkers and was not cycle friendly at all.
Which meant that Sarbeswar sir, as we called him,  had to really put in a lot of effort on that long climb uphill.

Sir would lean his cycle against the wall and walk up.
Maa would shout out- Sir is here.
Her loud voice  streamed through the walls and doorways into our room, where I would usually be buried in my favourite book.
I wasn't happy. Sir used to come on Friday afternoons, which meant I missed my swimming in summer and playing with my friends in winter.

But Maa wouldn't ever take no from me.
She was convinced that I had to be an all rounder.
And classical dance ticked the right box.
Both from talent as well as performance opportunities.

So I had to drop my book, wear my ghungroos and jingle my way into the guest room where Sarbeswar Sir would be gulping down a glass of water.
He had long hair, which fell in locks upto his shoulders.
One nail , the ring finger one , was exceptionally long.
He usually wore the same off white half sleeve shirt and a pair of black well worn trousers.

Sir stayed in the Naamghar ( Assamese place of community worship) in Shantipara, Digboi.
He was  trained in one of the Satras of Assam. The Vaishnavite monastries that are the centre of dharma and culture. As a Satriya dancer. The traditional Assamese classical dance.

His lodging and meals were taken care of by the Naamghar committee. But these lessons earned him his livelihood. He charged three hundred rupees for  coming home and teaching me how to dance.

And I danced.
Sir would teach me the steps- difficult ones- the hallmark of all classical dances where hand gestures, eye movements, the body and legs move in unison to paint a story.
Then he would sit on a chair and play the "khol"- a dholak, singing  along as I swayed and moved and turned and stopped, breathless.
After the class, he would gratefully sip the cup of tea and bite into the sandwich or biscuits served to him on a tray.

And I performed.
Maa ensured I was there on every stage that was set up in the oil town.
Always to a loud applause.

Sir would be in the wings, playing his khol in front of a microphone.
And his melodious voice would move my legs and my soul.

I learnt the power of expression.
The art of connecting with the audience.
Never to worry even if I missed a step.
To let go of all my fears.
To love what I did.
And to say a prayer of thanks before  the curtains went up.

We moved.
Lost touch with Sir.
Heard later that he had given up his Naamghar responsibilities and taken up a job as a clerk in the oil refinery.
Gave up dance classes.
It was not enough to give him his daily bread.

I realise today how much I owe what I am to Sarbeswar Sir.
He taught me that the spotlight and stage was never to be taken for granted.
It was a blessing. And I had to respect it.

I still do.
For Life is just a stage with spotlight moments.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Wishes from my Mother

"Results" day was never just another day.
Right from my school days to my last MBA results.

Mother would wake up early, sit with her morning cup of tea on our verandah.
I would join her there.
Few words, an occasional clasping of our hands.
Both of us nervous, in spite of our confidence.

The weeks before that would have seen us pay our visit to the Namghars and temples in Guwahati.
Offering our prayers to the Powers above.
One of the things that had kept my Mother, my sister and me going was Hope.
These visits would end up in a sweet shop where we would have tea and a savoury or sweet because we would have left the house without eating, before we offered our prayers.

On the "results" morning, my mother and me would leave the house early.
Mother always took leave from work.
The waiting.
The other parents.
The lists.
The mad rush to the board where the lists were put up.
Mother always there before me.
Usually before anyone else.

The frantic look at the top.
She would never think of searching the list.
The relief.
The joy.
The shout of happiness.
The hug.
The congratulations.
The phone calls she would start making when we reached home.
Stopping on the way for boxes of sweets for guests.
The excitement with which she shared the news with family.

Yes, Mother made "results" day always special.
Till seven years back, she was the first person I would call  whenever I achieved something at work.
And I knew she followed the  same "results" ritual though we were in distant cities.

I missed her this Friday when I received a recognition as Senior leadership at work.
As all the phone calls and emails flowed, I almost waited for that one call.
Wishing I had that number that could reach out to her.

Only later did I realise that she was speaking to me through everyone.
Every congratulation I got was also hers.
Every email had her touch.
The hugs had that same warmth.
The flowers I received were like the ones in her garden.

The ones we love are always around.
We just need to look.
And believe.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Repair the roof when the sun shines

Read this Kennedy quote today.
The best time to repair a leaking roof is when the sun shines.

Yet we leave it till it rains.
Then we do a rush job.
Make trade offs.
Think temporary.
Patch it up.
Stop the leaks without using the best of skill and material.
Sometimes, even a bucket below suffices.

Maybe that is why the leak remains.
It is something that comes back to haunt us again and again.

If we do the repair work when the sun shines, we can  think future.
Think long term.
Get the best of solutions.
Take strong steps- maybe rebuild the roof altogether.

Applies to life.
To work.
To everything we do.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Being Real

While technology is ruling our lives, we have also become numbers and dots on excel sheets, graphs and infographics.
What they call Big Data.

Marketing teams are  chasing big data, cutting and dissecting it into slices and pies.
Innovating, inventing, redefining, creating and communicating to these numbers and dots.

And doing it successfully.
Most of the time.

But how fast does big data on consumer lives' get refreshed?
Does it tell the florist that someone's mother has just passed away and that it is extremely painful to get texts asking her to send her mum a Happy Mother's Day card?
Does it tell the  retailer that the couple they send an anniversary gift card every year have split up in extremely painful circumstances?
What about the emailers from the sneaker brand to a person who has just lost both his legs in an accident?
Or the message to the fatally ill patient about making her family happy by going on that vacation this summer?

The friendly manager of the well know shoe brand ,back home, however, did know all of this.
So did the owner of the local sweet shop.
The doctor in the town hospital.
The family jeweler.
The priest.
The postman.

For them their customers were names.
Real people with families who rolled along life's roller coaster.
They knew how to console, cajole, persuade.
People they had conversations with.

This made them what they were.

Connecting with consumers is not just about blindly carpet bombing emailers and texts.
And appearing to be the friendly brand that cares.

It is about finding out ways of connections.
It is about behaving like real people do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Re-Defining Life

We use this term quite often.
Especially at work.
We talk about change in perspective.
Change in rules.
Change in the game itself.

But somewhere, do we ask ourselves whether we have redefined anything in our lives?
Have we redefined the concept of relationships?
Our views on professionalism?
Our perspective on every day life itself?

I have tried redefining many things.
Starting with relationships. In Life and at work.
With teams.

For instance, focusing on the little things that make the biggest difference.
Talking only when it makes more sense than being silent.
Believing that personal growth can happen only if we consider the business we are in, as our own.
That leadership means first person responsibility.
That passion and emotion are the leading forces that redefine productivity.
That a relationship is one that goes beyond a paper. It is about trust, respect and love.
That building a personal brand shows our prowess in brand building.
That vulnerability and tears are part of my ways to express and not something to be ashamed of.

These are tiny steps and there is a long way to go.
But unless we give it a shot, re-define will always remain a jargon we use in our decks.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Learn.Live.See. Believe.

Sometimes we go through situations which initially make us bitter.
But as we wade through the tides and try and resolve, we may often have some experiences that leave us with a sweet after taste.

Maybe it is about knowing a person who helped us.
Maybe it is about changing perceptions about an organisation.
Could be a learning that will keep us better prepared or armored in the future.

So once the ordeal is over, we look back.
And then strangely, we see only the little good things that may have popped up.
While the memories of the not so good experience gradually vanish away.

That is Life.
Always holding our hand and saying- Learn. Live. See. Believe.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Yellow Pack

Don't know why I remembered this today.
It was 1983.
Digboi, Assam.

My mother came back from school ( she was a teacher in Carmel School) with something wrapped in a brown paper packet.
As my sister and I changed out of our summer blue and white uniform, I remember my mother change faster than usual  and then calling us into the kitchen.

On the kitchen table next to the gas burner was a yellow packet we had never seen before.
It was a Maggi Noodles.
Mother read the instructions carefully.
She said another teacher and her friend had brought this for us from Delhi.

She said we need a saucepan, I reached out for one drying out by the sink.
She then started reading the instructions aloud as she measured out the water in a cup.
My sister and I listened carefully.
Obviously mother wanted to get this right and we had to help her just in case she missed something.

They were ridiculously simple.
Just water, break the cake into four ( or was it two), snip open the masala satchet ( it was chicken).
But to us that day, it seemed like quite a task.

Then to our surprise, mother put the table clock which was usually at her bedside, next to the burner.
That was the day 2 minutes happened in our lives.

The second hand marches its way to  120 seconds. The minute hand glides over 2 small markings.
Gas turned off.
Two bowls out.
Mother ladling out.
We tasting.
Me asking mother to have some as well.
She spooning out whatever is left, onto a small saucer.
We tasting again.
We liking the taste.
Very much.
Wish we had more.

We walked back to the kitchen to put the bowls in the sink.
Mother did not throw the packet away.
In those days, if you cherished something you saved it.

The empty yellow packet stayed with us for many years.
Reminding us of how food ties us together.
With memories that always spring alive whenever we see it again.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The day I sat for the Boards.

It was definitely not a regular day.
In fact, the last three months after the pre-exam tests were not regular.

My mother was determined that I pass the Boards in flying colours.
With merit. Star marks. Letter marks ( above 80%in any subject got us a Letter).
And with the Assam Boards ( High School) being very very stringent on marking, 80 then was today's 95.

The three months therefore were all about preparation.
Mother was working and decided to take leave during and not before my exams.
She changed her mind later and took leave before.

She set question papers, did her research on the probable questions, not so probable questions and improbable questions.
Never left anything to chance.
Brought me papers and threads to stitch the papers exactly like it would be on the D Day.
Set the clock, and ensured that I completed the paper at least 20 minutes before time so that I had enough time left over for two rounds of revision.

So on the Day day, Mother and I were dropped off at T. C School in Guwahati, where my "seat" was, according to my roll number. They would mix up all the students across schools.

Before that, after my revisions since dawn, Mother made a special fish curry and rice.
Fish was supposed to make our brains sharper so she made sure she found time to shop the previous evening, cook it fresh that morning along with steaming hot rice.
She also put a bowl of water and a pot of rice at the front door.
It is superstition that if you leave the house seeing water and rice, it is a good omen.

Mother gave me a hug and a kiss, before escorting me to the room where I would sit.
Though she was not allowed in, she peered through the grimy windows to see where I was sitting and waved again.
I waved back and suddenly tears came into my eyes as she waved one last time and walked away.

My Mother meant the world to me.
With my Father gone two years ago, mother had to work hard to make a living.
And all I wanted was for her to smile.

And good marks, coming out on tops, made her smile. Unfailingly.
For days.

The bell rang.
Answer sheets handed out.
Question papers.
The writing.
The checking.
The thinking.

The months of preparation paid off.
My pen flew over the sheets.
Almost like it had a mind of its own.

And then the first day was over.
The bell rang.
The papers submitted.
Mother was waiting outside- had told her boss that she had to take a quick break to drop me home.

I rushed to her.
Excitedly told her I knew all the answers.
She had wrapped a chicken roll for me as a special treat from Feeds.

I shared half with her.

The Board results were out a few months later.
I did pass with flying colours.
And Star marks. And Letters.

Today, as I look back, I miss my Mother.
Her encouragement.
Her constant  push to me to make sure that I did not lose gold by winning that silver.

But I know that she is around.
In spirit.
Always making me rehearse for the tests Life makes us pass every day.
So that I win that gold.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Picnic Party

Picnics in Assam were a lot of fun.

Come December, and the sight of buses with  happy faces smiling and waving at the traffic would usher in the picnic season. Picnics are organised by schools, colleges, offices, neighborhoods, even large families.

The preparations start a few weeks earlier with the organizing committee doing a recce of the place, given the overflowing abundance of breathtaking spots by rivers and streams in nature blessed Assam. The menu would be agreed upon, cooks briefed, the mutton, chicken, vegetables, spices, eggs and snacks bought.

The day would start at dawn, with everyone piling into the buses at a particular pick up point. Big cooking utensils would be loaded into the bus, with bundles of firewood and sacks of coal, gas cylinders. Boxes bursting with food would be stacked in.

The bus ride would begin with everyone shouting a combined cry of joy. Some youngsters refused to sit, preferring to walk up and down, or stand balanced against a seat, taking the lead to start a song, while the rest of us joined in.

Oohs and aaahs would punch the air as the"picnic party" got off the buses and took in the beautiful picnic spot. The kids would rush towards the stream and the rocks, with the mothers asking them to be careful and also to come back for breakfast. The advance party would have arrived earlier, setting up tents, plastic chairs, carpets, the cooking area and also make shift toilets.

A voice on a microphone would welcome everyone  and talk about the things in store for the day. Usually it would be one of the organising committee member in charge of the activities. This would be followed breakfast- bread, butter, boiled eggs. And yes, bananas.

The cooks and their helpers would get going. The fires would be lit, the gas cylinders fixed to a burner. Some of the helpers would roll down the big saucepans and pots to the water side and give them a rinse. They would then light a diya, make their offerings and prayers to the deity and the cooking would begin. The peeling, the chopping, the sizzling of the mustard oil, and soon, the aroma engulfing the area like an unseen mist.

While the adventurous would set off to explore the hills and the woods, the games would begin. Tug of war and musical chairs a must. Mothers would rush to drag their children from the water and rocks to play the games, proudly clapping if their child would be the last one  grasping the chair firmly as the winner. The tug of war would sometimes be between the men and the women, or boys and girls and it would lead to lots of fun, comments, laughter. Snacks like fried fish, chips, fried brinjals in batter would do the rounds. With cold drinks and tea.

In the midst of this would be a couple of two in love, sitting on a distant rock together, feet paddling the water, creating their dreams of togetherness. Nature has a way of making love seem powerful.

Lunch would be ready around 2 p.m.
Banana leaf or paper plates, glasses lined up in front of folded bedsheets, and the hot food ladled out. Food never taste as good as it does in a picnic. The music would now be blaring. The men ( when I was young, don't remember women drinking in picnics unless what I thought was cola was actually spiked with rum) would be high  now, both drinks and the fun of the picnic making them sing, dance, laugh. Bihu songs would be played and people would soon start dancing to the beats, the hesitating ones would  be pulled by the rest into the circle. In the middle of the stillness of the forests and the water, the music and the fun would seem like one big concert of nature.

Soon , we would start feeling the chill in the air.
The shawls, sweaters, mufflers and coats would come out.
In the distance, we would see the cooks , the rest of the helpers having their food in their own circle, music playing from a player placed on a rock or a wood pile.

Finally, it would be time to board the bus again.
The mood would be strange.
Tired happiness, yet a sadness that this was over.

The journey back was always quiet.
Maybe an odd song or two.
But mostly everyone would doze off.
Or maybe we all wanted to be alone with our thoughts.

A few weeks later, the photographs would do the rounds.
We would make sure we got "copies", which would find their place of pride in the family album.

I miss the picnics.
After I left Assam, all the picnics I have been too are in resorts with waiters serving starters and a buffet table. And a DJ.
They are good. They are fun.
But to me, can never ever replace the streaming river gurgling over the rocks, the birds, the grass, the trees and the romance of the wild.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Work with what you have, not what you want

Like all mothers, my mum was a great cook too.
Or maybe, whatever a mother cooks always tastes great.

Most times, she would dish up amazing curries with whatever was there in the kitchen.
At a time when earnings were barely enough for survival, this meant being inventive.
It meant that her goal was clear.
That there would be good food on the table.
No matter what.

Her recipes were therefor dictated by what was available.
Not what she had to buy.
The peels, the stalks, the extra rice.
Appeared in new forms on our plates.

Life is like that.
Nothing is ideal.

Work is the same.
No mix is  perfect.
And to do things well in a perfect world is hardly challenging.

The skill and leadership lies in taking what we have and turning it around to make it worthwhile.
More than worthwhile.
To make it impactful.

Calls for resourcefulness.
And most importantly, belief and trust.

After all, mother always did this with a smile on her face.