26 December, 2008

Aunty in Arunachal: The lost-for-words Part

PS (pre-script): What do you do when you
1. Want to drink Mami’s specialty extra-sweet very strong coffee,
2. Watch a mushy movie on HBO and
3. Are feeling lost after having completed an enjoyably long letter?

You go type out this ---- >

Its Christmas today. I am in Bomdila (West Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh). It’s a township you would cross if you were traveling from Tezpur to Tawang. At an altitude of 8,500 feet, its pretty cold and foggy here. The place is delightfully peppered with bakeries, I am an ardent visitor of the closest one. The town also boasts of the only college of the district (in fact of District Tawang too). Ok enough of “bhoomika bandhna” in terms of geographical details. I had wanted to tell you about all the beautiful places I have been to in the past weeks, all the insane laughter and equally happy work I’ve been involved in, my nomadic life which forces me to have a new pillow to adjust to every other night and all the dogs I’ve petted, but something else catches my attention.

A good part of everyday finds me on the road, in the official gaadi – the rickety mehroom (that’s how our tailor pronounces maroon) Tata Sumo. Long car journeys are conducive to thinking (it can be of the inane, philosophical, silly or just plain tedious, worrisome kind). It had me looking down at my hands and wondering, “Clasped hands. Always clasped tightly together. Does that say something about me? Closed? Oh look at the white spots on my nails. When will I ever grow out of them? Since when did the lines on my hands become so criss-crossed? Am I worrying? Whoops, another landslide. Dust dust dust, roll up windows FAST. ” And so on. Some good music was crooning in my ears, a breathtaking scenery of ruby red rhododendrons and oaks clothed in fiery autumn colours greeted my eyes and my thoughts wandered off to very far off places like Delhi.

I was suddenly leafing through earlier Christmases and New Years, times when I was surrounded by people who I like to think of as mine (did I mention that I am a painfully possessive person and like to stake claim over people close to me?), and yet grumpy moods, irrational anger, plain stubbornness or just an evil disposition never let me be even remotely pleasant to them. Cancelled party plans, frowning foreheads, spiteful words, hot angry tears, mindless tantrums came to my mind. None of “my people” deserved that. Some luckier ones didn’t have their holidays spoiled by my bratty-ness, but I guess that reflects on their skills and not mine. But this year, as punishment (to me) and a blessing (to my people) for being unbelievably selfish in the holiday season, I am sitting thousands of miles away, missing you and hoping you have one hell of a holiday.

This is me attempting to thank all those people who have made me laugh this year (if you can make anyone smile, you have done your good deed for the day). This is me trying to acknowledge your presence in my life as a reason to smile in this tumultuous year when I enough to cry about. This is me telling you that you have, in your special subtle way, changed me (for the better?). This is me saying sorry and thank you in one jumbled blurt.

This is to:
The Family: Sho, Dids, Mama, Mami, Nana, dear Amma, Kishu and Sangu boy.
The Friends: Mimi, Maitreyi, Ashu and Roosi.
The Foe: Sopho

Thank you. May you all have a fun Christmas and a very happy New Year.

20 December, 2008

Aunty in Arunachal: The Picturesque Part III

A view of the mighty Brahmaputra, on the way to Tezpur.
This is not an airport, it is not even the lobby of a fancy place and is certainly not in another country. It is the ISBT (Inter-State Bus Terminal) at Guwahati. With 2 hours to kill, I was pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness and order in the place. See, we can. If we want to that is.

The Sela lake at Sela top (a pass that one comes across as you travel from Tezpur to Tawang). We crossed this spectacular place at sunset, riding above the clouds (which you can see somewhere in the distance). I am the proverbial loss of words.

The gateway to Tawang if you enter from Nehru Market. The sheer colour and character of such painting is interesting to see, because every time you look at such a gateway, you find something new.

This is the “thing” in which every morning Juniper twigs are lit for religious purposes (I did know the local name of the “thing” till a few days ago…but it was a tongue-twister and my memory isn’t what it was… ) What is interesting, is the presence of a beer bottle (1000 Super strong).

This puppy was nicknamed rock-star because of his very spikey hairdo (later we realized that his hair was standing so straight because the poor guy was freezing). Therefore, he was bundled up in whatever cloth was available close by (the orange pantaloon you see on his head was actually on the clothesline nearby and it gives me great satisfaction that its gracing his shivering head instead of some toddler’s bottom).

The next few pictures (6 to be precise) are from the great picnic we had at Madhuri Lake (renamed so because a song from Koyla was shot here). This picture was taken on the way…we went berserk playing in the snow and the winning shot was by yours truly. Mukut’s nose was blue for a satisfyingly long time :D

A view of two of the many lakes we came across on the way. Its quite a heady feeling being over the clouds, skirting blue waters, the sun strong enough to burn your face, the wind cold enough to freeze your brain. It was a very very brrrringly cold day.

Madhuri Lake. What makes it eerie and beautiful is the presence of naked tree trunks in the centre of the lake. Like it was out of a the-world-is-about-to-end-movie.

Lake-side beer drinking. I have never had beer in such freezing temperatures. And yes, it tastes even better. [L-R: Tashi, Namrata, Chandni, Binoi, Lobsang, Oinam, Mukut…Gombu (facing away)]

Outside the guesthouse at the Madhuri lake. It’s a wooden chair, shaped like a person (ok you can see that) but what is interesting is the cap on the chair/person’s head. It’s a traditional cap, made of yak wool, with five extensions. The shape of the cap is such to keep the rain off the wearer’s face.

On the way back from the picnic. Sigh.

That’s deforestation for you. The logs were being cut and shoved down the hillside till they reached the road.

A view of the war memorial at Tawang. The war we are referring to is the Indo-China war of 1962 where Chinese troops managed to march upto Tezpur, undeterred by an Indian side riddled with inadequate clothing and food supplies and outdated weapons.

The goose-bump inducing flag down ceremony at the memorial. Flags of all the regiments are brought down for the night, to the haunting sound of the bugle.
Payer wheels in the foreground. Names of the 2420 soldiers who laid down their lives to protect our controversial borders in the background.

It’s a nice picture. The kind that tells stories. I needn’t say more.

The house of Tsering Tobgayal, one of the most progressive farmers in Tawang. He has vermicompost pits, greenhouses, twelve cows, a nursery, kiwi and apple orchards, a 26 year old wife (and he's 58!) and most importantly an infectious laugh. I fell in love with his Geranium festooned house. That’s him on the left.


That’s his cat taking a nap in the warmth of his greenhouse. And that’s me pulling her paw and playing spoilt-sport. “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”


11 December, 2008

Aunty in Arunachal: The Hoga Hoga Syndrome

What I love the most about traveling is the numerous possibilities it promises. The people, each with their own quirks, the different landscapes, so spectacular in their variety, the various modes of transportation, each at their own pace, the different moods and delicate flavours of each place. The stimuli your senses receive as you travel from the hurried metropolis that is Delhi to the bustle of Guwahati, the quiet chatter of Tezpur and finally the grand Buddhist town of Tawang is bewildering to say the least.

Let me skip through the dropping of my laptop from the topmost berth and thank-heavens-there-is-a-God who saved it from breaking, the 12 hour journey in the cab where four people were sitting in the front seat (one of them being a certain me), the buying of yummy yummy yummy “kamala” (oranges) on the way to Tawang, the breathtaking beauty of Sela (its this pass atop which you are above the clouds, somewhere very close to that utopian place called paradise) etc etc. So lets just hop from saaddi Dilli to Tawang.

Tawang. The entire town proudly displays its scars of the ’62 war. The army flaunts its power with pride, helicopters whirr above the mountains in practice sessions, any place you go to eat will have a few soldiers having a hearty meal, you meet abandoned moss-covered, snow-clad, bullet-riddled bunkers with surprising regularity…Situated atop a mountain, the town boasts of the second oldest, second largest monastery in Asia. Everywhere you look, Buddhism leaves its beautiful print: in the colourful prayer wheels dotting every lane, in the maroon-clad monks and “anis” (female monks), in the juniper twigs lit throughout the market place which imparts a heady aroma, in the ornate gateways, in the ready smiles of the people and the warm open air about them.

As you walk through the market, you are treated to an awe-inspiring spectacle of the upper Himalayas, dusted with snow at this time of the year. The vegetation (a spectrum of rhododendrons, the precious cancer curing Taxus spp. and ferns of every imaginable shape) is drying up now, reflecting the colours of the sun, as if the forests are on fire. In this land of the rising sun, the day begins at 5:00 am, and packs up at an alarming 4:30 pm. 4:30 pm!!!! That took some time getting used to. By 5 its pitch dark and the entire town starts its 'nocturnal' activities. The boys (ALL the boys) rush off to the snooker tables: its developed into artful gambling here with people actually getting tatoos on their forearms just to show them as they play, the girls taking care of the more mundane activities of the household variety. And most interestingly, the people here never say NO. The standard reply to “Yeh ho jayega kya?” is “Hoga hoga.”

But what amuses me is that even so far away, when I walk through the marketplace, I see boys with spikey hair and ground-kissing jeans, I see girls in weather-defying skirts, with eye-shadow of colours that would put a rainbow to shame, I hear Himesh crooning through some flimsy Chinese speakers, I can find pirated dvds of the latest Bollywood releases, I can spot more daru dukaans (liquor shops) than stationery shops and the garbage finds place everywhere except dustbins. But I also see someone hobbling on crutches, wearing a worn-out uniform with an undefeated air, I see the moon (at an un-earthly 11:00 am) as charmingly imperfect as ever, I see the STD booth lady smile at me in warm familiarity, I feel the chill in the air and the spring in my step, I rub my frozen fingers as I sit down to my now-routine candle-light dinner, I see my smile reflected in the foggy mirror in my room.

It’s a beautiful place, this eastern haven of our awe-inspiring country. But for once I am finding beautiful, as a word, incompetent.

Cha

PS: How could I possibly refrain from mentioning the friendly furballs of snow: the short-legged, fluffy dogs of Tawang? And to top it, its puppy season (yay!).

30 November, 2008

Aunty in Arunachal: Part I

Tawang \ तवांग \ - proper noun
Administrative district in Arunachal Pradesh, a north-eastern state in India


Everyone is tired of my setting off to places. Friends don't make plans which include me any longer. The family celebrates Chandni-less birthdays and festivals. Colleagues shrug their shoulders while I agonize over the details of my tour plans. Everyone is jaded. I? Grinning in that loony way which means I'm awfully excited and rather unsure if I've packed properly.

This time its going to be the eastern end of the country, Arunachal to be precise. Tawang and Bomdila if you want the geographical details. I seem to have a knack for going off to places that are not the safest and that too at the most unsure times. (Don't get me started on unsure times...here is a better place to learn of that).


Please ignore the extremely poor map quality. I don't have the time, I am (much to my chargin and frankly, disbelief) technically challenged and I don't think you even care. So. PS: I DID NOT make that obnoxious green arrow signifying Tawang. When I saw it I found it hilarious. The arrow is bigger than Bhutan for godssake!


Anyway, since its going to be a month long extravaganza, a blog hiatus is an unfortunate side effect (which I will try to overcome, mostly for my own sake).


Have a good Christmas. And don't forget that smile.
Chandni (who else?)

28 November, 2008

The Weird Vehicle

She was on her way back home from a stimulating day at work. The sky was a hazy shade of smoke, the moon didn't dare break its filth with her charm, vendors arranged socks of an insipid hue on rickety stands, the evening smelt like itself – stale and spent. 

She had wedged herself onto a seat in the bus, precariously perched between The Old Woman With A Wounded Leg and The Man With Three Mobile Phones. It was a chilly evening and the bus’s rear windshield, conspicuous by its absence, ushered in a spirited breeze. The bus started off with its customary fits and sputters. When the pistons defeatedly started their cycle – up and down, push and pull, everyone inside heaved a sigh of relief. The journey began but the bus was so slow that even cycles overtook it. She shook her head at the utter insanity of it all. 

Another fifteen minutes and a few groans later, the bus found itself stuck at a red light. Horns honked themselves hoarse, regardless of the colour of the traffic light. Men, drunk at 6:00 pm, positioned themselves strategically around her, a knee rubbed against another accidentally, a hand hoped to brush against her chest on its way to the handle, bodies lurched in gravity-defying manners, a push, a shove, every gymnastically imaginable position was enacted with practiced ease. Tak Tana Nana Tandoori Nights screeched from the radio in disgustingly nasal tones. Amidst all the rubbing (with people) clutching (at anything), shifting (to grab more of the seat) and sighing (at everything), she found the space and energy to plug on her earphones.
The music soothed her frayed soul and suddenly the world was an infinitely better place, dancing to her tunes, swaying in unison. She tilted slightly and craned to look out of the window. Cars whizzed by in metropolitan madness. A row of dusty trees lining the road tried to breathe. Boy In Boots stood posing near a panwaari, an unlit cigarette in one hand, while the other hand lay in his coat pocket, in a forgotten, supposedly fashionable manner. His hair, streaked an alarming shade of orange, was carefully disheveled. The air around him was drunk on a cocktail of arrogance with a dash of uncertainty. From where she sat, she saw Little Urchin look up to Boy in Boots in a star-struck manner. In the shadows, he stood, trying to ape his hero, one leg lazily stretched out while he placed his hand in an imaginary coat’s imaginary pocket.

Suddenly the bus lurched forward, bringing before her eyes another frame to watch. Harried Man and Willowy Wife were trying to board the bus with Scrawny Kid 1, 2, 3 and 4. Harried Man quickly loaded his brood and then began the impossible task of finding place for putting his numerous possessions. There was a pressure cooker which found shelter near the gearbox. The bundle of shawls was deposited on Scrawny Kid 3, who was, incidentally, on Willowy Wife’s insufficient lap. A suitcase was pushed across the aisle (rather the carpet of toes) to fit under a seat. The pillow, with nowhere to go, was given to her. Jolted from her reverie of musical innuendos she clasped it grudgingly, comforted by the protection it offered, disgusted by what it did to her nose. 


Suddenly, weird vibrations on her left made her start. The Man With Three Mobiles had two of them ringing simultaneously, which got him extremely flustered and rather bewildered. At the same instant someone stepped on The Old Woman With A Wounded Leg which got her shrieking at unimaginable decibels. The chaos in the bus, complete malfunctioning of her auditory organs and yet another red light made her decide to abandon The Weird Vehicle she was in and walk her way home. 

19 November, 2008

Dhakdhaks and the like

We had an exam the next day. We were the last minute study and pass variety of people. Still, when he arrived at our door unexpected (as usual), urging us to “relax and have just one cup of coffee”, we agreed. The usual banter peppered our walk – kicking each other’s ankles, cribbing about the yet-to-be-discovered course, getting collectively enamoured by the stars. It was just another winter evening. Some incorrigible kids flirted with the fountain…its spray falling on us, specks of rainbow. She got up to get the coffee. I was scowling, nursing a bruised ankle, he sat, draped over his chair, smirking at my frown through those adorably crooked teeth. And then he slid across the table, this sheet of paper. White. Just one fold cutting across the middle. His sloping graphite letters falling over themselves. A letter? He asked me to keep it to myself, just this once, not to share what he had written with her. I didn’t.

8 December 2006

I have piano keys falling all over me.

“Freezing moments a little bit longer…”
‘Time Stand Still"
Rush

Drums have followed and now chords sing their turn. All this while a shy guy awaits his turn to a million heartbeats…only this time…shared dhakdhaks.

Shyness, ma’am is trying so hard to try and not flatter you. At one point, you know, I have stopped trying to overload this feeling of being…so…aware of you. What you should not do is let me get into unchartered territory. What you should do is let me let you to let me doubt and re-think and retrace and fumble and slip a million times over something so unfound that my feet don’t touch the ground anymore. What you should do is let me flatter myself over you, to sleep a deep sleep without you, to free float on a daydream lighter than you…

I rest heartbeats while talking to you, you know? I am so much of a heart in my mouth…I am such a needy eye contact with you. I am a needless shimmer of hope with you in me.

You are my spine tingler, my hair stand-up artist. You are the prettiest reason I can think of. You are the most beautiful spare I can get. You are the shortest distance between any points I make.

And the worst part is that I made me rich…grand…giving away the millions that you are to me at the cost of the charity that we do to each other.

Thankyou for making me feel selfish about you.

Yours if…
A

12 November, 2008

“Garp felt most people confused being profound with being sober, being earnest with being deep. Apparently if you sounded serious, you were.” The World According to Garp by John Irving

“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel that no one else has a right to blame us.” The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
“The watchman looked at her with such a lack of expression that it was almost an expression in itself.” A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

10 November, 2008

Lucknow ka Ladka (LL)


From the moment I set eyes on him, everything was wrong. His glossy purple striped shirt. His inexcusably tight pants. His face which uncannily reminded me of things I had learnt to forget. His in your face rudraksh mala wound around his wrist. Yes everything was very wrong with LL.

He had the emotional bandwidth of a doorknob, so obsessed with himself was he that he thought the horizon ended at his upturned nose. Every sentence began with a crib and ended in a tragic ‘i-am-so-unlucky’ whimper. Perseverance was a word he didn’t recognize, self absorption peppered with unflattering quantities of self pity was his specialty and he actually thought being courteous wasn’t in fashion. He had that irritating way of pronouncing twelve as “twel”, licking his chapped lips in quick obnoxious flicks of the tongue. One day, confronted with an exceptionally spectacular view of Kinnaur’s mighty mountains, we were collectively sighing at the scenic beauty. Later, a very worried harrassed LL said, “Arre itna sunder tha ki mein dekhta hi reh gaya. Photo toh kheench hi nahi paya. Faltu ho gaya.” That, in all its pathetic glory, sums up LL’s depth as a person.

Two months after LL’s torturous company, he decided to be generous to his surroundings and resigned. I thought I’d be delighted and for some blissful days I actually was. But as the last few days of his tenure cam to an end, a disturbingly comfortable camaraderie sprung up between us. We actually caught ourselves laughing with each other (that, in my understanding, is the hugest indicator of compatibility), devouring innumerable thaalis at our favourite Dhaba in Tapri (its this tiny place sandwiched between - A One Tailors, Golden Star Jammu Tailors and Meena Tailors), having impromptu drinking parties, listening to music (we discovered some songs that both of us liked).

Of course there were spouts of irritation that made their presence felt. His idiotic ideas surfaced from time to time (eg. I ordered an omlette on a Tuesday and LL instantly springs up, “Mangalvaar ko anda? Kya tum bhagwaan mein vishwaas nahin rakhti?” The connection between a cooked egg and god that he grasped so easily was completely lost on me.). He still walks with an irritating swagger. Still speaks terrible English with his call centre accent. Still does not bother who’s walking behind him and just slams doors in his wake, makes alarming noises while eating, talks so loudly that embarrassment makes you resemble a beetroot.

Yes he’s all that but something more too. The last few days with LL showed me that. Situations. Moods. Perspective. They do weird things to your convictions.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
PS: He was sitting around as I was scribbling and asked, “Kya kahani bana rahi ho?”
“Blog post.”
“Woh kya hota hai?”
I knew my story was safe.

30 October, 2008

Diwali anyone?

I am the recluse
of this shadowy night
at home amongst
the whispering winds
amongst the crickets - their wings
rubbing against their legs.
The moths fluttering in blind wonder
the hidden inuendoes - so loud in their implications.
But don't hurl me against
the obligations of your lighted world
don't blind me by your laughter
rip through with your sanity
your impeccable logic -
so perfect so convincing.
Let me blunder through this darkness
the crumpled sky offering more comfort
than your feigned concern.
I bow in relief and joyous gratitude
as you turn away
leaving me to my darkness -
boisterous in its cacophony.

23 October, 2008

Of noses and toeses

There is nothing better
than a hand made wetter
by a dog's black juicy nose.

There is nothing sweeter
than a dog as a heater
in your bed, to warm your toes.


PS: Happy Diwali everyone! Hope the day finds you smiling : )

09 October, 2008

What if?

What if
After all this
We don’t make it?
All the inane laughter
Dissolves into hollow whispers
The banter falls into anonymity
Its character no longer a novelty
Conversations unable to pillar hopes.

What if?
After all this
My senses decide to
Shut down in boredom
The distances we began at
Become inexplicably difficult
To overcome in a single night
No matter how moonlit. Or long.

What if?
After all this
These turn out
To be mere castles
Conjured up by an idle
Mind with half baked bricks
And I remain too naïve to have learnt
That fresh beginnings shouldn’t smell so stale.

26 September, 2008

Jumbled Generation

We are of the generation that heard of the Emergency from our parents, the instability of the 90s passed by in gulping down milk and sniffling through games of vish-amrit. We were conveniently born decades away from the struggle that defined our country's independence, saw Gandhi only in the first pages of our NCERT books and think Coca Cola has been in our country since forever. We vote, but take our voting system with a handful of salt, democracy is another word and politics comes across as a farce, a comedy of errors if we would elaborate.

I came across a book that defined for me my country, at a time when defining myself seemed difficult enough. Below is an excerpt that seemed written for me and many of the people I know. Hopefully, it will urge you to pick up this trenchant piece of literature.

"There are many of us, but, among India’s multitudes, we are few. We have gown up in the cities of India, secure in a national identity rather than a local one, which we express better in English than in any Indian language. We rejoice in the complexity and diversity of our India, of which we feel a conscious part; we have friends of every caste and religious community, and we marry across such sectarian lines we see the poverty, suffering and conflict in which a majority of our fellow citizens are mired, and we clamour for new solutions to these old problems, solutions we believe can come from the skills and efficiency of the modern world. We are secular, not in the sense that we are irreligious or unaware of the forces of religion, but in that we believe religion should not determine public policy or individual opportunity.
And, in Indian politics we are pretty much irrelevant."


Pg 43 – Shashi Tharoor – “INDIA: From midnight to the millennium and beyond”

14 September, 2008

Kinnaur ki kahani

To me, Kinnaur was just a name on the irritatingly stubborn sticker on another juicy apple. That a place called Reckong Peo even existed was beyond my geographical knowledge. So being told that I am to spend a month (or more) in an unheard remote god knows where place was, in my warped mind, extremely interesting. Of course the fact that it was snuggled somewhere between the western border of Uttaranchal and the rest of Himachal irrefutably placing it in my favourite holiday destination called the Himalayas worked towards buoying my spirits.



The journey started off in its unnerving clichéd manner. There had to be a rondu kid right behind me with his coochicooing mother in tow. The ac in the bus was on maximum making a kulfi out of me in spite of all the layers I’d lugged along. Three expressionless skimpily clad babes wooed the long lashed haseena that Ranbir Kapoor is on a very grainy screen the entire night. As dawn threatened to usher in another day, Salman obnoxious accent Khan decided to come on with his nasty God Tussi Great Ho trick, thus dashing any hopes I had of catching up on some sleep. So much for my over night bus hai I shall keep everyone awake with my snores plan. Then our bus left us while we were eating our breakfast (we had to catch it in Rampur, which was a feat in itself), we nearly lost our luggage, I managed to narrowly escape being the target of projectile vomitting and we nearly missed our stop by oversleeping. Our reaching Peo intact, with our entire luggage, in admirably upbeat spirits was a miracle in itself.

Its been a week since then. What have I been up to?

Been walking through enough apple orchards to expertly guide anyone about plucking the perfect apple for your personality type (OK I made this up but apples are like people: some sweet, rosy on the outside, then there are the crisp slightly sour ones, the over-ripe full of fluff ones and the rotten from inside kinds). Been cracking open enough almonds (the l is silent for god sake) with my teeth to give the Vicco Vajradanti walnut cracking guy a run for his money.
  1. Been trekking enough to actually not have to gasp before tackling distances in double digit kilometers. One Kinnauri actually said, "Aap toh Dilli ki nahin lagti." I decided to take that as a compliment : )
  2. Been learning that you cannot buy land in Himachal and if you do want to own some land in this paradise of a state, you will have to marry a Himachali girl. To top it, your kids will only inherit your land/property if they also marry someone from Himachal!
  3. I have come to understand that polygamy exists here – the eldest marries a girl and she is wife to all his younger brothers. People who retaliate against this system migrate to lower places (altitude wise of course) like Kullu, Mandi etc.
  4. I have learnt how to use dry toilets, which are common here because of the lack of water. Ingenuity at its best.
  5. And most of all I have come to learn about the ephemeral nature of our being. Witnessing the spoils of an accident that had occurred hours before we reached the spot. Seeing wailing relatives beside flattened metal that had once been a car. Peering out of the window and marveling at the blue waters in the gorge below. Watching the dust rise as the wheel of the car spins uncontrollably over the edge. And so:
I close my eyes to capture the moment I find myself in. The sun playing along the contours of my face. The wind whistling through the Deodar needles, the fresh fragrance of coniferous resin tickling my nostrils. The sound of the Sutlej gushing somewhere far below, its blue waters mirroring the sky. I could picture the landscape in my mind. Snow clad crags, a tree-line forgotten at another altitude, the sky an honest blue, the clouds all fluffed up, carried away by the slightest mention of a breeze.



Jaypee, blasting away parts of the mountain, to build yet another dam over the Sutlej. Whatever happened to the entire process of EIA I wonder.

Making of Chang, the local alcoholic brew, made of wheat/jow by rudimentary distillation.

Enjoying a simple meal in a Kinnauri living room. Homemade butter and freshly chopped onion serves as a good accompaniment to rice and curry.

Wool making is an activity that involves the entire family. The old lady wearing a Kinnauri cap (green) had a marigold flower tucked over her ear.


The moon at Reckong Peo. The mountains are the Kinner Kailash, considered Shiva's abode.

28 August, 2008

Happily ever after is a state of mind

"I had been meaning to ask you to do something. Please, next time you decide to post something on the blog, write some fiction. Something ideal, like stuff is meant to be. Like the way it should be but never is. It is okay if there is a sting in the tail. For your readers would want that. I want to read something like that. I f you oblige me this one time, I shall be greatly honored."

You tell me to write about something ideal, the perfect way things are meant to be. I wracked my brains and all I drew was a blank. It sounded something like this:

He was nothing if not arrogant. She couldn’t walk without a frown. And with a black cloud of anger hovering above her, he would have been wise to stay out of her way. But when you’re 21 and you don’t have anything particular to do, wisdom is certainly not what’s on your mind.

He suppressed a smirk as she walked in front of him in short angry steps, her bag clutched tightly under one arm. Her hair was tied in a fierce little pony tail and way too many clips tamed the curls that could have (should have?) crowned her face. He followed at a leisurely pace behind her, imagining the amount of energy she was needlessly expending by the way she hurried along. He, on the other hand, took one long half-hearted stride for three of hers.

He reached the bus stop. The bus screeched to a halt - a few paces away. Before he could blink, it was moving again. Three hops and a little running and he found himself aboard, just about hanging onto the door, a foot still dangling outside. The bus was so packed that breathing was a chore. The conductor was incessantly hitting the window with a coin, the ugly noise rising above the general humdrum of the people. As he fished out some change for the ticket, he sensed a commotion somewhere ahead.

A voice was talking, quite calmly, though if you listened closely, the undertones of disgust were ill-disguised. He listened and the sheer absurdity of what was being said made him bend forward to see who it was. He couldn’t help smiling when he saw it was the same Martian who had been furiously pacing before him, minutes ago. He saw her move towards him, shoving at people as she tried to reach the conductor. She had to stand on her toes to reach a handle to hold onto as the bus swerved in its characteristic reckless manner. She stretched out to hand over the money for a ticket, breathing in short exasperated puffs. As the bus stopped for the umpteenth time, another sea of people surged through its airless confines.

He was involuntarily pushed towards her, pressed against her contours, even as he tried to hold onto whatever space he had. In her hair there were five clips. Three black, two green. Her bag was falling off her shoulder while her dupatta draped itself over his hand. Suddenly he felt protective of her. A weird urge to shield this little warrior against the humanity that was swirling around them came over him. To cocoon her from whatever she needed cocooning from. As he tried to deconstruct this extremely unsettling line of thought, she turned around fuming. Icily, she looked straight at him and then said to the conductor, “This boy is trying to be funny with me. Could you please tell him to move away?” Under her breathe she added, “God knows where such people come from. Frustrated ass”.

He couldn’t believe he had felt any kind of anything for this witch of a girl. What a self-obsessed false accusation! What a nasty little pompous thing. Couldn’t she see the people in the bus? What a snotty little twerp. Telling tales to the conductor for godsake? He knew if he said anything he’d be pushed off the bus. Women empowerment was way off the line when it came to buses. He knew not saying anything would not go down too well with his ego. So he gave her his famous glare, looked at her like she was an insignificant ant, which he really thought she was and with a lot of effort, plugged on his earphones in an attempt to ignore her.

After getting her ticket she moved towards the front of the bus, mowing down a lot of people in the process. When she finally got off, he breathed in and out, scowling at her back as she resumed her ridiculous walk to a place he hoped was prepared for the idiocy she carried like an aura.

That was their first meeting. I’d call it ideal. By Bollywood standards at least.

24 August, 2008

Painting shainting

The painters are here. The who? The painters? In our house? Which hasn't got painted ever since its inception? Something is definitely on. But whether you believe it or not, the painters are here. In all their glory. Paints and brushes. Varnish and putty. Something called primer and masking tape. With the Man and Girl 1 out galavanting in Kerala and Brisbane respectively, the woman and Girl 2 are left to hold forte. We the two sillies. To manage hordes of paint-splattered varnishy men. To listen to the rotund, jovial Mr. Rawat who has verbal diarrhea and has adopted us as his sisters. I can safely say that I know all about him and his Punjabi clients in Dwarka sector 9 and their spoilt hot-pants wearing smokes-like-a-chimney daughter, the political intricacies of the Asian Paints hierarchy, the inflation in paint prices, the difference between Bihari and Rajasthani labourers, why he has kept a Janmashtmi fast etc etc etc. Then we have to bear the MBA girls, the surveyors. They'll stride around with their files and heels, knocking at walls, sipping at the water, nodding in a manner they think is comforting. The poor painters stiffen up, fervently trying to look sufficiently busy and dusty. The kitchen contractor arrives just when we sit down the lunch, the carpenter wants a day off, the kabadi wala doesn't have money, the maid is thorwing tantrums.


And this is all before I actually recovered from a very action-packed work/holiday/I don't know what to call it trip. Before I could unpack (which implies I am still living out of my rucksack). Before I could catch up on all my sleep.


Cribbing about not having a bed, not finding my slippers or a working pen or a nailcutter or a comb, drinking water which smells a lot like something that is gracing my newly painted door, having unknown men trudge into the house any time of the day. Yes that sums up my existence. So we decided to break the cycle. To shake off the paint and the fatigue. We set off for a shopping spree and a dinner.


We waited for a table for as long as it takes for the mere pet mein choohe kood rahe hain chappies to faint in fatigue. Ofcourse we ordered way too much for two people and got slightly tipsy on our breezers (I am too tired to figure out how we managed that). There was a highlighted hair tip top body squeezing suit wearing aunty on the next table complete with paunchy moustache mouse-like uncle and spoilt I want king prawn only waaaaaa beta in tow. Both the adults were on the phone throughout their meal (why did they have to come to a restaurant if they had to talk on the phone? Defies logic if you ask me) and the son made disturbingly frequent trips to the loo. Anyway we had a hearty meal and naturally forgot to avail of the 30% discount coupons which had made us choose the place in the first place :


And then people pester me about not blogging/mailing/phoning (EGAD!!!)/socializing/blah blah. I am an excessively disoriented/disorganized/confused person these days. Someone's got to understand that.

17 August, 2008

Awwwwww _ _ _

I had been causing him excessive mental exertion, holding him hostage to a phone conversation he didn't want to be a part of, moaning about my physical exhaustion and discussing weird gastroenteric abnormalities. In my defence I was in this never ending journey [Leh to Delhi - don't ask how/why I was in Leh...recounting a month and a half of excessive activity (new job, travel travel travel, work, office gossip, new sights and people) is too much even for me]. And he is such a bully-able person that its infinitely amusing to bug him.

So here I was in an HRTC bus (Himachal Road Transport Corporation)...no not the recline-on-your-seat-watch-a-bad-print-ka-movie Volvos, I had the luxury of inhabiting the rickety squeaky khatara kind which vibrate in an obscene manner anytime the speedometer hits anything above 30, the kind you certainly don't want to be in when you've just learnt that your innocent little journey of 11 hours has metamorphosed into a 26 hour monstrosity. The interesting thing was I was sitting with a Spaniard (heh heh heh) - who nearly reached the roof of the bus - mere mortals like me barely reached his little toe. He turned out to be a diver (wow), photographer (yum) and ship propeller cleaner (there are such jobs?). He found my English "grand" (I swear it sounded sweeter in his toe-curling accent), the Bikaner peanuts "too spicey - you people are very brave to eat so many many chilly" and Dairymilk "mmmmm". And and and he was a MAJOR animal lover. I shall call him D.

In spite of all the stops and potholes, the cramped backs and squished toes, the inexcusably bratty kids and wailing infants, the decked up bride, who, it was a miracle wasn't baked in her sequined saree, the boy-man who couldn't stop playing "do you wanna partner" on loudspeaker on his phone, the journey wasn't a complete disaster. I guess it was the utterly challenging and entertaining task of carrying on two utterly opposite conversations that did the trick:

1) Describing D telephonically to my now very alert fone frand in very unflattering Hindi so that D wouldn't understand I was talking about him. "Woh bahut lamba hai. Topi bhi pehni hai. Lambe baal hain. Daadi bhi hai. Haan haan baal kaatwaane chahiye."

2) "Chandi (that's the best the Spaniard could pronounce my name) you really talk a lot on the phone. You have the pink pathera (pathera!!!) as your wallpaper. You must like animals a lot." How can you keep a straight face to that?

And so after a harrowing 26 hours I was ushered into Dilli sheher by the welcoming odour of the landfills near ISBT. Trust me at 6 am, you don't want your exhausted senses to be plundered by smells of that excrutiating intensity. I lugged my the as-tall-as-I rucksack to an autowalla. Suddenly I was engulfed in a pair of very long arms. The Spaniard was giving the dishevelled girl a bone-crushing hug. Sudden acts of unbridled affection can really throw you off balance. Especially when you havn't bathed for 3 days and someone who you thought didn't know you were a skunk in disguise suddenly hugs you. Sitting in the auto with the already stale air of Delhi hitting my tired eyes all I could think of was the number of times I'd felt too shy to hug people that I'd wanted to. Trust a stranger to put things into perspective. The not-a-stranger fone frand was informed that I'd touched still ground. I like to imagine that he sighed in relief.

In short I'm back. Not with a bang. Ok in a huff and a phew if you insist on sounds.

11 August, 2008

Blue/Brown

That two colours could wreck such havoc on my senses I had not imagined. Mountains of rock and soil - daunting and stark. Stones jutting out like unpolished jewels frightfully large and unsheathed. The sky a blameless blue - so piercing it wills you to lower your eyes. Like how you find it unnerving to stare into a pair of absolutely honest eyes.


The night is so black
without its moon
it grimaces at me
so surly so silent
the stars seem unsure, brighter by contrast
sparkling as if in uncertain anger
forlorn without their battered leader?
jubiliant in their newfound freedom?
The milky way - hazy about its existence
sings a faraway lullaby
The breeze is cold - chiding a lone skyseeker
Hush, sleep tonight.



Part of a Mane wall in village Saboo, Central Leh. Mane are the stones on which sacred lines from Buddhism are written in the Bhoti script.

30 July, 2008

Moonwashed mayhem

The moon. 12:30 am, 15th July 08, Keylong.

The moon is looking splendid today
Beautiful enough to inspire poetry
Pale enough to evoke tears
Misshapen in her thoughts
Beaten into pockmarks
She’s almost shy
Peeping over the seven peaks
Her light irons a furrowed brow
The stars twinkle their bedtime tales.

23 July, 2008

Midnight madness

The moon. 11:30 pm, 11th July, Keylong.

She lies blanketed
in her bed of clouds
She gasps at her silver halo,
Will her sins show up in the light?
The mighty rock yearns to meet her
to kiss her glow, pierce her solitude
he heaves under her cool caresses
glistening in the breath of her dew.

02 July, 2008

Illicit Affair

She held onto it

like a breath

jealousy and innocence

guardians

of a secret

splendidly silent

she stashed it away

a prized token.

And in moments

of weakness

she'd unfold

its papery prison

tempation the harness

she'd wonder at its

glittering charm

the evil joys

it promised.

And suddenly almost guiltily

she'd cover it again

for isn't a memory

best left where it began?

27 June, 2008

Water Witch

*Fiction is a piece of truth that turns lies to meaning. Just wanted to tell you that, for no apparent reason.


Sweet drinking water would come from 8:30-9:30 every morning. As the clock struck 8:30, everybody automatically suspended all activity. Whatever you were doing - ironing, getting ready, eating breakfast, itching, shitting, sleeping, reading the paper etc. etc. Each and very member of my blink and you'll miss it family would rush off to various orifices of the house. "Children - go to the bathrooms and fill all the buckets/तसला (tubs)/mugs in visibility. And whatever you do, do not forget the big red tub. The big red tub." Someone would rush to fill the bottles with water enough to last the entire day. Someone smart would time their bath perfectly in order to wash there hair in the sweet water, ingenuity helping avoid the brackish water we got throughout the day (it could give sea water a run for its salt anyday).


We underwent years and years later of this amusing rigmarole. The normal water would go. Seconds later amidst lots of gurgling/flatulent sounds, muddy water would whoosh out. It was brown, as a certain Ms. Roy would say, the colour of tepid tea-water. Patiently we'd wait and soon the murkiness would give way to lovely sparkling sweet water. "Taste it before you fill it." That was the test. Either your mouths would pucker into preservation or delight in the chlorinated artifice that we recognized as sweetness.


Then one fine day the Aquagaurd guy came along. With his newly acquired English and fancy instruments, he made the sweet water routine history. No more 8:30 alarms and sudden standstills of things that didn't involve water. Now sweet (yes Bisleri sweet) water was at our beck and sip. Here a glug, there a glug, everywhere a......you get the hint. We rejoiced in an era free of water woes. Soon the Aquaguard became more a part of our home than the family itself. It gurgled merrily in the kitchen watching over the maid as she washed the dishes in the oh-so-salty-water, over the basmati rice as it lay soaking lusciously, over talkative dinners and leisurely lunches.

Good things of course have this unbelievable inevitable pre-destined downward trajectory. The Aquaguard went kaput. The guy who installed it, once a smile plastered salesman, strong contender for the most frequent bell ringer contest, was now summoned. Where this that leave us? Spoiled by our life of luxury, we were jolted back into the reality of water collection. Argh. And without its halo (utility), the Aquaguard I realized was quite a monster. He chewed into our electricity bills, purifying our sea water but at what cost? For every 10L it purified, it spewed out 20L of... wait let me taste it...absolutely normal tasting water!


The Aquaguard got okay (yes its a cycle - good thing goes bad then gets ok but can never live up to its earlier reputation of untainted 'goodness'). But at the same time began my water saving experiment. I started trying to reroute all the water that the Aquagaurd defecated into something other than the drain. Buckets were lined up in self-effacing embarrassment, awaiting their turn as they collected the Aquaguard's waste. The collected water went towards watering the plants, washing dishes (though the maid cribbed forever), cleaning the car, washing clothes and bathing the dogs! So, for a few bottles of aquaguarded water, here I was managing to do all my other water activities. Maybe the poor Aquaguard wasn't to blame. He just needed some tweaking. Tapping all the water that was generally wasted became my maniacal crusade.


The मीठा पानी routine was again relegated to its rightful place in history. But I being the dud I am managed to inflict upon myself another completely voluntary water routine. Well with a falling water table and expanding waistline, I guess no one is complaining.

22 June, 2008

Sliding Doors



A Saturday afternoon. A good movie. Lots of free time. I couldn't ask for more. Sliding Doors. A story of Helen (played by Gweneth Paltrow) who's been sacked from her job and is taking the tube home (yes its set in London). The narration then follows two scenarios: one if she had managed to catch the train, the other if she had not. The movie is at worst a very pleasant experiment.

The humour is quirky, the acting decent and above all Paltrow [whom I have detested since long and now realised there must be something to her afterall she's married Chris Martin and he's on THE list] is looking stunning in crazily spunky cropped hair. I realized that she is strangely beautiful in an understated anoerexic way. She alternates between a dowdy limp-haired version and a short-haired smiling woman. Then there is this place in the film where she says, "For God's sake, Gerry. I asked you a simple question; there is no need for you to become Woody Allen." (The dialogue writer should be hugged for some of the utterly fantastic dialogues - so commonplace, believable and unassumingly witty.)

James, her what-if love interest played by John Hannah (remember Brenden Fraser's silly sidekick in The Mummy) has the most irritatingly adorable sense of humor (sample: Everybody's born knowing all the Beatles lyrics instinctively. They're passed into the fetus subconsciously along with all the amniotic stuff. Fact, they should be called "The Fetals".) You would except something like that from a person who quotes Monty Python at the drop of a hat. He is certainly not good looking, has a bad haircut and talks way too much. I almost fell in love with him myself.

Then there is the cheating-two-timer-twerp-writer-boyfriend who was amusingly convincing in his backboneless twerpiness. He too has a terrible haircut - oily meets wavy meets long uncool length which just covers his ears (why did I notice everybody's hair so closely in this film? Weird). And his pathethic cheating is worsened by his inability to help Helen make ends meet. However, he couldn't be all bad - afterall he spoke to himself in the mirror and said something particularly inspiring - "I'm never going to finish that book, hell I'm a novelist."

Here is of course a better review of the film.

19 June, 2008

eye.queue

Just something I came across. Its quite silly but then since when did we stop playing that game?

Just a puppet on a lonely string, Oh who would ever want to be king?

Splendid. She had no balance in her cell phone. None whatsoever. Not even for a missed call. And she was planning to meet him in front of Wenger’s in 15 minutes. There was no way she could manage that with this traffic. With nothing better to do she plugged in her earphones and listened to Chris Martin’s latest. He crooned in his characteristic brooding manner amidst the clash and bang….The breeze mixed with the fumes making her cough. They had been at this particular traffic signal for over 10 minutes and the autorickshaw still seemed a kilometer away from the red light.

She shouted above the din, “Bhaiya kitna time lagega pahunchne mein?” (How much time will it take to reach?).
“Madam aadha ghanta toh lag hi jayega.” (It will take at least half an hour)

“I’ll never make it in time,” she fretted. She looked outside the confines of the auto. There was a kid making faces at her through the window of a car. Pigtailed and covered in lace, the child seemed fascinated with the sights around her. Traffic signals certainly didn’t bother her. Her manicured mother now coaxed her away from the window and gave her a lollypop which seemed to placate the inquisitive child.

On the other side there was a scooter groaning under the weight of a pot-bellied man, his make-up laden wife, daughter who sat squashed at the back and a toddler of a son who stood under the handles hanging on for dear life. She wrinkled her nose disgustedly, “Damn the population. If there weren’t so many people I wouldn’t be stuck in this traffic.” Objectivity in situations of crisis was one of her strong points.

Motorcycles were whizzing past irrespective of the stationery traffic, weaving their way through the traffic, defying lanes and all safety concerns. Amidst all this was a little scraggly girl balancing a baby on her narrow hips. Her hair was bleached by constant exposure to the sun and looked like that of the models’ who were on the covers of the magazines she was trying to sell. Flies sat around the baby’s mouth and it began wailing loudly. Unperturbed, she carried on reciting the names of the magazines.
Honk! Honk! The light had changed colour. The engines were starting up. Exhaust pipes spewed out their sins and the entire body of automobiles began heaving like a monster awakening. Suddenly, a young boy – he must have been eleven or twelve, emerged near the auto, his shirt drenched in red, his eyes open wide in terror.

“Didi meri madad karo,” he screamed, “Ek aadmi ghayal pada hai sadak par. Please aa jao. Please didi.” (Help me. There is a man lying wounded on the road. Please come. Please)

He began tugging at her kurta, tears streaming down his young face, forming rivulets through the grime. She gave him a stern look, seeing through the ploy straight away. Fake tears coupled with some good acting and red paint and you could cajole any unassuming stranger to help you. Many people had got led away by such stories of distress and robbed/raped by paying attention to these fiends. The newspapers were full of it. So when the little boy began crying, she turned away saying, “Kisi aur ko buddhu banao.” (Go fool someone else)

“Nahi didi, woh mar jayega. Bahut khoon…khoon khoon. Aap hospital ko call kar do.” (No, he will die. A lot of blood…blood blood. You can call the hospital). He began mumbling incoherently and clutched at her feet in desperation, willing her to make eye contact. Suddenly, as if on cue, the after effects of the green light filtered down to the auto and the traffic moved. The boy was left behind wailing. The incident had left her shaken, she wanted to believe the boy but common sense told her otherwise. “Anyway I don’t have enough balance to call a hospital,” she placated her conscience.

After another forty minutes through heat and smoke, she found herself in CP. He will be fuming in front of Wenger’s pacing up and down, feeling awkward and not knowing what to do with his hands. She almost smiled as she pictured him grumbling, his hair a mess and his forehead ceased into a frown. With a useless phone and him no where in sight, she felt utterly handicapped. “How did people ever make and manage to keep plans before cell phones?” she wondered. “Where the hell is he? He is late and I was worrying all this while. So much for all the lectures he gives me about punctuality.” It’s strange how we find it hard to empathize with people in a situation for which we would have liked to be forgiven. Cursing him, she went into the pastry shop to grab a mutton patty for herself, a mushroom one for him and two éclairs (both for herself – he didn’t care for sweets). She stood watching people walk through the arcs of Connaught Place. Old people doddering, young ones cuddling, gossiping, haggling, boys strutting, girls sashaying. The evening was fast turning dark and the flies gave way to mosquitoes. There was a slight breeze and the stars were beginning to twinkle. She sat around, idling, angry at being made to wait, worried about reaching home late, disgusted with him and his utter callousness (he could’ve called at least).

An hour later, she got up in a huff. The Wenger’s doorman gave her an apologetic smile. Maybe he had seen many people stood up before. She certainly hadn’t and wasn’t too happy about it. Reaching home in a rotten mood, tired and irritated, bubbling with horrible things to say, she lunged for the phone and jabbed in his number with vehemence. Deep breathe. 1 2 3. “The number you are trying to call is currently unreachable. Please try after sometime.” It was the proverbial last straw.

* * *

She groggily opened the paper and scanned the headlines. At the bottom of the second page, there was a small piece on an accident. “Famous lawyer’s 24 year old son dies due to car accident. Delay in medical help costs life.” The article went on to moan about the city’s deteriorating and deplorable medical facilities, the insensitivity of by-standers who watched the man die and how an 11 year old had tried and failed to get any help.

15 June, 2008

Diseases

If feelings were faucets
On and off at your will.
If memories were a disease
Would you swallow the pill?
If being you could mean
I could undo the I,
The world would be a metaphor
An escapist's sty.

10 June, 2008

Grin Gyan

One fine day my laptop decided not to work. It wouldn't switch on. Now even for a nincompoop like me, that spells grave news. I rushed off to my friendly neighbourhood computer guy (read the technical dept. of my college...the guys there know me pretty well and regard with me with well-concealed amusement and ill-concealed irritation). Imagine that pesky fly on a sticky summer afternoon that keeps hovering near you, sitting for a while, flying off just as you try to swap it. Well I am that fly. So, armed with my comatose laptop I went up to them.



"Yes? Kya problem hai?"
"Mera laptop on nahi ho raha. Kal toh ho raha tha. Aaj try kiya toh koi light nahi. Kuch nahi."
"Madam aap aaj aur kal ki baat kar rahe ho. Poore poore log mar jaate hain itni si der mein. Laptop kya cheez hai?" Insert smug I-am-so-witty-grin here.
Ok I did NOT like the tone or direction of the conversation. Changing tracks, I said, "Toh aap please dekh sakte hain kya problem hai?"
"Abhi bahut busy hoon. Aapka laptop coma mein chala gaya hai. ICU bhejna padega."
The humour was lost on me again. Completely.


Two days and a different computer man later , I am typing this out on my reformatted, cured, all data retrieved (except some GB of music boo hoo) laptop. I feel like celebrating. Yes all my bookmarks are gone, I have to install ALL my software again, the desktop looks alien but still I feel like its a homecoming. Attached? Hell I am in love with this flattened piece of machinery.


Of course there are other reasons for me to smile. I am back from an invigorating holiday at my village. Rafael won the French Open. I liked his frog green outfit this season (he looked like a patch of grass on the clay and that seemed to me a befitting pun as he thrashed Federer in the final). Then India is back to playing the kind of cricket its best at losing and winning - the 50 over kind. After all the IPL fast food (I only watched the final and what a thriller that was), I'm looking forward to a proper meal. And as I finishthis, the men in blue have calmly undone a very unconvincing Pakistani side.

03 June, 2008

Growing pains

The main problem with adulthood is that the problems you are faced with aren't the kinds which get settled through a hug. Its the realization that no one is going to come and tell you, "There there don't cry, I'll make it alright for you."

29 May, 2008

Jobless

In her list of Things To Do
There's nothing left to add anew.
Yawns do spawn, sleep is slept
lost hobbies have upon her crept.
Who's complaining? No not me -
For I am off on a grinning spree.

26 May, 2008

Delhi?

Having realized that my track record with completing tags from Marvin was abysmally low, I thought I’ll do this one promptly. And thankfully the topic interests me. No end.

For the uninitiated I am writing about Delhi, the place I have called home ever since…well forever. The place where I began in is the place I am at now. This is that stage where things are threatening to come full circle (talking of complete circles at this age? Ouch! Geometry and philosophy in one sentence? Ouch ouch!).

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s always the easiest. I started my journey in this city at the unassuming and insignificant age of two, rotund and toothy, the blob of the family, singing ding dong belllllllll with alarming conviction and diction. The family was just back from Riyadh, we were setting up house on our seventh floor flat and things were at not at their best (I am relying heavily on oft-repeated stories since, if you care to remember, I was barely off the ground, with mental faculties of well, a two year old). I graduated from playschool and joined Girl 1 in a proper school. It was as if I had found a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. I got an i-card (that felt big) and a hanky (yay).

My earliest impressions of Delhi are those of two faces getting up early, ungodly-hour early, putting on a ridiculously checked uniform, gulping down milk as Amma counted, making sure we went till the bottom, getting Vaseline lathered onto our faces with disturbing abandon and then rushing off to catch the school bus. I learnt to distinguish between Delhi’s sharp weathers - in the summers, the mosquitoes would nip at our legs as we waited for the bus, in the winter flies stuck to our stockings. I remember squinting in the fog at 6:00 am trying to figure out if the bus that was hurtling towards us was indeed our school bus. “Yes it’s the rectangular head lights. It’s ours.” (Those rectangles used to make the bus look like a menacing monster and I positively detested them). And we’d be off. My routine revolved around school, craft projects, being scolded at biting my nails, narrating my day in great detail to Amma who (I don’t know how) always had the time and inclination to listen to me, waiting for Shobha who would get us surprise goodies a treat for any kid – trinkets today, a packet of phaalsa tomorrow, a bubblegum or two, an amar chitra katha. Delhi in those unassuming days started from school, stretched into afternoons where lunch was hogged down beside cartoons, where sleeping in the afternoon seemed such a waste of time (I really want to know what happened to me as I grew!) and home-made ice lollies were relished with utter joy. That gave way to seemingly long sessions of homework under Amma’s strict supervision and finally the much awaited evening playtime. “Alligator, alligator, can we cross the golden river?” Chor-police, vish amrit, my red letter, tippy tippy top, making nonsensical music (yes there was this song that went: O witches are horrible O witches are terrible O witches are bad but never sad) etc etc. Girl 1 and I never could understand why we would be called back home as it started turning dark, why we couldn’t play forever, oh the why’s of childhood. The building I lived in and its three geometrical gardens with their flowers and their sunbirds, the dhobiwaala and the slide near his house, the Nancy-Rancy-Mansi sister trio, the treasure hunts and WWF card sessions summed up Delhi for me those days.

It is usually a bit difficult for things to carry on the way they are when they are so good. Delhi days came to an abrupt end, flinging us (un)knowingly into a whole different dimension of paradise but let me not digress (as usual). And it took an entire nine years for me to return to the city which had seen me shit in my pants (literally), lose my way (kept sleeping on the school bus and landed in some corner of Vikaspuri…ah now I see when the Kumbhkaran characteristics crept upon poor little me), live through overwhelmingly long powerless summers and learn that cricket was to my country what stagnant water must be for mating mosquitoes. After my hiatus from everything Dilli, I was introduced into a picture I strangely didn’t feel a part of. Mc. Donalds and bus rides? College and a new set of friends? Coloured clothes everyday and the internet? I felt orphaned, a Gwaliored girl caught in the bustle of Delhi. People asked me all the time, “Where are you from?” I’d explain how it was so complicated, how I belonged to a crazy number of places, and how figuring where I was from would be as daunting as flying a kite on a still day, better still, trying to find those freaky mosquitoes, separating them and thus (triumphantly) saving our country from malaria. So I was swimming in this queer sense of utter unbelonging, bewildered by the Delhi I witnessed through my wary, uninitiated eyes.

Summer vacations were certainly not the topic I wanted to touch upon right now. So I will not. With its characteristic charm, Delhi brought me around. I made friends that I know will last me a lifetime, I was enjoying the uselessness of my course, I was traveling often, I was slowly approaching utopia. I learnt how you must always buy a ticket as soon as you get on to a DTC bus for you will be challaaned 100 precious rupees and no amount, please note, NO amount of cajoling, pleading, simpering will make the officials listen to you. I learnt that Delhi was a splendid cocktail of contradictions, it flaunted pot-holed roads and the expanses of Lutyen’s foresight with equal ease, the slums and the malls sprung up with equal ferocity, the sedans and the rickshaws jostled with equal intensity on the roads, the glitz of a PVR and the pan-splattered corners of Regal co-existed without any qualms. How men of all economic/social/age classes would letch no matter what. How G.K girls always seemed to have just walked out of a parlour. How school girls would tuck up their skirts in front of my college in a not-so-coy manner. How DUSU (Delhi University Student Union) politics were a mix of too much money and boisterous campaigning. How shopping in this city was unparalleled. U N P A R A L L E L E D. How the winter chill and torturous summer were over and underrated respectively. How the city got pretty mucky in the rain and the drainage system was such a killjoy. Yes, Delhi was determined to show off all her wares to me. And in the bargain readopt a returning daughter.

The left side is Ghalib's bungalow, preserved in a galli in Old Delhi, the right side is the other part of the bungalow in which an STD booth has been opened illegally. irony separates them.

The last two years have ushered in the third leg of my education, cushioned by the proximity of familiar faces, studying something I loved and finally feeling, if not behaving like an adult. Now, I began discovering Delhi with a passion quite unknown to my lazy self. CP and her charming park brought back memories of two teeny girls in chicken kutta pajamas (I couldn’t pronounce kurta at that age) going for a meal to Bercos. Stretching my legs on the grass as I munched through an éclair from Wengers. Watching the pigeons flutter in a synchronized whoosh as I walk towards TGIF. Enjoying a cheerful evening of music at @live. Hogging Jamaican almond fudge at Nirulas (they still have that scheme in which anyone with As on their report card can claim a triple sundae. I went there in class 3 demanding my sundae and they were obliging enough to ignore the ‘B’ I’d managed in handwriting!). Next, I discovered Delhi’s historically rich tapestry. Running my hands over the intricate patterns of Humayun’s tomb, marveling at Qutub Minar and the temple pillars that were used to make the mosque complex, posing in front of Safdarjung’s tomb, walking through the landscaped lanes of Lodhi Gardens, dodging cuddling couples and dogs alike. Red Fort’s extravagance and Chandni Chowk’s convoluted lanes. The serenity of a walk at Hauz Khas, the peace at Lotus temple. Where would I find history, romance, peace and colour blend into such a lovely melody as in this city? The Delhi of yore is now embracing her newfound extremities of glitz. After traversing the length of this city, after traveling away from her and then back again, after facing some of my toughest and most trying times here, I now know.

This, time around when someone asks me where I belong, I can answer with an assured grin, “Delhi of course.”

Now that I have narrated this strange tale, I would call upon certain unwilling souls to do the same. I, therefore, tag
Girl 1, Nive and Haru.

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