A blog dedicated to my students, to help them resist the temptations of mass media, especially due to corporate influence; to encourage them to nurture and sustain their own consciences; to learn how to keep listening to their inner voice.
Eventually, to build a network of journalists who think for themselves and will not, therefore, sell themselves as the "stenographers of corporate power" in the pursuit of "manufacturing consent" or fabricating public opinion.
One of Goa's and India's finest human beings and a world citizen, Satish Sonak passed away of a heart attack on Friday, 7 April 2017. He died at the age of 59, while arguing a case in a Panaji court.
By Joseph M. Pinto
I first met
Satish Sonak and Harshada Kerkar, when I joined Gomantak Times (GT), Panaji, Goa, as editor in July 2003.
My first impression of Satish was of a
I left GT
within twelve months, but kept constantly in touch with them. Now that he is no more
and I have lost my close & dear friend, my last impression of Satish is of
a good human being, compassionate and caring.
But always his
over-powering character is that of a free, frank and fearless, but fair
FREE: As a
lawyer, he was his own master.
I recall telling him that some of our earliest
freedom-fighters and patriots were lawyers and, therefore, their own masters.
He added, “So we are free to be servants of the people.”
tradition of Gandhi’s guru, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who set up the Servants of
India Society in 1905, Satish always kept himself “free” to serve the people of
Goa and of India.
FRANK: If U knew him, you could walk up and ask him a question.
wanted an opinion, he could be trusted to be frank. If he did not know the subject, he would say,
“Sorry, Joe. I do not know. I can’t say.”
If he felt
that you were likely to disagree with his view, he would be careful not to hurt
your feelings, while he asserted his own. He wanted to keep your friendship,
while he disagreed with you -- frankly.
FEARLESS: This trait is critical, because Goa is such a small state.
some-one in Goa. So it is easy to be afraid of hurting the interests of some-one you
know, when you take a position in the public interest.
Every activist in Goa can cite examples of how fearless Satish was. How he struggled hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder with the poor and needy -- on paper, in court and on the streets of Goa!
FAIR: His deep sense of
justice did not make him self-righteous.
being fearless, Satish could be counted upon to be fair. He was careful not
get carried away and become an arrogant "know-all" or a gullible "do-gooder".
but Fair” is a rare combination, especially in Goa,
where everyone thinks he or she is more sincere & honest than his or her
neighbour or even friend.
As a working
journalist and editor, I could trust Satish Sonak one hundred percent.
and patriots, how can we pay tribute to Satish?
hard questions to those in power. Do not be afraid. For example, use RTI to pursue the
powerful, ruthlessly to the very end.
Speak up! Stand up!
understand and respect the first three words of the Preamble to our
Constitution: “We, the People …”
The people of India, ie, you and me, are
sovereign, not Parliament. Do not ever get
over-awed by parliamentary democracy. Satish was a Gandhian to the core and
practised civil disobedience, since he knew the law.
above all, be compassionate and hold Gandhi’s Talisman close to your heart:
“I will give
you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much
with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the
weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you
contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything
by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and
destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and
spiritually starving millions?”
our people, the poor and the needy. He looked deep into their eyes. And
listened to the voices of the voiceless. He felt their hearts, beating with his
heart is still.
fair friend, just Satish!
(A version of this tribute appeared in two local newspapers, Gomantak Times and the Goan, on Saturday, 8 April 2017.)
My dear family, friends, colleagues and students, When I posted "Dark days ahead - be prepared to resist!" on 16 May 2014, little did I anticipate the heroic struggle of the FTII students in Pune. Their protest, resistance and struggle has given me, and thousands of other upright & patriotic citizens, the hope and courage to carry on. Khushboo Upadhyay, my diploma student, passed out from the Department of Communication of Journalism, University of Pune, in 2011. Later, she joined the Acting Department at FTII, Pune. I asked Khushboo, one of my most sincere & honest students, to write about the struggle of the FTII students, which is an inspiration to students and to citizens who uphold "dissent in democracy".
She wrote the piece on 30 August 2015. But somehow, I forgot to post it on my blog. Sorry, my dear Khushboo, I post it now. Intolerance is not new to India or the world. Socrates and Tukaram faced it. "Intolerance has been growing" for as long as we can remember: since the Partition of 1947; the Indira Emergency of 1975-77; the anti-Sikh riots of 1984; the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the subsequent blasts & riots in Mumbai; the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat of 2002. Three scholars have been assassinated by intolerant fanatics: Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi. The FTII strike may be over. But, like all struggles to uphold "dissent in democracy" across the world, their resistance and protest goes on ... I will always remember the questions of the FTII students.
By Khushboo Upadhyay
I sit here at
the window of my room, in my home, thinking about my friends “striking” on the
campus of our film-school in Pune. We are kilometres apart. But I can feel
every bit of the pain & frustration they are going through.
They are my
batch-mates, my friends. It's my batch, who is fighting. I was in the Acting Department,
which has only a two-year course. So I left the place earlier. My friends got
stuck in the strike.
especially (Vikas Urs, Ranjit Nair, Pradyatan Bera), whom I see debating with ‘intellectuals?’,
shouting slogans, asking questions, on TV channels today, were the most
what you call ‘polite, quiet, low profile’ men on campus. We worked together.
We shared feelings; our pasts, our memories, our dreams for the future; our
expectations from each other.
And so many more
things beyond …
terrible that I can't do anything, now for them; other than mulling over the
situation, writing about it (the maximum I can do is write). I feel dependent,
caged, in an independent state.
There they are
questioning, protesting; getting beaten up, going to jail, sleeping sleepless
nights; counting days, minutes & seconds; waiting for THE decision.
Am I talking
about thieves? rapists? law breakers? criminals? politicians? high-profile
people? You would think so. But ...
No! No! No!
None of them.
I am talking
about students, who are protesting against the illogical steps taken by their
government for their school.
fault -- they are FILM students.
that thing which gives you “entertainment”. Ohhhh that Saturday-Sunday thing? There
is a school for that? Who studies there?
some drop-outs, brainless creatures. Obviously, they can’t be some of the best
brains in the country. The best brains go abroad; they don't wait for
And who needs
to study Art, anyways? It’s inborn. You are either born with talent, or not.
There should definitely not be a school for that. Bullshit!
is one? World wide, film-makers respect it? We give national awards to them,
each passing year?
Then we should
do something about it.
that guy, what’s his name? The one who leads our rallies, somewhere. He does
some TV shows, and some films to entertain people at night. I have seen him
give a speech in bhakti samarohs. You remembered the name? No. Let go of the
name. Just ask him to head them.
And ask 2-3
more of our supporters, who made PowerPoint presentations, during the elections
to be his core team. They know how and which slides to keep.
definitely see to it that our children will show the best slides of our nation
to the world.
are protesting against it.
Please ask the
PT teachers to give them punishment.
protesting? Forget it. Ignore.
ignored, listen to their parents. There is nowhere else they can go or do.
watching world cinema, organising film festivals, making superlative art,
listening to lectures by eminent personalities and documenting their lives,
using such harmful ways to protest.
examinations, ask them to show their projects. They haven’t completed it? These
are unannounced, wrong assessments? Teachers are against it too? Remove such
to their parents. Tell the nation their tax money is being used by these kids. These
kids are irresponsible and ungrateful.
So what if
they earned their admissions by passing exams? Any Tom, Dick and Harry can
study, make films, photograph, write scripts, act, and so on?
My assistant clicked so many pictures of our beautiful visits abroad. Such good
photographer he is. See! Without wasting time, in getting educated.
And we did
every bit to upgrade their course. Coloured campus walls, hanged paintings, put
AC in the offices, wallpapers in departments. But to no avail. Poor tax-payer’s
money is going down the drain and the nation is not progressing. All due to
these children not submitting class projects.
parents are law-abiding citizens, paying taxes; their school seniors pay hefty
amounts in the name of various taxes. So what? They
didn’t do homework. If they protest now, pack them up and lock them in a room.
The darkness will frighten them, enough.
THEY ARE STILL
also did the same thing. They ask a lot of questions.
situation in mute mode. Like always. Enough time wasted.
You know today
there is golden long-grain biryani for lunch with delegates. But you were
fasting? I can eat once a day during fasts. And you should never say, “No,
never insult it, never ask questions." Our sanskàars.
dated 10 December 2015: "My
batch-mates, who were actively involved, now say 'Let us just concentrate
on our working and filming. That can be our only way of agitation now.' "
Your support is my strength. Peace and love, - Joe. Pune, India; Thursday, 10 December 2015.
My dear family, friends, colleagues, students and well-wishers,
Haldipur, SIMC-2006, one of my most sincere & honest students, leads marketing for National Geographic Channel in India. On the 95th birth
anniversary of her grand-father, the late Bhalchandra Ambadas Haldipur
(1917-1992), she wrote his story.
By Amrita Haldipur
This is a
story that I have been wanting to share since a long time now. It’s special,
very close to my heart, something that makes my heart swell with pride and
brings the widest smile. The hero of my story is my idol, my grandfather.
His name was
Bhalchandra Ambadas Haldipur (1917-1992). We all fondly called him ‘Daddy’.
person I have ever been scared of. And that fear came from the immense respect
I had for him, for the school of discipline he belonged to.
Born in 1917,
he joined the Bombay City Police in 1939 as Sub-Inspector, and retired in
1975, as the Deputy Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
He was forced
to leave studies midway and join the police. But he went on to become a
successful police officer of his time and won accolades for his achievements:
he was awarded the President’s Police Medal in 1956 and the President’s Police
& Fire Service Medal in 1975.
I was 10 when
Daddy passed away in 1992, but the memories he left behind, as a result of his
deep-rooted values and beliefs, charming personality; the aura he created, when
he was with his family and friends; his tongue-in-cheek humour in the most
difficult times, his last words to me – are nuggets that help me move on
and lead a life in all its fullness.
Here is why he
is special –
and incorruptible’, he was known for his tireless and thorough investigations,
and fearless drive against crime during his hectic career spanning 36 years in
the police force. Whether working in the Crime Branch or Anti-Corruption Bureau
(ACB), he remained a courageous, fearless crime-fighter, who led his men from
has always had interesting tales to tell us about the way he worked. One of my
favourite anecdotes is the way he nabbed two of Mahatma Gandhi’s killers –
Narayan Apte and Vishnu Karkare in 1948. What set him apart in his
investigation procedures was a set of sketches he drew during his chase and
trial of the killers.
through the album, containing yellowish sheets of these sketches, my grand-mom
would go on to say:
“Daddy was part of the special cell to trace Gandhiji’s
assassins. A team set out to scour the country for the absconders soon after
January 30th, 1948.
“And he was asked to track Apte and Karkare, two of the co-conspirators of
Nathuram Godse in the assassination. He was posted in the Red Fort, Delhi, during the entire
trial period. He drew images of whoever he met – be it the then DSP of Delhi, a
sub-inspector at Gwalior,
a Pune tailor or an IAF official, for the record.
chase, for weeks, he did not come home, and we didn’t know where he was.
(You’ll are lucky to live in the day and age of mobile phones. I wish I had
some such help to avoid the sleepless nights, wondering where he is and how is
he.) He survived on raw eggs and followed the two from Gwalior to Ahmednagar, their hometown.
days, he would go hunting for both, with guns; and during the nights, he
sketched those he met or interrogated, with pencils.
"The day Apte
and Karkare checked into Pyrkes Apollo Hospital,
near Regal Cinema in South Mumbai, under
assumed names, Daddy finally nabbed them, after waiting there for them for
major investigation, he was a key official in the Justice Kapur Commission, set
up by the Govt. of India to investigate into various events leading to the
assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
During the completion
of 150 years of the Mumbai Police Commissionerate, he was declared as one of
the most important police officers from the Mumbai Police Division to have
significantly contributed to the country in the immediate post-independence
And this wasn’t
all. There was more to him.
builder; a pole-vault gold medallist at the National Olympics in 1940; a
multi-linguist (he had passed three examinations in Urdu, while in service); started
the annual Ganesh Chathurthi festival at Santa Cruz Police Station; one of the
founders of the Senior Citizens’ Club of Bombay; a music and instrument buff.
friend; a loving husband, father and grandfather. Above all, a selfless and
modest man. He never discussed his work at home or spoke about his achievements
and never let anyone promote him either.
All he said was, “I am working for the public and not for publicity.”
He is the real
cool dude, who won hearts at work and in life for his discipline, at a time
when there was no media, no PROs, no unnecessary tamasha.
If I had a
time machine, I would have had only one wish – more time with Daddy. But I’m
glad I have no such privilege, because he would have only been disheartened to
live and watch the country go to dogs today, as far as corruption and
discipline are concerned.
We miss you, Daddy!
herself as “a vagabond, a people-watcher, a dream chaser” on her blog ‘Being Footloosish’ (a diary of my
favourite life experiences that have made me richer with each passing day). I have edited her story of her 'Daddy'. Click here for
the original, written as an FB note on 26 August 2012 and posted on her blog on
29 August 2012.
Since I wrote
a five-part memoir of my mother on this blog in 2009, I have encouraged my
family, friends, colleagues and students to write about the persons who
enriched their lives.
Haldipur’s story of her grand-father is one in this series. I hope others will
feel motivated to send me their stories of people who mattered to them - for publication on my blog.
is my strength.Peace and love,
The late Taher Shaikh (1941-2004)
was one of the three senior-most reporters, along with Harry David and Y.V.
Krishnamurthy, who personified Maharashtra Herald (MH), the local daily English
newspaper, published in Pune during 1963-2003.
Taher passed away in Pune
on 21 May 2014. He leaves behind his wife Saeeda, daughter Farheen and son Suhail
and four grand-children. With my colleagues at MH and other papers in Pune, I
share in the grief of his family.
When I joined MH in 1983
as a sub-editor, Taher was at the peak of his reporting career. One of my
gurus, Taher held my hand as I learned editing.
In the piece that follows, Babu Kalyanpur, my colleague at the MH Desk, pays
tribute to Taher, the story-teller.
By Babu Kalyanpur
A great journalist and a
thorough gentleman has passed into the Blue Yonder, now sharing his vast
repertoire of tales with the gods.
Taher was endearing. No airs, despite his decades-old
experience as a newsman. Young or old, you could count on him, any time.
So many young cubs,
ensnared by the glamour and the glitter, were taught the grim realities of,
what they thought was, a romantic profession. Taher gave it straight as it
comes: a story here and an anecdote there. If you were quick on the draw you picked it
involved; no “I am better than you” attitude. Taher understood that every
budding scribe needs help, not sniggering comments.
It wasn't just the young
hopefuls. He was also the man to go to, whenever there was a crisis. And there were many
during the old days. Nothing illustrates his attitude better than the Tale of
the Power Cut.
Back in the 1980s, a
major grid failure caused darkness in many parts of Maharashtra.
Pune city was almost in total darkness. Most newspapers gave up hope and
scrapped their editions. There was no option but for MH to follow suit.
This writer, on duty, was
still waiting, eternally hopeful. And Taher, as was his wont, was among the
last man standing at work. It was getting to nearly 1am. Time was running out.
Just a casual question,
about whether there was any hope at all, turned into action. A few phone calls
and Taher had information that there was only one newspaper, which had
electricity and was printing. There was no stopping after that. Taher called
the owners and within minutes we went there and got the issue out.
The point here is that
Taher knew everybody. Like a good journalist, he made his contacts and kept in
touch with them regularly. It could be an office clerk or a minister, Taher
He was literally 'King'
when it came to the Pune Municipal Corporation. He had inside stories
which nobody would get.
That extended to court
cases too. He was thorough and accurate when reporting these. His easy style and
economy of wordage made the job easier for us, at the desk. Like good
journalists, he wrote simple and to the point.
MH was lucky to have such
top-shot pioneers – Harry David, Y.V. Krishnamurthy and Taher Shaikh – at the
same time: a combined experience of more than 100 years.
Taher was a great fan of
cricket and, in his middle-age, even played the game for MH. His only drawback
in later life was the “Yes, no, maybe” while running between the wickets, which
once earned the ire of this writer. But then …
Back on 15 March this
year, a get-together was arranged, for which Taher also came. It was heart-breaking
to hold this frail man by the hand and help him to the Food Court at Dorabjee's. Age and disease
had their say on this fit and sprightly man. However, his spirit, slightly
dimmed, was still there.
This was the last time
this writer saw him. And was honoured to give him a helping hand. Must put that
picture away now.
And remember Taher
Shaikh, smoking incessantly, holding court with tales of yore at the MH office!
My dear family,
friends, colleagues, students and well-wishers,
The Aam Aadmi
Party, with its strong & forthright anti-corruption plank, has raised hope in me and all of us – sincere
& honest human beings and Indians – for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
activists, like Medha Patkar, who have worked “against the tide” for decades in
mass organisations and taken up social causes for the working poor in cities
and villages, have been nominated as AAP candidates.
I share a past
– “against the tide” – too with such social activists, of having taken active part
in mass organisations and social work at the grass-roots, during the decade 1973-83:
·‘Alleviating distress’ in the drought-prone villages of Pathardi
taluka, Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra,
newspaper journalism full-time, firstly at Maharashtra Herald, Pune, during 1983-96 and then Gomantak Times, Panaji, Goa, during 2003-04; and teaching print journalism, as a regular visiting faculty at University of Pune, since 1987, and SIMC, since 1990;
I have kept in regular touch with social and political causes.
writes about two such AAP candidates, who are standing for the two Lok Sabha seats
from Goa. His profiles of Dattaram Desai and
Swati Kerkar, posted on FB on 31 March and 5 April respectively, have been
slightly edited by me.
“Dr Dattaram Desai,
the AAP candidate from North Goa, did something that few Goans ever thought
possible: get rid of Du Pont,
largest chemical multinational. Even now when one looks at his frail frame, it
strains the imagination how this slim individual (with his village folk) could
pit himself against such unimaginable corporate power and win!
“Dattaram is everything that one longs for in an
election that sends people to India's
highest law making body – Parliament. He is committed to social issues: I have
rarely found him absent from meetings called to discuss social campaigns or
problems. Like Dr Oscar Rebello, he is a medical doctor very well known in
Ponda, Kerim and Savio Verem.
“He is so well
respected that, when SP Gautam arrested him at the height of the anti-Du Pont
campaign, took him to the Ponda police station, and stripped him of his clothes
in order to humiliate him, the whole of Ponda went into a rage. After that, it
was downhill all the way for Du Pont. All the King's Horses and All the King's
Men could not put Humpty Duponty together again.
“The villagers of Querim and Savio Verem taught us
Goans courage of extraordinary quality. They crashed into the Du Pont property
and demolished an entire building. In order to prevent access by the police,
they dug up a one metre segment of the tarred road that led to the Du Pont
plot. They prevented Du Pont's helicopter from landing thereafter. After Nilesh
Naik, one of Dr Desai's close agitators was shot dead by police, Du Pont staff
and security were escorted out of the town by Dr Desai's men and told to run,
run, run and get out before any further harm came to them. Then the people
invaded the offices of DuPont in Ponda and reduced everything to ashes,
including batches of 500 rupee notes used to bribe officials.
“After that, Du Pont not only dismantled its plans
to set up in Goa or India,
it stayed out of Asia. It is yet to return! My
god, anyone will ask in awe, what sort of man is this?
“That's why I like this guy: difficult to hug him
because he is too thin. We got some idea of his determination when Du Pont
came calling, despite being told to stay away.
"I think, if I want this
place called Goa to be protected from corporates and other thieves of the
public spaces and resources that are ours; if I want a decent, honest bloke to
represent me and my family and neighbours with consummate intelligence, from
all sorts of public perfidy, manipulation, self-interest and greed; if I want
to make one decision that I will not regret even in the next generation, then I
can only think of Dr Dattaram Desai.
"Do you know that there
was one single person – and that too a very young Goan woman – who played key
roles in the popular Goan agitations that got rid of 18 Special Economic Zones
(SEZ) in a single day; the agitation against the white elephant airport at Mopa; the Goa Bachao
Andolan which revolutionized village level land use planning through the
Regional Plan 2021; India Against Corruption, the Goenchea Xetcarancho Ekvott
(Goan Farmer’s Union) and the Goenchea Ostoreacho Awaaz (Goan Women’s Voice)?
"Do you know that the same woman was also with the
Vasco Khariawada protest against the attempt to displace fisher-folk from their
traditional locations, and that she also helped organize the women vegetable
vendors of Panaji market to form an association and secure their rightful space
"In your mind, you’re going to say, Wow! That’s the effect of Swati Kerkar on people. Swati
is AAP's candidate for the south Goa Lok Sabha seat. I am doing the honours
because I am convinced she is the country's political future.
"Swati sometimes shadows, sometimes over-shadows Dr
Dattaram Desai’s activism in many ways. Both are jewels in the Goan crown. We
Goans can be well and truly proud that we have come up with these two amazing,
blemish-free, activist-candidates for Parliament who have shown in the past
that they are capable of changing things.
"One cooked Du Pont’s goose. The other knocked the
shit out of SEZ.
While the entire country in fact is still trying to
get rid of SEZs, imagine conking 18 SEZs in a single day!
"Swati’s the only woman candidate nominated in this
Lok Sabha election. Of course, she’s with AAP. And yes, none of the other
candidates can match her record in organizing those significant political
battles either. Or the coherence, clarity and passion of her speeches.
I saw her ramrod straight, at the
AAP meeting in Panaji. She has not an inch of extra flab. She is spartan in her
ways. She doesn’t go abroad (she doesn’t have the money). Many of her
supporters have pooled in funds to make it possible for her to pay the security
deposit which was needed to file her nomination: typical AAM ADMI heritage. She
is not seen at socializing parties or fashionable malls.
"She did not ask for the South Goa Lok Sabha ticket.
She was simply asked to take the challenge by all the activists, men and women,
of South Goa because she represented the best this country can offer as a
woman, as a speaker, as an activist, as someone who cares about injustice and
simply can’t sleep if she sees it around.
"She has taken up the cases of a number of young
victims of rape and molestation, including the investigation of a rape case
involving a schoolteacher in which the victim committed suicide due to
harassment. Nothing appears to faze her.
"This deadliness about social injustice issues, this
fearlessness against odds, she has inherited from Shridhar Kerkar, one of our
better known freedom fighters. But good news, she can smile as well.
his two FB profiles:
“I hope hundreds
of you who think like me will vote for Dattaram and Swati. We want corruption-free
men and women. We want elimination of corruption. We want a corruption-free
society and republic.
“So why would we, from
North Goa, bypass Dr Dattaram Desai -- who has
never been associated with corruption all his life -- and vote for candidates
and parties whose very soul is corruption? So fellow-Goans from South Goa, also be good to Swati on the 12th of April.
“If you send these
two sincere & honest human beings to Delhi,
they'll join Kejriwal and put this country on the right track, out of the sewer,
into which the conventional parties have taken it.
“If you agree with
what I am saying, send this message around to everyone who will count on April
12. If you can translate it, that would be even better.”
“Thanks!” – Claude
Hundreds of AAP
candidates, like Dattaram Desai and Swati Kerkar from Goa,
deserve our precious vote in the Lok Sabha constituency to which we belong. I say, "Seek them out and vote for them!"
This blog-post is dedicated
to all my justice-loving, sincere & honest Goan friends -- in Goa, India
and across the only Earth, we share. Claude’s clarion call must move us out of
chairs and into the polling booths when Goa
goes to vote.
One year (2003-04) in Goa,
as editor of Gomantak Times, demonstrated to me the corruption of both the Parrikar-led
BJP and numerous Congress governments.
Like my favourite song by John Lennon "Give Peace a Chance", I say,
"Give AAP a Chance" in Goa.
“Rupali Hota (July 14,
1975 - December 15, 2008), the second-born child of Prasanna and Rama Hota, was born to be a star. As a child, she donned her
mother’s highest heels and tottered about boldly, much to the delight of her
doting parents. As a teenager, she was the maverick leader of her sisters and
idol for her cousins.
“As a young woman, she grew up to be a fashionista,
a journalist, a food critic, a teacher. Not only was she vivacious, generous
and spirited but she also gave herself completely to those she loved.
knew Rupali as a fantastic friend, a darling daughter and sister, a perfect
wife and an exemplary mother. However, few knew that she was also a painter, a
singer, a dancer, an actress and a talented writer.
“She was extraordinary, accomplished and greatly
loved. Her jokes, her laughter, her endearments will echo in our minds. In her
smiles, she hid her pain, only to keep us laughing and joyous. She lives on in
our hearts and in Nirvaan.
“Another beautiful young life lost to Fate!!
Princess!!! Love you …!!!”
Rupali, an SIMC alumni,
was also one of my most sincere and honest students. Simrin Chahal, her close
& dear friend from college, runs an open FB group called “R.I.P. Rupali”. The
above tribute is taken from that FB page.
At my request, Simrin sent me one of Rupali’s articles, which was recovered
from Rupali’s computer. Though it is incomplete, I am posting it ‘as is’ on the
occasion of Rupali’s death anniversary. She passed away on 15 December, five
By Rupali Hota
The chilly fall wind had
blown the leaves everywhere and the tree stood bare trying to shield its
nakedness. Just a minute ago, it was beautifully wrapped in the red and yellow-colored
splendor and now there was nothing. A recycling bin and garbage can were its
only companions on the lonely street corner, where a big bold sign was placed
in front of the larger-than-life model home. “Prices Reduced”, it said. The
home was striking, in an unsightly way: very brown and very large and a bit
smug. Even the breeze went around it to revel in the sights of the beautifully
landscaped backyard with the fire pit and the meticulously planted flower beds.
It had taken a month or even more to put together this amazing feat of labor
and it showed.
But Naima hated it.
Naima was a middle-aged
Muslim housewife, who lived next door to the sights and sounds of the model
home. Her husband, Afzal, was a pleasant and lazy man, who made a living
selling New Zealand
lamb and organic chicken in a tiny smelly store on the wrong side of town.
Naima herself worked behind the counter, saving money on hiring extra employees,
while her husband listened to the music of the machine grating and cutting
through the gristle and bone of the meat and packed them swiftly in little bags
to hand them over. It was after fifteen years of living in a one room apartment
in a shoddy neighborhood where homeless hobos rummaged through the garbage for
food and cigarette stubs that they had put away enough money to put down for a
home in this upper class community. It had its own park and a man-made lake
with duck and geese swimming in it.
An ordinary life, coupled
with a barren womb, had held her back, keeping her aloof and remote in her
grief. Moving into her own home made her feel alive again. She went for long
walks in the drizzle that always kept Seattle
green and lush and sat on a bench next to the lake, listening to the throaty
croaking of the frogs, seemingly immune to the rain falling on her head. People
ran and jogged by her, wondering at the brown lady sitting in the rain, busy
with their schedules and their appointments, too busy to stop their pace. She
didn’t mind. Her eyes were too busy absorbing the tranquility of the scene, a
far cry from her cramped and smelly workplace.
Her home in the
neighborhood was beautiful too. They bought it when it had been just a piece of
land and had personally chosen the finish and colors of the house. It was the
end of a deep struggle and was their haven after a long and tired day of rank
odors and thankless customers. Her favorite part of the day was to escape to
her big bathroom and take a hot bath in the jetted tub with fragrant bath
salts. The woman suppressed by the grind and bustle of mundane life turned into
a water nymph, electrifying and seductive in her abandonment to this simple
Soon her views from the
bathroom window got darker and, to her dismay, a very sizable home next door seemed
to have blocked the lake. The model home was built with great speed to attract
future customers and had been adorned with every upgrade there was to offer.
Her bath time shortened and the smells from the bottles of bath salts fell
flat. ‘All these years and all this work and she couldn’t even be in her
favorite place in peace now.’
Afzal had loved his
evenings in his new home. Their lonely and isolated lives had new warmth as he
waited for Naima to come out of her bath everyday, looking oh so happy and
fresh! They would then eat their dinner in bed together, watching the Indian
channels she so enjoyed, their bodies touching each other, radiating camaraderie.
They had no children, an unspoken sadness between them for years, finally taken
over by their new baby, their dream home.
But Naima seemed to have
become moody lately and did not seem too eager to come back home from work and
it worried him. He would see her looking out of the bathroom window listlessly,
playing with her graying hair; staring at the brown walls of the home next to
theirs. This new house had been her child and he had thought she was happy.
Maybe he was wrong. He sighed, muted by the silent melancholy that always
surrounded their life.
Every morning before
work, Naima would go into the model home and wish the realtor in her
beautifully decorated office. The real estate market had crashed, but the
realtor was there unfailingly, convincing the diminishing trickle of potential
buyers about the rebounding economy and the good investments to be made by
buying a home. Naima saw the realtor’s confident smile getting brittle every
day, shadowed by an ailing mother in the nursing home and rising dry cleaning
costs of her branded work clothes.
Naima entered the house
everyday and after greeting the realtor, took her customary tour around the
house to see new upgrades. She never got tired of looking at the warm tiles in
the bathroom; the bedroom turned into a theatre room and, of course, her all-time
favorite, the television in the mirror of the bathroom!!! The rich furnishings
and trimmings of the model home titillated and angered her and she would go to
work in their little shop with a vengeance, counting out money and tallying
receipts, her eyes filled with faraway yearning.
The week after,
everything changed. As she entered the model home, the realtor was unusually
busy, not bothering to look up at Naima, who had become the crazy Indian lady
fixture of the day. “It seems like your morning routine will be different from
next week,” she said, busily chewing on her acrylic nails. “Why is that?” Naima
asked confusedly. “Are you not going to be here anymore?” ‘Maybe her mother is
really ill’, thought Naima to herself, saddened by her realization. “No, I will
not be. I have just sold the home and the new owners will be here.”
The realtor seemed
animated as she told Naima the details, oblivious to the pinched look on her
face. ‘That’s it. Life was so unfair. Now she won’t even be able to come in and
enjoy the ambience anymore. Now she would have to be in her bathroom, sans the
window view, looking at this gargantuan house from the outside.’ Not bothering
to say farewell, Naima rushed out, rubbing angry tears which threatened to
escape. The realtor looked after her retreating figure thoughtfully, thinking
about how lucky she was to get that commission to pay for her mother’s nursing
The week passed in a blur
and the movers van came and went. The garbage bin started being put outside the
house on Thursdays and the big bold sign came off. The new neighbors left
cookies at Naima and Afzal’s doorstep to say hello and decorated their windows
with colorful drapes. Naima ceased her usual stopover at the model home in the
mornings. She would stare disdainfully at the trikes and Krazr scooters left outside
the house by the children. Her house looked desolate, no toys peppering the
sidewalk and no chalk drawings in the driveway.
As night fell, she would
take her customary bath and eat dinner quietly with her tired husband and then
she would leave the warm bed and step out for a walk in the crisp black night. Standing
next to the model home, she looked around furtively. Knowing all the people
would be in bed by that late hour, she would walk around the house into the backyard
and sit next to the fire pit, looking at the stars, not daunted by the fact
that she was trespassing. Afzal could see her from the bathroom window and he
would steal secret glances at the face of the woman who he had been with for
years. Naima never saw and never realized, wrapped up in her own sadness like
the bare and naked tree standing out in the front of their yard.