Monday, June 24, 2013

The night I was Eve teased

This is NOT fiction.
It was a day before my birthday. I was working with Courtyard by Marriott, Ahmadabad, which was around five hours away from my hometown. After working for straight 15 days, I had managed to get three week-offs, so I can be with my family on my birthday. Traveling to and fro consumes more than 12 hours out of those three days that I get, so I always preferred to travel as soon as I finish my work and come back to Ahmadabad few hours before my work, to use my holidays to the maximum.

This was the city I was least connected to. I had no close friends there, no relatives, no one I could trust or be with. I solely stayed here because of my work.

That day, I finished my evening shift at around midnight, went to my room to collect my luggage, had some grubs and took a rickshaw to the railway station to catch an early morning train which was scheduled to come at around 04 am. Though there was enough time left for the train, I preferred reaching the station before the devil hours of 1-3 am. I have always found railway stations safe and comforting. In fact, they were my second home as I spent half of my life commuting through trains. I was someone who always had the notion in my head that nothing worse could happen to me.

But that day, the same over-confidence was coming to crush me.
I reached the station and bought my tickets. Even though it was almost summer, it was quite chilly. The station was in complete silence and there were no movements. The lights were dim and hazy. The very few people who were present, were sleeping. I searched my platform and found a warm place under the shades to sit. I was toying around with my phone when three boys just walked down the platform.

Now, before you imagine the stereotype, let me explain their appearance. They all looked well-educated, well dressed, Nike-Puma-covered, well-fed, I-spend-more-than-my-father-earns boys. From the looks of it, they were college students, who like me were going to their own home towns. They stared, smiled and chatted among themselves. One of them teasingly asked me if it was the right platform for the Mumbai train.

I frowned and kept walking away from them, for almost 5-7 minutes. I was supposed to board the first coach of the train, so I walked to the end of the platform. At every station, both ends of the platforms are usually very isolated and dark and have no shades or roof. I folded my hands to keep myself warm and sat on a bench. I was tired from working all day. I texted my sister that I would be reaching before lunch.

In less than a couple of minutes, I saw four other men, shabbily dressed with tons of luggage walking towards the platform. They saw me by the bench and smiled at one another. They kept all their baggage on a corner and all four walked towards me and sat around at four different places surrounding me. They started passing vulgar comments, making it sound as if they were talking to one another. I got annoyed and angry at first but, it started to get intense. I looked around and there was no one. I gave one sharp angry stare at one of them. He laughed and said,

"Aise kya dekhti ho, kha jaogi kya?" (Why are you starting as if you are going to eat us up?)

I stood up and started walking towards the center of the platform, which was pretty far. I had a bottle of Coke on the side of my backpack. They all started walking behind me and one of them teased again,

"Bohot pyas lagi hai, thoda thanda milega?" (I am very thirsty, can I have a sip of your coke?)

I was terrified. My blood was boiling. I did see two homeless old men, however they were lying on the floor, completely intoxicated. I kept walking fast and with a corner of my left eye, saw one of the guy just an inch away from me. He grabbed my shoulder and said, "Chali kyu jaa rahi ho, baat toh karo." (Don't keep walking away, talk to me.)

My heart was pumping fast. My legs were trembling. I wanted to punch him so hard, but I knew it would worsen the scenario and there was no one around to back me up against four shameless men, who had nothing to lose. The other three men also joined him, trying to circle me and started passing more aggressive comments. I knew nothing I could do, except run as fast as I could towards someone. I looked around and saw a police officer drinking tea at a tea stall, on the opposite platform, around 30 feet away from me.

I said, "Karti hu baat, yaha ruko ek minute." (Sure, I'll talk to you, just wait a minute here.) They were surprised by my response for a moment, but still kept their moronic laughter on.
I paced a little and shouted at the police officer,
"Excuse me, sir. Yeh char ladke mujhe chhed rahe hai. Please help!" (Excuse me sir, these four men are harassing me, please help!) pointing towards them.

He threw his tea cup in the bin and jumped on the tracks, crossed them and jumped right up on my platform. The four men saw me shouting for help and started running for life. As that was the end of the platform, they managed to run endlessly. I signaled towards their luggage which they couldn't take away with them and told the police officer, it was theirs.

I was still shaking with fear and anger. I was stammering.

The police officer said, "Bhaag ke kaha jayenge, saman lene toh ayenge lukhhe salle. Aap chinta mat karo, beth jao shanti se, me yaha khada rehta hoon. Paani piyoge?" (How far would they run. They would surely come back to get their luggage, assholes. Don't worry, sit here, I would be here all the time. Do you want some water?)

I nodded my head for a no. I read his name tag which said "Mr. ______ Rathod" (I don't remember the first name.)

I went through all the possibilities in my head, of what could have happened, if it wasn't for this police officer. I wanted to thank him a million times, but words weren't coming out of my mouth. I held my legs to stop them from shaking and sat on the bench.

A gentleman in his 40s walked towards us and said he saw them running too. He started showering the usual wisdom -
"Times have become too dangerous these days."
"These bastards should be beaten to death."
.... and so on.

Mr. Rathod asked me the reason why I was out alone at that time of the night and why I didn't prefer a morning train. I told him I had to be back to work in a couple of days and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I also told, I wanted to avoid the rush that is usually present in the daytime.

He warned me to always opt for a public transport during rush hours or with a company. He also asked if I would be "bold" enough to file an FIR, which would enable him to bash those guys.
I was more than happy to do that. He asked for my work ID card, my complete name, address and other details. I think he was also responsible enough to make sure, I was not someone who was fooling around at that time of the night. I didn't mind his suspicion.

We heard the whistle of the approaching train. Me, Mr. Rathod and the "wise-advising-stranger" were all looking in the direction, where the four men ran.
As soon as the train arrived on the platform, we saw them, walking towards us. I was shocked to my life when I saw those smarty-pants, walking bravely, with different shirts. They exchanged their shirts among themselves to fool me. How naive! They really thought that wearing a different shirt wouldn't allow me to identify them.

How wrong were they. Their nasty, devilish faces were more than enough to haunt me.

"Yehi bande the na?" (These were the culprits, right?) asked Mr Rathod.
"Haa, shirt badal k aa rahe hai" (Yes, they changed their shirts.)
"Unhe pata nai, kis baap ko ullu bana rahe hai. Aane do saalo ko." (They don't know, who's their daddy.)

As they were coming closer, I could see the fear in their eyes. The same fear I had in mine, before.They came and started lifting their luggage on their back as if nothing happened. Mr. Rathod shouted, "Saman niche rakho aur ghutno pe, chalo ********" (Drop your luggage and on your knees, you mother effers!)
"Kya saab, humne kya kiya?" (What have we done, sir?)
The "wise-advising-stranger" kept whispering something in to my ears. I really didn't pay him much heed. I kept staring those men in their eyes, trying to find guilt somewhere. I didn't.

Mr. Rathod held one of them by his shirt collar and asked them to confess. They said they didn't do anything. One of them looked at me and said, "Kya behan, jhooth kyu bolti ho, batao saab ko, humne kuch nai kiya" (Why are you lying "sister", tell the police it wasn't us.)
He wasn't asking, he was threatening. And yeah, I was his sister now!

"Ek raat thane me rahoge, sab yaad aa jayega. Naam batao apna." (You'll get your memory back once you spend a night in jail.) said Mr. Rathod and asked their names to note down.
They kept begging to me, to take my complaint back.
"Thank you, sir." was the only thing that came out of my mouth.
"Koi baat nai madam. Aap jao, train chhut jayegi." (No problem ma'm. You should go now, you'll miss your train.) said Mr. Rathod.

I went inside and Mr.wise-advising-stranger followed me too and comforted me with,
"Chinta mat karo, main Surat tak saath me hoon apke." (Don't worry, I will be your company until Surat) which was a station an hour before mine.

I sat by the window and watched Mr. Rathod give the bullies, a taste of their own medicine. I saw the regret in their eyes. They kept asking me to persuade Mr. Rathod to let them go.

I didn't. I would never have.

The train started and I saw the platform moving away from me. I saw horror in form of those four men and saw gratefulness and bravery in form of Mr. Rathod, getting hazy and blur as the train caught its pace.
I closed my eyes for a minute and thought nothing. I just wanted to be home as soon as possible. My empathetic and talkative company kept talking about social vices women faces, for the next four hours. Strangely, I wasn't annoyed because he was still thousand times better than those who destroyed my faith in moving freely.

In less than two weeks, I left my job and Ahmadabad with bitter memories, making me dislike that city forever.

The terror I faced was very mild compared to what many women have been facing these days. We cannot even imagine their horror.

Enough has been already said, written and talked about this issue and I won't do it here, because my rage and directionless thoughts would go on and on. I just need to say a few things, which I wouldn't have learnt without this experience.

1. NEVER live with an over-confidence about how this could never happen to you. It could happen to anyone, anywhere. Be alert. Be prepared. Be cautious. Take preventive measure - ALWAYS! It took only four men, five minutes and an isolated platform to turn a confident woman like me in to a helpless, scared lady.

2. Just dump the stereotype of "bad" police. Yes, they can be moronic at times, but don't forget that not everyone is the same. If it wasn't for Mr. Rathod, I wouldn't have been boarding that train with contentment. It is our trust in them, that would motivate them to do something good for us. Respect them.

3. Women raise million banners in rallies, quoting how the females shouldn't think before traveling alone and that males should learn how to react etc, but that attitude is not going to help when you are landed in such situation. Things are not going to change over night and our aggressiveness isn't going to help either. Preventive measures will. Try to travel in rush hours and have a company if you have to travel after midnight.
4. Don't let fear overcome your ability to shout for help. I waited until I saw a police officer, whereas I should've just shouted or called anyone for help. Remember we are not doing anything wrong and the "shout" of help would at least scare the culprit away.

5. I have yet not shared this incident with my family, but always text or call your family when you feel you are or would be surrounded in such scenario. Let them know about your whereabouts. It will be helpful to them to figure out stuff, if things go wrong.

6. Abusers and bullies do not always come in the form of illiterate, poor people in ragged clothes. It was those literate, well-dressed boys who chased me away to the end of the platform, whereas they should be the one, standing around a woman to protect her. That's what they learn in school and talk about, endlessly, on Facebook and Twitter, don't they?

I just hope those four men never repeat what they did.

Stay safe.
Stay alert.
Stay strong.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

A raindrop on my cheek

You ever felt so cold, you had to put on your woolen socks, wear the warmest sweats, put on a hoodie and rush to the bed, to envelop yourself in a soft, warm, fluffy blanket? You could feel your body dissolving under the covers like butter melting on a toast. You hear a very delicate sound of someone playing Hotel California on their acoustic guitar, next door. A cloud just thundered with an echo. You peek outside the window to watch the sky drizzle, like a shower of tiny diamonds.
You watch a leaf bow a little, after catching the first drop and getting back at its posture to drench completely, crafting tiny beads on itself. A graceful bird just flew under the tree, sat on the branch and flapped its wings. The wind is being the maestro and playing a symphony on your wind chimes. Your apple-cinnamon candle just blew off, leaving a trail of sweet, mushy scent.

Just when you are sensing the moist chilly breeze in your eyes, your loved one comes to offer you a hot cup of coffee with a kiss. You feel the warmth of the cup in your cold hands and experience every vein getting warm again. The gushing wind sways your hair and leave tiny droplets on your cheeks. 
You turn on the television, to see your favorite movie just getting started. You melt more in to your blanket, rest your back on the spongy pillow and take the first sip of your hot coffee. 

Yes.... that. That feeling...

You ever felt that?


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Two hours with Madhuri Dixit

It was December 31st of 2006 and I was working on this last day of the year, while everyone were planning what to wear to their new-year partayyy.

I was an intern and was functioning as a restaurant hostess in Sampan, which was a Chinese specialty restaurant in Holiday Inn, Juhu, Mumbai. The restaurant was very popular and the awesomeness of the food made celebrities and politicians, their regular clientele. Sampan shuts off in afternoon and opens again in the evening for dinner. The staff still lingers in the noon as Mumbai traffic makes it hard to commute back to home and return in the evening.
I got this image from Google, but during those times, I had my podium where the right plant is, next to the glass.

So as usual, the enormous, tall, doors were closed that noon and no one except the staff is allowed to be in the restaurant at that time. It's actually the party time as everyone is their own master and no one asks them to take orders, serve them food or clear the tables.

The restaurant strictly plays Instrumental English Classics while the restaurant is in operation and the stewards and the captains loathed that. So when it's noon, they take full advantage and play loud Bollywood and Marathi numbers 'like a boss'. I on the other hand, have nothing to do except watch them enjoy this pretty little life pleasures of hotel industry.

The staff that day were in an absolute Ganpati-visarjan mood. One of the Bollywood fanatic got a new CD which had all the frenzied numbers of the trio khans. The songs were mainly from the 80s and the 90s. I was standing at my podium on the entrance, tapping my feet to "Tan tana tan tan tan tara",  allotting tables in my register for the evening reservations and wondering what non-pathetic people were doing that evening. And while I was doing this ghastly brain exercise, I saw someone walking towards the doors, through that glass.

As I said earlier, the restaurant was a famous spot for celebrities and I met tons of them on regular basis, for some of them to even know me by name. And though it was unusual in the beginning, it soon was an ordinary affair and I didn't had those oohh-aahhhs in my mind anymore. But this was something abnormal as it was none other than Madhuri Dixit. It doesn't matter if you are a die-hard Madhuri fan, an admirer like me, of her talents or someone who didn't pay much heed about her existence, but she has that spark in her where she leaves an impact on everyone.

So, I had to rub my eyes again to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. I wasn't. It was her, with her father and her two boys. She was walking towards me.
She was wearing black pants, blue kurti top and kolhapuri chappal on her feet. She had her hair in a braid and didn't have a single ounce of make up on her skin. Unlike her appearance on television, she looked thinner and a few shades lighter. 

OMG, she is coming towards the locked door. What do I do? What do I say? And while I thought that, the mash-up of all her songs and movies were playing in mind, in no particular order.
I started raiding my drawer to find the keys. I could at least open the door and tell her we were closed.

"Good afternoon. I am afraid, we are closed. I am so sorry. We open at 7." I started rambling still looking at her.
And there... there came that thousand watts smile. "I know, Main sirf sham k liye order dene aayi thi. (Hindi for - I know, I just came to place an order for the evening.) I have a party for 30 people at my house"

Her voice can't be more magical.

It was against the hotel rules to let any guests sit in the restaurant during closed hours. If they want to place an order, they have to call or either sit outside in the coffee shop. But how do I gather the audacity to tell Madhuri Dixit that she had to wait outside, she can't come in.

"Umm... let me check what I can do" I had wrinkles on my forehead now.

The bulb lit on my head. I asked them to wait and frantically ran like a kid towards my forever-laughing-happy-go-lucky-24 hours-jokes-maker-captain. He was the head, in absence of the manager and it wasn't hard to convince him.

"Areee bulao bulao.. koi gal nahi. Me sambhal lunga. Tu sab handle kario par, off hours me toh koi kaamchor nahi aayega" (Hindi for - No biggie, call them in, but you have to handle everything as no one is going to get off their asses in off hours) pointing towards the yawning stewards. They have been working there for more than a decade and even Madhuri wasn't new for them.

"Thank you sir jee" and I ran again towards Madhuri.

Broke rule no. 1

"Welcome to Sampan. Well, you can have a seat here and I will help you with your party order."
"You are so sweet. Thank you for doing that." awwwwww

She was the first actress I came across, who didn't come with a baby-sitter to handle the kids.

But you know what, 
she should have.

Her kids were maniacs. Cute maniacs.

They started running around the whole restaurant. Climbing on sofas and tables and everywhere they could manage to. 
The hotel is going to sack me for taking such decisions, I thought.
I watched them  twisting my head in all the directions, as they jumped like ninjas.

And baaaaaaaaammmm... they broke a glass.

"Arin..... come here" she shouted.
"Me tula saangitla. Majha aayushya mushkil kela tyani" (I told you. They've made my life difficult.) complaining to her dad in Marathi.
"I am sorry. Te raakshash aahet" (I am sorry, they are devils) she told me.

Now I understood pretty much everything in Marathi, but I couldn't speak any. I just giggled and said,
"It's okay. They are cute."
"Haha.. you should come home and see them"

I handed her the menus and waited for her to tell me what she wanted for her party.
She was going through the menu like a baffled kid, who didn't know what was written in it. She speaks with her eyes in real life too. They said she had no idea what to do.

Aaaj na chhodunga tujhe, dum dum ma dum... started playing on the khans CD.

Holy moly! what on the world is happening. How could I forget to switch off those catastrophic songs! It seems like we are doing this on purpose. (The song was from one of Madhuri's movie)

But to my surprise, she started tapping her feet and whispered the lyrics to the song, still staring at the menu. Can she be anymore cuter?

"Khurchi ghe aani bas majhya barobar" (take a chair and sit with me) she said.

So... I bragged. I couldn't understand "pretty much everything" in Marathi.

"I am sorry" 
She got up, took a chair and pulled it out for me. I had the tadpole eyes by now. Is she really her?
"I am sorry I don't understand Marathi that well."
"No problem. Bas Ikde" (Marathi for -sit here) I was laughing in my head.

So I sat with three generations of Dixits and from that time on, she wasn't a star to me. She made me forget she was.
After a long search, I did find a picture of her with her father and the kids.

"See, I want a complete Vegetarian meal for 30 people today evening and I don't understand these names. Help me with the order." she requested.
Fortunately, I was a vegetarian too and had gorged on every Vegetarian dish on that menu. FYI, I haven't eaten a better Chinese than Sampan, yet.


I took out my petite diary and pen and started jotting down dishes and the number of servings she would need.

Meanwhile, Raayan and Arin (she told me their names) were still jumping around their Grandpa. They sprung towards me and the younger one started swaying by my shoulders which messed up my hospitality-styled-dorky hair.

"Raayan, I would never bring you out again if you behave this way. Maushi la sorry bol" (say sorry to aunt). So I was her sister now.
"It's ok." It was really okay.

Madhuri kept discussing the party with her dad, while I did my work. Her dad was as respectful as her. A perfect gentleman.

"Mommy, I am hungry" said the elder kid in a cute American accent.
"Can we get some sandwiches here from the coffee shop?" she asked.

That was against the restaurant's rule too. The super-captain to the rescue again.

"Teri mat mari gai hai aaj" (you are nuts!) he concluded.

Broke rule no.2

I ordered some grilled sandwiches for the kids from the coffee shop. She was again very grateful and said thank you a couple of times.
It was more than an hour and a half, I was at the table discussing orders and servings, while the kids enjoyed their sandwiches. She, like a regular housewife, would ask me time and again to reduce the quantity.

She needed the order in the evening and said she would send her driver to pick it up. After finalizing everything, I went inside and entered the order in the system and gave her the check.

She read the numbers and out came those three magical words, that comes out of every Indian woman, at least once in her life.

"Kuch kam hoga?" (any discounts?)

I couldn't control my smile. I couldn't believe how genuine this woman was, regardless to her stardom.
I had the liberty to lessen a certain percentage from the check, which I happily did. She was grateful again.

"Thank you so much. You practically organized the food for my party and handled my kids. What's your name?"
"It was my pleasure. Dhara"
"Thank you Dhara." Her dad thanked me too and started lifting kids from the sofas to leave.

As per the rules law, the employees are not allowed to ask for an autograph or request a picture with a celebrity guest. however that thought never came to mind because of her normal, real and pleasant attitude. It made me forget she was a star.
From that day on wards, I admire her as a person more than as a star.

P.S. This story came out of my mouth the first time I met my husband. He calls me a bragger and still mocks me whenever Madhuri appears on TV.

"Heyy, your didi is here!"