Thursday, June 29, 2006 

Idol Musings

He was consumed, lost. Permeating every part of him, saturating every facet of his persona, ruling mind and body and consciousness, it was a feeling that brooked no caution, which heeded no voices of a sanity he had never placed much value on. Beyond the insecurities and the needs to want and need and be wanted and needed, lay the opportunity to just feel and revel in richness of emotion. A splendour that rendered labels like happy or sad irrelevant. The days began at unusual hours; they ended at unearthly ones. And still he grudged those hours that were given as a tithe to death, sleep that only served to wipe clean the canvas in his head of the vivid landscapes that he had been drawing.

Of course it was doomed from the start. His very intensity, which he claimed was a talisman, was more likely an attempt to live every last moment of what he subconsciously knew was an ephemeral experience. His proclaimed madness was no protection from the inevitable. For there are no protections from the shackles of life. Not even the dulcet tones of Goddesses can drown out the cacophony without. Not even a Goddess’ beguiling tresses can prolong the night; prevent the harsh rays of daylight from dessicating the soul.

And his faith in Goddesses was shaken, even destroyed by this. He had thrown his lot in with the all encompassing, donned armour against the mundane, found something that was beyond the purview of the ordinary. But Reality, that ugly beast, with its fetid breath of the daily trials, sank its fangs into him. And now, he is not just bereft of his erstwhile Goddess; he is bereft of the hope that one exists, that there is an escape from the pressing inanities that constitute an existence, that there are Goddesses who will not betray.

Which is why he ignores the proffered glass with its dancing lights, and says “Uhhh, I think I’ll have fruit juice”.

Saturday, June 17, 2006 


We are on holiday with the family, in one of the more hoity toity residential complexes in Bangalore. After I gently pointed out during a shopping trip that custom-made dresses from Abdul the tentmaker would suit certain girths more, I have been relegated to babysitting the kids : 6 girls and a boy ranging from 4-10. So this morning, after the Mall Marauders had left, we sat down to read a novel, but were continually interrupted by brawls in the brat pack. As usual, there were the “this a 3 person game but there are 5 to play” and the “I want to be first to do ****** what ever game” issues, with shifting loyalties and factions that would put Bhajan Lal to shame. Look here lads and ladies, says I. We are NOT getting into this, so kindly resolve or perish, since we shall lock away everything in nature of a toy or a game. (The BratPack treats me with digital logic : disdain generally and utter fear when we stop snarling and talk in honeyed tones).

Upon which we came upon a ritual that really, really grated. This consisted of the affected personnel standing around and reciting a word for each person something that went like this

“My Mommy asked me to choose the very best person here and you are not it.”

The “it” , of course , based on context, could be the winner (first to play with toy) or the loser (out of the game). We stuck through two rounds of this, and then proposed a desi substitute. This was welcomed with extreme enthusiasm : so much so that the selection process was voted more attractive than the toys and games.

The victorious army rang up to say that they were returning for lunch, so we took the brat pack to meet them below. As we were waiting for the lift, the familiar squabble over who would press the lift buttons began. Before I could slink away, the Brat pack began the desi selection process I had taught them , with the most phoren of accents.

(known translations appended : any Tams reading may want to contribute more insights).

Biscuit biscuit (start)

Enna biscuit ? (what biscuit ?)

Jaam biscuit (Jam biscuit.)

Enna Jaam ? (what jam ?)

Ko Jaam (No idea.)

Enna ko ? (what ko ?)

Tea ko (No idea.)

Enna tea ? (what tea)

Rotti (Rotti== Tam roti==bread. Pun)

(as opposed to borota==paratha)

Enna rotti (What rotti, what bread)

Bun rotti (Hot cross buns, anyone ?)

Enna bun ? (What bun ?)

Ribbon (Rib-bun pun, geddit ?)

Enna Ribbon ? (What ribbon)

Pachai ribbon (Green ribbon)

Enna pachai ? (Which green ?)

Ma pachchai (Ma green ?, but actually parrot green)

Enna ma ? (What ma ?)

Upma (Wokkay, not MY idea of a pun, but…)

Enna uppu ? (What salt ?)

Ration uppu (Salt was once sold in ration shops ? No idea)

Enna ration ? (what ration ?)

Pie ration (Pie : Cloth bag, gen with grocer’s names and pictures of deities on it. Bag ration :- sugar, rice etc as opposed to tin ration that was oil, kerosene etc)

Enna pie ? (what Pie ?)

THOPPAI! (Thoppai : rude term for tummy. Accompanied by a poke in the guts to chosen one).

Family cringed. Assorted passers by clung to each other for support on hearing such low-class language spoken in these hallowed portals. Lift attendant looked ready to press alarm buttons.

Guess what ? I no longer have to baby sit. Not the brat pack, at least. I only have to sit with the driver during the shopping now. Oh well, except for a tendency to play “Jhalak Dikhlaaja” ad nauseam, the reading environment is good.

Friday, June 16, 2006 

Bawi Remembered

Went out at six (which is a time for the religious freaks to display their wares in say, Chennai, and the fitness freaks to display theirs in South Bombay) and called a cab. South Bombay was pretty much unaffected. That was my first warning that something was amiss. “Saare flight cancelled hai saab”, he said.” TV pe bola hai”. The hell with it, I thought. Let me reach the airport, and then we’d see. He took off, avoiding the Causeway. “Traffic jam hai akkha sheher mein”, he said. “ Kya baarish aayela hai saab, kal poora janta office me hi so gaya”. I wasn’t in the mood for conversation; I let him ramble on, tuned out. We seemed to make pretty good time, and I idly mused on how the roads were empty, bless the State for declaring a holiday. I returned to earth with a jerk: we’d been standing at the light for more than five minutes. “What happened?” I asked the driver. He shrugged and waved a hand out: the road ahead was jammed with bumper to bumper traffic. Oh well, I thought, we are almost at Bandra. Might as well catch a snooze. Woke up half an hour later, to find we hadn’t moved an inch. The cabbie was out of the car, calmly smoking. I stepped out. “We’ll reach by about 5”, he said. I didn’t get it, at first. Then it struck me. Five? “ Its only half past eight now!”, I said. “And just fifteen minutes to the airport from here!” He shrugged. See these cars, he said. They’ve been here since last evening. I muttered a foul imprecation or two. Paid him off, and dragged suitcase to the pavement. Slung the laptop around my neck and studied the situation. Linking Road, it seemed like. Looked around, saw the McDonalds sign. Pushing aside my intrinsic dislike of this symbol of crass American domination, I walked in. “ The place is shut”, the guy said. Give me a cup of coffee, I begged. “Where are you going?” he asked. “ Airport”, I said. He looked at me as if I were insane. “Don’t you know all the flights are cancelled? ”, he said. I was tired of people trying to stop me getting to the airport. “ A cup of coffee is all”, I said. “ And could you please give me a big plastic bag while you are at it?”. He seemed to start to say something, and then thought the better of it. He made some sign to a guy inside, and went in, presumably to get the bag. The guy inside brought a cup of coffee. (Twenty bucks for a insipid latte. I mean, these Yanks are thieves). Again, an unspoken communication between them. “ You’ll have to walk, you know”, he said. “ Yeah, I intend to”, I said. I had no intention of going back to South Bombay. If nothing else, maybe I could ogle at the airhostesses passing time between delayed flights. That’s when I saw her. She came out into the drizzle, and blinked at me. “ Sawhney”, she said. A high pitched chirp that instantly brought to mind Mrs Philips, my very first teacher. I looked around. She did mean me. “Sawhney, you going to the airport?” Bawi, I thought. Typical bawi lady, that indeterminate age after 40. Small built. Naturally querulous. High pitched voice. “Yes”, I said. “ Moddom is going to the airport too, sah”, muttered the guy. The other shuffled his feet. “So if you could help her too...”. I looked at her and cursed inwardly. Nursemaiding a crusty bawi lady through water and traffic for a couple of hours did not stand exactly at the top of my list of 10 things I always wished to do. “Here, give that to me”, she said, pointing to the laptop. “Thanks, it isn’t any trouble”, I said. She reached over and yanked it off my shoulders. I sighed and picked up my soft suitcase, thanking my stars that it was as light as it could’ve possibly been for a five day tripMaybe bawi would be a help, after all. Thank god for the meek, I told myself. And they don’t get meeker than bawi. “You can help with this”, she said, and I nearly keeled over. She had a gargantuan suitcase. I watched myself being handed over the suitcase by friend Shufflefeet with a sort of out of the body detachment. Mumbleface seemed to be solicitously enquiring whether bawi wanted some biscuits or a cup of tea to speed her on the way. I noticed that they didn’t waste any sympathy on me. The next thing I knew, I was lugging two suitcases through knee deep water, with bawi huffing and panting. Meek, I told myself. Meek. Think Tata. Meek, for god’s sake. Two heavy suitcases : my own seemed to grow in weight in a sort of sympathy with hers.

I looked at her . Petite. Generous sprinkling of the salt in the hair. She threw a sidelong glance at my inspection and seemed to decide that small talk was called for. “So, how old are you?” she asked. Old enough to know better, I thought. “Feeling tired, aunty?” I said, deftly sidestepping it. “Married”. It was a statement rather than a question. Silence. “Where are you going?” I told her. “Ohhh, madraasi??” she chirruped. I resisted the impulse to throw both the suitcases at her head. “No” I replied curtly. Then, not satisfied, “Not madraasi, bawi”. “Bawi?” she asked, raised eyebrow and all. “ Bawi, Parsi aunty”, I told her. There, that should shut her up. She seemed to consider a reply, then decided against it. . The damn roads were knee to thigh deep in water, and I couldn’t even put the accursed cases down to give my aching shoulders and arms a rest.

Miraculously, a solitary pan shop seemed to be open. I attempted to take a detour to the roadside. She seemed to divine my intentions almost instantly. “Where to?” she asked, in the precise tones that Mrs Philip used to such devastating effect all those years ago. I am no longer 5 years old, I wanted to say. Instead, I just raised two fingers to my lips. It was a complex manoeuvre that involved shifting of both suitcases to one hand for the moment. “No cigarettes”, she said, with a certainty that made me bristle. “Maybe you should try it too, bawi”, I told her. “Good for the system in the rain”. “My Fersi told me it’s bad especially in the rains”, she said. I trudged on, not having the energy for a contest of wills. I did not even want to ask who this Fersi was, and what appellation he answered to in the normal world. Nothing interested me except for the fact that the water level seemed to be rising. It was almost hip level for me, and the lady seemed to be having a bad time. Not that it dimmed her enthusiasm or curiosity, though. “ Know where we are going?” , she asked. I turned deliberately obtuse. “The airport, Bawi”, I said with obvious effort. “ No, sawhney, I was asking if you know the way” , she asked. No, I don’t, I wanted to tell her. I am just taking this route to see if I can drown you in a convenient street. “Yes”, I said, wanting to expend no superfluous energy. Ahead, some volunteers were distributing hot tea. We stepped up, and were handed blissfully steaming paper cups. I tossed mine off in a gulp and started drinking a second one, wishing like hell that I had a cigarette to go with it. She glared at me over her cup. “ Don’t take extra” she went, in loud voice that made me cringe as other commuters glanced my way. “So many poor people out here, coming from far far in the city”. None more than me, I wanted to say. Look at them, all THEY are doing is trudging back home after a day of being stranded. I, on the other hand, have a control freak with a loud voice and a heavy suitcase. The tea over, we started again. And so did she, in her singsong voice. “ So, tell me which route you are taking”. I sighed. “Look, we started from Linking road, right? So now here we go, we are heading into Santa Cruz, and we’ll now go on to Station Road. Cross on the over bridge to the east and hit the highway in a short while. Walk along that and we should be at the airport… do you know this portion of Bombay?” I asked. “No”, she replied with perfect equanimity, “just checking, that’s all”. I gave her a long steady look, but it didn’t faze her in the least.

She moved on to other pastures. “Know anybody in this part of the town?” , she asked. I was still smarting from her previous sally. “Mmm”. “ Who is it?” “ A girl, Bawi”, I said in a tone that brooked no further questions… or so I thought. “Is she pretty?” , she asked. I said nothing, just concentrating on shutting her insistent tones out. “And you married and all”, she said in accusatory tones. I turned, and found her watching me. “Bawi” I began. “ If you don’t watch the road, you are going to fall into a gutter as filthy as your mind”. “ Men”, she sniffed. “All the same”. “Your Fersi too?” , I asked maliciously. She pretended not to hear.

I decided two could play at this game. “Were you pretty, bawi?”, I asked. “ Hah, what do you know”, she said. But a quick glance told me she blushed. I wiped some more rain off my face with an awkward heave of my shoulders. I was beginning to enjoy this now. “That’s a nice dress you’re wearing, bawi”, I said. Sunflower prints on a pastel blue. I reflected on what a sight we’d make. A sprightly old lady and a sore, tired, middle-aged man. “You tired?” she asked, doing some sidestepping of her own. “ Bawi, I used to lift weights”, I told her. “And anyway, this is airline baggage, right? Can’t be more than 15 kgs. Mine is just twelve. I used to lift fifteen all the time.” “Mine is 17”, she said calmly. “ How can that be?” I spluttered. When I’d taken a borderline 14 plus once, they ran it twice just to be sure. “ I brought it on the way here too”, she said. “I just asked them nicely and they let me”. I’m sure they did, I thought. There’s a bunch of us born every minute. “ If it’s too heavy for you…” she said. “ No problem”, I rasped. I wondered what the penalty for killing chirrupy old ladies was. “Strong man you are”, she wheedled. I smiled, and regretted my outburst. “No problem, bawi”, I said, more kindly this time. After all, it wasn’t her fault . And what could I do, give her the suitcase to carry ?

We crossed the bridge and hit the highway. Or rather, went on the road towards the highway, to find the water almost reaching to my chest. There was no way I could get her across this. “Let’s go back, bawi”, I said. For the first time, she turned back silently, without a protest at the half kilometre back. We hit the overbridge again, and went into Santa Cruz station. I kept walking on, without an explanation. She gave me a few questioning looks, but decided I was too near breaking point to push. We reached the end of the platform and went on to the tracks. I started walking along the tracks. She followed, and started walking on the stony track. We went a couple of hundred yards, and she stumbled. I quickly reached out to steady her. Or rather, as quickly as a suitcase in either hand would allow. She leaned against me for a moment, and continued for just that fraction beyond the strictly necessary. In that moment, my heart went out to her. How difficult it must be for her, I thought. “Are you OK, aunty?” I asked her, with as much genuine concern as I could put into my voice. She straightened up immediately and I could almost hear her spine clicking into place. “Don’t you worry about your bawi”, she said, and despite the forced cheer, it heartened me. “Look, bawi”, I said. “We’ll get off the tracks”. She looked around at a loss, till I pointed out to her the minute openings in the bushes that lined the sides of the tracks. I set off for the nearest opening, went and stood at the opening. Showed her the path that ran down. She took it gratefully, both the downward slope and the firm ground instead of the gravel. We went through the tenements and onto the road again. The road was much better here, with almost no water except a slow current lapping around our ankles. Soon enough, we were just at the base of the climb to the airport. Her talk became more animated, but it no longer grated. I thought it over, and realized that the root cause of my irritation was her madraasi remark. Let it go, I thought. While the basic premise of unthinking (and wrong) branding rankled, I knew now that it did not contain the usual element of unstated bigotry. She’s a bawi lady, for god’s sake. How much would she know? Just then, we overtook a couple of leggy lasses, headway hampered as much by their baggage as their oh-so-dainty flipflops. Just my luck, I thought. I would’ve walked behind these legs all the way from Colaba, and here I am with a feisty bawi for company. Just after we crossed them, however, a car stopped, and a kind Samaritan leaned out and asked us to get in. Score one for the bawis, I told myself. When it comes to the sympathy stakes, leggy lasses don’t come near them in the charts. Just a couple of hundred meters upslope, and we pulled into the foyer. “My people will be here”, she said, even as we thanked the guy. I picked up the suitcases, and loaded it into a blessed trolley. It felt good to be pushing that load on wheels after the two and half hour trek in the rain. I looked up and saw her, peering into the milling chaos. Searching for “her people”, as she called them. Then they were upon her in a rush.

I felt vaguely disoriented. I felt a sort of dissonance between the sights and sounds around me and stared. A bunch of hearty Punjabis. “ Bibi, tussi mobile kitthe? “ one guy bellowed. Others howled in equally concerned Punjabi Hindi dialects. She seemed to be replying to all of them simultaneously. She’d started at six, and no, it wasn’t anybody’s fault, their going off to some holiday over the weekend was perfectly fine with her. She’d have met up with them at the airport in due course anyway. Yes, she’d caught a cab. No, the road was still jammed. Yes, the roads were horrible, waterlogged. No, she was fine, really fine. And she hadn’t left her luggage anywhere, there was a nice man who’d helped her. She turned, and suddenly stepped out of the group and walked up to me. There was a roguish glint in her eye. “Not bawi”, she said. “Just a mini size Punjaaban”. Even as I stood, she made as if to lift her massive suitcase out of the trolley, and the rest were on her. Laughing, their fears for her dissipated. Chiding her for trying to lift the suitcase. Thanking me profusely for helping her. The tallest asked me whether I’d join in with them. They were hauling her off a nearby hotel, he said. They’d already booked rooms and all. A warm bath and some food inside would revive her. “ Kitti chupchup si ho gayi hai”, he said. I smothered a laugh. The tallest looked concerned. You’re coughing, he said, sure you won’t join us? I refused politely, even as he laid a proprietary arm on me and led me to a side. He unscrewed a flask and pressed it into my hand. Have it , he said. I took a sip, thinking it would be some hot coffee or tea, and nearly gagged as a generous shot of whiskey nearly went in the wrong way. Just thanks, he said, smiling. He’d already “managed” at the hotel, wink wink. Some distance away, the group yelled at him. They were already piling into the car. “ Oye pappa, chetthi kariin”, howled out a cute little girl, must’ve been all of ten. “ Aayajiii”, he screamed back in return, forcing another searing sip into me. “ Fersi”, he explained, pointing to the girl. We both thanked each other effusively. Then, as he left, I asked him something. He gave me a searching look, and then replied. He then hurried up to the car, and got in, starting the engine and gunning it in.

As the car pulled away, she leant out, as I knew she would. She waved frantically. I waved back, feeling absurdly uplifted. I rolled over the words he’d said. G’bye, bawi. Ajj dil khush kar ditta.

Friday, June 09, 2006 

The Final Refuge

I fled from you into welcome oblivion's arms.
But dancing lights in glass, the clink of ice;
reminiscent of that very voice, those very eyes,
are fatal flaws imbued in this escape's charms.

In solitude, we are but shackled slaves of your grace.
So by loud company, in raucous crowds we sought
to banish you, to free ourselves from thought.
But we still see glimpses of you in every face.

The very air that I breathe isn't free
from disturbing traces of your omnipresence.
For your long distance conversations
flow in unseen channels around me.

Now, I come to this city that was once yours
Cobbled streets, shady avenues, haunts of old.
And recollecting for each a story that you told,
I roam with feverish tread, uncaring of hours.

I dip a toe in the lake, run my fingers through the sand;
embracing this place, for the rest of the world is taken.
It is the final refuge, a Brotherhood of the forsaken;
With this city you betrayed, I declare a kinship of the damned.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006 

A Song

A long time ago, I heard a song. To be honest, it was in a collection that I had been gifted … and I heard it, out of politeness, as a background to conversation. I heard as one hears elevator music: impinging on the ears without really registering in the mind. As the songs played and people talked, I dimly registered a song that was different from the others. Still continuing the civilities of normal discourse, I heard the song with some greater interest. And one particular idea in the lyrics struck me as being expressed in a rather unique fashion.

When the party ended, someone asked for (and got) the collection: it wasn’t in my normal-playing list anyway. As is sadly far too common, the collection changed hands and eventually I lost track of it. But over the years, at random times, I would remember that song. Occasionally, I would hunt frantically at music outlets in different cities for that collection, only to be disappointed.

I didn’t even remember the song; a vague recollection of the tune, and the theme of the song was all that remained. The collection itself went out of issue, and searching the song online was of course useless, since the lyrics were hazy. At odd points in time, from some unknown artesian pool, the idea would bubble up to the surface of consciousness, and I would think about it.

Songs and poetry and books : there is something about them that transcends their mere content. The most banal of songs, the tritest lines of poetry: they turn out to be pegs on which memories of times and places and people hang. And from the form and substance of those lines, the mind conjures up those associations every time you think of them. Even if subconsciously, so that one is sometimes embarrassed at a public reaction to what might appear nothing out of the ordinary to someone else.

And the best part of it is when Serendipity lands us, as it did me recently, onto a lost link. My own knowledge of music is rather limited; but a passion for it makes me seek out people with far greater scope. I was discussing music with one such person, and suddenly the nothingness of a long distance conversation coalesced into notes that were so familiar that I was thrilled. Of course, at these times, one is careful to be politely thankful and say “Ohhh, this song, please do send”. For as said, what is a set of associations for one is probably just another piece of music for another.

I haven’t got the song yet. No matter, it will come . As someone said, we shall listen, and be thankful to whichever God was on shift at that time.

Saturday, June 03, 2006 

The Sudoku System

He sat on the hard platform seat, and was struck by a sudden wave of indecisiveness. Almost unconsciously, he rummaged in his pockets and pulled out the day’s Sudoku clipping.

He scorned people who tossed coins for a decision. How could one ascribe to a random flip the decision to follow one’s gut feeling or otherwise ? He prided himself on the Sudoku system. He’d scan the whole puzzle quickly, and then make two guesses. Then work through the puzzle quick time, and if his guesses were wrong, the numbers wouldn’t match. That meant his instinct was wrong that day ; that his present intuition would lead to other decisions that eventually would engender conflict. Every decision in the end had to stand the test of others linked with it; he felt that the Sudoku system told him if his instinct was on the ball.

So he looked over the puzzle, and pencilled in two numbers. Started working on the puzzle, and had almost reached a conclusive stage when he suddenly smiled to himself. He did not need this Sudoku, he realized. He knew the answer already ... that this particular decision had no links forward that could possibly matter. He replaced the pencil, and crumpled the Sudoku and threw it away.

And as the 3-17 Fast to Borivili roared in, stood up, and walked off the platform.