Monday, March 03, 2008


I have a habit of reaching places early when I am nervous. I have never missed a train or a flight. On a couple of occasions I have reached the airport two hours before my flight was scheduled and suffered for my stupidity. Yet, I find it difficult to NOT be nervous before undertaking a journey. There is excitement, sadness and uncertainty. I am afraid of uncertainty.

Tushar is driving me to the railway station. He knows me well by now. He keeps the conversation at the bare minimum while driving and does not put on the music system. He does not comment on my looking obsessively at my watch every few seconds. He can sense the nerves. We have only forty five minutes to go before the train leaves and I am close to panic. He knows that too and therefore chooses not to speak. The fast approaching traffic light turns amber just as we reach it and Tushar screeches to a halt.

“Oh come on! We could have made it across that!” I say exasperated.
“I would let you drive but in your state, you’ll probably kill us both.” He says cruelly.
He’s enjoying this and traffic is always a bitch in Bangalore. I am a wreck. Finally the light turns green and we start moving.
“My grand mother drives faster and better than you.” I say caustically.
“Then ask her to drive you from next time.”
“Dude, autos are over taking us!” I say as one of those pesky three wheelers whizzes past us.
“Do you want to take one? I still remember the last time you took one to the airport.” He smiles faintly and I let it go.

The last time I took an auto to the airport he threw me out midway for heckling the hell out of him. The next one did the same thing. Finally the third one got me there.
We take the turn into the train station and as soon as he gets to the entrance, I leap out and quickly pull out my bags.
“There are forty minutes for the train to leave. You’ll be fine.” He smiles reassuringly and I’m grateful for his friendship. “I’ll see you when you get back.” He adds a little sadly and then drives off.

The flat will be pretty empty with him alone over there. I feel sorry but it’s been long since I went to Delhi and I want to see my family and Shefali.
I head out to my platform and into my coach. I see that I have a lower, side berth. ‘I’ll have some privacy’ I think and silently send up a prayer. As my nerves settle down, I realize that I am the only person in the whole coach.
There are thirty minutes to go, I console myself. Someone will get on for sure.

Twenty minutes and still no one. I hit the panic button again when we get to fifteen minutes. I couldn’t possibly be the only soul traveling second AC on this train? I get out and check the charts again. My name is on it so this HAS to be my train. The phone starts vibrating in my pocket. They put vibrators in phones so that you know you are getting a phone call, SILENTLY. I think that lesson got lost somewhere. My phone, when it vibrates sounds like someone farting. It’s pretty loud and not pretty.

It’s Shefali. She’s calling to find out if I’m on the train and to tell me that she’s coming to pick me up at the railway station.
“What time should I get there?” She asks me.
“Ten-thirty and bring along some deodorant because I’ll smell pretty bad by then.” I say jokingly.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take adequate precautions.” She says and I can sense her smile.
“Take care and don’t talk to strangers or eat anything they offer you. Don’t take your head out of the window and don’t get off on any of the platforms.” She laughs at her own little joke. Her laughter tinkles down the phone and suddenly I can’t wait to meet her. It’s been nearly three months since I saw her last.
We say our goodbyes and ‘I love you’s’ and I disconnect the call. Speaking to her always calms me down.

Just when I start wondering if it will be the loneliest journey ever, an army man enters the compartment. He heads towards the compartment opposite me, checks his tickets and stows the two suitcases he is carrying under the lower berths, and then comes back with two more suitcases and a small coffee table. He sparks my interest with the coffee table. There is a very elegant lady who follows him in the third time with a young boy, about four years old. She sits down on the lower berth and looks out of the window into the darkness, trying her best to ignore my inquiring looks. The boy is engaged with the door to our coach. He tries to open the door but doesn’t have enough strength to pull it open so he keeps trying. He puts his hand in between the door and the jamb and tries to push the door open with little success. I look in horror as the door springs go back further with each push and the boy starts swinging the door knowing that at any moment the door will snap back and take a chunk out of his hand.
I react and go and pull the boy inside. The elegant lady suddenly realizes that there is danger to her cub. She takes his hand from me and leads him to the berth admonishing him all the time. Then turns around and gives me a beautiful smile and a ‘Thank you.’
She sounds well educated so we exchange pleasantries. Just when I start thinking that this might not be such a lonely journey after all, her husband walks in. He stares at me and then closes the curtains of their compartment so violently that I am left in no doubt about his views about me. They might not want my company after all.

The train begins to move and the mess bearer appears to ask me what I want for breakfast.
“What is there?” I ask.
“Veg cutlet and non-Veg Omlette.” I am told curtly.
I choose the cutlet as I don’t trust the Indian railways poultry. Come to think of it, I don’t trust anything about the Indian railways.
I take out my disc man and listen to a couple of songs before exhaustion overtakes me and I go to bed on the uncomfortable berth still wearing my jeans, too tired to change.

I wake up at 4.00 in the morning after a night spent tossing and turning on the small, cramped and extremely uncomfortable berth. The lurching movement of the train didn’t help either. Someone disturbed my curtains while walking past my berth. After a couple of minutes of trying to force myself back to sleep, I give up. I get up and realize the couple, who were in the compartment opposite me have moved to another one further down the coach. I go to the loo and do the needful and then put on the disc man while looking out of the window. It’s just beginning to get light. The coffee vendor comes and I get my morning cuppa for five bucks. It is too sweet and there is more water than milk in it. It still warms me though. I watch as the first streaks of red appear in the sky and then the first hint of the sun comes over the horizon. This is my favorite part of the day. Everyone is sleeping. It is so calm and peaceful. The morning dew glistens on the trees as it is not hot enough yet to evaporate it. The birds sing their songs. There is a certain vibrancy in the air. It is the beginning of a new day…. new promises… new beginnings. It fills me with energy and I feel ready for any challenges that life may throw at me that day.

My breakfast finally arrives at eight. The cutlets are very good as they are hot. Revision of my opinion of the Indian railways’ food is warranted. I settle down to read the latest John Grisham Novel that I picked up at the railway station book stall.
The train lurches as there is hard braking and I am thrown forward. Secundrabad has arrived. The train stops here for a good thirty minutes as the engines are switched to different ends. I get off and go hunting for the morning newspaper and some food.
After buying the paper, I was walking back to my coach engrossed in the newspaper.

That’s when I saw her.

She was facing away from me and talking to her friend. I could hear the laughter that came easily and visualize the smile. She smelled like fresh strawberries or maybe it was her cologne. She had thick jet-black hair that fell below her waist. They were left open and blowing slightly in the morning breeze. She wore a pair of blue jeans and a light pink T-shirt and pink bathroom ‘chappals’ that I would have laughed at on anyone else but on her, they looked cute.
She turned and walked in my direction with her friend following her. She whipped her head gracefully and the hair that fell like thick ropes rippled. I was captivated by her face. She had huge brown eyes and an irresistible smile. A small nose that was cute as a button. She had a kind face which glowed with softness and a quiet radiance. She wore no make-up but she was like a vision. She walked past me as I gaped without a second look at me and I knew I had fallen hard for her.
I didn’t know her but was drawn irresitably towards her as if she was a long lost friend. I felt familiarity at a very deep emotional level with her and I did not know why?


I tore my eyes away from her and went back inside and tried to concentrate on the newspaper while eating my potato chips. I read and re-read the article that I was reading and then realized I hadn’t taken in a word of what I was reading. I was thinking of her. She swam into view and disturbed my thoughts. ‘Get a grip!’ I scolded myself. After all, I had a girl friend that I loved very much. ‘Was just thinking about this girl cheating on my girlfriend?’ I wondered. That would depend on everyone’s personal standards, I thought. Shefali and I have been seeing each other for the last three years and have spent considerable time apart, yet this was the first time I ever felt something for anyone other than Shefali. The guilt of it hit me very hard then. I resolved to not think about her and actually made some headway into my book.

Then she waltzed into my compartment. I didn’t have to look at her to know it was her. The smell of strawberries gave her away. I burrowed my head into my book and continued reading. She stood in the compartment and looked around.
“Excuse me?” She said and the voice was like her: soft, kind and cultured.
I looked up and said rather rudely, “Yes?”
“Can I set my phone to charge in this socket? The sockets in my compartment don’t work.”
“Suit yourself.” I said more harshly than I had intended to and tried to concentrate on my book.
She connected the phone and sat down on the berth opposite me. I continued to try and read though every inch of my body was very aware of her. She sat there quietly for fifteen minutes while I tried to bury myself in my book. I could feel her gaze on me. I stole a look from under the book. She caught my look with her eyes and she smiled. It was a beautiful smile. It started at her lips and spread all over her face and into her eyes. The eyes. They held mine and I thought she would steal my soul if I did not look away. But I did not want to look away.
“You like reading?” She said softly.
“Yes. I read a lot actually.”
“What genre? Only pulp-fiction? ” She asked and surprised me.
“I read all sorts of books… Children’s books, pulp fiction, Fiction, non-fiction, autobiographies…anything that I find interesting.”
“I do the same.” She remarked excitedly and then continued, “What did you read recently that you loved?”
“The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.” I replied and she looked shocked.
I looked at her curiously and in reply to my look she dug into her handbag and produced a copy of ‘The Kite Runner’ which had been thumbed through a couple of times, at least.
“I was re-reading it for the fourth time.” She said shame-facedly.
“Rajat Mendiratta.” I said extending my hand.
“Rimii Sachdeva.” She said shaking it.

Lunch arrived and then we realized that we had been talking for two hours. Time had just flown and none of us had been conscious of it. We had started on books and then realized she belonged to Dehra Dun. I had studied in Dehra Dun for ten years so we talked about that. Then we discovered we both had a shared taste in food and we talked about that. She was Punjabi and so was I. We related to each other like I had never done to a stranger. It felt like I had known her forever.
“You know, I don’t feel strange talking to you at all. I feel like I have known you a long time.” She said and I was left speechless.
She could read my thoughts!
“What happened?” She said seeing the look on my face.
“Nothing… I was just thinking the same thing.” I said hurriedly, smiling to reassure her.
There was an uncomfortable silence.
Finally I said, “So do you have a boy friend?”
It was an uncomfortable question because it brought into focus what we were doing sitting here in this train. What were we doing? Establishing a new friendship? I didn’t think so. And neither did Rimii. We were looking for more in each other. It brought our lives outside this train into perspective.
She looked down at the floor and fidgeted for a long time, then finally said, “Actually, I just got engaged to my boyfriend, Sahil. He is a pilot in the Indian Navy.”
“What about you?” She added in a fake bright voice with a fake smile.
“I have a girlfriend. Shefali. We’ve been seeing each other for three years.” I said.
We sat there quietly digesting this information about each other.
“Do you want to see her photograph?” I said and she nodded enthusiastically.
“Come here.” I said, taking out my phone which had a couple of her pictures.
For the first time, she came and sat down next to me. She was close… very close… too close…
I could smell her hair and feel her breath on my cheek and it made me very uneasy.
I showed her Shefali’s photographs and she studied Shefali carefully.
“She’s very pretty.” She said.
“Yes, she is.” I said smiling and putting my arm around her. It was an unconscious reaction and she didn’t seem to mind at all.
We talked about family and I told her about my naughty little sister. The amount of trouble she and I used to get in together when we were kids. I told her about how she would save my share of the sweets when I was away at boarding school and give me my share when I came back for the holidays and she told me about her family.

While talking about her eldest sister, she started crying softly.
“What happened?” I asked tenderly taking her face in my hands.
She just shook her head and tried to wipe away the tears but by now they were a torrent.
I took out some tissues from my bag and handed them to her with a smile and she smiled back through her tears.
“My eldest sister passed away three years ago.” She said and started sobbing again.
I held her and stroked her hair till the time the sobs died down, and then asked her what had happened.
“Di had gone to Mussoorie for some party and was returning at night and she had an accident. When she didn’t get home two hours after calling us that she was leaving for home, dad and I went looking for her. We found her car mangled and Di still inside it.” She said with some difficulty.
“We pulled her out and she died in my arms while we were driving her to the hospital.” She said and a fresh wave of tears overtook her. I hugged her and she hugged me back and sobbed into my shoulder.
After some time she broke away.
“Sorry about that.” She said thickly.
“No. It’s a big deal. I understand.” I said gently patting her hand.
“Thanks.” She said squeezing my hand.
“I haven’t really told anyone except Sahil till today.”
We sat there for a long time not saying anything, with my arm around her and her head on my shoulders.

“You know, I could go through life like this. It is extremely comfortable.” I said smiling and she smiled back, then picked up the pillow and gave me a whack on the head and started laughing.
“You cheesy clown!” She said still laughing.
We talked some more… about anything and everything. Made fun of people passing through our compartment and told stories and then we told our deepest, darkest secrets to each other.
Dinner arrived and brought us back from our own little world and into reality. She had a fiancé and I had a girl friend. We ate dinner in silence. She knew what was on my mind and I knew what was on hers’.
“Ok Rajat, I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.” She said giving me a hug and kissing me on the cheek.
I said good night and changed into my pajamas, pulled the curtains and tried to sleep. But my brain was working overtime. It wouldn’t let me sleep. I kept going back to the day that we had just spent together and what could have happened if I had known Rimii before Shefali.
Then Rimii walked into the compartment and came and sat down on my berth.
“Are you sleeping?” She asked me.
“No.” I said and then added, “Can’t.”
“Same here.” She said lying down on my berth with me.
“What are we going to do?” I asked her quietly.
“This train journey is ours. God gave us this journey. When we get off, then we go into the real world. This train journey is your and my world.” She said cuddling up to me. We talked late into the night, lying there on the cramped, uncomfortable berth, yet extremely comfortable. Whispering sweet nothings to each other and salacious thoughts. We slept little that night waking up to talk more. As the morning drew near, our desperation grew. At ten thirty this train would reach Delhi. That would be the end of our time together. I finally slept at two and woke up again at four. I wanted to share this approaching dawn with Rimii. I lay there listening to her soft, easy breathing and feeling her heartbeat next to mine. I did not want to wake her. I wanted this moment to last endlessly.
It started to get light and I woke Rimii up.
“I want to show you something.” I said.
“What?” She muttered groggily.
“Get up sleepy head and see for yourself.” I said and went and sat next to the window.
She came and very unconsciously sat down in my lap. I put my arms around her and we watched the approaching sunrise together.
My fingers swept into her hair and she turned her face towards me. I studied her face and cupped her face with my hands. I lowered my face and our lips were inches apart. Then our need took over. Our lips touched and I breathed in the scent of her cologne, her breath and her very being. My heart skidded and then raced along. Rimii closed her eyes and her fingers slid up to grip my arms as she melted into them. I felt her tongue slip out and when it touched my lips, I gasped from the surprise, but then opened my mouth willingly.

I was lost then. We kissed deeply and passionately for a long time.

Then we heard the door open. It was the coffee vendor. We saw the coffee vendor and started laughing. The spell was broken. I bought two coffees from the vendor and we drank them quietly, Rimii nuzzling her head in my arm. Then we went back to sleep on my berth setting an alarm for nine. This time we slept peacefully and when the alarm on my phone rang, Rimii woke me up.
“I’m going to freshen up. I’ll see you in a bit.” She said but her eyes gave her away.
I knew she wouldn’t come back.
“Good bye, love.” She said gently and kissed me softly on the mouth.

The train arrived at ten-forty five at the Delhi railway station. I got off quickly and started searching for Shefali. I found Rimii struggling with her luggage. I helped her get it off the train and get a coolie. We shook hands awkwardly and said goodbye. We were already strangers.
“Hey!” I heard a familiar voice behind me and as I turned around Shefali flung her arms around my neck.
“Hi!” I said with pleasure and we headed towards the exit.
“Who was that girl that you were shaking hands with?” She asked me. “She was very pretty.” She added quietly.
“Nobody. Just a memorable train journey.” I said shaking my head and knowing that she had taken away a piece of my soul that I could never replace.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Are Girls smarter than Boys or vice versa?

The Times of India ran a poll a couple of weeks ago which asked a simple question... Are girls smarter than boys? The next day, the poll results were in... 61 percent believed it to be true and that in my mind is a pretty clear majority.

My opinion on the matter is a bit ambivalent with a hint of indifference.

I honestly don’t care about the topic to the extent of having scientific studies conducted. In this day and age, suggesting men are smarter is by default an indication of stupidity, which is why the title of this post is in the form of a question as opposed to a declarative statement; a very smart move on my part thank you very much. I think it merits some discussion (mostly for entertainment purposes)

So where do we begin? The only reason why I’m writing this is because I HATE generalizations.
‘All Indians are smart.’

‘Americans are all stupid.’

They irk me and irritate me and force me to do something about them.

So let’s get something straight first. Women and Men are DIFFERENT. Biologically, developmentally and psychologically. Now for the studies. I’ve read quite a few in the last couple of days and I can’t decide which ones I agree with so ill let you decide for yourselves.

All studies agree that girls do better at school exams than boys. And most of them agree that boys do better in IQ tests by as much as 5%. So how do you decide which is the correct way to measure smartness? Relative quantity, smartness. What one person may consider as smart, another may not.

Why do girls do better than boys at school?

There are a number of theories doing the rounds. Some are pretty crack-pot.. some less so.

a) Thirty years ago, The US passed equal opportunity laws. Billions of dollars were spent on giving the girl child special attention and according to Dr. Michael Thompson, “Girls outperform boys in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college, and graduate school." He says that after decades of special attention, girls are soaring, while boys are stagnating.
“Girls are being told, 'Go for it, you can do it. Go for it, you can do it.' They are getting an immense amount of support,” he says. “Boys hear that the way to shine is athletically. And boys get a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be masculine and what it means to be a student. Does being a good student make you a real man? I don't think so… It is not cool.”

Hmm... Interesting theory but then how do you explain why it happens in India too? I mean, here female infanticide is a part of life. Here, girls are barely allowed to go to school. I should rephrase. In most of India, girls are still not treated on par with boys. So there is no question of too much attention. Then how do they do so well?

Could the opposite be true in the case of India? Poorer kids fail more often because they don’t have access to good books, good atmosphere and good private tuitions. Poorer girls drop out more often than boys because parents of these girls don’t really want them to go to school in the first place. Being a poor student is a good excuse to pull them out. Therefore, girls who’d have failed anyway end up dropping out. Of course, it is not just girls from poorer families who drop out more often, but I suspect the proportion is higher. Which is why I suppose the effect practically disappears when it comes to ICSE/CBSE, which are usually opted for by the middle class.

I am just theorizing here, all this has to be proved of course. It can be done by verifying dropout rates in earlier classes and pass rates by income. Geography plays an important role in this too. The overall pass percentage is usually higher in the cities than it is in the rural areas. And the proportion of women in rural schools is much lesser for obvious reasons. Therefore the pass percentage of girls gets inflated.

b) British-born researcher John Philippe Rushton who is the psychologist at University of Western Ontario reached his conclusion after scrutinising the results of university aptitude tests taken by 100,000 students aged 17 and 18 of both sexes. The study carried out by him concluded that men's IQs are almost four points higher than women's. This certainly doesn’t explain why girls do better at school. In response to that he said, “It looks like up until late adolescence, the females have the advantage over males because they mature faster, which masks the underlying difference.”

Although experts have accepted that men and women differ mentally, with males averaging higher on tests of 'spatial ability' and females higher on verbal tests, it was assumed the differences averaged out, leaving no difference in overall intelligence.

So to summarize, I am no closer to finding out the truth than anybody else out there. Frankly, I don’t care. What I did get while writing all this is that women and men are different. As in, they are good with different things. Their chemical makeup and the way that girls are raised, provide them with a better aptitude for Art, English, and Visual logic, and all similar right brained activities. Males are usually better at maths and sciences, and other such left brained activities. However, this does NOT preclude males being good at right brained activities or females being good at left brained activities. It's all a matter of what you were born with, and what you were taught as you were growing up.

I also understood that women mature faster than men and that makes them more responsible and committed while in school. You may find guys goofing around but girls are more serious in class. They also face less peer pressure if they do well than guys. So a lot of things add up and girls do better at school than guys do. Does that make them smarter? I don’t think so. Guys have higher IQ’s. Does that make them smarter? I doubt that too.