Monday, December 16, 2013

The late Rupali Hota: a voice from our past speaks to us today

“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.

“Most 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!!

“R.I.P. 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 years ago.


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 pleasure.

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 home bills.

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.

(… Incomplete …)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

My dear friend and close comrade Balu is no more – Part 1

By Joseph M. Pinto

Dr Y. Bala Murali Krishna, one of India’s most honest correspondents, attached to the United News of India (UNI) agency, as well as one of India’s world-class science writers, is no more.

For me, it is also a deep personal loss.

"Balu" as he was fondly called, was one of my closest friends and professional colleagues in journalism. We first came across each other when I joined Gomantak Times (GT), a small daily newspaper in Panaji, as editor in June 2003 –- exactly ten years ago. He was then the UNI bureau chief in Panaji, Goa.

We stayed close to each other in the Sant Inez locality: Balu in the government quarters, allotted to UNI, and I in a small flat, opposite Sant Inez Church.

One of our favourite breakfast points was an Udipi hotel, opposite his office-cum-house, where he learned me how to eat idli-sambhar -- like he did. As a native of Mangalore and a resident of Mumbai, I had believed that the art of eating idli-sambhar (popularised by Udipi hotels around the world), was our prerogative. But Balu, an Andhra man, learned me his way: first, mash the rice-idli; soak the mash in lots of sambhar; eat with a slurping spoon; finish and burp!

We hit it off -- for both of us it was "mutual respect – at first sight"!

We shared a hundred things ... and more passion, in common. He was one of India's world-class science writers and I had been a founder-member and one of the first three general secretaries and full-timers of the Lok Vidnyan Sanghatana ('science for the people') in Maharashtra.

While in a local paper at Pune, Maharashtra Herald (estd. 1963-2003), I used to write science pieces. But Balu learned me how to put an everyday human face on to science and technology (S & T). He had an uncanny knack for uncovering how the inventions and discoveries of modern S & T touched the everyday life of the common masses.

His science pieces did not impress with needless mumbo-jumbo; he mercilessly stripped away the jargon of S & T and its mysteries were laid bare for all to know and use.


When I met him in Goa, I used to wonder how a world-class science writer survived in a land hyped by the media merely as a tourist hot-spot. The answer came to me slowly but surely:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

(Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.1.13)

"Exempt from public haunt", Dr Balu found precious stories – “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” – where no one else even cared to look. Vividly, I recall the day he called me early one morning for our ritual idli-sambhar.

Today, he wants to go to Kamat, an Udipi hotel, near the big white church that greets you as you enter Panaji. We sit on the first floor of the hotel, from whose windows you can look down into the road. He has made a discovery and wants to share it with me!

Near Kala Akademi, along the Mandovi river-side, there used to be open spaces (before Parrikar ruined them with up-market Goa Film Festival depredations), which were given out for exhibitions. A handicraft fair is going on. And here he has discovered artisans and their handiwork!

Balu is an excellent photographer too. In a fabled era, when the world wide web (www) has not been invented and “convergence” has not become a horrible buzz-word -– a swear-word to seduce rich-lazy-louts into mass-com assembly lines, extracting exorbitant fees –- Balu is one of THE great & good & original all-rounders.

He has learned himself most of what he knows and practises; is not ashamed to work hard at journalism and learns the little skills and tiny techniques, expected of an effective communicator. At the same time, he is a trade union leader, to the core, and does not allow newspaper and agency managements to overload working journalists with unfair working hours and practices. He mourns the extermination of proof-readers, when he catches ‘devils’ in print or online.

Patiently, he guides me around the handicraft fair. He is intimate with many of the artisans; he is meeting some of them for the second or third time. A mere handicraft fair is, to him, a gold-mine for a series of features! Balu boldly dares to go – and find stories – where no one else even cares to look.

I pick his UNI dispatch from the scroll that evening; illustrate it with his pictures; anchor the front-page of GT with his little gem the next morning. I have given Balu a byline for his story and a credit for his pics – an unusual treatment of an agency item. But Balu is not the usual hack.

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

(From "An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray)

That event marks the official beginning of our enduring friendship, which ends today with his sudden but expected death.


Just a few days ago, I spoke with him, inviting him to Pune for our daughter’s wedding on 15 July. I know he cannot come and tell him so. He is undergoing dialysis at home and every time I chat with him, his fading voice warns me that my dearest friend is going to be with us only for a few days more.

Today morning, his daughter Jyoti calls to say, “Dad passed away last night”.


I was close to Balu and his family too. Journalists keep their personal and private lives separate from their professional work. But it was as if Balu was allowing me into a secret room few knew even existed.

When I wanted to attend the wedding of his son, Vamsi, Balu invited me into his home in Hyderabad. I stayed with his family, took part in the celebrations, and won the privilege to become a member of his family.

For this honour, I have been more grateful to him than all our professional associations put together. It was as if he was saying, “Joe, you are not only my close comrade in journalism but you are my dear brother also.”

Balu, I miss you!

End of item.