Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our soup will never be the same again

[Sabina in happier days; California]

Fight till the last gasp
~ William Shakespeare
English Dramatist, Playwright and Poet

I’ve never seen someone carrying pearls as gracefully as Sabina Saikia Sehgal. I first met her a couple of years back at a party the Saikia’s hosted at their beautiful Defence colony villa. You couldn’t afford to ignore her in any setting. Sabina wore huge glasses and a huge pearl. I soon realized that beneath that overweening visage, there was a beautiful human being. She was exceedingly warm, cordial and she laughed out loud. I ate prawns that she had made and it was the best shrimp I’ve ever had.

I met her on many occasions that I went to see my editor at the Saikia‘s. Each time she would floor me with her generosity. Sabina was pretenseless and I really admired her for that. I think the geniality, grace and glow came only naturally. I was surprised to learn that she read my blogs: ‘I liked the blog post you wrote for your mom,’ she told me. I never hoped I’d some day have to write an obit for such a brilliant journalist.

I’ve seen a very few people so full of life. A globe-trotting writer, food critic and consulting editor of the Times of India were just one shade to her. She also was a wonderful mother to her two kids and a loving wife to Santanu, her journalist-turned-dot com entrepreneur hubby. Sabina’s friends would vouch for her amity. As a pro she had such a fierce reputation of being India’s best -- and ruthless -- food writer that restaurateurs would fear her weekly column. Yet, in private, she was so kind.

I shudder to think how cowardly it must have been to shoot her?
Did she laugh one last time? Her loud guffaws would often draw people to her. No wonder her funeral saw an ensemble of the crème de la crème of the capital. I had the Delhi chief minister standing to my left and fashion designer Rohit Bal to my right. Complete strangers sobbed as her pyre was lit. I’d tears in my eye.

It feels so sad to lose her. Newspapers are replete with tributes. I’m being told that she was one of the finest food connoisseurs in the country. I’m sure she will raid heaven's kitchen and savor its famed manna and nectar. And then rate it. Without fear.

Sabina will be dearly missed.

Sabina Saikia Sehgal
[Sabina was killed in the terrorist attack at Bombay’s Taj Mahal hotel]


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kashmir Votes

Kashmir is in a wintry squeeze. There are two major camps in this conflict-ridden state. The mainstream and the separatists. While those owing their allegiance to the former make their living by faking their loyalty to New Delhi, the latter simply thrive on dissent. There are lots of players in both camps but no good leaders. And Kashmir oscillates between the two extremes. No one advocates or cares for the middle path.

The separatists are riddled with factions. They dislike each other guts but publicly speak in the same secessionist overtones. The top guys wear expensive Kara-Kul caps. The lowly sidekicks settle with well-tailored achkans [flowing gowns]. These guys have interceders to issue boycotts and blacklists. The middle-men are called coordination committee. These are the same bunch of gentlemen who called the immensely popular chalo’s [Lets go] marches some months back.

The mainstream is thoroughly corrupt. They drive around in beacon fitted cars at the expense of state. They cavort in state guest houses. They have hollow slogans, which no one takes seriously. Worse still the politicians know that they are reviled. Yet they carry on with their business. Given a truly independent election [may be monitored by the UN] not one of them will win a seat in the assembly. Since that may never happen, the mainstream continues to run the show.

The election commission of India is conducting elections in Kashmir. Half a million troopers are on vigil. There is an election boycott call from the coordination committee. The weather is inclement. The million strong marches are a recent memory. Yet people came out to vote. I don’t believe in anything that the state media says but I trust independent news sources. BBC reported a decent voter turn out in Phase-I. Now that is very interesting.

Part of it could be plain cajoling and harassment by the army. 'We gonna come back to check who has got an inked-finger'. Elections in Kashmir have never been transparent in the real sense and the election commission of India knows that fully well. They have been perhaps asked by the intelligence agencies to make an exception for Kashmir. Matter of sovereignty, some may argue. Yet, it appears that this time people have actually exercised their franchise, in large parts, out of their will. What about those marches? Martyrs?

I guess it is about three things. One: People want a basic decent life -- good roads, good education, better jobs and they know an elected, political government is better equipped to do that. No governor speaks Kashmiri and Kashmiri's have trouble explaining themselves in Hindi. Two: People in the countryside appear less likely to take the separatists seriously. The boycott call apparently has been ignored, at least in rural Kashmir. Three: While the Azadi sentiment lives on, and is not expected to die anytime soon, a disenchantment syndrome is taking root. The shelf life of any dissent is short.

For the while it looks like advantage mainstream. We are headed for a civilian rule and out of the three: Farooq – a notoriously colorful doctor, Mufti – of red wine fame and Azad – a disconnected congressman, the doctor may walk away with the crown. But let’s not jump the gun here. Remember Kashmir has always been bit of a riddle.

We shall have to wait till it snows again!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Weekend Snapshots

[US Humvees at sundown in Basra, Iraq:
Let's hope we see a sundown of US occupation too]

[Mother and daughter walk in snow, Srinagar:
Gaad, Isn't that beautiful]

Friday, November 14, 2008


Perhaps the only two things I truly miss about Kashmir are its snow-capped mountains and the fluffy-icy-powdery snow. Someone just called to tell me that it is snowing back home. The sight is awe-inspiring. Kashmir, in fact, is one of the few places in India where it actually snows! Imagine, for a heartbeat's span: You are cut off from rest of the world. As it continues to snow, you stay confined indoors. It is a very cozy, out-of-this-world, snuggled down, unwinding feeling. Nothing -- at all -- beats it!

There is no electricity. Consequently no TV. No games. No soaps. No inverters. No lamps and tube lights. You lit thy candles. Fusty style. You re-live the way of your ancestors. It puts to shame all the candle-lite dinners in swanky New Delhi lounges. There is a certain magical ring to it. Like an old harried painter appearing out of the woods and quietly sketching frenetic white silhouettes upon window sills and in the backyard and on the turnpikes. No potholes are visible in the snow. There are no drains. No runnels. Just running miles of endless, clean snow. Snow that came over night. God has stockpiles of it, I often doodle.

Snow packs up in lawns. It falls on old fences and the light less lamp posts. Upon little eggs in the eagle’s high eyrie, while the birdlings cheep happily. Snow makes an almost medieval swirling descent. The flakes fall headlong on still waters of the distant pond, kissing her stillness. It snows on locked temples and countless sand bunkers. In every orchard and onto each slope. Snow falls on fresh graves. On abandoned army helmets upon the lonely hillside. In wetlands. Old chimneys. It falls on the rooftops and topless rivers. God's confetti.

There is stuff that dollars can't buy: Like snow clinging to your nose. To your back. The snow-man with bits of charcoal for eyes. The snow-ball fight. Throwing small orbs of snow at each other. The fun of it. The rush. The pink of cheeks. Rouge of palms. And the quite wintry nights. The eerie silences. The snow-globs coming dancing down from the sky, in hushed whispers. On deer-backs. Upon trees. On defunct electric lines. In terraces. Upon doggy-snouts. Caressing the ladyfinger like icicles. On parched humans. Never failing them.

Warm hamams, warmed still by thick logs of wood. Harisa simmering. Envy the old world charm.

God, I love snow. I miss Kashmir.


From the archives

Sunday, November 09, 2008


A contemporary American writer calls storytelling an ancient and honorable act. There are times when I have this itch to tell a tale.
I don't know where it comes from but I love the kick.
The creative bones in me rattle as I cruise imaginary territories.
I enjoy the trek.

I've just managed to put my second short story up. It is called 'Brave'. You can check it at


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Audacity of Hope

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr

[I’ve a dream speech on August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom -- defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement]

King must be turning in his grave in Fulton county. For this truly is a defining moment in America’s history. Forty years after King was shot dead, a fellow black has just managed to do the impossible. Moments ago I heard the victory speech. It was a change everyone yearned for. After all the theatrics, the show-off and endless hate campaigns -- the apogee turned out to be sweet. Subjected to years of exclusion and faced with the worst form of racial divide, for the black community, as for the ordinary American, this is the day of deliverance.

America has finally turned the page. On Nov 4, 2008 -- a black man, with an un-American surname, a Muslim middle-name and zero political pedigree got elected to the most powerful position in the world. Obama triumphed. In his triumph, hope shone bright -- again -- in the USA. Rev Jesse Jackson, another of those tireless civil rights giants, standing in Grant Park in downtown Chicago, wept slowly as Barack thanked people. Many more sobbed in joy. It was, perhaps, a catharsis America badly needed. After years of blood-letting, terror mongering, hate politics and a notoriously incompetent president, here was a breather at last. In a greatly inter-connected world, it means a lot for all of us. My eyes went tenderly moist.

Barack beat all odds to become the 44th president of the US of A. He went from state to state, coast to coast, turf upon turf, taking on the extremely well-entrenched, politically experienced McCain. And it was not easy. During the tortuous and often grueling election campaign he continually displayed remarkable level-headedness. Relentlessly under fire, Obama continued to inspire hope and audacity. Dislodging the Washington DC cabal was never going to be a cake walk. There were ugly incidents and shrill media campaigns but ultimately the raw power of people, the youth and those on the margins prevailed. All lobbyists of the world couldn’t stop the tide, as real America spoke up. And loud.

Obama’s magic lay in his charisma. His appeal cut across the board – white and black, East to West Coast, students and workers and more importantly -- the youth. People absolutely loved his policies. His promises. His energy. The glint in his eye and the frankness in his voice struck an immediate, intimate chord. He made the good old decent political debates -- the fulcrum of any civilized society -- fashionable again. Armed with a degree from Harvard and record of social activism, Barack promised change. His ideas impressed. He was someone uncontaminated by DC. And he looked the correct answer to everything wrong about Bush and his mad-men.

Who would have thought that the son of a Kenyan black man would one day be the most powerful person on earth. America made it possible. The threshold was crossed by epic voter turnout across the country. It was a clean sweep -- and the choice was clear: Obama.

Color, finally gave way to character. This is indeed the heralding of a new dawn. Time to relegate a vicious legacy to the dustbin of history has come. King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and James Weldon Johnson must raise a quiet toast in the sky.

True -- it can happen in America alone. The country continues to instill hope. It proved that tonight.


[Suhail, my buddy, an Obama supporter chills out on the victory night in Harlem, NYC]

[My American friends, capture the joy of Obama victory, at midnight, New York]

[The victory speech]