Friday, 22 November 2013

shopping at Duty Free :)

Every time someone I knew flew out of the country, they came back raving about duty free shopping at the international airports. So I really looked forward to duty free shopping when my turn came. But when a friend recently asked me how has been my experience, I went blank. Now I know why I went blank: my mind’s still dazzled by the sight of the sparkling shops, much like that of a child who finds herself in a mela! I became a consumer of sights more than a consumer of products (primarily and sadly because I had little money)! And I must admit that although I am more of a person who loves to shop at local markets for local products, I was more than happy being a consumer of the sparkling sights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi and Heathrow, London.

It was in 2011 that I was in Heathrow; and I picked up two bottles of flavored drinking water by mistake. I saw the price on the shelves, and since it went with the price of flavored drinking water outside, I picked up a bottle. The guy at the counter told me that at that price, I was getting two at Duty Free. And he fetched another bottle of the same for me. My first experience with the glory of Duty Free shopping that was. I was full of glee. But as luck could have it, I couldn’t finish one bottle at one go, which left me with two bottles and I had no space in my hand baggage for even one bottle! Plus, my hands were occupied with the hand bag, the laptop bag, a huge coat and a stole that slipped from my shoulders to my hands every now and then. My hands, in other words, were full and they couldn’t occupy themselves with any more stuff like the two bottles of my recently purchased flavored drinking water. So, I somehow finished one bottle (gulped more than half of the precious stuff down my throat because I didn’t want to throw it in the bin) and left the other bottle with the amused counter guy.

Back in Delhi, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, I completed the rest of my shopping. I had picked up little souvenirs for family and friends from places here and there in England. But, as is the case with me, I knew people loved chocolates as gifts. In Delhi Duty Free (, I bought chocolates like crazy. My husband, who had lived in Berlin for a while, always got chocolates from Duty Free when he came home. “You get the same brands at good price, plus you don’t have to carry a load all the way!” I remembered his words and shopped like crazy. As I was walking out, a brother-in-law’s favorite Johnny Walker Black Label caught my eye. I checked the price, it was incredible! I quickly bought it for him. And resisted the urge to buy a couple more considering the mountain of chocolates I already was carrying.

This is it as far as my Duty Free shopping experiences are concerned, but I know people who have bought TVs in Dubai Duty Free, like 2-3 TVs at a time for themselves and family. And only last week, a friend coming back to India got so busy at Delhi Duty Free that he left his luggage at the baggage collection belt unattended! 

SPECIAL NOTE:Thank you Blogmint (, India’s first and only paid bloggers network, for letting me share my Duty Free experiences! 

Monday, 11 November 2013

My latest short story "She worked in a spa" (published by Writers Asylum)

My short story "She worked in a spa" has been published by Writers Asylum. An excerpt:

"She was quiet, shy and highly attractive; and she lived like she never belonged there. We lived opposite each other, in flats set upon a narrow lane at Malviya Nagar Khirki Extension, one of the many bustling and bursting middle class colonies in Delhi. Our balconies almost touched one another, jutting out of our fourth floor flats. And often we passed smiles from our balconies, even exchanged a few words at times. I was living there for three years, she came a year after. I was putting clothes to dry in the balcony when she arrived in an autorickshaw. Behind it came a small van with a bed, a wooden almirah, three-four suitcases, a chair, a table and three buckets full of utensils. From all the stuff that emerged out of the autorickshaw and the van, it seemed she must have been around in the city for a couple of years.
I saw her arrange her rooms from my room behind the balcony. We all lived in two-room sets, rooms that were set one after the other like train coaches. So our bedrooms were partially visible from the other side, despite the curtains put up for privacy. She often moved about her flat in shorts that highlighted her beautiful legs and tank tops that clung to her beautifully toned body. Her skin shone like gold and there was something extremely attractive about her. No wonder she flaunted it, I thought. But with time, as I understood it, she wasn’t flaunting her beautiful skin and body, she was just being herself! The way she walked and talked complemented the casual manner of her dressing. And she was friendly in a very casual way. As if she couldn’t decide if she liked me."

Read the whole story at

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The extraordinary stories in our ordinary lives: The story of a Muslim daughter-in-law

Shahida and I were roommates at Kamrupa hostel when we were pursuing our Bachelor's degree from Delhi University, in the early 2000s. We used to pray together. In the mornings when I would place an incense stick in front of my little Ganeshji on the study table, she would come and stand by me. I would go and sit with her when she performed her namaaz. We fought and hated certain things in each other, but were very fond of and learnt a lot from each other too. Later, when I married a Muslim and she a Hindu, we joked that God perhaps got confused who was Hindu, who was Muslim because we both prayed together!

               catching up with Shahida after many years. with our husbands. Mumbai 2010

Many moons ago, when I was about eleven or twelve years old, Dad and I were forced to move our car into the nearest garage, somewhere near Guwahati Medical College, when it suddenly broke down on the road. It was some minor thing that had to be fixed, thankfully, and dad and I spent the next fifteen minutes with the owner of the garage while his men worked on our car. Dad and the man started chit chat and I, in the absence of any attractive option, listened on. A little into the exchange of pleasantries and the man started lamenting about the hurt his Muslim daughter-in-law was hurling at his family. "She performs Namaaz. She refuses to apply sindoor," seemed to be what had disturbed him and his wife most. And I remember being furious at him (maybe, my soul knew what was in store for me several years later!) and telling my dad later when we were on the car again that the man was insulting his daughter-in-law by talking about her to people like that; and that now that she was family and living with them, he should accept her for what she is, how she is no matter how bad or good that is for him. And my dad gave his consent to my opinion (maybe his soul also knew what was in store for me several years later!) No wonder my dad and I are soulmates :)

Anyways, I am glad that things have turned differently for me and a few of my friends who have got into inter-religious marriages. My father-in-law is unabashed about the fact that he has a Hindu daughter-in-law; and for the past five years he has regularly wished me on every Diwali. It goes without saying that this gesture means a lot to me. So is the case with my friend Shahida Hussain, married to Deepanjan Ghosh. Her in-laws have never cried about her being a Muslim, even while considering the fact that Deep is their only child. They could have harbored ideas about a daughter-in-law from their own culture, community, (Shahida is an Assamese and Deep a Bengali) etc. etc. But nothing like that. Shahida's in-laws are nothing like the man I encountered in that garage in Guwahati years ago. They don't freak out at the sight of their Muslim daughter-in-law performing the namaaz. And acceptance came quite naturally to not only her parents-in-law but also extended family like grandparents and uncles, aunties and of course the cousins. 

A few years ago, Shahida, a senior manager in a bank, and her husband (an IT professional) got themselves posted to Kolkata to be with the latter's parents, retired and settled in the city. They live together and there is not a single festival that is not celebrated in that house: Eid, Diwali, Janmashtami...etc. Shahida jokes that Christmas is the only festival when she enjoys a holiday; "all other festivals are celebration at home so lot of work and preparations!" Her late father-in-law had told her on last Eid that this celebration should never cease to be observed at this household. "The year he expired, as a Hindu custom, all festivals in the family were not celebrated except for Eid, which the extended family got together at my place to celebrate to respect one of Baba's last wishes," Shahida says.

Ayaan stays at home with his Thamma (paternal grandma) the whole day when his parents are at work. Shahida had feared that like many of her working friends and colleagues with long corporate working hours, the mother-child relationship would get affected. "But fortunately it has not happened with me. And it is mainly because of MA, my mother-in-law. MA would always keep saying good things about me to Ayaan. Also would explain to him why his mummum (Ayaan refers to his mom as such) goes to office. Of course being with his grandma makes Ayaan least worried about his mother's absence!" speaks Shahida with a lot of gratitude for her mother-in-law.

"My Hindu mother-in-law encourages my son to learn namaaz from me," reveals Shahida. And in a lighter vein adds, "But the little one gets a bit confused at times and starts bowing his head in sajda in his grandmother's worship place, which is full of Hindu deities! Ayaan understands Assamese because his father was strict that all lullabies and child talk that I had with him during his infancy were in his technical mother tongue, i.e. Assamese." 

After her father-in-law's death recently, Shahida's family comprises of her husband, child, mother-in-law and Kaku. "Deep's father and Kaku were good friends who decided to stay together post retirement. So they built their houses in the same apartment and shared their lives together for a couple of years till one friend departed. Kaku is a renowned neurosurgeon of the country and a Brahmin by birth. So the same roof houses a Brahmin and a Muslim who are bound in a father-daughter bond. Kaku is a father figure for both Deep and me and is the Nanaji of Ayaan."

Ayaan 's  full name is Ayaan S Ghosh. He gets the "S" (Syed) from his mother. Shahida wanted it in his name and the family made it happen. 

I post here a few pictures from Shahida's album.

                 Shahida with her husband Deepanjan and son Ayaan on Eid. Home, Kolkata.

                       Shahida celebrates Durga Puja with Deepanjan and Ayaan. Kolkata.

                      Little Ayaan all dressed to celebrate Rongali Bihu, the Assamese New Year

At times I can but only wonder how a person who is truly educated in the holistic sense of the term, will always preach and practice tolerance for diversity. Will not seek to impose one's way of life on others, because the person will know that there is not just one way of life just as there is not one single way to claim God. This wisdom comes with holistic education, whether that education has been received in an institution or outside it. And I have noticed, in many cases, wisdom and education has nothing to do with the premiere institutes you go to. I guess, forgive me for my audacity, one has to be blessed to gain this enlightenment. It frees the spirit immensely. Shahida and I are lucky to have wise people around us. Who love us. Who support us. Who let us be.

My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018

My short  story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018 Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaa...