Monday, December 06, 2010


Everyone smiles in the same language.  ~Author Unknown

Time & again, well-wishers, admirers or plain curious people have asked me this: Didn't I get offended by the racist chinky jokes made at my expense on Indian Idol, Badmaash Company & the like? This is a tough one to answer, primarily because I consider myself so much of an Indian that I often fail to separate myself from the crowd & forget that my roots are Chinese. It's only when others hold up a mirror do I see the stark contrast. I'm rudely reminded of how I look when somebody derogatorily calls me a Nepali/Manipuri/Japanese/Chinese/Malaysian. But then, there are people who are genuinely curious/confused about my roots and I answer their questions with patient honesty. Here is where I draw a line of distinction between malicious profanities & innocent queries. 

This conscious decision was aptly illustrated through my experience in Badmaash Company, where the jokes were in good humor & indirectly attempted to show society how the so-called 'aliens', the different looking people amidst us are perceived and how it can push them to the edge. There are two clinching points in the film to this end. One is when I, Zing, pick up a fight with an Indian couple because they aim unpalatable barbs at me in Hindi, assuming that I don't understand the national language (something that happens quite often to me in real life). Second, when Zing makes it clear even to his friends that "I'm not a cheeni, I'm Indian", thus taking a stance that if I'm not confused about my identity then neither should anybody else. This permission to "speak-out" on celluloid about this matter is what attracted me to the character of Tenzing in the first place. He's a carefree, un-ambitious kind of fellow; fiercely protective of his identity, who doesn't mind good-natured ribbing from his friends but knows when to tell them to quit it. 

Indian Idol, however, is a different story altogether. A good show, according to the masses is one which has "action, emotion, drama, comedy" et al. When we as a team get down to deciding the presentation of the show, my looks & origin provide for some comic relief in what can sometimes become a very emotion-heavy episode. It has been used to great effect so far and very honestly, I didn't mind it at all. However, everything comes with a tolerance level and keeping not only my sentiments in mind but also those of the Chinese & North-eastern communities of India, I very humbly refuse to do these chinky jokes anymore. Nobody gets offended, the reel-life show goes on & everyone is happy. However, the jibes continue in real life & I can only hope that the ignorant learn their lesson either before the victims strike back with a vengeance or this becomes mere background music to those of my kind.

It will take time, and I shall wait for it with bated breath & a smile on my face :)

Friday, December 03, 2010


That probing look!
I've perhaps encountered nothing more confounding than the blank look on people's faces in my travels around the world. You'd relate to what i'm saying. You probably face it every single day! This look could be one of disinterest, indifference or a distant zombie-like one; especially prevalent in crowded places, busy neighbourhoods, chaotic surroundings, work stations (and sometimes in the audiences of Live concerts as well. Ulp!) where the populace seems to be existing on some kind of otherworld & running on autopilot. It could be directed at you, probing you to the bone, or looking right through you. Irrespective of that, the look gets quite disconcerting, frustrating even, as it is impossible to decipher what is going through the mind of the looker. 

Are they happy/sad/zoned out? What brought them to their current situation in life? Have they had a tiff with family/friend/lover? Don't they care, or do they care too much? Are they hoping that by giving you the look you'll stop bothering them & go away? Are they practicing the look just to bewilder you? Can I dig a hole in the ground & bury myself???

Questions, questions, questions!

If only we could peel off their faces & peep into their minds, we could become brilliant psychologists. But alas! The mask is unpenetrable; cloaking a million stories & emotions, and the thoughts unretrievable. It ain't that easy to read a face after all.

So the next time you're minding your own business or trying to get some work done and you get the look, perhaps you'll be asking the same questions I am! Feel free to let me know when you decode this one ;)


At Archana's sangeet in Kolkata
Over the years, you have showered unconditional love on me, a stranger who had nothing to lose when he first came on to the National platform. But all this would NOT have been possible if not for the lady in this picture: Archana, my elder sister who just got married on 28th November 2010 was the one who egged me on, forced me to go for the Indian Idol auditions (I wouldn't have if not for her). The rest, as they say is a warm, memorable history. I request you to be generous with your wishes & prayers for a happily married life for her, yet another stranger for you but someone who's very close to my heart :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


What was one of the first, most important lessons we learnt at school? That whatever happens, happens for good. Our first ever lesson of optimism is unfortunately not always the first thing on our mind when the going gets tough. In calamities we lose hope and even on sunny days we fear it won't last long enough. Optimism and Hope are soul-sisters. One cannot exist without the other. Together, they help one weather the fiercest storm. Yes, times may be bad. Yes, they might look like they're hurtling towards disaster but if we never even THINK that things might get better then they never will. If the battle is lost in the mind then truly all is lost - the storm has already wrecked you.

Hope is one helluva strong line by which many lives "hang in there". Indestructible, unbreakable and with a lifetime guarantee, it cannot be purchased at a store but is manufactured by kindred souls and distributed to those in need of it. It is a shimmer of light in the darkest abysses, a pathfinder, the difference between those who muster ample courage to carry on or to fall off the wonderful but sometimes difficult road of life. To be able to see the light, we must first be willing to LOOK. 

We all know the story of Pandora's box, right? This popular fable of Greek mythology tells the story of a lady who unleashed evil, sickness and misery on the world from a box in her possession. Hope was the only item that could not make it's way out of the box; withheld from mortals so that their lives should be full of misery and despair. We're often like Pandora ourselves; unleashing every possible malady known to man but unwittingly keeping hope bottled up inside, the one thing that can redeem us and set us free. As with most things, the answers lie within ourselves. All we need to do, is open our minds...

It's uncanny how we often know what is right for us but fail to put it into practice. I've often  been guilty of badly faltering myself. It's as they say; Doctors are the worst patients. But I hope, that my words may find someone in need and kindle the light in them, and in doing so, in me as well.

Remember: No matter how good or bad things go for you, never EVER lose your enthusiasm for life and for what you want from it

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It was the same time last year when I was shooting for Badmaash Company in Philadelphia, Atlantic city & NYC. WOW! Time sure flies by! The movie did favorably and some interesting television assignments later, I'm back in the States & also adding Canada to the itinerary for a musical tour with Sunidhi Chauhan herself!

This is of course, a warm-up to getting back to my singing ways which had been on the backburner due to other commitments. Irrespective of what I do ahead, I know that music is what lies at the centre of my heart. And what better way to reboot than this! So here's hoping that I get to interact with & sing for as many of you as possible on this tour :) Lots of love & keep me in your prayers...


October 23rd:Edmunton
October 24:Vancouver
October 29:AtlanticCity
October 30:Dallas
October 31:Toronto. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Promises are like fragile relationships; made with the intent of being fulfilled but often broken & forgotten with nonchalant disdain. Everyone promises something to someone or themselves. My promise to myself is quite simple. Put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard in this case) and cast my thoughts into the virtual vastness. Often time races ahead of my thoughts and I'm left holding a mental slate devoid of any words for weeks at end. And sometimes all it takes is one inspiration to trigger a consuming urge to write straightaway, just like now!

A regulation Facebook update of a friend read thus tonight: 

मुस्कुराऊँ कभीतो लगता है
जैसे होठों पे क़र्ज़ रखा है 

These lines from an eternal classic provided the spark that inspired the following prose; coated in philosophy & meant to cheer. Little did I know that the intentioned optimism would lift my spirits as well! I raced my thoughts against time and just like that, my words won! 

I am no poet but let's just say that I could not resist sharing this with you:

"क़र्ज़ का ज़िक्र ना कर,
ग़मों की फ़िक्र ना कर
मुस्कुराये जा कोई कितना भी रुलाए.
मुस्कुराये जा
तो क्या अगर कोई वजह नज़र ना आए.
इन होठों पे गीत सजाए जा,
बेपरवाहगाए जा..."

Till next time...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


In this picture: The Dreamcatcher; part of Native American tradition is a symbolic web which when hung above the dreamer filters dreams from the night air, letting only the good dreams through
Dream a big dream. Become a child again. Dream the colorful. Dream the vivid. Dream the impossible
And if you think that there are no dreams left inside you, then shake yourself up. 
Because dreams never die! They're what keep you going when there seems absolutely no reason to
Dream a big dream...
In case you're wondering what prompted these lines, I can only direct you to a wonderful piece of art shared with me by a friend who's always been a pillar of support & sometimes a source of conflict as well. It made me smile and wonder what my dreams would have been like if this chapter called life hadn't happened. If I had still been a child with dreams where anything was possible, madness was good & visions unclouded by reason. Sometimes, just sometimes, let the world we see around us dissolve like paint on a wet canvas. Let us for once see it not for what it is, but for what we'd like it to be. Who knows, our dreams might give us the answers we've been looking for.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I finally sit down with Grandma to ask her an unanswered & oft-asked question. WHY did my forefathers leave China for India? The answer is not as prompt as I expect it to be. Almost 200 years later, no one amongst the living in the family seems to know the exact reason & the details are sketchy at best. It is a story nonetheless, and I find myself listening intently to the bits & pieces that Grandma has to offer

"18th century Communist China: A country which was making rapid developmental strides and was hell-bent on strengthening it's military might. It was a time when a member or members of the family HAD to enlist in the armed forces. Only one child could stay back, the rest had to leave to prepare to die on the battlefield. Although serving the nation in such a capacity is a matter of honor & pride, no decision forced down one's gullet ever goes down well. So it was that my forefathers & their families expressed stern disapproval and decided to move to more secular & democratic shores. Those who could afford it boarded the boats to Burma and beyond. The rest, in an age devoid of motor vehicles, aircrafts and navigational equipment bore the journey to India in small groups through ice-capped mountains & hazardous forests on foot. They walked for weeks, sometimes months. Many fell prey to the elements, sickness, fatigue, hunger & ferocious cannibals. Those who survived made it to Calcutta, the then capital of British India and made it their first home. They brought with them their traditional professions of Dentistry, leather works & restaurants, many of which exist to this day in modern-day Kolkata. Hereon, the family-tree flourished to what it is today. They learnt the language, imbibed the customs & traditions. Some moved again to Canada, Australia & America when they could. The rest made India their permanent base, a place they called Home..."

Grandma's story ends here as I'm in a hurry to leave for a Doctor's appointment. Now that we've started, it whets my appetite for many more lingering questions. How did they manage to settle down in a country where no one spoke their language, let alone look like them? Where exactly in China do we hail from? What were my father's growing years like, born in 1948 - a year after Indian Independence? Did the Indo-China war of 1962 undo the good-will garnered over decades? Like a good page-turner the answers to these will have to wait, for this is a story for another time


It is indeed a pleasure to read what you have to post on my blog, be it praise, criticism or just general affection. And I thank you for the time you take for penning your thoughts

Of late, however, many of you've been writing to me in Chinese. I'm sorry to say that since I don't read or write the Chinese letter I cannot decipher a word of what you've written. I would love to hear from you, but in English or Hindi please, if you will. Till next time, God bless!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Picture courtesy: Dr. Sheetal Amte

Pictures and journals have an irreplaceable significance. They bring back a deluge of memories with them, some of which you're fondly reminded of and others which you cannot relate to any more. And since this blog is roughly 4 years old, the older posts throw a revealing light over the changing state of mind of the author. He used to be more carefree with his words, discussions, opinions and the enthusiasm could literally be "felt" through his writings. Four years later, a cloud of maturity hovers over his writing (which is good) but an unnecessary self-censorship has crept in; reining in words, expressions, anecdotes. Somewhere along the years, the carefree child has lost his way and a cautious adult has taken his place. 

He intends to be that child in his writings again. He intends to use the language he wants, to write whatever he wants even if it's politically incorrect & may rattle some sensibilities. Perhaps no one is judging him, but sometimes a man has to be his own judge


"BADMAASH COMPANY" is a hit! Phew! What a relief. One can hardly sum up the experience garnered over 7 months of filming this mammoth team-effort in a few words. All I can say is that when life threw lemons, "Zing" used them with his Tequila shots ;) 

In any field of work, observation is an integral part of one's learning process. While the film was a good teacher, yours-truly learnt more about life, people, genuineness & illusions AFTER the film was wrapped. Wiser, stronger, more confident I emerged, albeit with a dash of skepticism. I had a blast making this film with some genuinely genuine people (if that makes sense) .I'm glad that many of you have liked Badmaash Company. Some have watched it more than once, many have dragged their friends & family too. It's this love that has helped me grow from the shy contestant to what I am today. So THANK YOU VERY MUCH once again, "from the left side of my heart" :) And to those who still haven't seen the movie, what are you waiting for? Free tickets? ;)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Image courtesy: cry4moons, Photobucket

I believe in a time-tested maxim: if you have nothing good to say about someone, it's best not to say anything at all. In short, what we call "bitching" is quite an unhealthy practice. Some compulsively speak ill of people, others do it for fun or for personal vendetta; to score one over another or to rocket one's ego; the sense of "I am Right, you're Wrong." Before you know it, it becomes a habit & the habit transmogrifies into a negative character trait, hence opening up a Pandora's box .We often mistake "venting" for "bitching".  Venting may be good, the latter is not. One need NOT translate into the other. It's a personal choice, and I'm sure we're mature enough to make the right one. Spread the good word!


By the way, I've just realized the reason for my steadily declining blog posts. No, it's not just a decently busy schedule but an addiction for brevity. In simpler terms, an inclination towards the micro-blogging monster that is Twitter. However, although brevity is considered the soul of wit, bibliophiles will agree that nothing beats a full-blown written conversation. Which is why I try to bring myself back to my writing roots; back to my blog and breaking free of the 140 word-limit shackles.


The city of Mumbai is dotted with gigantonormous slums. Millions reside in these inadequate spaces and it is this forced proximity that perhaps strikes an instant kinship amongst them; making every joy & sorrow a shared sentiment. The street outside my house is often witness to the bonding these slum-dwellers share in many walks of their lives, where they sing & dance together as a secular unit at festivals, lose themselves in the merriment of a mate's first step into marital bliss, grieve on each other's shoulder on someone's passing and gang up against the tide when one of their own is shown in poor light. Irrespective of the occasion, I have seen them enjoy their slice of life to the hilt, augmented by playful gossip & ranting debates. Loneliness is, by habit, an unknown feeling for them. 

In this vast, vast city, where distances or the lack of it can kill conversations, this bonhomie is indeed a visual & spiritual treat. As I write this, there is a considerable din brewing up downstairs, which is an indication of another approaching excuse for merriment. So for the meantime, I shall cool my fingers & become a busy observer. Till next time …

"Evolve Your Mind" by Jesi

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Many people have asked me whether I check in to my blog anymore. The answer is a jolly YES! Yes, I do come back to my blog and I always go through your opinions, bouquets & brickbats. I love reading & writing and nothing can keep me away from the written word for long. But sometimes, just sometimes, my creative will & urge to pen something takes off on a collective holiday. I then remind myself that in spite of current commitments & new directions, there are certain things that I love doing and may never leave. In that vein, I can only offer to say this: the written word is a true vehicle for my thoughts and I shall ensure this vehicle is well-oiled & regularly serviced. Onwards then! 

The phrase "I love you from the bottom of my heart" would actually be, if we look at it from a Medical point of view, one of the most inappropriate form of speech to display your affection. If you remember your undergraduate Biology lessons, deoxygenated blood (blood poor in oxygen) enters the heart through the Right Atrium and is passed through the Right Ventricle to the lungs for re-oxygenation and removal of carbon dioxide. It's only the Left side of the heart that receives AND delivers pure, oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. So on principle, if you're intent on certifying the purity of your love to that special someone, the phrase you should be using is, "I love you from the LEFT side of my heart."

I just tried it on my lady love and she fell for it!!! My explanation must have been convincingly sound, or perhaps she was just being too polite to laugh ;)

Image courtesy:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Well guys & girls, ladies & gentlemen - here it is, finally! The BADMAASH COMPANY Theatrical Trailer ( )!!! Still more than a month to go for the release on 7th May but I have the butterflies doing tango within already ;) Hope you guys like the promo, and more importantly; the Movie. God bless us all

Monday, March 01, 2010


There are films that get you thinking about issues that years of learning & reading would not have invoked. It may be shameful on our part not to feel about it, or perhaps the detachment is a byproduct of not having been in the thick of such issues or personally not having known someone who died in it or for it. Firaaq and Black Friday are gritty, intense films that refer to some important black chapters of the country's history & deal with the victimisation of a certain sect of society; most of them pulled into the cesspool either out of hateful incitement or a sense of injustice. A moving scene in Firaaq shows four youths fighting to own a solitary bullet for their only gun, just because each believes he has been a victim of injustice more than the other! 

Now I'm not one to point fingers or to excuse the sin of a person. The instinctive response to injustice is rage & vengeance. Situations have gone out of hand before in our country. Blood has been shed mindlessly on either side. The Us and Them have suffered equally in terms of tranquility & peace of mind if not property & lives of friends, children, loved ones. Both have been right and wrong. Both have seen the futility of violence & felt the angst of loss. Then why must the blood lust continue? Why must we let our minds be provoked & poisoned against the other? Mob mentality is volatile - it is child's play to incite; more than anything it is just so damn convenient to let our base instincts take over & unleash the animal within us. When will we put our differences aside and sort out our niggling issues? When will we stop burning our own people just so to turn the tide against the opposers? Why prosecute innocents while people in national custody continue to make a mockery out of our judicial system? Where will it all end?  

On a positive note, The Us and Them do have the peace-mongers; those who'd give their lives to broker harmony & make things "as they were" ages ago. They are mere drops in the ocean, but the foundations of an amicable future will be built on these minimums. Will there come a day when we shall live in togetherness & peace, or will we regret that the pages of our lives which should've been decorated with the mirthful ink of empathy & compassion have been splattered with morose blotches of abhorrence & turmoil? Will there come a day when the Us and Them will truly become "WE", just the way it should be? Easier said than done, but then again, hope is such a wonderful thing ...

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Life has a way of bringing together people who you've known for a few years, perhaps many. The time frame doesn't matter; what matters is the bond you share with them. Sometimes, an eternity can be insufficient & often some special moments are all you need to know if a person can be firmly entrenched in the album of your life as friend, lover, guide or what have you. Other than the girl I love, some of my school & college friends hold my heart ransom to their invaluable presence in my life. And you can only imagine my glee at being reunited for a bit with them on one of my favorite escapades - a Road Trip :)

I was in Wynberg Allen School, Mussoorie only for two years. But as aforementioned, time is but a figure. Some lasting friendships brought Bikash, Prerna, Rahul & myself together on the Holi weekend in Mumbai (big achievement considering how near-impossible it is to "catch-up" once we've all drifted in different directions & contrasting careers. I say contrasting mainly because they have weekends off and I don't ;). One untested car for very long drives and four friends kickstarted the sojourn to Murud Janjira Fort & Kashid beach, some 200 kms out of Mumbai.

The hurdles were many, with the weekend crowd driving like lunatics & city-like traffic jams till almost 60 percent of the destination! But once they were overcome, a gentle calm descended upon mind, body & soul. The roads narrowed down to pass through old-world villages where time seems to have stood still, with ancient houses & a bountiful of palm trees, where life is lived simply & wordly desires are few. The closed down rusticity of the town soon gave way to winding roads, an open sky and a graceful ocean.

A coconut water & short snooze in a hammock later, we made our way down to the dock where lay sailboats with a charm oozing from a bygone era. Packed to a spillover, the boat set sail towards the island on which proudly stands the imposing Murud Janjira fort.

Owing to low tide, disembarkation had to be done a distance away from the sharp, rocky shore. A lot of muck & cuts later, we were in the fort. A quick perusal explained why this has supposedly remained the only unconquered fort in India's history - a fort on an island surrounded by water on all sides, a 360 degree view of any kind of approach and virtually unscaleable walls. The fort must have been self-sufficient, with resting quarters, a gigantonormous swimming pool, artillery & weapons rooms to boast of.

A thought hit me like a brick - the warriors of yore must get very good exercise, owing to the immensity of the fort & the impossibly high stairs!!! They also must've been very lonely. How soft we as human beings have become owing to technological advances & the luxuries on display in this age. Even then, the loneliness within us remains to this day. While a section of the ruins undergoing restoration towards honoring our legacy & heritage gladdened my heart, a simple thing humbled and gratified me. Standing in front of this particular structure with my friends, marvelling at its enormity, we noticed a strong beam of light through one of the windows. This beam seemed determined on finding it's way through the aperture on to us. God's Light, I thought. And this is God's way of saying Hi. I could not help but smile, smile at how kind God has been...

On my way back, I was amused to witness again how many people were willing to fit in into a single sailboat. It wasn't a mere hurry to get back home, it was a quintessential quality that we all hold within - that of sharing. That in spite of the heat & lack of space, people found reason to laugh, celebrate & sing. To not find a single frowning face in the crowd was bliss indeed.

Once ashore, it was back to the beach & the sunset leaving a lazy hue over the restless waters, making one wish that the sight of this liquid gold be preserved in memory forever. Darkness descended soon & the car began to zig-zag its' way back home, where reminiscences & laughter awaited us with open arms...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I am a Dentist. Or at least I used to be. Five years of Dental School in Bangalore encompassed many instances of mental & physical exhaustion. It was daily parlance to try avoiding the whiplash of the professors' acerbic tongue, as well as to crave the warmth of the patients' gratitude. I guess that's what kept me going in those formative years - the smile of relief of our subjects and the attainment of the elusive title of Doctor. I was to leave to pursue higher Dental studies in the United States in the month of September, 2007. Indian Idol happened and my life as we know it strapped up & went for a roller-coaster ride. Looking over my shoulder, it seems like another lifetime altogether.

Now no more a practicing Dentist, I came across a moment of nostalgia while visiting my college mates in the same country I was supposed to continue my studies in. "Pal bhar ke liye koi humein pyaar kar le, jhoothaa hi sahi", so goes the popular Dev Anand song. And pal bhar ke liye I became the jhootha Dentist in the NYU College of Dentistry., donning the flowing white coat, mouth mask & gloves once again. The dam of restraint crumbled to pieces and memories of dental school came flowing back. And with the memories came the realisation that being a Doctor has always been tough (for obvious reasons). Tougher still, is being subjected to the same things we put patients through when we ourselves become patients - sticking needles, making incisions, stiching them up and the like, promising them that "it won't hurt a bit". Nine out of ten times it really doesn't, thanks to better training & advanced anesthesia. But we all know that battles are often lost in the mind, and pre-emption of pain is something the best anesthesia in the world can't wish away. A simple procedure like administering an injection or something more mentally stressful like suturing of a wound creates a mountain out of an otherwise painless molehill. It's easy for us to say nice things to our patients to placate them & to prepare them for a procedure, but a good Doctor would be one who can gauge both sides of the coin, i.e. understand the plight of the patient & genuinely show the necessary concern but at the same time remember that not every act is possible in a humane manner. For which, I'm forever grateful to my patients who helped me learn and let me help them. Ah, but I'm wavering from the nostalgia sitting like a morning mist over my thoughts :)

As I walked around in the corridors of NYU, I saw apparitions, phantasms. It wasn't my mind playing tricks; rather the sweet, disconnected sterile smell of the hospital triggering a series of suppressed memories - of friends, professors, laughter, patients, mad rushes, joy & despair in a similar, sterile corridor half a world away. I've heard that my hospital has changed; that the faces of the walls & of those I knew are no more the same. But memories are strange bedfellows. They leave you when you're in a crowd, surround you in your solitude & refuse to change one bit. Never had I known that six years of my life as a Doctor could flash by the mind's eyes in so mercurial a manner, and I wouldn't have it any other way...

Thursday, February 11, 2010


This one is for all the people who've read my blog ever since I was forced into starting one. I've often mentioned at various avenues that I'm a person who expresses himself better with the written word rather than speech. But today, I'm wordless - both with the pen & mouth.

My debut movie under Yash Raj Films called BADMAASH COMPANY, with Shahid Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Vir Das is hitting the screens on the 7th of May, 2010 and I cannot but feel limitless exhilaration. All those months of hard work, and the first fruits of it are finally beginning to show...

No word can explain the bouncing-off-the-walls phenomenon I'm experiencing right now, so all I'd like to say is - You've supported me unconditionally, right from the days of Indian Idol and I have deep gratitude for that. All I ask is, no matter what the fate of the film, be there with me. Keep me in your prayers, always.

And yes, go watch the movie in the theaters. Make this extraordinary story an extraordinary hit :)

Friday, January 15, 2010


The above picture is not the Author's property. The text, however, is :)

There is no place in Mumbai more peaceful than Mount Mary Church at 2 am in the morning, with the dipping mercury and the warmth of the prayer candles to keep you company. In the dead of night, when the air is still & the sound of the waves muted in the distance, it makes for an ideal end of day. The only trace of humanity is devotees who have one thing or another to ask of God- wishes, requests, questions. That, and the lady selling prayer materials to all who cometh, accompanied by the omnipresent stray dogs. The steps up to the Grotto are a gentle climb & the ink-black darkness beyond it frees the mind of worries & sorrows, if only for a short while.

The first time I visited Mount Mary was in broad daylight with a Chinese friend a long time ago. She enlightened me about the legends associated with the church - the significance of the wax dummies of houses, children et al and how "sacche dil se maangi hui dua ko Mother Mary kabhi inkaar nahi karti" (Mother Mary never refuses genuine prayers). I thought of this while I prayed. And while listing my "requests" & "pleases" to God, I couldn't help but smile - smile at the manner in which our wishes change as we grow up. The innocent requests for peace & happiness for friends, parents & the world-in-general morphs into more self-centric pleas- as if the world just got left somewhere far behind as you grew up in the rat-race.

Nowadays, the visits are infrequent and always at a late hour. When the world tucks itself comfortably into their holsters, one can feel the freedom & absolute peace under the starlight & the shadow of the towering church. There's no denying that one leaves this spot with a replenished state of mind and a hope that Mother Mary has indeed heard your prayers. As for me, I keep mixing selfish demands with selfless childlike requests, hoping that God wouldn't mind me cheating in my prayers :)