Friday, 19 October 2012

Short Change

If you have ever met my mother, one of the first things that is likely to pop up in ANY conversation is.. "Oh ya I get heart surgeries done for underprivileged children free of cost" somehow it always seems to slip into any conversation edge-wise.

See my mother has been a social worker for as long as I can remember, which is like half my life. Since I'm 23 she's been galavanting around 'Saving Lives' - in some cases literally for about 12 years now. She is associated to more organizations than I can remember at any given moment, but the story in question pertains to one in particular. My crazy, strong, ill tempered, hell-of-a-women mother has been associated with Rotary International for almost the entirety of the 12 years that she has been a social worker. The experience in question stems from a rather great project that her Rotary Club has been running for the past couple of years - 'Gift Of Life'. The project essentially funds valve replacement surgeries (as far as I understand, I'm sure they probably do some other nifty thing as well, like maybe reverse the effects of Global Warming.. Just Saying) for underprivileged children below the age of 18 from third world countries.

As a result I have probably met, laughed with and shed tears with/over more children with heart diseases that most people do in a lifetime. So pardon me if after a while I can't tell one apart form the other. However, in all my time one of the most striking stories I remember is the story of one Ms. Evelyn Lisseth Argueta Rodrigues. Evelyn or Evi as I used to call her was from El Salvador a small nation somewhere in South America and the then 6 year old undertook a 14 hour journey with her mother, to come down to India to get her heart fixed.

Evi is the youngest of 4 siblings and was born into a family poor enough, that at times there wasn't enough food to go around for everyone. The daughter of a Sugar Mill Worker and a Housewife who had never been  out of her small hometown back home, let alone halfway across the world, Evi had been born with the congenital heart condition. To add insult to injury, Irma (Evi's mum) only spoke Spanish, and even simple questions like is she allergic to any pain meds? turned into whole sessions what felt like excruciatingly long dumb charades.

Putting all that aside, the next part is super important so read closely. The round trip for both of them had been sponsored by a Rotary Club in El Salvador and they were expected to return home in about a weeks time. After the operation my mum dragged me to another one of her painfully long rounds to make sure everything was well and that both the mother and daughter were cared for.

While at the hospital, I discovered to my horror that Irma had not eaten anything for the past 2 days. This because she could not speak English and between the operation and post operative care no one thought thought to ask her if she had gotten the food that was meant for attendants. What followed was something I wont forget as long as I live. My mum asked her how much money she had on her in hopes of explaining that in emergencies she could buy food at the canteen.  She pulled out the sum total of money she had on her and carefully handed it over to my mother to count, as if it were a treasure befitting a king. My mother passed on the crumpled notes to me and I could not believe what was happening as I counted and re-counted 7 US DOLLARS.

This amazing woman had traveled halfway across the world in hopes of a better and longer life for her daughter armed with 7 Dollars. I could not believe being stranded in a country with only a return ticket and 7 Dollars at my disposal. I could cry, blame my circumstances or be bitter to everyone around, but all I saw, all I would ever see, on Irma's face was gratitude. Gratitude for giving her daughter the life she deserved.

I saw my mother shed tears of anger and hopelessness that day. What kind of people travel halfway across the world without enough money to even survive a couple of days in a foreign country should the need arise?  This poor housewife form a improvised family in El Salvador taught me more about courage than any book, any story, any course anywhere.

Life has a funny way of working out. Eventually Irma and Evi stayed in India for three weeks before Evi was cleared for air travel. For the entirety of that time they stayed in our house and when they when back, my mother ensured that they went back with clothes and toys for all four of Irma's children and more importantly with more-much-more than 7 US Dollars.

Today Evi is a healthy 10 year old, who for the first time in her life has a life to look forward too. This photo was taken on Evi's 7th birthday and sent to us by one of her cousins on Irma's insistence  who still remembers us very fondly and thanks us for all our help I'm told. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Right Story Wrong End

2 years ago while ideally flipping through books at the Delhi Book Fair, feeling like the proverbial Alice in Wonderland (Yup my two greatest passions in life reading and writing, apart from sleeping and eating afcourse, but that goes without saying if you know me at me all) I entered Rupa publishers group of stalls. I walked in a little wearily, considering I'm not too fond of Indian writers. Don't get me wrong I've read my fair share of Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai and even Chetan Bhagat but see when it comes to relatively lesser known Indian authors I feel the books reflect who we really our as Indians, the uncomfortable feeling that we are not really English but the fact the English happens to be first language for a whole lot of us.What this essentially means is that, the book doesn't read comfortably, it often seems stiff and entirely too formal.

So on that fateful day when I picked up Right Fit Wrong Shoe by a relatively unknown author, Varsha Dixit, Indian at that, she already had a lot of strikes against her. Eventually I ended up buying the book. Why you may ask? well first up coming from the Rupa stable, the book cost a very economical 95 bucks (yes I'm Indian, and I scrimp every penny I can, so sue me!) next I'm ashamed to admit this, as would any seasoned reader, but I was drawn to the name and the name alone of the book. So since I didn't have very much to do that weekend, I ended up taking the book home. 

What followed was probably one of the most enjoyable Saturday afternoons I remember spending in a long time. Nandini and Sneha reminded me of me and my best friend, as I'm sure they will remind you of yourself and your BFF. They were instantly likable and  Dixit's wicked sense of humour had me in fits of laughter, making my domestic help look at me rather ominously while shaking her head disgustingly on a number of occasions. What I particularly enjoyed was the interesting names of Chapters, that were named after Bollywood movies. As if this wasn't enough in walked Aditya Sarin, the ultimate M&B kind of leading man, the kind who you are sure is amazing in bed, just by reading the introduction. The book turned out to be a great read, and I didn't raise any eyebrows when it became a bestseller. An Indian author, who wrote decent love stories, can you hear the hallelujah chorus? How did I personally know that the book was destined for success? The end came regretfully soon and put a smile on my face that lasted almost a whole week. In my eyes that the mark of a really good love story.

So when a couple of months ago I heard that Ms. Dixit was coming up with a sequel to Right Fit, I was overjoyed. Restlessly awaiting the launch, I pre-ordered my copy almost 15 days in advance. I remember getting the call, from the Flipkart delivery guy asking me to come to the reception of my office and sign for the delivery. Hearing the same old Hallelujah chorus I happily skipped to the reception of my office, and looked at the package with so much love, you would think it were my first born!

That evening I tore open the packaging and set about reading Sneha and Nikhil's story. See Sneha reminded me of myself in her sense of humor and kick ass attitude, and well in my mind, it was about time she got her happy ending. 

The book was definitely a good read, but I guess having read the two I still prefer the former more. The sequel came laden with typos, and sadly less interestingly named chapters. What I did not like was how the book was very obviously divided into two parts- Nadini and Aditya's story guest starring Gayatri, Aditya's ex-finance from Right Fit, and the second featuring Sneha and Nikhil. The fact that the stories stood divided instead of flowing hand in hand, was something that jumped out at me.

But having counted the negatives, here's how the score stands. the book is amazing, funny, witty and definitely worth a read, definitely for those who enjoyed Right Fit as much as me. I was amazed by Sneha's strength, and I actually liked how Nikhil's personality didn't really change all that much in the book (I hate it in M&Bs when the hero goes all soft and mushy towards the end). The story has the making of another bestseller, but for me it will always come in second, considering that Ms. Dixit set the bar pretty high with Right fit. There were parts that were definitely too filmy for my taste, and I did not really think that this book was more mature or complex than Right Fit.

Having said that however, in the end, it only matters that, the book inspired me enough to write this particular blogpost and yes I did walk around with a smile on my face for two whole days. So all in all, in my eyes the book is a success. Good Job Ms. Dixit!